Saturday, 31 March 2012

What are Google doing with Blogger?

I’m afraid that nowadays I trust the motives of almost no-one with power or authority. From politicians down through large corporates, everything they do is viewed through my quizzical lens of ‘why are they doing that?’ Often the reason is obvious and involves money (travelling into their pockets of course). Sometimes the reasons can be deduced and other times motives are unclear. Usually it involves something detrimental to us ordinary folks.

In the case of Blogger and all the shenanigans with regional domains I am still confused. Obviously it has to do with censorship, local domain names allow specific blogs to be blocked in specific countries. Many people see this as a complete capitulation on the part of Google to authoritarian censorship and are very angry.

But I wonder. Google are obviously under enormous pressure to impose a method of national censorship so probably have to do something to appease the powers that are pressuring them. This does exactly as requested, allowing one nation to close down a blog within their national domain.

 Yet, when we look more carefully it could be seen as actually rather clever. Blogger appear to have devised a system that does everything asked of them, allowing a national censorship block, but they have left the system open such that other copies of the blog, with other national domains, can remain open, accessible and unmolested. The use of the blog always gets back to the ‘home’ copy and all the eggs are spread over a vast number of national baskets.

 If someone somewhere were determined to protect speech free in the face of increasing censorship demands this is potentially rather a neat solution. So I’m cynical (as always), but also hopeful that on this occasion I could be wrong.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Of fairness and taxed grannies

All the commentary I have seen in favour of the Granny Tax seems to argue either that (i) reducing the over 65 tax allowance is ‘fair’ because younger people have been hit harder by the economy and austerity, or (ii) that  an age allowance is an unfair concept anyhow.  Alternately some say the tax increase is  ‘unfair’ because (i) many privately funded pensioners have already been severely hit by Brown’s tax grab (ii) pension savings have been reduced by poor growth and global recession or (iii) annuities have been deliberately reduced by a policy of Quantitative Easing and artificially low interest rates..

To try and establish ‘fairness’ between generations could fill a book, and neither is it the point of this meander.  Anyone who has been a parent will have recited this mantra frequently when the children were young – “No dear, it may not be fair but life isn’t fair”.  Even so the unfairness in question was usually something caused by external circumstances and beyond our control. Fairness is in fact something we all understand perfectly well, and we quite correctly strive for it in most things, it’s a cornerstone of civilised society. The grossest unfairness occurs when one person, group or subset of people enjoy benefits, or suffer losses, as compared to others in similar circumstances.

So firstly let me try and clarify my personal feelings about age related benefits, from tax allowances to bus passes etc, and my view on ‘fairness’. In society there are dozens of rules and regulations that are age triggered.  16 year olds can only marry with parental approval, but even if they do and have a child they still cannot vote until age 18? Is that ‘fair’? Under 16s cannot be held criminally responsible? Under18s cannot drive a car and over 70s have to renew driving licences at shorter intervals? These things are not considered as ‘unfair’ because they apply to everyone, and (God willing) everyone will live through an average lifespan. In time everyone will get their fair share of all such social obligations, and entitlements during their life. So an age related tax benefit is not unfair, just so long as everyone has an equal chance to claim it in their turn it’s entirely fair.

However, fairness doesn’t mean something is justified, justified is a different concept. Personally (and I speak as someone who will be adversely affected) I find it very hard to justify a higher tax allowance triggered simply on age, it seems an odd anomaly to me so I have no problem with the principle of it being withdrawn.

The big problem that I have with George Osbourne’s move is for me that he has arranged it with such utter contempt and disregard of any concept of fairness. Anyone retiring this year will keep their nice extra tax allowance but anyone unfortunate enough to be retiring in the next tax year – and that could mean just a day younger – loses it. That subdivides a group of people, all of similar age, background and income into a group of haves and have-nots. Some couples, if both retire in 2013, will get hit by a sudden and unexpected £600 tax grab on the basis of their birthday. 

That is unfairness in action! Contrast it with the way Osbourne’s child allowance grab on higher earners was quickly backtracked to make it ‘fairer’ on single earner high income households – pensioners clearly do not deserve equivalent fair treatment to the well off even though this expressly disadvantages pensioners where both parties have a small pension.

