Petey Lad?

Peter Hain, the work and pensions secretary, admitted in an interview with the Guardian yesterday that he had solicited most of the 17 donations totalling £103,155 which his deputy leadership campaign had failed to register with the Electoral Commission. He said he knew about the controversial donations, but not the precise point at which they came in.

He added that no one in his campaign team was able to explain why they had not been declared before.

Perhaps no one can explain why they weren\’t declared because you didn\’t tell them about them?

Anyway, now that we know that he\’s incompetent to run a £200,000 election campaign within the law, why is he still there running a £billions Ministry?


A teenage boy who hacked into a Polish tram system used it like "a giant train set", causing chaos and derailing four vehicles.

The 14-year-old, described by his teachers as a model pupil and an electronics "genius", adapted a television remote control so it could change track points in the city of Lodz.

Just how secure are all these systems then?

Blair\’s £ 2 Million a Year

As the red in tooth and blood capitalist bastard that I am of course I\’m delighted that our ex-PM is earning loadsa wonga advising a US bank.

Tony Blair will earn around £2 million a year in his part-time role as adviser to the Wall Street bank JP Morgan without ever having to go into the office, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The salary – far higher than reported so far – is proof that Mr Blair is well on course to becoming the richest former prime minister in history.

It aids the balance of payments, brings money into the country, he\’ll pay tax here on money earned off septics….all good things.

However, I do wonder slightly about the figure itself. $4 million a year? Or has someone made a slight error in translating the figures? The original claims were of $1 million a year….which if you get your exchange rates upside down, gives you £2 million a year, rather than the £500,000 everyone else has been reporting.

But no, of course, a newspaper wouldn\’t get that bit wrong, would it?

New Cannabis Figures

These numbers do not, I think, show what they purport to show.

Since cannabis was downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, the number of adults being treated in hospitals and clinics in England for its effects has risen to more than 16,500 a year. In addition, the number of children needing medical attention after smoking the drug has risen to more than 9,200.

What you\’re supposed to take away from that is that these people require medical treatment for the effects of smoking cannabis. This doesn\’t look to be quite true:

The health authority figures show that 16,685 adults were treated by English hospital trusts after abusing cannabis in 2006-07. The previous year, it was 14,828 – up from 11,057 in 2004-05.

Ah, what we\’re actually saying is that this number of people were treated after they had smoked cannabis. Not from the effects of the drug itself so much as from all of the things that they\’ve done having smoked it.

The figures suggest health authorities are treating more people for cannabis abuse than there are patients who have heart bypass operations or treatment for colon cancer. Some 21,000 people a year have a bypass operation and colon cancer is contracted by some 22,000 people a year.

The correct reference point is thus not those who have suffered a disease as a result, like these colon cancer figures (where, amusingly, pot can be therapeutic, increasing appetite during chemo) but rather, say, the number of people needing treatment after having driunk alcohol. We\’re not talking about people needing liver replacements either, rather the number of people who need an ice pack after they\’ve fallen over. A very different number (anyone know what it is?).

Doctors say cannabis abuse can contribute to mental health problems including forms of psychosis, paranoia and schizophrenia.

Yes, we saw that report a few months back. The rise was some 500 cases a year: and there was one glaring error even in that number. It\’s well known that incipient schizophrenics self medicate. No controls were used to try and find out how many of those suffering from such problems had them anyway and were smoking dope to get rid of the voices and how many of them had the voices caused by the smoking of the dope.

Unfortunately these numbers were compiled by The Telegraph itself: so we\’re not likely to see a decent report explaining all of the assumptions. So what we\’ve actually got is a nice piece of "Aieeeeee!" propaganda rather than a balanced factual addition to the debate.


Hurrah, Hurrah!

The owner of a small German computer company has fired three non-smoking workers because they were threatening to disturb the peace after they requested a smoke-free environment.

The manager of the 10-person IT company in Buesum, named Thomas J., told the Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper he had fired the trio because their non-smoking was causing disruptions.

Germany introduced non-smoking rules in pubs and restaurants on January 1, but Germans working in small offices are still allowed to smoke.

"I can\’t be bothered with trouble-makers," Thomas was quoted saying. "We\’re on the phone all the time and it\’s just easier to work while smoking. Everyone picks on smokers these days. It\’s time for revenge. I\’m only going to hire smokers from now on."

