Sunday, 22 April 2018

If your teen kids are night owls, avoid Austria

Brits may be horrified, but Austria's nine state governments have for many years been able to regulate a host of social behaviour matters from car washing and noise to teen curfews. In particular, it was this last area that locals felt was most overdue for reform; 'county lines' differences allowed teens to cross from an early bedtime state to a party state to carry-on the night. 

It reminds me of formative drinking years in Ipswich, where all pubs would close at 10.30pm without exception. On Wherstead Road, however, just outside the borough boundary, stood the 'Ostrich' - subject to Suffolk hours, and open until 11.00pm. I think they used to sell more beer in the last half hour of the day then they did all evening beforehand.

Anyway, the Austrian states have just agreed a common teen curfew. Under 14s must be safely indoors by 11.00pm, whilst 14 - 16 year olds can stay out until 1.00am. The curfews apply to tourists' kids as well as natives - and if breached can cost parents a hefty fine. Wine and beer are pretty unrestricted, but spirits can only be bought by over 18s. And from next year an unheard-of restriction bans under 18s from buying cigarettes. In one of Europe's most heavily smoking nations, it's a big move. Still, kids can still get their nicotine fix at home - the idea of 'passive smoking' simply hasn't taken root here. 


Friday, 20 April 2018

Have the global corporates robbed Brexit?

Global firms, wherever headquartered, have more in common with eachother than with the country of their parent letterhead. The members of the European Round Table, and of the CBI, are their own country; they have no allegiances beyond shareholders, no mission except growth and profit and no morality beyond the gutter. They exist in an inextricably intertwined web of mutual ownerships and territorial carve-ups, and are as predatory as gonorrhoea as they infect and consume smaller market competition. They crowd out SMEs and national firms, use wealth to bully and coerce mergers and takeovers and are beyond the control of national governments. Our pensions, savings and investments are dependent upon their profitability. 

Whatever they are, they're not capitalists. 

Conventional theory has it that capitalism arose in England in the 16th century but I long ago found it thriving in the 13th century. Rowland Parker's 'Men of Dunwich', a treasure of my bookshelves for many decades, uses ancient pipe rolls and mediaeval manuscripts in our historic archives as the author turns detective. Why did Ada Ringulf, with a cottage by St Peter's, pay only ¼d rent a year when neighbours paid 1½d?* Parker thinks he knows. Anyway, Dunwich merchants, shipowners with vessels we know as 'cogs', would speculatively take cargoes of wool, barley, cloth  to Europe and the Baltic and return with iron, wine, silk and spices. Profits could be handsome - but the loss of a cog to a hostile port, pirates, minor warlords or official blackmail could ruin a man and his family overnight. So merchants offset their risk by investing in eachother's cogs and cargoes, risking only a fifth or a sixth on each voyage. Parker has the evidence. That's capitalism. And it was happening three hundred years earlier than thought. Capitalism means risk, even if it's managed risk. What the global corporates do is risk free; monopolistic, monopsonistic or oligopolistic, they have a licence to make money with virtually no risk, by virtue of their size and power. 

12th Century seal of Dunwich showing square-rigged cog with furled sail.
Facebook has yesterday, with the flick of a button, taken 1.5 billion users from the jurisdiction of the ECJ and EU data protection law to that of the US, just by shifting a paper HQ from Dublin. The new EU law imposes swinging fines for big US tech companies, so they move paper domicile. 

And so the Telegraph carries two stories today that depress even my usual optimism. The first is Jeremy Warner's belief (£) that the markets - read global corporates - have decided how Brexit is to turn out, and it won't mean change or threat, so the £ has bounced back. The second is that the EU (no doubt with the ERT members' hands up their arses) have decided that the UK cannot escape the Customs Union (£), and must remain subservient to the Brussels empire for ever more. 

The threat to Brexit isn't from weak lunatics and purblind fools in the Lords, or the little pungent dags swinging with the stride of George Soros and his chums. If push comes to shove we can always resurrect the scaffold and lop-off their noggins. The real threat is from these big corporates - and I really don't know what we can do about them. 

These rule us now. Democracy has surely died. 

Some ERT members - full list at https://www.ert.eu/members

    * For our many North American and (astonishingly) Norwegian readers, 'd' is the old abbreviation of penny; a quarter of a penny is a farthing, whilst one pronounces one and a half pennies as 'a penny ha'penny'

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Roads and parks also the victims of child abuse

Over Christmas I supplemented the log fire, case of port and pile of new books with a few old Rumpole DVDs of programmes originally transmitted in the 1980s. Amongst them was an episode that was a savage critique of naive and credulous social workers, who had convinced themselves that some stolen carnival masks were indicative of child satanic abuse. Mortimer clearly based this on the nonsense of a contemporary Salem-type witch hunt in Scotland in which health professionals were trained to inspect school children's anuses for signs of Satanic interference. Thirty years later little has changed.

