Christmas Tree Shortage

OK, so subsidies were cut in Denmark leading to a drop in planting, leading to a shortage in this country of Christmas trees. OK, fine. So prices here should go up. Which they are.

Although Nordmann firs are grown on plantations in Britain there are not enough to meet the annual demand. The British Christmas Tree Growers Association is advising its members to limit price increases to 20 per cent. The extra cost will be passed on to customers at garden centres and markets this Christmas.

Err, hang on a minute. A central trade body offering recommended price rises? Isn\’t that, err, a cartel? As in illegal collusion to screw the consumer?

Why aren\’t they being prosecuted?

Political Corruption

Yes, they are all corrupt:

The culture of self-interested denial is rooted in Labour\’s success in characterising John Major\’s government as being sleazy. New Labour\’s victory, leading ultimately to a third term, was not just associating all Conservatives with the dishonesty of Neil Hamilton (linked to the "cash for questions" affair in 1994) and Jonathan Aitken (imprisoned for perjury in 1999), but also in exploiting Lord Scott\’s critical inquiry into the government\’s approval of sales of weapons to Iraq as a manifestation of Tory deceit.

Drawing lessons from that success, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown decided that they would never repeat John Major\’s mistake of appointing an intelligent, independent-minded lawyer like Scott to investigate their own conduct. Since 1997 every official inquiry into alleged government misconduct has been entrusted to loyalists, patsies and payroll wallahs. The parallel success has been to silence Tory criticism about Labour sleaze.

As the Devil says, Hang Them All.

Regulation and Incentives

Hmm.

The number of childminders has fallen by almost a third over the past decade. In 1997, there were 98,500 registered childminders in England. Today, according to the National Childminding Association, there are 69,925.

So, do we want more or fewer child minders?

Childminders are quitting in their thousands because of the bureaucratic "lunacy" governing their work.

Should the regulation be as it is or be relaxed? For it would appear that we can\’t have both the strict regulation and more child minders. Clearly, we\’d like to have both perfect regulation and the exactly right number of child minders but then we\’d all like a pony as well.

So which is it? Oh, and why is it that the bureaucrats seem incapable of realising that there is in fact a choice that has to be made, that regulations are not costless?

Please Do Talk: But Don\’t Say Anything

El Gordo shows he\’s not stopped the spin yet:

Gordon Brown will block moves today by his own business advisers to debate controversial Treasury plans to raise capital gains tax by up to 80 per cent.

The Prime Minister\’s high-level Business Council for Britain will meet for the first time this afternoon. But its high-powered members —including Sir Richard Branson and Sir Alan Sugar — will not be able to raise the proposed changes to capital gains tax (CGT), which it is feared will undermine British enterprise.

Instead, the meeting\’s agenda will focus on "high-level issues" including globalisation and climate change.

It is understood members of the council have been told that the meeting is not an "appropriate forum" to raise topics like tax policy.

Isn\’t that wonderful, he\’s "listening" to business. Just not about anything important.

Tee Hee

Oh yes, most good:

The shocking preponderance of Blondes in key decision-making positions at half back and centre should leave an impartial observer in no doubt as to the fascist nature of team selection process. In a shocking echo of Philip Toynbee\’s observation, Mere dark-haired men of potentially un-aryan extraction are left to do the donkey-work in the tight five, leaving blonde-haired, blue-eyed men to garner the glory in key half-back and central positions. Indeed it is noticable they rarely pass the ball to the back 3 (two thirds BoEM) who are used as tackle fodder in defence. This is a shocking and unacceptable echo of the atrocities of the Third Reich, which used gypsies and Jews and other dark haired people as slave labour to further racially exclusive goals.

Bravo!

Polly Today

So, what\’s the ol\’ gel got for us today?

Great lies, bold, bare-faced and unapologetic, are relayed every day by every orifice of the media in ways that would make Kim Jong-il proud.

Which orifice is publishing your essays then Pol?

Badaboom tish. Yes, thank you, I\’ll be here all week and I recommend the fish special.

The latest crime figures suggest an opposite story: crime has plummeted since the mid-1990s in a way unknown for generations. We live in extraordinary times, with less theft and less violence.

Isn\’t the whole argument here over which crime figures we look at? Reported crimes or the annual population survey?

