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05 October 2014 @ 09:59 pm
You know you're in trouble when they deliver some speeches at a party conference and the tabloids (sun, mail etc) applaud it but the FT wonders how on earth they are going to make it all work out.
So the INdependent points out he's wrong too:

Consider the working-age benefit argument. George Osborne lamented in his conference speech that "too many young people… have fallen into a culture of welfare dependency and a life on the dole". He said it was intolerable that the working-age welfare benefit bill had reached £100bn. But Jobseekers' Allowance, the dole, accounts for less than 5 per cent of that £100bn. The big contributors to the working-age welfare bill are housing benefit (£17bn), tax credits (£29bn) and child benefit (£11bn).

What drives housing benefit is rising private sector rents, linked to the spiralling value of housing – a consequence of not building enough new homes each year. Tax credits are rising because an increasing number of people in work are eligible for the earnings subsidies. And child benefit is not a subsidy just for the jobless.

The working-age welfare bill has certainly increased. It's up from 4.5 per cent of GDP in 1997 to around 5.7 per cent today. But it has grown as a share of national income primarily because of our grossly dysfunctional housing market and a surge in the number of people working in relatively low-paid jobs. The idea that the bill has been pushed up by a proliferation of lazy work-dodgers is nonsense.

Or in other words, if you have a social contract that says you aught to help poor people actually have homes to live in, yet refuse to build any council houses, or indeed any other form of social housing, you'll end up giving more and more money to private landlords.

Also his cuts figures are wrong too, but that won't stop him.
On this case it is from a 6 year old blog, possibly even one I have seen before but can't remember.

This is a lesson that the Scotsman and Herald have not learned. They are owned by companies (Gannet and Johnston Press) that insist on obscenely large profit margins and sacrifice quality to achieve them. Both papers are produced on a shoestring. It shows. The quality of journalism in both papers has fallen drastically. That’s why people don’t buy them. Why should they?

At no point did John mention the Metro. On the 26 bus to the centre of Edinburgh people used to read the Scotsman but they now read the Metro – a low quality tabloid packed with wire copy. As that’s what Scotsman has become why should people bother paying money for it? (Oh and Johnston Press does not understand The Scotsman and their much-lauded digital strategy is deeply flawed – no matter how much Tim Bowdler clings to it when the share price falls. Again.)

THe reason I don't read the Scotsman anymore is not just because I don't read many paper paper's, but because the journalism was bad and horrible. I recall some articles reading like they had been written by a work experience teenager, and others were merely vapid nonsense written by biased hacks, designed only as Mail like rage bait.
11 September 2014 @ 06:55 pm
Reminder that the USA has been in danger of a fascist takeover before, in 1933 when a lot of rich businessmen were running scared of the Roosevelt reforms:

Fortunately it didn't quite get started, but they had everything lined up; money, military people, various organisations etc. Unsurprisingly it was hushed up by the committee which investigated it, presumably out of fear of irritating those with money.

The welfare-to-work provider A4e has prematurely pulled out of a £17m contract to deliver education and training to prisoners in 12 London prisons on the grounds that it was unable to run the contract at a profit.

The decision was criticised by prison charities as likely to cause significant disruption for inmates.

Announcing that it would be terminating its contract, the company said delivering the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) had become "extremely challenging" in the past two years because of "a number of constraints" which had "a heavy impact on learner attendance, completion and achievements".

"We have concluded, in order to not continue to deliver the contract at a loss, to terminate our provision of [the contract] in London," it said. "This has been a very hard decision to make because A4e and its employees are passionate about the delivery of education services to offenders and believe education is critical to an offender's long-term rehabilitation."

The company, which was due to continue providing training until July 2016, employs 400 teaching and support staff within London prisons. A4e runs another teaching contract in prisons in the east of England which it has decided not to terminate.

A4e did not specify the constraints it cited in its statement but prison charities said access to education in a number of prisons had been impeded by staff shortages which had hampered prisoners' ability to get to lessons. The company is paid according to the amount of training it provides.

