Wednesday, December 17, 2014

They sure do things different over there 

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

Sometimes its just a real eye opener going to another country, even one that close by and realising how parochial so much of our politics in the UK is and how little knowledge we have of other countries customs, politics and norms.

On a recent trip to Germany it was a bit of a liberation after a long drive to realise the autobahn we were driving on had no speed limit. Yes driving at over 100 mph which is an offence you can lose your licence for in the UK is legal on large parts of German motorways. There has been much discussion concerning the safety aspects of this policy (see here) but it seems there is no definite conclusion that the lack of a speed limit on the autobahn causes a major increased road fatality rate compared to other European countries (note in all countries the % of fatalities that happen on motorways is low < 15%).

Another different attitude can be found concerning the ban on smoking in pubs. In the picturesque Rhineland villages we visited we found most of the the bars ("stubes")  allowed smoking inside (not a totally pleasant experience having been used to the changed UK situation). And even in Frankfurt there was a bar with a sign outside saying “RaucherLokal” (Smokers Local) right in the city centre. Being a bit surprised about this I looked up the situation and found that indeed different regions (Länder) in Germany have different rules (see here), basically it appears that small owner managed bars are exempt in certain regions. Probably this is due to a sensible reaction to the adverse effect that the no-smoking rules have had on the bar sector and look indeed on the effect the rules have had in the UK on the pub trade.

But imagine if it was suggested that in the UK certain non food serving locals should be exempt from the smoking ban. I imagine there would be an outcry in the media with various self-important heath and safety gurus all over the media bemoaning it. And perhaps it might lead to a rise in lung cancer as indeed of course the autobahn lack of speed limit might cause more road deaths. However as with anything else the health implications of a policy are not the only factor we need to take into account in making these decisions.

In the UK these kinds of health and safety issue are nearly always bound up with discussions re cost to the UK health service as we have a fully government funded and publicly run service. But other countries are different. In Germany the service is run by private non-profit funds and insurance companies under govt regulation and nearly everyone pays an insurance premium of some kind. From Wikipedia :
Compulsory insurance applies to those below a set income level and is provided through private non-profit "sickness funds" at common rates for all members, and is paid for with joint employer-employee contributions. Provider compensation rates are negotiated in complex corporatist social bargaining among specified autonomously organized interest groups (e.g. physicians' associations) at the level of federal states (Länder). The sickness funds are mandated to provide a wide range of coverages and cannot refuse membership or otherwise discriminate on an actuarial basis. Small numbers of persons are covered by tax-funded government employee insurance or social welfare insurance. Persons with incomes above the prescribed compulsory insurance level may opt into the sickness fund system, which a majority do, or purchase private insurance. Private supplementary insurance to the sickness funds of various sorts is available.

Who would have thought it eh, a system that heavily involves the private sector in a health service, how awful. Surely Germans are crying out for the implementation of the NHS ?

I imagine that the majority of UK citizens have no idea of how other health systems work even in our close neighbours and the fact that private companies (non-profit or profit making) are heavily involved. The level of political discourse is hopeless on this issue, generally coming down to the tired old "public good, private bad" arguments that Labour still can't properly rid itself of.

These differences are eye-opening in some ways, but interesting, and as they say travel broadens the mind. Its a pity that our politicians and general public don't learn some more about how the rest of the world do things, perhaps we would have a less dogmatic discourse in the political and media arena in this country if they did.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Some thoughts on the Immigration debate

