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The Coalition trolls the internet. Smash my Nimrod.

January 28, 2011 1 comment

Smash Our Stuff was an internet phenomenon that featured a group of Canadian men purchasing a popular product (normally at launch) and destroying it in front of other people who waited for ages to buy it. The site started as “Smash My iPod”, they became so popular that they went on to buy and smash an XBOX 360, a PS3 and a Wii.

The reactions of the crowd, who were waiting patiently in line, often overnight, was often one of shock mixed, in some cases, with anger fuelled by jealousy.  Here they smash a PS3.

Apple sued them because they did not like to see their beloved items get smashed.

Well British taxpayers waited for 10 years to get nine Nimrod MRA4 reconnaissance aircraft. They cost a total of £4billion.

Three of the planes are 90% finished. One is complete and ready to take off.

Now that they are pretty much ready, the British government is smashing them up. Literally. This will cost taxpayers an additional £200 million and the Contractors get to claim all the scrap metal.

So Smash My Stuff – you have been trolled. Fifty hour waits, compared to a wait of 10 years, £400 launch products v £450 million planes that will never “launch”.

(The tax payers have been trolled as well by the Military contractors but no one seems to care)

Grant Shapps v Britain’s worst Council?

January 28, 2011 1 comment
Grant Shapps, Jon Collins

Grant Shapps and Jon Collins. Fighting talk

Grant Shapps, the Tory Party’s answer to the young Tony Blair in looks and mannerisms has got in to a war of words with the Leader of Nottingham City Council, who is refusing to publish spending over £500.

Councillor Jon Collins claimed that publishing expenditure over £500 was “playing to the tabloid gallery”. Probably because the local paper found that the Council had wasted money on

  • An undisclosed sum to hire a cherry-picker to remove conkers from a tree because officials saw them as a health and safety hazard.
  • £600,000 on publishing and distributing free magazine Nottingham Arrow to 113,000 households
  • £200,000 on a “Proud of Nottingham” campaign with signs, banners and posters
  • A trip to Cannes, on the Cote d’Azur, taken by six council officials including the chief executive Jane Todd in 2009, costing over £30,000

There is however more to this waste than those headline figures and what gets ignored in his story is the disgraceful way that Nottingham treats its poorest residents and its staff. If a Council had been run as badly as Nottingham in London, we would have never have stopped hearing about it. As it is safely out of the way few know that it can very easily be called the worst Local Authority in Britain.

Councillor Jon Collins is foolish to bring this failing City to the attention of the national media.

This is not a question of Labour v Tory, it is simply a Council that has been allowed to foster a culture of personal fiefdom that runs throughout the Council. From the Leader down to all too many of the lowliest Team Leam Leaders. More often than not no regard is given to the law.

Law – in Nottingham for somewhere else. It is not for nothing that Nottingham earned the name Shottingham, the crime capital of the UK. The Council is far from being the best example of being the upholder of legislation.

Nottingham is a Council that cross-checked every resident who claims a single person discount against credit reference agency records. That by itself is of questionable legality. They compounded this by then over claiming money from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Where a claimant is flagged by their “cross check”, the Council then bills the DWP, through Council Tax Benefit for the full Council Tax (without any discounts), – even if the very same Revenues & Benefit Service have for the purposes of much stricter benefit laws verified that the claimant is single.

Want to know how long it will take you to get a claim paid if you are on low-income and need Housing Benefit? Don’t ask Nottingham. To hide the real scale of the backlog they built up staff are instructed to record outstanding work on MS Outlook diaries. They are told not to leave the work outstanding on their document management system. As a result, the level of work outstanding is massively understated. Auditors have told TheBigotBasher that many claims for Housing Benefit take well over a year to pay, some took a number of years to pay. The target to pay a claim is 14 days.