Now actually you can have a bit of sympathy for them, since one of the reasons appears to be simply due to the governments policy of cutting everything in sight (except private contracts of course) in order to save money and be nasty to poor or criminal people. Nevertheless, you do have to wonder why we need to fork out the cash for the education and the company profit on top, when it could surely be delivered at cost by a public organisation.
And of course when the private company withdraws, as it is permitted to do so (although oddly enough such contracts usually have massive penalty clauses for the government if they decide to end the contract) there's massive disruption. Imagine this in social and elderly care, hospitals etc.
16 August 2014 @ 09:53 pm
One of the things simply not communicated is what the Tory cuts mean on the ground. In prisons, it means stuff like losing so many staff in the last 4 years that they can't operate properly or safely:
Prisons, however, I do know a thing or two about – probably a great deal more than Mr Grayling does. As I’ve pointed out in previous blog posts, there is an ever-increasing mountain – perhaps more appropriately in this case, an iceberg – of evidence that the prison system is coming close to collapse due to overcrowding, under-staffing and radical budget cuts.
Due to what amounts to an information blackout from inside prisons, the media appears oblivious to what is really going on. For example, has it made the news that there was an ‘incident’ at HMP Lincoln on 9 August when a group of prisoners on the exercise yard refused to return to their cells in protest because staff shortages were impacting so severely on the daily regime? No? That’s because it didn’t turn violent and no-one – thankfully – was injured. This time.

In fact, as the Howard League for Penal Reform highlighted last month, the number of officers at Lincoln has been cut by 37 percent since September 2010, when there were 207 on the staff. By 2013, that number had fallen to just 130. In reality this means that almost everything and anything is liable to cancelled without notice: education, work, exercise, legal visits, weekly visits to the prison library (that was another big fib, wasn’t it Mr Grayling), showers, access to payphones to call home. It’s hardly surprising that ‘incidents’ are occurring across the prison estate as nicks grind slowly to a halt and tensions rise to boiling point.
The impact will be felt by every con on every wing. Applications (apps) will go unanswered. Well-behaved inmates who have applied for promotion to Enhanced level within the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system will hear nothing for months, thus undermining morale and the whole internal structure for rewarding those who obey the rules with small, but significant privileges. Lose the cooperation of the well-behaved majority and it is but a short step to a potential loss of control of a wing or of an entire prison.

Serious accusations. ANd of course it is just a blog on the internet, but frankly I believe them more than I believe the government or the media these days.
16 August 2014 @ 09:44 pm
(Not that I've got access but a blog helpfully copied some of it over)

Outsourcing giant Serco has announced plans to withdraw from the clinical health services market in the UK after making a multimillion pound loss on its NHS contracts. The move follows a review of the cost of delivering “improved service levels” and meeting the performance requirements of several existing contracts, the company said in a stock market statement.

“During the period, the group continued to monitor performance in the UK clinical health operations against which an onerous contract provision was made in the prior year and where the group’s intention is to withdraw from the UK clinical health market,” it said. “The group has revised upwards the estimate of the costs of running the contracts to term, resulting in an additional non-cash exceptional charge of £3.9m in the period (year ended 31 December 2013: £17.6m).”

Serco’s planned withdrawal could influence significantly how other private firms view the prospect of bidding for contracts involving patient facing services. It also follows months of speculation about the outsourcing giant’s clinical operation.

Translates as "The work is too hard, we didn't persuade/ bribe them to give us enough money to do it, so we're going to have to run away with our tails between our legs."

I've been of the opinion for years and years now that privatising the NHS is a bad idea, for many reasons. As Serco is finding out, it's rather hard work to make it work. Not only do the poor dears have to get by on as little or less than public sector workers, they also have to try and make a profit on top. The quicker they all bugger off and leave the NHS alone the better.

Public services cover areas of what we normally expect in such a civilised country as ours, to be always around and open for when they are needed. Unfortunately when you privatise them they become more expensive, less flexible and not open for need. And then when they collapse, as private companies sometimes do in markets because, duuhhhh, that's how markets work, tough for the poor sods who need the services.
The collapse of Southern Cross care homes in 2011 – a large provider responsible for 31,000 older people mostly concentrated in one part of the country – brought the issue into stark relief. It quickly became clear that neither the local authorities nor the key national agencies had any contingency plans; indeed nobody even had any formal powers to compel action. Not the least of the problems here was the remote ownership of the company – the interests of offshore private companies had come face-to-face with the need for service continuity for highly vulnerable people in a new and politically explosive manner.

A sensible person will then point out that if you've got to prepare proper plans and contingencies for private companies going bust or running away, then that'll cost millions on top of the cost of the privatisation. Which makes you wonder how it is worth it in the first place...
We all know the answer to that one, don't we?

