March 30, 2012

March 29, 2012

NHS priorities

Should taxpayers' money be spent on drink-fuelled injuries, or on better cancer treatment?

Manchester Council wants to explore whether drunks who are taken to A&E could be charged for health treatment. (They might not pay, but that's a separate issue.)
A leading councillor admitted charging drunks for hospital treatment could prove difficult but said the council is determined to take radical steps.
More than 50,000 people a year are admitted to hospitals in Greater Manchester with alcohol-related illnesses and injuries. This is estimated to add up to some £400m annually, in Greater Manchester alone.

Project this figure across England and the total is - well - rather big.

To govern is to choose, as the saying goes. This seems a choice well worth debating - if we can find anyone to speak up for the drunks.

Implementation would undoubtedly raise all sorts of problems, but the principle seems a good one.

This wouldn't be about cutting health spending, it would be about priorities - using the available money in the way most likely to command taxpayers' support.

March 28, 2012

It should be time to move on (but sadly it's not)

All the firewalls in the EU - that is walls made from taxpayers' money - are being built to deal with a problem which can only get worse.

The EU is demanding Spain cuts state spending further, even though it is already in recession. And
Spain’s unemployment rate is already 22.8pc, rising to more than 51pc for youths, the highest since records began.
Oh yes, and a general strike has been called for tomorrow. Oh yes, and
Fresh data from Spain’s treasury showed the deficit for January and February was worse than for the same period last year, even stripping out “one-off” costs stemming from excesses by the regional juntas.
Meanwhile in Greece (almost a compulsory phrase in discussing the Southern EU) more than one in five workers is unemployed - again including half of those under the age of 25. A teacher says his German classes have "never been so full, because many people who want to emigrate are studying the language."

And Berlin and Brussels think these voters will accept yet more spending cuts?

It's not as if the depth of the spending cuts and the height of the firewalls (taxpayers' firewalls, remember) will make it even a smidgen easier for the Southern EU to prosper within the eurozone. The Southern EU is uncompetitive with the Northern EU. As long as they keep using the same currency, the South will stay uncompetitive.

It's not whether the eurozone fractures, but when and how.

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CO2 is another dead issue. In chapter one of Watermelons, Delingpole invites you to imagine nice things which actually are true. For instance
  • Imagine if global warming were something to be desired, not feared.
  • Imagine if carbon dioxide were our friend.
Let me offer you another. Suppose there's been no theory that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is dangerously warming the world. Then imagine someone proposes it today.

In our parallel universe, a scientist then produces a graph showing temperatures over time. Puzzlingly, he calls it his "not the hockey stick" graph. It shows a worldwide Medieval Warm Period roughly as warm as the present day. The scientist asks the proponents of the new CO2 theory why the temperature rise was natural then but is man made now. (That's conceivable, of course.  But the theorists have to explain why it's not natural now.)

Then this inconvenient scientist says if his graph really was a hockey stick, the blade would be pointing straight up. But it's not. Over the past fifteen years there has been no statistically significant warming. Yet China and other BRICS have continued to pump out ever increasing quantities of CO2. It's not just that the effect is slow, because temperatures were going up for a while - but then they levelled out.

Hm, says this scientist looking at his graph - which is looking less and less like a hockey stick. The handle curls all over the place, and the blade has curved. Now, given this evidence, why would anyone want to propose the beneficial trace gas CO2 as the major driver of a recent global warming which has levelled off anyway?

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We shouldn't be content to sit back as government shovels money at these problems which they can't solve - the first because it's the governments of the debtor countries themselves which need to act and devalue, the second because it doesn't now look like there's a warming problem at all (and if there is, CO2 is highly likely to be The Wrong Answer).  

Why? First, because there is no such thing as government money. That money belongs to the people. (Sure, some of it comes from bankers, but who's going to have to pay it back? Yes, the people.)

And in case you hadn't noticed, times are hard and getting harder. Petrol's dear, when you can find any. Energy's dear, partly thanks to government taxing us to pay for the inefficient and increasingly unpopular windmills (evidently not unpopular in Sam Cam's already rich family, but don't get me started). Postage is shooting up thanks to the government enthusiastically implementing EU policy.

But what is government doing to make us more prosperous, such as encouraging shale exploration, to start reversing the rises in our energy bills? What is it doing to make life cheaper for us? 

