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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Should Algeria send the Gaddafis back to Libya?

It is being reported that 'Colonel' Muammar Gaddafi's "wife and three children have fled to Algeria" and are being welcomed there. This is clearly an attempt at softening public opinion towards them, as the same news could also be reported as "four members of the Gaddafi clan escape to Algeria".

The children are hardly of an age where they have the benefit of innocence. One is a Lieutenant General in the Libyan army; another heads the Libyan Olympic committee, as well as being chairman of the General Post and Telecom Company and the third is so notorious that he has been the cause of many 'incidents'.

The world is now seeing what was always suspected (but not to this ridiculous extent) were the excesses of the Gaddafi clan. The pictures of palaces where the interior design makes the term 'bling' seem very reserved, the appreciation of what the despot Gaddafi actually did for his people; nothing unless they were part of the clan, or were effectively bribed, when deemed necessary.

It should be remembered that the term 'despot', when applied to the self-styled 'Colonel' is totally apt. Gaddafi lead a military coup in 1969 whose first act was to abolish the constitution. He then attempted to convince the world that Libya was run by local councils while diverting revenue into his personal coffers and styling himself variously as "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya" and "King of Kings".

Internally, Gaddafi maintained power by repression (hardly surprising for someone who usurped power in the first place) with execution, murder and arbitrary arrests being commonplace.

Externally, Gaddafi often got his own way by using the massive revenues generated by the Libyan oil fields to feed the greedy. The sums involved were so substantial, entire governments could effectively be bought off.

If you for one moment believe that this is not the case then, consider just one of the antics of his son Hannibal (now apparently in Algeria) and its consequences.  In July 2008 Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were accused of assaulting members of their staff at a hotel in Geneva. The Gaddafis were questioned by the police and released on bail of SFr 500,000. 'Colonel' Gaddafi retaliated for this affront by withdrawing billions from Swiss banks (don't ask where the money came from... you already know), throwing out Swiss diplomats, stopping oil deliveries to Switzerland, and arresting Swiss citizens in Libya.

The Swiss government attempted to remain calm and especially not capitulate to such boorish behaviour. Switzerland, in a measured retaliatory move prohibited a total of 188 Gaddafi family members and their cohorts coming to Switzerland. This is where things got a little messy as Switzerland had signed the Schengen Agreement meaning that measures taken to prohibit the Gaddafis access to Swiss soil automatically extended to the rest of the Schengen countries (effectively Western Europe). For once Europe showed a united front; they thought that the Swiss action was unreasonable and pressure was put upon Switzerland to withdraw their hardly draconian measures and apologise for having arrested a Gaddafi. This was of course a golden opportunity for Europe to show that it could not be bought off; it again failed miserably. Before you ask, the staff who had allegedly (there is of course the presumption of innocence) been assaulted withdrew their claims after having received a settlement.

The Gaddafis have enjoyed their ill-gotten gains and now the funds and all other assets that they have 'borrowed' from Libya should all be returned to the rightful government.

My personal view of whether Algeria should return the Gaddafis? For humanitarian reasons, accept them in the clothes they are wearing and refuse any donations. What are the chances?

If you would like to cast your ‘vote’, feel free to visit http://www.facebook.com/pages/munificuscom/117957851592742?v=wall

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Disenfranchised? I'll vote for that!

Are you fed up with hearing about 'the disenfranchised'? Quite apart from the appalling grammar, as you well know, to disenfranchise means to deprive of the right to vote.

In UK General Elections some people do not have the right to vote; these include, amongst others, anyone under the age of 18 years, members of the House of Lords, people serving a prison sentence (although this is currently under review), and anyone found guilty of breaking election law in the previous five years.

Disenfranchisement is most definitely not synonymous with: disadvantage, deprivation, ostracized, opting out... although, it is of course possible to belong to more than one 'group'. It may even be that there is preponderance (but no more) of people who are disenfranchised who are also disadvantaged but, it would be difficult to justify this in the case, for example, of a member of the House of Lords, let alone the monarch.

What is more likely to be the reason for people willingly not voting (a form of voluntary disenfranchisement) is that they too are fed up with a political class that has totally lost touch with reality. Contrast these two absolutely genuine cases:

  • A 24 year old mother of two found guilty of accepting a pair of shorts looted by her housemate during the rioting in Manchester is sentenced to five months in jail (admittedly later reduced on appeal); the harshness of the sentence no doubt at least partly as a result of the 'zero tolerance' espoused by the Prime Minister.
 
  • An MP (or to be more precise, an ex-MP) submits false invoices totalling £8,385 over a period of well over a year (in other words not an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination), is branded a liar by his trial judge... is free after serving four months in jail.
 Both are offences, both should be punished but the relative seriousness of their crimes, in particular the pecuniary value and, even more so, the premeditation (or lack of it in one case) make it ludicrous that the punishments should be so similar.