I rather like this point of view:
But perhaps the most vital health and care debate is about what the popular philosopher Michael Sandel has termed the ‘moral limits’ of markets. In this context public services like health and social care are viewed as the manifestation of communal solidarity, expressing a sense of moral obligation that citizens feel for each other. They are something more than a contract put out to the market to secure ‘value for money’. The state is the vehicle for negotiating these obligations with citizens, for developing strategic thinking, coordinating inputs and serving as the ultimate source of legitimacy. This is the debate we need to be having, rising above dry and technical consultations on ‘service continuity’ and ‘commissioner requested services’ to think about what sort of society we want to live in.

But such thinking is anathema to the market worshippers currently dismantling this country.
Take for instance this:

As I listened, I started to miss my own high-school gang. I was feeling more and more depressed, when suddenly I realized what an idiot I was. I opened Firefox, fired up Google Talk, and found three of my old friends online. I immediately messaged all of them, and quickly received three rather irreverent responses.

It was at that moment that I almost broke into tears, because I realized that something huge had changed for the better in the human experience. All throughout my youth, I had seen my parents and my friends’ parents drift away from their friends. The sheer difficulty of keeping in regular contact over extreme distances, even with telephones, meant that if you moved to a new town, you could make new friends but it would be hard to keep the old. Then came e-mail, and chat, and Facebook and Instagram and the rest. And suddenly, through a trick of human ingenuity, you never have to lose touch with your old friends again. We woke up, and the world was better.

This is why I am annoyed when writers accuse Silicon Valley (by which they mean the entire tech industry) of not solving big problems. Presumably, these tech critics want venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to take us into space, solve the global energy crunch or invent new labor-saving devices. And presumably they aren't satisfied that SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, and the Google Self-Driving Car project, among others, are working on all these things as we speak.

You know what, I actually have a smidgen of sympathy there, because oddly enough Silicon Valley and associated corporate enterprises are not in the business of solving problems. They are in the business of making a profit for themselves, and if that includes solving a problem, so be it. I think we can take it for granted though that anyone who thinks that is what rapacious corporate entities are actually for is a moron.

Unfortunately the writer continues,
What critics of Silicon Valley’s vision fail to realize, though, is that the really big problems aren't the hard ones or the spectacular ones. The really big problems are things that affect the quality of human life.

What, you mean like income inequality, pollution, joblessness and associated poverty, the housing crises, the new generation coming of age and finding that things just aren't as simple as they were for their parents/ grandparents? Or the continuing global ecological disaster which may actually end up in an extinction threat to humanity, let alone the hundreds of species we've killed off and the thousands more likely to die before we're finished?

Abraham Maslow, the psychologist, theorized that people’s needs come in a “hierarchy.” Once you take care of the basics -- food, shelter, security -- you start being mainly concerned with social needs, like love, companionship and respect. The theory predicts that in poor countries, people will mainly be concerned with getting things like bigger houses, cars and better food. But in rich countries, where most people have these things, the focus will shift to human relationships and career success. And in fact, happiness research bears this out.

Maslow's stuff is accurate enough, but the author of the article kind of glosses over the reasons why we are having trouble with happiness, ignoring the vast literature that covers how a competitive, over working society removes happiness from peoples lives, how so much advertising and commercial exploitation and such make peoples happience dependent on things they can't control or can't afford to buy.
Not to mention the millions that don't actually have bigger houses, better cars and good food; as we all know the increase in use of food banks in the UK is not a good sign.

I believe that the advent of social technology is a huge step toward solving the really big, really tough problems of humanity.
Whereas anthropological research has found many primitive tribes which don't have the technical infrastructure and commercialisation that we do, yet manage to be happy and peaceful in ways which are totally alien to your average american 9 to 5 cubicle dwelling suburban commuter. WHich suggests that such 'really tough' problems have been 'solved' many times before.

Or to put it a bit more plainly, the author seems to think that technology can make us feel happy about hitting ourselves on the head with a piece of wood, rather than just stopping hitting ourselves on the head with a piece of wood.

Those Silicon Valley nerds, with their hoodies and their silly jargon, are building us the ships to explore those universes, and in the process changing what it means to live a full and complete human life. To me, that’s a big idea.