Yes, I know sleaze makes politicians look cheap. (Actually they're damn expensive, but don't get me started.) Where is our Minister for Cheapness? And no, I'm not suggesting Peter Cruddas. Someone pugnacious, like David Davis, perhaps.

For a start, government can stop throwing our money at issues it can't do anything about.

March 27, 2012

And in Italy

There's resistance to imposed change in Italy too, as well as Greece and Spain.

Open Europe notes Mario Monti has suggested that his government may dissolve itself before 2013 if faced with strong resistance to its plans to reform the labour market and reduce the cost of dismissals:
If the country, through its political and social forces, does not feel ready to cope with what, according to us, is a good work, we will certainly not ask to stay until a given date.
A poll shows support for Monti’s government down from 60% to 44% in less than one month.

Probably another car crash in the making.

Austerity unpopular - who knew?

The new Spanish government didn't do as well as expected in provincial elections. This, says the Wall Street Journal, raised new doubts about the government's ability to push through tough austerity measures.

Greek officials are starting discussions on the country's next batch of austerity measures. Polls there suggest that the two main parties would get fewer than hald the votes in an election held today.
Despite the election being likely to produce a highly-fragmented parliament, Greece's creditors expect the next government to follow through with implementing its reform pledges.
Stand by for the car crash after the election, which will be between the end of April and mid-May.

Don't bother with the torrent of writing about this or that interest rate and debt financing. The improvident south will never be able to pay their debts unless they can devalue, which will mean leaving the euro. They can do this after a slow grind into economic depression, or sooner if their electors turn on their politicians.

Whenever it happens, it will cost everyone in the EU dearly.

March 19, 2012

More evidence of rickety Spain

Open Europe notes a report in El País that the European Commission has urged Spain to make more use of desalination plants across the country, after Spanish Agriculture Minister Miguel Arias Cañete told MPs that, on average, the plants are only working at 16% of their capacity.
The Commission pointed out that Spain received around €1.5bn of EU subsidies to build the plants.
They expressed the hope that the Spanish government would ensure the best use of this infrastructure paid for by European funds. Otherwise this "could have a significant negative impact on the availability of European funds to Spain".

Spanish Local government again

Some municipalities signed agreements to use desalinated water because it would be essential to allow massive urban developments to go ahead in arid areas during the housing bubble. Now, thousands of dwellings have been built ... and the municipalities do not want to pay the bill. The water is more expensive than other sources of supply, and if some of the houses it was going to supply have not been built thanks to the economic downturn (and there's no sign that they will be any time soon), local government won't want to pay the bills.

Meanwhile, the Commission claims that "climate change will reduce water availability in the coming decades" - the last resort of a scoundrel seeking to persuade governments to do things which otherwise don't make sense:
The use of cheap water at the expense of the environment must end.
A southern EU country takes money from other EU taxpayers and then doesn't use it properly.

Where have we heard that before?

Keep the Irish down

On the Gas Drilling in Balcombe blog, Charles Metcalfe takes it on himself to ask us to sign a petition "to keep ireland green and pleasant". I kid you not.

That would be the Ireland that has motorways, shipyards, factories … and housing estates which are derelict because no one can afford mortgages to buy the houses there. As Michael Baker writes
I should have thought Ireland in its present Euro straits needed all the new employment it could get.
Yes, maybe the Irish have other priorities. What business is it of people in other countries? Isn’t this for the people of Ireland to decide?

But no, the international make-you-poorer greenies want you to sign a petition called "Ban Fracking Ireland". Tracey Y. writes that
Wherever hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is practiced there are cases of groundwater contamination, soil and air pollution, sickness, disease, and death in humans, wildlife, and livestock,
Tracey Y lies. Plenty of people are happy to be in neighbourhoods where shale fracking has taken place, plenty of people are glad of the extra jobs and increased prosperity.

But the greenies in other countries don't want you to have that. They offer no way out of your economic troubles. Keep Ireland "green and pleasant" and damn the consequences.

Actually, damn the ignorant and patronising campaigners who tell lies in order to persuade other countries how to run their affairs.

