Thursday, 23 February 2012

Gordon Brown tells Washington how it is in Europe

I knew you were waiting impatiently for a word or two from our departed leader.  So after much searching and delving here you are...and it seems to make sense.  Anyway it was published in the Washington maybe, just maybe, Obama  has read it too.

Europe’s shortsighted response to a worsening fiscal reality

By Gordon Brown, Published: February 21

Talleyrand said of the Bourbon dynasty that ruled France both before and after that country’s revolution: “They have learned nothing and have forgotten nothing.” Today, with the same shortsightedness, Europe’s leaders stick unblinkingly to policies that the whole world can see have already failed.
Having learned nothing and forgotten nothing, they have just announced yet another version of a seemingly never-ending succession of Greek rescue plans that they must surely know will not work.
But the unfolding tragedy of a bankrupt Greece is only a symptom of an even more fundamental miscalculation: a wrong-headed conviction, widely held across Europe, that if austerity is failing, it is because there is not enough of it.
Already the half of the euro zone that is in recession threatens to bring down the other half. But, by holding dogmatically to a policy of ever more austerity despite all the evidence of stagnation, Europe now threatens the economic recovery of not just the euro area but also the wider world.
Understandably the biggest U.S. economic worry of 2012 is that of a recovery derailed in an election year by another sharp European shock.
But the current infection in Europe is potentially even more damaging in the longer term. Another downturn could condemn the continent to perhaps a decade of misery, with low growth, high unemployment and social unrest. It would destroy Europe’s pivotal position as the world’s second-largest engine of growth, and condemn the euro zone to permanent decline and marginalization from the wider world, severely damaging international trade and curtailing global growth for at least the rest of the decade.
Europe’s problems are not exclusively fiscal, as current policymakers argue, but stem also from a deep-seated and ongoing banking crisis and a long-term collapse in competitiveness. These problems are so profound that they are now reshaping the continent’s role in the world, yet its leaders seem to think them of secondary importance.
While many U.S. banks still have leverage ratios that are 10 times their assets, the banks of Germany have a leverage ratio 32 times their assets, and French banks are leveraged 26 times their assets. Europe’s banks have done only a fraction of what their U.S. counterparts did to rid themselves of toxic assets and to recapitalize, leaving them no choice now but to liquidate their assets.
A European banking model that is suffocating under such leveraging, financed by short-term borrowing, is fatally damaged and cannot survive without fundamental reform. That model also massively damages the prospects of economic recovery for a private sector that needs liquidity and investment to function efficiently.
Europe’s loss of global competitiveness, however, presents an even more profound problem.
A continent that was once responsible for 40 percent of the world’s output is now producing only 18 percent — and within a decade it will produce little more than 11 percent. This is an epic shift, yet one virtually unnoticed.
What Europe is experiencing may prove to be a permanent and irrevocable loss of prosperity.
The continent’s problems look increasingly as though they are part of a global transfer of economic power, where production, investment and demand shift from west to east. Historians will certainly point out in the years to come — although politicians today note it with ambivalence — that Europe is today selling just 7.5 percent of its exports to the countries that are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s growth — China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Russia and South Korea. The historians will undoubtedly ask how the continent could ever assume its survival as an economic powerhouse with such a tiny footprint in the world’s newest and fastest-expanding markets.
Against this background, the obsession of Europe’s leaders with imposing a swift and deep austerity seems hopelessly superficial and short-sighted. The debt-to-national-income ratio is the internationally agreed standard for measuring fiscal health and, not surprisingly, as growth falters, debt ratios in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy are not falling but rising.
Yet the whole of Europe has signed up to German-led austerity that will ensure the levels of growth that could reverse this rise remain impossible to achieve. This low-growth Europe still has to find a way of securing several trillions in borrowings to fund their government deficits and bank liabilities. And yet, even now, after months of discussions, the question of who pays, or even who guarantees, the deficits can’t be convincingly answered.
With Europe unable to generate its own growth without outside support, a coordinated global growth plan — a modern and international equivalent of the Marshall Plan — is the only way to stem the continent’s decline and prevent a new European recession from pulling down the rest of the world. China should raise its consumer demand and import more, giving U.S. and European industry a boost in confidence. Europe and America should expand investment in infrastructure.
When the Group of 20 meets in Mexico in June, world leaders should focus on agreeing a coordinated global plan with Europe at its center. Helping Europe for the long term is the best way of helping America and Asia for the long term too.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Socialism (or a least a bit of it) lives in France

 Thought you would like to know what  French socialists are promising to do after booting out   Sarko.  Why not compare their ideas with those of your favourite lefty party wherever you are?

