November 2008 Archives

Warm homes for all.

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andrewcooper.JPGIt's not often you read an article about a Green proposal which sets our ideas out with perfect clarity. 

David Maddox has a piece in today's Scotsman which does exactly that. The momentum is building, especially given the vote earlier this month.

Actually, in this case, the ideas are largely Andrew Cooper's (left). Credit where it's due.

Brown goes down.

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Mbrown.jpgSo Michael Brown has finally been convicted in absentia of theft, furnishing false information, and perverting the course of justice. 

Despite the fact that they received (and spent) £2.4m of his fraudulently acquired £36m, the Liberals continue to protest their innocence and deny their links with Brown. It matters not - the Electoral Commission have already said they're back on the case.

As I said before, imagine an associate of a petty thief trying to tell the police and the courts that money can't be returned because it's been spent. 

This money was used to puff up the party of active abstention beyond their real strength, and it must now be surrendered to the taxpayer, as the law demands.

Brown is, of course, on the run. I wonder what beans he might spill about his relationship with the Liberals when he's finally apprehended in Monaco or on the Costa Del Clegg.

All hail Rab McNeil.

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haddock.jpgThe master of the Holyrood sketch is back from his rural retreat, where he was oddly wasted as a TV reviewer, and Parliament is whole again. 

No-one else has ever captured the depths of mediocrity to which the place can rise, nor the occasional shafts of quality. Carry him shoulder-high, wreathed in copies of the Business Bulletin.

I still think of First Minister's Questions as Hamster Wars, although the title was more fitting when Jack McConnell, Leader of the North Britons, used to take on John Swinney, Chief Executive of the Pictish Nation.

During yesterday's business, his Unofficial Report notes that Helen Eadie "stumbled over her prepared speech like a haddock walking a tightrope."

Perfect. Time for a few of my favourite Rab moments. 

I remember a duel from last session which he recorded roughly as follows: "Margaret Curran and Nicola Sturgeon circled each other like crabs and started nipping.

The much-missed George Reid raised the cause of Blairingone in Parliament, a village suffering from serious pollution, and Parliament came together to fix their problem. Rab noted that he "had brought Parliament into repute."

When some bright Ministerial spark promised to build a new Scotland, Rab warned it would have to built right next to the existing one, with all its problems. 

If the Scotsman website was better it'd have a special Rab section, easily found, where you could see what really happened at Holyrood, 1999-2004, 2008- . It's hidden away, but I've found it for you.

A Green Party I don't support.

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thaiarmy.jpgApparently Thailand's army, with their green fatigues, are known as the Green Party for their history of political involvement. If only there was a real Thai Green Party to make that joke redundant.

Incidentally, the current protesters, who appear to be semi-aligned with the army, may be closing down airports, which has a certain appeal, but they're only doing it to challenge Thai democracy. Also not my preference.


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brokenslide.jpgPolly Toynbee thinks the Pre-Budget Report shows the era of New Labour is over, and social democracy is back (and as vague a term as ever). She finds the evidence that Darling's massive borrowing has worked in an unusual place: the FTSE100.

"No one alive has ever lived through such a crisis or faced the danger of a slump so deep, so if enough people say that the right thing was done yesterday, then it was. The stock market rewarded Alistair Darling with the biggest ever one-day rise - so for now, it worked."

Right. So the logic is that if the City's happy with the Chancellor, we can tell Labour's back to being a social democratic party? What utter nonsense. 

It's not even as if she likes the VAT cut. The only part of the PBR she appears to support is the higher rate of tax for the wealthy, which is fine, but shouldn't it be for a better purpose?

In a stunning piece of cognitive dissonance, the truth about Labour is buried elsewhere in her piece.

"Here is a reminder of the shape of national incomes now: only 10% of people earn more than £40,000, to reach the top tax bracket. Half the working population earns under £23,000. A couple need £11,000 to rise above the poverty threshold - and over a fifth of people fall below, with a third of children born poor."

This is Labour's record now. They've failed to tackle the inequalities the Tories left behind, and failed absolutely as a social project. They're not social democrats, they're just about where the Tory wets were in the early 1980s. Trimming VAT for 13 months won't change that, and Polly knows it.

Inviting the catastrophe.

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volcanolighning.jpgThe Chancellor on the radio this morning tried to persuade me that the "credit crunch" is a random global event, something Britain is best placed to deal with. 

It's unpredictable, like a lightning strike. It's incomprehensible and scary, like finding piranhas in your toilet bowl. 

The British Government wasn't involved. Perhaps not even there when it happened. And it's hitting every country around the world equally.

No. Pure hand-waving. Factually inaccurate. This crisis was spawned by three overlapping problems, two of which the UK Government actually promoted, and the third they merely failed to tackle. 

