30 October 2008

Ross/Brand: A tsunami in a teacup

Extraordinary goings-on at the BBC... Jonathan Ross suspended for 3 months without pay, Russell Brand out the door.

Because some rude messages (included in the broadcast on 18 October) were left on Andrew Sachs's answerphone concerning the fact that Brand had sex with Sach's 23-year-old grand-daughter. Well, nobody's going to condone swearing into people's answerphones on BBC radio - Sachs was pissed off and rightly so. But Brand and Ross both admitted they'd overstepped the mark and apologised, Sachs accepted the apology, and perhaps we would have thought the matter would have ended there - maybe with a fine for the presenters.

Instead, one of Radio 2's flagship presenters is gone for 3 months (at least it'll save the Beeb some money as he's grossly overpaid, but that's an argument for another day) and another popular show is off the air for good.

And why? Basically because the Mail on Sunday got hold of the story and ran it ten days after the show was recorded. These desperate fuckers at the Mail, who are in all probability far more depraved than Russell Brand could ever dream of, sell their filth - far more disgusting and warped than anything on Radio 2 - to an equally desperate audience.

There were 1,585 complaints received by the BBC after the Mail on Sunday story ran. How many complaints were received by the BBC before the story ran in the Mail? TWO.

The whole thing is a f***ing joke which once again proves that BBC director-general Mark Thompson is a government patsy put in to reduce the Beeb to a compliant zombie institution in the wake of the Hutton report in 2003. Your licence fee is now being used to pleasure Daily Mail readers... I wish Brand and Ross had attacked the gutter press in their statements to the media after the story broke.

Have we really progressed any since the days of Mary Whitehouse? Doesn't feel much like it.

26 October 2008

364 vs 16

In 1981, 364 economists wrote to The Times to condemn the Thatcher Government's lunatic monetarise policies.

In 2008, 16 economists have written to The Sunday Telegraph to condemn Alistair Darling's plans to spend his way out of the recession.

They couldn't even reach 5% of the 1981 figure... it's a sad day for right-wing protest.

24 October 2008

Vote-rigging and civil disorder: welcome to John McMugabe's America

Some very good news for Barack Obama today on 538. With one (rogue) exception, the national tracking polls look awful for McCain, and the state-level polls look even worse.

With the Republican campaign increasingly resembling Michael Foot's ill-fated 1983 UK venture (and indeed John McCain is much the same age as Foot was back then), there has been speculation that if the polls are wildly wrong, riots could break out - or worse.

If there is an upset, right-wingers will undoubtedly try to blame it on the so-called "Bradley effect" - white voters not voting for Obama on race grounds, after saying they would vote for him in opinion polls. This despite the fact that there is considerable evidence that the Bradley effect has been negligible in any race since 2000, at least.

A far more likely explanation for the upset is systematic and widespread voter fraud - particularly in key states where the Secretary of State is a Republican - which I've discussed before. If that explanation is accepted, brace yourself for widespread civil disobedience - National Guard on the streets, protesters being shot and gassed, that sort of thing. A recreation of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, in other words.

Great blog post here (also mentioned in the Telegraph article linked above) arguing for mass non-violent civil disobedience in the event of McCain election theft. Hard to disagree - hopefully people will have learned from the mistakes of 2000 and 2004, where Bush stole the election twice.

But the only problem is that the US police and National Guard will turn a non-violent protest violent pretty damned quick. As Alex Jones among others has pointed out, America is a police state now. Which may mean that things get ugly very quickly. Although, given that even the Republicans are predicting that the Democrats will keep control (and indeed extend their majority) in both the Senate and the House, McCain and Palin wouldn't be able to get any radical right-wing legislation through anyway - so the impetus for civil disorder is somewhat diminished. The revolution will probably have to wait until the vote-rigging is even more pronounced - which, in the absence of voting reform, becomes more and more likely the longer the Republicans are in office.

23 October 2008

This isn't TV (it's Youtube.) He isn't William Shatner (but actually he is.)

With apologies to Dave Gedge and the wedding present, you have to see this... from the increasingly bizarre William Shatner Youtube channel, here is Shatner, very sad at not being invited to George Takei's wedding.

Except, according to Takei, he was.

I wanted to do the thing where it posts in the Youtube clip but I'm having a few technical issues at the moment - I'll get it sorted in the next few days.

Palin for 2012? Oh please... Bring It On.

Woke up to the following headline in the Telegraph: Republicans 'considering' Sarah Palin 2012 presidential campaign.

Are these people insane? (Well, maybe - they are Republicans after all). Have they not seen the opinion polls on Palin which (after a brief 2 week positive blip) went massively negative?

Have they sat down and watched any of the completely incoherent Palin interviews, or that cheese-fest of a debate with Joe Biden?

It would seem to me that Palin is the least suitable candidate the Republicans could choose for a 2012 presidential run. She would only be able to win if Obama makes such a hash of things in office that anybody could win on the Republican side - and even then she could easily turn a landslide victory into a narrow defeat. The Democrats (and many others) hate her. Even more so than Bush - she takes most of the worst aspects of Bush and amplifies them about six hundred times. Bush said a lot of dumb things but he never said that he had foreign policy experience because you could see Russia from Alaska on a clear day.

