Weekly Roundup

The country that went out into the cold….

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Meanwhile Cameron was in Norway this week to discuss trade. Of course this also led to some reflecting on how much of what is said by the UKIP brigade about how much better off we’d be outside the EU (like Norway) is basically bolix. Does Norway have less issues with Immigration? Quite the opposite if anything in fact! There’s been a recent trend of migrants and refugee’s using a loophole to simply cycle across the border from Russia and entering Norway legally. And of course Switzerland also has many issues with immigration, indeed the swiss are actually a minority in their own country in some districts.

Does Norway have less trouble with them pesky EU regulations?….actually, no they just rubber stamp and sign up to anything the EU passes, they have no right of veto or even a right to discuss such measures. But it costs them less money than actually being a member? Well marginally, the estimate is the UK would still end up paying 94% of what it currently pays, once the costs of EU inspection and regulation are accounted for (like Norway, we’ll be paying eurocrats to come over and make sure we’re obeying the EU’s trade rules). And once the inevitable drop in GDP (of 3-14%) is accounted for, one assumes that would probably make the country much worse off.

Meanwhile Cameron’s secret “negotiations” with the EU seem to have come a little unstuck, after several EU leaders claimed they still hadn’t a clue what changes he’s actually after….presumably whatever cosmetic changes he can get to hoodwink the tabloids into supporting a Yes vote one assumes.

Also this week the US again reiterated the point that Brexit would invalidate all US trade deals with the country. The UK would therefore need to renegotiate such deals, and its doubtful they’d get the same generous terms as the EU has managed. Now to anyone with half a brain this should be obvious. I’ve pointed this out myself several times and this isn’t even the first time the Americans have said this, nor that they’ve expressed disquiet at the idea of Brexit.

However, Farage and the UKIP bigot brigade in Mr Men land don’t seem to be aware of this. They’ve been working under the delusion (one could draw parallels to some of the SNP’s pre-independence delusions, such as automatically becoming an EU member and keeping the pound) that somehow the US will reward Britain’s efforts to destabilise the NATO alliance and harm transatlantic trade by lavishing gifts on the British.

Farage even went so far to accuse the US official in question of being a paid stooge of some shadowy pro-EU conspiracy. Now ignoring the fact that, as mentioned, this is not the first time the US has pointed this out. There is also a certain hypocrisy given that Farage himself is in the pay of various shadowy hedge fund types who plan to profit from the chaos Brexit will unleash.

The Hungry for power games

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The Hunger for power games in the US continues, with the first two cannon’s of resignation fired. This came in the wake of the democratic debate, where it became evident that this is clearly a two horse race between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, leading to two of the trailing candidates dropping out.

Meanwhile, in the GOP debate, an attempt by Jeb Bush to cut Marco Rubio down to size failed rather spectacularly. Donald “only a few million” Trump (he’s been telling a story about how he had to work his way up because his father would only led him “a few million” to get started) has now slipped in the polls and is trailing Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon…..who constantly looks and sounds like someone who conducted brain surgery on himself. Basically if you think Trump is bad, wait till you hear Ben Carson.

The GOP debate has to stand in stark contrast to the democratic party debate (the only time anyone brought up Benghazi et al, was when Bernie Sanders said he was sick of hearing about Clinton’s “damn e-mails”). Which means that on the plus side, its very likely that after the Republicans have finished knocking chunks out of each other, they is less chance of whoever they put forward getting elected.

Argie hypocrisy

You may recall how the Top Gear team were chased out of Argentina over a number plate that seemed to allude to the Falklands war? Well the Argentinians are reopening the case. Are they going to put on trial the “war veterans(many in there twenties who fought in a war thirty years ago!) who attacked the BBC crew and burnt their cars? No, they are going after Clarkson for altering the number plate as they attempted to flee the country. Needless to say this stinks of hypocrisy. One wonders what Interpol will make of it when they ring up. “What you want us to arrest Clarkson for a minor offence regarding a number plate? Ya, why don’t we arrest him for being an arse in a denim free zone while we’re at it?

