Panama and Voting

Hot news, apparently, dictators, the super rich, corrupt politicians and criminals try to hide their ill gotten gains. Add to this list the moderately rich and various investments funds try to to avoid paying as much tax as possible. This is news?

In the spirit of openness I too have investments in offshore funds. It’s called my pension. I can’t confirm that I don’t own shares in Panama registered companies. Don’t look shocked, I have heard lots of people say that recently. Why can’t I confirm? Investment funds.

The pension company offers multiple funds in which I can buy units. Some of these funds trade in oversea shares. Frankly I have no idea if any of these units are linked to operations in Panama, The Cayman Islands, Belize and many other tax efficient locations. Just because I am several steps removed from the investment and income does not mean I do not want a good return on the deal. I want interest and investment gain too.

Of course I will have to pay tax on the income just like I already do on my salary, savings’ interest and directly invested share dividends. By the way every single person in this country that has an ISA is trying to avoid tax. Every investment in a personal pension avoids more tax. Every claim of business expenses is another bit of tax avoidance, why do you think your employer wants a VAT receipt? A little less hypocrisy please.

I think we all knew that bad people do bad things. The 11 million Panama sourced documents just confirmed this knowledge. It used to be the notorious Swiss bank account. The use of shell companies and hidden investment funds should also be no surprise. If anyone has watched The Big Short or read any of the extensive reviews of the financial crash, the rich bankers were peddling AAA rated investment funds as if they were solid gold. In reality they were derivatives bundled with other derivatives sold into other funds. Your pension fund may well have invested in these funds.

This was probably criminal behaviour, although precious few have gone to jail, whereas avoiding tax may be morally questionable but it is not illegal. Those few of you who have been kind enough to buy my book, The Persuasive Man, know that I have included a lot of financial wheeling and dealing in that fictional account. Fictional yes, but based on several financial stories and some personal experience.

Avoiding tax is a national pastime. Ask a tradesman if he’ll do the job for cash and you contribute to tax evasion which is illegal. Of course morally we are happy to have got a deal. We, the purchaser, have not done anything wrong. It is not our responsibility to declare the income, but are we a co-conspirator?

Directly in the UK, the Prime Minister has been dragged into the mess as the documents showed that David Cameron and his spouse had shares in an investment fund set up by his father. As usual with political scandals it’s not the actual thing that’s the problem, it is the cover up or the failure to come clean. Then of course we have the reporters dramatically trying to turn a drama into a crisis

The BBC were interviewing voters in Bedfordshire about whether they have changed their opinion of the Prime Minister, then came the most ridiculous question. Will you vote for him? Last time I checked, Cameron’s constituency was Whitney in Oxfordshire not Dunstable in South Bedfordshire; so how exactly were these voter going to vote for him? He has also said he will not stand at the next election. Therefore, no one is going to be able to vote for him.

You can vote in May local elections. In June you can vote for the EU referendum. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their respective Parliament and Assembly elections, (English Democratic deficit anyone?) but except for by-elections no UK MP will get elected until 2020. It’s like asking the vox pop interviewee, the archetypical man on the street if they would vote for Trump – had to get him in somewhere – irrelevant and just bad journalism.

With 11 million documents to sift through who knows which name will turn up next. Of course Cameron has got himself in this mess for not being open and forthright at the start of the week, not for what he has actually done with a relatively small amount. Yes, I know £30,000 is a lot of money to most of us, but compared to the billions hiding in Panama shell companies, it’s not really.  By the way as the shares were co-owned by him and his spouse that’s £15k each. Capital gains are only due on the element above the yearly allowance depending on how long the investment had been held. Income from the fund should have been declared each year on the individual tax return. So a £30k fund on a very good year may have paid out 10 percent per annum so £1.5k per year each at 40 percent tax is £600. Not exactly a new duck pond. The selling story is already 6 years old.

Jeremy Corbyn the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is making political hay out of the alleged scandal but is it just me? Not many Labour MPs are making a song and dance about this nor Liberals. Even the Scottish Nationalists are being relatively quiet. Have I missed something?

We can add UEFA and FIFA to the list of those being embedded in the scandal, Iceland has already lost its Prime Minister. It seems this leak even makes other news disappear although the press are desperately trying to link the revelations to the EU in/out referendum. After all we need something to make that more interesting.