First, it's a housing bubble, and not just a US subprime bubble but a UK one too, egged on by the former Iron Chancellor. Second, and intertwined with that, it's a consequence of irresponsible market deregulation, backed by the same man. Third, it's a resource crunch, which triggered a summer oil price spike, which Brown singularly failed to prepare for by starting to decarbonise our economy.

Also, we're simply not best placed to deal with it. Darling claimed the Government has the lowest debt in the world. I make that the 4th highest in the OECD.

The genesis of the crisis is not a spooky mystery or something that puzzles economists. It was grimly inevitable, given Labour's policies. Their fingerprints are all over this fiasco as it affects us, and the best they can credibly claim is that it might have been worse if the Tories had been in charge. 

I give you a vainglorious Brown, from his 2005 Labour conference speech:

"Why has it been that at every point since 1997 faced with the Asian crisis, the IT collapse, a stock exchange crash, an American recession, last year a house price bubble, this year rising world oil prices, why has it been that at every point since 1997 Britain uniquely has continued to grow?

"In any other decade, a house price bubble would have pushed Britain from boom to bust.

"In any other decade, a doubling of oil prices would have put Britain first in last out and worst hit by a world downturn.

"I tell you, it is because with Bank of England independence, cutting debt, fiscal discipline and the New Deal this Labour government has shown the strength to take the tough long-term decisions, that inflation is low, interest rates are low, growth has been sustained in every year, and we are closer than ever to the goal which drives us forward: the goal of full employment for our generation. Labour, the natural party for economic strength in our country today."

Given that Labour was at that exact time actually working to reinforce the instabilities in our economic system, this speech should be understood as the equivalent of standing on the top of a mountain in the middle of an electrical storm, holding a sword over your head and shouting "all gods are bastards".

Eleanor and Patrick.

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EleanorScottPure.pngThe people have spoken. Well, the Green people have, anyway, and so our two co-conveners for the next year will be Patrick Harvie and Eleanor Scott, once and hopefully future Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands (shown left with a hydrogen car in a proper 1970s motor show pose). 

Patrick had the easier job, standing unopposed, but still needed a positive vote. I thought that was pretty likely..

Eleanor is a level head, Green to her core, and I've campaigned with her for years (including a notable balloon non-release in Munlochy). We're in good hands with the pair of them, not that it's exactly leadership like other parties do it. I think it'll be a good year.

Also, I'm now the party's communications coordinator, making me officially responsible for press for the voluntary party, for the newsletter and for the website. Plenty to be going on with. Your views are welcome.

Who you gonna call?

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mitchellhedges.jpgYesterday we all trooped off to see the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull at the Hub. These skulls are associated with endless speculation about their origin, the odd movie, and a fair amount of woo, including Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World (Youtube of that episode). 

Is it a fake? I don't know. But the next visitor from America will have to bring me one of these. They're definitely real, I know, as the Mitchell-Hedges crowd were raffling one.

Update: a reliable and level-headed friend and reader sends me the following story.

"I was part of a university expedition to Belize and Guatemala in 1974. Our team leader, a universally respected American anthropology prof, who spent many years exploring the jungle and Mayan temples round Tikal, told us about a crystal skull which he had been shown by a local tribesman. It was at the back of an underground cave, protected by bone bars jammed into rock, and reached by a tunnel."

"He had sworn not to divulge the location, and never did. But (one might say) the fates intervened for added protection: earthquakes devastated the Tikal area a short while later, and when he went back to check damage to an adjacent site, he was sadly at the top of the Temple of the Sun when lightning struck, and was killed instantly. His small son was uninjured but severely traumatized. So somewhere one of those crystal skulls is quietly resting, now probably forever."

All in.

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bulldown.jpgMichael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker, the accidentally timely tale of 1980s' Wall St excess, has written a fascinating article following up the story. 

I know by now we all know our credit default swaps from our collateralised debt obligations, but this is still worth a read if you're curious about how it all came about.

The overwhelming irony of the piece for me is that the people who recognised the screwed nature of the market bet against it, and thus supported it. Extraordinary. (illustration above by Ji Lee parodies this)

The ID morass gets deeper.

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Thumbnail image for harvieIDcards.jpgThe Guardian has details of the fines and the coercion which will underpin the ID card scheme, if it ever happens. Which it won't.

It's a heady £5+bn mix of insanity, pettiness and incompetence, and all three can be expected to rise as this project gets closer to the point where it fails completely.

Transgender people are offered two cards, one for each gender, if they pay twice. I'm sure there'll be a queue to get on the database twice. And won't the terrists exploit this loop-hole?

Fail to tell them you've moved house and pay a fine of up to £1,000. In fact, have a horrific injury and don't get a new picture taken, at your expense? £1,000 fine.

There's no coercion, they say, because you're not ever obliged to have one. Unless you want to travel somewhere outside the EU. 

Get married and change your name? Pay up. How does that encourage 1950s values?

