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Showing posts from August, 2009

From healthcare to climate bill - not grassroots but Astroturf

Efforts to disguise co-ordinated campaigns by interested groups as apparently spontaneous public reactions are called astroturfing, after the artificial turf used on sports pitches, not to be confused with genuine grassroots. The anti-Obama, anti-National Health Service rhetoric is a case in point. It is diverting attention from what healthcare insurers do not want people to know: medical bills cause more bankruptcies in the USA than any other cause.
Hard on the heels of the healthcare astroturfing we can apparently expect for the rest of this month a series of so-called “Energy Citizen” rallies across 20 States of the USA, to which employees of oil companies and other rentacrowds will be bussed at the expense of the American Petroleum Institute with the aim of influencing US Senators to oppose the climate bill and the Obama administration’s tax increases on the oil industry.
At the rallies, the API participants will push two messages: job losses and energy cost increases. Participan…

Consider the source

Earlier this week I read a piece about the “revolting” use of “manipulative language” by the present government in order to “inspire fear” concerning Britain’s food security and prepare us all for Stalinist intervention with a view to imposing vegetarianism. (No, it was not in the Daily Mail: I don’t read the rag.) Naturally this brought on a panic attack, but I managed to recover enough to go online and find the culprit publication apparently referred to.
It is a report by DEFRA which gets right down to business in paragraph two with the sentence: “By any objective measure, we enjoy a high degree of food security in the UK today.” Are you frightened yet?
The report (entitled UK Food Security Assessment: Our Approach, available on DEFRA's website) strikes me as a sober and thoughtful document which is well worth reading by anyone seriously interested in public policy.
On the other hand, dear reader, if you are not seriously interested in public policy then by all means go on be…

"Corner" is not the name of a size

As a character in the sci-fi novel Perelandra said, "corner" is not the name of a size. So a small event can be a corner for the world. A corner was turned in a Burma courtroom when a small frail lady crossed the room and told reporters that she looked forward to working with them for the sake of her country, freedom and world peace. The small lady brushed off the generals, the sham trial and the sham conviction as if fluff on her collar. She, the convicted defendant, became the judge. It is as if she said the generals will fall, as every tyranny does in the end. How it happens is obscure but fall they will because they have no legitimacy and no friends, and have killed so many good and innocent people. However that may be, the generals are going, and so the small lady did not speak of them, but contemplated what lies beyond, exemplifying the spirit of the Burmese people which I so admire. I think we, as members of the international community, should do whatever the B…

The City of London - where all bankers and lawyers are above average?

The Lake Wobegon effect was proposed some months ago as an explanation for Chief Executives' ever-increasing pay in the US. In Lake Wobegon (Garrison Keillor's fictitious town), all the children are above average.
The way it works is that all corporate boards want their executives to be above average. That cannot possibly be the case for everyone, but not to worry. Markets run on investor confidence and perception, so if a company gives its executives above average pay and bonuses, they will look above average, and this will make the company look strong. Hence an upward pay spiral.
Warren Buffett wrote in 2007: "CEO perks at one company are quickly copied elsewhere. “All the other kids have one” may seem a thought too juvenile to use as a rationale in the boardroom. But consultants employ precisely this argument, phrased more elegantly of course, when they make recommendations to comp committees."
Once the public has rumbled this, why don't companies get…

In praise of Peter Weir

Three of my favourite films are on the face of it utterly different, so it was a surprise when i realised that all were directed by the same man. In the first, Witness, an action thriller is metamorphosed into a meditation about simplicity and modernity, innocence and corruption, harmony and violence as a detective is forced by circumstances and his own decency to protect a young boy who was the sole witness to a murder and then has to go into hiding himself among the boy's Amish community that lives surrounded by the American way of life but apart from it. No pea-brained females with bee-stung lips in this film; instead we get a real woman, exquisitely played by Kelly McGillis. In fact everyone seems real. The police officer, played with grit, emotional intensity and depth by Harrison Ford, is trapped in the violent culture he comes from, and blows his own cover by challenging some young thugs who have picked on his Amish party on a trip to the local town. Ultimately in a gri…

A dishonourable regime

According to many commentators including the BBC, Ahmadinejad's support is supposed to come from rural areas. But the CIA Factbook and other websites say that in 2008 around 68 per cent of the Iranian population lived in cities and the proportion is increasing at about 1.7 per cent a year. This is why I find the current regime's claim that Ahmadinejad won the election in June simply incredible. (The BBC, incidentally, has been very polite about the whole subject of the disputed election, but it does not stop a thinking observer from putting two and two together.}
Since the current regime is perpetuating such an enormous lie without shame, I suppose we should not be surprised that the trials going on today have been rushed to a hearing, doubtless in order to intimidate the population. Footage from inside the courtroom shows huge portraits of elderly ayatollahs hanging on the wall behind the judges as if to emphasise that there is no distinction between the political and jud…