Friday, September 21, 2007

Legal threats to the blogosphere

We're all Bloggerheads now.

Mr. Eugenides and Chicken Yoghurt have the most comprehensive accounts I've found of the silencing of Bloggerheads. Many of us have had our differences with Tim Ireland at one point or another, Iain Dale in particular deserves credit for putting them aside, but that doesn't matter now.

There are broader issues at stake. There is a growing threat to free speech from a combination of legal and, in other cases, even violent threats and too few people with the spine to resist them. It's a big issue that can only be addressed by a collective refusal to be cowed.

Right here and right now we can make a start and stand up to Usmanov's legal intimidation.

Ironically this whole thing might actually make me track down Craig Murray's book and find out what this swine Usmanov has been up to.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Liberal Democrat Environmental Policy

"The Lib Dems this morning defended their environment policy. They said that the policy of making the UK carbon neutral is practical and achievable. Menzies Campbell, an expert in the historical climate, told the conference: "With these policies the Liberal Democrats have become the first major British party to map out the route to a carbon neutral Britain." Critics have suggested that replacing fossil fuel technologies on the scale required with current technologies is an idea "that sounds more like the demented ravings of Swampy than a policy from a serious political party" but Campbell insisted "I remember, I think we all remember, that while incomes might have been a lot lower, and the chances of living beyond 50 not so great, there was a real sense of community in the 17th century."

For all the idiotic "hammer the rich" gaffes there isn't much new coming out of the Lib Dems on the fiscal policy front. The policy they've voted on at their conference is the same as the report the TPA covered a little while back.

I think the new environmental policy (PDF) was formed in a blind panic at the prospect of Gummer-Goldsmith claiming the title of craziest views expressed by a mainstream political party on the environment. The Lib Dems were looking for a way to trump the Quality of Life group and, after the "kill all the motorists" strategy tested poorly with focus groups, hit on making the UK carbon neutral. It's utterly insane.

Their mechanism is heavy on incredibly ultra-draconian regulation. They set up a legal requirement for major sources of emissions to fall to zero (all renewables or biofuel). With the difference in price between fossil fuel and renewable power that kind of change could utterly destroy our standard of living.

They then want to have countries that do sign up to a new Kyoto form a trading block and exclude the nations that won't play along. Combine the cost of making a colossal mess of the global trading system with ending fossil fuel use and the costs could be staggering, catastrophic. Despite this the cost is ignored entirely. Just like Gummer-Goldsmith this report doesn't do cost/benefit analysis. Everything is 'essential'.

Other green material on their website is hilarious out of touch. In this video Menzies Campbell tells us that they want to cut tax on "going to work" and replace the revenue with tax on "pollution" and then literally the next second it cuts to what they do want to tax, filling up the car. That's how people go to work!

Even if they wanted people to switch and no longer use their cars to commute it would take decades to upgrade public transport enough that it could accomodate millions of extra passengers on busy commuter routes during the rush hour. A partial switch from taxing "being at work" to taxing "going to work". Doesn't sound quite as profound now does it?

Were the Liberal Democrats anything more than an empty protest vote the impractical nonsense that is this report would have been torn to pieces by now. That it hasn't been shows how irrelevant they have become.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I feel utterly drained at the moment. I'm not sure why. Not physically tired but just emotionally empty apart from an unpleasant sense of loathing.

The condition has persisted since some time over the weekend and it's horrible. I can't explain it at all. Had the feeling arrived today I'd have blamed the weather but yesterday was all glorious sunshine. Nothing stressful or unpleasant has happened. Work continues to go well. My creative faculties don't appear to have suffered. Very strange.

Ah well, hopefully it will clear soon and I'll be full of beans again. I'll have to take blogging a little easy till that happens or I might have something of a swearblogger episode.

Shoot 'Em Up

I saw this on Saturday and it's hysterical. There aren't any deeper messages worth lingering on. There's just brilliantly over the top action.

Few action films have managed one carrot-based kill, this one has two. It actually takes the Bugs Bunny surrealism and just plays with it.

Don't take it too seriously and enjoy.

Zac Goldsmith responds to his critics

Goldsmith’s response to his critics has more than a whiff of desperation. He starts out by separating bans and regulations in an attempt to portray the report as containing little of either:

“Reports that we want to ban Plasma screens are wrong. We want to encourage plasmas that are less wasteful. Nor are we proposing to ban the standby. We want to have an automatic switch-off mechanism fitted so that appliances switch off after a set period of time.”

The stand-by button as it exists now is a mechanism designed to allow someone to turn their TV, radio or other electronic device on using the remote control. If you make it so that the stand-by turns off after a certain amount of time the point is rather lost. When you go to turn your TV on with the remote you’ll find you can’t. The stand-by button is banned.