If you\’re alowed to fire people for smoking, why not?

Hari on Public Services


Let\’s start with the health service. The NHS is, in effect, a very wide health insurance scheme.

No it isn\’t. It\’s a combination of a health insurance scheme and a health assurance scheme. As your basic analysis is wrong at the very start of your argument the rest is also incorrect.

To explain. Insurance is where you pay to protect yourself against the effects of something that might or might not happen. Fire insurance for your house, car insurance for the risk of your maiming someone else while driving. You don\’t think these things will happen but the effects if they do (replacing your house, paying for the 50 year care for a quadriplegic) are so impossible for you to bear without some risk pooling that you are willing to pay a monthly premium to protect you against said low risk but possible effects.

Assurance is something different, it\’s paying into a savings plan (or if you prefer, a pre-payment) for something you think probably will happen. It might not, for sure, but the probability of it happening is somewhere between odds on and nearly dead certain. A savings plan to pay for your funeral is assurance: you\’re almost 100% certain that you\’ll need a coffin or a crematorium at some point (there are always those few who are lost at sea etc). A pension plan is a form of assurance: you\’re pretty sure you\’ll live to draw it, you certainly hope you will, but there\’s always a chance that you\’ll pop your clogs the day before you retire. This difference between pensions as assurance and insurance is why the State pension age should rise to the average life span: the state pension being insurance that you\’ll outlive the assurance that you have rationally bought (no, not a right wing idea, comes from Brad Delong, a Clinton Admin official).

Turning to health care, the NHS is a mixture of both of these things. Yes, it\’s an insurance scheme for if you get cancer, if you need to be scraped up off the road with multiple injuries. And in this case, yes, the total population probably is a very good risk sharing pool. That doesn\’t mean it needs to be organised as it is, a Stalinist centrally operated both insurer and provider, but there\’s certainly a decent argument to be made for tax funded such insurance over the whole population (one I agree with BTW).

But there\’s a whole another level of health care which is much closer to the assurance model. Routine health checks, seeing a GP, needing a new knee perhaps, vaccinations if you want to travel, vaccinations of children say. These are predictable costs (to an extent) and they\’re also not high costs. The assurance model is thus a better fit. The risk pooling part is much less important. An individual could rationally purchase private insurance or prefer to pay out of pocket for whatever they consume. But there is no argument that this part of health care has to be pooled, for insurance risk purposes, over the entire population.

Making this difference is one of the things that people identify as making the French system work so well (routinely called the best value system in the industrialised world). Cancer care (and a few others) is 100% paid for from the insurance you pay as a deduction from your wages (very like NI, although the system that spends the money is very different from the NHS). Routine medical care is paid 70% or so from said insurance, the balance being paid by the patient: and the vast majority of the French take out private insurance to cover that as well. Note though that even when the State will pay, it\’s not free at the point of consumption. You pay first then get it back.

So, to wrap up, Hari\’s argument does (arguably) hold for catastrophic care, but not for all health care. Which means that it doesn\’t hold for the NHS, which is both.

Technology is similarly making the case for the BBC all over again. Soon, a majority of TV viewers will have automatic recording technologies such as TiVO and Sky Plus, so your favourite programmes are sitting there waiting for you when you switch on the box. One of the many advantages is that you can simply fast-forward through the adverts: I don\’t think I\’ve watched a single one since I got mine six months ago. TV advertisers are waking up to this drying up of their audience, and demanding lower rates. Commercial television is going to have drastically smaller budgets as this trend deepens – and the quality will inevitably deteriorate.

So how will good TV shows be paid for in future? One alternative revenue-stream was going to be phone-lines on shows like The X-Factor – but the British TV industry just tossed that option into the shredder by famously ripping off their callers. Then there\’s the option of subscription channels you have to pay for monthly. But if we\’re going to do that, doesn\’t it make more sense to retain the ultimate high-quality subscription channels for just 36p a day, through the BBC licence fee?

Sure, as long as I\’ve got the opportunity to opt out, as I do with Sky, Setanta and any of the others. No opt out allowed and it isn\’t the same at all, is it?

Careful Here

What I couldn\’t understand was that he couldn\’t accept that it was also cleaner than coal or gas. For one thing it has no carbon footprint and therefore, if you think that carbon emissions are causing climate change, surely you would think nuclear power is a good thing?