Staff who were moved to the “new” library Customer services facilities have been provided with desks so small that they can barely fit their computer keyboard and mouse on them. For a Council that spent fortunes removing conkers from tress, health and safety for staff is a secondary issue. The photocopier has been given more floor space than the staff. If this was one of the fleeing employers of Nottingham, the Council would be coming down on them with a ton of bricks for the way the staff are treated.

The Council spent £millions on a new building. Already toilet facilities smell and are deteriorating. When a member of staff reported the problem they were told “Well what did you expect, we’re not at Loxley now, no luxuries”. As if decent toilet facilities, in a supposedly modern air-conditioned building are a luxury.

Ministers may be wondering what Nottingham has to hide with their refusal to publish expenditure details. The answer – a lot. Send the auditors in.

Illegal Insurrection

November 30, 2010 1 comment

I really do not understand the idiocy of the right in America any more.  They actually terrify me because of their stupidity.

The reaction of American Conservatives to Wikileaks has been terrifyingly stupid. They either want the extermination of Julian Assange or in the case of Bible Spice, outright war with Europe. Bible Spice and the people that support her really do want open warfare with Europe because of wikileaks, like full on send in Predators with Hell Fire Missiles. Yay. Duck and Cover.

Seriously, this was Sarah Plains contribution to the Wikileaks debate

We all applaud the successful thwarting of the Christmas-Tree Bomber and hope our government continues to do all it can to keep us safe. However, the latest round of publications of leaked classified U.S. documents through the shady organization called Wikileaks raises serious questions about the Obama administration’s incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.

First and foremost, what steps were taken to stop Wikileaks director Julian Assange from distributing this highly sensitive classified material especially after he had already published material not once but twice in the previous months? Assange is not a “journalist,” any more than the “editor” of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a “journalist.” He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

What if any diplomatic pressure was brought to bear on NATO, EU, and other allies to disrupt Wikileaks’ technical infrastructure? Did we use all the cyber tools at our disposal to permanently dismantle Wikileaks? Were individuals working for Wikileaks on these document leaks investigated? Shouldn’t they at least have had their financial assets frozen just as we do to individuals who provide material support for terrorist organizations?

Most importantly, serious questions must also be asked of the U.S. intelligence system. How was it possible that a 22-year-old Private First Class could get unrestricted access to so much highly sensitive information? And how was it possible that he could copy and distribute these files without anyone noticing that security was compromised?

The White House has now issued orders to federal departments and agencies asking them to take immediate steps to ensure that no more leaks like this happen again. It’s of course important that we do all we can to prevent similar massive document leaks in the future. But why did the White House not publish these orders after the first leak back in July? What explains this strange lack of urgency on their part?

We are at war. American soldiers are in Afghanistan fighting to protect our freedoms. They are serious about keeping America safe. It would be great if they could count on their government being equally serious about that vital task.

- Sarah Palin

When Liam Fox argued for the renewal of an independent nuclear deterrent, I bet he never expected that the Nation we would need to deter was a US governed by a wannabe Spice Girl.

The Human Rights Act: “Safe in Our Hands?”

November 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Now this is good news. Ken Clarke, the Justice Minister has confirmed that the UK will not be leaving he European Convention on Human Rights, which means that in any review of the Human Rights Act the ECHR will have to be a cornerstone of any Bill of Rights legislation proposed by the coalition.

In a reply to David Ruffley on the votes for prisoners issue, a poison chalice left by the last Labour Governent Clarke told the House of Commons

The coalition Government do not intend to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, which was imposed by the victorious British on the rest of Europe after the war in order to establish British values across the countries that were recovering from fascism and was drafted largely by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who put what he thought were the best principles of British justice into it.

The pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a “Bill of Rights” was nothing more than Cameron pandering to the Daily Mail. The British Government is a signatory on the ECHR and therefore if cases were not handled by UK Courts they would be handled by Strasbourg (as they were before the passing of the Human Rights Act). The Conservatives, despite their claim for supporting the “Sovereignty of the United Kingdom” would have by dancing to the tune of the Daily Mail surrendered the sovereignty of the British Judiciary to Strasbourg.

