The Local Government Pension Strike

Just a few things to mention.

1. The LGPS is currently in surplus by around £5-6bn, i.e. it is fully funded for quite a few years to come. Yes, predictions of future returns on investments and increasing life expectancy suggest that in decades to come, there might be a shortfall of several billion for the taxpayer to find. But these are predictions, not certainties and surely the overall savings to the taxpayer of having people on occupational pensions rather than claiming benefits in their old age more than make up for this.

2. When people sign up for a pension scheme they are doing the country a favour by providing stable finances to companies and government and expect the government to honour agreements in the long term. Already the government has put people off the LGPS by not keeping their promises. Those who decided not to join have been proved right - paying into a scheme where the terms can be changed on a whim of government policy is no advert for joining. People are gambling not only that they are going to live to 67,68 and beyond but that they are going to be in any sort of health to enjoy this money when they get there. Personally I think anyone on less than £21,000 a year (which is the average wage) is not getting that good a deal (paying £100 a month for 40 years for just £13k p.a. on retirement), when their life expectancy is only around 71-73. They need to live this long just to get their money back (and the government are going to make the scheme worse. Remember life expectancy is lower for people in lower wage jobs. They are generally subsidising those on top salaries who not only get a better return, but live longer as well. Those on £40k plus are rightly kicking the door down to get on and stay on this scheme.

3. Saying public sector pensions are better than the private sector is hardly saying much. Putting your money under the mattress would have been better than most private pension schemes.

For these reasons and the fact that this is an attack on pay and conditions make the strike perfectly reasonable in my humble opinion.

Why private sector workers should support the strike

This piece of mine appears in The Week/The First Post.

Neil Clark: Pension cuts are all a ploy to reduce costs so that more public services can be privatised

WHOSE side are you on in Britain's biggest industrial dispute since the 1920s?

The public sector trade unions, who are leading Wednesday's national strike of up to 2.6m workers, say they are fighting to maintain the living standards of their members, who are being hit with wage freezes, cuts to their pensions and a higher cost of living.

Prime Minister David Cameron says that far from being hard done by, many public sector workers will still receive pensions "far, far better" than ones in the private sector.

You can read the whole of the article here.

Craig Murray on Fox, Werrity and Gould and the questions which must be answered

Top class investigative blogging from Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Take a look at this.  Then this.  And then this.

It’s good that, after all Craig's digging, the MSM are now asking questions about the Fox/Werrity/Gould meetings.

The neocon elite doesn’t want ordinary people to find out what they’re up to behind the scenes- so bravo to Craig for his persistence.

HAT TIP: John Edwards.

The Trial of George W. Bush and Tony Blair for Crimes Against the Peace

Happening now in Malaysia. Let’s hope one day in the US and Britain too.

UPDATE: Bush and Blair have been found guilty.

The charge is proven beyond reasonable doubt. The accused are found guilty. The Tribunal orders that the names of the 2 convicted criminals be included in the war register of the KL War Crimes Commission. And the findings of this Tribunal be publicised to all nations who are signatories of the Rome Statue.

Kauto's star lights up Haydock

There’s been some emotional days in National Hunt racing over the past few years.

Best Mate’s third Gold Cup win. Denman’s heroic victory in the 2009 Hennessy, which I wrote about here.
But yesterday’s wonderful performance by veteran chaser Kauto Star, to land the Betfair Chase for the fourth time was right up there. What a sensational, front-running performance. National Hunt racing doesn’t get any better than this.

Syria needs mediation, not a push into all-out civil war

Syria is on the verge of civil war and the Arab League foolishly appears to have decided to egg it on. Where common sense dictates that Arab governments should seek to mediate between the regime and its opponents, they have chosen instead to humiliate Syria's rulers…

You can read the whole of Jonathan Steele's excellent piece on the situation in Syria, and why the US and its allies are making the situation worse, here.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet with Syrian rebels in London. What a surprise. More on this here.

If you lived in Iran, wouldn't you want a nuclear bomb?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an Iranian mullah. Sitting crosslegged on your Persian rug in Tehran, sipping a cup of chai, you glance up at the map of the Middle East on the wall. It is a disturbing image: your country, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is surrounded on all sides by virulent enemies and regional rivals, both nuclear and non-nuclear.

The map makes it clear: Iran is, literally, encircled by the United States and its allies.

If that wasn't worrying enough, your country seems to be under (covert) attack…

Wouldn't it be rational for Iran – geographically encircled, politically isolated, feeling threatened – to want its own arsenal of nukes, for defensive and deterrent purposes?

You can read the whole of Mehdi Hasan’s brilliant Guardian article on the threat posed to Iran, here.

