30/11/2010

A Wikileak too far

Overall I think Wikileaks is a good thing. The more that those in positions of power and authority believe that any abuse will be exposed the better for all of us.

From what we have seen of the latest releases so far most of it is just a bit embarrassing and generally confirmed what most people suspected. That there isn't peace and goodwill throughout the Middle East brotherhood, for example, and some countries want Iran's nuclear sites bombed is no great surprise. What some US Ambassador to nowhere thinks of Prince Andrew is amusing tittle tattle but no real threat in the great scheme of things.

However, the disclosure of talks between China and the US over what to do about North Korea doesn't fall in to those categories and is dangerous. China is a country that is more sensitive to criticism than most. That doesn't mean that we should censure them for human rights and other abuses, for not allowing democracy and liberty and its many other misdemeanors. However, when we can get them to work with us on tricky foreign policies, such as trying to bring peace and stability to one of the world's most dangerous regions we should be sensitive to their position.

As a friend of North Korea, China was in a special position to help bring about relatively peaceful change. Even if North Korea believed privately that China was willing to work with the US and cede them to South Korean control now it is public it is likely to be even more resistant and and remain capriciously dangerous.

Wikileaks should remember that just because it can, it doesn't mean it should.

14/11/2010

Water-boarding and the bombing of Coventry

George W's recent discussion on the legality and effectiveness of nature of the intelligence gained from water-boarding got me thinking int. It is always assumed elligence gained from torture is used to stop some imminent attack, the ticking time bomb scenario. But  if we are to gain intelligence that way is that the best use of it?

I may have heard something in the background but I have always taken an interest in WW2 intelligence, especially Ultra, the breaking of German radio codes. One of the hardest decisions of the war was whether or not to alert the emergency services in Coventry that they were being target for a blitz. In the end Churchill didn't and lives were lost but the secret of Ultra was protected and others were saved and battles and the eventually war were won. Would it have been different if the emergency services had been alerted and the Germans realised their codes had been cracked? More than likely, but we'll never know.

That was a tough decision for the wider good so what about water-boarding and the war on terror, would any of our current politicians have moral the strength to make a similar decision? Finding out about imminent terror plots is important but of greater importance must be the need to find and capture the top leaders in AQ? That may mean letting an attack happen so that intelligence sources can be protected and used in the wider war.

And if our politicians do make that decision, what of the general population? In WW2 there was a feeling that we were in it together and there was a wider sacrifice to be made. Any politician making that sort of decision now must have in the back of their mind our litigious culture and desire to blame anyone, but especially the Government, every time there is a tragedy.

For the avoidance of doubt I am against torture and water-boarding is torture. Bush may have been legally right but that doesn't make it morally right. How many new recruits have been signed up my AQ in the past week or so and mitigated any so called good from the intelligence learned at the time?

04/11/2010

Labour's stealth tax from the grave

Image from

Looks like we are going to need a few silver stakes if we are ever going to stop Labour bleeding us dry. From my local council website:
The spectre of an unannounced stealth tax, which could have an alarming effect on town and parish councils, has been spotted by councillors in North Dorset.
In April 2008 the then Labour Government agreed to increase the National Non Domestic Rates – otherwise known as Business Rates – on civic cemeteries. The increase, which could be as much as five-fold, is only now coming into force and could see a cost increase for some councils from a few hundred pounds to several thousand pounds, depending on the size of the cemetery
So either my local council have been negligent in not spotting thus until now or, more likely,this was another deliberate ruse by Labour to increase taxes without admitting it.

But this really is a bizarre tax application:

Quite clearly a cemetery has no real value in business terms and is never going to be developed in a commercial sense so Councillors queried why it should be subject to tax of any description.
It is estimated that there are some 800 cemeteries in south west England alone which could fall foul to this huge increase in cost.
Cemeteries run by churches and other places of worship are exempt from Business Rates but those run by local authorities are obliged to pay.
 Quite bizarre. Either burying people should be taxed or it shouldn't, but it must be consistent.

03/11/2010

On this day....

.... in 1941 - U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Grew warned that the Japanese may be planning a sudden attack on the US.

