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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Measuring Voter Inequality

A brilliant site from the New Economics Foundation quantifies the skewing of our electoral system:


Go to the site to find out what your own vote is worth!
http://www.voterpower.org.uk/
 
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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Boris the spider

 
 


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Saturday, April 18, 2015

The SNP is the most over-represented party in Parliament

Electoral Calculus gives its latest prediction for next month's General Election: the Conservatives to be the largest minority, and only the SNP capable of topping-up the numbers to make a joint majority in the House:

But those 48 Scottish seats are more easily gained than any others. Based on the above data, here is the ratio of seats to votes (ignoring Northern Ireland and a mishmosh of minnows):

 
Constituencies differ in numbers of registered voters and percentage of voters choosing to participate, and parties differ radically in how their voters are distributed around the country, so we get this hugely unrepresentative result.

Here (approximately) is what the same votes would produce if each vote counted equally (NI and multivarious minnows excluded):



Now in this scenario, it would take a coalition of at least three parties to get a majority. Unlikely, but not unthinkable: if their promises are to be believed, Conservatives, UKIP and Greens would at least agree on the principle of an EU referendum.

So is the choice between grossly unfair representation - and even then a government of allied minorities - or a Babel scarcely able to govern at all?

Long-term, I don't think so, for these reasons:

1. Scotland seems fated to leave the Union, as I suggested last November (and others including Peter Hitchens point out how this would strengthen the Conservatives in what was left, so the Tories may not "strive/officiously to keep alive" the UK.) Whether this is in the Scots' interest is another matter, especially if they decide to join (or re-join - the legal issues aren't clear) Europe. Why cast off your English shackles only to have yourself tied up in a thousand EU threads like Gulliver? Perhaps there is more potential in a new alliance with non-EU Northern States, rather than the Auld one with France and the EU's current master, Germany.

2. Northern Ireland may also be headed for the exit, as I said last May: "None of Northern Ireland's 18 MPs belongs to any of the Big Three, so aside from their ability to lobby they merely serve to raise the bar for an overall majority in the House, from 317 seats to 326. Changing demographics in the Province suggest that, ever so slowly, Northern Ireland is moving to a closer relationship with the South... [She] is drifting away into a different future."

3. If (1) and (2) are correct, then that leaves an Anglo-Welsh Parliament with 573 seats to contest, and who knows how voter behaviour would change in that context? Especially if we re-visit the merits of the Alternative Vote that Lab and Con combined to jeer at in 2011. As I said at the time:

"No-one can foresee exactly how voting will change when all votes count, or at least half of them, anyway. The LibDems needn't assume that it will benefit them most, for if it does, the other parties will adopt a raft of me-too policies. No bad thing, perhaps, to make politicians work for a consensus.

"And maybe, just maybe, we'd start to examine the candidates more carefully, rather than simply glance at their rosettes. No wonder there's such resistance to change from the spoiled heirs of the present arrangement. Just who IS funding the "No" propaganda?

"Ah, but without (so-called) first-past-the-post we wouldn't have had Thatcher, say the Conservatives. Well, I think a general retrospective reassessment of her achievements is in order, seeing as how we've nearly killed our industrial base and allowed the financial sector to come out in a massive, choking algal bloom. But while we're reviewing her with the crystal hindsight of history, we can look again at the miserable record of the Socialist governments, too. The vaunted advantage of a government enabled to take bold action on the back of a Parliamentary majority founded on a minority of votes, is not such a strong argument, in my view."


We're in for an interesting time in and after this campaign, and as long as the EU doesn't find a way to turn our common disaster into an opportunity to tighten its grip on its slave nations, we may be able - eventually - to shake things up and make a new, freer and fairer arrangement. Quite possibly a less politically corrupt and arrogant, and a more economically prosperous one, too.

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Hari's rats: is drugs liberalisation the answer?

"Powerful interview with Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream.
This will completely change the way you look at the war on drugs:
http://bit.ly/1yrYMlD - ‪#‎EndTheDrugWar"

Hari has his own agenda, but I agree with him and Russell Brand that addicts (of all kinds) need treatment.

I worry that decriminalising drugs will lead to a massive increase in their use among children - you have only to see how porn and violent fantasy have spread down the age brackets. And of course, there are millions of stressed and depressed adults who will be tempted to lean on any available - if ultimately disabling - crutch.

Hari argues (from a 70s rat experiment) that a well-balanced society produces individuals who are unlikely to abuse drugs. I think he misses the logic of his own argument: it implies that we shouldn't liberalise until we have such a society.