Social workers may be utterly crap at noticing real threats to children as they are happening - baby P's fractured limbs and bruises, a thousand pubescent girls sexually abused by Pakistani grooming gangs - but they're superbly skilled post-hoc in using those failures to lever-in more money, more staff, greater bureaucracy, new tax funded scrutiny and NGO bodies and so on. It's a pretty good model; every time they screw up and the public gets angry, they commandeer more tax money, all existing staff get a promotion and the pyramid grows another layer. 

Boundaries have been blurred by the merging of health, education and social work functions in local government and it's become increasingly hard to tell the cost of one part of the service from another. And of course it's not just children; council responsibility for elderly care budgets is also straining budgets to crisis point. 

As local elections are a bit more than a fortnight away, many electors are looking at the poor states of their post-winter roads. Roads and parks are the first recourse for councils making cuts; both can be trimmed attritionally year after year and nothing will collapse for a long time. Parks other than London's Royal parks have become sterile biological deserts of turf and trees, the only maintenance being a fortnightly shave with a gang mower in the growing months. Fences, gates, lighting, paths, ornamental planting are allowed to gently degenerate, the councils only intervening when a H&S risk arises. Roads are the same - I can't remember the last time I saw a B road regularly resurfaced. Roads and parks can be cut year after year and the effects will be far less noticeable than closing a library, for example, or shutting a day centre. All the money that used to pay for parks and roads is almost certainly sitting in the council's extensive meeting suites having case conferences. 

It can only go on for so long, of course. Eventually local tax payers, faced with ever-increasing bills and ever-poorer refuse collection, street lighting and sweeping, road maintenance, parks, libraries and leisure facilities, stuff people actually don't mind paying a reasonable wedge for, will demand change. 

But not this year. Yet. 

(London is insulated from much of this by the massive TfL budget being largely ringfenced to, erm, transport and very hard to transfer to social workers, and the high standards of the Royal parks disguise the poor condition of other council parks)  

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Reprieve for Fisheries Protection Vessels - but no crews

The story so far ...

The UK had four lightly armed and armoured Offshore Patrol Vessels highly suitable for Norway to Gibraltar service on Fisheries Protection, Maritime patrol and SAR operations. These are known as Batch Ones. These are due to be 'replaced' by Batch Twos - battle-hardened and with enhanced combat versatility. The MoD were pretending that these were a replacement for the Batch ones but in fact they're destined for Gibraltar, Bahrain, the Falklands and the Caribbean to plug a Frigate-hole in the Fleet. The four Batch Ones were due to be scrapped or sold out of the Service, and indeed one of them, HMS Severn, has already gone. 

However, our esteemed and respected Sea Lords hadn't expected Brexit, and the need for enhanced patrol and protection of the UK's new 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone from 2020.

HMS Tyne



Well, good news - the three remaining Batch Ones, HMS Tyne, HMS Clyde and HMS Mersey are to be retained and 'kept in a state of operational readiness' - i.e. not crewed or stored, but not abandoned and cannibalised. Their Lordships will need a little extra budget to actually crew them.  

It's not just protecting our waters against Dutch and Spanish pirate trawlers stealing our fish. Since the dear old Nimrod ("Ten thousand rivets flying in close formation"*) went our near-coastal ASW capability has been compromised - and with the integrity of our underwater comms cables ever more essential to national security, we need to be extra vigilant. A combination of long-endurance drones and response vessels with RM boarding parties and RIB fast launch and recovery kit for both constabulary duties and escorting foreign warships making passage in and over our waters mean the Batch Ones will have a use for many years yet. 

*Oops - as SW points out, this refers to the Shackleton. Here's a pic of one. 

Saturday, 14 April 2018

How endemic is German corruption? - Europe's crooks trample on legality

The rise of German economic corruption appears to have two phases. From the turn of the new century to 2012 / 2015 low level economic corruption became endemic throughout Germany as German manufacturing and industry expanded output and sales. A change in German law in 1997 had allowed prosecutors to investigate corruption proactively - previously firms had to report themselves. However, authorities were also then starved of resources to investigate and bring corruption actions - in effect giving official German government approval to allow corruption to flourish. As a consequence of this official 'fair wind', industrial giant Siemens distributed over €400,000,000 of bribe money to secure bent deals around the world.