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source http://jalopnik.com/more-proof-the-original-offensive-top-gear-license-plat-1644835449 points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

The imfamous car sporting the offending number plate, several months prior to filming (indeed this source points to DVLA data suggesting its been registered to the offending plate since 1991)

Also I don’t think the Argentinians understand how this plays out for neutrals. I mean personally, I can’t fathom why the Brit’s nor the Argie’s want the Islands. There is oil in the seas nearby, yes, but I’d argue this is a separate claim’s issue. But instead the Argentinians constantly choose to come across as them being bonkers mad. Ultimately one is forced to ask the question who should control the Falklands, the nutters who foam at the mouth and scream Malvina’s whenever some mentions the Falklands, or the people who are already there (okay, not very sane either, they seem to have this strange thing for Maggie Thatcher…and sheep!)

Every now and then a retired UK Admiral will pop up and say how its impossible now for the UK to protect the Island thanks to recent spending cuts. However I would argue that the Argentinian behaviour on this issue (not just Top Gear, but their defacto blockade of the Island) has now so alienated neutrals that the fact is, it doesn’t matter. Even if the UK failed to protect the Islands they would likely find their western allies taking the UK’s side. Argentina would face sanctions similar to those Russia’s been hit by, except that Argentina isn’t Russia (no oil) and its economy would quickly collapse. No doubt a US carrier battle group would soon show up to conduct “exercises” (Operation Handball?).

In short the British military won’t have to do anything, it would be just a matter of time before the Argentinians retreated with their tail between their legs. And they would have no one to blame but themselves.

Lording it over

Normally the house of lords is the sort of place you expect to more or less rubber stamp the legislation of a Tory government. However this week instead, they chose to reject Osborne’s attempts to emulate Thatcher’s poll tax by cutting working tax credits.

This is a rare, but entirely justified action by the upper house. The Tories went through the election repeatedly claiming that they won’t touch tax credits, yet blink and they were cutting them within a few months. Obviously if the Tories have now moved so far to the right that a bunch of hereditary rich guy’s think they are going too far, this should serve as a warning of how far they’ve drifted from the centre ground.

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Cameron is now talking about expanding the upper house to stack it with pro-Tory peers. Already the Lords has over 800 peers, even thought the seating capacity of the chamber is closer to at most 400. What’s he going to do, find a few hundred right-wing dwarves? High ho, high ho, its off to cut we go, with a hovel and a pick pig and a racist shit….

While I agree that there is a need for some serious reform of the House of Lords, this means cutting the number of peers and making it more democratically accountable, not stacking it with more old rich guys.

Tampon Tax

Finally, we come to the “Tampon Tax. While pistachio nuts and Jaffa cakes are subject to no VAT (because they are seen to be essentials) tampon’s are instead taxed. If ever you wanted to see evidence of how chauvinistic this government is its this. Presumably its never occurred to Cameron why his wife is always running to the bathroom and a little anxious about once a month or so.

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Weekly Roundup

Getting it wrong on the refugee crisis

The Tories have looked on the growing crisis over refugees not as a humanitarian crisis that they need to pull their weight on, but as a cynical opportunity. They’ve been suggesting that the masses of migrants proves that there is a need to restrict the movement of people across EU borders.

However this amounts to muddling up two distinctly different issues. Internal migration between EU countries by workers, which the British benefit from, being able to travel to other EU states for work (or retirement in Spain or Southern France) and external migration from outside the EU.

Certainly some of those coming across the Med are not refugees but economic migrants and yes they are exploiting a lack of EU co-ordination on this issue. However the solution is more co-operation by EU states on this, a common policy on migrants, and agreement to share migrants and a firmer policy towards returning non-refugee’s home, particularly if they break the rules (such as breaking into the channel tunnel or arriving illegally by boat). So in many respect’s the Tories and UKIP have got it ass backwards.

However, if the Tories think they can use this to argue for changes to internal EU travel, think again. The Germans, who have taken in far more than any other EU state are very clear that unless they see some movement on Cameron’s part to take on his fair share of the burden, then the British can forget about any form of renegotiation.

