Shocking that…

The Irish Times is reporting that a new referendum on Lisbon might actually pass this time according to one of its own polls.

The poll shows a change in public attitudes since June with 43 per cent now saying they would vote Yes, 39 per cent No and 18 per cent having no opinion.

Doesn’t really sound all that promising does it?

But they do offer a glimmer of hope:

In the poll, people were asked how they would vote if the treaty was modified to allow Ireland to retain an EU commissioner and other Irish concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation were clarified in special declarations.

When the “don’t knows” are excluded this gives the Yes side 52.5 per cent, with the No side on 47.5 per cent. It compares to the referendum result in June of 53.4 per cent No and 46.6 per cent Yes.

So basically if we have them re-jig it for our benefit we’ll pass it? Oh well why didn’t you say so – this is brand new information!

And there you have it lady’s and gentlemen, what we already knew – Shut up Kathy Sinnott and the rest of the “nazi imperialist velociraptors for Brussels will steal your babies” brigade and we’re in with a shot.


Relocation, Relocation

This has got to be some sort of sick joke – The Huffington Post has an essay on where to move based on which states did or did not go Democrat in the presidential elections.

The author, a Jeannie Ralston, starts off rather simple:

One reason I left the U.S. in the first place was my growing disconnect with a country (and especially the rural area of Texas where I used to live) that could send George Bush to the White House twice. This time, I’d like to be surrounded by neighbors who are less likely to flaunt the confederate flag or shoot my dog (this happened — twice). I’m weighing this need for some blue-tinged enlightenment with the competing desire to be closer to my family in Tennessee and friends in the Southeast.

I know I’m far from someone who would vote Republican if I were in the US but really? Comparing all Republicans to dog shooting, confederate flag-waving, tinfoil hat wearing freaks? Rather apt for portions of them but there are crazy Democrats as well… or people who are just plain crazy.

But wait, there’s more…

My husband nixed Oregon, which is prime blue state west. “It must be a socialist state,” he complained. “You can’t even pump your own gas!” We liked the area around Trinidad, Colorado, until I learned it was the sex change capital of the world. Yes, I like diversity, but even I have my limits.

There are no words.

ensing my new hesitation about Tennessee, my husband proposed Oklahoma. He’d found a wonderful piece of property near the historic town of Guthrie. Consulting my electoral map, I found that Oklahoma is one of only two states in the country in which every single county went for McCain. Nary an oasis in sight. (The other pure red state is Alaska, which is little comfort).

An oasis? Liberalism is an oasis? But by the same rationale other areas in the country are too liberal? Make up your mind will you lady.

If this is what Liberalism brings, some sort of crazy political-correctness more than anything, count me out. I’d rather the confederate flag folks – at least they’ll be entertaining

Finally, a statesman who read ALL of Kenyes’ theory

World economy to double in size, predicts Gordon Brown

After 8 years of Blair and Bush forget entirely about the need for fiscal policy in combination with monetary policy, Gordon Brown finally uttered something that made sense – and is potentially an attack on what many consider to be Obama’s plans to protect American interests….

The only problem with the statement really is that he doesn’t even infer as to what will drive this growth – as oil becomes more expensive and less available, such expansion wouldn’t feasibly be possible; is it some veiled hint at a “green agenda”?

Gordon Brown today insisted the world economy would double in size over the next 20 years as he argued for the need for a global fiscal and monetary stimulus.

In a speech on financial crisis at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the prime minister called for a coordinated approach as countries moved from high to low inflation.

Brown said monetary policy had to be made to work to “best effect” as he reiterated the reasons why banks had to be recapitalised.

The prime minister warned that interest rate cuts would not work without fiscal stimulus.

“The is no doubt that some countries might have zero inflation next year so there is no point having further cuts without a fiscal stimulus,” he said

Will everyone please shut up?

It seems every day now there’s some new mention of the HPV vaccine being cancelled – it’s even invading my facebook by asking me to inviting me to protest against it. And with all this I have to ask, does anyone actually bother to question the benefits of vaccines anymore?
At a time when the jury is still out on whether or not the MRR will cause autism among other things, the Mommies and Daddies of Ireland seemed to accept this free offer to stop the “heavy petting” STI in it’s tracts because of a link to cervical cancer… just a link. Honestly lads, a bit more civil disobedience is necessary if people can’t even read up on it first before they herald it as Mary Harney walking on water (a feat even Jesus couldn’t muster).

The NY Times debunked the myth in August with supporting evidence from two medical journals.