The fees for the card are capped. But only for a year when it's only compulsory for airline workers. Presumably there's no way they could afford to cap fees for something based on a gargantuan government IT contract. If you disagree, and think this is pettiness, please reclassify accordingly..

Reflexive Godwin.

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I disapprove of breaches of data protection, even for neo-Nazis with amusing tattoos and hobbies. I also disapprove of, while often laughing my ass off at, the endless stream of recaptioned Downfall bunker scene Hitler parodies. (Blu-ray vs HD-DVD, the housing crashGlasgow East and the Glenrothes response, and even Ronaldo leaving Man U, etc etc). In particular, I object to Bruno Ganz's art being used so lightly. It can't have been an easy role.

And a humour version of Godwin's Law applies to the lot of them. However, comparing neo-Nazis with actual Nazis? Sounds fine to me. Warning, like the ones linked to above, this contains some technicolour swearing. (via LibCon)

Who wants to live forever?

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Well, I wouldn't mind. There's always something to be getting on with, and there are never enough hours in the day. Plus, the alternative has never seemed that appealing.

I've seen Aubrey de Grey's TED talk on the subject, too, and I knew the telomeres were important. But I don't fancy genetically engineering ourselves to get there.

Landshare backed in Parliament.

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Yesterday in Parliament Patrick asked the Minister for Energy Enterprise and Tourism if the Scottish Goverment would support the Landshare campaign, promoted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who's apparently a television personality of some sort. 

The scheme takes unused and publicly-owned land, and makes it available to community groups for allotments, community gardens and greenspaces. It's a virtually free way to help people save money, grow healthy local food, and get to know their neighbours. Around the country there are massive waiting lists for allotments, so it makes perfect sense. You can sign up online at the Channel 4 site.

The response from the Scottish Government was pretty positive, and here's a clip of Patrick discussing the proposal on this morning's GMS. 

Nina Baker, one of Glasgow's Green Councillors, got the city to back the idea for their area last month. Here's STV's coverage of her good work, and here's the Evening Times piece.
tramedinburgh.jpegYesterday certain parties got very excited here and started claiming that the Edinburgh tram project was about to be scrapped. Journalists here naturally thought this would be a huge story, and ran around frantically trying to find out the truth. 

The spin then softened to "Line 1B is under threat". This then became one piece in the Evening News with a headline which wasn't substantiated in the copy. 

Shirley-Anne Somerville makes a big play to be the Nats' environmentalist representative in the capital, but like most of the rest of her party she's clearly closer to the motoring lobby. Line 1b would be "sheer lunacy", she says. Yup, imagine an urban public transport system that covers more of the city. Madness, I tells ya. Oh, except her researcher's had to come clean to the BBC: her press release was entirely unsubstantiated.

The bottom line is that an SNP/Liberal local authority is failing to deliver the trams properly. One half of the adminstration never wanted them, and sabotage is suspected. The other half wanted them, but in a half-hearted manner. It's like hitching a lame donkey to either end of a wagon and hoping they'll take you somewhere. 

Imagine trying to deliver a massive public project with Councillors overseeing your work who want you to fail, who call for your resignation over their decisions, and who leak anything, however feeble, that goes against the project? No wonder the staff are leaving. The mystery is why the Nats in particular aren't worried about taking the blame should something actually go wrong with the project.

Also, what is specifically wrong with SNP/Liberal coalitions? Edinburgh: incompetent, arrogant, vainglorious. Fife: service-cutting, bridge-lobbying. Aberdeen: so massively incompetent that they risk being nationalised.

It strikes me that SNP and Liberal councillors are like Baileys and Guinness. Pretty unpleasant apart, but truly revolting when mixed. (if you like either drink, please imagine some alternative combination that curdles)
congestioncharge.pngJust as in Edinburgh, the Trotskyist fractions are opposing congestion charging in Manchester. The charge proposals won't just cut congestion: they also mean up to £3bn of investment in public transport, with bus improvements, Oyster-style integrated transport cards, improvements to cycling, rail and the Metrolink, and more park and ride. There's a new discount for the low-paid travelling public, too.

In Edinburgh, the SSP opposed the congestion charge out of sheer opportunism (as per the Liberal model), claiming that it would have hurt the poorest most. The poorest don't have cars, typically, but they certainly use public transport. This seemed to pass the comrades by.

Similarly, Respect are opposing the Manchester plan, strangely, in order to promote public transport. They are aggrieved too that private contractors will (shock horror) be paid to construct new public sector infrastructure. Shouldn't the Stakhanovite People's Construction Department be set to work instead? Also, they say 70p is too much for children to pay. And that local people can't afford the charge as fuel prices go up - can you hear me smacking my head with my palm?

