Blog Review 933

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The coming elections are going to be interesting. We thought we´d got rid of electoral fraud in about 1833 or so didn´t we?

Fraud of a different kind explains the occasional explosion in a gas pipeline. Allegedly.

Sadly, investing in vice seems not to be as profitable as once claimed. More fun though of course.

A couple more reactions to smeargate and bloggers. How some people´s views seem to change and of course bloggers aren´t like real journalists.

Gut feelings really are not the way to make policy. Not in a free country, at least.

Why one person didn´t go to the tea parties.

And finally, a dinner party conversation and the shockingness of porn.

Virginia Tech in retrospect

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Two years ago today I woke up and walked to my Monday morning class, introduction to macroeconomics, and on the way I was informed by a friend about a tragic situation. In my economics seminar we did not discuss fiscal or monetary policy, not even inflation or unemployment, instead we discussed the unwinding events occurring at a school a few hours south of mine, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more commonly known as Virginia Tech. Amongst the students and professor, various topics were thrown around from a need for increased security on college campuses to calls for strict gun control, but the connection that most students made in the discussion was to a similar event that happened on our own campus four months earlier.

On Wednesday December 6 2006 a fleeing criminal fired shots on police officers in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and upon escaping from the police he entered the campus of Villanova University to hide. This happened around 3:15 in the morning, and by 4 the entire campus was under lockdown. As students tried to leave their residence halls for early morning classes they were sent back to their rooms by Resident Assistants. By 10:20 AM the university was cleared and classes went on as scheduled. No one was harmed at the university because swift action was taken in response to a threat.

Although the circumstances surrounding both situations were vastly different, it made me realise that it is quite difficult to predict or fully prevent events such as these from happening. What matters more is how people respond to the situations when they do happen. Fortunately, my university was competent enough to respond to the matter in an effective way. Under similar pressure, Virginia Tech was unable to respond to the first shootings that morning as effectively, failing to prevent 30 additional murders. 

Consequently, because terrorist events happen does that mean students want metal detectors at every university door, security cameras staring down their neck as they walk out of class, or administrators reading their e-mails and message conversations to ensure their safety from attacks? I assure you most students would not desire these measures to be taken. I feel much sorrow for the students who were murdered in the Virginia Tech tragedy, but I do not believe any of the above precautions would have prevented the attack. More likely, those measures would be used to arrest intoxicated students, fine them for dropping trash, invade their privacy, and keep them from getting to class on time.

Following the Virginia Tech incident, my university responded by providing a voluntary service that sends text messages to students’ mobile phones with instructions during emergencies. Since setting up the service, one more shooting occurred near our campus by an outsider, but students were immediately informed [via text] of the location and nothing was harmed, not even our personal liberties.
 

Damian Green: The Home Affairs Committee report

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The Home Affairs Committee has reported on the arrest of Conservative frontbencher Damian Green MP. Late last year, police barged into Parliament, and with the – unprecedented – agreement of the Sergeant at Arms (who is supposed to protect MPs from state officials), rifled through Green's office, arrested and held him, and went on to search his constituency office. His home too was ransacked and, say friends, left 'uninhabitable'. Naturally, his computers and phones were confiscated and his email put out of commission.

His crime? Some dreadful terrorist plot? No. He had received information from a Home Office whistle-blower, exposing the embarrassing fact that the Home Office managed to grant security guard licences to illegal immigrants, and even gave one a job. The whistle-blower was arrested in a dawn raid, too.

This jackbooted (or is that Jaqui-booted) thuggery confirms my point in The Rotten State of Britain – that when you give people power, they will use it. Citing 'national security', twenty counter-terrorist police were sent in to rake over the home and offices of a well-liked MP who had merely embarrassed ministers. The Home Secretary says she didn't know the arrests were planned – in which case she should be fired for incompetence, being out of control of her officials and police who organized the raid. If she did know, she should be fired – for a major assault on the integrity of Parliament, which is supposed to protect us from people like her.

The Committee says that the 'national security' excuse for the raid was rather rich. Green was arrested for doing what ministers weren't doing – just telling the truth. And Opposition, Gordon Brown made great use of leaked material to embarrass the government, without having twenty counter-terrorist police unleashed on him.

MPs can't be above the law. But this was just state thuggery against a representative of the people. And the police shouldn't be above the law either. Bullying their way into Parliament without a warrant tore up about 350 years of hard-won constitutional precedent that was supposed to protect our representatives from harassment by the powerful. The last time this happened, it caused a civil war.

Nor can Parliament work if people can't write confidentially to their MPs without other people snooping on them. I don't imagine that the police limited their scrutiny of Green's computers to the few emails he might have had from the whistle-blower. This isn't about MPs or some decrepit rule of 'privilege' – it's about members of the public being protected from the unrestrained power of ministers and officials. The Speaker of the House of Commons should put his foot down. But he can't because at last report he was on a taxpayer-funded junket to Dubai. That's how rotten our state has become.

The demonic exorcise of democracy

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“The Power of Brown compels you!" A seemingly common call, in this age, against the possessed masses as they wilfully follow their chosen course in life. Having successfully strapped teenagers to their desks in schools until the age of 18, after 2013 their spirits will be furthered crushed by announcements that they will have to undertake 50 hours of community service by the age of 19. This is to be done alongside the compulsory indoctrination ‘citizenship’ classes that they will be taking between 14-16 years old.

There is an evil spirit in us all, and the government has identified the surest way to eradicate it. This government is quite brazenly plotting the seizure of the teenagers’ young and fertile minds, brainwashing them into accepting every poisoned pill they put forth in the future. Young people are supposed to question authority so as to broaden their learning, yet what we are seeing with the compulsory education and youth services, is their enslavement to the ideological and moral virtues of New Labour. This would see the final nail in the Enlightenment and a retreat back to the Dark Ages when we have a politically driven morality foisted upon us. This has been evident over the past 12 years, with the continued attacks on hunting, smoking, drinking, obesity and liberty.

