Syria: Is it Wise to Intervene?

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The Government is Spying on You

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Make Amazon pay UK Corporation Tax?

I have just received an invitation to sign an online petition demanding that Amazon pay UK Corporation Tax. 

I have every sympathy with bookshops trying to compete against Amazon and I would dearly like to see the survival (and, indeed, revival) of independent booksellers in the UK. However, I believe that the petition is fundamentally wrong. All companies have an obligation to their shareholders to maximise their profits which means also taking all legal steps to minimise their tax bills. 

The present unfortunate situation with regard to many international companies is the result of massive incompetence by our government and the EU over many years. If our government wants international companies to pay a reasonable amount of UK Corporation Tax, it should reduce the tax rate, as Ireland did, to make it more attractive to pay tax in the UK than elsewhere. This would benefit all companies in the UK and encourage inward investment, whereas populist calls for Amazon and others to pay more tax without any legal basis will discourage inward investment. Alternatively, it should press for international agreement on a better way of assessing tax in relation to economic activity, although I suspect that this is never really going to work.

The other problem with Amazon, Google and eBay is that the competition authorities have sat on their hands while they built international monopolies. As far as I can see, this is almost impossible to undo.

As a small publisher, I have mixed feelings about Amazon and about bookshops. If you sell books through the Amazon Advantage programme, you are obliged to give Amazon 60% discount. Outrageous though this is (especially when you remember that the publisher has to pay royalties, typesetting, editing, production, delivery and other costs), it is often more attractive than trying to sell through bookshops which often expect equally high discounts and sometimes take years (quite literally) to pay you, although there are many honourable exceptions.

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Do We Need Legislation to Regulate the Press?

I have every sympathy with victims of newspaper snooping but do we, as Lord Justice Leveson, J. K. Rowling and others argue, need new legislation to prevent it?

I don't think so. The methods used by the press to which Ms Rowling and others object are largely illegal anyway. Intercepting telephone message, bribing policemen and accessing medical records, to mention just three of the nefarious activities of the Grub Street can and should be punished under existing laws. It is not the laws which are at fault but the exercise of them which has been deficient, largely, one suspects, because too many police officers had their hands in the till. It is essential that all the culprits should be pursued relentlessly.

Any new legislation which handed greater power over the press to politicians or lawyers should worry anyone who is concerned for free flow of information and greater transparency. I don't often agree with David Cameron but in this case I think he is right and his critics are wrong.

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Yeo Madness

Tim Yeo, MP fpr Suffolk South, is the latest politician to back a third runway at Heathrow. Another who supports this is Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland. What a surprise! Nearly everyone who supports a third (and even a fourth) runway lives many miles away from the flightpath. It is time these people were obliged to live here before mouthiing off about things they don't understand.

 

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Nick Clegg, European Commissioner?

There have been recurrent rumours over the last couple of years that Nick Clegg would become a European Commissioner after the next election. There seems no doubt that he will be out of a job by then. Labour is currently leading the polls but it is possible that the Conservatives might win; what is certain is that the Liberal Democrats will have a disastrous election and Clegg, rightly or wrongly, will pay the price.

As a keen (one might almost say fanatical) supporter of the European Union, Clegg should ask himself if this is an appropriate, sensible or moral course to take. What many eurosceptics find particularly objectionable about the EU is the lack of true democracy, as typified by the post of Commissioner. This unelected post has long been a sinecure for politicians rejected by their electorates or removed from office due to scandal. In the light of the Liberal Democrats' laudable campaign to make the House of Lords democratically accountable, it would be the height of hypocrisy for Clegg to connive in the perpetuation of this sordid European institution.

 

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PFI Disaster

Some of us have been warning for years that Public Finance Initiative was little more than a tawdry confidence trick perpetrated on the taxpayer. We have now seen the South London Healthcare NHS Trust go into administration, quite clearly as a result of entering into 2 PFI deals which are costing it £61m p.a. in interest.

It is really time that an offence of recklessly wasting public funds was introduced, allowing politicians, civil servants and administrators in the public sector to face fines, imprisonment and exclusion from office.

 

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Bank Failures in Europe

I commented back in December 2011 about the failure of proper stress-testing of banks in the Eurozone. I was making a specific point about France and Germany but the failure was systemic and is well demonstrated by the trouble in Spain which has suddenly discovered that its (supposedly stress-tested) banks may need 100 billion Euros of support. If only the authorities had carried out proper stress tests six months (or, much better, 2 years) ago the Eurozone would not be in this catastrophic position now.