To add to Osbourne’s demonstrable lack of empathy one needs to look more carefully at exactly who is affected. There are some very well set up pensioners in this country. There are many who have worked on good salaries and have excellent contractual benefit pension schemes, backed by government or big business able to compensate for Brown's pension fund snatch.  Many of these people did not get the extra allowance anyhow as it was already clawed back on higher pensions, so have not been affected.

There are many poor pensioners, those who have no assets, have never bought a house, have never saved towards a pension. They will claim and be baled out by benefits. We can argue it may be their own fault in some cases, but this group will not be affected.

In between is what is fast becoming the ‘squeezed middle’ of pensioners. These are the couples who have been responsible and self reliant spending their lives working in average or lower paid jobs without contractual pension schemes. Many will own their own house and will have been paying into some kind of private pension scheme much of their working lives. I understand the average private pension pot is approximately £100,000. So these people, if they are lucky, will retire on a basic state pension and an annuity of about £6000 pa. Guess what? Just enough to disqualify them from benefits and just enough to get caught by Osbourne’s granny tax grab. Far from simplifying the tax system Osbourne has drawn the most squeezed and disadvantaged of the responsible less well off retirees into it and penalised them for their self-reliance.

If the Conservatives want the ‘Nasty Party’ epithet and feel the need to demonstrate how out of touch they are this is the way to do it. Take the worst off group of responsible and self reliant people and subject some of them, chosen by birthdate, to a random tax grab.

Monday, 26 March 2012

About this regionally weighted pay idea

So the plan is that government, civil service and state sector jobs – teachers, firemen, police and the like will get less pay when employed in areas where living costs are lower. Sounds like a fair idea, but there is no point in going off half baked, it must be taken to a full and fair conclusion.
So MPs representing those less affluent areas will get less pay, and of course a lower rate of allowances because their rural home is cheaper to run? Hmm.. And this will apply as equally to the top level of council, NHS, education and quango management as it does to the lower orders? 

And to be fair why should people in those less affluent and cheaper regions pay proportionately less income tax. They aren’t earning as much so income tax allowances need to be reduced such that a median salary has the same proportion of allowance and pays the same proportion of income tax. Inheritance tax too, there is no reason why someone in Little Mudford upon Humber should inherit a 5 bed house free of inheritance tax while a Londoner gets caught over a 2 bed terrace. This leaves them worse off of course, but we haven’t balanced the whole system yet.

All sales taxes, licences and duties are set to London values, clearly this is inappropriate for outlying regions with lower GDP and earnings. Thus to be fair VAT rates should reduce in the poorer areas as should duties on fuel, cigs and alcohol. Council fees and charges, H&S fees, licence fees, road tax etc must all be tapered to match the same proportionate amount when compared with median salaries.

My rough solution then is for the London and South East area to stay as it is. At a distance of 50 miles out all government salaries, tax allowances, VAT rates and duty rates should reduce by about 5%. Another 5% at the 100 mile point, the 150 mile point etc. Thus somewhere around Manchester, 200 miles out, a £50,000 London salary becomes £40,000. But Petrol will be 20p per litre cheaper, Vat will be only 15%, and all government and Council costs and charges will be 20% cheaper.

That’ll work!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cash for Access

So we have yet more revelations about the dishonest, greedy and irresponsible members of our government acting illegally in search of money.

Along with it we get the usual infantile calls for simplistic action. Need for party funding reform leads the Guardian’s political editor. 

Why is it that these people can’t see the problem and only look to manipulate the symptoms? This situation has nothing to do with party funding. It has to do with the complete lack of morality and honesty that has soaked through our government and commerce sectors and is now acting as a cancer on our whole society.

What we need is not more rules and systems or tick box definitions of acceptable behaviour. We need simple honesty and morality! Even young children can be taught right from wrong, they are concepts we all recognise.

We need honest members of parliament with real morals and the self control to behave properly, honestly and openly, teamed up with a justice system that rewards those qualities and severely punishes those that behave otherwise. Until that happens it can only get worse.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Use of English

I know that plants are horticulture but somehow this heading seems a little presumptuous coming from a plant dealer? I think ‘cultural’ means something rather different in wider society.