June 30, 2007

Glasgow airport

A good press conference from the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police. He confirmed that the man taken to hospital had a "device" (later confirmed as a suicide belt) on his person. (Why ever wasn't it found until he got to hospital?) So it wasn't a spur of the moment thing. He also said there were similarities between this incident and the London incident on Friday.

Given that the incidents are connected, the security services are speculating that they are just the start of a series.

Liverpool airport has evidently closed.

Glasgow was a failed atrocity. This was the one of the airport's busiest days of the year. Schools have just broken up, and families with children are flying out on holiday. There's no justification for such an atrocity. If there is such a place as hell, may the planners and perpetrators burn there for eternity.

A very European coup

Excellent continuing coverage of the new EU constitution, sorry, treaty, at Eureferendum. All the legalistic posturing by eurocrats about the binding nature of the agreement is politically beside the point - Poland and the UK can doubtless bring the business of the EU to a crawl if they so choose.

Incidentally, eureferendum has also picked up that the agreement signed by Mr Blair was not the six or so pages the public have seen, but 150. Mr Blair was well known to be a master of detail!

As for the assurances that Mr Sarkozy's removal of competition as a prime objective won't change anything - nonsense! He didn't spring this for no reason. One wonders when Mr Blair knew.

Questions about the Glasgow airport incident

Politicians will doubtless queue up to praise the police over the next few days. But Strathclyde police have been plodding along behind. Out of the blue they announced there had been 4 arrests. No, plods, wrong. It was two, as the BBC and Sky News had been reporting. It took them a further hour to announce that they were treating it as a terrorist incident. Oh please.

Now, though, you can see plenty of shots of police standing around doing nothing.

Vehicles should not be able to crash into airport terminal buildings. That seems obvious, does it not? Worked well at Glasgow, didn't it. BAA should be in line for some hard questions and some hard work. Maybe we can give the Health & Safety Executive something to do.

Media are reporting that a blazing vehicle crashed into the building. It seems it hit the building and then burst into flames.

People are still sitting in planes on the tarmac. First it was said that emergency vehicles have to be on standby whenever a plane takes off and they had all been diverted to the incident. Fair enough. But hours later the passengers were still there. Now it is suggested all of them will be disembarked to be interviewed by police. We saw pictures of miserable elderly couples and young families. If this is true, it is an abuse of power by Strathclyde police.

P.S. Gordon Brown has just made a short statement demonstrating his lack of communication skills. (Among other things he praised the dedication of the police, when they have been doing their job rather badly.) Then he turned his back to the cameras, walked away down a corridor, and let himself into a room. Does no one in his team have the imagination to see what this will look like?

June 25, 2007

BBC as campaigner

Oh dear. Just as the BBC says it isn't appropriate for it to be a campaigning organisation, oops up pops the series "Saving Planet Earth".

Campaigning on a base of dodgy science.

Is it the EU constitution over again?

Is it or isn't it the EU constitution lightly disguised? It seems the UK government are alone in their position. Open Europe and Eureferendum have combed through the document. And senior politicians in other EU countries seem to think it's the constitution in all but name - indeed, maybe it's worse since Sarkozy quietly got open competition removed as a primary objective.

Open Europe are delighted with their press coverage.
In an analysis article in the Sunday Telegraph Open Europe Director Neil O’Brien argued that “Anyone reading what has been agreed in Brussels this weekend will quickly realise that the "new" treaty is merely the EU Constitution with another name.” A leader in the Sunday Times with the headline “Now a vote on Europe” said, “As Open Europe, the think tank, put it: “When you look at the detail of what has been agreed, it is clear that this is just the old EU constitution in everything but name.” Open Europe was also quoted in the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday Express, separate articles in the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times, today’s Express and BBC online. On Saturday’s BBC PM programme Open Europe Chairman Lord Leach argued that the opt-out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights would almost certainly not be strong enough to stop EU judges from changing UK labour law.
Perhaps more tellingly, Open Europe and EUReferendum have pulled together similar opinions from senior politicians.