Finally, why can't everything be free, they say, an argument which reminds me of the old SSP policy of "we'll run the Scottish Government at a loss and it'll all just be fine." Here's why. We need better transport services, more efficient services running for more of the day, on more routes and all the rest. This has to be paid for, and simply removing fares for everyone would make already-choked public transport almost unusable and the expansions harder to fund (there's only so many times we can spend the money that could be saved by scrapping nuclear weapons and ID cards etc).

Truly these people are idiots, and they are not worthy of your respect. Feel free to vote in their "poll", though.

Terminal decline.

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rigdown.jpgThe financial experts attached to the Calman Commission report that oil platform decommissioning costs would blow a £19bn hole in an independent Scotland's budget. 

The Times enthusiastically reports this as proof that "offshore oil won't pay for Scottish independence".

Maybe. These experts are coming from a distinct political position, though, as part of a group who have been hired to consider all but one of Scotland's constitutional options. With that in mind, this looks more like a piece of evidence designed to argue against independence than any steer towards what further devolution might look like (probably a dull beige, as Calum puts it).

It's all a bit irrelevant, though. There are two real reasons why oil won't pay for independence, nor pay for the union. First, we can't afford to do what Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond both want to do - to take "all practical measures to draw on the reserves still in the North Sea". There's this little issue called climate change, see. Tackling climate change and burning all our oil can't be reconciled.

Second, the stuff's running out anyway, and North Sea oil is running out faster than anywhere else in the known world, according to the International Energy Agency. The North Sea peaked in 1999, and the party is going to be over here first. What's left is also increasingly hard to get at. Despite the depressingly Palin-esque approach of both Labour and the SNP (you can pick Sarah or Michael to taste), the reality for the North Sea is "can't drill, won't drill".

Extraordinary arrogance.

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gmprotest.jpgThe Government is apparently considering keeping GM test crop locations secret. You can see why: activists (like me) have been known to use that information to remove threats to the environment (thanks for asking, I was acquitted on appeal). But why is it a threat? 

Well, these crops are made using DNA-weakening viral vectors to insert sequences from another species into a host crop. It's called genetic engineering to give it a veneer of precision, but in fact it's not quite as precise as pinning the tail on the donkey. 

The normal test to establish whether the DNA has successfully been taken up consists of dosing the seeds with antibiotics: the sequence added usually has an antibiotic resistance marker gene included.

This passes antibiotic resistance to the crop, which should immediately be no problem, and the whole process also weakens the gene structure, especially in the relevant area. There's also no good way to tell what area has been interrupted with the new sequence. Fans of Turing machines will be able to imagine what new code inserted in unknown locations does to the process. God knows, is the short answer.

This instability also makes it easier for GM material to pass to soil bacteria, who act like a genetic clearing house, and hence onwards, even into honey (limited DEFRA counter-argument). Even without that weakness, GM crops cross with wild relatives, especially oil-seed rape. The brassicas, it turns out, are particularly promiscuous

To add to that, the difference between GM crops and other environmental risks is that there's no recall. The material will spread, especially if it's advantageous to the plant or animal - herbicide tolerance is spreading in just this manner.

Bearing all this in mind, it's extraordinary for Professor Tim Benton, the research dean of Leeds University, to declare that: "There is absolutely no way we can move towards a world with food security without using GM technology."

That's what I love about science - the impartiality, the rigour, the open minds, and I'm sure Professor Benton will do everything he can to make sure this wonder technology is safe. 

It reminds me of the story of the no doubt equally responsible scientists who, appalled at the scientifically-based concern green fear-mongering over this issue, wanted to demonstrate that their GM tomatoes were entirely safe. They ate the tomatoes as a stunt, before someone brighter than them realised that meant the seeds of this unapproved tomato would soon be out in the wild, growing in sewage plants and beyond. Cue red faces all round.

Patrick interviewed.

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patrickharvie.jpgThe Times and Holyrood Magazine have two great interviews with Patrick out today. He's described in the first as "the man to watch", and Charlene Sweeney notes that "in the next few months Mr Harvie will, more than ever, need the resolve that has propelled him to the top". No problem there: I can reassure readers that Patrick is pretty much made of resolve..

Mandy Rhodes' much longer Holyrood interview is also worth a read. It quotes the Daily Mail's magnificently awful description of him from 2003: "the voice of the irresponsible, left led, anti-family, anti-Christian, gay whales against the bomb coalition". 

One of those occasions where it's hard to tell the Mail from the Mash parodies thereof, I reckon.

Baroque Obama.

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The scholar awaits the Presidency. The original is here.


Crystal ball.

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mysticmeg.jpgApparently Science Minister Lord Grayson has a sixth sense, the Sunday Times reports. Technically, it's the mystic skill of precognition he's claiming - second sight, in other words. (declaration of interest: the Brahan Seer is quite possibly an ancestor of mine)

Perhaps he's right - he certainly does appear to predict how good things will come to him. Famously, in 2002 he donated £50,000 to Labour, then his pretty incompetent company got a £32m contract. Next, he gave another £1m+ to Labour before getting a peerage and a ministerial role

Spooky! I wonder if Gordon has asked him who's going to win the next election..
This is very silly, but I like it.

