Tuesday 30 June 2015

The biggest question about Greece that nobody will ask or answer

Given how much I go on about Greece and have done for many yeas,  have been trying my best to leave it this week.

For Greece, there are only two choices; penury under European hegemony or an exit from the Euro, with chaos and confusion before eventual renewal. Neither of these are very palatable dishes.

However, the really interesting news this week is to watch the reaction of those who know...the 'CEO' of Europe, Jean-Claude Junker, is saying Greeks will commit suicide by leaving the Euro. He is a dangerous man in his own right and it was right for the UK to oppose his Presidency - with his one-eyedness that will lead to huge future problems for the EU as it pushes up against integration issues across all states.

Further more the biggest story of all is not being covered.

Where has all the money gone? Since 2000 when the Greece was admitted to the Euro over €300 billion has been borrowed and spent. So the key question is, who borrowed it and who spent it?

We all know the Olympics 'cost' more than the London Olympics ($15B versus $14B) and resulted in a loss of $14 billion. Property developers and building contractors made huge money out of this venture - all of it now likely residing in Switzerland.

Equally, we know that few people have paid tax in Greece for a long time - so their lifestyles have been above what they have been earning. But still I doubt this would cover the loss. German exports to Greece are now €4 billion a year, down from double that in 2008 -but still its net trade is a €3 billion positive in Germany's favour. It sends over tourists and BMW's and which don't really balance each other out.

Hence German businesses, as well as French, are keen to hold onto their Greek market. Of course, behind German thinking too is that a Grexit in the long-term will enhance the value of the Euro - anathema to a Country based on a mercantilist policy.

Also, Greece has not really repaid much of its debt, payments have been made until today at a steady €7 billion a quarter, but this barley covers interest in the main and thus the total stock of debt has kept exploding upwards. More debt has been issued to cover the increasing debt repayments to avoid default - so in effect more debt is being accrued to pay the European owners of the original debt. I can see this amounts to over 60% of the total money Greece has borrowed

But I don't really know where the other money went, but it is interesting that this is not a topic of discussion at all by either side - the Europeans are refusing to admit they are in effect bailing out their own banks and taxpayers by forcing Greece to endue austerity in extremis whilst paying themselves back. The Greeks are not up for admitting the huge corruption that must underlie the initial uptick in debt to pay for the Olympics and other such projects such as the Egnatia highway and railway upgrades which have been ( and still are) both expensive and often contracted out to European major corporates.

Friday 26 June 2015

Tory Shale Policy - Cooking on Gas Yet?

On Tuesday we had a look at the surprisingly robust implementation of Tory manifesto promises on onshore windfarm development - but what of the pro-shale policy ?  Towards the tail-end of the comments, someone mentioned shale fleetingly; but Lancashire County Council seems not to have got the message.

When we discussed this last year I opined that the protest-tide may have turned, in the face of new-found determination on the pro-shale side  -  see, for example, this publicity stunt: 'students for shale' !  The anti-shale independent beat the LibDems and Geens in Fylde at the election, but still came only fourth.  Going into the election, Labour had a cautious and rather qualified but nonetheless pro-shale policy, but some of the leadership candidates clearly intend to backslide to a more comfortable anti-everything position.  Evidently the daft old left has decided to get out onto the streets again, so a revived anti-shale movement may be afoot.

What larks.  I don't detect the newly emboldened Cameron has any time for faffing around on settled policy issues, nor any truck with the swampy brigade, but the Country Squire set still has a bit of influence with him.  Osborne is just plain pro, and Lancashire is presumably part of his Northern Powerhouse.  Amber Rudd is said to be taking the summer off to devise a new energy policy.  Let's see what she comes back with after the hols.


Thursday 25 June 2015

The EU non-negotiation?

The Great Leader, Mr Cameron, so recently the beneficiary of a fluke, but complete, victory takes centre stage in Europe today.

By a hilarious co-incidence he has chosen yet another Grexit deal-or-no-deal day to launch into his list of 'demands' that need sating to keep Britain in the EU.

The list will no doubt be short with plenty of uncontroversial bits on it like simplification of regulations and a better single market. No EU ministers will be voting against that.

Nor on an opt out from joining the Euro which we already have.

But there remain two issues still to give us 'Outers' some hope. One is that on immigration and freedom of movement the EU stance is very solid. Polish people in the UK should be treated like English people in Poland - fair's fair. The fact our benefits system is out of control is really an expression of our own dysfunctional Government and not an EU problem.

Of course, were Poland suffering from huge net immigration rather than emigration with its attendant remittance benefits perhaps the song would be different.

On this issue, I see little room for compromise and so the Government will be forced to sell a fudge at best to the UK public in a referendum. Given this is also UKIP's strongest and best criticism of the EU then there is some hope.

Then there is Greece. With no deal it will be a calamity and how this shows the EU's strength is beyond me. The mess is awful and largely self-made but it reflects badly on German Leadership to allow the EU to show it is not one for all and all for one. The question is Greek exits is who next? When is it our turn? Will the Germans turn on us?

Again, that could be powerful re a UK referendum. The hopes are very small but the seeds are there and we will see if they can grow. Cameron is at his highest point politically; hubris normally hits at this point.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Trading Places

UK trade with the rest of the world.


I was looking at an old brochure on mailings. BQi sends out many parcels each day and have a software package to help with that. UK is always top destination.

On the international screen the 14 most frequently chosen destinations have individual apps for speed of use. This is a generic screen for all users and not just for BQi. So looking at the page image in the old brochure can see the countries popular for mail order and general postage in 2002.

So what has changed ?