With Palin's combination of extreme ignorance and extreme arrogance, plus the deteriorating world economic situation (if it really is an extreme slump) there is every possibility that America could be drawn into nuclear conflict between 2013 and 2016.

And at the end of the day, that's what many of the Conservatives want. They want the Antichrist. They want Judgement Day.

But for all that I'm backing Palin as the Republican candidate for 2012. I can't think of anything that's more likely to guarantee re-election for President Obama and a strong Democratic majority in all houses of Congress.

My advice to anyone in the US reading this is this: if you have any Republican friends or associates (I guess it's just possible) I recommend that you spend the next 4 years 'bigging up' Sarah Palin. The more of a positive vibe you can generate for her, the better. If, by your actions, you can ensure that the Republican party fights the 2012 elections as an extremist rump, then that's wonderful news.

21 October 2008

Temporary breathing space?

Some good news on inter-bank lending rates over the last couple of days -they seem to be gradually trending down. But is this the end of the banking crisis, or just a breathing space?

For the pessimists among us, an interesting article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph a couple of days ago. "Almost every corner of the world is now being drawn into the vortex of debt deflation". Debt deflation is a theory originally invented by the economist Irving Fisher in the 1930s - the basic idea is that a crash in asset prices precipitates forced selling to cover debts, which reduces prices further, leading to more debt and more selling... etc. The details of the theory are described very clearly by Professor Steve Keen of the University of Western Sydney in his excellent book Debunking Economics. Professor Keen also has a blog looking at the specifics of the debt situation in Australia, which is a recommended read.

More big falls on the Asian stock markets last night - of course the general effect over the last month has been a rollercoaster rather than a straight downward path, but nonetheless the general trend is sharply down.

There's also a scary story from Eastern Europe: Hungary has raised interest rates 3 percent to maintain its currency peg against the Euro. A lot of Hungary's private sector borrowing (e.g. mortgage and car loans) is in foreign currencies (why?) and in these circumstances, a currency collapse of the Hungarian forint will raise the levels of Hungarian debt, exacerbating debt deflation. Other central and eastern European countries may be following suit soon.

Some good news when I manage to find it...

20 October 2008

Votes and the Voting Voters who Cast Them: Franken up in Minnesota

Things have been a bit dull on the national politics front both in the UK and US over the last few days. The problem with the kind of near-collapse of financial markets that we've seen over the last few weeks is that, once the euphoria/fear factor has died down and normal service is resumed, it all seems a bit of an anti climax. Especially for those of us who were sitting waiting for the crisis, and then The Revolution. : -)

As an interesting diversion, I thought I'd alert people that US comedian and writer Al Franken is running for the US Senate in Minnesota this year (as a Democrat, natch), and latest polling has Franken marginally ahead. His campaign seems to have been slightly erratic - like Joe the Plumber, there have been allegations that he owes a lot of unpaid income tax, voters were apparently turned off by negative campaigning on both sides (but especially from incumbent republican Norm Coleman, and there is a third party candidate (Dean Barkley) drawing about 20% in polls on an 'independence for Minnesota' platform!. But I really hope Al gets in - BBC Four did a documentary following him around on the 2004 campaign (where he wasn't running for office, just having arguments with various right-wingers) and it was a classic.

If you haven't read it, I can thoroughly recommend Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them - subtitled 'A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right' (parodying the Fox News slogan - and see 'Unfoxed' for the lowdown on that operation), it's an hilarious and razor-sharp attack on US right-wing pundits like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity. In the UK you can normally avoid f***ers like this just by not reading the Mail, Express and the Telegraph (although at least most of the right-wingers in the Telegraph have a brain - excepting Janet Daley and Simon Heffer) but in the US they seem to be everywhere, although the decline of Republican fortunes makes them seem more shrill and pointless with each passing day.

16 October 2008

Rounding up Round Three

Watched the last of the presidential debates early on this morning (on Youtube here.)

A lot of it was re-treads of familiar ground, particularly from the first debate. McCain actually did better this time than in earlier rounds. It wasn't that his argument on the economy was particularly strong - it's just that he managed to connect it to a simple example which people could understand. He used a guy called "Joe the plumber", a small businessman Obama met on the campaign trail who was worried about tax increases. Obama should have countered that argument by saying that the US government is massively in deficit, hence someone's got to pay more tax to re-balance the budget (over the business cycle) and it sure as hell ain't gonna be the people at the bottom of the pile. "Joe the plumber" is actually a fair way up the income distribution (is he paying corporate tax or personal income tax? It was never made clear) - so even if he's struggling, he's in a better position to pay than people on lower incomes. Obama did make this point to a certain extent, but it could have been clearer. In general Obama seemed more sluggish than McCain early on, although it evened up as time went on.

The Ayers (ex-Weatherman who Obama was on a school board with) issue was raised by McCain but came off as a bit of a damp squib. The worst bit for McCain was when he was defending the people who came to his meetings - "the finest people in America - war veterans" or some such thing. Does being a war veteran excuse someone being a complete fascist who calls Obama a terrorist? Apparently so if you're John McCain. Obama should have pulled him up on that a bit more.

