Groucho Marx

  • BIG LIES #3: THE ADAM SMITH INSTITUTE

    Every so often on BBC radio, whether national or local, you get political comment from various quarters – or so it seems. In fact, you don’t. I once stopped on the way to work – I was working in Sutton Coldfield and I pulled into the Toby at Shenstone Woodend – to try to get on the morning show, or at least complain about the outrageous bias shown. They had political comment from a Tory MP, a businessman, and something called the Adam Smith Institute. A caller who tried to challenge the right-wing bias got shut off quickly. I couldn’t get through. Pretty typical for the Conservative Broadcasting Corporation, I suppose.

    But who or what was the Adam Smith Institute? (www.adamsmith.org)

    Independent, non-profit and non-partisan, we work to promote neoliberal and free market ideas through research, publishing, media commentary, and educational programmes.”

    Non-partisan? Neo-liberal is non-partisan? Help, my political compass is spinning!

    Low, simple, flat taxes that encourage investment and innovation, and hence economic growth.

    A voucher-based education system that gives parents and schools complete freedom over how and where children are educated.

    A privately-provided, publicly-funded healthcare system where patient outcomes, not NHS wages, are the focus.”

    Surely these are Jacob Rees-Mogg’s fevered dreams? Actually they were conceived principally by an ideologue called Duncan Madsen Pirie, although Pirie is no ultra-right xenophobe, just a massively influential force in Tory circles for the privatisation of everything.

    So in inviting these people to comment, without contextualising their ultra-right wing, neoliberal position, is gross bias of the worst kind by the BBC.

    Adam Smith is thought of as one of the founding fathers of modern economic thinking. So he must have been just like Pirie. However Smith believed that you could not run a society without some form of regulation, simply based on moral responsibility to others; those who abrogated that responsibility, acting out of total self-interest, should be shunned and/or regulated. Not only that, but the infrastructure of society required some form of collective effort to ensure the basis for its survival and prosperity, a bit like dilute municipalism. He may not have been entirely in tune with the Institute that bears his name.

