October 2013

Daily Mail headlines that we can answer

As the News of the World trial begins… Yesterday bankers were accused of rigging currency rates. So why aren’t THEY in the dock?

they were accused yesterday. Now comes the investigation, the preparation of the court case and then the booking of court time to have a trial in.

Strangely we do not leap from accusation to sentence in one day.


You know that idea that on any subject you know about a newspaper story is always wrong?

Kenmare mines titanium dioxide, mainly ilmenite and zircon. The main use of these minerals is in white paints and ceramics.

Err, no.

Kenmare mines ilmenite and zircon. The two are commonly found together in these sorts of mineral sands deposits. Ilmenite is indeed the ore that we extract titanium dioxide from and zircon is where we get zirconia. But it ain’t true that titanium dioxide is mainly ilmenite and zircon…….

Only 35% of Tory MPs are gibbering idiots

Dods, a political publishing house, interviewed more than 100 MPs and found that only 35 per cent of Tories in Westminster believe green energy programmes are good for the economy.

Of the Labour MPs surveyed, 86 per cent believed that renewable energy programmes are good for the UK’s finances.

For of course the green energy schemes are not good for the economy. They make energy more expensive than it otherwise would be and thus reduce the size of the economy: we lose the other things we could have had instead of the expensive energy.

Do note that this has absolutely nothing at all to do with whether these schemes are a good idea in totality or not. That would depend upon your views about climate change, carbon emissions and so on. It’s entirely possible to say that these schemes are bad for our current economy but that they will be beneficial to us all at some point in the future. Which is roughly what M’Lord Stern said to us for example.

Or indeed you might not take that view.

But it is absolutely bleedin’ obvious that the current green schemes are damaging our economy now. Thus only 35% of Tory MPs appear to be complete gibbering idiots but 86% of Labour ones are.

Margaret, Lady Hodge, on tax again

‘The tax gap is really the tip of the iceberg in the gap between the money that you collect and the money if everyone paid their fair share,’ the public accounts committee chairman said.

Ms Hodge named Google, Facebook, Amazon and Starbucks as companies whose tax affairs had sparked public anger and doubts about whether they were paying their fair share in Britain.

She said: ‘It looks to me that you should be litigating. Why have you not chosen to litigate and test your powers?

‘Why have you not litigated against one single internet company?’

She added: ‘Make a few cases, a few show cases. It’s so bloody obvious.’

Did we really have a former Minister, the current Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, saying that we should have a few show trials?

Seriously? We all know that they’re obeying the law but what the hell, prosecute them anyway?

Can’t we go back to 1945 and start hanging a few fascists?

But what if he’s not gay?

But student artist at Central Saint Martin’s, Clayton Pettet, has attracted much attention with a planned piece of performance art, during which he will lose his virginity in front of 100 people in a gallery in Hackney.

The performance, entitled Art School Stole My Virginity, will see 19-year-old Pettet have sex with another boy on 25 January, in front of a live audience. People in the crowd will then be invited to ask questions.

Most interesting.

But what if it turns out that, when getting right down to the nitty gritty, he’s not in fact gay?

Margaret, Lady Hodge and tax

In a long and sometimes heated session, HMRC was accused of having a “supine attitude” to international tax collection. Ms Hodge said the existence of a £35bn tax gap – the difference between the total amount owed to HMRC and the figure collected – suggested the body was “institutionally incapable”. She argued that if the tax legally avoided by international companies “such as Google, Amazon and Starbucks” were included, the tax gap would be far larger.

The tax officials repeatedly explained that HMRC could only collect what was legally due. “Our tax gap is a complete measure of what tax we’re owed under rules currently in place,” said Mr Harra.

Mr Troup added: “Our job is to collect tax [and we follow] the law as it stands.”

Quite. The Google, Amazon stuff is not tax avoidance. So it cannot be included in an estimate of tax avoidance.

Seems clear enough to me.

It is so fun being attacked isn’t it?

A September 2013 Forbes magazine article takes the opposing side of the argument about how dangerous Fukushima is to people and to the ocean. According to Tim Worstall, “… the dangers are somewhere between vanishingly trivial and non-existent. Indeed, an entirely reasonable and sensible solution to the radioactive water at the plant would be to simply dump it all into the ocean.” 5

Mr. Worstall’s suggestion is to filter out as much radioactive material as possible, dilute what’s left, and dump it in the Pacific. Bingo, the problem is solved. By the way, it should be noted that Forbes is not the only capitalist tool mouthing off about Fukushima as a non-issue benign situation.