Francois Hollande’s "60 commitments for France".

The programme of the Socialist candidate, prioritises tax reform,  measures to assist small and medium enterprises and proposals on education and youth employment.

In a document of some forty pages, the Socialist candidate said ".his project bears the mark of realism and rigor imposed by the economic crisis facing the country.  He plans a new Franco German Treaty, immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan

    * Finance

Francois Hollande said that "new measures" will cost, up to 20 billion euros by 2017 paid for by the cancellation of 29 billion euros of tax loopholes. The entire project is based on growth assumptions for the French economy of 2 to 2.5% by the end of his 5 year term term. He plans to  reduce the deficit to 3% of GDP, balanced by 2017

    * Taxation

 Key measures include : major tax reform and the creation of a 45% top rate of tax on incomes above 150,000 euros.  Priority will be given to small and medium enterprises, the creation of a public investment bank and saving bank scheme and an overhaul of corporation tax for the benefit of these companies. Public funding and tax breaks will be given  to companies that invest in France.
The tax of bank profits, will be increased by 15%.  Bank activities (employment and investment / speculation) will be separated and the use of tax havens prohibited.
Raise inheritance tax on largest estates.

    * Employment

 150,000 jobs for young people will be created. He proposes a "generation contract" to allow the hiring by companies of young people on permanent contracts if accompanied by a senior who will be retained in his employment until his retirement. To discourage lay offs, Francois Hollande wants increase the  cost of redundancies for companies that pay dividends.  Promote gender equality in the professions.

    * Education

 Education and youth is a priority.  60,000 jobs in education will be  created over five years.  Children under three years will be offered  kindergarten places. All 16 to 18 school leavers will be offered training, further education, or civil service places.
Higher  education, will be reformed together with an overhaul of undergraduate degree courses in order to break down barriers to avoid too much specialization. Full nationwide broadband coverage in 10 years.
 Energy and environment

A reduction in the share of the nuclear produced electricity from 75 to 50% by 2025.  In consideration of the environment, he announced a new progressive pricing structure of water, electricity and gas" in order to reduce consumption and to "get 8 million people out of fuel poverty. A plan for the  thermal insulation of one million homes per year will be launched.

 * Institutions

 Elected officials convicted of corruption will be ineligible for office for ten years.  The salary of the President of the Republic and ministers will be  reduced by 30% . The right to marriage and adoption will be given to homosexual couples.  Foreigners residing legally in France for five years will be able to vote in local elections.

    * Health

Francois Hollande insisted on the need to secure access to care  He argues for "a better distribution of physicians" through the creation of health centers in each local area, to include general practitioners, health center and local hospitals employees, An undertaking on euthanasia, in favor of actively assisted death, in "strict and specific conditions."


Retirement at 60 for those who have paid all their pension contributions.

    * Immigration

 A "relentless fight against illegal immigration" and  expressed caution on the regularisation" of illegal immigrants, who will dealt with  on a case by case basis using objective criteria.

    * Security

 Proposals to ensure local security through the creation of priority security zones. These areas,  of which there would be a hundred, would concentrate strengthen and coordinate the services of justice, police, taxation and customs in the cities. To "secure" these neighborhoods, CRS and gendarmes would be deployed for several months. Proposes to recruit 5000 police and gendarmes in next five years

    * Justice

 Commitments to further guarantee the independence of justice by changing the method of appointment of prosecutors through a reform of the Higher Judicial Council. the application of minimum sentences. In terms of prison, he is committed to improving the living conditions of detainees.

 * Housing

Key measures will be:  Rent control in areas where prices are excessive; An increase in the supply of affordable housing by building 2.5 million homes including 150,000 social homes.  Social mix will  be encouraged by raising the threshold for social housing in municipalities to  25% from 20%. .  It will also be promoted by establishing the rule of three buildings: one third of social housing, one third of social housing for ownership and one third of private dwellings.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

What is this David Miliband love-in about?