  • RAPESEED – As you sneeze your way through May, especially if you live 50m from a rapeseed crop as I do, bear a thought for how it illustrates the wonders of capitalism. Rapeseed doesn’t have massive EU grants any more, in fact the subsidies have been massively cut in the last decade, and are due to disappear regardless of Brexit. The growth of rapeseed – formerly a green manure and cattle feed crop – is simply supply rising to meet demand. Rapeseed oil – previously marketed as vegetable oil – is relatively healthy and much lauded by the cheffie types. We have our own brand out in the Ridwares, and now the local fruit and Highland cattle farm has been rented out to various interests, it seems, and sports a swath of rapeseed. So far so good, rapeseed oil for the foods and rapeseed ‘cake’ for cattle feed. However, currently we only grow about 60% of our own food in the UK and post-Brexit we will need to grow a lot more. How is this to be done, especially as many small producers may collapse along with Welsh hill farmers and the like, and so much land given over to profitable rapeseed? Never fear, the monopolists and enclosers are here! Big business is moving in to fill the void. The National Farmers Union is looking forward to the takeover of small producers by conglomerates and the ‘necessary’ spread of intensive farming (such as cattle sheds). Not only that, but food shortages will be used to ‘persuade’ the populace to accept lower standards such as US junk (chlorinated chicken etc). The plebs won’t care where the food comes from as long as it’s cheap(ish), or so the argument in the Financial Times this week goes. The preparations are already under way – by the time we start kicking off about it, the deed will be on the way to being accomplished.
  • NUDGING – the concept behind political communicationMost people were thought to be resistant to having their central beliefs changed, hence the idea of ‘tribal’ politics, where people vote for one ideology regardless. This is somewhat correct as the process of ‘cognitive dissonance’ ensures that we find it almost impossible to hold two contradictory ideas at once – hence my neighbour, who is in favour of nationalisation of utilities and rail, is a constant Conservative, and still believes that Labour bankrupted the country in 2008.We already know from the bloody history of the 20th century that being bombarded with information to one end (propaganda) can change beliefs to some extent, and that this is most effective when there are already existing divisions in a society, or ones can be easily created. Skin colour is the most obvious, but probably the more widespread and destructive is gender difference (‘women are weak, women are unclean every month’ etc). Divisions and difference can become incorporated into major belief systems, like religions.However, developments in marketing over the last three decades suggested that many beliefs were in fact ‘marginal’ at the edges, that is that some limited change can be effected that ends up being incorporated into central belief. This becomes more important when you consider decision-making such as voting behaviour.Most reading this blog will probably recognise themselves as having strong central beliefs that determine their voting. I have never voted anything but Labour except when there was no Labour candidate – hence a couple of Green and a single LibDem vote. Many people are simply not like that, and more importantly, are marginal on whether they vote or not – they can be persuaded NOT to vote more easily than change allegiance. So, if they can be ‘nudged’ into not voting………..And then ‘nudging’ collided with the computerisation of everything (‘big data’) and the growth of data processing methods (‘algorithms’, ‘data crawlers’ etc) that could sort through billions of datasets in a very short time. Firms like Cambridge Analytica (and its successor Emerdata) thrive on claims to harvest data from big datasets to identify voters who were ‘marginal’ and could be nudged either to NOT vote or to change votes using a consistent belief they had exhibited. The datasets were SOLD (common practice by firms nowadays) or illegally ‘mined’ – Moneysupermarket holds data on over 30 million UK citizens and was mined by Cambridge Analytica.Data analysis could identify the marginals, and then the firms use social media advertising avenues and pretend accounts operated by a few workers (Tory Central Office has had some for several years) to bombard the individuals with information tailored to affect their behaviour by altering their marginal beliefs.This has only to be done to a small proportion of voters to alter elections decided on fine margins.Paradoxically, it probably hasn’t had that much effect in the UK, because a far more powerful weapon set is in existence – a Main-Stream Media that almost exclusively pumps out biased reports, including the supposed impartial public broadcaster (the BBC) whose hierarchy and politics production is dominated by card-carrying Tories (Robinson, Kuennsburg, Neil etc).
  • WHO OWNS  ENGLAND #1

    The councils selling land worth millions to offshore companies
  • WHO OWNS BURNTWOOD #4What about the rest of our services? In Burntwood we don’t have many foreign companies represented – primarily because we don’t currently have much retail! Aldi (Germany) is the most obvious foreign firm, but many don’t realise Arriva is also owned by Deutsche Bahn, whose biggest stock-holder is the German Government (D Bahn also own CrossCountry Trains).Power supplies to Burntwood are largely foreign run – EDF (French government major holder), E.On (Essen, Germany, like Aldi), nPower (owned by Innogy, based in……Essen!!!), British Gas (Centrica UK!!!), Scottish Power (Ibedrola, Spain and the worst performing power company in the UK according to Which) and SSE (Scotland). SSE and nPower are in talks to have a retail merger in 2018. There are a lot of smaller and cheaper companies, like the Coop and First Utility that are UK businesses.Water round here is South Staffs Water, a local firm…..er, well, its parent organisation is KKR & Co, a private equity investment firm from the USA that also own Trainline and Toys R Us, plus a 25% interest from Japan. In fact it hasn’t been ‘British’ for two decades, and it isn’t just a water firm:
    • In November 2004 the Group was acquired by Arcapita Bank, a Bahrain based investment company, and the Group was delisted from the Stock Exchange.
    • In October 2007 South Staffordshire Plc was acquired by Alinda Capital Partners, a European and American investor in and manager of infrastructure assets, and is now part of its $7bn infrastructure fund.
    • In order to broaden its range of specialist infrastructure contracting services, the Group has made a number of acquisitions since its demerger in 2004, including OnSite, Integrated Water Services, Hydrosave, Omega Red, Data Contracts Specialist Maintenance and Perco Engineering Services and formed the SSI Services division.
    • In March 2011, Echo Managed Services acquired Inter-Credit International, a specialist debt collection agency based in London.
    • In October 2011 the Group acquired Cambridge Water Plc, a water only company which covers a population of approximately 315,000. The Cambridge Water business is now operated as a second supply region of South Staffordshire Water Plc.
    • On 30 July 2013 South Staffordshire Plc was acquired by the Global Infrastructure Fund of investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co L.P. (“KKR”), together with certain of their infrastructure co-investors.
    • In March 2016, Mitsubishi Corporation acquired a 25% equity interest in the Group.
    [source: http://www.south-staffordshire.com/about_south_staffordshire_plc.asp]What about other services and retail nearby?
    “Amazon, a US corporation, now dominates retail in the UK. Through cost cutting and other non-competitive activities, Amazon has caused significant reductions in retail capacity in all town centres. It pays no taxes in the UK despite billions in sales, and working conditions for staff are deplorable. It is worth noting that the former Director of John Lewis spoke of the impossibility of competing with companies that do not pay tax.”
    The big building in Rugeley pays bottom wages to overworked employees while paying no tax.
    For more such information, try the link where the above quote can be found.
    Who Owns Britain?
  • WHO OWNS BURNTWOOD #3
    This is what happens with corporate freehold ownership and trading. As noted previously, freeholds are traded on an exchange as profiteering derivatives (a chunk of freeholds is presented as a single unit for sale). Wallace Properties (Mauritius) is such a trader.