The attack on Pearl Harbour took place on December 7th, the rest as they say is history but maybe not as we were taught at school:

For decades, conventional wisdom held that Japan attacked without any official warning of a break in relations only because of accidents and bumbling that delayed the delivery of a document to Washington hinting at war. In 1999, however, Takeo Iguchi, a professor of law and international relations at the International Christian University in Tokyo, discovered documents that pointed to a vigorous debate inside the government over how, indeed whether, to notify Washington of Japan's intention to break off negotiations and start a war, including a December 7 entry in the war diary saying, "our deceptive diplomacy is steadily proceeding toward success." Of this, Iguchi said, "The diary shows that the army and navy did not want to give any proper declaration of war, or indeed prior notice even of the termination of negotiations ... [a]nd they clearly prevailed."[50]

We forget what evil bastards the Japanese were, partly because their depravity took place on the other side of the world, and the US still defends Japan so that it doesn't need to raise its won armed forces.

Terorists under the bed

Reds under the bed was used to poke fun at those who went over the top when when worrying about the communist threat during the cold war. At the time I suppose we could have all been wiped off the map very easily so there may have been some justification for worrying.

Now it is terrorists that provide the justification for more money and more encroachment in to civil liberties and it has reached local councils, complete with all the attendant hyperbole. From the Dorset Echo:

CALLS have been made for security to be stepped up on Olympic sites on Portland.
Portland Town Council members Jenny Collinge and Sylvia Bradley are among those with concerns.
Coun Bradley, chairman of the council’s 2012 sub-committee, said: “I think they definitely need to tighten up security. It is a big issue. 
Well yes, I'm sure that security will be an issue, but it is 18 months off. I'm sure the security services are well aware of the risk. So what's this about?

“Our marine police are good but a lot of funding and emphasis has gone towards the security in London.
“There should be as much emphasis down here where it is much more open and probably easier to get to the Olympic site than in London.
“The Government needs to look at protecting Weymouth and Portland and Dorset as much as London.”
There's a good reason for that,  90% of the Olympics taking place in London, all the VVIPs will be in London and London is such an iconic target. Furthermore London is accessible from all points of the compass and is a seething mass of c.8m people.

Whereas Portland is on the end of a spit and surrounded by sea, so we can see anything approaching from miles away. And whilst Doeset is a beautiful place, hey that's why we moved back here, its is hardly world famous other than for a load of fossils, and I don't mean elderly councillors.

Coun Collinge has been calling for the authorities to increase security and consider closing roads next to the homes on Officers Field to limit the chance of explosives being thrown into or car bombs being driven next to the site. 
 When they start yes, but now?

She called for security to be ‘pepped up’ in time for the events.
“The police are going to have to go from house to house and check that he’s not put something under them for a later date.
“They need to check that he’s not scattered something that’s going to lie dormant for 18 months. I’m not saying he is a terrorist but he could be. It’s possible.” 
Oh my God, they're everywhere these terrorists. Look love, if they have the technology to plant a bomb with an 18 month timer do you really think they are going to waste it on a sailing event in Dorset? I don't thinks so.

Clive Chamberlain, chairman of the Dorset Police Federation, believes the case highlights the need for more money to be invested in the preparation of the games. He has been calling for more funding for Dorset Police to aid security. 
That didn't take long, more money for Dorset. Don't get me wrong, if there's money on offer I would like Dorset to get some, but I'd prefer tax cuts instead.

Do they really think the security services are going to discuss tactics and risks with councillors 18 months out? Yes, we need civilian oversight of the security services, but that has to be tempered with the need for secrecy and town councillors, with all the best will in the world, are not going to be let in on those secrets.

These councillors should be more worried about the current traffic chaos in the area, that's doing more harm than any terrorist threat.

If the reds under the beds scares are starting now its going to be unbearable by the time the Olympics start. Perhaps they weren't such a good idea.

When they great and good tell us the experts support them its time to get skeptical

Listening to the radio this lunchtime after PMQs a Labour MP informed us that all the economists agree that Labour's approach to the financial disaster they had a hand in creating was the right way. Just to remind you that approach is to continue spending money like its going out of fashion and for the Bank of England to print more money in the form of Quantitative Easing.

I became a skeptic 
a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual
after the EU* referendum in 1975. I had been beguiled in to voting Yes by all the great and the good and I don't need to go in to how that turned out for the purposes of this post. Suffice to say  that what all the fools said would happen turned out to be true, in spades.

So when I heard said MP I was reminded of this letter:

30 October 2010
Mr. James Fallows
National Correspondent, The Atlantic

Dear Mr. Fallows:

This afternoon on National Public Radio you proclaimed that “there is essentially no disagreement whatsoever” among economists that more stimulus spending is necessary today

You are misinformed.