The reaction of activists from the Conservative side of the coalition (if the blogosphere is actually representative of opinion) is predictable. The reaction on the left has been wrong (if the UK left blogistan is represented by Sunny Hundal). The coalition committed itself to reviewing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights. The fact that it will be built on the ECHR is a victory for common sense. The civil liberties agenda of the coalition does not make the cuts in public services any better but if implemented it will make the UK a freer, (if less fair) place to live. It also serves as a reminder why Neo-Con Labour had to leave the body-politic forever. It is telling quite telling that Ed Milliband recognises that as well.

The Ministry of Defence tries to D-Notice Wikileaks. Err what’s the point?

November 26, 2010 1 comment

Wikileaks has tweeted to say that The Ministry of Defence has issued Defence Advisory Notices to UK news outlets in an attempt to try and silence Wikileaks latest bombshell of information. Their next leak is to be the Communiqués between Diplomats and it is rumoured to include what Politicians on the World stage think of each other.

DA Noties (which were previously called D-Notices) are not legally enforceable but life can be made difficult for an Editor who refuses to comply with them. They are issued by the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

The last time a DA Notice was issued was in April 2009 after Bob Quick was stupid enough to leave his car with details of a terror raid on show as he arrived at No 10 Downing Street for a briefing. The briefing was picked by a photographer with a tele-photo lens and went round the World in minutes.

There are five standing DA-Notices:

* DA-Notice 01: Military Operations, Plans & Capabilities
* DA-Notice 02: Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Weapons and Equipment
* DA-Notice 03: Ciphers and Secure Communications
* DA-Notice 04: Sensitive Installations and Home Addresses
* DA-Notice 05: United Kingdom Security & Intelligence Special Services

DA-Notices are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The Committee and the Government have a problem though. This  Committee seems to think our only new sources are the BBC, ITN and the UK newspapers. They forget about the Internet. I have easier access to the New York Times, or even Al-Jazeera than the Times of London. DA Notices are as irrelevant as the Committee.

All the MOD has done is remind tax-payers of a chunk of Government that is ripe for cuts. D-Notices and The the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee should be given their very own notice.

Meet Nick Clegg – the man who makes bad things “progressive”.

November 11, 2010 2 comments

 

 

Cameron and Clegg – an abusive partnership?

I was a semi-supporter of the coalition, although I voted for no-one in the General Election. I looked forward to the end of the database state and the bureaucracy. I was very happy to see New Labour go but I was not happy with the other choices available to me. Nothing has convinced me about the wisdom of my non-choice at the election and not one Party has since convinced me that they are worthy of my vote.

I kind of wanted to believe that the Liberal Democrats were a bit more of a Party than their image of being Labour without the War. I also kind of wanted to believe that the Conservative Party was no longer the nasty party.

The problem with this coalition is that we will never know what the true identities of the two Parties are. What we have now is a Conservative Government able to operate further to the right than it would have on its own due to their Liberal Democrat enablers.

As a direct result of this coalition, Osborne can be as far-right as he wants, without any consideration of consequence. It is after all not the Conservative Party losing popularity. Everything proposed by Osborne is given an orange glow of approval by the ever so compliant and complicit Clegg.

This morning Nick Clegg was explaining why it is fair to stop the benefits of those who refuse to take up jobs for the fair and progressive period of 3 years.

A few days ago we had Nick Clegg explaining why a tripling of student tuition fees was extremely progressive and fairer than say a graduate tax.

Last week Nick Clegg explained why massive cuts to Housing Benefit that effect over 95% of those claiming were fair and progressive.

If George Osborne appeared on television tomorrow eating and killing the second child of all families, Nick Clegg would be on breakfast tv explaining why such a move is progressive and “fair”. After all such an action would help poor families save on childcare.

As the coalition haemorrhages  popularity, it is not the Conservatives losing ground it is the Liberal Democrats.