Thus In a BBC interview on Saturday morning Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett admitted that "There are some power transfers" in the new treaty.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the fundamentals of the Constitution have been maintained in large part… We have renounced everything that makes people think of a state, like the flag and the national anthem.” El Pais (25 June)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the mandate approved by the EU will “preserve the substance of the constitutional treaty”. Agence Europe (25 June)

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero said, "A great part of the content of the European Constitution is captured in the new treaties”. El Pais (25 June)

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said, “Given the fact that there was strong legal advice that the draft constitution in 2004 would require a referendum in Ireland, and given the fact that these changes haven't made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed back in 2004, I think it is likely that a referendum will be held... thankfully they haven't changed the substance - 90 per cent of it is still there."

On the change of name for the EU Foreign Minister he said: "It's the original job as proposed but they just put on this long title - High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and also vice President of the Commission. It's the same job […] it's still going to be the same position." Irish Independent (24 June)

The Irish foreign minister agreed on RTÉ radio, as reported by The Irish Examiner declaring that new agreement had not dramatically changed the substance of the 2004 agreement brokered during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU – that agreement, of course, being the failed EU constitution.

Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen: “The good thing is...that all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters – the core - is left." Jyllands-Posten (25 June)

Finland’s Europe Minister Astrid Thors: “There’s nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed” TV-Nytt, (23 June) Finland's State Secretary for EU Affairs Jari Luoto, according to YLE News, said that there were few differences between it and "the constitutional treaty which has already been ratified by Finland's Parliament".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has claimed victory, saying, “This was France’s idea from the start.” LibĂ©ration (25 June)

During a press conference Sarkozy said “Competition is no longer an objective in itself – it’s a tool at the service of the internal market but is no longer an objective of the Union… for the first time… the Union has to help ensure the protection of citizens… the word protection is no longer taboo.”

At the Paris Air Show Sarkozy also said that Britain keeping the pound amounted to unfair competition. He said other countries, “can't go on imposing social, environmental, fiscal and monetary dumping' on Europe. I ask that we do with the euro with the US does with the dollar or even what our English friends do with the pound.” CNBC (24 June)

Sarkozy also dismissed the change of the EU Foreign Minister’s name as of no significance. "What does it matter what we call him?" Telegraph (24 June)

Eureferendum reports that "the Dutch "no" campaign isn't buying it either".

More money down the drain

The government will have to pay Clinicenta millions of pounds to cover its bid costs, reports the Financial Times, after cancelling one of the biggest schemes aimed at getting the private sector to treat NHS waiting list patients. The London South scheme – a £40m-a-year contract to treat 18,000 patients annually – has been scrapped, even though it had reached preferred bidder stage.

The health department airily claims the decision was merely operational, taking into account “current strategic considerations” in south-east London.
Four of the 17 insolvent NHS Trusts are located there, with a major reshaping expected of the way their services are provided. This will be made more difficult by the fact three of them have big PFI buildings to which the NHS is contractually committed.
There are rumours that two more of the second wave of independent surgical treatment centres could suffer the same fate.

More wasted bid costs?

June 24, 2007

Read the sunspots

This is the heading to a piece claiming that mud at the bottom of Canadian fjords reveals that solar output drives climate change - suggesting that we should prepare now for dangerous global cooling.

We are reminded that climate stability has never been a feature of planet Earth.
The only constant about climate is change; it changes continually and, at times, quite rapidly. Many times in the past, temperatures were far higher than today, and occasionally, temperatures were colder. As recently as 6,000 years ago, it was about 3C warmer than now. Ten thousand years ago, while the world was coming out of the thousand-year-long "Younger Dryas" cold episode, temperatures rose as much as 6C in a decade -- 100 times faster than the past century's 0.6C warming that has so upset environmentalists.
The fjords contain deep basins that are subject to little water transfer from the open ocean, and so water near the bottom is relatively stagnant and very low in oxygen content. So the floors of these basins are mostly lifeless and sediment layers build up year after year, undisturbed over millennia.

This gives one of the highest-quality climate records available anywhere today "and in it we see obvious confirmation that natural climate change can be dramatic. For example, in the middle of a 62-year slice of the record at about 4,400 years ago, there was a shift in climate in only a couple of seasons from warm, dry and sunny conditions to one that was mostly cold and rainy for several decades."

