Monday, February 16, 2009

Layer 123 Signs of the Times; In Praise of Will Hutton

Chantelle Loves Alfie

Max Clifford is now handling the publicity for the happy couple, and has said that Alfie will soon take a DNA test to prove he’s the 13 year old father of Chantelle’s baby. Several other diminutive lads have now stepped forward to claim they’re the father of the sprog - i.e. they’re responsible for getting Chantelle up the duff. Which presumably entitles them (or one of them) to a share of the Sun’s payout for photos of the children and their child.

Chantelle swears she’s never had sex with anyone other than Alfie, who she truly loves. And anyway, she only shagged him the once. Vikki Pollard couldn’t have said it any better - yeah, but, no, but . . .

Alfie has said he will do his best to do well at school as well as be a good father to the baby. When asked by a radio reporter how they will manage financially, Alfie said, “What’s financially?”

Circus? What circus?


Radio 4 this morning broadcast a fascinating programme about wives. I hope Chantelle was listening, as she went about her motherly duties.

“Nobody knows what a wife is anymore, and if they do, they certainly don’t want to be one.”

“Although it takes two to make a marriage, it’s on the wife that happiness depends.” (Which might explain why so many marriages are less than happy, I heard a misogynist mutter.)

“The very being or existence of the woman is suspended during marriage. We are willing these days to make sacrifices for our children, but not for our husband.”

“Arguments, resentments and negotiations are endemic when the terms of a relationship are not clearly defined.”

“After children are born the workload quadruples and nobody gets a day off.

“Shopping, washing and ironing are usually seen as the province of the woman.”

“Harmony, equality and sharing are the ideal, but relationships become attritional rather than companionable.”

“If you don’t have clear-cut roles then every day you have to work it out, which is hard work.”

“The important thing is the deal. If a woman specialises in being the homemaker and child carer then the man ought to be the financial provider.” (Alfie was presumably not listening to this, as he’s having to do extra maths classes to learn what financially means.)

“Is it any wonder that working women are scratchy and resentful?”

“Maintaining hygiene and comfort takes over a thousand hours a year.”

“Is marriage on its last legs? Who is now prepared to trade domestic labour for financial security? Most women don’t need marriage any more, and often see it as licensed prostitution.”

“Obligation, being someone else’s property, servicing someone. But to inherit property, women need to change their status from concubine to wife.”

Interesting. Lots there for Chantelle to chew on, after she’s discovered for herself the delights of Radio 4.


Book of the Week?

Also on Radio 4 this morning - the first part of the new book of the week, by Iain Sinclair. It’s even worse than I’d imagined.

What I really dislike is the fact that his pretentious, prolix, so-called love-letter to Hackney will make people who don’t know the place say to themselves - well damn it . . . if this gimp likes the place then I’m bound to hate it. And I wouldn’t blame them.

Actually it’s not all that clear that he does like the place. He sees himself as some sort of pioneer/discoverer, like a modern day David Livingstone or Walter Raleigh, who loved the ‘virgin’ territory he found many years ago, but hated what it later looked like becoming.

There’s no doubt Hackney, like anywhere else, especially after 30 years of Thatcherite and NuLabour despoilation, has a mass of problems, but so what? Why does this toff think he’s qualified to pontificate about it? What makes him think that anyone actually cares what he thinks? He’s got nothing original to say anyway.


Signs of the Times

#1 More and more kids are putting on the Internet explicit sexual images of themselves which they’ve taken with their phones and digital cameras. Well they would, wouldn’t they? Does anyone seriously doubt the stupidity and thoughtlessness of teenagers?

#2 More and more of us are, in these hard times, spending our hard-earned funds on buckets of delicious ‘Kentuck’. KFC expect to open many more “restaurants” this year and next.

#3 An eight year old girl became terrified of losing her milk teeth. The doctors tried to help - by removing them. The girl refused to eat or drink, and subsequently died. The ‘authorities’ said that ‘with hindsight’ there was a ‘lack of communication’.

#4 A panel of senior figures in the legal establishment has said it’s time to repeal the abusive laws regarding privacy, detention without charge, civil liberties, etc, that were enacted after the events of 2001. They say they were, and are, illegal and counterproductive.

#5 BMW has dismissed hundreds of workers at its Oxford ‘Mini’ plant, having given them no notice at all. It simply called its ‘agency’ workers together at the end of a shift and told them not to come back. Some of these people are highly skilled and have worked at the plant for some years, but because they’ve remained on the books of agencies they have no protection, no employment rights, and no entitlement to redundancy pay. As a Union official said, if it was in Germany they wouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. But that’s the very reason why they’re here, is it not? The unions have been asking NuLabour to do something about the excessive use of agency staff, and their entitlement to employment rights, for several years, but to no avail.

#6 According to makers of a scary documentary about Christianity, “The missionary boot is now on the other foot”. So look out Britain - the Pentecostals from Africa and elsewhere are on the rise and on the march. Millions of them, it seems. Doing their missionary best to evangelise us into shouting hallelujah, happy clapping, speaking in tongues, and carrying out exorcisms. We can only blame ourselves.



Last night was the first part of Paxo’s much-anticipated series on the Victorians, as seen through the eyes of their artists and painters. And it was good stuff - brilliant close-ups of paintings by relatively little-known artists such as Grimshaw, Egley, George Joy and John O’Connor, plus Gustav Dore and Ford Maddox Brown.