I think it came off pretty much even Stevens, but the post-debate polls showed that independents were more favourable to Obama. That may be because Obama was more 'centrist' (detractors would say more vague) and less combative, whereas McCain was energising the Republican base but not really getting across to the swing voters. Or it may just have been that people haven't watched the debate and are just backing the person they think is gonna win.

Either way, there is no way this debate was a "game-changer", and it wasn't really worth staying up for, either. Definitely a case of quantity over quality in these debates. Having said that, it's nice to have something of this kind - we don't have anything like this in UK general elections despite frequent attempts to set one up, which is a real shame.

15 October 2008

Boris the Keynesian?

A surprising article in the Telegraph yesterday by Boris Johnson, sounding like Old Labour , if anything. Get this:

We will beat this recession more speedily, and emerge in far better shape, if we make sure we put people to work in projects that boost the long-term competitiveness of the country.

That means investing in the things that can radically improve the transport, attractiveness and general liveability of the capital city, the motor of the British economy. We may be in a hole, but the lesson of history is that tunnels and bridges and dams can bring jobs and growth.

Is this the same buffoon who somehow managed to win the London mayor election? Well yes, probably, as Boris has probably realised he's unlikely to get re-elected if unemployment in London has sky-rocketed by 2012 and all he can do (other than handing out free tickets to the London Olympics for the unemployed) is tell people to get "on their bike".

But when Boris Johnson is making the case for Keynesian infrastructure spending to combat the slump, you know the political battleground has shifted.

So who's left in the rapidly shrinking camp of balanced budgets, fiscal rectitude, and the position the Americans are calling 'neo-Hooverism' - conspiring to prolong the slowdown by reducing demand for goods and services at the point the economy can least take it? That's right, it's our old friend Simon Heffer again:

The orgy of borrowing over which Alistair Darling now presides and which some Tories wish to continue — such as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who recklessly calls for continued spending on capital projects for the capital that, pending economic revival, cannot be afforded — must end.

Nice use of "capital" twice in one sentence, there, but otherwise an intellectually negligible contribution. In the same article, Heffer recommends John Redwood - Klingon and one-time Tory leadership challenger - for the Shadow Chancellor post. This guy must have bubbles on the brain or something. I will have to resist the urge to post any more from Heffer this side of Christmas, as you good people need something intelligent to read, not rehashed monetarist bullshit.

Stock markets tanked again today - no real surprise, as the fact that the world economy's been saved from sudden death doesn't mean that it won't still face a long period in intensive care. Never thought I'd say this, but Boris Johnson is right: time to dig out those big public transport projects and borrow to pay for them.

Someone should make Gordon Brown a really big credit card - like those big cheques you get if you raise a large sum of money for charity. It would be a good gimmick at the next Budget.

Elmer Fudd in the last chance saloon

Just been over to fivethirtyeight - a regular virtual stopping post of mine - and the polling data goes from bad to worse for John McCain.

The site has a model based on state and national level poll data which runs 10,000 simulations - I think on some kind of Monte-Carlo basis using random draws from the statistical distribution of outcomes for each poll (with polls weighted according to the quality of the pollsters' methodology). Anyway, currently they predict that Obama is 95.8% likely to win the electoral college. That's pretty good odds.

If the prospect of a Republican victory wasn't so terrifying right now (OK, they'd be massively hemmed in by a Democratic Congress, but McCain could still declare as many wars as he likes) I'd be feeling a bit sorry for McCain. Based on polling from the Republican primaries he was probably his party's best bet for a win this year. Huckabee, for example, would probably be 30 points down in the polls by now if he'd won the nomination. But he has to contend with fascist extremists at every rally. Many commentators (apart from the BBC's Justin Webb, who is desperate to pretend it's still a close race out there - for reasons I don't pretend to understand) have given up on him - even on his own side. And Sarah Palin, who initially appeared to be an inspired choice of running mate, has turned out to be a liability, with a sequence of interview gaffes that makes George W Bush look like a master of the English language. She's also massively energised the Democratic hardcore, who hate her guts in a way it's tough to feel about McCain.

Also, McCain looks - and SOUNDS - more and more like Elmer Fudd from the Bugs Bunny cartoons with each passing day. Maybe when he referred to Obama as "that one" he meant to say "dat dirty wabbit".

McFudd's last chance of getting back into this race could be tonight's final presidential debate. On paper, he hasn't got a lot going for him. The 'town hall' format of the second debate was meant to favour McCain, but in the end he didn't do any better than in the first debate. Of course, anything could happen, but I think barring a Gerald Ford-like clanger from Obama, he's home and dry...

...except if there is some major threat to national security over the last 3 weeks of this campaign. Another bombing? A bin Laden videotape (as occurred just before the 2004 election?) It's easy to be dismissed as a conspiracy theorist for bringing this kind of stuff up, but the possibility is always there. Of course, if Obama is far enough ahead, a slight swing back to McCain on the back of "terror" fears won't be enough (barring truly massive levels of electoral fraud.) Still, it pays to be cautious. Playing dirty doesn't really seem to have worked for McCain, so, like Windom Earle in Twin Peaks (an interesting comparison) he may have to start "playing off the board".