The vulture hedge funds poised to swoop on Africa's poorest countries

The Guardian reports:

Twenty-six hedge funds are demanding over £1bn debt repayments from Africa's poorest countries - more than twice the International Red Cross budget for Africa this year. They are using legal loopholes around the world, including the Channel Island of Jersey.

And who exactly are these vultures? Check this out. And this. But as Greg Palast says, we should not forget the economic ‘restructuring' that made all this possible:

I think the focus on Grossman and his fellow carrion chewers is distracting. The destruction of Bosnia's power-pylon industry was the direct consequence of privatising it, bringing the free market to socialist Yugoslavia and Brankovic to power over its debts, allowing him to buy and sell debt securities on the deregulated world financial market.

It was the privatisation of Congo's state cobalt mine and the looting of its riches, all at the behest of the World Bank, IMF and privateers, that drained Congo's treasury.


Seven alternatives to the EU (in case it all gets too much)

This article of mine appears in The Week/The First Post.

Neil Clark: As German leaders issue heavy-handed threats, here's a timely survey of Britain’s options

A SENIOR German politician has inflamed the great Europe debate by saying, in effect, that all European countries are expected to fall into line behind Germany, Britain included – even over the controversial Robin Hood tax on financial transactions...........

So, it's a good time to ask - would it really be the disaster Nick Clegg and this fellow europhiles prophecy if Britain did the unthinkable and left the EU?

You can read the whole article here.

Some good news from Rome: Hungarian superstar Overdose wins his 16th race

video: 06 frankel


Well, what about the events in Rome this weekend? No, I’m not talking about yet another undemocratic EU/‘markets’ coup d’etat, (anyone out there still thinks that the EU is about increasing democracy?),  but the great comeback victory of the Budapest Bullet, Overdose, who chalked up his 16th victory from 19 starts in the Group Three Premio Carlo & Francesco Aloisi.

Ridden for the first time by Frankie Dettori, it was the Hungarian hero’s first run since finishing a close-up fourth in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. Enjoy a great performance on what was a wonderful day for Hungarian sport.

Inequality: Survival of the Richest

The Occupy movement have already managed one thing - to shift the terms of debate back towards how unequal our society has become.

When 200 billionaires have more wealth than the poorest 2 billion people in this world, when 100 families own a third of British land, when we cannot pay a minimum wage that is even a thousandth of a director's bonus, it is time something was done.

The right have a number of arguments they wheel out as to why nothing can be done about inequality. One of the most commonly used is that the rich can just move abroad they cry - then tax their land assets we say. That is a tax that cannot be avoided. I admit it has got to a state where only the poor and middle classes pay income tax, only the medium and small firms have to pay corporation tax and inheritance tax is almost a voluntary tax. It is time all of these were scrapped in favour of Land Value taxes.

Then there is the argument that more equality will lead to less innovation and aspiration and less wealth creation. The Soviet Union is cited as where it will all lead. But the Soviet Union was undemocratic socialism. Real democracy leads to more equality and I would argue, more efficient capitalism. We are heading towards a system where the next government would have less than 20% support in most cities, less than 10% in the North and Celtic fringe (see Canada where 39% of the vote gave the Tories a landslide).

Our winner takes all voting system will give 100% power to a party with just 35% of the vote (even worse when you consider most adults don't vote anyway). Appalling levels of support like this lead to a government that can get away with catering just for the most powerful 5% - those who own the wealth and crucially own the media support the politicians crave.

Proportional systems are not a panacea but could double the support a party needs to win to get into power as turnout improves and at least 50% of the vote is required to govern. The occupy movement have taken this a step further with 'consensus' of all people required for decisions to be made. Peter Hitchens suggested (maybe tongue in cheek) that some people get 2 votes if they have certain respected jobs like doctors, nurses - a situation bound to harm the poorest. I would suggest (equally tongue in cheek) that maybe only the unemployed and lazy have the vote. That would at least make it more difficult for the powerful and wealthy to overlook them.

Of course some entrepreneurs/inventors etc can be argued to be worth almost any sum of financial reward, but most at the top are there for other reasons - luck of birth or even for activities that are detrimental to the economy and society. If we are to make society valuable to all, the wealthy have to come to realise that paying their taxes is noble and moral and that there has to be some common sense in the distribution of wealth and incomes. Nobody should work long hours and not be able to share in a decent amount of financial reward. Nothing would get people to work more than a citizens income and a guarantee that work will always pay well. This will require paycuts at the top.

The Victorians eventually came to realise that it was in everyone's interest to have mass sanitation. It cost them a lot but it was the only way to save their own children from the diseases of poverty that afflicted the masses. In the same way, educational standards and social wellbeing for all will only come when the rich are willing to see inequality decrease. It may even have stopped the economic crisis we find ourselves in now. The rich lent more and more to the poor to rachet up growth. But the poor are too poor to pay them back, now we all lose.