It make you think of how much of our infrastructure and our culture is directly attributable to the Victorians, and how little, relatively speaking, was added during the 20th Century. I guess the jury’s still out on how much of a benefit we ultimately get from the digital age.

It’s going to be interesting, for example, to see whether electronic surveillance helps the power elite to keep us all in our little boxes, or whether, on the other hand, the little people can use the technology to by-pass the ‘official’ media and communicate with one another about what’s really happening in our society. The phone video taken inside the mass meeting at the BMW/Mini factory would be an example of this. Will it galvanise and stir up opposition to what’s happening?


Where would we be without Will Hutton in these insane times? For three decades or more he’s written intelligently about economics and finance, never deviating from his Keynesian understanding and insights, and he’s now the “go to” expert for all those who get even a glimmer of the reality of what’s happening. Anyone who wants to understand the big picture should definitely read his 1995 classic, The State We're In. We're in it now, alright. Big time.

This Sunday he had an entire page in The Observer, which is a must-read for anyone with any intelligence.

Obama has picked the wrong hero for our times.

In order to save the global economy, the President has to stop trying to satisfy everybody. He should follow the example of Roosevelt and leave Lincoln behind.

The ideological divides that have racked the US remain as entrenched as ever. Obama may be a champion of the importance of government, but he and the Democrats have a long battle to convert a political victory into an intellectual one.

What is beginning to look doubtful is whether he can build around him a buttressing team who share the same passion and capacity as President Roosevelt had in similar economic circumstances. Obama has no equivalent of Roosevelt's two key lieutenants, Harry Hopkins, who led the fight for work, or Jesse Jones, who took on rebuilding the financial system.
Instead he is resolutely following his hero Abraham Lincoln, trying vainly to build a cabinet of all the talents.

It is the incapacity to trump the voodoo belief systems that have laid the US and world so low that is so dismaying and dispiriting. We are living through nothing less than the disintegration of the global financial system, shattering the western banking systems' capacity to lend. The risk is growing of a worldwide debt deflation. The west's governments have no choice but to put their balance sheets behind their broken banks and to make good the consumer demand that is no longer there via fiscal policy. They may even collectively have to print money, much more effectively done together than separately. Yet conservatives deny these truths.

The acute problem is that, although the old order and ideas do not work, there is no consensus on what the new order and ideas will be. The lack of coherence is plaguing these early weeks of Obama's drive for economic recovery. Thus Geithner's disappointing speech last Tuesday setting out the next steps in his financial recovery programme, and then stone-walling the senate budget committee the following day.

The administration wants to act decisively along the same lines as Sweden in the early 1990s in putting its banking system back on its feet. But it hesitates to nationalise banks as Sweden did. And it hesitates to commit what could be 14% of American GDP in creating a "bad bank" to take over crippling toxic debt as the Swedes did. It wants the same ends, but cheaper - an intellectual challenge too far.

Bankers are in no position to complain. Their avarice and the scale of their business misjudgment have vastly complicated the politics of a bank bail-out, which will have to be on a stupefying scale to be effective. The open question is whether the US can afford to create a "bad bank" or equivalent that might cost up to 14% of GDP, on top of a budget deficit already of that same size. The answer is that it cannot afford not to do it. Otherwise it might suffer the same fate as Japan in the 1990s, whose refusal to accept the size of the problem meant that it temporised with half measures - and suffered a decade of economic stagnation.

The G7 is a cacophony of different plans and preoccupations. Everybody, including Gordon Brown, is looking for legitimation for short-term political advantage. It needs the Obama administration to cut through the cackle and impose an agenda equal to the scale of what needs to be done at home and abroad.

That inability is the gravest source of concern. There are signs that the Obama team is getting the message; it backed off the worst protectionist excesses in the Stimulus Bill, and both Obama and Geithner say we need decisive, large-scale action. The worry is that they will make too many concessions to the ideas and people who got us into this mess. Lincoln was a great man. But it is a Roosevelt America that the world needs now.


In Saturday’s paper the blessed Will had a column in the Guardian on tax avoidance:

Behind tax avoidance lies an ideology that has had its day. We must end it.

Neoconservatism has collapsed. The need for the state should now be evident to all - and that includes big companies.

Nearly a third of our top 700 companies pay no tax at all. At best, the spirit of the law is being obstructed.

How do they justify to themselves what they do?

The economic wreckage is now all around us.

Tax avoidance was a central part of yesterday's exploded financial structure.

The stench is overpowering. The takeover of Boots by the private equity firm KKR has become exposed as a transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to its astonishingly rich partners, only one of whom is domiciled in the UK, for tax purposes. The headquarters is moved to Zug to avoid tax. Nottingham is stripped of key jobs.

Boots no longer pays UK corporate tax because the interest on the debt overwhelms its profits. And the banks that lent KKR the money, now worth between 60 and 70 pence in every pound because of doubts about whether it can be fully repaid, have to be bailed out by the self-same taxpayer. No wealth is generated. It is transferred. How the libertarians, self-styled wealth generators and fighters against Big Government must mock the little people whom they run rings around.

What is required is the will. Neoconservatism has collapsed. The western financial system is bust. The need for the state, and for international collaboration, is now evident to all. President Obama is keen to act. If we cannot slay tax avoidance now, we never will.

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