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

Immigration from the EU will be one of the main issues in the next election and interestingly there are signs of movement from the Liberal Left commentariat on the issue see eg John Harris here on CIF :
This year I visited Wisbech – where a third of the 30,000 population is now estimated to be from overseas – and what was happening there spoke loud truths about why free movement has become so politicised. For all that recently arrived families have started to settle, and their children are acquiring new, hybrid identities, there are still glaring problems. Young men from eastern Europe often live four or five to a room, and work impossibly long hours; with echoes of Europe’s macroeconomic asymmetries, the local labour market is divided between insufficient jobs that be can be done by people with families and mortgages, and a surfeit of opportunities for those who will work whenever they are required for a relative pittance.
This creates endless tension. There have also been inevitable problems surrounding how far schools and doctors’ surgeries have been stretched. Is anyone surprised? Moreover, even if such places represent socioeconomic extremes, similar problems surface whenever large-scale migration fuses with the more precarious parts of the economy. In modern Britain, this obviously happens often, and the under-reported consequences of austerity have hardly helped.
What passes for the modern left tends to be far too blase about all this. Perhaps those who reduce people’s worries and fears to mere bigotry should go back to first principles, and consider whether, in such laissez-faire conditions, free movement has been of most benefit to capital or labour. They might also think about the dread spectacle of people from upscale London postcodes passing judgment on people who experience large-scale migration as something real.
And (surprisingly) Paul Mason here also seems to be saying something similar :
But the most striking thing about the Ukip voters polled was their educational background: 76% finished their education between the ages of 15 and 18. No other party comes close to being so heavily concentrated among voters who didn’t go to university. It has nothing to do with “intelligence” – a large percentage of people who vote Ukip simply took a non-academic route to their current place on the income scale.
If you combine this with the fact that Ukip votes spread across all income groups, you come up with the demographic whereby the 2015 election will be won or lost: people who’ve worked their entire adult lives have been shaped by unskilled and semi-skilled hard work. 
So what have such people lost from globalisation? Materially, wages. Whether east European migration really does place an extra downward pressure on low-skilled wages is disputed. What you can’t dispute is that those breaking away from the three main parties believe so from experience. On top of that, globalisation – combined with the info-tech revolution – exerts a downward pressure on incomes, “hollowing out” middle income jobs and making it harder to climb out of low pay. 
Nobody in power gets to live that experience: there is nobody in parliament, or our major media organisations, or the senior civil service or the boardroom, who has recently delivered homecare in 15-minute slots, or worked in an e-commerce fulfilment centre, or ground out the tachograph hours as a self-employed haulage contractor.
Some quick discussion points on this that may be of interest :

1. No one advocates free immigration from countries outside the EU so the issue is not one of a principle of totally free movement into the UK.

It seems to me there is a basic problem for defenders of the status quo here. If free immigration from poorer EU countries is good for the country then why is free immigration from eg South America not ? If I was Farage I would use this argument all day long in the run up to the next election.

2. The main economic issue is of immigration from less economically developed EU countries where wages are far lower. This is what causes the downward pressure on wages here. Also many of the EU immigrants are younger, more motivated and more likely to be able to live cheaply. How would this not cause a downward pressure on wages especially in relatively low skilled jobs ?

3. Immigration will put pressure on resources especially in health and education. The stock answer to that from the Left seems to be that govt should give more funding. But how is the government to plan for this when it cannot tell people where to settle ? In general the govt will only be able to solve such problems after the event and this will obviously cause problems.

4. The potential "Ghettoisation" problem - if a large number of one group of immigrants choose to go and live in a particular area the govt cannot realistically stop this. This means the locals to that area will find a lots of changes and a loss of community, and again this may well be more of a problem in poorer areas. How would this not be an issue ? It will obviously be disruptive to local populations. And what could the authorities possibly do to prevent it ?

The economic advantages of mass EU immigration are obvious for employers and it could be argued for the economy in general, but there are also losers who are now increasingly looking to UKIP and causing massive political disruption. The obvious problems of EU immigration that are now coming to the fore should have been apparent when the experiment was started, indeed they are basically the reason that free immigration is not contemplated from other areas.

Sad to say I think one of the reasons the obvious issues were swept under the carpet is that there has been a refusal to face up and discuss the cons of immigration because of a fear of being called "racist" or "xenophobic". Our political culture has become bizarrely skewed by group identity politics and a media that loves to pick on (because its so easy) anyone in the public eye who breaks social taboos on race and identity.

The appearance of the articles above in so far as they don't mention a supposed racist angle is really quite refreshing. Does this show that finally the Liberal-Left is starting to "get it" on this issue ?  

