Monday, 24 November 2008
A recent report by RSPB scientists at Sandy has evidence that the population of house sparrows in Britain has fallen by 68% over the past thirty years.
Dr Will Peach says "The trend towards paving of front gardens and laying decking in the back, and the popularity of ornamental plants from other parts of the world, has made many gardens no-go areas for once common British birds."
He said that gardeners could help sparrows "by being lazy, doing nothing and allowing the garden to be a little bit scruffy".
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
That's how Austin Mitchell MP has described proposals by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).
CIH are suggesting that new tenants of social housing should be offered fixed-term contracts and moved into private housing if their circumstances improve.
Nearly 4 million people are waiting to be housed, but only 170,000 properties are becoming available each year.
This is of course yet another example of chickens coming home to roost. Selling-off the stock of council houses, which started under Thatcher, was always going to return with a vengeance. It was a policy which New Labour has done nothing to change, despite the protestations of Labour MP Austin Mitchell. He's right to say that a fundamental tenet of council housing was that it was secure.
Contrast this plan for council house tenants, who would be rewarded for working hard to improve their lot by being kicked out of their homes, with the bonuses and 'golden parachutes' of the bailed-out banking bosses, a thank-you for taking our cash and playing the casinos.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
The reputation of the banks is in ruins. Public confidence does not exist. But still a couple of the old guard have tried to stage a come-back. They want business as usual.
Sir Peter Burt and Sir George Matthewson (how did they become 'sirs' ?) have written a letter to HBoS. They have graciously offered to take HBoS over, sack the top brass, and avoid the proposed deal with Lloyds TSB. They would keep HBoS independent, and 'protect jobs and bring benefits to customers and shareholders' ........
Wait for it ..... Sir Peter Burt is credited with creating HBoS !
Of course, the kind offer to assist HBoS has been declined by the board.
But with people like this prowling around like rotweillers, it's impossible to imagine anything other than business as usual for the banks, eventually.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
I don't usually stay up into the small hours watching election results. I did last night, until it was clear Barack Obama had made it to the White House.
Even on Day One it seems like a breath of fresh air. A positive optimistic vision for the world and idealism, after eight awful gruelling years of W.
Not everyone is celebrating. Melanie Phillips in the Spectator has been warning for ages of the dreadful consequences of electing Obama, and is still at it today. His election has also made life awkward for the Conservative Right. Their adulation of McCain & Palin, especially Palin, has suddenly and miraculously yielded to singing the praises of Obama.
In order to ease their re-education process, they've hatched a cunning project called 'America in the World'. A director of AiW is Tory Tim Montgomerie, and the show was launched this week in London on the eve of the presidential election, by none other than David Cameron. It's aim is to oppose anti-Americanism ! I suppose the idea is to get the message out to the Tory faithful that, well, we've got four years of Obama, like it or not, so we had better get used to saying he's a good egg after all.
It will be interesting to listen to Tory Tim and AiW as the Obama story unfolds.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
In East Java, Indonesia, earthquakes and mud volcanoes are common. But a bitter dispute has raged over the cause of an eruption of the Lusi mud volcano. When Lusi erupted in May 2006, it coincided with both an earthquake and drilling for oil and gas.
A meeting of 74 geologists in Cape Town came down 57% blaming the drilling; 4% the earthquake; 17% both; and 23% said the evidence was inconclusive.
Science is often a matter of probabilities.
Establishing the cause of the eruption is important. Thirteen people died, 30,000 were displaced, and there is a huge compensation claim against the drilling company Lapindo Brantas.
The point I am making is this case illustrates that in geophysical science, as in other fields of science, the evidence is often not clear cut. Careful informed systematic evaluation of all the available evidence is essential; and a willingness to change one's mind when evidence swings against the prevailing view. This point equally applies to the vastly more complex global warming debate.
Friday, 31 October 2008
It's announced today that Barclay's bank is seeking £7.3 bn from the State Investment Funds and the Royal Families of Qatar and Abu Dhabi. This begs the question about the difference between the State Funds and the Royal Families. Putting that aside, it would give them a 32 % stake in Barclay's.
