Wednesday, 29 June 2011

EU wants more money

The EU wants to raise our membership fee to £17.3bn per year. That's a 12% increase, way ahead of inflation. Ouch!

Do we get a say in this? Yes, of course we do. It will be decided by qualified majority voting. Each country gets a number of votes according to the size of their population (rounded a bit.) Here's a list of the 27 members with how many votes each gets:

Germany         29
France          29
UK              29
Italy           29
Spain           27
Poland          27
Romania         14
Netherlands     13
Greece          12
Portugal        12
Belgium         12
Czech Rep.      12
Hungary         12
Sweden          10
Austria         10
Bulgaria        10
Denmark          7
Slovakia         7
Finland          7
Ireland          7
Lithuania        7
Latvia           4
Slovenia         4
Estonia          4
Cyprus           4
Luxembourg       4
Malta            3

Total          345

So 345 votes will be cast on this proposal to increase the EU budget. But how will each country vote? Well, some countries are net winners from EU spending so if the budget goes up they get more spent on them; others are net losers and a budget increase means they lose more.

The following countries are net winners:
Spain           27
Poland          27
Romania         14
Greece          12
Portugal        12
Belgium         12
Czech Rep.      12
Hungary         12
Bulgaria        10
Slovakia         7
Ireland          7
Lithuania        7
Latvia           4
Slovenia         4
Estonia          4
Luxembourg       4
Malta            3

Total          178
And these countries are net losers:
Germany         29
France          29
UK              29
Italy           29
Netherlands     13
Sweden          10
Austria         10
Denmark          7
Finland          7
Cyprus           4

Total          167
So there you have it: the net winners command 51.6% of the votes and will force the budget increase. There's little we can do to stop them, and they have no motivation to show any moderation in their demands. The game is rigged against us.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Sixty years of national debt

(Click to enlarge)

Above is a chart showing the UK national debt in actual billions of pounds since 1950. Overlaid are the prime ministers and political parties in office at the time. Some significant historical events are indicated.

The raw data comes from here.

Murdered for breakfast

The mainstream media is a strange creature. The murder of Milly Dowler has been national news for the last ten years. First she was missing and there was a hunt lasting years; then she was found dead, and there was a man-hunt lasting more years. Then yesterday Levi Bellfield, already serving life for two other murders, was convicted of her murder as well.

OK, so it's a lurid and tragic story. It features a pretty girl which always helps give a story legs. But why has this one been ignored...

Rebecca Aylward: Murdered for breakfast?

This is 15-year-old  Rebecca Aylward. Her former boyfriend, aged 16, but name unknown is accused of taking her into the woods and smashing a rock on her head until she was dead. Swansea Crown Court heard that he claimed "the worst part" was when her skull gave way. And his motivation for this savagery? He'd been promised a free breakfast by a friend. That's all. Just breakfast.

The murder trial is on-going. But why isn't it bigger news? The victim is pretty enough surely? Is it because it's happening in Wales while Milly Dowler lived in Surrey?


Link

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Emergency exit from the euro

I guess we all know what an orderly exit from the euro would look like, say for a distressed country like Ireland or Greece. First there would be months of arguing about whether it's even a good idea, then legislation to effect the change would be required. This would take weeks, or months, to pass through the various law-making bodies, with more argument every day. The new currency would be printed and minted and distributed to the banks for the big day. An exchange rate between the euro and the new currency would be decided and ready-reckoners issued to the public.

Once the new currency was out there would be a period of parallel running as people gradually ran down their stocks of euros and built up their stocks of the new money. On a particular day every bank account would be re-denominated into the new money; all salaries, benefits, pensions, debts etc would be recalculated and people advised accordingly. The whole operation would take a couple of years at least.

This would all work fine if the country doing it was Germany, and the new currency was called the New Deutschmark.

If say, Greece, tried it there would be an instant run on the banks as everyone tried to extract their euro savings and hoard them until the new currency was up and running and then they'd convert back, at an advantageous rate. People would also borrow as many euros as they could and buy assets such as gold with a view to selling the gold and repaying the debt in a debased new currency. There would also be endless litigation by people holding Greek debt to try to stop it from happening in the first place.

So there's no orderly exit from the euro for Greece.

But what about an emergency exit?

Legislators would meet in secret. They would draw up the act of parliament in the dead of night. For simplicity they would stipulate that one new drachma equals one euro. Covertly a new currency would be printed, and new coins minted. The notes would be the same size and shape and denomination as euros, the coins would be the same size and have the same alloy content: all this to ensure that ATMs and note and coin operated machines wouldn't have to be changed. The new currency would be shipped to Greece in greatest secrecy. (This isn't an unprecedented operation, the Swiss freely admit they have a complete alternate currency already printed and ready to issue, just in case the Swiss Franc is compromised in some way.)

Then the Greek parliament would be summoned in an extra-ordinary session, probably on the first day of the Easter four-day break. The conspirators would present their bill. It would be debated and passed in hours, not weeks. The public would certainly become aware of the plans at this time. A public announcement would be made. The banks would be ordered to remain shut until further notice. There would be a run on the ATM network; that would be unavoidable, but they would soon be empty.

The new currency would be driven from its secure storage to the banks. Every deposit and every debt would, by fiat, be denominated in the new currency. The banks would forcibly have their cash stocks exchanged on a one-for-one basis. It would smooth the adoption of the new currency if it looked very similar to the euro. Of course actual euros would be hoarded, but by then it would be too late. The fait would be accompli and a new currency would be launched and all that would remain would be to see how far and fast it sank.

Do the Greeks have the organisational skills to make this happen? Of course not. If they did, they wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Meet the new boss

Here he is folks, the new boss of al-Qaeda. His name is Ayman al-Zawahiri. He's 59 years old, an ophthalmic surgeon and committed killer who joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 14. His hatred credentials can't be faulted as the USA killed his wife and three of his six children by bombing a Taliban building in which they were staying in Afghanistan back in 2001 (after 9/11).

Dr al-Z is known to be more of a doer than the late Osama Bin Laden, and unlike OBL al-Z has good contacts right across the muslim world, having lived and worked in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. This means he spans the Sunni/Shia divide and should be able to get people to focus on the serious business of killing infidels rather than fighting among themselves.


al-Zawahiri: The doctor will see you now

Now of course, what you're all wondering is: what's that scar on his forehead? Well folks, wonder no more, that's a "prayer burn".  It's made by burning incense on the forehead until the skin is burnt right through to the bone. That takes a few minutes and is rather painful to put it mildly. But hey, no-one ever said getting to paradise was easy.

(Later: Certain persons have suggested to this blog that Dr al-Z's forehead burn is actually just scar from excessive praying on stony ground and that incense skin burning is more of a Buddhist thing anyway. This blog remains open-minded on the subject until we have more data.)