Done with class.

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Salmond channeled Rikki Fulton for Children in Need this week, and it was splendid. Do give. It's for the weans. Also, if you want to see the original, here's the first ever spot from the Reverend I. M. Jolly.

Pointed my way by Holyrood Chronicles.

Whose marriages would Jesus ban?

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moroni.jpgOr indeed, whose marriages would Moroni (pictured left, blowing a trumpet) oppose? This year's successful California campaign to ban gay marriage apparently received $20m from Mormon organisations, half the total campaign fund. (NYT link, bypass registration here). 

The NYT notes "the extraordinary role Mormons played in helping to pass [Proposition 8] with money, institutional support and dedicated volunteers."

These volunteers met away from the church to avoid arousing suspicion, and were whipped up with a claim that "the formation of families is central to the Creator's plan". So same-sex couples with children aren't families, but polygamous groups are?

Update: on a related topic, this is my favourite comment so far on this blog. It was the Scottish isles reference which made me snort milk out of my nose.

Drinking to BrewDog.

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punkipa.jpegThe P&J reports a threat to one of Scotland's finest brewers, perhaps even the best we have - BrewDog, based in Fraserburgh. 

The Portman Group, it seems, have ants in their pants about their labels, especially for three beers called Punk IPA, Hop Rocker and Rip Tide.

These are great beers - the Punk IPA in particular is worthy competition for the best international brews like Bohemia, Krušovice or Sierra Nevada - and the company is a true Scottish success story.

Portman are bothered about the marketing shtick on the side, which frankly is no more intimidating than the lion on a Belhaven label. The fact that the drinks industry itself has decided to attack a small and inventive brewer is a disgrace - is it possible that some of our "cooking lager" manufacturers felt threatened by the success of something that actually tastes nice? 

I just hope they don't notice that BrewDog do a beer called Speedball, named after the dodgy drug combo which did for John Belushi. Nothing to see here..
harperharvie.jpgToday is a great day for Scotland's environment and for those suffering in fuel poverty. By the substantial margin of 91 to 15 (i.e. with SNP & Labour support), Holyrood backed our energy efficiency pitch for this year's budget. 

The final motion, which passed by a similar margin, is at the end, with the Green text is in bold.

We believe £100m more a year from the Scottish Government can fund free energy audits for everyone in Scotland, and provide free insulation and financial support on micro-renewables for everyone who can benefit. 

The Green scheme is designed to deal with fuel poverty (although it obviously can't tackle all of the pure poverty element of that), improve health, cut carbon emissions, boost green collar jobs in the construction sector, bring bills down.. well, you get the idea.

We went public with the bid just under a month ago, and it appeared on page 2 of the Daily Record (sorry, proud press officer moment). Although this vote doesn't guarantee we'll see this money allocated, it's a great step in the right direction. 

Labour and the SNP get a warm welcome here for backing this call. I'd love to see more constructive politics in Holyrood on crucial issues like this, issues that should be cross-party, and perhaps MSPs have made a start today towards that.

The Tories voted against, despite Alex Johnstone's offer to consider it on the floor of the chamber. I think they could be won round, but I'll have a look at the official report tomorrow to see exactly what they said. Disappointing and inconsistent (see below).

The Liberals abstained. Now, some say the fence is just where they're comfortable, but it's pretty extraordinary on this issue. They're separately backing £800m of unfunded tax cuts, so I suppose they can't be seen to want to spend yet more money on top of that. 

It looks pretty weak, though, and when the vans go round insulating everyone's house for free (touch wood) we are likely to be pointing out that they couldn't support it. The party may claim to be Greens Lite, but the truth is they're now looking like Tories Lite instead.

The irony is this project is largely based on ideas tested out in Kirklees (watch the video) by Green councillors, working with the Tories and the Liberals. I'm staggered that they both want to be on the wrong side of the issue up here. Hopefully they'll get on board, but for now, I'll take 91-15 in favour.

Final motion as passed: That the Parliament recognises the significant role that energy efficiency and microgeneration measures could have in reducing energy costs for householders and businesses, in achieving urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050 and contributing to the eradication of fuel poverty by 2016; notes that research carried out by the Energy Savings Trust suggests that widespread installation of microgeneration could provide 30 to 40% of our electricity needs by 2050 but that current investment in energy efficiency and microgeneration measures is insufficient to achieve these goals, and calls on the Scottish Government to take steps, as set out in the Energy Efficiency and Microgeneration Bill proposals, such as fiscal incentives for householders and businesses, to ensure that microgeneration technologies become widely available and used and to consider other energy efficiency measures for new and existing housing stock to tackle fuel poverty, climate change and security of energy supply; notes the evidence given by Friends of the Earth Scotland to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee suggesting that an additional £100 million per annum would be a welcome change to the draft budget for 2009-10, and calls on the Scottish Government to consider a comprehensive and fully funded Scotland-wide scheme on this scale to provide energy audits, insulation provision and financial support for micro-renewables where appropriate.