That\’s Iain Dale (rightly) slagging off a greenie for refusing to think about nuclear power. However, we do need to be a little careful here. Nuclear does not have no CO2 or carbon footprint. The process of building a nuclear station, or mining and refining the ore, does indeed have emissions.

As, indeed, the process of making a windmill (they actually use more cement, power for power, than nuclear), building a damn or manufacturing solar panels all have such emissions. Camilla Cavendish gives the appropriate numbers for nuclear in today\’s Times:

Britain\’s clapped-out reactors are still our largest source of low-carbon energy. The electricity they produce creates about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (after accounting for the carbon costs of reactors), compared with about 350 from gas and 900 from coal.

That number is fractionally above offshore wind (from memory, 13 or 14 tonnes) and hydro (again, 13 or 14 tonnes from memory) and a fraction of solar PV (36 tonnes, again, from memory).

The point to remember about all of these technologies is that none of them (as with the process of life itself) have no emissions. Everything is relative.


A referendum on the controversial redrafted EU constitution was ruled out by Portugal yesterday after pressure from Gordon Brown and President Sarkozy.

The Prime Minister and Mr Sarkozy called José Sócrates, the Portuguese Prime Minister, to insist that a popular ballot was not necessary.

The decision by Portugal not to hold a referendum but to ratify the treaty through its parliament will come as a huge relief to Downing Street and the Élysée Palace, which feared extra pressure on them to hold a public vote. The revelation of top-level phone calls will, though, only increase suspicions that the European political elite have coordinated efforts to avoid a repeat of the referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005 that sank the proposed constitution and plunged the EU into a two-year crisis.

Not that people here would have rejected it, mind, but it is symptomatic of the way in which the people are not to be allowed to derail the project.

The Congo

A review of Blood River:

For the vast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – formerly named the Congo Free State, the Belgian Congo and Zaire – is not an undeveloped country, rather an undeveloping country. During the colonial period, an efficient national infrastructure was built (at horrific human cost – one government commission estimated that the population of the Congo Free State was "reduced by half" as a consequence of exploitation and diseases during those years). By 1960 – the year of independence from Belgium – the country boasted regular national rail and riverboat services, as well as 111,971km of well-maintained roads. Today less than 1,000km of roads remain.

Peter Hain

So, do we get to jail him?

Peter Hain is preparing to admit to the Electoral Commission that he has failed to declare more than £100,000 in donations to his campaign for Labour\’s deputy leadership.

It is understood that there are almost 20 donations that his team failed to declare, in breach of the rules for party political elections.

The scale of the under-reporting – more than half the total income received by the Hain campaign – will shock many party members and raise questions as to how such a massive apparent oversight occurred.

Or fine him? Or fire him?

MP\’s Pay

There is a simple solution to this particular part of the problem:

Last night, Labour sources disclosed that one of the problems in getting MPs to show restraint is the high number who plan to retire at the end of this Parliament.

This is a problem because pensions are linked to their last salary.

Adopt the American system. Pay increases are indeed voted upon by the chamber to which they apply: but they only come into force after the next election.

Turkeys and Christmas

Well, this is a surprise, isn\’t it?

Arts Council England (Ace) was plunged into a crisis when 500 of the country\’s top actors passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in the organisation over cuts it is making in grants to almost 200 theatres and music companies.

The supplicants for your and my money are hardly going to cheer when the swill trough is removed now, are they?

Mr Hewitt was told by Sam West, Alison Steadman and Caroline Quentin that hitting regional and London fringe theatres would have a damaging knock-on effect that would lead to the whole of British theatre being "starved " of plays, directors and actors.

Snigger. Cue Dr. Strangelove and the mines gap. One thing the UK is never going to have a shortage of is luvvies.

Let\’s get this straight shall we? There shouldn\’t be any taxpayer subsidy for the arts. You like it, you love it, great, get out there and do it. If you\’re not good enough to draw a large enough paying crowd to make money out of it then you\’re going to have to do it for free.  There\’s really no reason to tax the dustman and the nurse for this indoor relief for that part of the population that likes to show off.


AE Bullion

American Elements has launched something called AE Bullion. This post should be considered as a warning not to actually buy any of their products.