It may seem  strange to most people,that  as soon as a political leader is elected by his party  there is a movement to undermine his authority.  Ok, so the media can add journalistic spice to the election of Ed Miliband by the fact that he defeated an elder brother, encouraging  banal conjecture that Ed's victory delayed revenge for smashing the younger brother's train set.  It also helps if  respective partners are portrayed as nascent Lady Macbeths  or if,   like rivals in a  history drama,  each have supporters who see there own advancement dependent on the fortunes of their respective political baron. While  younger foot soldiers are busying themselves skirmishing in order to gain favour,  older retainers who have a self interest in  justifying fading careers will use their  positions to hint, and nudge wink wink that the Party has put it's democratic faith in the wrong baron. even  claiming that the process has been undemocratic.  Of course this was never brought up until the "wrong" result was announced.

So there has been a coincidence of arrows fired by those with no name this past week. Leaks of  Ed Balls 6 year old emails that are hoped to implicate EdM in a dastardly plot to overthrow Gordon Brown and waste the country's cash. Publication of  drafts of undelivered speeches,  articles in newspapers, Emily Maitis on BBC's Newsnight attempting unsuccessfully to conduct a hatchet job,  all focusing on the supposed inadequacies of EdM and by inference the magic touch of his elder brother.  Strange that DavidM chose this as the appropriate time to deliver his first speech since the election.  Hmm.  Coincidence, of course.  Hmm. 

Now its never been clear as to what the special qualities of DavidM are.  As a Foreign Secretary he wasn't particularly distinguished although it is said that Hilary Clinton took a shine to him. His speeches tend to dullness and its easy to lose their drift in over use of sub-clauses. Its only when his identity as a follower of the Blair tendency that the role of brother leader in waiting makes any sense. But ask yourself.  Do we want or need a son of Blair.  We already have one as Prime Minister and a fat lot of good that's doing us. And you can see why EdM is trying to consign New  history.

Here's an article by Mattew Norman in the Independent 15 June.  It's worth a read.

