Week in review

Time to print Drachmas?
The optimist in me is looking at the climb down by the Greeks in negotiations with the EU, as promising. While its clearly not a workable deal, it shows that the Greek’s need to kerb their enthusiasm while the Germans need to cut them some slack. So it could be a step towards something more positive. Meanwhile the pessimist in me thinks that the real reason why the Greeks finally gave in is because they need to kick things into the long grass for a few months to give them time to print Drachma’s.

Actually, if I were the Greek’s, I’d start printing Drachma’s anyway. It gives them the extra option, if the Germans refuse to back down, to walk away from the Euro as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if the Germans learn in the middle of negotiations (via a suitably timed leak) that the Greeks might actually walk away and leave them with a three hundred billion bill to pick up 88|, it might serve to scare them straight. So they have literally nothing to lose.

When Tes-goes
I came across a article recently about Britain’s abandoned Supermarkets. One of the problems with the aggressive expansion program’s of supermarket chains such as Tesco’s or ASDA has been to drive local stores out of business. This causes all sorts of local issues, destroying town centres, increasing the need for cars to reach out of town retail parks, which imposes various costs on councils for new road building and reduced council tax revenue. Then what happens? Tesco’s closes its store and leaves the town without any shops at all!

Such closures can therefore have a double whammy impact on council budgets. Often in order to support such stores councils have to spend money. For example, putting up new road signs, new roundabouts and integrating approach roads and footpaths from the store into the local road network. Which, to avoid queues might also need further widening and expensive modifications. Normally something referred to as “section 106 agreements” will act as compensation to the council, releasing funds that can be ploughed into various community schemes. But with the store closed the council looses these funds, quite apart from the loss of tax revenue. The result is an an inevitable squeeze on already tight council budgets.

Its a trend very familiar to many in the US, notably thanks to ASDA’s parent company Wal-Mart, who have successfully turned many US towns into a ring of strip malls with a ghetto in the centre. And of course should Walmart for any reason be displeased with local politicians, by them for example introducing some new taxes or ordinances (pesky government, promoting local democracy!), they can and will hold the town to ransom by threatening to shut down the store. And don’t even mention the word “union”, as Walmart has a policy to close any store where staff successfully unionise.

Of course what this show’s is exactly why Councils should have been more considerate in the first place. As in, if you let Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s build a massive superstore, you do realise the economic implications for that? It would seem sensible to me in future for councils to therefore be a bit more clever. E.g. refuse any single mega store, but be clear they will allow the construction of a number of smaller stores, thus ensuring they aren’t dependant on one single supermarket chain. I would also suggest a ban on stores above a certain size is probably a policy worth considering.

Dead man’s switch
There’s been a number of accidents recently involving lorries running out of control. The tragic events in Glasgow and Bath for example. It raises the question as to whether they could be avoided somehow, by for example fitting a “dead man switch” which would automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle went out of control. Well technically yes, such systems are not new and have been fitted to many vehicles (forklift trucks, railroad cars, light watercraft, etc.) for many decades. The problem is guaranteeing that the switch will be disengaged in an emergency.

Perhaps a better way would be to use software. Many vehicles these days rely on drive by wire, i.e. when you turn the steering wheel, all you do is generate signals that go to the car’s ECU, which then communicates with the power steering system what to do. Similarly in some cars the pedals are merely transducers connected to the ECU instead of to the carburettor throttle or brakes. This is central to such features as traction control, cruise control or automatic braking.

So technically, you could easily configure all large lorries such that in the event of the driver losing conciousness, or behaving erratically, e.g. excessive sudden acceleration in an urban area, lane departure, the ECU would detect this and automatically apply the brakes. Such features could also include parking sensors around the vehicle to cover blind spots, with the brakes again being applied if, say a cyclists was detected. Consider that of the four cyclists killed in London this year, all have involved a collision with a lorry.

However, there are downsides. Costs obviously, as such vehicles system would be a little bit more expensive and would be difficult to retrofit into older vehicles. So there would have to be a transition period for such technology to be brought in. Also the problem with lorries is that you’re dealing with an awful lot of mass. Once something that big runs out of control, there’s not a lot the driver, nor a computer, can do to stop it. Which is why perhaps we need to consider perhaps simply banning such large vehicles from town centres altogether and insisting on the use of smaller vehicles to do the same jobs. More costly yes, but certainly safer for all.

Russian bombers
Several times now Russian Tu-95 Bear’s have been intercepted by the RAF close to UK airspace, provoking a furore within the press and the usual “Britain under threat” stuff. Actually no. The sharper among you may have noticed something important about the Tu-95, i.e. the fact that they are so old and obsolete they still use propellers, hardly a surprise for an aircraft designed in the 50’s! There main role in the Russian airforce these days is actually long range maritime patrol rather than as bombers. For, as a bomber aircraft, they are pretty much useless against any country with an airforce or any form of of air defence system (SA missile’s for example). This is why most countries got rid of such bomber forces decades ago, as they are simply obsolete and of questionable military value.

Certainly the situation in Russia is worrying, but parallels with 1939 are inappropriate. As I’ve discussed in a prior post, the fact is that NATO enjoys an enormous military advantage over Russia. Consider that the Russian airforce has, at most, about a hundred half decent fighter aircraft (i.e. aircraft that aren’t flying museum exhibits and are of some actual military use) against a combined NATO force of over a thousand similar aircraft or better, with tens of thousands of less advanced aircraft in support! In the event of a shooting war the Russians would be outnumbered in the sky’s ten to one, often by superior aircraft. There is no question that NATO could stop Russia and bomb Putin into submission any time they choose to do so…and shoot those Tu-95’s out of the sky before they came anywhere near the UK!