According to the latest polls, the Liberal Democrats now command only 9% support. Well they hold around 9% of the seats in Parliament and they have always been supporters of proportional representation, so now they have it, by default.

Everyone knows that the Liberal Democrats are the junior partner. They are  still however supposed to be a partner. Partners in a relationship can say no. If  junior can not say no, he is not a partner, he is being abused.

NUS – say goodbye to public support.

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

As the day started, the most amazing thing about the demonstration was that the NUS managed to get upwards of 24,000 students up in the morning to demonstrate against the increase in University fees. Something they didn’t really do between 1997 and 2010.

Then the Trots take over the demonstration and any message that the NUS wanted to deliver to Parliament gets lost amidst all the news of violence and idiocy taking place at Millbank.  Along with any public support for them.

So why did the UK vote Labour out again?

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

While we are waiting for the big axe man to cometh as a result of Osborne’s baby eating agenda to slash his way through public services and burn public sector workers at the stake, some may question just why did they vote for the Con-Dem coalition?

Sam Coates of The Times (£££) has a gentle reminder.

The administrative burdens being placed on Shadow Cabinet members could provoke some mirth among opponents. First, all new policy must be signed off by the relevant shadow secretary of state, and a questionnaire obtained from the Treasury team.

Completed forms must then be handed into the the office of Angela Eagle, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, two weeks in advance of any announcement, and written confirmation of her approval will be given within a week.

The first draft of any full announcement or speech must be handed in to Ms Eagle’s office “no later than” three days before it is made. The final draft must then be sent in 24 hours before delivery.Significant speeches not containing new policy announcements are only subject to a seven-step clearing process and only have to be handed to Ms Eagle two days before the speech is to be delivered. Only then can the Shadow Cabinet member go ahead with the announcement.

Oh yes, that form filling again.

Oh, no. Not students again.

November 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Every government since at least the Thatcher government has at one stage or other tried to tackle the hoary old subject of student finance.

Each and every government has given as their aim the widening and broadening of access to Universities.

Back in the days of bad fashion tastes, bad hair cuts, riots, Miners strikes and Maggie people from well off families got to send their offspring to university for a fully taxpayer-funded jolly. Students received grants that they did not even have to repay. Those from richer families got lower levels of grant but because they were entitled to claim Housing Benefit they could make up that shortfall.

Everyone was happy except for the students who were not from rich families.

To widen access without paying for it the Thatcher government scrapped housing benefit payments to single students, froze grants and introduced a student loans element. The grant was to remain frozen. The student loan would increase each year to increase by an amount to reflect inflation for the combined loan and grant.

John Major towards the end of his government wanted to further increase the numbers of students going to university. So he commissioned the Dearing Report on Student Finance. He got booted out before he could implement it. It proposed a 100% loan system of student finance but advised against fees.

In their 1997 manifesto Labour said that they completely opposed the Dearing Report and said that they would put forward different proposals to its option of loans or fees. They did. They scrapped student grants entirely and introduced fees.

Labour tinkered with student finance again later but the principle of fees and loans was maintained, unless you were luck enough to come from the principalities of Scotland and Wales, who do not have to pay at all.

In line with future budget cuts and a desire to see even more students packed in to universities, Labour commissioned the Browne report. Then Labour got booted out before it actually reported. No one Party got elected so the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives formed a coalition government.

George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor, supposedly wants to eat students for breakfast and thinks that they should live in cardboard boxes inside the university. That is if you believe the National Union of Students.

Before the election, Vince Cable was a hero to students. They wanted to abolish fees and loans and give all students a free pony. The pony promise did not quite make it to the manifesto but there was a commitment not to raise the cap on the level of fees.

Now they are in coalition and the baby eating Tory Chancellor and the man who foretold of the recession have to meet minds. The Browne report is out and the government has to respond. So the baby eating Chancellor is going to pretty much wipe out funding to Universities and ask students to replace that funding through an increased level of fees, with various goodies to make it “fair” . That of course is causing a great deal of unhappiness with the Liberal Democrats.