Top destinations that feature on the old and new screen. These are the Big 8 that have been considered our main traders for at least the last 15 years.

  1. Ireland
  2. United States
  3. Australia
  4. New Zealand
  5. France
  6. Canada
  7. Germany
  8. Channel Islands
Dropping off the tailgate of UK favourite, no longer making the frequent flyer list.

  1. Japan
  2. India
  3. Pakistan
  4. Belgium
  5. South Africa
 And climbing aboard the lorry in the ferry queue in their place

1. Spain
2. Italy
3. Poland
4. Netherlands

The channel isle' have split into  Jersey and Guernsey. Presumably due to greater trade. This might have been due to the VAT loophole exploited under the New Labour years that allowed a special EU low value import item tax relief being applied to the islands and making them one of the largest suppliers of CDs and DVDs on the planet.  

A study by the Kantar Group found that in 2009 there was an 18% increase in the volume of online CD sales. Many or most of these were shipped from the Channel Islands, although they are almost always controlled by UK-registered parent companies.

So - 4 new EU countries take the place of  3 former colonies and Japan, who's powerhouse status has declined considerably.

If memory serves until about 2009 Commonwealth countries received a mailing discount through Royal Mail. This has ceased. Meaning all non Europe mail is the same price.

 No idea how this data is compiled. But as its user defined it has some use.
We know exactly why Poland has suddenly appeared as a destination. 750,000 Poles now live in the UK. Up from below 170,000 in the 1960s. 

Spain has become a UK retirement destination as well as a UK export area. Some 750,000 Brits live in Spain. Up almost 1/2 million from the numbers in the 1980s. And Spaniards living in Britain has gone up from 50,000 to 95,000 since just 2011.

 Belgium disappearing might be simply language. Dutch speak English well. UK Ebay is the best in Europe. By a large margin. UK regular mailers can pay to have their items featured on Euro-Ebay pages.The Dutch might just be better able to shop online on UK websites.
There are no customs charges for inter-EU trade . Belgium with their French-Dutch just might be less able to translate the web sites and make more use of German-French sites.

Italy was considered a no go area for mailing until very recently. As expected if you post to Germany it will arrive efficiently within whatever the timescale that was chosen. Post to Italy and you might have a 50% chance of item ever arriving at all. Italy's postal delivery service was such a basket case that the EU had to specifically introduce legislation that no member state could refuse to post to any other member state. Improvements have occurred and Italy, though still a nightmare for sticking items into customs for months on end, seems to have become a UK destination. There are only around 120,000 Italians in the UK.

India + Pakistan - South Africa all dropping out of the featured destination? Why would that be? 
SA seems obvious. The flight of UK settlers back home after the end of Apartheid. And lower incomes all round. South Africa shows UK as its top migration destination. But it has fallen along way down the UK's favourite emigration list. Australia and New Zealand, USA and Canada are more popular non European destinations. The awful crime rates must play a part in that.

India and Pakistan ? What happened to them?
Still over a million of each community in the UK. China would be my guess. Buying in direct from China.
So why is China not on the list? Our chief importer nation and we export them the grand total of nothing very much ? Language and import restrictions. Low world rated worker incomes and closed borders is the answer. 
And Chinese making up only 350,000 of UK population.

EU nations gaining over non-EU? 
Some ammo for the 'In' team?

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Tory Windpower Policy - What's Cooking?

True to its manifesto, the government has signalled an end to onshore windpower development.  That is, of course, unless the wind industry somehow delivers on its claim to be 'near to grid parity with costs falling all the time', in which case they won't need subsidies ...  I needn't go on.  Even then, with increased powers - nay, obligations - for local planning authorities to take local protests into account, a hypothetical 'economically viable' windfarm might struggle to get consent.

This will piss off several noisy groups in no uncertain terms:
  • greens, obviously
  • developers who pretend to be hippies but are as uninterested in the environment as the average coal producer, and considerably more hypocritical
  • landowners hoping to join the great game
  • the SNP, as their entire energy policy is predicated on a very significant increase in Scottish onshore wind capacity, haha.
So in political terms it's quite a development - and an opportunity to surmise what's going on in renewables policy as a whole.  The Tory manifesto isn't much help beyond the fate of onshore wind: "We will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible, and will not support additional distorting and expensive power sector targets."  The first half of that is fatuous - see the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon - but the second is interesting ...

The UK is more or less on course to hit its 2020 renewables targets.  (I put aside the issue of whether 'achieving the target' is anything more than an arbitrary feat of civil engineering.)  So beyond that, where does the government imagine it is headed with the 'green crap'?  A cynic would say: no politician looks beyond the next election and - given the lead-time of big new developments - the die is already cast for 2020: in which case, the next 5 years is all about (a) keeping the lights on and (b) spin. 

But I suspect there is a bit of a longer-term plan there somewhere.  The Paris jamboree looms large and at least something will emerge from that with implications for the next while.   If forced to guess where the government is going (which has nothing whatsoever to do with where it ought to be going), I reckon:
  • momentum / pride will lead them to continue trying, for a while, to get the EDF nuke deal away without conceding anything extra, on the grounds that (as far as we know) there isn't much to pay until the damn things actually start generating - which won't be in Cameron's political lifetime, to put it mildly
  • ... but if EDF plays its usual trick of saying, zut alors, the cost has gone up by another EUR 2 billion, we need some more £££ - then the whole thing will be allowed to fold
  • Osborne intends to fend off any actually difficult targets for the 2020-2050 period: even though Paris will be an insufferable piety-fest, Merkel has shown how the can may be booted clear over the horizon
  • they think offshore wind + biomass is, in practical terms, enough to meet whatever will end up being the 2030 targets - and quite a good job-creation scheme for British industry
  • they will attempt to ensure the UK is there or thereabouts in any nascent CCS industry that might one day come into being (don't hold your breath)
  • they will manipulate the new Capacity Market to ensure new gas-fired plants get built. 
Any other reading of the runes?