Matthew Norman: Shame on David Miliband for dragging his party down

The defeated Labour leadership candidate's refusal to serve in this Saddo Cabinet looks less like justified wound-licking than nauseatingly petty self-indulgence
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
With each month of ostentatious indolence that goes by, with every week of ego-ravaged silence that slides past, with every day of acidic resentment that seeps away, David Miliband offers a compelling lesson as to why Labour was absolutely right to reject him.
He is fast becoming a disgrace: a disgrace to the party he claims to adore, but which a thwarted sense of entitlement stops him serving now; a disgrace to his constituents in South Shields, who did not return him to Westminster to help David Cameron to a thumping majority; and a disgrace most of all, sir, to himself.
Why he has avoided such a pungent appreciation for so long I'm not sure, though naturally the circumstances of his defeat in September earned him sympathy. To sit beside a snickering Ed Balls and hear his brother speak from the podium about his undying love for him – knowing that the imaginary speech bubble read "Right, you patronising ponce, that's for defacing my Fabian Christmas Annual in 1973" – can't have been fun.
All right, then, this was a monstrous psychological blow, even though he had it coming. Long before this gifted Tory impersonator took on the part of Ted Heath in full sulkage, he gave us his Michael Portillo – flirting with a coup against a weak prime minister for whom he couldn't disguise his contempt; but chickening out from cowardice he will have rationalised to himself as a shrewd preference for the long game over the quick and lethal strike.
Shrewd it was not. In the combat sport of power politics, second chances may come but are very seldom taken. Having scurried back under his rock after openly flashing his scorpion tail at Gordon Brown in the summer of 2008, David's second chance came in the winter of 2009. Once again he blazed over from four yards with the one-eyed keeper prostrate, by failing to resign with James Purnell. With that profligacy, he condemned Labour to a catastrophic defeat.
When the third chance came, he blew it again. All victory required was a less smug and aloof, cuddlier David Miliband doing a little light schmoozing in the tea rooms. A few more MPs and the prize would have been his. This small sacrifice his arrogance prevented him making, and he lost because the electorate narrowly favoured his brother. No hanging chads, no black people effectively disenfranchised, no partisan Supreme Court ruling. Just fewer votes.
If he needed a holiday to get over that, fair enough. The immediate aftermath of any election, even one as chaotic as last year's, is a period of sublime irrelevance for any Opposition, and he had every right to slink back to Primrose Hill and recover in peace.
But that was then. Nine months on, his refusal to serve in this Saddo Cabinet – and even with the recruitment of Madge Allsop, Dame Edna's bridesmaid, could it look more comically glum? – looks less like justified wound-licking than nauseatingly petty self-indulgence.
If last week's leaking of the victory speech he would have given may have been spitefully timed to torment Ed at a moment of weakness, all the text establishes is that politically next to nothing divides them. David may have been keener on owning up to Labour's ostrich approach to the deficit, but in ideological terms this is hardly a Tony Benn vs Denis Healey rematch. These Milibandroids, two Jewish boys divided as so often by a common gene pool, agree about everything other than minor nuance and dry detail. By declining to work for his brother, all David does is remind us that with Brown and Blair the schisms were opened not by policy but by personality.
This echo of what is hardly "ancient history" – I've been right through Thucydides and Pliny the Elder, and not a dickie bird – is the most effective way of perpetuating the rift. The only way Labour can begin to close it is for these two to work together. The longer David sulks, the more terminally entrenched becomes the perception of Labour as a queeny rabble who don't merely deserve a decade in the wilderness, but need it to put such childish things as internecine feuding and unadulterated personal ambition behind them.
It seems that David himself is finally waking up to this, with Andrew Grice reporting in this paper yesterday that he is gingerly pondering a return to the front line. It is in the best interests of everyone other than the Coalition and the Balls-Cooper wedlock that he does so without delay.
Obviously, it wouldn't be easy. They would both be mad, for one thing, to sustain the intelligence-insulting pretence that all has been spiffing between them. They would have to cough to the bitterness that led David to eschew Ed's wedding reception for a literary event scheduled for the following day. They would need to be honest, within reason, about the anguish they've caused Marion, their poor old mum.
It would be agonising for David to swallow his pride. But if he went on the telly and said, "Look, it was hideous for me, and for the family. Everyone knows that. But I've had time to get it over it, and accept that there is no primogeniture rule in politics. I haven't spent my working life banging on about loving this party to sit idly by when I might be of some use in getting it back to power. At such a pivotal moment, facing so many colossal challenges, it would be a very small man who let himself be driven by personal feeling, and I hope I am not one of those..." If he could somehow force himself to do that, which of us wouldn't warm to him, and wonder whether Labour may have made a mistake in rejecting him after all?
"I have moved on from the leadership election" is all he has thus far said on the matter, "and so should everyone else." Very droll. Perhaps they will when he has. These are big times, and they are for big people. Until he knuckles down to work, as party chairman with overall responsibility for social policy, or some such free-ranging elder statesman role, David Miliband will not only continue to undermine his brother and diminish his party. He will confirm himself as a peevish pygmy to whom, for all his altruistic declarations, power was never more than an end in itself.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Why we don't need a world-class education system

The Tory led government are very free with the phrase "world class".  Too free perhaps.  OK, a world class health system where the outcome, the health of the nation,  can be assessed, can be argued to  have a measure of  validity, however an article in yesterday's Observer,  reprinted from the 22 May New York Times should lead us to question what does a "world class education system" entail and should we measure our schools against the bald statistics that are collected by organisations such as the OECD,
South Korea has been  if my memory serves me, consistently in the top half dozen countries when it comes to OECD tables of educational excellence.  However take a few minutes to read  the following article by Mark McDonald.

DAEJEON, South Korea — It has been a sad and gruesome semester at South Korea’s most prestigious university, and with final exams beginning Monday the school is still reeling from the recent suicides of four students and a popular professor.

Academic pressures can be ferocious at the university, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, known as Kaist, and anxious school psychologists have expanded their counseling services since the suicides. The school president also rescinded a controversial policy that humiliated many students by charging them extra tuition if their grades dipped.

After the last of the student deaths, on April 7, the Kaist student council issued an impassioned statement that said “a purple gust of wind” had blown through campus.