The coalition should look at the US model of student support.

They have a scheme that provides the necessary funding to Universities and is fair to students.

Their University fees are high but the reality is that the “fee” does not matter. Consider it to be a maximum payment for a graduate income tax. What matters to students is the level of debt and whether they could afford to re-pay that level of debt. So if the Universities of Oxbridge want to “charge” £100,000 let them.

What makes the US system fair is that as a result of the Obama reforms, loan re-payments are capped at 10 percent of disposable income. Even prior to that reform it was capped at 15 percent.

Debts are rescinded after 20 years (it was 25). What would be more controversial here is that after ten years the debts of public servants such as teachers, nurses, and members of the armed forces are rescinded. I’m not sure the baby eaters would support that.

They have a now greatly increased pell grant system, which are essentially student grants for those on low incomes and of course the US is famous for its bursary system. The Pell Grant system is under pressure at the moment because it was increased through the stimulus bill and more permanent funding needs to be found, also like here as a result of the recession there are more people choosing university than unemployment.

It seems to me it is a much better system than the initial response to Browne being sold by Saint Vince and the monster Osborne. It is nearer to the graduate income tax, but it does have a final point that means no-one pays much more than the value of their education and it allows Universities to have a fully variable fees system.

Solving George Osborne’s Child Benefit Problems.

November 3, 2010 Leave a comment

If you want to know why the changes to Child Benefit are generating more publicity than the wider cuts to other Social Security Benefits, look at who is doing the complaining. Very well paid people who get screen time on British tv sets.

The Chancellor has a simple proposal, those who pay higher rate taxes should not get Child Benefit. So those with a higher rate taxpayer in the household should lose their child benefit.

The problem. It all sounds very fair, until you realise that two working parents earning £43k each will still qualify but if one is a stay at home parent and the other is earning £44k they lose out. That however is a feature of the tax system and not a bug. Individual allowances were introduced by Nigel Lawson many moons ago. The result of that was to ensure that two members of a couple can individually earn just below the higher rate tax threshold giving them a lower tax bill individually than their single neighbour who earns just above, even though their combined income is higher.

The Telegraph, one of the loudest objectors to the Child Benefit changes applauded that as a great win for the rights of women.

The Child Benefit changes sound easy to implement. I can understand why the Chancellor saw this as an easy spending cut. One problem though. Whilst HMRC runs Child Benefit, in addition to collecting income tax, they do not currently data-share child benefit records with income tax records. The old “Inland Revenue” part of HMRC has no idea who has a child because they have no need to.

Another problem with 500,000 jobs to go from the Public Sector (at least) and many of those workers being top rate taxpayers, there is the added complication of wage fluctuation. Say you are working at a job paying £900 per week and then you lose it – can you reapply? Do you lose it if you start another well paid job?

The Child Benefit Service simply does not employ enough people to deal with a massive expansion of on/off claims and changes in circumstances.

There are however easy solutions to these problems but is the coalition open to them?

The first is a rather intrusive data sharing method, which would allow those who claim Child Benefit to continue receiving it but they then have that money deducted from their tax code.

So if you pay higher rate tax you repay it through your tax code. This deals with changes of circumstances. No need for new claims or changes in circumstance reports. Simple.

It would however be a further expansion of data sharing and the database state. Therefore it would go against the Liberal Democrat manifesto and the coalition agreement.

Or simply merge it in to tax credits. Include it as a premium within the tax credit award, which therefore reduces the numbers of payments being made anyway and you have an automatic way of removing it from top rate tax-payers. It is already means tested, it is also in the main paid to the mother, the staff are already employed by HMRC and almost all basic rate taxpaying families qualify for Child Tax Credit.

No additional staff. No additional data-matching. No additional forms. Win win.

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