In her article, Dr. Haug points out the vaccines have been studied for a relatively short period — both were licensed in 2006 and have been studied in clinical trails for at most six and a half years. Researchers have not yet demonstrated how long the immunity will last, or whether eliminating some strains of cancer-causing virus will decrease the body’s natural immunity to other strains.

So it’s russian-roulette with how long it lasts and I could get another type? Sign me up!

More to the point, because cervical cancer develops only after years of chronic infection with HPV, Dr. Haug said there was not yet absolute proof that protection against these two strains of the virus would ultimately reduce rates of cervical cancer — although in theory it should do so

By the same reasoning though, regular sexual health screening will decrease the likelihood of HPV and thus cervical cancer – and isn’t that free in a lot of places?

The second paper published this week, a study by Jane J. Kim and Dr. Sue Goldie of Harvard, looks at the issue of costs and concludes that the vaccines will be cost effective only if used in certain ways. In particular, the researchers say the vaccines will be worth the cost only if they prove to protect girls for a lifetime, and if current methods for screening for cervical cancer using Pap smears can be safely adjusted to reduce costs there. Further research is required in both areas.

”I believe the vaccine is a great advance, but we have to implement it properly to get the benefits, and that hasn’t happened,” said Dr. Philip Davies of the European Cervical Cancer Association.

In developed countries, Pap smear screening and treatment have effectively reduced cervical cancer death rates to very low levels already. There are 3,600 deaths annually from cervical cancer in the United States, 1,000 in France and 400 in Britain.

Cervical cancer, like skin cancer, can generally be caught at precancerous or non-invasive stages and treated. Because the vaccine prevents infection with only some of the cancer-causing strains, Pap smear screening must continue even in those who are vaccinated.

So the government would have basically just have been increasing it’s costs without a proportionate return? Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we generally like it when the government change bad policy decisions?

The other issue with the vaccine is that by being distributed only to women it ignores cancers linked to HPV in men

A clinical trial testing therapies for advanced tongue and tonsil cancers has found that more than 40 percent of the tumors in men were infected with HPV. If there is good news in the finding, it is that these HPV-associated tumors were among the most responsive to treatment.

Of an estimated 28,900 cases of oral cancer a year, 18,550 are in men.

So we account for 64% of oral cancers and the government didn’t think we deserved the vaccine? Then again, it’s easier to treat so that somewhat dispels the need for it at all.

Personally, I find it entertaining that Mary almost unanimously got away without the public questioning the value of the vaccine – but next time, don’t just make it sound like it’s a cost-saving measure and please, leave my facebook out of it.

Bad news for the auto industry…

The Huffington Post reported recently that Democrats in the US are looking to the beleaguered Auto Industry but it looks like Bush might only let it pass if his plan for a trade agreement with Columbia passes… not something the Dems want by any stretch of the imagination.

Obama’s aides said the president-elect brought up the issue with Bush during their two-hour White House talks on Monday, expressing his view that action is needed now, not just to help the U.S. companies but also the broader economy, because of their enormous reach. Obama raised the idea of an administration point person on autos with a portfolio aimed at improving the long-term health of the companies.

Bush repeated his position, recently stated by staff, that he is open to helping the automakers.

In addition, amid discussions in Washington over whether new economic stimulus spending is needed, Obama focused in his meeting with Bush on his desire for it while the president stressed that his main priority for any postelection action out of Congress is approval of a long-stalled free trade agreement with Colombia, said people familiar with the conversation between the two men. The sources declined to be named publicly because of the private nature of the talks.

The outlines of the conversation between the 43rd and soon-to-be 44th presidents shows just how starkly different are policy and philosophical approaches of the two men, one Democrat and one Republican. Obama has opposed the Colombia free trade agreement while Bush has remained skeptical of the need for additional stimulus.

However it might be time for Bush to reconsider his policies after the NY Times reported that the loss would be huge if GM were to fold (understandably):

A bankruptcy filing by a single Detroit car company could cost the economy $175 billion in the first year of the legal case in lost employee income and tax revenue, the Center for Automotive Research estimated this week. Given the complexity, a G.M. bankruptcy case could last three years or more.

Lehman Brothers anyone?

A bankruptcy also could jeopardize the fate of a health care fund created in 2007 that was supposed to shift a $100 billion burden off the companies’ backs. The U.A.W. recently agreed to let G.M. delay payments to the fund.

Perhaps it’s time to release that $25 million in loans for retooling and increased fuel efficiency, but considering how badly they’re haemorrhaging it might not even be enough to buy them time; a slice of that $700 billion pie anyone?