Last year, hundreds of economists signed a petition, circulated by the Cato Institute, whose key clause reads “it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today.”  Among the economists who signed this petition in opposition to ‘stimulus’ spending are three Nobel laureates in economics (Edward Prescott, Vernon Smith, and my colleague James Buchanan).  Others signers include Chicago’s Eugene Fama and Sam Peltzman, Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron, Texas A&M’s Thomas Saving, Cornell’s Rick Geddes and Dean Lillard, University of Virginia’s Lee Coppock and Kenneth Elzinga, Duke’s Michael Munger and Edward Tower, University of Rochester’s Mark Bils and Ronald Schmidt, Rutger’s Michael Bordo and Leo Troy, University of Southern California’s John Matsusaka and Kevin Murphy, and one of the world’s preeminent scholars of money and banking, Carnegie-Mellon’s Allan Meltzer.
Perhaps these economists and the many others who’ve signed this petition (including myself) – and who continue to speak out against what we believe to be the folly of ‘stimulus’ – are mistaken.  But for you to announce publicly that there is “no disagreement whatsoever” among economists that more stimulus spending is desirable is so wildly inaccurate that it borders on being irresponsible.

Sincerely,

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


OK, its about the US, but the same holds true for the UK.

I'm not an economist so won't go in to the arguments, but when someone from the ruling elite claims that all the experts support them its time to look for the doubters and listen to their arguments very carefully.

*Yes I know it wasn't the EU  but those damned fools who warned us where it was going to end up

02/11/2010

Prisoners' voting rights and wrongs

Labour's promise of rights to everyone has caused a bit of a stir now its been taken up by people we love to hate, prisoners. That Labour didn't have the balls to take pass the legislation heaped on them by the European Court of Human Rights (Note not EU) just adds to the list of cowardice they showed whilst in office.

I can't get worked up about the subject either way. I suppose I should because there has to be some sort of libertarian principle in there but in the great scheme of things it isn't glaringly obvious. The only one that comes to mind is that Parliament, not some foreign judges, should be supreme. But as we signed up to the convention we can't complain. Anyway, the judges have said we can legislate, we just have to be specific.

So what is there to worry about? Its not like that suddenly we will have all our MPs elected by a bunch of thieves* and murderers. The prison population is about 85k, lets ignore remand prisoners for now as I can't be bothered looking. We have 646 MPs so assuming that prisoners will vote in their home constituency, as opposed to where the prison is located, that's about 130 prisoners per constituency. Its hardly going to be a convincing majority for a prospective MP.

Even if we use that law beloved of consultants, the 80:20 law, and assume that 80% of prisoners come from 20% of constituencies, that's 730 prisoner in some constituencies. Analysing the results of the last election 33 MPs had a majority of less that 730 so that result could be influence I supposed. So applying our 80:20 rule only 6 results could be influenced by prisoners voting en bloc.

And lets face it, with so few prisoners they are unlikely to get defeated by an opponent promising to set all paedos and murderers free. Even if they do, its hardly enough for HM to call their leader to kiss hands and form a government.

And what of they argument for? They only one I've heard is that its part of their rehabilitation and will make them feel part of society. Now I'm all for rehabilitation and I don't think we do enough. In that sense I fall in to the Daily Mail do gooder category. But all I can say to that argument is don't be so fucking stupid. Voting is important but given that nearly half the population don't bother why should prisoners, by definition hardly the sort of people who value society, suddenly see being able to vote as something that will make them give up a life of crime? Because if it did then losing the vote would be enough of a disincentive not to commit the crime in the first place.

So all in all a waste of news time, but I supposed it kept those who like baiting the Daily Mail Tendency amused.

*The thought of a bunch of thieves going to prison to ask for the votes of a bunch of thieves does appeal to my sense of the absurd, so maybe we should give them the vote just for a laugh.

Meanwhile, back on planet Keynes.....



And I'll bet you'd get the same response here, except very few people would know he was from Hawaii!