16.3 % of the stake would be held by one person of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family.
His name is Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
I rest my case.
I watched last night's BBC Question Time from Washington. Both panel and audience gave me a sort of unintended insight into US political attitudes that was, frankly, spooky. And it wasn't even Hallowe'en yet.
There's something about that neatly-groomed, suited, well-scrubbed, wholesome look of 30 - something Americans that is eerie and scary. As if they have only just stepped out of a spaceship from Planet Xenon. Both men and women. Strangely, they all seemed to support McCain & Palin. Probably an in-flight briefing.
Their representative on the panel was one Christopher Nixon Cox.
Yes, Nixon's grandson. If Nixon was my grandad I'd miss out that middle name for a start.
A questioner asked about health care in the US compared to the NHS. Mr Cox certainly didn't want anything resembling a NHS approach in America - 'I don't like waiting in a line'. Apparently he thought health care in the US was pretty well OK. The panel Democrat, Elizabeth Edwards, didn't want the NHS either, but her reason was because it was a 'two-tier' system. A telling point.
Another panellist, who calls herself Cheri Jacobus, attacked Obama and the Democrats for allegedly wanting more equal distribution of wealth, shades of socialism she implied. Taking hard - earned cash from the rich to give, as a hand-out, to people who hadn't earned it (and certainly didn't deserve it).
As the programme ended, I had a strong feeling that nice, mild, silver-haired John McCain has some weird and worrying supporters.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
The Living Planet Report, written jointly by the WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, makes shocking reading.
At the rate we are going, by the mid-2030's we would need two planets to maintain our lifestyles. And the UK's 'ecological footprint' is the 15th biggest in the world - the same size as that of 33 African countries together.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Money in the banks is not all that's melted away.
Not so swiftly, the arctic ice is shrinking, but if a tipping point is reached the ice will soon catch up with the money. The financial crisis has diverted attention from the global warming crisis.
A University College London team has evidence that the arctic ice thickness last winter reduced by 26 cm on average below the mean of the previous five years.
The thickness measurements were made using a radar altimeter on the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite.
Not only is the ice thinning, it is also covering a reducing area of the arctic sea. So the overall volume of ice is shrinking.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Today Mid Bedfordshire Councillor Ken Lynch has announced he has joined the Green Party. Ken represents Pinnacle Ward in Sandy. On the council he has been a member of the Independent group.
Today's news means that Ken Lynch joins his Green Party colleague Gareth Ellis on Mid Bedfordshire District Council.
Ken says: "Two Green councillors in Mid Beds means a better voice for Sandy now. Sandy can't ignore global problems. Hard times require strong action".
I spent today in Sandy, with Green Party activists from Bedfordshire, Norwich and Cambridge. We delivered thousands of leaflets to Ken's electors in Sandy. Rupert Read, the lead Green Party candidate in next year's European elections, and local European candidate Marc Schiemann helped get Ken's message to Sandy people.
Friday, 24 October 2008
The first tentative shots are already being fired by the banks. I've noticed this in recent advertising. Adverts suggesting Bank A is more trustworthy than Bank B. And the occasional banking spokesperson on TV has a go at excusing or half-defending the appalling behaviour of banks in recent times..
But my feeling is that people generally have been shocked to the core. Indeed, we are still in shock. What has happened in banking is almost unbelievable. It will be remembered for many, many years.
Nevertheless, the banks and financial institutions are ruthless and driven. They will use every tactic they can think of to regain control of events, and attempt to get back to 'business as usual'.
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Green Councillors Make a Difference !
Here's a short video clip about Norwich, where Green Councillors are having a major positive impact on the local council. It shows that voting Green does make a difference.
Norwich is in the same Eastern Region of the Green Party as Mid Bedfordshire. Here we have just one Green Councillor, Gareth Ellis, on Mid Bedfordshire District Council, but that still makes a big difference. In Spring 2009 we become part of the new unitary authority of Central Bedfordshire. A Green presence then will be even more important.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
It's a small world, isn't it ?
George Osborne, Conservative Shadow Chancellor; Peter Mandelson, then European Trade Commissioner, now gifted a peerage, and a Labour cabinet minister; 'Nat' Rothschild, financier; Oleg Deripaska, Russian billionnaire.