Monday 22 June 2015

The last post on Greece before the Euro exit?

Really, this is unlikely to be the last post on Greece, but it could be the last one before Grexit.

Interestingly today the EU Commission - the hotbed of fundamentalists who put the EU before everything (except their wallets which are supported by it)  is making all sorts of soothing noises in the EU media about how Greece's new proposals are just great and a deal can be sealed.

On the other hand the IMF is in a quandary - the IMF supports real basket case countries on the rule that it must not actively support bust countries and piss away the wealth of the world's poorest countries into basket case situations. Unfortunately for Greece, it current falls foul of this basic criteria.

As such the IMF should technically force a default here is Greece fails to pay. That means the EU will have to find the money to pay the IMF at the end of the week. They will do this via the ECB and possibly by the European Stability Mechanism which was sort of designed to enforce the will of Eurofudge.

I don't know whether the Greek plan is in fact new or just the latest in the bizarre rantings of the mental communists the Greeks elected to run their show.

I guess we will find out today whether the mother of all Euro Fudge is being baked or if even the EU Commission has lost its power over Germany and the will of the majority of EU citizens to stop throwing good money after bad.

Friday 19 June 2015

The Strategic Uselessness of Miliband

Earlier in the week Mr Quango recounted his surprise at Miliband's ultimate failure to cross the line, given the long list of advantages he enjoyed.  As Bill said, BE and I were less surprised - see this from 2013, for example; and by around February (2015) as you may have gathered, this dyed-in-the-wool partisan wicked-Tory had become really quite optimistic.

Partly this was because the hard painstaking slog in my local marginal was clearly beginning to pay off for the MP and his battalion of foot-sloggers.  Much as one prefers wars of maneouvre over wars of attrition, the bold decisive stroke over the hard grind - sometimes only the long slog will do the trick.  Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle, as the US Marines are wont to say.

Partly it was what I could see of the Crosby-Osborne strategy at work, which was clearly achieving the modern goal of getting inside the other guys' decision-loop (the Northern Powerhouse initiative being a case in point).

But it was also built on a foundation of confidence that Miliband was a strategic loser - which goes beyond his splendidly 'un-Prime-Ministerial' demeanour (Kinnock syndrome) and his proclivity for periodic gaffes.  I shall explain.

From his election as leader right up until election day, Mili was widely reported to exude a calm, other-worldy certainty of 2015 triumph.  UK electoral history was always broadly against him, as everyone knew: the economy was more-or-less bound to recover over a five-year period; and few losing parties have ever turned things around in one cycle.  And yet he was calm and certain.

This is crazy, lazy stuff, at once messianic and (whenever any modern politico-atheist reckons history is on his side) Marxist - and we know where he got that from.  The practical outworking of this heartwarming optimistic fatalism in terms of his electoral thinking was the famous '35 per cent' strategy, on which Mr Google will furnish you a heap of references, many of them derisive, many of those from the Labour camp itself.

Now of course it might indeed have been possible (just about) to get a Labour majority with 35% of the popular vote: so far, so good, but that's not the point.  I tend to set these things in the military idiom, the relevant slogan being:  if you want to hold a river, you must hold both banks.  In any walk of life, if you want to stand still, you must advance.  In Mili's case: if you want to scrape home with 35%, you must be targetting 40.   If you target 35 (or, still worse, if you think 35 is yours for the taking), you will get ... the fruits of your laziness.

But this isn't just a matter of degree: targetting 40% doesn't just cost you 40/35 times as much campaign cash + effort over a 35% goal.  It's not just laziness that a lame target engenders; nor is it just a matter of diminishing returns, although that's a factor too.  In order to target 40% realistically, the policies you must run with will be utterly different to what you'll be satisfied with for a 35% campaign.  For 40, you really need to push out beyond your true comfort zone.  But Mili ... Mili was wedded to a very comfortable zone indeed, a zone of zen.

As the months passed I became ever more convinced - from both media reports and his public demeanour - that he was possessed of a belief in historical inevitability; and that this would fatally undermine his commitment to driving forward all the necessary hard thinking and hard work.   But since there was nothing historically compelling about this particular belief*, and additionally because God helps those who help themselves (which was the Tories how were operating, at both local and strategic levels), I became increasingly sanguine about the whole affair.

* In truth, during the period May 2010 - May 2015 the only person entitled to believe in 'inevitable' was George Osborne, as regards the economy more-or-less righting itself in that timeframe.

Thursday 18 June 2015

My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender

My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender.

Or, perhaps not. At least according to the French. Napoleon won a moral victory at Waterloo.
French Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's wrote a book Les Cent Jours, about the battle. In it, de Villepin writes glowingly of  Napoleon and explains his unexpected loss to the British at Waterloo with the words, "This defeat shines with an aura worthy of victory. The final symphony of the greatest military composer ever, it only just failed to turn to France's advantage."

Which must rank up there with Hirohito's  "The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage."

Other famous French military victories might include those moral victories of  Crecy. Agincourt. Trafalgar. Sedan 1870 and again 1940. And those are just the ones Britain was involved with.
Dien Bien Phu is another howler. Though in fairness the French have won the Eurovision song contest five times.

"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."