So, why then is TEPCO storing all of the radioactive material in hundreds of storage tanks? Are they too stupid to realize all they have to do is filter out some radiation and then dump it into the ocean? Boy, oh boy, the TEPCO operators are dumber than anyone, especially Mr. Worstall, could’ve ever guessed, by not taking advantage of his clever idea.

So much fun.

For what is it that Tepco is doing with that radioactive water?

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Friday resumed testing of the ALPS water processing system and add a new ALPS machine next September, raising hopes that radiation in the water churned out by the Fukushima No. 1 plant can be reduced to safer levels.

Because ALPS (short for advanced liquid processing system) can remove all radioactive materials except tritium, it can sharply reduce the seriousness of any environmental pollution being caused by water leaks at the plant.

The purpose of ALPS is to “clean up the increasing amounts of tainted water as much as possible to reduce the risk. In that sense, it may sound strange to say that (reactivating it) is a matter of national importance in various ways, but it has that aspect,” Shunichi Tanaka, head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters Wednesday.

Filtering the radiation out of the water. Game set and match to me I think?

And, now Japan is once again about to enter a new nuclear dimension, as TEPCO gets ready to remove 400 fuel rods from the rickety, collapsing Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Reactor 4 Building, which is currently tipping and sinking. A decent-sized earthquake would likely topple the entire structure, and the consequences are unthinkable, possibly creating havoc on the order of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.

And where on Earth does that come from? Does Robert Hunziker actually believe that fuel rods will go bang?

On the Swiss Bank deal

Ritchie has got all hot under the collar about the deal that was done with the Swiss banks.

Amongst the outcomes of yesterday’s Public Accounts Committee hearing in which HMRC were interviewed about their performance was the revalation that the UK – Swiss tax deal that was scheduled to pay the UK £3.1 billion this year may not deliver a quarter of that sum.

There’s a good reason for this too. Essentially, very little tax was actually due.

From day one I named this deal as naive and a deliberate act by the UK to undermine the European war on tax haven abuse. I argued the Swiss could not be trusted to deliver (as is now clearly proven to the case) and that the UK’s rule of law was undermined by allowing Swiss banks to operate parts of the UK tax system – with a tax rate discount applied to encourage abuse in the future. And I and others argued that this deal could not deliver the sums claimed for it.

We have been proven right, yet again. No wonder Margaret Hodge said it was time for HMRC to listen to the tax campaigners yesterday. Our ability to predict tax risk seems to be 100 times better than that of HMRC.

That however leads to the next obvious question, which is whether HMRC were wilfully blind on this issue, as I suggested many times in 2011 and 2012 when referring to this issue, or were just incompetent. I’d like to believe the latter. I remain to be convinced.

Fairly stron words from the Murphmeister there.

And here’s what actually happened. Murphy, the Tax Justice Network, Richard Brooks, they were all claiming that there was some vast untaxed sum in the Swiss banks. Which Britain should, obviously, start taxing.

So, off everyone went in order to find out how much there was in the Swiss banks which was not taxed and how much tax there could be gotten from it. So far so good. Then we found out that:

According to the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), the deal does not apply to most UK nationals who keep their cash in Swiss banks because they are not domiciled in the UK.

There wasn’t actually that vast sum of cash to tax.

To put it in its most polite form. The claim was that there was $40 billion untaxed. This was an error.

In order for that money to be righteously taxable by the UK It had to be owned by UK citizens both resident and domiciled in the UK.

If you are resident but non-domiciled in the UK then you do not pay UK tax on foreign money that you keep in foreign. So, non-doms keeping cash in a Swiss bank is not UK taxable.

Similarly, if you are a UK citizen domiciled in the UK but non-resident your earnings are not UK taxable. So, Tim Newman’s cash from being an oil engineer are not UK taxable. And yes, some of those are indeed stashed in a Swiss bank.

The $40 billion estimate included (to give this the most generous gloss possible) all three types of UK citizen’s cash. That held by residents but non-doms and doms but non-residents which are not taxable and also that by residents and doms which was indeed tax evading and thus righteously taxable.