13 October 2008

More moronic commentators

On a slightly different note, I heard perhaps the weakest defence of the "no-bailout" position yet today from Tim Congdon of Lombard Street Research. It was down there with Simon Heffer in the lameness stakes. Big props to me old mate "Foley" for finding this one - it was on the World at One, which I don't listen to much (normally having an afternoon nap around then).

Congdon essentially said that the government had stolen the banks from the shareholders. Effectively he accused the govt of creating the crisis to drive down bank share prices and then nationalising once prices fell below a certain threshold. The same accusations were levied at Tony Benn when he was Industry Secretary for the Labour Government in 1974 (not for banks but for other industries). It was b.s. then and it's b.s. now. Shareholders will actually gain a lot from this deal relative to what they would have had in the absence of the deal (which is little or nothing, as the banks would have gone bust, like Lehman Brothers). The Congdon interview will be available for the next few days from BBC iPlayer (World at One, 13 October - about 11 minutes in) but I couldn't find a permanent link on the web at the moment, unfortunately.

However, you can download some equally moronic commentary from Lombard Street's podcast page. There's 9 minutes of doggy-doo from a guy called Jamie Dannhauser (who looks about 17) which I couldn't find a direct link to, but it's called 'UK bank bailout - necessary help or dangerous govt interference?' Just guess which of those options Jamie puts his money on. The analysis is hackneyed 80s Thatcherite pro-deregulation, pro-private sector rubbish - exactly the kind of crap that got us into this mess.

See, that's why the arguments are so easy to win for the left at the moment - any time a right winger tries to argue with you, just point out the current economic crisis and the (Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite) policies that got us there. It's like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment out there. On Channel 4 news today, Labour left-winger John McDonnell totally annihilated an ex-director of Bradford and Bingley over the question of whether there should be democratic control of banking remuneration - because listening to a guy from Bradford and Bingley giving his opinions on the way out of the crisis is like getting advice from George Bush over how to stay popular in politics. They are busted flushes.

It won't always be this easy, but after 25 years when the neo-liberals seemed to be in the ascendancy most of the time, it's nice to watch these guys squirming around a bit.

A day long remembered

As Darth Vader says in Star Wars, "this will be a day long remembered". Most likely, anyway.

It's seen:

Gordon Brown now has some pretty solid ammunition to use when painting himself as the saviour of the British economy in these trying times - a Nobel prize winner in economics says the British plan is a good 'un. Those props to Brown just get bigger and bigger every day.

Of course, the whole caboodle now hinges on whether the economy can now resume some semblance of 'normality'. Well the Dow Jones has gone back up, but of course you should never place much importance on any single day's trading - come back in six months and see what the indices look like then. The main issue is how severe the oncoming recession turns out to be. If it's just a severe recession - the politicians done well. If it's a severe slump - you can kick their asses.

12 October 2008

McCain scrapes the bottom of the barrel and digs up some nasty bacteria...

With John McCain well behind in current polling with only just over 3 weeks to go, it's no surprise that his campaign is trying to play dirty. Just how dirty is a real worry.

Last week Sarah Palin was let off the leash to say that Obama was 'palling around with terrorists' (that's "pal-ing" rather than "palling" or "Palin", for those of you who've previously been confused by Palin's loose command of American English). The specific story is that Obama was on a public committee with a guy called Ayers who was once in a 60s/70s left-wing terrorist group called the Weathermen. None of this is new - it all came out earlier in the campaign. And by the time Obama knew Ayers he was long past being a terrorist.

But the specifics of the Ayers case aren't the real point of the exercise. The point of the exercise (and of McCain's phrase "that one" used to describe Obama in the second presidential debate last week) is to increase the "otherness" of Obama. To make him seem more 'un-American' and therefore more dangerous to swing voters who are receptive to Obama's general policy line (and particularly his economic policies) but worried about this guy with a weird name, who perhaps seems a bit of a risk. It's what the Tories in their 2005 UK election campaign called a 'dog whistle' strategy.

Except that the dog whistle is being heard by another group of voters who aren't swing voters by any means... but rabid right-wing lunatics.

If you do a search on YouTube for "McCain rally extremism" you'll find some worrying stuff. For example, here there are people shouting out "terrorist" and "kill him!" when McCain mentions Obama. There are plenty more examples like that.

McCain did speak out this weekend at one rally to say that Obama was a "nice family man" and didn't deserve these kinds of offensive insults from the crowd. But that was only one rally out of dozens.

I don't think John McCain thinks Barack Obama is a terrorist, but by failing to stamp on this stuff as hard as he possibly can, he's in danger of opening a very nasty can of worms - as veteran civil rights hero and Congressman John Lewis has pointed out.