It is questionable whether Germany and the other strong Eurozone countries (there aren't many, especially if the rumors about the amount of Greek government debt held by French banks is correct) can do anything to save the Euro. Even if they can, should they? How can Greece ever survive years of austerity and recession while it is saddled with an over-priced currency? Only by Germany giving them billions of Euros, which they aren't going to do (and who can blame them?). Even if the Germans pumped, say 250 billion Euros into Greece, it would undoubtedly be squandered.

 

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Another Blow for Energy Policy

George Osborne has attempted to do something which is both very sensible and very foolish. He is trying to reduce subsidies for wind energy (see the Guardian).

It is sensible because wind energy is a complete dead end. It will never produce reliable energy at any price and it is currently only viable because of absurd hand-outs. The industry says this will kill wind turbines dead, and a good thing too.

Unfortunately, the other effect will be to make all future energy plans very difficult to implement. New nuclear plants, for instance, rely on guaranteed returns. If the government attempts to reduce subsidies for wind power, will anyone rely on promises relating to other forms of energy?

 

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Nuclear Power – Why Are Our Politicians So Dumb?

If Britain continues with its present policies to reduce carbon emissions, there is going to be a serious power shortage. That is why our politicians have (very slowly) concluded that we should have a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Unfortunately, the civil nuclear power programs in nearly all countries were not only intended to generrate power but to create plutonium for nuclear weapons. Even if one is deluded enough to believe that the UK should retain a nuclear deterrent, the country is swimming in plutonium. We don't need any more!

So why is it that Britain is planning to stick with uranium-fuelled reactors when there is far safer and cheaper technology available using thorium? As the Adrew Evans pritchard in the Telegraph points out (here), the Chinese are smart enough to go for this option. Unfortunately, our own politicians (and moribund civil servants) are just too dumb.

 

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The Jeremy Hunt Fiasco

There are at two worrying aspects of the story about Jeremy Hunt and News Corporation's bid to take complete control of BSkyB: one is that Hunt seems to have an child-like naivety about what is acceptable behaviour for someone in his position; the other is that it has become clear that other misiters were aware that Hunt was a biased in favour of News Corp as Vince cable was against it.

It was reasonable to remove Cable because of his bias and it was totally unreasonable to replace him with the equally biased Hunt. This calls into question either the integrity or competence of senior ministers.

 

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Wind Turbines and the Eurozone

What is the connection between the Eurozone and wind turbines? On the face of it, nothing. However, the problems with both are glaringly obvious and debate about both has been ruthlessly suppressed by interested parties. 

Although many people have tried to warn of the inherent dangers of a currency union without closely integrated (and regulated) fiscal policies, European politicians have long dismissed these concerns. Anyone who criticised the Eurozone (or any other EU policy) was derided as a Eurosceptic. Even now, anyone who suggests that the Euro will not survive is criticised for failing to be constructive. So be it. I'm sorry to say that I don't think the Eurozone will survive. I say 'sorry', not because I think it is an admirable institution but because I fear that its collapse will cause everyone in the EU, including us, a great deal of economic trouble.

Wind turbines are an even more worrying example of bullying. First, there are the claims about climate change. I am willing to admit that this is not my area of expertise. However, so many of those who pontificate about it are at least equally ignorant. The BBC has long taken a very strong line in saying that man-made climate change is a fact. It is almost impossible to express a contrary opinion. The BBC commissioned a review of its climate change coverage from Professor Steve Jones. He is a highly-regarded expert on genetics. Does this qualify him to talk about climate change? I think not. 'He's got an ology. He's a scientist!' in the words of an old BT advertisement. Jones is, indeed, a scientist but would you trust just any scientist to formulate a new drug or design a nuclear power station? 

I am not saying that man-made carbon emissions are not causing global warming. However, much of the supposed proof is dubious, not least the graphs which are supposed to prove it until you look at them and notice that the temperature rises first and carbon dioxide concentrations follow. Anyone who challenges the party line is not just a sceptic, he is a denyer - a particularly unpleasant slur, with its absurd and extremely distateful implication that denying climate change is on a par with denying the holocaust.

We should certainly try to reduce our carbon emissions but does anyone without a vested interest really thing that covering the land and sea with wind turbines (and in the case of the land electricity pylons as well) is a sensible way to do it? Wind power is intermittent, unpredictable and startlingly inefficient. I happen to know that a very large engineering company commissioned an analysis some years ago and concluded that it was completely unviable.

Unfortunately, there is no discussion about this at national or international level. The real victim here is freedom of expression.

 

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