March 16, 2012

Vacuity at the top

In opposition the coalition parties said they would amend the US extradition treaty even though Tony Blair’s government refused. But in government the Tories took over the position of lapdog to the US and backtracked. Notes Damian Reece
More recently, Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, said the Act’s problems were “not readily curable”.
This is typical crabbed Dominic Grieve.

Cameron has now raised this with Obama. But the Tories' approach, Reece says, "has been confused, weak and contradictory – which sums up too much of what they do in the name of business more generally".

You can broaden that generalisation. Willie Walsh has been laying into the government's growth strategy.
“When I say that we don’t have a plan for growth, I need to be a little more specific. We don’t have a single plan for growth. We have one every other week… The words are always warm but they go cold waiting for action
Aviation policy is "an unholy mess".

Ministers, he says, refuse to recognise the power shift from West to East. And Germany spends half as much again on research and development as the UK.
It’s little wonder we have such poor growth when we do so little to make it happen.
We have firmness and clarity from Gove and IDS/Grayling. We have consistency of something from Lansley, though it's unclear what. Pickles seems to have a consistent viewpoint but is much under the radar these days.

It's when it comes to the top that we have the confusion, weakness and contradiction. This is because Cameron and Osborne are reactive, apparently with no agenda other than to make the most of a second chance to win an election. Speeches by the Prime Minister are designed to calm last week's crisis, not actually to make anything happen in government.

What seems like weakness and confusion in governing is inevitably the outcome. But it's just that they're in the different game of politics. Gove and IDS are in government; Cameron and Osborne care little for policy, and even less for follow through.

Hence the multiple growth plans gathering dust. A new new plan neutralises criticism for a few weeks. Goal achieved. That was all it was about.

March 15, 2012

Rights gone wrong

Why does Andrew Neil prefer to talk with members of the public outside on the move? Does he fear surveillance? Come to that, why did he open the programme walking down some road or other talking to himself?

These nagging questions led to another. Neil talked sitting inside to the obnoxious criminal guilty of manslaughter and to the Attorney General (though naturally not together). Was he suggesting an equivalence? Maybe that both had incoherent positions they couldn't defend, though Dominic Grieve's was the more important and was skewered more elegantly.

What's left out can be telling. Thus the BBC and The Guardian don't report evidence against AGW and Neil didn't give a platform to an advocate of the status quo. This led the Telegraph's review to claim that
In the circumstances it wasn’t surprising that Neil could find very few supporters of the status quo among the British establishment.
Hm. We know several of them are packing the Commission on a Bill of Rights from which Michael Pinto-Duschinsky has resigned.

Sadly that came too late for Neil's programme, as did the appearance of Sir Nicolas Bratza before Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, where he admitted that barely half of the court’s judges had any judicial experience before arriving in Strasbourg. Neil's analysis of this would probably have been telling.

So Neil was unlucky in his timing. Nor did the programme ask whether leaving human rights judgements to British judges would actually improve anything. In the States, cases like this under the Constitution could come before a Supreme Court made up of judges confirmed by politicians which tends to reflect American balances of opinion.

In fusty UK it's unclear how judges are picked, but they do seem to be predominantly left of centre - and there are no checks or balances.

Neil rightly kept saying that it wasn't meant to be like this. If memory serves, Mike O'Brien was at the Home Office when the legislation was introduced, and claimed he expected five or six cases a year - a gross underestimate of the opportunism of lawyers. And, by the way, who's paying the lawyers' fees?

So the programme was an elegant, almost teasing, introduction to the subject of human rights. As the judges continue to support the individual wrongdoer against moderate majority opinion, maybe one could start by naming them and exploring their background. To ask quis custodiet ipsos custodes is in this case not a trite sign-off - it's a pressing question.

If the judiciary want to move into this fresh area, where is their accountability?

March 04, 2012

Shale denialists

Michael Kelly, Professor of Technology at Cambridge, has famously written to The Times that
Andrew Motion ... is correct to castigate climate change deniers, as the climate has always been changing, but he is profoundly mistaken in linking all those who oppose the current climate science orthodoxy into one group. The interpretation of the observational science has been consistently over-egged to produce alarm. All real-world data over the past 20 years has shown the climate models to be exaggerating the likely impacts — if the models cannot account for the near term, why should I trust them in the long term?