This revealed
repeated cycles in marine productivity in this, a region larger than Europe. Specifically, we find a very strong and consistent 11-year cycle throughout the whole record in the sediments and diatom remains. This correlates closely to the well-known 11-year "Schwabe" sunspot cycle, during which the output of the sun varies by about 0.1%. Sunspots, violent storms on the surface of the sun, have the effect of increasing solar output, so, by counting the spots visible on the surface of our star, we have an indirect measure of its varying brightness. Such records have been kept for many centuries and match very well with the changes in marine productivity we are observing.

In the sediment, diatom and fish-scale records, we also see longer period cycles, all correlating closely with other well-known regular solar variations. In particular, we see marine productivity cycles that match well with the sun's 75-90-year "Gleissberg Cycle," the 200-500-year "Suess Cycle" and the 1,100-1,500-year "Bond Cycle." The strength of these cycles is seen to vary over time, fading in and out over the millennia. The variation in the sun's brightness over these longer cycles may be many times greater in magnitude than that measured over the short Schwabe cycle and so are seen to impact marine productivity even more significantly.
Hundreds of other studies, using proxies from tree rings in Russia's Kola Peninsula to water levels of the Nile, show exactly the same thing: the sun appears to drive climate change. But the measured variations in incoming solar energy were, on their own, not enough to cause the climate changes found in the sediment. "So there had to be an amplifier of some sort for the sun to be a primary driver of climate change."

In fact a mechanism has already been found.
As the output of the sun varies, and with it, our star's protective solar wind, varying amounts of galactic cosmic rays from deep space are able to enter our solar system and penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. These cosmic rays enhance cloud formation which, overall, has a cooling effect on the planet. When the sun's energy output is greater, not only does the Earth warm slightly due to direct solar heating, but the stronger solar wind generated during these "high sun" periods blocks many of the cosmic rays from entering our atmosphere. Cloud cover decreases and the Earth warms still more.

The opposite occurs when the sun is less bright. More cosmic rays are able to get through to Earth's atmosphere, more clouds form, and the planet cools more than would otherwise be the case due to direct solar effects alone. This is precisely what happened from the middle of the 17th century into the early 18th century, when the solar energy input to our atmosphere, as indicated by the number of sunspots, was at a minimum and the planet was stuck in the Little Ice Age. These new findings suggest that changes in the output of the sun caused the most recent climate change. By comparison, CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet's climate on long, medium and even short time scales.
So much for the past. What of the future?

"Solar scientists predict that, by 2020, the sun will be starting into its weakest Schwabe solar cycle of the past two centuries, likely leading to unusually cool conditions on Earth."
Beginning to plan for adaptation to such a cool period, one which may continue well beyond one 11-year cycle, as did the Little Ice Age, should be a priority for governments. It is global cooling, not warming, that is the major climate threat to the world.
Finally the writer concludes that -
we need to continue research into this, the most complex field of science ever tackled, and immediately halt wasted expenditures on the King Canute-like task of "stopping climate change.

More coal everywhere

China is building new coal-fired power plants at the rate of one every week to 10 days. In late 2004, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reported that three countries—the United States, China, and India—are planning to build nearly 850 new coal plants. CSM said
By 2012, the plants in three key countries - China, India, and the United States - are expected to emit as much as an extra 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to a Monitor analysis of power-plant construction data. In contrast, Kyoto countries by that year are supposed to have cut their CO2 emissions by some 483 million tons.
Furthermore -
With natural gas prices expected to continue rising, 58 other nations have 340 new coal-fired plants in various stages of development. They are expected to go online in a decade or so. Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey are all planning significant new coal-fired power additions.
And Germany, which is so keen on Kyoto, is planning to build 26 new coal-fired power plants. Also Russia's demand for thermal coal is expected to triple by 2020, with coal-based generation doubling its share of Russian power production from about 20 percent to 38-40 percent.

What price Kyoto then?

Labour's bad team dream

Stalin and Dimbo

June 23, 2007

Romanians selling babies

Go to a supermarket in France, and you may find people from our EU partner Romania offering to sell you a baby in the car park, reports The Telegraph.
Three adults were taken to the Angouleme police station. "How much do you offer?" a male member of the gang is said to have shouted at shoppers as he held the crying baby aloft, according to one witness.