As it turned out the first two groups were the vast majority of this money. The third the minority: not all that much of a surprise as most people do obey the law most of the time.

We can thus see where the error was. It was in the original claims of how much tax was being avoided. Thus it’s Murphy, Brooks, the TJN, who were wrong. And it is now them who are screaming that HMRC got it wrong. Not so. There just never was that much money to tax. Which is why they’re screaming and obfuscating so much now. To make sure that no one thinks about this fact.

This puzzles me deeply

Obama wasn’t aware of the NSA’s wiretaps on world leaders, says White House review

Is the community organiser in chief really that unobservant?


Every communication that he makes happens over encrypted lines. His mobile, his phone, his internet connection, his email: he knows damn well that there’s half an army of people trying to keep the other bastards out of the communications network of the President of the United States.

So why on Earth would anyone in that position not simply assume that his bastards were doing the same to the other bastards?

It should be obvious from the very moment that his advisers first pointed out that he’s got to use special phones that he and his were doing exactly the same thing to everyone else.

Chris Huhne is a lying little toad

Overall, the government’s policies – backed until recently by three-party consensus – are forecast by Whitehall economists to cut energy bills, not increase them. They will save consumers about £166 a year (or 11%) by 2020 thanks to energy saving and diversification from fossil fuels.

Sigh. This is based on assuming that gas prices rise to 80 p a therm. Whereas if we go fracking then gas prices will stay around where they are, at 40 p a therm.

Answering a question for Ritchie

His questions for HMRC at the PAC this afternoon. If any HMRC bods do read this blog please do feel free to lift these answers:

1. Your board is now dominated by people from the private sector, big business and big accountancy. Doesn’t that impair your objectivity, freedom for manoeuvre, credibility and independence and if so isn’t it time for a total re-think of the governance structures of HMRC?

This is rather the point of a Board. To have a majority of people from outside the organisation. For, you see, the job of the board is to hold the executives, and thus the organisation itself, to account. And this gets done rather better when you’ve people from outside the organisational culture doing it.

3. Why is that almost no one who has been trained within HMRC is promoted t its board? What is wrong with the training and the leadership of HMRC that it cannot apparently train its own leaders when that is the moral pattern in most organisations in the UK?

Because the arrogant little fucks who belong to your paymasters, the PCS union, tend to have nastily fascist ideas about liberty, freedom and the role of the law in defining what tax is payable and what is not.

4. Why don’t you recognise the tax avoidance of companies like Google, Amazon and Starbucks in the tax gap reporting that you undertake? Doesn’t you denial of an obvious truth undermine the credibility of everything you have to say on this issue?

Because, as has endlessly been pointed out, none of those three companies are engaging in tax avoidance. We’ve even released a document where we point this out. Given that their tax arrangements do not constitute tax avoidance we do not include anything from them in our estimates of tax avoidance.

That a retired accountant from Wandsworth has decided to reclassify certain things is not the way that the law of this land is decided.

22. The G8 has called on the OECD to introduce country-by-country reporting. Why isn’t HMRC out in the business community demanding this information from multinational corporations now, and why can’t it be made a specific UK requirement that all companies supply country-by-country reports on all their activities to HMRC before any international consensus is reached?

HMRC is responsible for the administration of the law not the creation of it. Might we suggest that the PAC direct this question to its colleagues in the House of Commons?

23. Does arm’s length pricing work for transfer pricing purposes? If not – as seems clear to use – why aren’t you promoting unitary taxation?

See above. We do not make the law.

24. Why isn’t HMRC calling for reform of international rules on tax permanent establishment so that Amazon, Google and others can be taxed on what they do in the UK? Isn’t it your job to be vocal on this issue?

No, see above.

26. Why has the Swiss tax deal failed to collect the tax you claimed it would deliver?

Because there was massively less tax evasion in those Swiss accounts than the drivellings of a retired accountant from Wandsworth led us to expect there would be.

Oh dear

Under HMRC’s rules, companies are only required to pay tax on where business is booked, not where a transaction actually takes place.

Err, no. The transaction is taking place where it is booked. And it’s not HMRC rules, it’s the law of the fucking land.