There's a lot of worry on sites like FiveThirtyEight that Obama is in danger of being assassinated on the campaign trail. I'm not sure if this is an exaggerated fear or not because I don't know how well presidential candidates are protected. I assume that because George Bush has survived 8 years (almost), presidents are well protected, but I don't know enough about candidates. The people who aren't protected, though, are the many thousands of Obama workers on the ground. It's quite possible that someone might get beaten up, stabbed or shot by some of these Republican extremist goons. And if that were to happen, there would be a good case for saying that McCain was to blame.

Thank f*** there are only 3 weeks of this campaign left 'cos it looks like it could turn VERY nasty out there. It would be very nice to see Barack get through to polling day in one piece. After which, of course, the REAL danger starts. As many people have already pointed out, the extreme right in the US hated Clinton, who was a triangulating centre-right winger. So, given that Obama is perceived by the right-wingers as more radical, imagine what they are gonna try to do to him. Frankin Roosevelt was the subject of an attempted fascist coup: any bets against it this time round?

10 October 2008

Nutters, real nutters and Simon Heffer

It's the end of the week and posting frequency has been pretty good these last few weeks - with any luck I'll soon be able to resurrect Hal's Friday evening blog review, last seen in 2006 or thereabouts.

But for now, with stock indices tumbling yet again today, I thought I'd take an opportunity to draw your attention some of the crap that's being written about the crisis from a select few right-wing media hacks.

I want to be fair here: a lot of the right wing have realised that, for the moment, the game is up for the capitalist system, and - at least temporarily - we need socialised banking, or at least some element of it, to survive. For example, normally annoying Telegraph economics commentators like Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Jeff Randall have been reconciling themselves to the new paradigm. They don't particularly like where we've ended up, but they realise that not implementing any kind of bail-out package in the US or UK would have been far worse.

That may be hard to accept at the end of one of the worst weeks in stock market history, but it certainly could be much worse. Were it not for the bailouts we'd probably be looking like the Icelandic economy right now.

For some on the right though, even grudging acceptance of a role for the state is too much. Dominic Lawson, in the Independent today, was laughable, lambasting Gordon Brown for encouraging 'the boom in housing and the opening up of the mortgage market' whilst conveniently forgetting that it was actually his beloved Mrs Thatcher that started the whole shebang rolling in the eighties. But of course under the Tory government, banks only lent to responsible customers - so that nineties crash never happened... silly me.

Even more amusingly, Lawson blames the US subprime crisis not on lax regulation under the Bush administration, greedy lenders, or Alan Greenspan's low interest rate policy, but... Jimmy Carter. Apparently his "Community Reinvestment Act" forced banks to lend disproportionately to low income neighbourhoods. And of course, the 20 years of Republican adminstrations since Carter was booted out in 1980 have been unable to make any alterations to this policy? This is desperate blame-the-loony-left crapola journalism reheated from the eighties, and shows the sheer dearth of ideas on the hard Tory right.

Of course, one drawback of believing the market is always right is that if it does fail - and fail catastrophically - you've got very little to fall back on. You can blame the regulators - except that they were doing exactly what you told them to, which was to cut back on regulation. It's not a good time to be a right winger at the moment.

That explains why we have the normally confident Guido Fawkes - never the brightest LED in the 70s digital watch when it comes to economics - reduced to a sad whimper of "where have all the capitalists gone?" on his blog today. Guido mate - they've all either (a) pissed off to the Cayman islands with the big bonuses they got before the going got tough; or (b) they understand a little basic economics and realise that if the banking system fails, it could make the 1930s look like a mild slowdown. It gets funnier though... Guido quotes Simon Heffer approvingly as "the lone strident capitalist tool" left in the media.

Well the tool part of that is right... recommending Simon Heffer's writings on economics is a bit like recommending Fanny Craddock as a model for today's gastropub cooks, or Joe Kinnear as the future of England football management. The guy is a bit like a cross between Enoch Powell and Keith Joseph on crystal meth, a "new right" hack preserved in aspic from the early 80s. By now he is probably the last person on earth who thinks that monetarism was a good idea and that Thatcher had it about right in 1979. He is an economic ignoramus who should really be too embarrassed of his own lack of knowledge to keep bringing it up in his comment pieces, but like a Big Brother contestant, he just can't help exposing himself at the worst moments. His piece "we are all socialists now" is the most laughable nonsense written by anyone in a British newspaper this year - it makes Lawson look like Larry Elliott.

The idea that because the banks were given an injection of capital by the government (without which the banking system would have almost certainly collapsed within weeks, if not days) we are now living in a pre-1989 Soviet bloc economic system is the most laughable piece of hyperbolic distortion I have ever encountered in the British press. Really, it's amazing that this guy even has a contract to write for a newspaper. I'm glad he does in a way, because I'm all for an easy target - especially at 10.30 on Friday evening.

The final lunacy is when Heffer approvingly quotes the American libertarian writer Ayn Rand. The same Ayn Rand whom Alan Greenspan (one of the architects of the crisis according to many on both left and right was great friends with. "The difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time..." Yeah, right. The difference between Simon Heffer and a complete imbecile is non-existent.