The UK reported to the UN over disability cuts

And speaking of human rights violations, the UK is now being investigated by the UN for possible human rights violations over its welfare reform policies. It is alleged that these are discriminatory towards those with disabilities, who have suffered disproportionately worse than any from the recent cuts to welfare. Figures released last week by the DWP that thousands of claimants died within weeks of being declared “fit for work.

So on second thoughts, maybe the Syrians shouldn’t come here. If IDS and Osborne keep this up we might have the disabled and unemployed sneaking onto trucks to Calais to try and claim asylum from a British government, who discriminates and persecutes them!

Shot on Camera

Of course a shocking story over the last week was the shooting death of a journalist and cameraman live on air, in the US. This inevitably lead to more calls for Gun control, which politicians, afraid of the gun lobby, promptly ignored.

Of course the usual reaction of the gun lobby is to suggest that the solution to a crazy person with a gun is to encourage more carrying of guns by people to defend themselves…like in the wild west, how did that one work out? Indeed, studies have shown that regions with concealed carry laws have higher rates of gun crime.

But returning to the wild west, there-in lie the problem, in those days many towns far from encouraging the carrying of firearms actually had quite strict laws against the carrying of guns, often requiring for example that guns be deposited at the sheriff’s office as people came into town (he’d issue them with a receipt). The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral came about when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (who had been deputised by the town council) attempted to enforce local gun control laws.

Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. And now the gun lobby will hide behind lawyers and lobbyists rather than settle things “like men” as it were. Perhaps the Ok Corral would have worked out differently if the Clanton’s had their lawyer in tow?

Oddly enough thought, the Republicans seem keen on allowing guns in some places…but not others, such as Republican rallies, the G. W. Bush library and (irony of ironies) all Trump hotels and golf courses.

Osama Bin Corbyn

You know your opponents are getting desperate when they start making stuff up. Take Carmichael and his Ferrero Rocher” allegations against Nichola Sturgeon.

Well now there’s ludicrous claims regarding Jeremy Corbyn and comments he made after Bin Laden’s assassination. He said at the time that it was a tragedy that Bin Laden wasn’t captured and brought back for trial in New York. However, it was implied by the right wing media that he said that Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy (leaving out the second half of the sentence). Quite clearly Corybn’s opponents have been going over his past with a fine toothed coob looking for anything that might be used to smear him….even if its not true!

Of course, there are many who would agree with Corbyn, and not necessarily the usual leftie tree hugger types. But in reality it was no surprise really that they killed him. Given that Bin Laden used to work for the CIA, the US didn’t want him showing up in court and pointing this inconvenient little truth out and dishing out the dirt on the US.

Old big nose is back

And speaking or right wing hatchet jobs, Rebekah “Sideshow” Brooks has apparently got her old job back. So much as predicted, the Murdoch’s have gotten away with this scot free, despite admissions by Brooks herself to bribing police.

A shed load of rent

As the London property bubble continues there’s been a new trend in London, the renting out of shed’s as converted “studio” flats. One prospective tenant showed up at a apartment to find his “double bedroom” was a shed in the lounge. Meanwhile wholesale “social cleansing” continues across the city. Hence why there is an urgent need for measures to ease the problem, such as rent controls and greater building of social housing.

Squatters and tenants (lack of) rights

This week the Tory’s introduced a policy that turned the practice of squatting into a criminal offense. Now while they’ve attempted to portray it as a means of evicting hippies from well-to-do London Mansions (there’s a certain class of “professional protesters” who live at no fixed abode and basically go from squat to squat in London, often in posh neighbourhoods, much to the annoyance of many toff’s paying millions to live on the same street). But it has implications for many ordinary people as well.

There is a housing crisis in the UK, yet 450,000 properties are estimated to be vacant at any time. While some are vacant for good reasons (renovations) in many cases they are vacant for economic reasons, i.e. the greedy landlord or letting agent would rather keep a house empty than lower the rent. There are two properties on my route to work that have been vacant for at least a year, and I know this for a fact as I viewed them when I moved to the area, and concluded that the rent being charged meant I wasn’t interested (I told the letting agent as much), but sure enough they are still on the market at the same advertised rent I rejected.