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Guardian News and Media Final Results - Chief Executive gets £1.4m bonus while papers lose £30.6m

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place  
The Guardian's results for last year are out :
Guardian chief executive Andrew Miller saw his annual pay treble to nearly £2.2 million as the media group rewarded him for selling its stake in car website Auto Trader, even though the core newspaper business remained heavily loss-making.
Guardian News and Media, publisher of The Guardian and The Observer, lost £30.6 million in the year to March against a £33.8 million loss a year earlier.
However, turnover climbed 7% to £210.2 million, thanks to digital growing by a quarter to £69.5 million, while print revenues stayed “broadly flat”.
Parent company Guardian Media Group swung to a pre-tax profit of £549.2 million as it banked a huge windfall of £619 million from selling its 50% stake in Trader Media Group, owner of Auto Trader, to Apax Partners.
GMG paid only £1.4 million in corporation tax but Miller insisted the profits from Trader were not liable for tax under the Substantial Shareholdings Exemption rule.
He got a £1.4 million “long-term” bonus, on top of his salary of £696,000, plus benefits.
The GMG boss said he deserved the bonus, which was  “contractual”, because he has overseen Trader for 12 years, including as finance director, and “relinquished my equity” when he joined GMG in 2009. “That’s the bulk of my award,” he said.
GMG also gave Miller a short-term bonus of £226,000, which would have taken his package to £2.4 million, but he deferred it until next year. He acknowledged his pay was high but pointed out he has waived nearly £500,000 in past bonuses. Editor Alan Rusbridger’s pay was flat at £491,000.
Do the phrases "corporate greed", "fat cats" and "growing inequality" mean anything to the hypocrites that run this paper ? 

I really wonder how the dwindling readership (down c3% in the last year) stomach the paradox between the simplistic unreconstructed "soak the rich" economics they read on a daily basis and the way the paper is run.

As for the fact GMG paid so little tax on its windfall from the Trader Media group, there's no doubt its all above board but in the past the paper has had the temerity to question other companies such as Barclays that also use such allowances (see here).

Why is it that the most influential Left of Centre paper in the UK is such a hive of hypocrisy ?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Stalinist Far Left still a disgrace at London May Day

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

James Bloodworth has tweeted today about the Stalinist and Maoist banners that are still allowed to feature at the London May Day parade. These are the same or similar to the ones I blogged about at Harrys Place 5 years ago.

To allow Stalinists and Maoists to march with others of the mainstream Left including trade unionists is revolting. I just wonder on the mentality of the other marchers and such speakers as eg John Hendy from the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (see flyer here). How can they march with people carrying posters of Stalin. Its almost mind boggling.

I'm very glad James Bloodworth has picked up on this. Its great to see a journalist of mainstream Left views taking this up and I hope others do too. Extreme outliers of the Left have been given a free pass for far too long by the rest of the Left. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nick says "We are all Sun journalists now." Err - what ?

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

Nick Cohen had a strange article in last Sunday's Observer, complaining that the British press is now under terrible pressure:
Rhodri Phillips was the 21st journalist arrested as part of the Elveden bribes enquiry. If it had happened in Russia, Iran or an African dictatorship, readers of the Observer would know what to expect. Amnesty International and Index on Censorship would scream their heads off about the need for a free press to scrutinise power. Intellectuals would send a round robin to the liberal press. There would be questions in Parliament, perhaps a Radio 4 documentary.
Hold on. Just because journalists are being arrested does not mean those arrests are not justified, indeed today we have found 8 out of 13 NI journos in the Glenn Mulcaire case have been charged with a variety of phone hacking charges. Also, arresting people for hacking celebrities phones where there is no public interest defence is very unlike arresting them for threatening political or corporate vested interests, which is what proper investigative journalists should be doing.

Nick also complains :
Detectives are not now targeting phone-hackers, whom even liberal countries would arrest. They are punishing journalists for doing what they have always done – talking to cops, standing a round, pumping officials for information.
Is that really what is being targeted ? Yesterday we had more info from Sue Akers about what is being alleged in another case involving the Mirror and Express as well as NI :
Two officers at high-security prisons allegedly took illegal payments from Mirror, Express and News International journalists, a senior police officer has told the Leveson Inquiry.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers said one officer had allegedly received £35,000.