What a wonderful, green and unpleasant land this is creating. We will have to become rational actors of state doctrine, informing on those who do not conform. The pronouncements of the government will be taken as read and their actions will continually identify areas of life that need further shaping until we fully reflect their craven image of an ideal human. Only a clunking iron fist can rule over a society created in such a way, unless of course we are pliable after our ‘education’.

Genetically modified markets

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The German’s have become the sixth member of the EU to introduce a ban on Genetically Modified maize crops. This may please the environmental lobby groups who can afford to influence the government, but is it really the best decision for Europe in the current climate?

Food prices have risen so rapidly recently that the annual expenditure of a family has grown by hundreds of Euros, having a dramatic impact on the quality of living for those on lower incomes. GM crops would have pushed food prices down and made life for many families more comfortable during the tough times.

One of the previous reasons that food prices were artificially high was due to pressure from environmental groups to convert vast amounts of crops into biofuel – much of which has now fortunately been reversed. The environmental lobby may wish to make a more sustainable use of natural resources but they neglect the main resource society has to offer. The people.

Our main priority should be ensuring that food prices are low enough to allow families to live comfortably within their means, and GM crops are the best way to achieve this. In turn, these families may then have enough disposable income to ensure their decisions are environmentally beneficial. For example, they could afford to insulate their homes or convert to a low emissions car.

Blog Review 932

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Once again, how to encourage development? Hayek was right it seems (quelle surprise!)

The exciting shenanigans haven´t stopped yet in the financial markets. Goldman´s made a nice profit in the first quarter you will have seen in the newspaper. But where did December go?

Nice to see that some politicians don´t even pretend to understand economics.

Ouch this hurts. Something of a blow to climate science. The models are about as accurate as economic models.

My word, the things that surprise! Taxpayer funded organisation insists more taxpayer funding is necessary.

A glimpse at the intricacies of modern art.

And finally, an installment of not the Business Secretary´s diary.

Mobile phone-tapping

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When our faux-fascist Home Secretary Jacqui Smith proposed that the UK authorities should keep a log of our phone calls, email and internet traffic, just in case we happened to be terrorists (or maybe drug pushers, or speeders, or litter bugs or something), there was a wave of public outrage that forced her to backtrack. Her argument was that the authorities wouldn't actually be recording our calls or snooping into the content of our emails. She and her bumblers in blue just wanted to know who we were corresponding with. They might be terrorists (or maybe drug pushers, or...), after all.

Of course, Jacqui's email and web visit demand has all been overtaken by EU legislation demanding that internet providers keep exactly that information for the authorities to fish through as and when they please. But what about phone calls?

Well, it's remarkably easy to snoop on people's mobile phone conversations. And to monitor, in real time, exactly where they are. You can even programme someone's mobile to record what they are saying. This video shows how bad guys can do this to you.

And what about the good guys? Well, there are all sorts of 'legal safeguards' when the security authorities try such things. But I wonder how many judges actually rule against such phonetaps when the police demand them? And is the division between good and bad guys even clear any more (I cite the recent G20 police-v-protesters footage in evidence).

Eamonn Butler's latest book, The Rotten State of Britain, is available to buy here.

Wanted: Teachers who understand economics

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If there was not already enough reason to worry about the quality of economics teaching in our schools, last week’s call by the National Union of Teachers for a 10% pay rise has provided ample evidence.

At a time when prices are flat, the UK economy is shrinking rapidly and the Bank of England is warning the Government to keep a lid on public sector spending, it might seem to the casual observer – or the student of economics – that this was no time to be increasing the wages of public sector workers at all, let alone by a tenth.

Yet the Times Educational Supplement reports that: "The nut is calling for a pay rise of at least 10 per cent plus a bonus of almost £1,400 for the average teacher, despite the worsening economic conditions. Christine Blower, the union’s acting general secretary, has warned the Government not to use the recession as an “excuse" to offer a low pay package. While the demands of other teaching unions are not quite as exaggerated as those of the NUT, “They are all lobbying for an increase of more than 2.3 per cent this year".

It seems that Ms. Blower and her union friends could use an economics lesson.

In a free society, wages – like any other price - would be determined by supply and demand. Parents (who are ultimately the paying customers) would bid up wages until a sufficient quality and quantity of teachers were available to teach their children, while would-be teachers would bid each other down until there were no more would-be teachers of sufficient quality than there was parental demand. Thus, one would know whether wages were at the right level by examining whether supply and demand were in equilibrium: if the number of would-be teachers was falling it would suggest that prices were too low; if applications for teacher training courses in England have risen by 10% this year (as reported by the Training and Development Agency) then it would suggest that wages were (more than) sufficient.

Unfortunately, neither parents nor teachers are given such freedom. But in the absence of market mechanisms, the government can use overall rates of wage and price changes as a proxy. Thus, government should freeze public sector pay if money and prices are stable, and reduce wages if money and prices fall.

Indeed, falling wages are essential if unemployment is to be kept down. It stands to reason that if there is less money in the economy and if there is less money for government to spend, then there must be either lower wages or fewer waged. What is more, if prices are falling, wages can fall without undermining workers’ standards of living.

Sadly, the NUT and the other teaching unions still believe that they can apply political pressure to squeeze extra money out of government at the expense of other workers all across the UK, whose own wages are falling and whose jobs are in peril.

Even more sadly, there is a reason for this. All too often, they have been proved right.