Which was said about the heroic, futile and costly Charge of the Light brigade which our French Allies wisely sat out.

The Belgians have minted special commemorative  €2 coins decorated with images of the battle that really annoyed the French.. They grumbled about lacking the spirit of EU unity and going against monetary policy or some nonsense and tried to stop the coin. The Belgians have made a 2 and 10 euro coin. But to stop the French sulk have restricted them to Belgium only. Allowing only Belgians to get their hands on these undoubted collectors items

There is a counter factual piece that has been doing the rounds for a few months. It claims that a Napoleon win at Waterloo would have seen Europe speaking French. A united states of Europe, The French conquest of China. No European world wars and a host of other fanciful and unlikely events that would never have happened.

The fact is that although Waterloo was 'A damn close run thing' and one of the most decisive battles in history, it actually mattered little to the bigger picture. Napoleon was going to be defeated anyway. It would have just taken a little longer. The Austrians and the Russians were already marching. The losses at Waterloo would never be made good. Napoleon lost around a third of his army. He would have been defeated in a few weeks or months time. 

But, Napoleon and his army were defeated by the tenacious defence of the Duke of Wellington and attacks of Marshall Blucher. Roundly and soundly defeated. 
Wellington's Line formations had too much firepower for the French massed Columns. And all the Gallic whinging about the soggy ground, the unexpected arrival of the Prussians and Bonaparte's piles won't change that fact.
The failures at Waterloo were Napoleon's. He knew the terrain would be boggy. He gave no orders. Wellington knew the Prussians were coming or he would not have chosen to stand. If the illness was too great to bear he had some of the best subordinates of the age in his army. 
His enemies made sounder dispositions, made far fewer mistakes and took their chances as they came.

That's how battles are won.

Just ask Lynton Crosby.

William 'Wellesley' Quango MP
Chairman of the Conservative 1815 Committee

Wednesday 17 June 2015

China Oil inquriy - Situation Normal

The Capitalists have been at work, hence the slight interupption in service....

A quick update to the China Oil stories of last week. Apparently, apart from a few arrests and minor indiscretions all is well now - there is even an official looking press release on Reuters.

So perhaps there was nothing to it after all....

Anyway now for a fun game - how much money was alleged to me to be missing do you think?

A) $60 million
B) $600 million
C) $6 billion
D) $60 billion
E) $600 billion

(As a pointer, the physical crude trade alone in China is around $1 billion per day, double that or more when you add in refined products, then there are derivatives etc that all the majors play with)

Answers in the comments.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Greece: Acropolypse now

This must be the 50th piece I have written on Greece, but I do find the story so interesting. For so many years I thought it would be Spain that blew up the Euro; it just seemed so obvious, the housing bubble, corrupt Government, total lack of balance in the economy. As it turns out Spain for a while made austerity sort of work.

It won't in the long term and if Podemos get near power then we can expect a Greek re-run next year (just in time for our referendum - better than a present from Santa!).

But Greece has beaten even the Spanish to it. World class tax evasion and Governmental corruption has seen them lead the field. Allied with a intransigence on behalf of Germany to admit even slightly that their mercantilist policies might have something to do with the crisis in Southern Europe and hey presto, Grexit.

For a long time there was to be Euro-fudge. The Euro could not be allowed to collapse, as in 2008, Politics would trump economics. But the IMF have walked now, the Syriza poly of thinking the lenders will come back to the table is in jeopardy (I say Jeopardy because funny things can yet happen at the 11th hour).

More intriguing is now the talk is of Greece defaulting within the Euro. This is a brilliant idea; currency union has failed so let's wipe the slate clean and stay in the same currency union.

Amazing piece of double-think and only in truth allowed because it will save The ECB's arse on the losses in Target Two funds if they all stay denominated in Euro's.

Gotta love the Euro leaders too, saying how terrible and awful it will be for Greece and how they won't be able to fund rescue help. This is first order bullying bollocks by the Euro leaders, showing perhaps they are more scared than they are letting on - an inkling that perhaps Syriza will get their concessions at the eleventh hour?

Monday 15 June 2015

Daniel Hodges. Someone should say it . He was right

Dan Hodges.

He is to be commended for two very good reasons.


Almost alone among newspapers commentators Dan Hodges said that Ed Miliband was a loser. 

Not at the end when it was obvious. But at the start when it wasn't.
Right from the very beginning, Hodges lamented the Ed victory. He rightly predicted that by choosing Edward over David, Labour had lost the election.

A confirmed Blairite, naturally he thought David would have been a better choice. He even wrote a piece for labour uncut saying David Miliband would win. That was a poor prediction. 

He wasn't alone in thinking the younger Miliband a less capable leader. Many of us thought so too. But what set the long time activist, former union man apart, was he continued saying it long, long after everyone else began to think differently.

After the Omnishambles Osborne budget Tory poll ratings collapsed. Labour wasn't so much rising, as the Coalition were falling. Miliband advisers had told him this would happen. All governments fail. None increase their popularity through office. By targeting just 35% of the vote Labour could win. The bold, cunning plan, as Baldrick once said , was ..

"..we do ...NOTHING!"

Liberal democrats would be returning to the Labour party. That alone raised the party to 32%. Just 3% steal from floating voters and Britain was a red land again. UKIP were taking Tory votes, 3:1 over Labour ones. Maybe even a 31% strategy would pay off? All Miliband had to do was make the occasional vacuous statement. To jump upon any passing bandwagons until he found one that seemed like it might carry him a little distance. Ride it, dump it, and jump to the next.  Just wrap the faithful in labour's comfiest of comfort blankets, Class War and give them the suckling dummy of attacking the Murdoch press, and that would guarantee a win.