While it might not seem like too great an inconvenience to have to get up and turn the TV on the old-fashioned way the stand-by button doesn’t make much of a difference to global warming either. A quick calculation suggests that even if all of the power used by devices on stand-by was saved (and under Goldsmith’s recommendations it wouldn’t be – some people would just leave the TV on more, others would use the temporary stand-by he proposes to allow) the saving would be equivalent to less than two days of Chinese emissions growth. Banning stand-by buttons won’t save the planet; it’s just one more little inconvenience that the Quality of Life report seeks to foist on ordinary Britons.

Equally, while the Quality of Life group would allow Plasma TVs if they were sufficiently efficient it would ban most of the ones currently on sale. Perhaps this shouldn’t be understood as a ban but if not it should definitely be thought of as a regulation.

Goldsmith then goes on to highlight some regulations that he would like to end. The problem is that his report takes away some regulations with one hand at the same time as adding a whole load more with the other. For example, the bans discussed above, other regulations such as a ban on below-cost selling by supermarkets and the cigarette style warnings of a particular size and prominence on car adverts. Reading the report it is absolutely clear that a big net increase in regulation is planned that would offset any cut in regulatory costs as advanced by, among others, the Competitiveness report.

“Aviation: We are categorically NOT proposing to tax holidays. We are ONLY targeting domestic, short-haul, commuter flights to destinations easily reached by train, and within the same sort of time frame. Much of the proceeds will be used to improve the rail alternatives.”

Goldsmith might regard them as passé but many people do enjoy holidays within the UK.

Also, the proposals are to charge VAT on domestic flights. This would include flights from London to Scotland that would take a long time if replaced by train journeys. The proposed taxes are also not hypothecated. An aspiration to spend the money on reducing the costs of going by train is pretty meaningless when all of the revenue from new or higher green taxes have already been committed by the Conservative leadership to a ‘Families Fund’.

Goldsmith does not mention in his response proposed further increases in tax on holidays, with stepped increases in the reformed Air Passenger duty, and on waste either through council tax or variable charging, a big increase in Landfill Tax.

Goldsmith does little to clear up the fog of confusion surrounding proposed changes to planning law by seemingly contradicting himself:

“We are saying that because of the VAT relief, we would require homeowners to upgrade the energy performance of their homes.


It has been reported that we would require people to fit their homes with efficient appliances if they want to improve their home. This is plain wrong.”

He then talks about proposed charges for supermarket parking and argues that this is a decision for local government. That may be the case but it’s still one of the report’s recommendations! Just because it is for local government to implement is no reason it shouldn't be subject to proper criticism.

Finally, he argues that the report did not advocate the government adopting a Happy Planet Index. This is a bit tendentious. The report endorses the Happy Planet Index and recommends that a measure sounding very similar be developed. While there may not be a direct recommendation to adopt the Index the report clearly wants the anti-growth thinking behind it to be placed at the heart of government decision making. That is what has really alarmed people; the idea that the Conservative party might adopt this report’s disdain for economic growth.

This is the heart of the problem with Goldsmith’s defence of his report. He does not address the most serious criticism of it coming from the press. From the Sun’s response:

“Goldsmith and his sidekick, failed Tory minister John Gummer, devote about 30 pages to why Britain’s economic success isn’t everything.

Try telling that to the millions who rely on a booming British economy for their job and their livelihood.

Who have ambitions for a bigger house, more luxurious car and a better foreign holiday for them and their kids.

Any report which includes a chapter entitled “The Darker Side Of Wealth” has no place on any self-respecting Tory’s bookshelf.”

Or, the Express:

“Billionaire's son Mr Goldsmith and former Cabinet minister Mr Gummer have, on behalf of David Cameron, declared war on economic growth. One ludicrous extract claims: "Beyond a certain point – a point which the UK reached some time ago – ever increasing material gain can become not a gift but a burden. As people, it makes us less happy."

So they have identified what they consider to be Gordon Brown's Achilles heel: incredibly, they believe his greatest sin is to have made the British people too well-off. Presumably they would like the Conservatives to fight the next election on a platform of reversing these sinister "material gains".”

As part of our response to the Quality of Life group report the TaxPayers’ Alliance set out the intellectual case against the anti-growth agenda this report is based upon. Reinforcing the impression that Conservatives are the selfish wealthy who don’t care about improving the lives of ordinary Britons is also politically disastrous.

Two weeks ago the TaxPayers’ Alliance published a report establishing that green taxes are already too high and a poll showing that the public are extremely sceptical about the motives of politicians proposing green taxes. The Conservatives should leave this report's recommendations well alone.

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.