I am most worried by the billions of pounds being misinvested and lost as a consequence. Look out to sea at the end of 2015 and see how many windmills are not turning and you will get my point: there are already 14,000 abandoned windmills onshore in the US. Premature technology deployment is thoroughly bad engineering, and my taxes are subsidising it against my will and professional judgment.
Against this background, Phil Bentley of British Gas has chosen the Telegraph for a lecture to us about our energy bills. In the online version he tells us energy prices will rise for years because of green taxes and the cost of upgrading the National Grid.
Between £80 billion and £100 billion of investment is needed to upgrade the National Grid and other power networks in the UK over the next decade, meaning higher bills for millions of householders.

Meanwhile the cost of green energy tariffs and taxes could also add around £140 to the average household bill over the next eight years. While he did not put a figure on what the total rise will be, the increase could be several hundred pounds.
The printed version is more provocative:
Phil Bentley ... said households that put satellite television or mobile phones ahead of power bills had their priorities wrong.
So that's the deal, take it or leave it. Bentley is flexing his muscles, warning that investment in nuclear energy could increase bills further, and
government plans to simplify tariffs could have the "unintended consequence" of removing cheap deals from the market
- as naked as a threat could be. But magnanimously he said he would welcome a Competition Commission inquiry into household energy prices if it “cleared the air” and took no longer than three months. Good of him.

If the price of gas can halve in the US, why couldn't it happen here? We can see why that might not suit British Gas, but why couldn't it happen if the government stopped wimping?

In his letter to Saturday's Telegraph, at least Ed Davey mentions the dreaded S word:
Shale gas may prove a worthwhile resource for the UK, but it is in its infancy.
The government are scared of shale because of the extreme environmentalists who inhabit such blogs as Gas Drilling in Balcombe. What those greenies never tell you is that they want to make you poorer - no development is acceptable, no pollution.

If Britain had followed their criteria, we would have had no industry, no railways, and certainly no mines. They would like us to be peasants in smocks, living hand to mouth from the land. Greenies want policies which will make you poorer.

The excuse for this was that extra CO2 is causing runaway global warming. But we haven't got runaway global warming. Global warming is way below IPCC predictions. So, they decide on a tactical retreat: let's talk about man made climate change instead. The trouble with this is that the climate is stable compared with some of the changes seen in historical times when there was certainly no man made CO2 to make a difference.

If the CO2 theory didn't exist, it would be ridiculous to invent it now. Yet questioning it among environmentalists is akin to denying god in a theocracy. Not accepting the CO2 superstition is just not polite. It puts you beyond the pale. Yet the data deny the tenuous theory.

Oops, denialist data. So ... follow the data. Fear not to follow in the footsteps of the USA and let the citizens get richer, not poorer.

The standard ploy of the shale denialists is to point to individual incidents and call for more research. Yet a Polish study has produced answers that contradict catastrophe:
Hydraulic fracturing conducted at a test well in northern Poland didn’t affect the quality or quantity of surface and ground water and didn’t cause tremors that would pose a threat to buildings or other infrastructure, the Polish Geological Institute said in a statement on its website.
The shale denialists won't even say: "we'd love everyone to have cheaper energy, there are just so many problems". They throw up alleged problems, and as each one is knocked over they fall back on the principle of Fossil Fuel Bad until they can find another study - however obscure - which supports their predetermined conclusion. For theirs is no open-minded enquiry. There is no research project which could change their minds, for their minds are made up, and the calls for more research are just stalling tactics.

Never mind that fracking in the USA has halved the cost of gas and may lead to the US becoming an oil exporter. Never mind that it is increasing employment in the US and tilting world power away from undesirable régimes. Never mind that shale extraction is being actively pursued in Poland, Australia, India, Argentina, China especially, and other countries. Never mind that cheaper energy will help lift their citizens out of poverty and make their goods more competitive against countries which cling to expensive energy. Never mind that citizens of those countries will see a fall in their standard of living compared to countries which can get cheap energy from shale.

They prefer expensive and unreliable sources of energy - in the case of wind turbines, with premature technology deployment. But they can't any more use the excuse that fossil resources are about to run out. Shale gas and shale oil have busted that scare too.

Shale denialists don't want the best for human beings. They are happy to see billions of pounds being misinvested and lost as a consequence. They cling to their dogmas even though the data have discredited them.

Shame on government for kowtowing to them. Shame on the shale denialists themselves.