It would be great fun to plunge Heffer into a parallel universe where his peculiar vision of free market capitalism reigned supreme - where the banks hadn't been bailed out, and civilisation had collapsed into anarchy. He'd enjoy that. No nasty government to tell him what to do. I doubt he'd survive long though. Lots of people don't like him, there would be no police around to protect him, and like many of us in journalism and the blogosphere, he's not the fittest person around - probably because he spends most of his time on the computer finding more evidence for what a bad person Gordon Brown is. And of course, without government, what's left except survival of the fittest? Good luck, fatboy.

The nuclear option?

No, I don't mean dropping a bomb on Iceland - although the UK government rapidly seems to be moving towards tougher measures where those pesky Icelanders are concerned. "What do you mean, the country's bankrupt? We need £20 billion of British money now!

I mean what the f*** to do about the paralysis of financial markets. It's obviously very early days since the UK bailout package was announced; slightly longer since the US package was announced. But so far the signs are not good. According to the Telegraph,

yesterday there were few signs that Mr Brown's bail-out gamble was paying off... there was little evidence that banks were prepared to lend to each other and no British bank has requested any of the £50 billion available.

If this statis persists into next week, there may be only one option left to the UK government: complete nationalisation of the UK banking system. Following the principle "if you want something done... do it yourself."

The logic is obvious. Capitalism can't function without bank lending. So if the banks won't lend, the government has to do the lending for them. The Bank of England could - theoretically - do this directly, but it doesn't have the infrastructure or the personnel to do that. Private sector banks do. Therefore, private sector banks should - for a period of time - become public sector banks, under direct control of HM Treasury.

Once the crisis has been averted and stock market and housing prices start to rise, the government can sell them off again (properly regulated, of course, to prevent another crazy bubble happening like we've had for the past decade). And the taxpayer will make a big profit.

It seems to me that unless banks start lending in the next few days, this is the only way to go - unless some kind of huge international bail-out is organised, like Paul Krugman suggests. But can that happen? Europe can't even organise its own collective bailout. It's every country for herself out there.

So maybe it's time to stop pissing about and carry out that 1983 Labour Manifesto in full. Michael Foot was right all along... and future generations will thank us for it.

09 October 2008

Krugman: big props to Brown (the puppeteer)

Big support for the UK bailout plan from Paul Krugman today. He does refer to it as the 'Brown plan' (together with a great double thumbs-up picture of Gordon), which Alistair Darling probably won't be too happy about. But then, from the picture it's pretty clear who's pulling the strings.

One is reminded of Martin Landau as Bela Legosi in the brilliant Ed Wood:

"Pull the string! Pull the string!"

08 October 2008

US electoral fraud - could it swing things?

I'm not going to report yet on the second US presidential debate, as I haven't had time to watch it yet. For what it's worth, post-debate polling numbers look very similar to the first debate, i.e. Obama a modest winner. And that wasn't good enough for McCain, who needed a big win.

Or did he? Last night's newsnight had a piece by Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, examining the extent of electoral fraud in the US. Really frightening stuff, including such horrors as the following:

  • huge numbers of (mainly low income and/or African American) voters turning up at the polls only to find that they weren't registered to vote. This was especially likely to happen in states like Colorado, with a Republican Secretary of State.
  • Voters whose houses have been foreclosed (i.e. repossessed) being disenfranchised
  • Voter intimidation at the polling station (which is apparently legal in some forms in the US - what the hell?)
  • shortages of voting machines in polling stations in low-income neighbourhoods
  • rigging of electronic voting machines (many of which have no 'audit trail', i.e. no means of establishing whether the votes counted tally with the votes actually cast.)
  • new legislation requiring photo ID for people to be able to vote - people in the US without any form of photo-ID (e.g. no passport or driving licence) are overwhelmingly from the poorest section of the population.

Greg Palast has several earlier short films for the BBC on his website, so hopefully this one will be put up there soon, as it's a must-view. The big questions arising from this are:

  1. How much worse is voter fraud now than in 2004, when it is widely acknowledged to have cost John Kerry the election?
  2. Given that it looks like (hopefully) Obama will be a lot further ahead this time in terms of voting intentions than Kerry was in 2004 (or Gore in 2000) how much fraud would there need to be to 'flip' the result to McCain?
In the comments on the fivethirtyeight website I found a link to this site which claims to reveal "a [Republican] plan to steal the next election by 51.2% of the popular vote and three [electoral college] votes."

Also something even more extraordinary: an interview with a Republican "cyber-security expert" who claims that foreign hacking of voting machines could decide the election... watch that one here. I haven't had time to watch it yet but will do soon.

One thing seems obvious: the exit polls from the 2004 election was pretty close between Bush and Kerry - and although it was surprising that a number of swing states went to Bush, the overall reported share of the vote was not that far out of line with what was predicted. It was a real bummer, but it took some time for the truth to emerge that the election was rigged. And by then it was too late.

By contrast, if Obama is (say) 8% in front in the polling in the run up to election day, but the actual votes show a 2% lead for McCain, it is very likely that all hell will break loose. At the very least you could see large-scale civil disobedience, and in the most extreme scenario, civil war. I hope that Greg Palast Newsnight film gets shown in the US before polling day, so that people know what they're up against.

07 October 2008

Towards mass nationalisation of the financial sector... welcome, Comrade Treasury.