H/T Greg Mankiw

Corruption is that disease that keeps poor countries poor

This week's Economist (£) has an article about n campaign that reminded me how much I hate corruption and those who excuse it as being something to be excused because of local customs, especially when it comes to aid money:
CONGRESSMEN working late into the summer nights to overhaul America’s system of financial regulation were surprised when Bono started lobbying them. Yet the rocker-cum-campaigner helped to insert a far-reaching change into the legislation they were drafting. It has nothing directly to do with America’s financial mess, but it will push forward the fight against corruption in the developing world, a cause which has made some much-needed progress recently.
The bipartisan amendment to the Dodd-Frank act requires every oil, gas and mining firm listed on an American stock exchange to disclose in detail all the payments it makes to governments. It is the biggest success yet for the “publish what you pay” campaign, a global coalition of anti-corruption groups. It aims to reduce corruption by increasing transparency. The idea is that politicians and officials will think twice about filling their pockets with money from foreign firms if the public knows of the existence of such payments.
I have come across low level corruption first hand in a number of places and it is insidious. The first was in the far east when the taxi I was in was stopped by the local police. The policeman snarled at me sat in the back and then gave the driver a hard time. Following the incident it transpired through broken English that this is a regular occurrence and left the driver with very little of the days takings. His hours would be very  long and hard that day and all he could do was hope he didn't suffer another shakedown.

Its an old saying that fish rots from the head down and corruption at these low levels is a symptom of a rotten state where politicians and those with real power abuse it, to the detriment of all. So I welcome this move to put pressure on industry not to pay bribes because everyone loses, except those receiving the bribes. The company loses by having to pay them, although they receive adequate compensation, their competitors lose out but more importantly the people of the country lose out not just through the rotten fish, but because they pay more for goods that may not be the highest quality available.

Now don't think that this is something that America needs to address because they are all red in tooth capitalists who don't give a stuff about the workers. From my experience US companies have tried to avoid having to pay bribes and have probably lost out to countries and companies with much lower standards.  Indeed the tale I tell above occurred when I was doing some work for a US multinational on a contract bid they eventually lost to a European company.

It is only recently that that  paragon of economic virtue, Germany, has made it illegal for its companies to pay bribes to foreign officials:
The Gesetz zur Bekämpfung der Korruption (KorrBekG – Anti-Corruption Act), enacted in 1997, was the last measure to improve Germany's anti-corruption criminal law that was solely initiated by German political actors. Since then all amendments originated in international legal instruments. Implementing only the minimum requirements of these international provisions has led to inconsistencies within the criminal law dealing with active and passive bribery. Further anti-corruption conventions signed by the German government require additional modifications. This opportunity should be used as a starting point for a thorough reform of Germany's anti-corruption criminal law.
But that hasn't stopped its companies continuing to bribe overseas officials. If a US or UK company had been as corrupt as Siemens:
Ever since the scandal broke in late 2006 the company has been confronted with mounting evidence that officials, perhaps under the blind eye or with the covert connivance of senior managers, used bribes across the globe to win lucrative contracts. It has identified so far €1.3bn (£1bn) in slush funds and put the cost of cleaning out its Augean stables at €1.8bn.
 or Daimler:
But a report released on Tuesday by the United States Department of Justice said German automaker Daimler engaged in a "longstanding practice of paying bribes" to foreign officials in order to win government contracts between 1998 and 2008.
there would have been all hell to pay in the left wing media, and quite rightly, but neither of these cases reached the MSM in any great way. Maybe Germany's economic export miracle is built on putting its competition out of business through corruption?

But that isn't what really gets me going, we can expect that from evil capitalist companies who aren't correctly governed. No, what really winds me up and has me spitting is when I hear that Government aid, either directly or indirectly through NGOs and charities is given to corrupt countries, knowing full well that most it will disappear into some private Swiss bank account.

Even worse, they pass this off as cultural and that it isn't for us to be judgemental. Well, yes it is, its our hard money that is knowingly being given to these corrupt thieves, and that, in my mind makes those doing the giving corrupt thieves as well.

But they try to make it sound as if we should be grateful for giving the money because we have somehow become rich at the expense of those poor countries. No, we became rich because we booted out corrupt rulers and insisted on the rule of law for all. We enforce property rights and freedom, within reason, to go about our daily business without fear of petty corruption sanctioned by even more corruption at the top.

So by all means lets have campaigns to make capitalists tell us where their money is going, but that needs to be supported by a campaign to make Governments and NGOs stop paying bribes as well. Yes, I know they will scream that we are hurting the poor, but we've been sing this argument for years and barely a dent has been made into poverty in most poor countries. So to that argument I say, the poor will suffer in the short term, but that is a small price to pay.