But why change what we thought it meant to live a full and complete human life? This is a typical error of technophiliacs and the like, to assume that the way things are just now is how things are/ should be. Never mind some of the European countries that manage to be happier, healthier and better off than Americans, without the use of technology. Or the 'primitives' who also manage it without google coming up with a new app.
Stuff like facebook or twitter or whatever can be useful tools, but don't ever mistake them for face to face interactions, or great solutions to problems that are created with certain aspects of technology and their applications.
You'll have heard of Spiked, a libertarian minded pro-business, anti-government, BBC, socialist, environmentalist media organisation? They are rather irritating, often because they have a good point buried in a load of verbiage and stupidity, as well as their extremely biased outlook. (Their coverage of global warming is execrable)

So, the reason why they are not really worth reading is, for instance, this article,

The prison door had barely shut behind Rolf Harris before British society was on the hunt for yet more alleged abusers of children. This time it was in the political system. Having well and truly trawled the world of Seventies-era celebrity for evidence of paedophilic behaviour, now the paedo-hunters are scouring the annals of parliamentary memos and rumours for signs that child-abusing beasts lurked here, too, at the very heart of the establishment.
The speed with which the national attention turned from celebrating the slaying of child-assaulting Rolf to demanding the capture of child-assaulting MPs suggests the British obsession with paedophiles is not simply a recurring moral panic, like the ones over crime or youthful misbehaviour that come and go depending on what mood the police or the press are in. Rather, it is a permanent fixture in British political and moral life;

Oddly enough, nobody I know is hunting for child abusers; nobody I know is demanding more information about possible coverups. And so on. The author, who is actually an editor of spiked, conflates the British public/ people/ wider society, with the media. Most of us are fed up of such media slaverings and coverage. It is a minority of people who are titillated by it, and the issue is more that the media are after titillation and the politicians are desperate to look good, not that the "national attention" (Whatever that is) is focused on old paedophiles and child abusers.
Yet this experienced journalist writes like we are...
Methinks he has an axe to grind and trolling to do.

Also, if, as mentioned in previous posts, media sales of papers and therefore readership is declining, that makes it even less clear that they represent society or the public at large.
That has become more clear to me by noticing firstly, the IEA banner at the top, about the flaws in 'evidence based' policy. Actually, as a lefty, I know there's plenty of flaws in evidence based policy, intrinsically involved as it is in managerialism, but the IEA is a political pressure group, sorry, a think tank, devoted to being unpleasant to the poor and maximising profit for business. Well okay, that's a little simplistic. But their outlook is American libertarian shrink the state at all costs, aren't markets wonderful and the solution to all ills.

Thus any website which is involved with them is going to be biased.
I'd say the same thing about websites which advertised left wing think tanks or had "free Gaza" banners on them, but generally assume people have that idea already.

The second point is that this page:

"Neil Craig – a friend to freedom"
is a short obituary about some fellow I met a number of times online. There is this odd social thing about not speaking ill of the dead, except when their name is Jimmy Saville, but I think it necessary to point out that any website which says:

When ThinkScotland expanded in 2010 so that it could widen its scope beyond discussing Scotland's role in europe Neil Craig became our first regular contibutor covering a wide range of topics with his enquiring mind, scientific logic and a touch of irony. Sadly, Neil passed away suddenly on 29th June, but not without leaving many memories for his wife, hazel, and his friends in the sci-fi, scientific and political communities that he moved in. With columns on topics such as applying Norwegian tunnelling expertise to bring economic revival to the Western Isles, assaults on climate change alarmism, BBC bias – and how politicians could deliver economic growth by spending less, Neil was justifiably known as the libertarian 'lone wolf' howling at the intellectual wilderness created by Scottish collectivists.

His scientific insight, curiosity for new ideas and open mind gave this website a wider scope than it otherwise would have had. Together with his wooly jumpers, permanent leather jacket and grey beard, his humility and good humour made him one of the characters of the team.

The actual fact is that Neil Craig was an anti-science nutter of the first order. His comments about climate change were total nonsense; I recall trying to educate him about how the term "oceanic acidification" meant that the ocean was becoming more acidic, not that it would have a pH of less than 7. He refused to understand that. His behaviour with regards to climate change was a popular one, based on denying that there was a problem, throwing up every kind of ink and nonsense to cloud any attempts at pointing out his errors, and claiming that attempting to deal with global warming was, IIRC, socialism. He liked to call environmentalists "watermelons", a favourite insult of the US right wing.
His online persona was occaisionally nice, but all too often, when you corrected his errors and pointed out that he was making shit up, descended into gibbering lunacy. If you are really bothered I urge you to look up his postings online.

