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By Tubby Isaacs
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There was an interesting insight into what the future could look like for the Tories. A bloke who said he employed lots of people (and looked genuine to me) made a couple of mild points in favour of EU membership, and got "are they all Eastern European?" shot back at him. They weren't.

Lefties need not care what businessmen think that much. But the Tories probably should. Will they trim their sails, or stick with it and have to wheel out Mr Wetherspoons and the like in support?
By new puritan
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Interesting piece from a writer at the now-defunct FT Deutschland laying into Merkel's handling of the eurozone crisis. The timing is apt as there are some really gloomy forecasts from the Bundesbank today.
At the start of Greece's winter of discontent in 2009-10 we did wonder if it wasn't stupid to exclude the possibility of a bailout per se when you are faced with a self-perpetuating cycle of fear of the kind that triggers a bank run – otherwise the contagion could spread to other countries. We somehow sensed that it is not very helpful to force a country in economic crisis to pay high borrowing costs – not if we want that country to reduce its debt burden instead of increasing it. And from time to time we tried to point out that a country may end up with the very opposite of a shrinking debt burden if it has too much austerity imposed upon it, and if it makes savage cuts and raises taxes. Because then its economy collapses and the ratio of debt (relative to economic output) immediately rises.

We also did our best to help prevent further escalation of the crisis, and in the summer of 2011 we warned against rushing in to put the squeeze on private creditors. Because that in its turn was only likely to trigger another round of panic reactions. Instead we pointed out that at the end of the day the central bank was going to have to underwrite the system anyway in a crisis of this sort. It was meant well.

But somehow it did no good. The fact is, Merkel herself always started out by doing the exact opposite – at least to start with:

• No loans for Greece – until the crisis escalated and there was no other way to protect our own interests.

• Full-blown austerity – until it became clear that this only led to depression and more debt rather than less.

• Penalty interest charges – until the insight dawned that this is utter lunacy.

• Involvement of private creditors – until the crisis escalated as predicted.

• Ranting against interventions by the ECB – until the late summer of this year, when common sense finally prevailed here too, and the chancellor now seems to think it is quite a good idea.

• And again this summer a loud "no" from Merkel to the idea of giving Athens more time – until the most recent summit, that is, when that's exactly what was decided, on the grounds that anything else would be counterproductive.

The trouble is, by the time the penny finally drops the damage is already done. And in the three to 12 months it has always taken for the chancellor to do what we advised in the first place, the crisis has escalated further. Until at some point it engulfed the real economy here as well. Which brings us to the injustice of history.

The ECB has at least signalled that it will intervene on a massive scale if necessary – which has had a calming effect on the markets in recent weeks. But in the meantime our own number is up. ... eutschland" onclick=";return false;
By new puritan
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Some pretty dismal reporting on Syria from the FT, although to be fair it's hardly been alone. It is amazing how quickly the press continue to fall into line when discussing official enemies though. It's as if someone just flips a switch. Apparently because some trees have been cleared at a Syrian orchard, we should bomb Iran, or something.
On 8 January the Financial Times published an article by James Blitz, entitled 'Fears raised over Syria uranium stockpile', premised primarily on the 'fears' and otherwise subjective ruminations of unnamed 'official' and 'expert' sources, one the two named sources being former weapons inspector David Albright (discussed further below).

The claims of Blitz's sources rest on the argument that, because we lack proof that something is false, it must be true (an ad ignorantiam argument). For example, Blitz states that, 'Three satellite pictures of the Marj al-Sultan site taken in October, November and December of 2012 and shown to the FT [...] appear to show the gradual clearance of a large orchard there, for no apparent reason'. And so, the clearance has triggered fears that (a) the site is 'a secret uranium conversion facility', and (b) that tonnes of uranium have been transferred to the site. Because we do not have proof that the orchard has not been cleared for the transfer of uranium, this is cause for concern that this may be the case, according to the article.

Blitz’s sources claim that they have legitimate concerns about a uranium stockpile in Syria, enough uranium they say ‘to provide weapons-grade fuel for five atomic devices’, which could then be transferred ‘from Syria to Iran by air’.