Los Angeles based American Elements announced today the launch of AE Bullion™. The new product group will mint certified high purity coins and bars from approximately sixty advanced, rare and less common metals for short and long term physical investment. Metals include rhodium, tellurium, indium, hafnium, scandium and the 14 rare earth elements; all metals which have experienced dramatic world price increases in 2007.

Coins and bars will be minted from assayed materials produced by American Elements\’ AE Metals™ high purity refining group. Coins will be available to hedge funds, currency reserves and exchange traded funds (ETFs) in order to establish tradable securities and to allow for exposure and controlled risk to commodity and industrial demand fluctuations. Also, private investors, collectors and hobbyists can now take direct physical title and possession to these metals with risk exposure equivalent to movements in the world spot price.

Portfolios of different elemental metal coins and bars may also be structured allowing for strategic risk allocation and indexing across a basket of metals. American Elements will offer bonded short and long term warehouse inventory services for AE Bullion™ coins to investors, funds and collectors who do not wish to take physical custody of the metal or lack secure storage or warehouse capabilities.

This is a terrible idea, seriously awful, from the investors point of view. The first and most important point is that these metals don\’t have liquid markets. Taking scandium for example: as regular readers will know I make my day job living dealing in the material. But in over a decade I\’ve never actually sold the metal itself to anyone. The oxide, yes, the oxide when made into a aluminium master alloy, yes, but not the metal. I would be astonished if the global market in 2007 was more than 1 kg of the metal in total. The same goes fo many of the rare earth metals (some do indeed have markets, others, ytterbium etc, not. I once had a piece of lutetium and the only thing I could manage to do with it was sell it to someone who prepared elements for collectors.). Further, even where there are markets fo them, no one ever buys them piecemeal. Long term supplpier contracts are the order of the day. Hafnium as coins and bars also strikes me as rather silly: a typical Hf metal purchase would be 500 kg to 5,000 kg. Piddling about with an ounce or two in a coin simply won\’t happen.

Rhodium is something that might be worth speculating in but there\’s already a mechanism to do that. Open an account at Johnson Matthey and get on with it.

This has overtones (and no, I\’m not making an accusation here of it being the same) of a program that went on a decade ago, with indium and germanium. An investment boiler house was selling these "vital electronic metals in short supply" by the ounce to impressionable retail investors in the US. They were paying $ hundreds an ounce to take physical possession of material worth, at that time, $10s per ounce. Usual hard core telephone sales techniques.

Prices did indeed rise but not enough to cover the marketing mark up: and anyway, with these metals it\’s an industrial market. Buyers are the big electronics companies and they pick up a tonne or two at a time.

The basic point is that these metals are really not for the private investor as there are no liquid markets. And even when there are, they\’re not in the sort of quantities that a private investor would be dealing in. With the exception of rhodium (where, as noted, there is already a mechanism) this just isn\’t a sensible place to go speculating.

Disclaimer: yes, I do deal, or have done, in several of these metals. Yes, I would benefit if a private market was created to speculate in them. Yes, I still think it\’s an extremely bad idea that you shouldn\’t go anywhere near.

There was in fact a scandium metals futures market in Moscow in the early-mid 1990s. It collapsed after about 50 trades as there was no terminal market. This idea will face very much the same problems.



That Cuban Health System

In the news about Philip Agee\’s death:

"He had several operations for perforated ulcers and didn\’t survive all the surgery," Dwyer wrote, adding that Agee was cremated Tuesday and that friends planned a memorial ceremony for him Sunday…

Ulcers? But ulcers are, as we know, caused by bacterial infections, to be treated with antibiotics. There\’s even been a Nobel awarded (to an Australian called, of all things, Barry) for it.

Has that much vaunted Cuban health care system (never mind the poverty, the lack of freedom, the oppression, they\’ve got universal health care you know!) not caught up with this yet?

The Real Meaning of Socialism

Yup, here it is:

I also don\’t accept your claim that £7 for a chicken is out of most peoples price range. £7 for a whole fucking bird – that\’s what it should cost. This is a creature that has to be raised, slaughted, plucked and packaged. It only seems expensive because capitalist intsensive farming has reduced animals to mere commodities that are cheap enough to eat everyday.

Expensive chickens. That\’s the real meaning of socialism.