Shocking Revelation – It’s not the 80’s

Jim O’Leary points out the obvious here

Although those of us who had enough intelligence to see that the Bush years was simply delaying (and worsening) an economic slowdown, The Irish Times took some time out to explain to the rest that the world isn’t ending:

From the point of view of budgetary policy, there may well be lessons to be drawn from the 1980s experience, but there are big differences between then and now. Probably the most important revolves around the distinction between acute and chronic.

The fiscal problem faced by the Government now is acute: it may have been predictable (God knows this column issued plenty of warnings), but the deterioration has been extraordinarily sharp and sudden. The mutation of last year’s small budget surplus into this year’s prospective deficit of 6 per cent of GDP is without precedent in the history of the State.

By contrast, the fiscal crisis that came to a head in the mid-1980s had been cooking for well over a decade. Outlandish though it may appear at this remove, there wasn’t a single year between 1974 and 1986 when the budget deficit was less than 10 per cent of GNP.

As a result, by the time the problem was eventually addressed effectively in 1987, government indebtedness had grown to almost 120 per cent of GNP and annual debt service absorbed the equivalent of almost the entire income tax take.

By comparison, today the ratio of debt to GDP is about 35 per cent and servicing that debt costs less than 2 per cent of GDP.

A chronic problem is one that is likely to have survived a number of attempted remedies and so it was with the fiscal crisis of the 1980s. The Fine Gael-Labour coalition of 1983-87, for example, had tried to address it by means of a strategy that relied heavily on raising an already high tax burden, and had failed.

By the time that government collapsed, finding a solution to the problem had been escalated from urgent to imperative. Moreover, the options available had narrowed to one: the tax burden having been raised to a level that was clearly beyond the limit of the economy’s endurance, spending cuts had become unavoidable.

In effect, policy-makers had run out of road.

The contrast with the current situation is stark. Objectively, the scale of the problem is of a much lower order as of now, and there are options around the remedial strategy, both in terms of its pace and its composition as between tax increases and spending cuts.

The existence of such choices means that there is much greater scope for debate than in 1987, much greater risk of policy error and much greater likelihood that a particular set of policy decisions will be stoutly resisted, as evidenced by the street protests of recent weeks.

Another feature of the 1980s crisis that distinguishes it from the present situation is that, by the time the decisive attempt to resolve it was launched, it was widely understood that the state of the public finances had become a profoundly negative influence on the wider economy. It was recognised, for example, that heavy government borrowing and indebtedness were exerting upward pressure on interest rates, undermining business and consumer confidence, and thereby depressing consumer spending and investment.

This recognition played a role in mobilising a consensus around the need to take remedial action.

Today’s budgetary position, by contrast, is correctly seen as a result rather than a cause of weakness in general economic activity. That exacerbates the difficulty of galvanising public support for corrective measures.

When it comes to fiscal imbalances, it is tempting to resort to the analogy of the alcoholic who, left to his own devices, has to hit rock-bottom before discovering the will to overcome his addiction. Certainly Ireland’s 1980s experience would chime with this. Perhaps, having spent a long spell on the fiscal equivalent of Skid Row in the recent past will galvanise us into doing whatever is necessary to avert a repeat and do it fairly quickly. However, the recent Budget and the public response to it would not encourage this hope.

Alternatively, we expect the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact to supply the requisite dose of “tough love”. However, the pact and its Excessive Deficit Procedure (invoked just this week for Ireland), have never had to be deployed in the kind of circumstances that currently obtain here.

The fact that Ireland’s public finances have gone off the rails so spectacularly, despite the pact, is a sobering thought in this regard, and draws attention to the inadequacy of the institutional arrangements around the conduct of fiscal policy as a protection from the myopia of politicians.

Surely, one of the most obvious lessons to be drawn from the current debacle is that we need to strengthen those arrangements considerably, perhaps by introducing rules that limit political discretion in the spending of public money.

Does anyone else feel like this sounds familiar?

Things can only get worse…

Mixed news for the UK economy
BT slashes 10,000 jobs
£1bn contract will save 3,000 post offices from closure

With BT the Guardian reports:

BT is axing 10,000 workers, or 6% of its global workforce, with several thousand expected to go in the UK as the company looks to cut costs and reduce its reliance on contractors in the face of the global economic downturn.

The company, which announced an 11% fall in second quarter profits, said it has already cut 4,000 mostly contractors jobs and a further 6,000 will go by next April. The majority of those job losses will be among BT’s own staff and the axe is expected to fall particularly heavily in the UK.

BT has 160,000 people working for it worldwide, of whom 110,000 are directly employed.

This latest blow to the British economy came just a day after the number of jobless people in the UK hit its highest level since 1997. By the end of September there were 1.825 million people out of work. The claimaint count also rose to 980,900, its highest level since the end of 1997.