The danger is the long term implications of this activity. e.g. the reason why the UK isn’t buzzing Russia with its long range patrol aircraft is because we don’t have any of those (cancelled by the Tories) and NATO closed down its forward operations base for long range maritime patrol (in Iceland) some years ago.

So the risk is that NATO will respond to Putin’s actions by putting aircraft and troops in positions more threatening to Russia (such as in Ukraine!), which in itself raises the risk of conflict between the two kicking off accidentally. Also I reckon its only a matter of time before the Americans start bringing up missile defence again. They and the Israeli’s have been quite busy developing these systems, which are getting quite advanced and reliable. Deployment of such systems in the Balkans or Ukraine could be very destabilising, as it would effectively counter much of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, perhaps forcing them into a more hair trigger stance with what few missiles they have that can counter the NATO ABM systems.

And this is also worrying, because the very reason Putin is engaging on this strategy, even thought its undermining Russian security by doing so, is because he’s an ego-manic surrounded by Yes-men who dare not confront their boss with the truth.

A resigning matter
One subject that didn’t get a lot of media attention, particularly within the right wing media was the spectacular resignation of the Daily Telegraph‘s long standing political editor Peter Oborne, citing the lack of coverage the Telegraph had given the HSBC scandal. He accused the paper of pulling stories purely to protect advertising revenue, as well as the exertion of editorial bias by the paper’s reculsive owners (and tax exiles themselves), the Barclay brothers.

Needless to say this is a rare insight into the goings on of major newspaper and it does suggest a lot we should be worried about. We rely on newspapers to be objective in their work, as otherwise the result isn’t news, its for said media outlet to be reduced to that of a propaganda organ that plays the master’s tune, much like RT and Fox News. The justification for allowing the likes of the Barclay’s or the Murdoch’s to own multiple titles is the assumption that they will keep their noses out of editorial matters. If they can’t do that and the phone hacking scandal certainly suggested that they can’t be trusted, then these media empires should be broken up.

And of course credit due to Oborne. He might be a right wing hack, but at least he’s an honest right wing hack! ;D

Hypocrisy?
The Tories are slashing the welfare budget because they argue there are many claiming benefits who aren’t genuine hard up cases and that benefits should be more effectively means tested and that there should be a cap on how much you can received regardless of circumstances. Yet when it comes to pensioners, they intend to dole out a full whack of benefits, winter heating allowance, free TV license, bus passes, etc. without any form of means testing, even though these benefits cost the country far more than we ever spend on the unemployed.

Now I’m not saying pensioners aren’t entitled to these benefits, I’m merely pointing out the obvious hypocrisy. If you’re going to means test the very poorest people in the country, what’s wrong with applying the same rule to everybody, as labour and the lib dems have suggested? Or has it something to do with the fact that the bulk of the working class are likely to vote labour, while the bulk of pensioners are more likely to vote Tory?

Of course, many pensioners are quite likely to vote UKIP, even thought if there’s anything more threatening to the retirement income of pensioners its UKIP. Their current spokesman on the matter has in fact recently talked about a UKIP policy to scrap the state pension and replace it with a privatised system.

As I’ve said in the past, any pensioner tempted to vote UKIP, I would advise to first buy a tin of cat food and decide if you think you could live out you’re days eating it, as that’s likely to be the stable of your diet if UKIP ever got into power! :))

Its a sin
The church of England joined with other Christian groups over the last few weeks, with much fire and brimstone, lambasting corporations >:-[ for non-payment of tax and their failure to pay a living wage. No doubt chief executives need to remember the bit about how it is harder for a camel to ride through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter heaven, and all that…

…However their attempt to take the moral high ground was somewhat undermined by news that the Church doesn’t pay the living wage either, advertising several posts paying just the minimum wage. Of course one could argue, such hypocrisy is nothing new, its generally be a case throughout history for the clergy to say do as we say, don’t do as we do.

Also one has to remember that churches are non-profit organisations, every penny saved on salaries, goes to other worthy causes, such as getting the leaky cathedral roof repaired. And in fact, many churches these days, in the UK, are under huge pressure from the enormous repair bills to keep their churches and cathedral’s functioning. By contrast any money saved by Starbucks or Poundland on lower wages goes on the Chief exec’s private yacht, or the champagne breakfast at the next shareholders meeting. So there is something of a difference!

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4 thoughts on “Week in review

  1. The church’s money also goes to the huge network of positive social need-meeting projects – we’re not all bad!

    Yes, Canterbury doesn’t pay a living wage at the mo, but at least ABC Justin stepped up to the mark, owned up, and said they are working on it. I like his honesty. It’s a refreshing change.

    A living wage for all would mean a massive cut to the benefits bill, don’t you think?

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    • A living wage might lead to a cut in benefits, given that one of the factors often forgotten is that most of the benefits bill is paid to working people in the form of working tax credits.

      I’d tend to push the more obvious reasons, is it fair for companies to be effectively relying on the state to subsidise their low wage operations, while they’re spending the savings on fast cars and caviar?

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  2. Regarding your points about benefits: It has been argued that the cost of means testing often outweighs the resulting savings. Paying everybody a flat rate benefit but making it subject to income tax would solve this very economically. The tax system already exists and the costs of running the benefits system would be minimised. The only problem is the huge number of drone civil servants that would be put out of work.

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    • Would tend to agree, I’m tempted by the Greens proposal for a “citizen’s income”, however, I was more highlighting the hypocrisy of the Tories saying means test these people over here (who happen to vote labour), but no, don’t means test those people over there (who tend to vote Tory).

      Won’t want to be a pensioner if UKIP got in!

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