All meeting up in Corfu. Nothing wrong with that. As the other Mandy, Rice-Davies, long-ago famously remarked: 'Well, they would, wouldn't they ?'
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
A New Scientist special report comparing the energy policies of the Republican and Democrat presidential candidates, reveals significant differences.
Both candidates speak of a greater commitment to cleaner energy, which is not surprising given the Bush intransigence. But the McCain plans go for 45 new nuclear power stations by 2030 and a nuclear waste site in Nevada. His running mate Sarah Palin supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Obama is promising a massive expansion of solar, wind and geothermal electricity.
I hope that the new administration will give an urgent, clear US lead and commitment on global emissions targets.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Ed Miliband, the Climate Change & Energy Secretary, speaks with forked tongue.
His greenhouse gas emissions target of 80% down by 2050 would be more credible if he was also prepared to act on airport expansion, coal power stations and nuclear power.
Ben Foley makes the crucial point that this is a blatantly political target: "The Government knows it is so far in the future that they will never be held to account for it, so they can promise what they like, and then carry on as before".
Sunday, 19 October 2008
"A Crude Awakening" is a powerful award-winning documentary about Peak Oil - when oil supply can no longer keep up with demand.
You can see it on Tuesday 25 November at 8 pm at Trinity Church Hall, near St Albans station. Tickets are £5, including soup & roll. Reserve tickets at firstname.lastname@example.org
This event is organised by St Albans Green Party. I went to their showing of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" which was a sell-out. So reserve your tickets early.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
This week's 'New Scientist' magazine is a special issue, on 'The Folly of Growth - how to stop the economy killing the planet.'
I think it's worth a read if you can get hold of a copy. A peice by Kate Soper on ' The good life: breaking our dependence on profits and growth would make our lives better, not worse' is interesting.
Soper says there is 'the widespread assumption that becoming more sustainable will inevitably make our lives worse, which leads to green campaigners being dismissed as regressive killjoys bent on returning us to a primitive existence.'
She continues: 'It doesn't help that virtually all representations of pleasure and the life we should aspire to come from advertising, with its incessant message that our happiness is dependent on consuming ever more "stuff". We hear little about the joys of escaping the stress, congestion, ill-health, noise and waste that come from our "high" standard of living. '
Soper adds: 'The absurdity of our situation is illustrated by the way our economy profits from selling back to us the pleasures that we have lost through overwork: the leisure and tourist companies that sell us "quality time"; the catering services that provide "home cooking"; the dating and care agencies that see to personal relations; the gyms where people pay to walk on treadmills because the car culture has made it unsafe or unpleasant to walk outside. As the economy continues to expand, consumer culture becomes ever more reliant on our willingness to accept this. A growing number of people are starting to realise that there may be more to life than working to spend.'
And I would add that the present banking & financial crisis has shown that our economy, global or otherwise, which apparently thrives on all this, is actually built on sand.
Friday, 17 October 2008
Luton & Bedfordshire Green Party hold regular monthly meetings, which I try to attend.
There is always lively interesting discussion.
Last Tuesday evening Marc Scheimann, our 2009 local European Parliament Candidate, reported a study he is carrying out on local authority waste recycling. In what amounts to a scam, it appears that some 35% of Councils send their recycling waste to destinations outside the UK. Marc added that Mid Bedfordshire District Council seem to be in the clear. Although 2% of Mid Beds recycling goes abroad, it is for a specific reason, to known destinations.
David Cameron is using his favourite housing metaphor again.
The political truce declared while the banking and financial crisis raged is now over (though the crisis smoulders on). Cameron and Brown have resumed hostilities. In a speech today, the Tory leader attacks 'the complete and utter failure of Labour's economic record'. He is quoted as saying 'it was right to man the hoses when the house was on fire, but it's now also right to see who built the house'.
Well, Thatcher was the builder, and the architect. New Labour have merely added an extension.