News of the job cuts helped to sent the company’s shares up 12% in early trading, 13.5p higher at 126p.

The job losses are not, the company stressed, related to the poor performance of its BT Global Services unit, which has failed to hit profitability targets and caused the company to warn last month that profits before financial charges will be down this year. That warning sent shares in the company to their lowest level since it was privatised. Turning around BT Global Services is expected to lead to thousands more job losses.

BT stressed that thousands of its staff leave every year, so most of the reduction will happen by the company not replacing leavers. But unions are increasingly concerned about the number of UK companies cutting staff, with Virgin Media saying earlier this week that it is eliminating 2,200 positions and Taylor Wimpey cutting another 1,000 posts.

BT’s chief executive, Ian Livingston, who took over from Ben Verwaayen just four months ago, today admitted: “Three out of our four business units, BT Retail, BT Wholesale and Openreach are delivering on or ahead of target. But profits in BT Global Services are simply not good enough and we are taking decisive action to put matters right. What we have to do now is translate revenue growth into better profitability.”

In the three months to the end of September, BT made revenues of £5.3bn, up 4%, but pretax profits slumped 11% to £590m. For the six months to the end of September, revenues were up 3% at just under £10.5bn with profits down 9% at £1.2bn.

Earnings before financial charges for the quarter were down 1% at £1.43bn. Two weeks ago BT admitted revenues would be ahead of original forecasts but profits would be slightly below and today’s results were actually slightly better than the City’s revised forecasts.

In the three months to the end of September BT said its retail business added just 69,000 new broadband customers, less than half the 164,000 added in the same period by BSkyB – taking it to 4.6 million customers. The company admitted that the market is becoming more “mature”.

The company also confirmed that it is looking at ways of easing the pressure on its pension scheme, the largest private sector fund in the UK, by introducing changes such as raising the retirement age.

“We are in a period of comprehensive consultation with our UK employees. The aim of this review is to provide long term sustainability, flexibility and fairness,” the company said.

As for the Post Offices:

Ministers are expected to give a reprieve today to 3,000 post offices threatened by closure when the government announces that the Post Office can retain its £1bn five- year contract to distribute benefits to 4.3 million claimants.

The announcement, a fortnight earlier than expected, will delight Labour backbenchers who had thought the government was gearing up to hand the contract to the private company PayPoint.

Unions had warned that this would lead to 3,000 post offices being closed, only a year after the closure of 2,500 had begun.

The government has been under massive political pressure over the contract: 2 million people signed a petition and 265 MPs from all parties signed a parliamentary motion calling for it to stay with the Post Office.

The tender went out in May last year and a decision had been delayed since the beginning of this year, casting a serious shadow over the future of the Post Office network. Earlier this week the all-party business and enterprise select committee reported that government indecision over the account had “destabilised” the Post Office, and the Liberal Democrats staged a Commons debate warning that the uncertainty was leaving the Post Office in a parlous state.

The post office card account (Poca) makes £200m profit a year. Of the 4.3 million people who use Poca, 2.3 million are pensioners.

Critics of the Department for Work and Pensions have warned that the private company PayPoint does not properly service rural areas, unlike the Post Office, since it only has a network of about 20,000 terminals, mostly in newsagents and supermarkets.

Labour MPs claim the DWP has been putting pressure on pensioners to use bank accounts instead of their local post office. The issue of post office closures took centre stage in last week’s Glenrothes byelection, with opposition parties opposing the government’s plans. The Conservatives had come out in favour of expanding the Poca to allow poorer customers to use it to pay utility bills.

Ministers have been making emollient noises in recent days. A letter leaked to the Guardian showed that the new business secretary, Lord Mandelson, had written to the prime minister proposing a review that might see the Post Office’s role expanded into “financial services”.

The decision to close 2,500 of the country’s 14,000 post offices last year was enormously unpopular, with several members of the cabinet that voted the measure through – Jack Straw, Hazel Blears and Tessa Jowell – campaigning against post office closures in their constituencies. That round of closures had been to reduce the £4m-a-week subsidy the government was providing to the service.

Ministers now appear to have decided that the economic downturn strengthens the case for post offices. They are also keen to improve relations with their backbenches.

In its report, the business and enterprise committee stopped short of telling the DWP that it should choose the Post Office over rival bids, but warned that if its tender was unsuccessful, the decision “would have grave effects on the Post Office network”.

The MPs warned that if the Post Office lost the contract, taxpayers could end up paying higher subsidies to maintain the network while at the same time supporting the commercial providers of the DWP card account.

The previous Poca contract, by which the Post Office is paid by the DWP according to the number of people who open and use the account, is due to expire in early 2010.