Casino Landlords

During the boom years a new type of landlord emerged in the UK, a type I refer to as the “casino landlord”, as they regard homes and flats as little more than gambling chips in a casino. Many would buy up homes by the hundreds (often online or over the phone without ever having viewed many of them), using the collateral of the stocks of houses they already owned to purchase more homes, while first time buyers (with no collateral) struggled to compete against them and get this first rung on the property ladder. Typically the 1st time buyer, or professionals like me who move around the country regularly (and thus don’t want to commit to buying just yet), were often forced to go to these “casino landlords” to find a place to live. So in essence first time buyers end up paying their mortgage for these landlords.

This policy of “casino landlords” is not only grossly unfair, as it makes it very difficult for people to buy a home and concentrates a large portion of the country’s capital in the hands of a few, but also because it distorts the property market, and ultimately the financial markets. It was loans to these casino landlords that largely drove the excesses of boom and played a major role in the credit crunch of 2007. While quite a number of the “casino landlords” got wiped out in the crash, a price we as a society are ultimately footing the bill for to this day with the bank bailout. But unfortunately with low house prices and 1st time buyers finding it even harder to get on the ladder, they are off again. How long before there’s another crash and we are again forced to provide another bailout?

Dickensian law

This new anti-squatting law means that many tenants who are in dispute with their landlord in some way (for example because he’s stopped maintaining the flat and the tenants are withhold rent to try and force the issue, or the tenant has lost his job and waiting for the housing benefit paperwork to go thro) risk being labelled criminals. Inevitably this will greatly increase levels of homelessness in the UK, at a time (as noted) we have hundred’s of thousands of vacant property.

This would all be bad enough if it weren’t for the fact that the UK already has an almost Dickensian system of regulation of letting that is distinctly tilted in the landlords favour. In the UK you’re landlord is pretty much your lord and master and you’re the unwashed oink paying homage to him.

Consider that in most other parts to Europe, or indeed in many parts of the US, you have much greater control over what you do with a property you are renting. You can make home improvements or redecorate (in theory the landlord could request you put it back to the way it was before, but as people in Europe rent for much longer, chances are he probably won’t remember what it was like before!) while in the UK you need the landlords permission to so much as put a nail in the wall. You can choose to change energy supplier (in the UK you need the landlord’s permission).

You can also own pets (in some places they do have restrictions on pets or can require you clean the place appropriately to remove any “doggie” smell or hairs) while in the UK you can’t even own a goldfish (a work colleague of mine got told to get rid of her goldfish by a UK letting agent). This last one might explain to me the rat epidemic in the UK right now. When I was growing up we always had a cat or dog and therefore hardly ever saw mice (save when the cat brought you a live one!). The other morning I saw a large rodent (not sure if it was a rat, but it was way too big to be a mouse) in broad daylight in my back garden…fortunately the neighbour’s cat was around soon after that to investigate.

Many parts of Europe and the States have rent control, which limits what rent the landlord can charge and how much it can be increased by in any given period (steep fines can be leeved on a landlord who breaches these rules), while “rack rents” are a common feature of renting in the UK. Also while the UK landlord can fob off his council tax onto tenants, generally in other parts of the world paying things like property tax is seen as the landlord’s responsibility (although inevitably he will pass such costs onto the tenants).

While landlords in the UK are forbidden from discriminating on ethic grounds (of course some still do, just ask anyone from a minority whose tried to rent in certain areas), UK landlords can certainly discriminate on the basis of income and class. Many UK landlords will slap things like “no DSS” on their rental notices , which essentially implies “no chav’s or working class scum”….Of course if you’re like me, a professional moving between cities and you have no job in the meantime (i.e. the whole point of moving is to start a new job!) this can make getting a place to rent problematic, nevermind if you’re a professional fresh of the plane from India.

And while European landlords need a valid reason to evict you, UK landlords can pretty much tell you to feck off anytime they feel like it. And getting you’re deposit back off a UK landlord, particularly if you’re a foreigner, is next to impossible, even if you’ve left it as you found it (in Germany for example it goes into an interest paying deposit account with the tenant reaping the interest payment and a third party deciding on whether it can be withheld).