A woman shopper alerted the hypermarket's security team who prevented the group from getting away by blocking exits with cars until police arrived.

The gang tried to fight off the guards using weapons including a baseball bat.
A similar incident happened in Portugal last month, says the paper, when the mother of a four-month-old boy was arrested for trying to sell her baby outside a supermarket in a town north of Lisbon.
The alleged selling went on for several hours on the city's main street with eight men serving as lookouts.

Again, the gang was believed to come from Romania.

Law enforcement hardly touches the underclass

Tens of thousands of people are paying fraudsters to sit their driving test for them, the BBC says. Fraudsters pass themselves off as the person in the photo on the provisional licence that candidates must bring to their test.
Shadow Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "This is yet more evidence that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of rogue drivers on our roads without tax or insurance and now, it appears, often without a legal driving licence.

"This is a huge road safety challenge and we clearly need urgent action to tackle the problem."
The BBC reports that two men from Oldham, Greater Manchester, were convicted of obtaining driving licences by deception.

Shazad Akhtar, 34, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay £500 costs after pleading guilty to 22 counts of obtaining and attempting to obtain driving licences by deception. This is ridiculous. It is systematic criminal activity. But the government hasn't got enough prison places to be tough on crime.

The BBC says the fear is that the figures are the tip of the iceberg and that there are many more untested and potentially lethal drivers on the roads.

June 18, 2007

Pithy points against state monopolies

The Taxpayers' Alliance is back on form, with two pithy posts attacking state monopolies.

On the BBC it points out that -
Allegations and rumours have long been made about BBC bias, highlighted by an ingrained prejudice against the United States, Israel and business generally. Matched with this is an over-enthusiasm for European integration, the Euro and a socially liberal agenda.
A leaked report is summarised in the Daily Mail today.

It also carries a trenchant note about bad practice in the Nationalised Health Service titled Unaccountable monopolies kill people.
A Healthcare Commission report shows that 99 out of 394 trusts are failing to take basic steps such as safely decontaminating reusable medical equipment and keeping facilities clean. This can be added to the news last November that 84% of staff did not wash their hands before and after contact with an MRSA patient as they are supposed to and 25% failed to wash their hands even after contact with faeces. This has all contributed to Britain having the worst record of developed countries in hospital infection rates.

The NHS is killing thousands of patients every year thanks to poor management and low standards. Any company with such a record of killing people purely through incompetence would long ago have gone out of business. Only the monopoly status of the NHS allows it to get away with these mistakes.
They add -
A similar lack of accountability applies in the probation service when released prisoners who were meant to be monitored are allowed to go on and kill innocent people without the probationers receiving any meaningful sanction. When are we going to have a level playing field and start treating public and private sector managers equally?
I do have some sympathy with the probation service, who it seems to me are often on a hiding to nothing. Re-offending is not always their fault.

The feckless north

A new study has analysed spending and saving in different parts of the UK. The study reports -
  • Northern Cities show highest levels of "credit cruisers" – people who never pay off their credit card debt at the end of each month. Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow top the table for endemic accumulators of credit card debt, whereas Nottingham, Norwich and Edinburgh are most likely to pay off their credit card debt.

  • The geographical spread of super savers – people who save more than 2% of their income – broadly shows the inverse pattern to credit cruisers, with Norwich topping the bill, and Newcastle, Liverpool and Glasgow at the bottom of the table. However, some metropolitan centres differ from the norm – such as Cardiff, where high propensity to consume credit card debt is accompanies by an equally high propensity to save.
The study remarks on "the growing polarisation of the national economy". Much good work has been implemented by successive governments, it says, relocating government departments to the regions in order to stimulate local economies.
However, this method may, in itself, not be enough to rebalance the UK economic scene. The time may be rapidly approaching where further special policies for additional local economic stimulus need to be implemented to attract substantial inward investment north of Birmingham.
This seems confused. The study suggests that more people in the north than in the south spend more than they save. How would relocating more government departments to Liverpool curb over-spending?

That possible EU treaty

An excellent piece this morning from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph. Too good to summarise, read the whole thing.

June 17, 2007

Is this punishment?

The News of the World claims that Ian Huntley has a gay hairdresser lover in prison. Let's leave the details in the link.