Great news kids... we're all about to become bank financiers, courtesy of £50bn(? sum as yet unconfirmed) from the UK Government. Partial nationalisation, in other words. At least we're getting 'em pretty cheap... although it'd probably be a better deal for the taxpayer if we waited for them to get to the brink of insolvency and then picked them off one by one. That seems to be the Icelandic strategy at any rate.

The way they've performed under private ownership, it may well make sense to hang on to 'em in the public sector for a while. Or indeed permanently. Just don't let McKinseys and the other management consultants loose on them the way they've been allowed to run riot in the NHS.... aaarrrgh.

Well, we shall have to see whether this latest bail-out fares any better than the US bail-out, which . The rule book is being rewritten at the moment.... and by people who only vaguely speak the language. That is, HM Treasury, who spent the last ten years (and indeed decades before that) arguing for free-market economic policies. Yes folks, HMT is now leading the drive towards a socialist UK - parallelling our friends in the US, where Paulson and Bernanke are leading the revolution.

As I said a few weeks back, Jon Voight was almost right when he said that Obama would introduce socialism in the US - except that George W Bush got there before him.

Today's 1970s LP choice: "Crisis? What Crisis?" by Supertramp. Seemed appropriate somehow.

06 October 2008

OK, now the "bailout" has arrived, we can get on with the crash

New lows in the stock market today... a record 1-day percentage fall in the FTSE 100. The BBC headline is instructive: "stocks slide despite reassurances."

Perhaps because the reassurances were coming from the likes of Angela Merkel, Alistair Darling, the government of Iceland, and of course the US Government.

We have got to the stage that William Burroughs in The Naked Lunch called 'that frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.' People have realised that b.s. is b.s. and there is no real reason to believe any economics minister in any government in the developed world.

Jon Snow on Channel 4 News looked to be really enjoying himself (and that's not meant as a negative remark at all - Jon is great.) Just being able to have a steady stream of interviewees in the report footage and in the studio saying, "we haven't a clue when it's going to end." Even the economic collapse of the mid-70s doesn't have anything on this.

More and more financial institutions - and other companies - are having to be rescued by national governments every day. The UK government is now seriously considering partial nationalisation of the entire UK banking system. It's intervention on a level that Tony Benn never got anywhere near in the 70s.

Is it frightening? Yes, certainly. But seeing the Reagan/Thatcher economic model that we've been following for the last 30 years unravelling so quickly and so completely is not an unpleasant experience. The only problem, of course, is what we replace it with. And that now becomes the really big issue for what now looks increasingly like it's going to be an incoming Obama adminstration in the US. (So far there's little evidence they've thought about this - which is very worrying. But that's an issue for another day).

In the EU, who the hell knows what's going to happen. The two different perspectives I've identified from media commentators are:

1. The crisis could fracture the Euro and maybe the EU itself (Larry Elliott says this for instance);
2. The crisis could lead to an expanded EU with greater powers (at the extreme, a federal Europe). For example, it looks like Iceland is now desperate to join... and if the pound collapses, the UK could be forced into the Euro.

So it's the big crash, folks. (Of course stocks may bounce tomorrow, but in the current climate that won't last for long. Casino capitalism is crumbling to dust, and this is the biggest opportunity for the left (and unfortunately for the extreme right) since the 1930s. The only problem is working out exactly what the f*** is going on enough to work out (in turn) what to do about it. Good luck, everybody.

05 October 2008

Just when you thought Brown was digging his way out of a hole...

...He puts Peter Mandelson back in the cabinet.

Lunacy, just plain lunacy.

The best news from the reshuffle was that Digby Jones was bailing out. He should never have been there in the first place, of course, but it's reassuring all the same.

Also, Andrew Adonis, who has done his best to wreck the UK education system over the last ten years, goes to transport - presumably on the basis that the UK transport network is so terminally f***ed that he can't do any more damage there.

Likewise, John Hutton has been moved to a real cabinet turkey - defence. It's a really interesting question which of Mandelson or Hutton is worse. I think Hutton's probably worse, if only because he speaks with the zeal of the true convert to neo-liberal economics. Mandelson has been in the right-wing camp for far longer, and so may have had some time to reflect on the idiocy of his beliefs. We can but hope.

Ed Miliband steps in as the Secretary of State for a new department - Energy and Climate Change. In general I think the more power to Ed the better (no pun intended) as he is one of the best people in the Cabinet and could be good as a future leader. However there are dangers in this position for him. He'll be pushing (whether by choice or not) a deeply unpopular programme of new nuclear power stations and the inevitable public backlash could cause him big problems. On the other hand he will be able to push for renewables and (hopefully) against coal, so it's not all bad news.

One overall comment: this 'all hands on deck' schtick is really beginning to bug me. We've heard it from Mandelson, Brown, Cameron and anyone even vaguely involved with the US Government. And the net result is that the economy is still collapsing - just a little slower than it would have done otherwise. No-one really seems to have grasped the fact that the game plan which has defined the last 30 years - the belief that deregulation, free markets and maniac capitalism woud secure perpetual prosperity for the western world (and converts from the east) is very close to being over. It's like we're still trying to play football, but the playing field has been tilted through 90 degrees, and we haven't realised we'll need a pick-axe and climbing spikes to stay on it.