I wrote in late 2014, when Ed Miliband was coming under a lot of pressure and there was even talk of him being toppled,  that he was the luckiest labour shadow leader ever. That Neil Kinnock would have given his genitals to not have the problems that he had had. And to have the advantages that Edward Miliband had. I listed 35, top of the head, reasons why that was so.  I said that no matter how bad Miliband was and how unelectable the Labour party he would still become PM. Because the maths of  Lab+SNP+Lib Dem and all the polling since 2012 said so.

Dan Hodges never moved from his position that Ed was a loser and would not be Prime Minister with a majority. He set out his reasons in a clear, reasoned way.

 Miliband lacked depth. Was wafer thin on policy. His 'ideals' were ethereal. He was a policy light, soundbite heavy, ineffective leader. A serial PMQs loser who expressed his vision for Britain about as well as he ate a bacon butty. He even continued with his claim that Ed Miliband would not become PM, at all. 
Long before the Pink Bus, the two kitchens, the Russel Brand night visit and the EdStone, he had been despairing of Labour's whole campaign. Of its infantile insistence on treating the Owen Jones/Polly Toynbee twitter echo chamber as if it were scrupulously analysed hard polling data from Ipsos Mori.

That takes some courage. To be a national newspaper journalist, supposedly someone who supports Labour, yet who constantly says, 'our man is a nice guy, but that's it. He won't win.' When almost everyone else was saying the opposite.

Mr Hodges was attacked by Labour commentators on the telegraph website. For being a Tory. And by Tories for being a Blair supporter. He was seen by many as an out of touch, out of the loop, has-been hack with an axe to grind. A grumbling, delusional fool who couldn't get over his choice of leader not getting the job.. An irrelevance. An irritant and a turncoat.  A 'FIFTH COLUMNIST'
Labour bloggers said 'he is working for Crosby.'  And berated him for his outlandish prophecies of imminent socialist doom. 

 Yet on May 8th, almost every other commentator, pollster, broadcaster, columnist and blogger, had been shown to be wrong. And Dan shown to be right.
Miliband had not just failed to win. He had had a spectacular defeat. One of those from the jaws of victory defeats. And Dan Hodges had predicted that defeat all along.

 [BQ and CU began suggesting a Miliband coalition from 2013 onwards and despite the obvious flaws in Miliband's chosen strategies,[this one I liked] never thought a Tory win a possibility. Fellow writers ND and BE both did suspect another Tory coalition or even a small majority Tory government. Good forecasting there too.]


Congratulation Daniel Hodges.
Columnist. Commentator. Media presence. Journalist, PR guru, blogger, socialist and Delphic prophesier. To be that right for that long is quite astounding. 

If Ed Miliband had had that sort of 'vision' he'd be ruling us.

{And the second reason for commending Hodges?}

He makes the finest board wargames available. Fifth Column Games. Where There is Discord is a game about the Falklands War that is one of the most tense solitaire games around. And Codeword Cromwell, which is the 1942 English propaganda film 'Went the day well' on a board, has the same mix of politics, historical events, deep characterisation and solitaire game play and make this also a great game. AAA ratings for both. They are already collectors items even though they are new releases. Can't praise them enough.}

And These People Have Jobs ... part 94

I have been a tad scornful about the FT's Nick Butler in the past: he enjoys the luxury of a long weekly column in the FT to prose on about energy and, we must suppose, they pay him.  To be fair, about half of his pieces contain the germ of something interesting.  The quality, however, is variable.

This weekend he has really excelled himself.  Writing in an appropriately skeptical manner on the nonsensical fantasy that is Carbon Capture and Storage, he defines CCS as 
taking the carbon out of hydrocarbons before they are burnt and then burying it
Before they are burnt ..!  This one made even Mrs D (whose education was in the classics and fine arts) laugh out loud.

I am guessing the FT will take it down soon, before Butler dies of a surfeit of rotten tomatoes.  However, for the time being it is to be found here.


Saturday 13 June 2015

Gotta Love the French (Again)

The French are beating themselves up - again - over their beastliness to foreign visitors. 
In a reference to the sometimes gruff welcome offered to tourists, [foreign minister] Fabius said a humorous publicity campaign would be launched, encouraging the French to improve service levels and help tourists when they could. “To put it diplomatically, we have room for improvement here ..."
I'm looking forward to that: they do a pretty good 'humorous publicity campaign' in France.  The Metro is festooned with rather fine posters urging more considerate behaviour (see the animal-based offerings here).

The graffiti on posters are often good for a chuckle, too.  Here's one I found recently.

Earnest, or tongue-in-cheek ?  A Gallic confection of both, probably.  


Thursday 11 June 2015

Labour leadership plots a new course back to power

The Labour leader hopefuls reflect on their crushing election defeat and prepare to plot a new course for the party. Away from the disastrous left wing, union demanded, discredited policies of rent controls, price freezes and handouts.

Does Madame Merkel Give Happy Endings?

- or is she just slicing Tsipras' salami?

Happy endings when I say so
Some years ago I found myself in mortal conflict with my employer: a big company so, an unequal contest, it might be thought.  But no.  They devoted a small percentage of the time of one bored HR director (and an even smaller % of a lawyer) to the fray; whereas I was on it 24/7, with 110% motivation.  Everything worked out just nicely.  That's the way some things go.

Other times, though, the big guys are implacable - and patient.

Amid calls for "happy endings", it seems our champion has taken up the can-kicking challenge once more, and given the Greeks another toe-poke along the road.  The next bit of wedge in return for the first of the big reforms: a simple formula.