“Day after day we are cornered into an unrelenting competition that smothers and suffocates us,” the council said. “We couldn’t even spare 30 minutes for our troubled classmates because of all our homework.

“We no longer have the ability to laugh freely.”

Young people in South Korea are a chronically unhappy group. A recent survey found them to be — for the third year in a row — the unhappiest subset among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Education Ministry in Seoul said 146 students committed suicide last year, including 53 in junior high and 3 in elementary school.

Psychologists at the university said very few students had sought counseling in recent days because of the time crunch brought on by finals. Ironically, during this period of maximum stress, therapists were handling only a handful of cases, mostly for anxiety.

“Remember that the students here are still very young and they haven’t had much experience with unpredictable situations,” said Kim Mi-hee, a staff psychologist at the campus counseling center, who estimated that about 10 percent of Kaist students had come to the center for help. “To deal with problems they tend to lock into rumination mode.

“But they’re so smart and so bright, they actually cope with stress pretty well. They have great capabilities of insight, so once they do get treatment, it can go pretty fast.”

But there is still no full-time psychiatrist on call, and Kaist professors receive no training on how to spot overstressed or depressed students. Even the entryway to the counseling suite can feel somewhat less than welcoming. Recent visitors found the front door partially blocked by a dead tree in a broken ceramic planter.

South Korea as a whole ranks first among O.E.C.D. nations in suicide and is routinely among the leaders in developed nations. Subway stations in Seoul have barriers to prevent people from jumping in front of arriving trains, and eight bridges in the capital have installed closed-circuit suicide-watch cameras.

Suicides of singers, models, beloved actors, athletes, millionaire heiresses and other prominent figures have become almost routine in South Korea. A former president, Roh Moo-hyun, threw himself off a cliff in 2009 after losing face with his countrymen.

But the suicides of the four Kaist undergraduates — three jumped to their deaths and a 19-year-old freshman overdosed on pills — have stunned the nation in a profound and poignant way. (The professor, a biologist who was reportedly being audited for the misuse of research funds, hanged himself on April 10.)

The competition for a place in a leading university begins in middle school for most South Korean students. More than 80 percent of Korean young people go to college, and parents here spend more money per child on extra classes and outside tutoring — including military-style “cram schools” — than any other country in the O.E.C.D.

The pressure builds to a single day in November, when a national college entrance exam is held. Some mothers pray at churches or temples throughout the day as their children take the test, which is given only once a year and lasts nine hours. The South Korean Air Force even adjusts its flight schedule so as not to disturb the test takers.

The ultimate goal for most students is acceptance at one of the so-called SKY schools — Seoul National, Korea or Yonsei universities. In South Korea’s status-conscious society, a degree from a SKY school is nearly a guarantee of a big career and lifelong prosperity. Pedigree is everything.

But Kaist is different. The university pays no regard to the national exam and instead recruits almost all of its students from among the elite seniors at special science-oriented high schools. Kaist admits only about 1,000 freshmen each year. A personal interview, high school grades and recommendations from principals count the most.

Kaist students are academically gifted, to be sure, but they are also seen as the future leaders of Korea’s vaunted technology-driven economy. In a sense, once they gain entrance to Kaist, the students become national treasures. As a result, many feel a huge (and sometimes crushing) burden to live up to the country’s expectations. The statement by the Kaist student leaders even referred to Kaist students as “the future luminaries of Korea’s sciences.”

The pressures can become too much for some students, especially those who have always been academic superstars but suddenly find themselves struggling to excel against much stiffer competition. “They’ve always been No. 1 in high school, but once they get to Kaist maybe they’re No. 40, or No. 400, and they realize they can’t possibly keep up,” said Oh Kyung-ja, a Harvard-trained professor of clinical psychology at Yonsei University. “The competition can be cruel.”

Suh Nam-pyo, a renowned mechanical engineer who taught for many years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became president of Kaist in 2006. He soon instituted a series of changes aimed at modeling Kaist after M.I.T. and other world-class science and research universities.

He mandated, for example, that all courses would be taught in English. That move led to campus-wide consternation because not all students and faculty members were fully fluent in English.

Mr. Suh also engineered a system that required students to pay extra tuition for each hundredth of a point that their grade point average fell below 3.0 (based on a 4.3-point system). All students pay a token fee each semester, Kaist administrators said, but otherwise their tuition is free, financed by government scholarships.