But is what he's receiving really punishment?

Council tax

The Taxpayers Alliance reminds us that
Since 1996 ... Labour has overseen an average 91 per cent increase in council tax with some pensioners paying up to and over a third of their yearly income on just this one tax.

The unmanageable NHS

This blog has argued before that the Nationalised Health Service (NHS) is unmanageable. Today comes a report illustrating several reasons why this is true.

John Petri is a surgeon who moved to England and cut waiting lists by changing working methods to allow him to perform more operations.

He moved to Britain in 1994 after starting his career in France. He quickly identified the British surgeons' habit of taking breaks between operations as one of the key factors in NHS waiting lists.
He began to employ French working methods by starting to operate earlier in the day, extending shifts by up to two hours, and introducing a "production line" system. He uses two anaesthetists, which means that there is always another patient ready to be operated on.

"People were waiting a year to have a hip replacement," he said. "By the end of the pilot scheme, they were waiting three weeks.

"Under the standard method, you wouldn't believe how badly things were organised. We have to find a way of surgeons not wasting their time. A surgeon is the most important link in the chain."
He estimates that he can do five hip or knee replacements a day, compared with his colleagues' one or two.

Blair was impressed. He invited him to Downing Street, and Petri met Patricia. And what happened? Nothing. He is leaving for Switzerland (incidentally taking a 44% pay cut) because nobody in the NHS has shown any interest in the practice.

What went wrong?
  1. Ministers are hopeless at implementation - there is no follow-through. However, there are bigger structural reasons for the failure. There would still have been failure even if the ministers had had any competence in running an organisation. For instance -
  2. Surgeons lack incentive to do more work. "People in the NHS are not paid by results," Mr Petri says. "If you do five operations or 500, you are paid the same. The Government needs to create incentives."
  3. Even if the surgeons wanted to do more operations, NHS financial constraints sometimes made that impossible. The Primary Care Trusts couldn't always have afforded more operations.
  4. The Nationalised Health Service is too big to be run efficiently.
Notice there wasn't anything complicated about what he did. He imported French practice, did some simple streamlining of working practice, and got results.

But nationalised industries don't take well to such innovation. More money, nurse!

Green garbage

That's what emerged from the latest G8 meeting. All the paper it generated may as well be recycled straight away.

EUReferendum has picked up a piece from The Telegraph, explaining the attitude of India, one of the major developing countries, to reducing emissions.

"In the first place neither India nor China will agree to calculating overall emission cuts, preferring, for understandable reasons, to look at per capita entitlements, which would give both those countries an enormous advantage."
Mr Ghosh said it was now up to the world to decide how big the 'carbon pie' should be at a certain point in the future - say, 2050 - and then agree that by that date all nations should have an equal entitlement relative to their size of population.

"This [Global warming] is a challenge for the West. Those countries have been at a tremendous party since the nineteenth century and now the party has to come to an end. It is the West that has to get serious about this problem.

"India will not accept an endgame where Western people continue to pollute the earth in perpetuity at three or four time the rate of people in this country. And my impression is that China agrees.

"We see a lot of resistance to this idea [of counting emissions on a per capita basis] but the intellectual force of the idea is unassailable. We often hear from the West that 'it can't be done' or 'it's impracticable', but we say 'do the maths and make a plan to make it possible'.
It will be interesting to hear from the fanatical Mr Miliband on the scale of retrenchment he calculates would be needed.

And that is on the basis that the scientific assumptions make sense, which they probably don't.

Hidden Regional subsidies

The Telegraph reports a study suggesting that Northerners should be paid lower unemployment benefits and receive a less generous minimum wage than people in the south.
The report, by Prof David Smith at the University of Derby, also argues that having one national level of unemployment benefit removes the incentive to work in parts of the country where wages are lower.

Prof Smith, born and raised in Leeds, said: "If you are in London benefits are a very poor substitute for work. If you are in the north-east benefits are a very good substitute for work - so you tend to get far more people on benefits up there." "Britain's tax and benefits system has got more unfair over the past 10 years. The minimum wage for Londoners is effectively a joke - laughably low."

Grammar schools

Strange how the Conservative party feit the need for a uniform national policy on grammar schools until local MPs spoke up for their own areas which have kept grammars.