Good news, US edition.

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monsantobanner.jpgSome months ago, I posted an alternative Google News, stuffed full of good news. My sister just pointed me to a similar New York Times, dated July 2009, which not only has a great front page but also all the stories behind it. 

True, there's the odd typo,but so there is in the real thing. Also, the US Congress seems to have passed four bills and repealed another, all in one day. Not even Jor-El's son could achieve that. 

The ads are worth a special mention, with Monsanto backing ladybirds, not insecticides. Hopefully one day.

The things you learn.

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rubik.jpgI just sent Patrick's biography off to a journalist, and spotted something I didn't know. Apparently he used to be able to do the Rubik's Cube in a minute and a half, although takes a little longer now.

It puts my ability to shame. I used to take that long to get just one side done.

Blood-sucking versus brains-eating.

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mccaingmonster.jpgDemocrat administrations lead to an increased incidence of vampire movies, while Republicans are accompanied by more zombie flicks, according to Peter Rowe at the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

Why would this be? Rowe cites Annalee Newitz of sci-fi website io9, whose engaging view is that it's pure class warfare:

"Democrats, who want to redistribute wealth to 'Main Street', fear the Wall Street vampires who bleed the nation dry," Newitz argued, noting that Dracula and his ilk arose from the aristocracy. 

"Republicans fear a revolt of the poor and disenfranchised, dressed in rags and coming to the White House to eat their brains."

A further piece of "research", also from io9, shows that war and crisis lead to higher numbers of zombie films in production. The graph is below: note that mummies are included, but vampires and ghosts are not, as the definition is the living dead, not the undead. Isn't science cool? 

Looking at both these pieces of work, there appears to be a missing link. Although the Democrats have hardly done much on the economy that they can be proud of since FDR, perhaps the real correlation is between Republican Presidents and both deficits and economic crises

Incidentally, Obama's sci-fi and fantasy interests are elsewhere - Spiderman and, implausibly, Conan the Barbarian. Perhaps this Schwarzenegger interpretation of the latter (youtube) is one of his inspirations. Personally I hope to see a little more Admiral Adama and a bit less lamentation.

Apologies for having completely failed to blog less about American politics.

The Fourth Republic.

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republics.jpgMichael Lind had a great thesis in Salon last week about the three phases the United States have gone through, and the fourth that's begun. In essence, each phase lasts 72 years, even though that sounds like numerological voodoo. 

The first half of each phase, or Republic in the French manner, is a Hamiltonian nation-building period, which is then followed by a Jeffersonian limited-state backlash (note that Jefferson himself wasn't particularly Jeffersonian by this analysis!). 

Each Republic is associated with a new period in technology, and they begin with a heroic President and end with a dire one. So...

First Republic: 1788 - 1860
First half: President: George Washington and the Federalist Party build a federal state.
Second half: Backlash led by Andrew Jackson, era ends with James Buchanan and America on the eve of the Civil War
Technology: Agrarianism

Second Republic: 1860 - 1932
First half: Abraham Lincoln reunites the country by force, the end of slavery and Reconstruction, builds railroads and other infrastructure.
Second half: Backlash led by populists, culminates in Hoover and the Wall St Crash
Technology: Coal, steam, and then Fordism.

Third Republic: 1932 - 2004
First half: Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal, economic regulation, more infrastructure, end of segregation
Second half: From Nixon onwards, attempts to cut taxes and the size of government, culminating in second Bush presidency
Technology: electricity, internal combustion engine, new media

Fourth Republic: 2004 - 2076??
First half: Barack Obama..

And then the crystal ball is hazy, although it projects constructive expansion of government - healthcare, clean power? - led by Obama, with a backlash starting precisely in 2040. The clock's ticking.

In my optimistic moments I have said that if Obama lives up to his promise he could indeed be one of the four most important American Presidents to date: the three identified by Lind in this article were the other three I had in mind. Whatever their flaws, it's hard not to see the current United States as primarily shaped by those three, and however implausible the 72-year Republics sound, it's an interesting analysis.

They call it an air war.

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awacs.jpgGood spot by Tom. Of course both Russia and George had squads of PR people fighting for them in Brussels. It's so obvious once you think about it. Winning the war is one thing, but it's clearly vital to be perceived to have won it, and equally so for the blame not to be assigned your way. 

usseconomy.jpgWhen it's an oil shock. In August, before the worst hit, the Chancellor correctly predicted it would get worse before it gets better. I observed at the time:

"It's not primarily about a credit crunch. Like the dot com bust before it, we're seeing the end of a bubble spun up by market players and governments to try and fend off something worse. 