As the New York Times reported in 2007:
Wolfgang Schaupensteiner has never been so busy. From an office in central Frankfurt that is decorated with cartoons about corruption, Schaupensteiner has headed the tiny financial crime unit for this city, Germany's financial capital, since 1993. These days, his backlog of bribery, fraud and other white-collar crime cases runs into the hundreds, and he says he has a simple explanation for it.

Corporate profits have surged across sectors ranging from finance to autos to energy, as German executives have turned the country into one of the world's largest exporters over the last five years. Illicit dealings helped create their success, he asserts, and that in turn has encouraged many executives to believe that crime does pay.

On Wednesday, prosecutors in the southern city of Nuremburg raided multiple locations of the offices of Siemens, one of the country's most prominent companies, on suspicion that certain bribes may have been concealed as payments for services that were never provided. In recent months, DaimlerChrysler, BMW and Volkswagen have also been raided, put under investigation or even had employees taken into custody. "Globalization has become a motor for corruption in Germany," asserted Schaupensteiner, 58. "It creates dangerous potential if you do not control it."
More recently, in 2017 Ernst & Young investigated the extent to which corruption has become embedded and institutionalised within the German economy. This second phase roll out of German corruption proved as insidious as an invasion of Japanese knotweed, with crooked tentacles reaching into every crevice of German economic life. The rapid growth of online trading in Germany in the last five years has exacerbated the criminality - German firms trade corruptly and criminally with impunity on the internet as the German legal system provides few affordable remedies for their victims. And all this is done with the complicity and support of the German government.
A staggering 43 percent of German business executives polled by EY (formerly Ernst & Young) think bribery and corruption are fairly commonplace in Europe's economic powerhouse. That's a big jump from just 26 percent in 2015.
In Germany, 23 percent of the managers polled admit they would act in an "unethical manner" to move up the career ladder or secure higher salaries. Roughly 10 percent of German executives polled wouldn't rule out deliberately providing false information to others to help their own careers and fill their pockets.

"VW's emissions-cheating scam, the Libor rate-rigging scandal, and [unlawful] collusion among companies as well as a raft of compliance violations have made the headlines quite frequently of late," says Stefan Heissner, who heads EY's Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services division.

He adds that stricter compliance rules that have appeared in the wake of major corporate scandals have not really changed the perception of widespread corruption in Germany.
Whilst Germany is not alone in seeing a rise in economic corruption, the country is unique in being able to roll it out on an pan European industrial scale, leading an entire continent in implementing then covering up emissions testing, and now corrupting the trade in two-thirds of the continent's gas imports. The corrupt appointment of the German zealot Martin Selmayr to the heart of the EU raises suspicion that the repression of the truth and blocking of all measures to tackle corruption has begun with a German takeover of key appointments. Germany's scoring on independent international indices was summarised by a correspondent in response to the post below; 
Unlike the EU the UK does not attack commercial competitors using the legal system: the EU attacks companies like Intel, Google/Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Chrysler, Fox, Facebook, Starbucks, Apple, Sony et al by using antitrust charges to further the interests of Eurozone technology companies.

Circa 2016 - in terms of shareholder protection the UK is 4th in the world behind Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore: France is 29th: Germany is 49th.

In terms of creditor protection: Germany is 28th: France is 79th.

No other EU country can match the UK on Rule of Law: the UK is 3rd in the world for property rights protection: 2nd in the world for Investment Freedom: 3rd in the world for Financial Freedom. As The Wall Street Journal’s Jon Sindreu has noted: “most international financial contracts are written in English law.”

The World Ranking of Judicial Independence cites: UK 6th - Rwanda is 23rd, Germany 24th, France 28th, Saudi Arabia 30th, India 53rd, Spain 58th and Italy 65th.

The EU is like Volkswagen writ large: when they can’t hack it – they crook.
This deep and endogenous German economic corruption will not play well in the rest of Europe. The UK, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian nations, with low levels of corruption and high scoring of commercial rectitude and probity, will be feeling fouled by contact with German corruption - and will now be adding up the commercial losses that German crookedness has cost them. The southern nations will be aggrieved that they have been bullied, coerced and hectored by a deeply crooked nation wearing a false disguise of moral superiority. And eastern nations such as Poland and Bulgaria, countries Germany has robbed of billions of Euros in corrupt complicity with Gazprom, will be looking at concrete measures to get their money back.