The overarching concern of the article is that Iran would be provided with ‘a “vital resource” [which could] possibly be used to build a bomb’. This depends on a series of speculative claims made by Blitz’s sources turning out to be simultaneously true, with the addition of Iran ‘attempt[ing] to build another secret uranium plant’ (Blitz doesn’t expand on the meaning of ‘another’). To reach this conclusion, the following must all occur:

1. Syria must be in possession of 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium. (Blitz plainly states, in the opening paragraph, that cause for concern lies with ‘up to 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium’ – the implication being that such a thing actually exists – before later backtracking to suggest uncertainty with the inclusion of the clause ‘if it exists’ in reference to the uranium.)

2. The Marj al-Sultan site must actually be a uranium conversion facility. (The report notes that such claims are alleged: ‘what [the experts] allege is a secret uranium conversion facility that the Syrian regime built at the town of Marj al-Sultan near Damascus’.)

3. The uranium must be at the site. (‘Whether the uranium is at the site is unclear, the officials conceded’.)

4. Iran must be trying to ‘seize’ the uranium. (‘Iran, which is closely allied to the Syrian regime and urgently needs uranium for its nuclear programme, might be trying to seize such a stockpile’.)

Given that the above scenarios are at best uncertain and at worst hypothetical, the credibility given to the argument that this might result in Iran 'building the bomb' is questionable. ... stockpiles" onclick=";return false;
By Tubby Isaacs
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There was some rubbish by Chris Giles about the 1% benefit cap. He did all the "let's look at this rationally", which amounted to using a figure for living standards and starting in 2002, not 2007 as IDS was.

The upshot of it was that the poorest hadn't done too bad in that period, but the middle classes had done worse. So the 1% cap is OK.
By new puritan
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Don't know if anyone else saw the article about the Amazon centre in Rugeley (Aidan Burley's backyard) last week, but it's well worth a read to find out just what shits they are to work for.
One of the first complaints to spread through the town was that employees were getting blisters from the safety boots some were given to wear, which workers said were either too cheap or the wrong sizes. One former shop-floor manager, who did not want to be named, said he always told new workers to smear their bare feet with Vaseline. “Then put your socks on and your boots on, because I know for a fact these boots are going to rub and cause blisters and sores.”

Others found the pressure intense. Several former workers said the handheld computers, which look like clunky scientific calculators with handles and big screens, gave them a real-time indication of whether they were running behind or ahead of their target and by how much. Managers could also send text messages to these devices to tell workers to speed up, they said. “People were constantly warned about talking to one another by the management, who were keen to eliminate any form of time-wasting,” one former worker added.


The former shop-floor manager and another worker described a strict “three strikes and release” discipline system – “release” being a euphemism for getting sacked. In the early days, people were “released” frequently and with little warning or explanation, workers said. A very large number were laid off after the first busy Christmas period, some of whom had assumed their jobs would be permanent. Chris Martin says his job lasted less than a week after he took a day off for blisters and returned to find the night shift he was on had been abruptly cancelled.

It is this job insecurity that has most disappointed Glenn Watson at the district council. “Our definition of a good employer is someone who takes on people and provides them with sustainable employment week in week out, not somebody who takes on workers one week and gets rid of them the next,” he said. The council had understood Amazon would use the first 12 months to gradually build up its own workforce, transferring agency staff on to its payroll, but by last autumn Watson thought there were still only about 200 Amazon employees, with the rest of the workers supplied by Randstad and two smaller agencies. One young man strolling out of the warehouse last September said he was still an agency worker, even though he had been there since the site opened. ... tml#slide1" onclick=";return false;
By new puritan
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More evidence that Amazon are scum, in case you needed it:
Amazon is at the centre of a deepening scandal in Germany as the online shopping giant faced claims that it employed security guards with neo-Nazi connections to intimidate its foreign workers.

Germany’s ARD television channel made the allegations in a documentary about Amazon’s treatment of more than 5,000 temporary staff from across Europe to work at its German packing and distribution centres.

The film showed omnipresent guards from a company named HESS Security wearing black uniforms, boots and with military haircuts. They were employed to keep order at hostels and budget hotels where foreign workers stayed. “Many of the workers are afraid,” the programme-makers said. ... 95843.html" onclick=";return false;

Hess Security, ffs. As subtle as a sledgehammer.
By youngian
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Tubby Isaacs wrote:Philip Stephens wants to intervene in Syria.