    Click on the picture to read The Guardian article
  • BIG LIES #1
    “All this was inspired by the principle – which is quite true in itself – that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”
    Adolf Hitler (excerpt from Mein Kampf courtesy of Jewish Virtual Library).AND NOW TO BORIS JOHNSON…Boris Johnson has been sacked twice for lying. In 1988 he was sacked from The Times for fabricating in an article (he has a record of doing this in The Spectator too) and in 2004 from his shadow Minister for the Arts post for lying about one of his extra-marital affairs.And then the Brexit BattleBus………………disowned by Farage the day after the election.

    “The great thing about EU regulation is that it is not primarily there for business convenience, it is not primarily there to create opportunities for companies to trade freely across frontiers, it is primarily there to create a united EU.” Very true in terms of the economics of free trade, a wobbly buttress against currency fluctuation in the case of the Euro, unsought or impossible in other terms. There is already a ‘European’ military alliance, it’s called NATO and has a Czech Chairman.But what is the purpose of Johnson’s speech? To oppose unification?“The Guardian understands that a secret civil service analysis of the possible economic impact of Brexit, which the government was forced to release to MPs recently, concludes: ‘Leaving the European Union could provide the UK with an opportunity to regulate differently across social, environment, energy, consumer and product standards.’”It said the estimated gains of such deregulations would be low overall, but highest in “areas of high sensitivity” – naming employment, consumer protections and the environment in particular.Guardian 13/02/18So that’s what it’s really about, de-regulation and the removal of rights. But Boris can never tell a truth when a big lie will do.
  • WHO OWNS BURNTWOOD? #2: OFFSHORE COMPANIES………