I see every day traumatised young people who are prime potential victims of illegal and prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Billionaires are waiting in the wings, ready to develop another market in exploiting weakness. These lions are eager for us to tear down the fence between them and the lambs.

Yes, a purely punitive approach is not enough. But until that sane and loving society has been established - somebody tried it 2,000 years ago and we see how long that lasted - we need some way to protect addicts and potential addict-recruits from themselves, plus therapeutic help for those who are already caught in the trap.

This may not please those who call themselves libertarians, but I don't agree with the latter that you can do exactly as you please to yourself without in any way impacting on others.


 

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Friday, April 17, 2015

The statue

This is another excerpt from my aunt's memoirs describing her childhood in the back streets of Derby almost a century ago.

Empire Day. 
We prepared by walking the evening before to the field with the pond in the centre and there picked red tipped daisies. Behind the churchyard we’d find bluebells or birds eye and at home, made button holes to pin to our frocks. I can’t recall a wet Empire Day. One year it was so hot that, singing in the playground, one girl fainted from the heat. To the accompaniment of a piano brought into the playground for the occasion, young voices sang with gusto Flag of Britain, Land of Hope & Glory, Rule Britannia and many more. We’d end with the National Anthem and then troop home for the rest of the day.

A great number of small incidents come to mind, after all most of life consists of trivial events which we either enjoy or if unpalatable, try to accept with as much equanimity as possible. For obvious reasons I’m sticking pretty much to the former. In any case, isn’t it better to bear in mind the happy times rather than bemoan the sad?

Cohen’s Bazaar
My friend Glad and I were about ten or eleven I suppose, we’d run errands, saved the ha’pennies until we’d sixpence each. Just before Christmas we went to Cohen’s Bazaar in St Peter’s Street, a forerunner of Woolworths.

I can’t remember what Glad bought but my choice was an open fluted glass dish the colour of dark topaz for my mother. I was thrilled with my purchase. It was of course wrapped in newspaper, nothing so extravagant as brown paper at Cohen’s and walking home (there was no money left for tram fare) I was terrified lest my prize should slip through my fingers. Dripping wet but with the goods intact we got back. I hid my present in the bedroom, managed to find a square of reasonable paper to wrap it in. Mam kept that dish for years, long after I was married.

The statue
If I went into town on an errand for Mam I sometimes was given enough to pay the tram fare and if so, chose the open top deck when possible. The tram stopped at Bloomfield Street. Sitting on the left hand side I could see over the wall and into the garden of one of the big houses. Impolite it might have been but that garden rapidly drew my eyes. Flagged path, old fashioned flower borders and shrubs, trees, immaculate lawn. And to cap all this loveliness a statue of a chubby boy. I fell in love with that grey still figure and always looked for him.

Ever since, the ambition to own a statue has never diminished though my taste has changed and I would if I could, choose something for my garden with a more classical beauty. After my husband retired – he was seventy – he went to sales galore to try and get me a statue but no success. Eventually, being a stone mason, he said he would carve one for me himself. Alas he became ill and unable but I can still see in my mind’s eye that little chubby boy amongst the roses and lavender.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The military vulnerability of the West


"Tokugawa Yoshinobu leaving for Edo, looking at the fire at Osaka castle in the background."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Osaka_Castle

An excerpt from Sunday's Peak Prosperity podcast:

Chris Martenson:  ... One of the things I have been talking about is that a lot of it is perception. Perception rules a lot in life. In the United States, people say the United States is the world’s reserve currency. Of course, it is backed by having the most powerful military in the world. That is the perception.

John: That is the perception.

Chris Martenson: That is true if and only if you can project that power. How do we do that? We do that with this thing called a blue water Navy. We have all these ships out there. One of the things I keep telling people is you have to go onto Live Leak. You have to look at these anti-ship missiles – the Acon800 and other similar things, and the Sunburns the Russians have. They completely teach you that a Navy is no longer a useful thing. We still have the perception that it is.

I do not know if you caught this, but I love this incident. The USS Donald Cook sailed into the Black Sea last April to show the Russians a lesson. This is one of our—this is an Aegis Class Destroyer. It is packed with the most brilliant electronics in the whole world. This thing has 50 anti-aircraft missiles. It is like its own little island of death. The Russians sent one SU-24 Sukhoi jet, flew it over this thing, and jammed every electronic thing on board—just shut it down with some technology that they have.[*] Then they proceeded to fly back and forth in mock bombing runs. They would have just taken the ship out. This is our most advanced ship in the world. It was taken out by a single jet and just shut down. To me, that was a huge warning sign. I would have thought that our response to that would have been something like maybe we do not really want to poke that bear. If we lose the perception of having this indomitable military, we lose a lot, possibly including reserve currency status.