"Its symptoms are grim, sure, but the underlying problem is that we're well into the dying days of the cheap oil economy, more commonly known as globalisation."

This may have sounded like peak oil doom-mongering, but it's not just me. Jeff Rubin from CIBC World Markets recently backed it up (full pdf, recommended - there's a short intro, some heavy charts, then a three page longer piece). He says:

"While most of the world's newfound economic ills are being attributed to the ongoing crisis in world financial markets, and its associated source, the US housing market crash, both the timing and size suggest something else may be afoot. By any benchmark the economic cost of the recent rise in oil prices is nothing short of staggering."

Quite. The only point where I'd disagree with him is that his optimistic final sentence doesn't go far enough:

"If triple-digit oil prices are what started the recession, then $60 oil prices are what will end it."

The next sentence should be:

"However, the cost to the economic system will be massive demand destruction, and when declining oil production forces prices back up again the next economic shock will almost certainly be even more severe."

change.pngExtraordinary as it seems, is the real address of the transitional office of the President-elect. You may not need to know more about Obama, but you might be want to see a summary of his views on the environment, foreign affairs, or ethics

You may also wish to apply for the job of Josh Lyman's Rahm Emanuel's deputy. If so, the form is online. It's not all up yet, though. The Obama National Service Plan still says NEED CONTENT. (via)

Shabby reflections.

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salmondyeswecan.jpgAcross British politics, everyone wants to be associated with Obama, no matter how absurd or tenuous the claim may be. 

David Cameron thinks the change agenda is his, despite having backed McCain, while Brown thinks Obama shares his progressive politics

That must be why Obama was so desperate to share in Brown's reflected glory during his campaign.

The Liberals want to submit to his leadership, and, absurdly, think his main policy is to cut taxes. Right. That's why he got the young people so motivated.

Even Nick Griffin backed Obama, for some obscure and presumably racialist reason I can't begin to understand. 

That's the most jarring claim, obviously, with a staggering bullshit quota, but I make the SNP's claim the most empty. The only bit they've taken is "Yes we can", as per the picture above. In the process the phrase has been gutted of vision so entirely that all it now means is "Yes we can win in Glenrothes", which would send a reluctant SNP MP to a Parliament he doesn't believe in. There must surely be SNP supporters squirming at the absurdity of this photo.

The way Obama uses it (and it was the part of his speech on Tuesday night I liked least) at least each time it followed a slice of historical political vision (see the full text). Women fought for the vote. Yes we can. FDR tackled the Depression. Yes we can. And so on. He touched on a wide range of important issues in his speech, including poverty, climate change, gay rights and peace.

All the SNP have is a vision of a single constitutional change. I agree with independence, but I'm not a nationalist. One of the reasons for that is that I cannot understand why anyone would find the (admittedly inadequate) constitutional settlement their key political motivation. 

It's the broader spectrum of policies which are more important to Greens, including all those from Obama's list above. Not that I'm trying shamelessly to associate us with the President-elect, you understand.


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Heard on Radio Four this morning.

"Change is sweeping in, and it's going to be a bright day today."

Yes, I then realised, the weather can.

Ban straight marriage.

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2guys.jpgIn amongst all the post-neocon Obama excitement, there were a lot of depressing votes against equality in America yesterday. Arkansas voters barred unmarried couples from adopting or fostering, and it was clear that "unmarried" was code for gay or lesbian. Florida, Arizona and California went for hetero definitions of marriage, albeit by relatively low margins in the last two cases.

If you want to see some decent analysis for why equal status lost even in much-mythologised California, read Time. San Francisco Mayor Newsom, who only narrowly beat a Green mayoral candidate in 2003, seems to have had a Sheffield moment, for one thing.

However, a pal in Massachusetts pointed out to me perhaps the most interesting consequence. The Proposition 8 amendment to California's constitution bans gay marriage. Other parts of the same constitution guarantee equality. So if the gays can't marry, perhaps no-one can. 

All those wingnuts who said that gay marriage could threaten the traditional family may just have abolished the entire institution of marriage themselves. I know it won't happen, but stop for a second and imagine what a magnificent irony that would prove.

Some have argued that opening marriage up to same-sex couples allows them to suffer just as much as heterosexuals. Perhaps California is edging closer to a more imaginative solution, one which is just as equal.
mccain-nope.jpgI wasn't going to write one of those identikit Obama blog posts that are currently clogging up the tubes of the internet, but here's one thought. 

During the US election, there were two schools of thought in the party and the Green movement. One said "there's a Green candidate and we should be backing her", and the other said "dammit, when will there ever be a better likely President than Obama?".

Obviously, they need a fair election system - even alternative vote would make a huge difference - but personally I'm in the latter camp, and firmly so. 