It would be better to see communities empowered to take their own decisions about the shape of education in their areas. And it might give greater enthusiasm to the Tory grass roots (of which I am not one).

Subsidising Scotland again

Following the latest announcements about public sector largesse in Scotland, The Telegraph reminds us that
The services are paid for out of the Scottish Executive's budget, which comes as a grant from the Treasury. Scotland receives about £1,500 a year per head more than England to spend on public services, totalling £11 billion, under a complicated system called the Barnett formula.
Personalising it better than the feeble Opposition, the paper comments that
The Chancellor's constituents in Kirkcaldy, Fife, will soon have the right to
free university education, to add to the NHS drugs, personal care for the
elderly and other benefits not available elsewhere in Britain.
Incidentally, "the devolution settlement also gives Scottish ministers the power to refuse road charging if it is introduced in other parts of Britain".

Governing is grappling with grey problems

The invaluable Liam Halligan is at it again in the Sunday Telegraph.
By 2050 the number of British citizens aged 65 and over will be 50pc higher than now. But thanks to low birth rates, we will have only two people working (and paying tax) for every pensioner, compared with four today.
He discusses why the government's latest pensions scheme probably won't work.

Many who are now going through their working lives gathering unserviceable debts and inadequate pension entitlements have at least got a foot on the housing ladder. It's not easy to see that many of their children will even be able to achieve that.

Thinking through this sort of problem is what government is about - unrewarding in terms of immediate headlines. Energy sufficiency and security is another example.

Blair was a past master at politics. Bad news for the country, though: he was no good at government - at thinking through policies or at understanding what you have to do to get them to work.

Guided democracy

In all three semi-finals (yes, three) of Britain's Got Talent, the last performer won the public vote. The lines finally opened while their number was still on the screen. And the advantage worked.

It looks as if the 11 year old girl may be out-cutied by a 6 year old. Another finalist has decided to take the money now by telling The Star that he wants to win because of his debts - he has no chance of winning, being an adult.

In the final of Any Dream Will Do, did you notice how Lee was on the upper step when the third place result was announced, with the other two below him competing to challenge him in the final?

Derren Brown would be proud.

Doubtless Simon Cowell will be ensuring that fewer of next year's semi-finalists feature on the front pages of the tabloids. Pretty abysmal screening this year.

June 11, 2007

A swashbuckling attack on greenery

This man can write.

(Htp John Ray)

Rich and poor in the EU

The Guardian carries a story that "Wealth gap grows and solidarity fades as rebellion of rich spreads across EU".

This is claiming that rich areas of some EU countries are getting fed up with subsidising poorer regions. On an EU level, so what? Barcelona may identify more with Milan than with poor areas of Spain, but are wealthy city states in different EU countries likely to act together at EU level - and be effective?

It's hard to see them combining in arguments for lower public expenditure in an alliance with Red Ken.

The piece has good insights into Italy, Spain and Belgium (though the Belgian election result appears to have passed the writer by, and there is doubtless more to the thumbs down Prodi received than the politics of localism). In Spain
"It's all very well to support solidarity and national cohesion, it's quite another to damage yourself or endanger your own growth," says Mr Guardans of Catalonia. "We only want to receive back what we pay in."

He points to the Basque country with some envy, since the Spanish Basques levy and spend their own taxes, simply paying the central government in Madrid for services rendered. But Mr Guardans concedes that if all 17 regions of Spain had the same fiscal powers, there would be no more Spain.
In the UK there is no real sign of a "rich people's rebellion" and the article is reduced to the lame observation that
In Britain, in the debate over Scottish devolution or independence, the wealthy south-east appears increasingly aggrieved over the Barnett formula that ordains higher per capita public spending in Scotland than in England.
So is this "rebellion" (or unease as I think of it) going anywhere? Perhaps at a country level. The piece points out that Germany bankrolled subsidies.
But those days are over. United Germany is a relatively poorer Germany. Having poured hundreds of billions of euros into ex-communist eastern Germany to fund unification over the past 15 years, the burghers of Munich, Cologne, or Hamburg are less keen to stump up for Bulgarians or Poles.
And maybe Brown will be less keen to shell out than Brown. As Wolfgang Munchau argues in the Financial Times, the German economic revival may not be all it seems.