Regular viewers of the increasingly sensationalist BBC "flagship" news programme might not glean that firearms offences fell by more than 600 last year, or that serious injury from gun crime fell by 11%.

I\’ll admit I\’m no expert in these figures but didn\’t gun deaths rise? Ah, yes, they were up by 18% year on year.

A horrible spate of teen-on-teen slaughters needs reporting – but news editors prefer powerful anecdote to inconvenient contrary facts.

Columnists too it seems.

But these fairly self-evident complexities are not the problem: it is opposition politicians, their press and sensation-seeking news desks who cherry-pick and distort shamelessly. If the Press Complaints Commission were not the proprietors\’ patsy, it would proactively censor and fine misreporting of crime figures designed to deceive.

I beg your pardon? Fines for not offering the public the revealed truth? I\’m sorry, did a liberal columnist seriously just suggest that you should be fined for exercising your right to free speech? Put aside the fact that it would be our Polly who would be dragged up in front of such a body twivce a week and think rather of the enormity of the very suggestion. The free press of a free nation should be fined for what they say? Has she finally and entirely lost the plot?

The Office for National Statistics should forbid this deliberate abuse of official figures:

Will they do this for everyone who abuses ONS numbers? Like, perhaps, the writers and reporters for a certain left of centre newspaper who continually insist that women working part time earn 37% less per hour than men? When in fact it is that women working part time earn 37% less than men working full time….and 11% less than men working part time. Figures which come from the very same ONS tables that are used to calculate the first number? Or those who use such numbers and refuse to point out that there\’s an age distribution to the gender pay gap (in women\’s favour at the start, pretty much neutral until the prime child rearing years, then wide, then closing again)? You mean that sort of distortion of the numbers then Poll?

Britain spends more per capita on criminal justice than any other nation worldwide.

We do? Looks like the US and Switzerland to me you know.

The prison population soared again last week to a new high of more than 81,000. And yet Home Office research shows that prison has a negligible impact on crime figures.

Gosh, lessee: prison numbers up and as Poll insists, crime numbers down. And, err, prison doesn\’t work?

Why is crime falling here and all across the west? Cars and homes are locked up better, but mainly it\’s the economy, with less youth unemployment. The Home Office watches economic growth figures more closely than police numbers for its predictions: it warns to expect flattening or rising crime over the next years of tighter spending and lower consumption.

Now that part is true. It\’s a very strong argument against one of Polly\’s bete noires: that increasing wealth, the growth of the economy does not make us happier. Actually, as she says, growth reduces unemployment (which very much does reduce unhappiness) and it also reduces crime (ditto). So, growth makes us happier.

Gordon Brown\’s Economy

Not really a great validation of the way he\’s acted over the past decade:

"Judging by the fiscal deficit trend, the UK is now in worse fiscal shape than almost any other major Western country. In the event of an economic downturn, the UK now has little leeway for stimulus," it said.

If we were to have followed Keynesian type management of the economy then, at the end of 15 years of uninterrupted growth, the public sector finances should be hugely in surplus, we should be payin back the debt, as Lawson was back in the late 80s. Clearly we haven\’t been doing that, we still have huge public sector deficits and if there is indeed a recession coming then we don\’t any longer, have the option of borrowing and spending our way out of it.

Quite simply Brown left the spending taps too open too long.

If that recession does indeed come in the next year or two (for there will be one sometime, no one really thinks we\’ve abolished the business cycle) then it really ain\’t gonna be pretty. Could even be that the next election is one that you want to lose, not win.

Joaquim Chissano and the Mo Ibrahim Prize

Well, this is a nice little earner fo ex-politicians I must say:

At a ceremony in London, a panel headed by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, announced Mr Chissano as the first winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize, funded by Mohammed Ibrahim, a Sudanese telecommunications billionaire, to promote good governance in Africa.

The former guerrilla, who fought the colonial Portuguese regime in Mozambique before becoming president in 1986, will receive annual instalments totalling $5 million (£2.5 million) over 10 years and then $200,000 per year for life.

While Mr Chissano\’s record in government was praised, Mr Annan made clear that the choice was just as much about the way he left office.

How did he leave office? Pursued by the anti-corruption furies, wasn\’t it?

Transparency International seems to think his son had something to do with a murder or two, so does the New York Times.