* See the original balls for public consumption (“Donald Cook is more than capable of defending itself against two Su-24s”), then an unofficial account ("After the incident, the foreign media reported that “Donald Cook” was rushed into a port in Romania. There all the 27 members of the crew filed a letter of resignation.")

John: Among other things. My most recent novel – I have three novels out. My most recent one is a near future novel called Twilight’s Last Gleaming. It actually focuses on the consequences of the United States getting itself into a situation where it actually suffers a serious military defeat. Yes, the effective destruction of a carrier task force is a central part of that.

Did you catch the story? I think it was last year. The Chinese had a submarine come up in the middle of a US military naval exercise.

Chris Martenson: Yeah, they came up and they waved.

John: They came up. They waved. They went down. Nobody had detected them. They could have carried out torpedo runs against the carrier and everything else in sight. The Chinese are turning out one after another—they are turning out these first rate very silent subs. They are turning out these light catamaran missile boats, which I think are probably going to be the prototype of the navies in the age of the cruise missile. They are small. They are disposable. They are very fast. Their basic purpose is to get within range to launch cruise missiles at something. But we are still fixated on our aircraft carriers.

The thing is this happens. You mentioned 1914. In the run up toward 1914, everybody was convinced in Britain that Britain’s survival depends on battleships. They put an immense amount of money into building and upgrading their battleship fleet. The battleships did absolutely nothing during the war. There was a Battle of Jutland, which was completely inconclusive. After this, everybody’s fleets just went home and sat out the war. Then in the run up to World War II, the British did exactly the same thing. They put all their money into battleships when smart money was going into aircraft carriers. Among other things, that is why Britain had most of its holdings in Southeast Asia and Indonesia scooped by the Japanese. The British had battleships and cruisers down there, and the Japanese simply bombed them into oblivion from the air. We are facing exactly the same situation with our aircraft carriers. At some point soon, I do not know what soon amounts to here, but at some point the US is going to send a carrier group into some situation. There is going to be a flurry of missiles from the shore. And the age of the aircraft carrier is going to end. The reputation for invincibility that the United States has is going to end too. The consequences of that are immense. Those are things that I was trying to sketch out in this novel of mine, Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

Chris Martenson: I cannot wait to read that. I love thinking things through from that. I think we have to think through the scenarios. But it has been completely obvious to me ever since an aging A4 aircraft using a French exocet missile sank the HMS Sheffield in the Falklands War. When was that – 1983 or something? ['82, as many British readers will know - Ed.]

John: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: I mean that taught me a couple decades ago. Oh yeah, ships are done. Still there is this perception that the United States has this very powerful military. It is true. But it is true only because we have not gone up against somebody who knows how to sink ships yet. We beat up on Noriega. We did a little Grenada action. We did a little Saddam action. It is really like an NFL team that has gone up against three pee-wee leagues and has decided it cannot be beat.

John: Yeah, that is exactly it. I mean we sent our bombers against the Serbs and the Serbs shot down one of our stealth planes. Do you remember that one?

Chris Martenson: Oh that is right, they did. They did.

John: The remains of the plane were then quickly shipped off to Russia. All of a sudden, they have first rate stealth fighters and we are stuck with the F35. We could have a long conversation about that dog.

Chris Martenson: That is just a trillion dollar program that does nothing.

John: No, it has performed brilliantly at its mission which is to completely destroy the US Treasury [laughter]. It has been enormously successful as a money sink.

Chris Martenson: It has bombed the Treasury successfully. The hit rate is 100%.

John: Exactly, it has a hit rate of 100%. It just does not do anything else well. Then nobody else thinks that there is ever going to be a hot war where the United States actually has to scramble serious planes. If that ever happens, we are in up to our eyeballs in alligators as I said.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

How does Government Debt go negative?

Today came the news that short-term German government paper was following the Swiss example and turning negative, not only that but its expected that it won't be very long until the 10-year Bund follows suit.

Quizzical isn't it? Why would anyone pay for the privilege of lending someone money?

Friends and colleagues of mine, having a hunch that I know a little more about finance than they do have been asking me about this quite a bit recently and to be honest I have struggled to give them an answer they could happily digest. Well it certainly is a "new normal" and set to spread throughout the developed world as things get worse but how and why is it happening?