Who can be bother to vote when those elected seem more intent on looking after themselves than improving the lot of the average citizen... well here's a radical idea: pay MPs in proportion to the turnout in their constituency.

The UK Government has set up a website/ system for receiving suggestions. This would appear to be an intelligent and welcome addition to the tools available but seems to be suffering from slight apathy.

The UK Government is intent on cutting expenditure, in order to reduce its huge debt. This is very laudable and obviously essential. The size of the problem is indeed massive. The UK has a population of 62.2 Million and a debt of £4,000 Billion. The arithmetic really is simple; this equates to £64,500 for each adult or child in the UK. To put it into more 'real' figures, a married couple with two children are effectively 'responsible' for a debt of £258,000... doesn't make your mortgage seem so bad. But, on the other hand, if things go badly wrong, you haven't got an asset to sell to pay your creditors; the family silver went a long time ago.

The coalition was committed to allowing UK voters to cast their choice on potentially changing the voting system from 'first past the post' to a system of 'alternative vote'. Both these systems fail to take into account the apathy of the general public for politics. The current parliament was elected by a mere 65% of the voting population. Put another way, people who did not vote actually showed their intention by nearly as many votes as were cast for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined.

So where is all this leading?

We can deal with the three points above (participative government, reduce government expenditure, enfranchise non-voters).

There is now an e-petition to link MP's pay to the turnout in their constituency. The basic pay for an MP is £65,738 so if he is elected with a turnout of 65% he would only receive £42,730

If you live in the UK, and/or are a UK Citizen, you can electronically sign the petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/8046

Monday, 15 August 2011

How short is long-term?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron posted on the conservative blog on 29th July, 2011, an article entitled “We’re doing the right thing for the long term”.

Four nights of rioting later he seems to be advocating removing benefits from people involved in the rioting, as well as their council (or council subsidised) homes. However populist this idea may be, it can hardly be seen as anything but an ill thought out kneejerk reaction.

If the action of one person (adult or minor) within a household can result in the whole family no longer having a roof over their head the consequences might not be as anticipated:

  • In order for a council to evict a tenant in England, the council needs to obtain a court order, having first given 28 days notice of its intention to apply for such an order, under the 1985 Housing Act. This may well have little immediate effect.

  • Once the case reaches court, the decision would have to be made to evict the person/family. If the tenancy agreement has been honoured by the tenant then the only grounds for eviction would be if a ‘serious criminal offence’ has been committed. Neither burglary, nor looting, nor handling stolen goods are considered as being a ‘serious criminal offence’, unless there are multiple offences of burglary. So the chances of anyone being evicted appear somewhat slim.

  • In the seemingly unlikely event that a court upholds the eviction order, a whole new can of worms is opened. This is of course not a reason for the court to shirk its responsibility but, having one’s eyes open is probably not a bad idea either. So if the person/family is now homeless, they will undoubtedly apply to their local authority to be rehoused with one of three outcomes:

    • The local authority rehomes. This would be ludicrous as all the effort and procedural messing about would have resulted in absolutely nothing.

    • The local authority refuse to rehome and the tenant and his family decide to live rough. This would not enhance anybody’s chances of getting a job (having no fixed abode), could only lead to more disaffection of  those involved, more disenfranchisement (more on this on another occasion) and probably not the image of London (amongst others) that the UK would like to show the world, especially when the Olympic spotlight shines next year.

    • The local authority refuses to rehome and the tenant and family live with friends/relatives. It would seem somewhat foolhardy to expect that the friends/relatives of the now evicted family have ample accommodation to house them. So these people will be sharing accommodation with others in conditions that will probably contravene the Housing Act (S. 325) which stipulates that a dwelling cannot be overcrowded. This would then potentially lead to the local authority applying for an eviction order (which would be against the ‘innocent’ tenant)… and the whole cycle starts again.

There isn’t an easy answer to the problem but hot air is definitely not a solution.

The carrot and stick approach is very laudable but only works if both carrot and stick are properly utilised. Threatening to beat someone with a soggy carrot or to give them plenty of sticks to eat will not work.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Politicians in a Democracy

There is a civil service (national and local) to keep the country running (by collecting taxes and spending them), a judiciary to uphold the rule of law, a police force to maintain public order, and an army to protect the country from external conflict.

A  politician’s role is to be a conduit for change, indeed potentially even to be a leader.

In theory, in a democracy, a politician effects change by using his vote to attempt to improve the condition of the citizens who have elected him.

The XXIst century politician seems more intent on avoiding responsibility and (in many cases) filling his pockets.