But she said stories possibly linked to the payments revealed "very limited material of genuine public interest".

Trinity Mirror said it was co-operating with the police on the matter.
This is the kind of thing that is being investigated at long last, and as is continually being repeated at Leveson it is tabloid practices and crimes with no public interest defence that is the area that requires inquiry and that the police are targeting.

Nick I'm sure understandably has a lot of fellow felling for tabloid journos who he sees as colleagues, however surely it is time that the quality press started realising that the contemptible prurient and intrusive practices of the tabloids are not something that any journalist should be proud of and that the public really has had enough of it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

We haven't heard much about this in the papers

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

Operation Motorman was an inquiry in 2003 when the UK information Commissioner looked into breaches of the Data Protection Act by the British Press.

An piece from the Indy here gives some of the details :
Operation Motorman was set up by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to look into widespread breaches of data protection laws by the media. In a signed witness statement given to The Independent, Motorman's original lead investigator, a retired police inspector with 30 years' experience, accuses the authorities of serious failings, and of being too "frightened" to question journalists.

"I feel the investigation should have been conducted a lot more vigorously, a lot more thoroughly and it may have revealed a lot more information," he said. "I was disappointed and somewhat disillusioned with the senior management because I felt as though they were burying their heads in the sand. It was like being on an ostrich farm."

He claimed that had investigators been allowed to interview journalists at the time, the phone-hacking scandal and other serious breaches of privacy by the media may have been uncovered years earlier. "The biggest question that needed answering was, why did the reporters want all these numbers and what were they doing with them?" His comments reflect badly on the ICO, and the Press Complaints Commission, which was given early notification of the evidence in the Motorman files. "We weren't allowed to talk to journalists," he said. "It was fear – they were frightened."

The PCC said last night that it had never been given sight of the Motorman evidence but had strengthened its code and issued industry guidelines which had led to an improvement in standards. All the information has been in the hands of the authorities since 2003, when a team from the ICO seized the material from the home of private detective Stephen Whittamore. Whittamore and three other members of his private investigation network were given conditional discharges when Motorman came to court in 2005. No journalists were charged, although the files contain prima facie evidence of thousands of criminal offences. Thousands of victims disclosed in the paperwork have never even been told they were targeted.
Now the Leveson inquiry has seen all the files from Operator Motorman, but as detailed here on the Hacked off campaign site they have not been made public. Today however there has been an application to make them public :
Lord Justice Leveson has recognised a request from the Hacked Off campaign for the Operation Motorman database to be published.

The judge said David Sherborne, barrister for the core participant victims, was welcome to formally submit the request if he thought it would highlight the culture and practice of the press rather than “who did what to whom”
A lot of journos would appear to have been in the frame after the Whittamore inquiry, see here :
The ICO later obtained search warrants for the Hampshire office of a private detective Steve Whittamore.[5] A huge cache of documents revealed, in precise detail, a network of police and public employees illegally selling personal information obtained from government computer systems. The personal information that Whittamore obtained from his network was passed on to journalists working for various newspapers including the News of the World, the Sunday Times, the Observer, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror.[5] At least 305 different reporters have been identified as customers of the network.[6]
Mmm - I wonder if the cops are going to start going after the 305 journalists named in this investigation ? And if they don't what will that mean to the trials (if they ever happen) of the journos who are presently in the frame ?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Why don't we deport Abu Qatada to Belgium ?

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

The Abu Qatada case rumbles on interminably. One of the odd aspects I've read is the fact that he is apparently wanted on a warrant from other countries such as the US, Germany and Belgium. Now, it seems the problem with deporting him to Jordan is that he may be up against a trial with witnesses against him that MAY have been tortured.

But if there is a warrant against him from Belgium why don't we just send him there ? I presume the ECHR doesn't think they torture witnesses. I've looked on the web for the possible reasons for this but apart from conspiracy theorists types saying that a trial there as opposed to one in the UK would bring out stuff that our security services might not like, can't find anything to solve the mystery.

I am not a lawyer, so this is mystifying me quite a lot, is there any one out there with more knowledge who can shed light on this issue ?