And since the Greeks' calendar of repayment dates is a lot longer than the list of reforms, we can see where this one might be going.

That's the trouble with the EC types: they just don't go away, and they reckon history is on their side.  They may be as wrong about that as the Soviets were: but Tsipras won't be able to hold his breath long enough to find out.

Happy ending?  We may have to wait a bit to find out.  Ah, but can she kick the can out beyond 2017 ..?


Wednesday 10 June 2015

More on Those Chinese Oil Movements

Further to CU's piece of Monday, I have turned up some numbers on the extraordinary downturn in China's oil trade.

New York . Paris . Peckham . Beijing
This time last month it was being reported that China had become the world's biggest oil buyer.  For oil of all grades, the total of production plus net imports for 1st Qtr 2015 showed 7% growth over 2014; and for gasoline it was 9% up.  That's more than GDP growth alone could account for (if we believe any of the numbers at all, of course.)  

There was a lot of trade in gasoil (diesel) also, in both directions: March set a record for exports, after an export quota limit was removed.  Notwithstanding this, Chinese gasoil inventories grew significantly, suggesting that the very substantial net imports in this grade also were not wholly required for local consumption.

And then the collapse of which CU wrote.  Strange patterns of trade, eh ?  Still, we believe in free trade.  Mange-tout, mange-tout, the import-export business is a funny old game.


The false god of the OBR

I really don't get George Osborne. He is lauded nowadays as the great political genius and strategist, as well as a canny Chancellor.

In reality his 'Plan A' was no mathc for the markets of 2011 and the Euro crisis, he quickly switched to more or less following Ed Balls' plans for the rest of the Parliament. This was a wise choice, but highlights again how little real difference there is in the managerialist approaches of our political parties.

Now, with a Tory majority and 'long-term economic plan', he is considering scrapping the Bank levy and writing into law that Budgets must be balanced in times of plenty.

I am vehemently against the reduction in the Bank Levy, this has done a good job of concentrating bankers minds on not over-stretching their balance sheets - the single main cause of woe in 2007/9. Also how stupid to cut taxes for Bankers as a priority, poor politics on the lines of the 2012 budget omnishambles. If corrupted HSBC would rather be in China then good riddance to it, let's see how the execs due against the firing squads when the Politicians turn against them there. You only have to read my post of Monday this week to understand how dangerous the business environment is in China.

The worst call of all though is this 'fix the roof whilst the sun is shining.' On one level I agree with it strongly - the national debt is unsustainable and a multi-decade effort of restraint is called for, we are nearly 10 years into the first one and the job is less than 40% done.

However, to say the OBR should be the repository of judgement as to when the economy should be balanced or not is just silly. The OBR got growth targets wrong in almost every year of the last Government. Some years over-estimating and some years under. Markets move very quickly - not at the moment heightened tension as Grexit is now 50/50 and China rapidly slows.

To accredit an independent body to regulate a Government's finances is bizarre, more so when it is one that has a brief and not very glorious history. Why not ask the Bank of England, or the IMF?

When a crisis hits all such planning goes out the window. Most economists and the Government did not see 2008 coming. They wont see 2015, 16 or 19 coming either, its the way of the market. To try bind them in such a way is illogical.

People in the UK voted, just, for more austerity. The Government can enact its will for 5 years. If the people then vote for the nutters who want to splurge, so be it. Trying to legislate in this way is anti-democratic.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Angela Merkel, Queen of Can-Kicking

Frau Merkel, we learn, has made herself the hero of the greens by getting the G7 to agree to "decarbonise the global economy in the course of this century".  That's Angela Merkel, who has presided over a national energy policy which has seen German CO2 emissions rise (sic) for three straight years, haha.  And her with a doctorate in quantum chemistry too.

85 years - that's quite a kick she's given that can.  Sounds about the right timeframe to move the whole thing into science fiction territory.   I have always reckoned that fifty years from now the issue will have gone away anyhow: a combination of natural population-peaking and the kind of unforseeable technology-breakthrough that can't be predicted exactly, but always happens.  Given, of course, that there is absolutely no shortage of energy on the planet.  Solar PV is an obvious candidate, but maybe electricity storage, or both, who knows?  (Thorium-heads to the comments column, please form an orderly queue.)  There's no shortage of people working on these things, night and day: as they say in academia: if you come up with a viable means of bulk electricity storage, you can name your university after yourself.

In principle, the G7 country most upset by the Merkel manifesto should be China but hey, words are cheap and what do they care?   CO2 is irrelevant to them: they are going to choke themselves to death long before the GW gets them.  Canada and Japan are said to be the countries looking uncomfortably at their feet, but then again, 85 years ...   Oh well, on to Paris for the can-kicking world championship.

Meanwhile: let's see her give that pesky Greek can a hoof.  Big boots needed, though, to avoid a painfully stubbed toe.


Monday 8 June 2015

China oil imports drop 23% in May.

The world oil markets are rocky again today, with news that China's imports of crude have fallen 23% in May and also that Chinese exports are down for the third month in a row.

Meanwhile, US output due to fracking is continuing so there will be a huge oil glut this year. OPEC seems no nearer to heeding its £30 million barrels a day output target as  nations like Nigeria and Venezuela remain desperate for hard currency.

Meanwhile, there is more to the China story than meets the eye. According to a good source of mine, there was a helicopter crash in central China last month, the helicopter was flashy Eurocopter and it turns out it was unregistered.