Thursday, 16 October 2008
Nadine Dorries, the Right Wing Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire, writes:
" ..... There is only one knowledgeable commentator whose opinion I have listened to and believed throughout all of this financial chaos, and that is Jon Moulson of Alchemy - I am always knocked out by John's pragmatism and commonsense. I'm not yet sure what he thinks of tighter regulatory reform in the hands of the FSA ...... " (Nadine Dorries' blog, 15.10.2008)
Now, I'd never heard of Mr Moulson, so I decided to do some research.
I wasn't sure whether his first name was actually Jon or John, since Nadine Dorries uses both spellings. Either way, I could only discover a Jon / John Moulton at Alchemy. Assuming this is the very same person (I stress it is just an assumption) and that Nadine Dorries has made a typo, I found an interesting peice which was published in the Independent by Sean O'Grady (29.4.2000) :
"Moulton looks mean. Bald, wiry, cold-eyed, thin-lipped, those glasses - he makes an easy hate figure. He looks, in fact, not so much as though he would sell his own granny for sixpence but that he would be happy to sell her kidneys to Ford, flog her liver to General Motors and sell the rest for scrap. 'Some people would say that his main delight is picking the legs off flies,' says one unkind acquaintance."
Oh dear, perhaps not the sort of person you'd wish to bump into on a dark cold rainy night. But Nadine Dorries swears by him, so I pressed on. I then came across a peice by Jane Martinson in the Guardian (20.1.2006) :
" A 'minor' supporter of the Tory party - he has donated about £50,000 - he also blames high taxation and increased spending on the public sector. Then he says: 'I have to declare an interest. Fundamentally, I like really awful times as the collapse of the UK economy is ideal for me and my business."
Dear me, could Mr Moulton be enjoying himself in these troubled times ?
Still, every cloud .....
But what is the answer to Nadine Dorries' query about Mr Moulton's thoughts on tighter regulatory reform in the hands of the FSA ? Well, I found this by Maggie Lee in the Independent (29.10.2006) :
"As the industry comes under the scrutiny of the regulator (the Financial Services Authority is currently reviewing private-equity's impact on the market and bank debt), he is unequivocal that the British Venture Capital Association should act to counter critics. ' The regulation has gone over the top in terms of cost-effectiveness. While the UK was the first country in the world to regulate venture capital, there isn't a shred of evidence to suggest it's actually worthwhile.' "
So, it doesn't appear that Mr Moulton is much in favour of more regulation, of whatever kind. But I suppose he may have changed his mind. After all, a lot of people have. I think we had better wait until Nadine Dorries has had chance to talk to her guru, and vouchsafe his pearls of pragmatism and commonsense. Wait on ....
I heard an amusing skit on the Today programme this morning, by Sue Townsend. Imagine the Queen blogging, and writing her Facebook entry:
"I am Elizabeth Windsor. I live in central London, Norfolk, Windsor and Scotland ......."
Then the Queen receives an email:
"Mummy, what the bloody hell are you playing at ?
Switch the sodding computer off and go to bed ! Anne"
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
It looks likely unemployment will soon be higher than in 1997. Some forecasts say 2 million unemployed by around Christmas. No-one dare predict how bad it will eventually get. Another New Labour success story. At a time when thousands of new jobs ought to be available in a greener economy.
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Ben Foley has made an excellent point in his comment on my previous post.
Finding money, and plenty of it, is suddenly and miraculously no problem for the politicians.
My local Post Office is a lifeline for all sorts of financial transactions for many people. We don't have to drive anywhere, it's an easy walk. It's a community focus, with a local shop. It's been there, serving the local community, for as long as anybody can remember. For many people, it is effectively their local bank.
Now this New Labour government has decided to close it, after a sham 'consultation'.
To save a few bob, which they cannot possibly find in any other way. .......
As 'confidence' returns to markets, a quote from Tony Benn in 1981:
" ... the restoration of 'confidence' is described as if it had some objective reality, whereas in truth 'confidence' is nothing more than a political prize awarded by world bankers when they are satisfied that governments are pursuing policies acceptable to the international financial community."