Gordon Brown thinks sport is a good thing.
"I am passionate about sport and its power to inspire people, and I will campaign around the world for the cause of sport in our country."
What does this mean, if anything?

Don't hand power to the professionals

The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee is a success. So, it is argued, we should cede more power to the disinterested philosopher kings, the all wise professionals.

The argument is sometimes applied to the Nationalised Health Service. Let the doctors run things, the case goes, and all will be run for the best. But why are doctors better qualified than anyone else to choose between competing claims for money? The MPC has one objective (the inflation level) and one instrument (the interest rate), and let the chips fall where they may. No competing claims there.

The NHS argument also conveniently forgets that the NHS is so huge as to be unmanageable by anyone, even a senior Tesco manager or two.

A Telegraph piece usefully points out that we already have practitioner control of a service - police forces - and it isn't successful, a self perpetuating bureaucracy with chronically low productivity. What's the way out? Local election of sheriffs who would run local law enforcement. See how it's done in one county of Arizona.

However, England is probably too deferential to allow the government's subjects a say in how its laws are applied.

Education, er ...

Civitas has criticised the dumbing down of education. The dumbed down government spokesman said
It is insulting to the hard work of pupils and teachers to claim that the education system is just a political football to promote political or social goals.
Can we please have an end of this? The government always says this every time changes in education are criticised.

It is not the hard work of teachers and children that is being impugned. It is the government's insulting dumbing down of history ... science ... english ... syllabus after syllabus.

There is a pattern here.

Tellingly, well over half of independent schools have switched to the IGCSE in at least one subject, usually maths or English, because of the more traditional content and absence of coursework (hurrah).

But - equally tellingly - the schools were punished in last year's league tables because it was not recognised by the Government for use in state schools and passes were counted as failures.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has now agreed to consider a request from the exam boards providing the IGCSE for it to be recognised after a survey found that 73 per cent of respondents, including head teachers, said they would use the qualification if it were made available to the state sector.
So what are they waiting for?

David Davis goes politically correct

David Davis has gone politically correct. Hazel Blears has warned that people in her constituency (in Salford, since you ask) are "worried about immigrants 'undercutting wages' and not abiding by health and safety legislation".
We have got areas in Salford where private landlords are letting properties with 10 and 12 people in there. Now, the community doesn't object to the people - they object to the exploitation and the fact that that leads to people being on the street drinking, anti-social behaviour.

They don't object to the people being there, but they object if they are undercutting wages and not getting the national minimum wage and they are not abiding by health and safety, so you have got to enforce the law.
John Denham and others have been warning for months that immigration was lowering wages at the bottom of the scale.

But Mr Davis said: "It is wholly irresponsible for ministers of the Crown to stereotype any group in society."

So if people have these concerns, who can they go to?

Is this legal?

So the scottish government is to return to student grants instead of loans, but only for scottish students at its universities.

Is this discrimination legal under EU rules?

June 05, 2007

£10 billion a year

That's the direct cost to the UK of EU membership (gross contribution less abatement), as Richard North points out. You won't find this on the website of UKIP, which is increasingly devoted to chronicling the latest pronouncements of its great leader.

The ludicrous logo

So the cost of the ludicrous olympic logo doesn't matter because it was paid by private industry. That was the claim of Lord Coe.

How fatuous. How pleased are his financiers going to be when they see how the first slice of their money has been wasted? How confident can we be in the financial judgement of the olympic organisers? Answer, about as confident as we were before.

Matt in The Telegraph got it right, with the comment 'I hope the logo will be finished by 2012'.

For good measure, they've withdrawn the video of the logo from their website for fear that it might cause fits in epilepsy sufferers.

Trusting the people on the ground

Many police constables on the ground aren't lazy and would be happy to be more effective. David Copperfield points out it's often easy to spot which cases won't go any further. But you have to give discretion to the people on the ground.

It would be comforting to think that rampantly efficient police forces across the land are only being restrained by the dead hand of central bureaucracy. Sadly, no. Inspector Gadget valuably continues to report how the police forces we pay for keep generating their own lumbering bureaucracies - most recently here and here.

That's why we need locally elected chief constables rather than chummy watch committees behind closed doors.