A quick check found 25 other unregistered copters all sold to scion of Oil executives in China's major oil companies. And shortly thereafter the investigations came. The discovery of a chain of executives taking big bribes to buy oil at expensive prices (or cheap, with loaded commissions).

If this sounds far fetched enough the sums allegedly stolen I won't even type - its just too fantastical.

However, I note this was last month and then the following month imports of crude have collapsed. A nice co-incidence no doubt?

Sunday 7 June 2015

Here's Desperate

A fitting tribute to Charles Kennedy would be a revival of popular liberalism - Will Hutton 
But in the same Observer issue ... 
As Labour tries to resolve its past, the Tories are mapping the future - Andrew Rawnsley 
Haha.  (One day, someone will write the story of how Hutton comprehensively f**ked up the once-worthy Industrial Society.  It may be me.)

PS: see what Rawnsley says about "this is an election to lose" ...  a man after my own heart: there is NEVER an election to lose.

Friday 5 June 2015

Grexit looms into view

RBS puts Grexit at 20% risk after today.

I think in reality this is much higher now. The offer from the IMF/EU is simply not what Syriza can stand in Parliament or get passed. As such a bill will either fail or lead to new elections.

How can Greece organise elections and still make around €3.2 billion of payments by the middle of July is beyond me.
I really hope Syriza go for it and have elections, then campaign to leave the Euro as a last chance to convince the EU to take their democratic (if not fiscal) claims seriously.

With each passing day it appears that the classic Euro-fudge is off the menu - the Germans just won't wear it and the IMF has an eye on other debtors globally and can't be seen to let an EU country escape its grasp due to special pleading.

Developing and Interesting.

Those immigrants pooring onto the Greek Islands are making a lot less progress than they think they are!

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Referendum: the Power of 'No'

Of the forthcoming referendum, our longtime commenter (and sometime drinking bud) Steven L said yesterday:
I reckon the powers that be have learned a lesson when they plumped for 'yes' to be the 'in' vote. If you want people to vote 'no', you'll have to run a negative campaign and vice-versa surely?
Interesting. The last two big plebiscites in these islands were AV in 2011 and the Scotties last year.   Those two questions were, respectively:
At present, the UK uses the "first past the post" system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the "alternative vote" system be used instead?
Should Scotland be an independent country?
The 1975 referendum, won by 'Yes', was asked:
Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?
Next time around it will be:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”
which is rather the same as 1975, with the new-found preference for starting with 'should'. 

Those jolly voting opportunities in 2011 and 2014 were won by 'No', so (a) is the 'No' side really doomed to run a negative campaign?  and (b) does that matter?

I'd say it's (just) a marketing challenge, albeit of massive strategic importance, and we already know the classic answer: it's a sunny smile and "nien, danke!".  There are plenty of other ways to play 'upbeat negative': "been there, done that";  "you 'avin a laugh?!", etc.  If you hired Ben Elton he'd coin several more to choose from.

The problem for 'Out' (symptomatic, because it's just one of many) is that you can't easily see any of the current 'faces of Out' pulling off anything as sure-footed as a campaign-slogan-of-genius.  It's worse than that, they are all sour-faced gits (Cash, Redwood et al) or saloon-bar bores (Farage).  It's not easy:  Salmond could never quite come across as sweetly positive for 'Yes', could he?  The mask periodically slipped and it was all hatred-for-England and ambition-for-self beneath.  Boris is the only remotely plausible candidate, and he changes his position on Europe every time his sensitive nostrils detect a change in the wind.  Someone we haven't yet thought of needs to be the person that cometh, when cometh the hour.

I have a feeling we shall be discussing all this again.  Many times ...


Tuesday 2 June 2015

FI-FA, ho-hum

FI-FA, ho-hum
I smell the ploy of a devious bum
Has he resigned, or has he not?
Too soon to say he's lost the plot ...


Response: Why Europeans love the EU

In reply to BQ of yesterday..

Though BQ is right to compare the US to the EU, the US had some major advantages in establishment that the EU does not.

It helps that there were no States before the Union was really created in 1865...no California, no Texas - most of the States outside of the East Coast 12 had no population at all. Also it started with the Greenback currency and after the end of slavery freedom of movement was sacrosanct. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, English is the sole language of the Country, assisting free movement of people massively and providing a shared culture.

The US was built from scratch, reverse engineering such a change onto disparate European Countries - who conquered the world far more easily than co-operated with one another, is a of a different level of complexity.

For me, the key thing in Europe would be single tax rates for income and capital gains, as well as VAT. Then wherever you lived you would feel that it was all fair, that we were all paying in the same. In reality of course the different GDP's would make the differences as stark as now, but at the micro level it would seem fairer.

So the Europeans are right on one aspect, greater integration is essential as at the moment the system is in its worst and most vulnerable phase, being neither one thing nor the other.

At the moment you have non-tax paying Greeks wanting subsidy from heavily taxed French and UK citizens. Cyprus gets nice roads whilst those in Kent and Bradenburg disintegrate through lack of investment due to austerity policies. French farmers are subsidised and Romanian immigrants get child benefits for children in another Country.

Most basically of all, the Southern European Countries who lived by a policy for decades of increasing spending whilst also devaluing their currencies, now find they can spend money but no devalue. The populace and the politicians are finding this conundrum hard. Greece voted for Syriza which promised a hard currency and soft approach to fiscal responsibility - a complete contradiction now being played out for everyone to watch.

Overall, I see the UK as far more like Canada than a State of the USA. Long-established and big enough to survive on its own, somewhat tied to the USA, but independent enough to choose its own course. What is wrong with this? Where is the clamour in Canada for urgent union with the USA (not Canada's size is proximate to that of the UK versus EU too)?