(Tony Benn, Arguments for Democracy, p.11, 1981)
He was talking then about the IMF, but I think it's a comment relevant today. The so-called 'partial nationalisation' of the banks has got very little, if anything, to do with the sort of green-inspired public ownership, direction and local accountability that is needed, and that we need to make happen. It is a New Labour / neo-liberal solution, from politicians who have been pursuing creeping privatisation ever since 1997, and really believe in nothing else.
Monday, 13 October 2008
Today has certainly been a historic day for UK banks. There's no doubt about that. Taxpayers have taken around 60% of RBS shares and 40% of Lloyds TBS & HBoS shares. The Chairs and CEO's of HBoS and RBS are going.
It's being called a partial nationalisation of UK banks. Various conditions are being imposed. No executive bonuses for one year, representation of the government in the boardrooms, and other strings attached.
I do not believe it is adequate to deal with the full significance of what has happened to finance and banking. It does not match up to what is needed.
For a start, I don't like the term 'nationalisation' and the assumptions implied in that term. It is too closely linked to the old style monolithic state-run utilities set up in the early postwar years by Labour. The intention was good, but for the most part the organisations were run by recently retired military men and people who had no belief in what was being done. I'll settle for 'public ownership.'
I have no confidence whatever in the real intentions of the New Labour politicians. What they have done has been brought about by their own incompetence, and they see today's decisions as a temporary solution. As soon as they can get rid of the public ownership aspect, they will do so. Their interests have been privatisation, not public ownership. Just as the old boardrooms full of retired colonels had no commitment to what they were being asked to do, so New Labour has no real conviction in what they will be asking the reorganised banks to do. None of them has any belief or conviction about public ownership, it is opposed to everything they have done since 1997. The Cameron Tories and the Libdems are part of this neo-liberal mindset.
The banking crisis cannot be separated from the eco-crises around global warming, oil, energy, food and deforestation. What is required is not just token representation on the bank boards, but real control and direction of the entire banking and finance sector in the public interest. It needs to be green-led and organised in a devolved system, separated from speculation, gambling, greed and the market spivs.
This isn't what has happened today. It is something we need to make happen.
Sunday, 12 October 2008
On this morning's Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, Marr asked the BBC's star economics guru Robert Peston 'where has all the money gone? ' Peston at first seemed unable to grasp the enormity of the question. Then he launched into a convoluted cobbled Pestonesque explanation involving housing and negative equity. Which left one wondering 'yes, but where has all the money gone?'
It's a question I suspect many, many people will be asking for a very long time.
Saturday, 11 October 2008
Marc represented The Green Party at the recent Freshers' Fair at the University of Bedfordshire. The Fair was a welcome for all new students starting their courses this term, at both the Bedford and Luton campuses of the University.
Marc talked to many students, answered their questions and explained Green issues. There were many enquiries about The Green Party, and interest in joining the party.
Marc Scheimann, our MEP candidate for the European Elections in 2009, can be seen in action on ITV in Trevor McDonald's 'Tonight' programme on Monday 20 October at 8.00 pm.
Marc is against the Lisbon Treaty, which has never been subject to a UK referendum. He emphasises the relevance of Europe, and our links with Europe, in these critical and uncertain times of financial & banking meltdown and the global eco-crisis.
Friday, 10 October 2008
The Financial Times (7 October 2008) this week carried a demolition of John McCain by columnist Gideon Rachman, in a peice about the financial crisis. Last Year McCain was heaping praise on Alan Greenspan, head of the US Federal Reserve from 1987 - 2006. Greenspan was the high priest of financial deregulation. McCain wanted him on an important tax reform committee: 'If he's alive or dead it doesn't matter. If he's dead, just prop him up and put some dark glasses on him.'
McCain has executed a swift u-turn. He now talks about 'the corruption and unbridled greed that has caused a crisis on Wall Street'.
This man hopes to be the next President of the United States.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
We can be sure that the financial & banking crisis is not the end of capitalism, or even the beginning of the end.
Enough sticking-plaster, provided by the taxpayer, will be applied to allow the capitalist system to stagger on until it feels confident enough to set off on its next global rip-off, on the back of another round of huge executive bonuses. The fact that capitalism wasn't able to avoid this close brush with Armageddon has shocked people to the core. And this is the system we were relying on to solve that other looming mega-crisis, global warming & its associated crises of oil, energy, food and deforestation! But once bitten, twice shy.