When I\’m Not Cleaning Windows

So, the old method of cleaning windows is discouraged (read, near banned) because it involves people going up on ladders in clear breach of sensible elfnsafety rules.

Fine, so some bright sparks invent a new method of cleaning windows:

Window cleaners, under pressure from health and safety legislation which discourages the use of ladders, have been converting their businesses to water-fed poles.

The cleaners fill a tank in their van with mains water via a hosepipe.

The water is piped from the van to a brush on the end of the pole, allowing cleaners to wash windows up to 60ft high without ladders.

Most inventive and clearly a good thing. Except that, now, in certain circumstances, this method will also be bnned.

Weren\’t we promised joined up government?

Public Sector Pensions

Just a thought. There are special taxation rules if your pension pot goes over £1.3 million or so. You don\’t get tax relief is it?Or you pay more tax because of the relief you\’ve had? Something like that?

The last time I asked this question I was told that public sector pensions were subject to the same rules, some method was used to add up future payments and compare them to the sum required to purchase an equivalent annuity. This was then measured against the £1,3 million limit and the appropriate tax then levied (or not, as the case may be).

So:

The civil servant who became infamous for declaring his department was doomed is to pick up the most generous public-sector pension ever awarded — worth a total of almost £2.7 million — when he retires this month.

Will his pension pot be caught by these rules?

Worrying…

This:

Dawn Primarolo, the public health minister, conceded the report showed there was "a lot to do in tackling health inequalities".

"Whilst we have made good progress in stopping people smoking, I am determined to move further and faster to respond to all these challenges – with a cross Government drive to tackle obesity, improve diet and activity levels and promote safe and sensible drinking," she said.

The worry comes from the fact that the way they stopped people from smoking was by banning it in public places. Dealing with booze and food will therefore obviously mean banning those as well, in public places. All for your own good, of course.

I\’m just wondering what will be the point of going to the pub in this case?

Well Done Sunny

Bobby Jindal\’s got himself elected. Over at Pickled Politics Sunny has this to say:

On Saturday Bobby Jindal became the country’s first Indian-American governor, and that too in the deeply Republican south state of Carolina.

Err, there is no state of "Carolina" in the US. There\’s North Carolina and South Carolina, but no Carolina. He also links to a NYT piece about Jindal:

But he is not a natural fit for Louisiana.

Which actually makes some sense, as Jindal has not been elected Governor of the non-existent state of Carolina but of Louisiana. Which is indeed in the Deep South but is not deeply Republican: the outgoing Governor, one of the two Senators and two of the nine Congressmen are Democrats.

Lucky we\’ve got these journalists out here blogging, showing us how to do the fact checking really, isn\’t it?

Daily Mail Quandrary!

Just seen the front page today:

"Will We Have Room for Them All?"

or some such.

The UK population will increase by a third, to 81million, in the lifetime of children born today, experts predict.

So a small competitionette: what should the headline have been?

"Immigrants support house prices"?

Carol Sarler and Economics

Well, quite:

Nevertheless, a radical review of the standard we expect, not from most but from all nurses, and of how we properly reimburse it, is his business. The laws of economics might not be his area of expertise. But even he must know the one about peanuts and monkeys.

Very good, incentives and selection.

What, then, is the difference between a regular ward nurse and one working in an ICU? About six grand.

An ICU nurse, who has chosen to specialise, can earn up to £31,000; one who has not so chosen has a ceiling of about £25,000. And so what, you say: in every trade the more studied and trained gain seniority and higher salaries. But if it is a matter of life or death, and if it is the case that better-paid nurses are better nurses – “vocation” notwithstanding – we might revisit the thorny question of nurses’ pay in general, which is, as ever, less than is earned by teachers or police.

Ah, thus if we raise all nurses\’ pay, all will perform to the higher standard?

Not quite. It\’s the very fact of the wage differential that provides the extra incentives. Raising the general level of pay doesn\’t raise the incentive to be a better nurse at all: it might raise the incentive to be a nurse in the first place, but not to perform better once there.

David Bellamy on Climate Change

This is certainly true:

The truth is that there are no facts that link the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide with imminent catastrophic global warming.

The IPCC, which is, after all, the scientific consensus, also says the same. The important qualifiers are "imminent" and "catastrophic".

What is actually being said is that the world will, in 100 years (as far as things go in any detail) will not be as good as it could be unless something is done.