It is non-existent. Just because things can be done, does not mean they should be or have to be. Of course the Southern Europeans love the EU, but what was in it for the UK? The 'IN' campaign in the referendum will be bunch of scare stories, because just like with Scotland the underlying needs for Union are weak and carry no real political or social depth.

Monday 1 June 2015

Why Euopeans love the EU.

I was in Cyprus recently.  Haven't been for about 25 years.
Place looked good. Usual sun and sand and sea. Mountains and breezes and lemons.

The airport was new.  Ultra new. 
Not the shed I remember. Wiki says a €650 million upgrade has been completed. A French led consortium with Greek, Cypriot and Irish investors did the job. the EU operates a marketing scheme for new airports, which this appears to be allowed to be, and so an 18m euro marketing fund  can be tapped into, too.

The road from the airport was all smooth and new. As were the roads in general. Not the Greek style, potholed, crumbling, dusty, surfaces I remember. The roads were good and the road signs were new. Better than in the UK, in some places. 

Digging into the EU papers reveals

The cost of the design and construction of the primary road network (including
motorways) is covered by the Cypriot government with help of the Cohesion Fund: for the period 2004-2006, € 55 million has been allocated by the Cohesion Fund for infrastructure projects in the Transportation and Environment The Cohesion-Fund will finance € 25 million Euro (62% of the total amount of €41 million). 
So that helps explain the new looking bus shelters. The parking bays. The waste bins and the plentiful and frequent buses and fewer wrecks littering the roadside. Cyprus had one of the worst road safety records in Europe. So something needed doing.
If you are a nation like Cyprus, then what could possibly be bad about the EU? These big private-public projects are able to be financed because of the EU. How else can a small nation, dependent on tourism and service industry fund a complete overhaul of its road and air infrastructure? Money flows from the wealthy nations and down to the smaller ones. That money makes life in Cyprus a whole lot better. As it did in Greece. And Ireland. {Ireland and Greece were the two poorest European countries pre the EU.}
And as it will in Romania and Poland and Bulgaria and so on.

As one of those rich nations, who only seems to get more regulation, new laws and a large bill from the EU, the UK can and does often wonder, why are we in this club?
For Cyprus the answers are everywhere you look. Even the raggedy, build as you earn, permanently half completed structures that usually litter the Mediterranean were mostly finished. And this is after the economic crash that damaged the island, and the loss of tourism to Turkey and Egypt because of the devalued pound circa 2008.
 Cyprus looked like a much better place than it did before EU membership.
For the UK a reason for this premierclub membership is less obvious. Unless you look at it as the Europeans look at it. Which is ..as a Federal Europe. 
Cyprus is just the Rhode Island of the EU. Germany is California. And if California is twenty times wealthier than Rhode island, and some of that Golden State cash flows to the Ocean State to make the entire union a better place, Californians don't much care. In the way that it doesn't really bother non commuters that they fund the rail service. Or that a good percentage of the taxes paid by someone in Guildford are mostly spent in Bradford. Because Guildford is already nice. And Bradford is horrible.
Once the idea of a Federal Republic of Europe is considered, then it all starts to make a lot more sense. Free movement of people. Because if the work dries up in Fresno you might need to 'U-Haul' your ass to Providence for work.
One currency, and one federal bank, because otherwise its never going to be a federal republic. A Federal Government with tax and spend responsibilities for all; with individual states having some discretionary tax and spend of their own. A federal police and army, with local police and militia on a state level. 
Once you start to imagine the EU as the United States, the project suddenly seems imaginable..Even possible. Even ..quite similar to Europe.
The ten poorest states in the USA are all in the south.. Migration comes across the southern border, which needs constant patrols, whilst the Northern border is unguarded. Taxes and regulation drive people to murder. Pork Barrel politics is not just practiced, but essential for carving out the largest slice of the national pie for your own state. All we need is some election mechanism whereby the federal government in Brussels can get its two house self into such a partisan lockup that the government has to shut down, and the United States of Europe will be born.

When the referendum comes, it should be made clear. A vote for In is a vote to be a member of this republic.
 A vote for out is to be a Canada alongside the USA of Europe. 

Either way, a Republic of Europe is coming.

Waiting for Greece to be or not to be

An interesting week watching what will happen in Greece. As ever, the markets move as if it will all be completed in a late-night stitch up on Thursday. All will be well in time for Saturday and the US has chipped in to say don't drop the ball and cause a crisis (irony alert - Lehman Brothers).

Meanwhile, perhaps for domestic consumption, the current Greek PM claims that all is not well and the international community are being big meanies -

 "the obsession of some institutional representatives who insist on unreasonable solutions and are being indifferent to the democratic result of recent Greek elections"

So says Tsipras, but who knows what he really means. What we do know is that the group of international lenders are being intransigent. There is no reasonable way that Greece could ever get its public debt back in order without a large write-off. For political reasons, the Germans don't want that to set a bad example for others. Also, as much as the Greeks hate the Troika they don't want to leave the teat of the EU.

The Greek Government was elected on a populist lie, a fine tradition in the failure of Greek politics, which it cannot deliver.

So either we will get -

- Greece forced by the EU and IMF to concede to endless Austerity. With no choice Tsipras and his Government will have to whip up severe anti-foreigner nationalism to try to dissemble away from reality.

- Greece not agreeing, as Tsipras finally gets the EU cares not one jot for Democracy - a messy Grexit ensues but of course Greece defaults and in 5 years will be a much better place that it is now.

On we go, tick, tock.