There must be a better way, there has got to be a better way.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
I don't recall ever seeing this in a Queen's Speech, or in a New Labour election manifesto. The New Labour project was already collapsing, even before the financial crisis. It doesn't have a shred of credibility.
Nadine Dorries, the right wing Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire, writes that her leader David Cameron is a new Churchill.
He doesn't look like Churchill, he doesn't talk like Churchill, he doesn't walk like Churchill, he doesn't smoke cigars like Churchill. He doesn't ride a bike like Churchill. Not yet, anyway ....
He ain't no Churchill.
The market is often attributed human qualities - it 'lacks confidence', is 'wary', 'depressed' and so on. I would add that Little Master Market seems like a spoilt child, crying & shouting till the little darling gets what he wants from an indulgent parent. Then screaming again when he wants even more of his own way.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
The new St Pancras International Station is a destination in its own right. I always liked the old station, even as it slipped slowly into disuse. Celebrated by Betjeman, it was a Victorian icon. Then they were going to flatten it. Thank goodness it was saved. But I feared the worst from the revamp. On the cards was a monumental architectural mess, neither fish nor fowl. But it was immediately clear on my first visit to the new station, shortly after the opening, that this was an amazing transformation, a brilliant blend of old and new.
We are fortunate in Bedfordshire to have such direct access to the new St Pancras, and hence through to Europe. My latest visit today, to enjoy again the spectacle of this monument to rail travel, was only marred by a return journey in a carriage packed like sardines, despite the off peak travel.
Monday, 6 October 2008
For doing a good job ? - you might ask.
Well, not exactly. This was the pay of Richard Fuld, according to the BBC News. Mr Fuld was head of Lehman Brothers, the firm that went bust last month. It seems that Mr Fuld also requested multi-million dollar bonuses for other executives, days before the collapse.
What did Mr Fuld have to say ? "I feel horrible about what happened."
What has my previous post got to do with Bedfordshire?
Well, remember the low level nuclear waste disposal dump that NIREX tried to foist on Elstow, years ago? Many folk, including myself, campaigned furiously to stop it. We won. You never know, when we have sent the 'eco-town ' packing, they might even try to present us with a nuclear power station. After all, the government think nuclear power is eco-friendly .........
We were kept in the dark about the banks' toxic assets. Till it was too late to do anything about it. At least, that's our excuse. But there's another load of toxicity being prepared for us. We know about this, yet are sleepwalking into it.
I refer to the new generation of nuclear power stations the government is busy planning. The toxic contaminated waste from these will be around for a thousand years, at least. The mother of all toxic assets.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
Many people I talk to are still stunned by the torrent of events in the past week. The so-called 'credit crunch' and the Northern Rock rescue were alarming, but we were almost learning to live with the crisis. That is, until other financial institutions and banks around the world began to go down like skittles.
There is utter disbelief that our banks should have been caught playing fast and loose - gambling frankly, with our money, homes, pensions and security. How on earth could all the brilliant economists employed by the banks have failed to see it coming? The best brains in the Bank of England monetary policy committee have for over ten years been meeting every month, fiddling around with interest rates - moving them up a bit, down a bit, up a bit - as the storm was brewing, while the Government looked on. And not only failing even to meet the inflation target, but seeming oblivious to the impending disaster. Oh, sorry, I forgot, that wasn't their job, they were only asked to do inflation. Disbelief as President George W. Bush, John McCain and Sarah Palin appear to blame everyone except themselves, their policies, and their own administration.
There is fear, as no-one seems remotely in control of events, panic looms and politicians run around like headless chickens. There is anger that blind faith in market forces, with their 'lack of confidence', unaccountability, with their 'toxic assets' in black boxes and all the rest of the mumbo-jumbo, has led us to the brink.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
It may seem far away from Mid Bedfordshire, but recent days have witnessed dramatic events in global finance markets. It's too early to be clear what's happening. We have a confluence of two global crises: this financial turmoil, and the world eco-crisis - oil, food, deforestation, global warming. One thing is quite certain. The world will never be the same again.