In short this is what Quantitative Easing has wrought. Institutions paying for the privilege of lending their money to insolvent governments. Not because those borrowers are such low risk counterparties, but rather because now real investors must compete with totally price-insensitive Central Banks hoovering up sovereign debt with freshly 'Printed' money.

If you want to understand this mechanism in a little more detail here is an excellent blog post by David Stockman who is examining a fascinating new blog by none other than the architect of this mess, Ben Shalom Bernanke.

This is the crux of his conceit:
A similarly confused criticism often heard is that the Fed is somehow distorting financial markets and investment decisions by keeping interest rates “artificially low.” Contrary to what sometimes seems to be alleged, the Fed cannot somehow withdraw and leave interest rates to be determined by “the markets.” The Fed’s actions determine the money supply and thus short-term interest rates; it has no choice but to set the short-term interest rate somewhere.
He doesn't even know what this mythical rate should be, but whatever figure he comes up with I'm sure it will be agreeable to the bankrupt sovereign states of the West.


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Pledge


Elections are all very well, but each one seems a little less sane than the last and the current charade seems to be the worst of the lot. Even the acting is crap. Although charades are not supposed to be taken seriously we are surely entitled to a touch of sparkle from the political furniture - or candidates as we tend to call them. 

I’m sure we are losing the democratic plot here. Or maybe, ghastly thought,  this is the plot. Of course plotting is what democracy is all about, but we are where we are and due vote democratically are we not? Apart from the electoral fraud, gerrymandering and rigged voting system of course.

Made-up-on-the-hoof promises seem to be all the rage at the moment but people keep making fun of them. MarkMac and Demetrius have posts on this most popular and topical comedy.

These soundbite-sized promises are mostly... or should I be calling them pledges?  Don’t political poseurs refer to their promises as pledges or has that word been tossed overboard because it reminds everyone of furniture polish?

Anyhow, nobody but a party loon would believe their promise/pledges and even then he or she would have to be a fringe loon. Imagine being a fringe loon. Cut off from the cynics at the centre, cut off from the great mass of uninterested normal folk, cut off from everything that makes life worth living. Crikey it’s a grim thought isn’t it? There should be a charity for them.

Speaking of charity, I’m hoping someone will promise free marzipan for pensioners. Something seasonal to go with the winter fuel allowance we are forced to spend on Christmas booze in order to kindle some inner warmth and maybe even a hint of goodwill. It’s not that I’m particularly fond of marzipan, but it has that distinctive seasonal aroma of almonds - or cyanide as we chemists often call it.

So what will the loons promise next I wonder, because I really don’t have high hopes for a cornucopia of marzipan. Cracking down on bad things, pouring money into good things and generally avoiding anything which might tax... oops, wrong word... and generally avoiding anything which might cause political offence.

So what could cause political offence apart from almost any serious discussion on any subject?

...nope I’m struggling with that one.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

I am an immigrant

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/Bundesarchiv_Bild_175-S00-00326,_Fl%C3%BCchtlinge_aus_Ostpreu%C3%9Fen_auf_Pferdewagen.jpg


I am an immigrant. I was born in a country that no longer exists. My mother was born in a different country that also no longer exists.

I think there should be some system to control immigration, just as cars should have brakes, accelerators and steering wheels.

I do not think it is acceptable for the multi-party Establishment to use Goebbels' technique of the oft-repeated Big Lie to confuse economic planning with racial prejudice.

We are seeing the limitations of democracy as the people's ignorance and gullibility are used to undermine their future.

But I think the liars will win.


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Infestation in the ivory tower

Education dons gather for pre-prandial sherry in the Senior Common Room
In the Mid-Western United States, we have species of cicadas, which are referred to ’17-year locusts’. Every 17 years, the grubs emerge from the tree trunks where they feed, grow wings and swarm, mating as they go. The mess and noise that result are impressive.
There is a species of middle manager with a similar life-cycle. These are the education reformers, who emerge from the darkness every decade with a plan and a promise to fix all problems in the system. They are a parasitic and destructive organism.
While not technically predatory, they will scavenge weaker and more timid creatures. For that reason, their preferred habitats are the fields of Mathematics and Science. There, they are able to clear great swathes of space and build large numbers of flimsy and unusable structures in short periods of time.
Just before the extent of the actual damage becomes known, they retreat safely into academia, full of grant funding, and rest until the next generation emerges.

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