This is what real policemen do when they've retired. And their phlegmatic wives.

Is there a greenie scientific consensus?

Canada's Financial Post piece starts with the arresting claim that
"Only an insignificant fraction of scientists deny the global warming crisis. The time for debate is over. The science is settled."

So said Al Gore ... in 1992. Amazingly, he made his claims despite much evidence of their falsity.
This is part of a series profiling scientists dissenting from the green orthodoxy.
What of the one claim that we hear over and over again, that 2,000 or 2,500 of the world's top scientists endorse the IPCC position? I asked the IPCC for their names, to gauge their views. "The 2,500 or so scientists you are referring to are reviewers from countries all over the world," the IPCC Secretariat responded. "The list with their names and contacts will be attached to future IPCC publications, which will hopefully be on-line in the second half of 2007."
As the writer explains
An IPCC reviewer does not assess the IPCC's comprehensive findings. He might only review one small part of one study that later becomes one small input to the published IPCC report. Far from endorsing the IPCC reports, some reviewers, offended at what they considered a sham review process, have demanded that the IPCC remove their names from the list of reviewers. One even threatened legal action when the IPCC refused.
Well worth reading in order to understand that the scientific community is indeed not settled on this issue.

Meanwhile in Heiligendamm

John Ray has this from the Washington Post -
As Chancellor Angela Merkel seeks to convince world leaders to cut greenhouse gases at a G8 summit this week, one of the biggest brown coal-fired power plants ever built is taking shape in this depressed town. Hosting the Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm, Germany may see itself as a guardian of the environment and sometimes wags a green finger at the rest of the world's efforts to tackle global warming. But residents of this eastern town, where the population has halved since 1990, are delighted by the plant and by a plan to fuel it by re-opening an opencast pit which closed eight years ago.

The plant on the outskirts of Boxberg near the Polish border will emit 4.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year -- as much as 1.5 million cars -- and is one of 26 coal-burning plants due to be built in Germany. "Everyone here is in favor of the new power plant," said Boxberg mayor Roland Trunsch. "The town would have died without it. People went out to protest in the streets to get it built. The CO2 doesn't bother any of us. The jobs are more important."
The Germans, of course, have a track record on the environment - fine words as long as they don't stop Germany building cars.

How inconvenient of greenery to reduce our choice rather than increase it. We have the absurd spectacle of consultants being asked to compare the carbon footprint of winter lettuce grown locally in the UK with lettuce flown in from abroad (the imports won). Of course if you're a greenie you shouldn't expect to find lettuce in your winter at all. It would be like my childhood again, when strawberries were a prized and shortlived seasonal delicacy.

Greenies probably won't eschew their winter lettuces any more than christians give all they have to the poor. But sooner or later the penny may start to drop with the electorate that being green should bring you less freedom and less choice, not more.

A wry Helmut Schmidt

Wry comments from former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (translation from Lubos Motl's site) -
What do you think about the anti-G8 demonstration?

Not much. No 18-year-old person can know how the world works. Our law says that the federal presidents must be at least 40 years old. It is a reasonable regulation. Only exceptions may sensibly judge the world's economy if they are younger than 40 years. However, even young people are capable to participate in peaceful rallies. That's not so difficult: even small babies know how to cry!
And on global warming -
It's the first time when the protection of the climate stands at the top of the G8 agenda. Is the situation as dramatic as the IPCC climate panel warns us?

This whole climate panel has invented itself and no one has asked for it. It is a severe exaggeration to call IPCC a council that should issue recommendations. The whole debate is hysterical and overheated, especially by the media. There has been climate change since the beginning of the Earth.

For hundreds of thousands of years we have seen ice ages and interglacials.

For example, people find tusks in Germany and prove that elephants once lived in this country during interglacials. Or in my garden in Hamburg's Langenhorn which is 15 meters above the sea level, I can find mussels that indicate that the ocean used to reach to Langenhorn and maybe even further.

Meanwhile, the reason behind these climate changes have been inadequately researched for the time being. And there is no reason to think that the climate change should suddenly stop. But to get upset about it and to believe that mankind could stop this climate change by making a resolution in Heilligendamm is pure hysteria, it is a nonsense!