His economic ideas were batshit insane too. He stood for election for his own "10% growth party", predicated upon the unsupportable idea that if you got rid of lots of government regulations and jobs and laws you'd be able to get 10% growth. Oddly enough the only country which has managed 10% growth in the last few decades is China, because of their growth from underdeveloped to developed country as fast as they can. The mechanisms of this growth and why it works only in China (and the attendant ecological and social problems) seemed never to enter his mind and he was fimrly committed to the idea of 10% growth in this country.

So any website which has on board someone who is at the least an eccentric, and at worst a lunatic should surely be treated with extra care. I'm sure he was nice to his wife and friends, didn't hurt animals and made some people laugh, but the simple fact is that the internet reveals an unpleasant and idiotic side to him and makes his simple minded political ideas look very wrong indeed.

According to this, the circulation of the Scotsman, once the unionist quality Scottish newspaper, is significantly lower than the Herald, the Press and Journal and the Courier!
It has been reclassified from national to regional, which is surely a kick in the teeth for hte 20 year old scheme to be a national, British newspaper. Certainly a circulation of 29,452 a day isn't much, considering it used to boast of selling over 50k a few years ago, and not so long ago, when I was a little younger, sold over 100k a day.
Now I stopped reading it years ago because the internet gave more, better quality news, but it had begun to go downhill in the 90's when run by Andrew Neil under the control of the Barclay brothers, who are unpleasant tax exiles with feudalistic tendencies living in the channel islands.
The decline appeared part of a plan to modernise it along fleet street lines, with more opinion, culture, lifestyle gubbins, and less of that old fashioned stuff like reports on Scottish farming or the goings on in the outer Hebridees. Certainly some of the articles I have seen online the last few years are basically press releases re-written by illiterate school-leavers, or so one gathers from the style. The last 20 years has seen a continuous jettisoning of the journalistic talent, and that would explain some of that. I'm sure the comparatively new owners, Johnson press, have a different story to tell, but that's the way it looks to someone who grew up reading it every morning before going to school.

It would be a shame to lose it. Stridently unionist and conservative minded it might be, it does have a great deal of history behind it.
Shows the SCotsman in 2012 was managing 33,535.
THis graph suggests it was 62k even in 2006:

This article by Alan Massie mentions the lack of money and blames that for a lot of cuts, but doesn't go into proper details:

I've read elsewhere that there has been a massive collapse in newspaper advertising, as it all shifts online, but people dislike the adverts and you can't get as much money for them as in a print version. Which explains a lot of the negative feedback - you lose money, so cut journalists etc, quality of newspaper falls (i'm sure many would dispute this but it's laid out clearly in Nick Davies book "Flat earth news") due to too few journalists trying to write too many stories. So fewer people read the paper, leading to fewer copies sold, so less money etc etc.

One commenter on the Massie article says:
Would SNP supporters flock to a title that is behind independence? If that was the case presumably a Labour-supporting tabloid like the Record would still be selling 700,000 rather than half of that. History shows us that newspaper consumers rarely follow up with either promises or threats. What really concerns me is that all the editors I talk to say that the more politics they put in their papers the more the readership decreases.In other words politics bores them. Now the editors face a terrible dilemma - 500 plus days of Yes-No turge and a readership fed up to the back teeth wiht the same old pap they're been hearing for the past 30 years - coincidentally the period of dramatic media decline.

Which certainly fits with what I've seen/ heard. One answer would be to stop being so opinionated and actually give the readers as much evidence and information as you possible can. But that would involve a serious capital injection to hire the workers necessary with no gamble that it would pay off. And also points to the other important point that politics is boring, because many similar policies get enacted no matter who gets in, and individual people just don't feel that they have the influence on politics so what's the point? An informed electorate is necessary, but you have to recall that the newspapers retreated from the informing bit before the internet, in the pursuit of lifestyle and other fancy sections to titillate the consumer. Which worked okay when there was no other source, and all the advertising came to them.

But a future with only the approved official news sources and a plethora of blogs would be a lot more messy and dangerous. We need some centralised news sources so as to help create a commonality of opinion and ideas, if, that is, you want this to remain as a country with it's own identity.