The US Greens should be working to build local bases, targeting their best areas, running for lower offices, and in this case they should have given an caveated endorsement for Obama. One more Nader effect in a tight election could have killed the party entirely. Also, as Jim points out:

"Unlike for the Democrats for them it's all about the top job, and I tell you, it takes something to be more hierarchical than the Democrats."

Now, of course, there's the "yes I'm excited, but surely he'll let everyone down" position, but the comparison with 1997 is poor. While Obama may disappoint, by 1997 I didn't know many people who were positively optimistic about Blair's Labour. Most were simply delighted to see the Tories crushed.

dancers.jpgThis time it's not the creationism, nor the absurd under-qualification for the job, let alone the other job, nor is it the hatred, fear and division she has sought to inspire on the campaign trail. 

It's the way she's dealt with Alaska's natives, who make up 15.6% of the state's population. A friend of mine, an Alaskan native himself, says:

"Alaska is too small a state to say anything without having things come back to them and Palin seems to think that junior high school politics is the way you do business at the higher, or in her case lower, levels of Government operations."

He's sent me the following list of her failings on this issue. Americans surely cannot elect her to national office. Surely they will send her back to Alaska (sorry, Alaskans, it's just until 2010).

Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Fishing
Perhaps no issue is of greater importance to Alaska Native peoples as the right to hunt and fish according to ancient customary and traditional practices, and to carry on the subsistence way of life for future generations. Governor Sarah Palin has consistently opposed those rights.

Once in office, Governor Palin decided to continue litigation that seeks to overturn every subsistence fishing determination the federal government has ever made in Alaska. In pressing this case, Palin decided against using the Attorney General (which usually handles State litigation) and instead continued contracting with Senator Ted Stevens' brother-in-law's law firm (Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot).

The goal of Palin's lawsuit is to invalidate all the subsistence fishing regulations the federal government has issued to date to protect Native fishing, and to force the courts instead to take over the role of setting subsistence regulations. Palin continues to argue against Native subsistence rights, in favor of sport and commercial fishing.

Palin opposes subsistence protections in marine waters, on many of the lands that Natives selected under their 1971 land claims settlement with the state and federal governments, and in many of the rivers where Alaska Natives customarily fish. Palin also opposes subsistence fishing protections on Alaska Native federal allotments that were deeded to individuals purposely to foster Native subsistence activities. All these issues are now pending before the federal district court.

Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Hunting 
Palin has also sought to invalidate critical determinations the Federal Subsistence Board has made regarding customary and traditional uses of game, specifically to take hunting opportunities away from Native subsistence villagers and thereby enhance sport hunting. Palin's attack here on subsistence has focused on the Ahtna Indian people in Chistochina.

In both hunting and fishing matters, Palin has continued the policies initiated by the former Governor Frank Murkowski's administration, challenging hunting and fishing protections that Native people depend upon for their subsistence way of life in order to enhance sport fishing and hunting opportunities. Palin's lawsuits are a direct attack on the core way of life of Native Tribes in rural Alaska.

Palin has attacked Alaska Tribal Sovereignty
Given past court rulings affirming the federally recognized tribal status of Alaska Native villages, Palin argues that Alaska Tribes have no authority to act as sovereigns, despite their recognition. So extreme is Palin on tribal sovereignty issues that she has sought to block tribes from exercising any authority whatsoever even over the welfare of Native children, adhering to a 2004 legal opinion issued by the former Murkowski Administration that no such jurisdiction exists.

Palin has attacked Alaska Native Languages
Palin has refused to accord proper respect to Alaska Native languages and voters by refusing to provide language assistance to Yup'ik speaking Alaska Native voters. As a result, Palin was just ordered by a special three-judge panel of federal judges to provide various forms of voter assistance to Yup'ik voters residing in southwest Alaska. Palin was ordered to provide trained poll workers who are bilingual in English and Yup'ik; along with sample ballots in written Yup'ik. 

In sum, measured against some the rights that are most fundamental to Alaska Native Tribes - the subsistence way of life, tribal sovereignty and voting rights - Palin's record is a failure.

The return of Bobby Kennedy.

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Listening to Obama and watching his crowds, I remembered another campaign, another candidate, someone who perhaps could have helped to heal America forty years ago.

I'm the economy.

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Herewith a belated Halloween cartoon - Nightmare on Wall St is mostly about tricks and provides very little in the way of treats. 


Complacency fail risk.

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When you're ahead, in a relatively apathetic country with two main parties who are often hard to distinguish (although less so lately), complacency has to be a risk. Which makes this an excellent message, via Oliver Willis. keen-eyed observers will remember the original from failblog.

Personally I think Obama's campaign complacency risk peaked in July. Here's some extraordinarily dated August coverage to illustrate how much things have changed, what with the bubble bursting and all.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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