Frankfurt may attract a few McMafia Russian banks, a BCCI or a handful of Ponzi scammers, but chances now that any reputable international financial institution would want to be mired in the filth of institutional German economic corruption are slimmer than ever.

Friday, 13 April 2018

German corruption will rot the whole EU fish

Fish they say rots from the head. The Telegraph details an explosive leak of documents (£) from the EU itself detailing EU collusion in illegal Gazprom trade terms - the analysis of which I'll leave to our valued and wise colleagues over at Capitalists at Work - it emerges that Germany enjoyed Russian gas at up to half the cost of her poorer neighbours, and it's suggested that this sweetheart deal kept a lid on the whole corrupt and secretive arrangements for so long, arrangements that beggared Germany's neighbours. It also helps explain Germany absenting herself from both European and international sanctions and other measures against Russia.

Institutionalised German corruption is a new idea. Those of us who've always thought of Germans as upright rule-followers obsessed with their stools may have to revise our opinion of them to Italians with a savings habit. The Volkswagen emissions scandal - again, a German leading role given the scale and value of German car production - was also known about throughout Brussels. But we've always known that the EU is irredeemably corrupt. And Martin Selmayr, the Federast High Priest, most recently appointed corruptly as head of the EU's civil service giving the corrupt Germans one of their own at the heart of the EU. 

Germany scores low on international indices of commercial rectitude. Her courts are corrupted and she scores lower than many second-world nations on WEF indices. But the main problem with German corruption is that they're so damn efficient at it on such a large scale - they've industrialised it. An entire continent's car production, an entire continent's gas consumption, both fouled by deep rooted and well-organised national corruption. And no, the French or the Spanish or the Italians would not have done it if Germany hadn't cheated and manufactured a cover up. 

That Germany's corruption is known and supported not only by the German government but by the whole EU is evidenced by the utter absence of criminal actions flowing from the diesel scam. This was not a victimless crime. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the emission standards, the facts are that car makers lied and cheated and as a consequence millions of diesel owners have effectively lost money - in some cases many thousands. So far the only car executive to face jail time is a German Volkswagen VP who failed to escape from the US in time. 

The EU has only one member that comes close to the UK in terms of low corruption, business rectitude, judicial independence and other Transparency and WEF criteria and that's the Netherlands; in many cases they score better than the UK. No surprise. The Dutch have long been both valued and admired as allies and rivals. Fish rots from the head, and the EU's uncontested head right now is Germany. If German corruption and hegemony is unchallenged, the EU will putresce. However, if a combination of the Netherlands and the Visegrad group move to wrest power from a sclerotic and corrupt Franco-German grasp, the UK may enjoy the benefits post-Brexit of a reformed Europe.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Are the bastards lying to us again?

The British public is getting used to being lied to. Blair destroyed the credibility of the intelligence services, the BBC destroyed the credibility of national broadcasters and MPs by their venality and crookedness have virtually destroyed popular trust in Parliament. A whole host of national and international trusted figures have been caught telling lies in an effort to persuade the people not to vote for Brexit. So now many people - possibly even most people - treat whatever they're 'officially' told as suspect, with caution, and always subject to being proved. And increasingly that proof is sought through social media. 

What social media is saying about the latest Syrian 'atrocity' is that it's bollocks. They're saying there's no independent verification that a chemical incident took place, no UN observers, no news crews. People ask 'why would he?' when he's pretty well won and the US has announced it's giving up. And oh yes, they're asking, why do these alleged incidents happen just when the US is ready to withdraw?  They're laughing at pictures of a staged 'bomb' placed gently on a chipboard bed, at video showing rescuers with no masks and no protective gear entering a CW contaminated area, and they're asking why these alleged CW incidents only happen in places where the White Helmets are active. In other words, ordinary people on social media are asking all the questions that the MSM, parliament, analysts and observers should be asking. 

To we folk outside the establishment circle, it seems we're being asked to use massive military force against a sovereign nation on the basis of some short indistinct video clips showing a number of anonymous dead children who could be rebels, or their hostages, and who could have died from anything from Carbon Monoxide poisoning to EColi. No identification of the dead. No independent post-mortems, no chemical swabs, no testing of clothing. And yet within minutes of this footage and the allegations (Who made the allegations? The Al Qaeda rebels? Their white helmeted chums? ) it seemed the great and the good of the UK War faction were calling for Assad's blood, cruise missiles, reasons to keep the US in theatre.

And I could be wrong, but to my ear what most people are asking most of all is "Are the bastards lying to us again?"