Given that pretty much all hands failed to anticipate the kind of mess we find ourselves in (the only exceptions I can think of are Guardian chief economist Larry Elliott and UCLA Marxist historian Robert Brenner), add a load of clueless people together and you get the same result as adding a bunch of zeroes (i.e. zero).

The 'big tent' strategy has been a disaster for Brown. It's emasculated his political campaigning and made it impossible to drop the tarnished legacy of Tony Blair. The departure of Ruth Kelly, with no ill-effects whatsoever, should have been a clue to the way forward; dump the dorks, and kick some Tory ass. Instead we have welcomed back the enemy within... Mandelson. Maybe I'm wrong and the guy is a genius who will mastermind another election victory. But remember that's what Blair thought about Alan Milburn in the run-up to 2005, and where is Milburn now? (Don't answer that one... we'll probably find next week that he's back in the cabinet.

04 October 2008

"A time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free..."

Great post on Paul Krugman's blog about Sarah Palin's quote of Ronald Reagan in the V-P debate. Apparently Reagan said in the 1960s that the US Medicare programme (their tax-funded health insurance programme for pensioners) would lead to totalitarianism. Well people said the same thing about the NHS prior to 1948, of course.

But what's most funny/chilling is the final line from the Reagan quote:

we have to fight for [freedom] and protect it... or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.
Which is of course, what's already happening in the US. Parents are now telling their kids "back in the day, you could be sure that your vote would count and there wasn't massive institutionalised fraud. Back in the day, we didn't have indefinite detention of immigrants, mass surveillance with no legal oversights, and any of the rest of the drift to a police state. Back in the day we weren't the slaves of entrenched corporate interests..."

(Do take Alex Jones with a large shaker of salt by the way - he may be both insane and distateful to many people, but does at least raise some real issues, even if you don't agree with the conclusions he draws).

Not that I'm feeling in any way superior to the US, of course: the UK ain't much better. I mean ID cards, ferchrissakes.

But it was a good example of the mythical bullshit that passes for the 'received' view of the USA in the media over there (and to an extent over here. The BBC's North America, Justin Webb, for example, seems to swallow this crap wholesale).

The USA held up as the defender of freedom whereas in fact it's probably one of the least 'free' countries in the developed world on any index... and set to become even less free if John McCain gets in. And probably even if Obama gets in, because the Democrats seem to swallow this nonsense wholesale as well - whether because they really believe the hype, or they're just playing dumb to avoid criticism by a reactionary media, I don't know.

The two-party system in the US (and indeed the two-and-a-half party system here) has a lot to answer for, in terms of stifling dissent.

But at least, the global economic system lives to fight another day as Congress has passed the bail-out. Whether it'll do much good in the long run (which could be a matter of weeks rather than years) is an interesting question.

03 October 2008

No surprises

Just watched the Biden - Palin debate on Youtube, where the kind people at CSPAN have placed it.

My verdict: not interesting enough to recommend watching it if you're not a political junkie. I'll try to sum up in 100 words or less.

Palin: fixed plastic smile, reading from cue cards, cutesy sub-Bush linguistics, gee folks, isn't it great the cameras are on me and I'm not f***ing up. Iraq: the surge is working.

Biden: variety of expressions, talking style ranging from punchy to verbose, sometimes I trips over my own sentences. Earnestly frank rather than belligerent. Iraq: them guys was wrong, wrong, wrong.

If this changed anybody's mind I'd be very surprised. It did show that Palin can get through without making any major gaffes on a good day but rumours from one of her Alaska opponents that she was a formidable debater were not substantiated in any way whatsoever.

As I say, not exciting. I'm getting more kicks out of the BBC's predictions for Gordon Brown's reshuffle. Of which more soon...

02 October 2008

More on skid row...

Great article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times here about why the House of Reps was mental to vote the bail-out down, making pretty much the same points I made but more eloquently!

The Senate passed the bail-out this morning, but it's still anybody's guess whether they'll get it through the House on a second try (Friday morning). And if it doesn't get through, what happens? Do they just keep trying again and again until George Bush runs out of different ways to make the same speech, or the economy collapses so badly that they can't pay anyone in Congress anymore?

Questions, questions.

01 October 2008

saver switching confusion

Headlines from today's news stories

The Beeb: 'No floods' of switching savers

Savers are remaining calm about their savings and not switching banks despite uncertainty in the sector, an industry body has said.

The Telegraph: Savers move billions to safety amid banking panic

Panicked savers are moving billions of pounds from high street banks into accounts that guarantee their deposits.

Confused? Us?

Conclusion: no reporter has a bloody clue, and the media continues to perform at its usual level of competency. (Remember Monday, when all the news channels were telling us the US House of Representatives was certain to pass the bail-out plan - until it didn't? That's why I'm not believing anything they're saying about the Senate. The Telegraph, for what it's worth, thinks that even if it does pass in the Senate, the bail-out plan will fail again in the House.