As we all know the social housing system in the UK was gutted by successive UK governments, notably “the” Thatcher. Social housing in the UK has nothing like the capacity needed, they are badly maintained and often run down, often in the middle of nowhere…..Which is just as well as successive governments seem to have gone out of their way to ensure that some estates (or perhaps I should say “ghettos”) are populated but lots of not entirely nice people, as seen in the UK TV show “The scheme”. Indeed UK social housing estates have frequently been used as little more than a dumping ground for people that the government would rather get rid of (out of sight out of mind).

By contrast in other European countries social housing is not only more readily available, but the stigma (and fear!) attached to it doesn’t exist (one famous block from the Weimar Republic days in Germany is now a world Heritage site, can you see any UK council houses achieving that status?).

When is a squatter a squatter

So this anti-squatting law merely shifts an already hugely unfair system all the more over to the landlord. Of course there’s squatters and then there’s squatters.

Many of the landed gentry in the UK don’t seem too realise that their right of ownership to their vast estates amounts to squatting. They’re forbears were given these estates by the monarch centuries earlier (in other words they never purchased the land, merely broke in and occupied it), but it was often taken by the monarch off of another noble, or indeed the ordinary peasants who had farmed it throughout history.

Doesn’t this law now make many toff’s, Cameron included, criminals? It seems to me that there’s one property law for the rich and another for everyone else.

Home are for living, not gambling

The UK desperately needs to clean up its letting market. As Vince Cable himself once said, homes should be for living in not gambling chips in a casino. If you want to play the money markets, get in touch with a broker and buy some shares, not people’s homes.

The Lib dems talk of a “mansion tax”. I don’t think that would work and I suspect it misses the point. I would instead advocate a property tax. This would give a 100% discount to every household for their first property, up to a specific value (say £1 million countrywide and £2 million in London). This provision is important as it heads off at the pass any attempt by the Telegraph or Daily Mail to claim that people will be “taxed out of their home”. However, once you own a 2nd home you have to pay property tax at a rate of say 0.25% of the value of your total property portfolio (that is the total value of all the property’s owned). If you buy a third, it goes up to say 0.5% (again against your total portfolio), and so on.

Alternatively if all that sounds too complicated (or unfair), just a simple flat 1% charge against the value of all property portfolios held by a household that exceed £1 million in value or any more than 3 properties. I can see some leeway for 3 properties by the way as some people will inevitably be between houses at times while in possession of, say a holiday home or maybe their recently deceased grandma’s house (the purpose of this tax is to get the rich to pay a bit more and run the casino landlords out of town, not tax ordinary householders).

As this tax (in whatever form it is implemented) is based on the landlord’s finances it would be illegal for him to pass it on to the tenants. Further to that this tax would be applied to all UK residents (we’ll say anyone who is in the UK for more than 60 days per year or who owns a UK passport) and applies regardless of citizenship status (so the non-doms can’t dodge it) or if the property ownership is registered abroad.

Such a tax system would very quickly force many of these casino landlords to sell up, indeed if we want to avoid a rush of property sales on the market and a crash in house prices, a simple solution would be to offer them a deal whereby they get a substantial discount in the tax, if they give their tenants a similar discount in rent (e.g. the landlord puts down the rent by 30% the government lowers his property tax by 30%, tenants will then presumably spend the many on other things boosting economic growth) and so long as they sell said property within the next 10 years.

Alternatively if were not going to allow squatting how about a rule that states that if a property remains unoccupied for more than, say 6 months (for reasons other than refurbishment), then the local council is within its rights to take over the property and use it to rehouse homeless people (obviously they’ll pay the landlord the going rate for social housing in the same area and take the necessary steps to ensure the property is well maintained for the duration) while the landlord looks for tenants. Of course as I suspect the last thing most landlords want is a load of poor people in his plush pad, he’ll very rapidly lower the rent to a level sufficient to get it let before this 6 month period expires. They’ll also be more keen on keeping flats maintained and thus hanging onto tenants.

Whatever measures are taken the UK is burying its head in the sand on property. The current near medieval system of ownership and renting is being exploited by a small number of spiv’s and speculators, distorting the property market and threatening the long term economic stability of the country. If we’re going to say that squatters don’t have a right, how about at least enshrining the right of everyone to some form of home.