If you are not convinced that this is not the case, consider the following facts:

  • The currency of Britain’s major trading partners (the Euro) is under such pressure that even a break-up can no longer be ignored. All politicians in the UK (with very few exceptions) are patting themselves on the back for not having joined the Euro, although the truth is that the UK could not have joined the Euro (when originally launched in 1999) as the UK did not meet the entry requirements at the time and, much more importantly, Mr Blair and his advisers were all too aware that parliament would vote against joining the Euro. As MPs have clearly lost touch with reality, it might be worthwhile reminding them that the Pound has depreciated by 5.5 % (Source FT.com) in the last year against the Euro. The strengthening economy they would have us believe is happening is a mere figment of over-vivid imaginations.

  • Australia and Canada, countries that are friendly to the UK had both issued warnings for their citizens travelling to the United Kingdom.

  • International football matches, albeit ‘friendly’ have been cancelled because the police were unable to commit manpower to policing the events and, more importantly, to being able to reasonably ensure the safety of supporters. This is in London, the host of the 2012 Olympics.

  • The MP’s expenses ‘scandal’ has led to imprisonments but, has the lesson been learned? Certainly not, having pledged transparency there is now plenty more bleating and suggestions that the ‘open’ system should be relaxed… presumably that means less open. If you are interested in seeing the names and misdemeanours of 10% of MPs, take a look at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1181189/Full-list-MPs-ministers-caught-expenses-scandal.html . The list includes the current prime minister, his two predecessors, the deputy prime minister… the same people who show indignation at looters.

So where were the ‘leaders’ while this was going on? On holiday… that’s what I call real leadership.

Conclusion: All MP’s should be renamed Houdini and given a number (Houdini 1 = Prime Minister, Houdini 2 = Deputy Prime Minister etc). The reason being that they wheedle their way out of anything and are clearly contortionists, being able to put their feet up and their snouts in the trough at the same time.

Please note that the use of the masculine is only to make this easier to read… there are also many female politicians doing as good, or as bad, a job as their male colleagues.

e-petition for UK Government

MPs to be paid proportionately to Voting Turnout

 

The wishes of people who choose not to vote are not represented.

 

The linking of the pay of MPs to the turnout (not the percentage of voters who actually voted for them) in their constituency would better reflect the wishes of the electorate.

 

34.9% of the electorate chose not to vote in the last General Election.

 

Applying this amendment would have the immediate beneficial effect of reducing the overall pay of MPs by £15 million per annum.

 

Another small step towards reducing the budget deficit and leading by example.

 

To sign up to this petition, please follow this link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/8046

Sunday, 7 August 2011

PIIGS

Or, if you prefer, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.


The acronym is not new and the parlous state of those countries’ finances has been known for some time.


We learn that The European Central Bank is holding emergency talks on whether to start buying Italian debt. Unfortunately, their decision is almost certain to prove too little, too late.


If the ECB decides to assist the Italian debt then, they will run out of money very quickly and remember that Italy only represents the ‘I’ in PIIGS. Clearly this would be the little boy putting his thumb to, highly temporarily, stop the inevitable flood from the dam. The ECB could of course, in theory, raise additional funds but no (effectively) bankrupt state could advance the funds. So the European markets will react on Monday with a big sell-off.


If the ECB decides not to assist Italy, this will result in the cost of borrowing for the Italian government becoming prohibitive, until the time that it inevitably defaults on its debt. The markets will therefore react with a massive sell-off of Italian debt (a possible source of profit for a very courageous/foolhardy investor), followed by a big downward trend in other European markets as this will be seen as not helping.


There is a possible, as yet seemingly unexplored option, that the ECB starts printing Euros (if you do it, it’s call counterfeiting and you would be punished). This would, at a stroke (remember that foolish expression) enable central banks to have more funds and repay any loans that are denominated in Euros. The high risk of this scenario is that the Euro would effectively be massively devalued (at least 30% against the US Dollar), the Euro zone would suffer substantial inflation and the standard of living would plummet. This would then be a typical scenario for revolution and war.


The EEC or ‘Common Market’ was originally formed to avoid another devastating war in Europe. This aim has been reached for 55 years but, the decision to attempt to share a common currency (the Euro) amongst many of the countries, without fiscal harmonisation, could well prove a step too far. An analogy could be football, where the common element is the ball (Euro) but the rules (fiscal measures) are different in each country. This system works as long as there is no game (interaction) between countries. Ludicrous but also very obvious that it cannot work.


Until all countries accept that levels of debt must be reduced (are you reading this Mr Obama) the brick wall that we are all heading in to is not receding, merely getting higher.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Inactivity

It's odd how Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter, have made me post so much less on this Blog... so much so that I think I may have forgotten how to do it...