    This applies very much to the area around and to the North of the Ryecroft in Chase Terrace, where the majority of freeholds are held and/or traded by Wallace Properties (Mauritius) and quite possibly the income stream held by other offshore funds.
    I am always astonished by the ignorance of people who believe they don’t enter into gambling agreements and know everything about their lives (Got insurance? Thought so – both a gambling agreement and a packaged risk which may have been offloaded – under written – by multinational offshore entities) or that everything down to the soil under their houses have been monetised, packaged up and had derivatives created (e.g. separating ownership, income stream and risk of default) which are also then traded. The Tories in particular have presided over the selling of the UK to offshore and foreign governments, and have profited mightily themselves from doing so, both personally and as a party.
    have a look at this Guardian article
  • POLITICS & PEOPLE #2: GREAT LIES OF OUR TIME #1
    Difficult to choose the best ones, but a classic surfaced today related to school closures.“In my day, we went to school in all weathers, and it only closed when the heating broke”.This trope usually gets linked to a rant about the “Nanny State” and “’Elf & Safety”. Most people posting such stuff on social media also blame it on Labour.
    Alas, one major driver of the ‘risk-averse’ culture was of course our pals the Americans. In the USA, not only do toddlers shoot people, but lawyers sue on the behest of people about absolutely anything. By the 1990s, this had spread to colleges and universities, and thence to schools. I was witness to one student’s family trying to sue my FE college for £1m future lost earnings, as their little darling had failed to hand in any coursework on a BTEC National course (he eventually left). This has happened since at schools and universities, but it is not only academic issues that are targeted, any potential pay-off is explored. Little Tracey slipping on ice within the school boundaries is one such.
    So these days, Governors and Heads have to play safe, super-safe. It’s not the Nanny State, it’s grasping parents and legal parasites. Oh, and it’s not Health & Safety, they have a list of such myths for the less-than-lazy to peruse on their website (www.hse.gov.uk/myth).
  • WHO OWNS BURNTWOOD? #1: OFFSHORE COMPANIES………
    If you live in the area bounded by Boney Hay Road, Bridge Cross Road, Rugeley Road and Spinney Lane, or South of Kingsdown Road, chances are you don’t own the freehold.That honour falls to the biggest freehold owner in West Midlands– WALLACE PROPERTIES LIMITED (MAURITIUS), who registered all this property as theirs in May 2012.Yes, your freehold is owned by an offshore company (as are other parcels of land in Burntwood, especially the Foresters Tavern, freehold owned by New River Trustee 7 & 8, Jersey). Who are Wallace Properties? One of the biggest freehold investment portfolio companies in the UK, owning 187 areas alone in the West Midlands (Birmingham Mail 8th Nov 2017).The original Wallace Properties dissolved in 1997 – wonder who got elected then? Labour, of course. So it moved offshore?

    (Data & Maps courtesy of Private Eye)
    What do we know otherwise? Nothing much. They were incorporated in Mauritius in late 2001, and their business there is administered by one of the managing agents there (International Management of Port Louis). – a ‘mailbox’. Where did they come from? Possibly the Wallace Properties in London dissolved in 1997. Did this company go offshore? Certainly Wallace crops up in all sorts of places. Jersey in 2016 (three ‘mailbox’ companies run by Volaw Corporate Services), and Arnold Clark Vehicle Management in Scotland, bought in 2015.The tentacles of Wallace disappear into the off-shore mist, along with a huge chunk of urban UK.And, of course, if you want to buy your freehold…………

    have a look at this Guardian article
  • POLITICS & PEOPLE #1: IT’S ONLY HUMAN NATURE…….
    How many times do you hear the phrase ‘well, it’s only human nature’? Usually the person uttering the phrase is justifying some argument about human behaviour that’s been challenged.
    “Competition is healthy, humans are naturally competitive”
    Animals (we are an animal) CAN be competitive, but most animals observed seem also to have a capacity for cooperation. Humans can be horribly aggressive and violent, can fight to defend territory or wealth; humans can also be astonishingly cooperative, even to their own disadvantage.
    This argument refers to some supposedly existing behaviour in the past – so common it gets called the ‘genetic fallacy’ – what previously existed must be what is in evidence today.
    Some right-wing types go on about the operation of financial and other markets as if it is a blood-soaked struggle, and even use battle-speak: ‘I made a killing there’, ‘there was carnage on the Stock Exchange today’ and so on. How did the Stock Exchange come into being? How did any market, real or in cyberspace, come about? People cooperated to bring it into being, just like little kids cooperate in order to play playground football.So really it ought to be “Competition is healthy, and it is set up by healthy cooperation”
    Doesn’t sell dodgy practices or right-wing policies though, nor make good headlines in the media.

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