Under the so-called punitive tuition program, a bad semester could cost a student’s family thousands of dollars.

The program, which was applauded at first, has since led to deep humiliation and anxiety among many students. Those who struggled and lost their full rides suddenly saw themselves as losers. Some critics, calling it ruthless, even blamed the program for the recent suicides.

Mr. Suh, faced with withering criticism, recently ended most parts of the tuition plan, and the school announced that some courses would now be taught in English and Korean.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Measure us by the things that really matter

Published by the Observer in its "The New York Times" supplement, an eight page selection of articles from that newspaper,  David Leonhardt, a financial journalist refers to "Getting Better" a book by Charles Kenney a British development economist based in Washington. 

In this book Kenney argues that life in much of Africa and in most of the impoverished world has improved at an unprecedented rate in recent decades, even if economic growth hasn't."The biggest success of development" he writes" has not been making people richer but rather has been making things that really matter - things like health and education - cheaper and more widely available.  The world , he said, had paid too much attention to economic numbers.

Sorry but it's not possible to link this article as it doesn't appear on either the Observer or New York Times websites, however while there is some  danger in presenting the above out of context there does seem to be something important expressed here. In Western Europe the notion of economic growth, expressed in percentage terms has become the measurement by which  success or failure, is judged, and it is the predominant means by which comparisons are made as to the economic health of  nations. 

But what if we assessed the nation  by "things that really matter - things like health and education". Ah, you say but can we afford it?  The UK is one of the half dozen richest nations in the world.  If we can't afford it what are we spending our money on? 

One of the mantra's of this government  and previous administrations has been to find new meanings for  the word "choice",  linked with words such as "patient" or "parent" or attached to electricity or gas suppliers or telephone or broadband providers.  When it comes down to it we think we have a choice at elections, and once upon a time we voted in representatives to make choices for us based on their manifestos, but not any more it seems. For we are all consumers now. 

The point is that governments are in reality saying that because you are a consumer and because as a consumer you are more aspirational it is impossible, and by the way political suicide, to make choices for you. That is your responsibility.  They are also, and this is the point, admitting that  no country on earth is rich enough to satisfy each and every  citizen/consumer.  It is not our job to tell you not to buy an expensive imported car, or upgrade your PC, or limit your holiday expenditure. 

So what happens if the country becomes a little less rich? Does the government maintain spending on those things that really matter? Of course not, because it's your choice. If you want first class health care you pay for it. If you want first class education for your kids you pay for it. If your kids want to go to university, you pay for it, or in reality they pay for it, but it's their choice after all.  But to do so you must spend  less on other things, which in these aspirational times is a hard choice. Haven't the income to do any of these things, the implication is that's your choice too.

Now what would happen if the country becomes a little less rich, but the government ceased to use the word "choice" as a covert excuse for letting things take their course, and said, these are the things that really matter and these are our and your  priorities. No market in education or health, they are accessible to all irrespective of income, We as a country want to be measured by the things that really matter. Well to some this may sound like a nanny  state, while to others it may sound like a fair and just society. Perhaps after all, choice isn't worth a dime.

Ten Labour Candidates in Mid Devon

Now, this is the news you have been waiting for.  Labour have 10 candidates who will  contest eight wards in Mid Devon.  No more will you have to weigh up the virtues of a Conservative and a Lib Dem with the odd Independent thrown in. No more will you anti Tories have to force yourselves to put your mark against the name of the only opposition in the hope that the forces of neo-reactionism will be dispatched to the outer margins.

OK, What we mean is that you can now vote for your preferred Labour candidate in wards as follows:

Taw              Pamela Galloway

Taw Vale       Mike Bartlett

Upper Yeo     Susan Sharratt

Yeo               Justin Beament and Nannette Brown

Lawrence      Deirdre Moffatt and Jim Clawson

Boniface        Reg Barker

Way              Jane Tizard

Cadbiury       Janet Ann Wills

Sunday, 3 April 2011

How Complicated is the Alternative Vote?

Have a look at this link. The flow chart clearly shows why AV is simpler, well, assuming like almost all of us in Devon you have to think tactically before you cast your vote.