He's getting quite a kicking. ... z2Nbc1AA2O" onclick=";return false;
In any event, the Arab uprisings have dispelled all the old cold war assumptions. The west can no longer rely on secular dictators,
Since when did the West support secular Arab nationalism in the Cold War? (apart from the US very briefly to put an end to ridiculous Anglo-French imperial posturing in Suez)
By new puritan
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AC Grayling gives us his thoughts on austerity. Somehow I'm not convinced he's all that familiar with it.
Is austerity a bad thing? Not always. The austerity years of the second world war and its aftermath were surprisingly good for people; calorie restriction meant flat tummies and robust health, at least for those not smoking the lethal cigarettes of the day.
But there is the glimmer of opportunity that austerity offers. Most of the things that are intrinsically most valuable in human life do not cost money, though by the application of money to them we think we embellish them. It might be highly pleasurable to meet one’s friends in a fine restaurant, but to meet them on a park bench in the sunshine has almost all the good of the experience. We all know that material possessions become an impediment – moving house is a nightmare – and that one of the fastest-growing businesses is storage because few of us have houses big enough for the stuff we accumulate.

Knowing these things does not stop us from buying stuff and meeting our friends in fine restaurants when we can afford it. It is when we can no longer afford it that the fog of indulgence clears, and the landscape of reality appears behind it. Then we see what it is that constitutes the good part of what we thought we would not have unless we bought it. ... z2P1Lu5IyM" onclick=";return false;

Complete drivel.
By hel
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He's being completely impractical. Calorie restriction might be OK now that so many of us are overweight, but during WWII it would have probably just made underweight people even more underweight - I doubt the people starving to death during the hunger winter were glad they were losing weight! Socialising in the park may be fun, but when the weather is like this people would rather meet in nice warm restaurants, and you need money for that.
By new puritan
Membership Days Posts
On the other hand, this is a really good piece from Simon Kuper about the level of media coverage devoted to deprivation and related issues. Unusual to see this level of honesty and self-criticism in the mainstream press.
Poverty has never been sexy. In 2008, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation analysed 40 hours of British TV, and found that “the word ‘poverty’ appeared only twice, both in Shameless”, a comedy drama. One reference was to the Live Aid concert; the other to Comic Relief. When poor people did get airtime, it was often as objects of derision on Jerry Springer-like shows.

You’d have thought the economic crisis would have made poverty newsy. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a journalistic maxim, and the Cambridge sociologist David Stuckler found sharp increases in suicides in recession-hit European countries after 2008. The crisis arguably caused 1,000 “excess” suicides in England alone.

But they weren’t news. The global poor – 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day – are considered even more boring, due to the triple whammy of being non-white, non-Anglophone and poor. To become news, poor people have to cause disorder. Middle-class people raise issues by writing; poor people do it by rioting. I’ve read columns by prisoners and by people with terminal cancer, but I’ve never seen one by someone living on benefits. ... z2P1Lu5IyM" onclick=";return false;
By Tubby Isaacs
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The board with the Britain in the EU thread isn't working, so put it here. ... z2PIuiLfbT" onclick=";return false;

Germany and France tell Cameron they don't want to be bothered with his discussions on what powers should be repatriated.

Did you sign out there seeing dead Prime Minister storage? No? That's because we don't store dead Prime Ministers.

Someone put this link up: ... Europe.pdf" onclick=";return false;

September, last year, discussion about EU powers. Attended by...
f the Foreign Ministers of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany,
Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
No sign of Britain, even though similar long term sceptic, Denmark, showed up. And Poland. And we wonder why France and Germany think we're a bunch of timewasters.
By new puritan
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Decent piece from Martin Wolf on Greece.
In brief, the Greek crisis proved a triple calamity: a calamity for the Greeks themselves; a calamity for the popular view of the crisis inside the eurozone; and a calamity for fiscal policy everywhere. The result has been stagnation, or worse, particularly in Europe. Today, we have to recognise that the huge falls in output relative to pre-crisis trends may well never be recouped. Yet the reaction of policy makers has not been to admit the mistakes, but to redefine acceptable performance at a new, lower level. It is a sad story. ... z2WfFjDAJz" onclick=";return false;
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Jeremy "Fucking off" Corbyn.

Even in a fluffing Tweet he looks bad tempered.