Meanwhile 1.5 million migrants/asylum seekers/immigrants/terrorists (delete as applicable) have tried to enter the EU and the new deal with Turkey has allowed 200 to be returned to Turkey. Perhaps we are missing the scale of the problem and not addressing the priorities. Mr Putin (be respectful) seems to be connected to Panama via some friends who seem to have a lot of state money. What about EU funds are there no documents connecting EU officials. Of course we have the overseas aid budget from the EU and the UK which have often been suspected of ending up in odd bank accounts. No news there then.

Back to the scale of the financial misconduct, what efforts are actually being made to get the money. Has the Panamanian Ambassador been called in, have any executives of the legal company been arrested, is anyone going to be charged with anything? Is any money going to be returned? More likely it will all disappear, the money and the story.

Perhaps a sequel is needed but would anybody buy it? Perhaps I should set it up as an offshore investment fund opportunity?

Mischief for Scotland Join My Petition

It is a year after the Scottish Referendum with a result with a clear majority in favour of staying in the UK. This was supposed to be a once in a generation decision, and the SNP leadership agreed that it was. Still if you don’t like the result you can always change your mind. Perfect EU principle as Ireland discovered.

It is only four months after the UK’s general election result. Despite this, we still have the SNP calling for another referendum or how the UK government has no democratic mandate to rule in Scotland. This is because 56 of the 58 regional MPs are from SNP. This opinion carefully ignores the views of the other 594 MPs representing other areas of the UK and in particular claiming that the 331 Conservative Party MPs have no democratic mandate to rule in the UK. Full result here. I make that a democratic majority just in the Conservative party without taking into consideration the views of other parties on the subject of the Union. I am unclear what the new Labour leadership believe.

Although I believe that the United Kingdom is better together, that does not mean I am not heartily sick of hearing the SNP moaning about how badly treated Scotland is. Still it keeps the public’s eyes away from their actual record as the governing party of Scotland, with the current devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament. How about a few questions about that BBC and the rest of the media.

So in the spirit of helping the SNP out, I want to start a petition, not for them to have a referendum, but to be expelled from the Union. This should be a much faster process and for once, the rest of the United Kingdom might get a say in the matter. You can sign up via the UK Governments petition web site.

Click this link to sign the petition:
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/108874/sponsors/MJjAp4IjbnqBhJ1kg8

My petition:

Expel Scotland from the United Kingdom

There are only 56 MPs from the SNP, but they believe the rest of the 650 should carry out their wishes, whatever the consequences for the rest of the UK or what the UK voted for in May this year.

The SNP continues to press for an new referendum on membership of the UK. The Scottish people voted less than 12 months ago to stay; however, the remainder of the UK has had no say. If Scotland continues to ignore the democratic wishes of the rest of the UK it should be expelled.

Will They Ever Change – The Price of Fish

An old saying – It won’t change the price of fish.

It’s a deeply pessimistic or cynical view of the efforts of our government to actually make a difference.

The next UK General Election will be held on 7th May 2015. Between now and then we have a further By-Election which comes hot on the heels of the two on 9th October 2014. In those By-Elections UKIP won one and came a close second in another. It now has it’s first UK Member of Parliament (MP) via the First Past the post election system for Westminster. This achievement goes with its 24 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) elected under proportional representation. Before the next General Election it may have another MP. All this turmoil for the main political parties comes after the Scottish Referendum and poll ratings that should concern any political leader from any party, apart from Nigel Farage of UKIP.

In the usual dull analysis that has followed the By-Elections the usual culprit of the immigration debate has been raised as the main source of discontent with Labour, The Conservatives and the almost forgotten Liberal Democrats. The SNP and Plaid Cymru have their support in Scotland and Wales respectively as do the Northern Irish political parties yet UKIP has made inroads even in these areas.

Why?

My personal view is that this goes back to the the scandals before the last election i.e. MPs expenses and behaviour. I had hoped that after the scandal and the anger caused that there would have been a sea change in attitude form the political class and a huge change in representation in Westminster. It did not happen, of the 650 sitting MPs before the last election…

In all, 148 MPs (100 Labour, 35 Conservatives, 7 Liberal Democrats, 2 Independents, 1 Independent Conservative and 1 member each from Plaid Cymru, the DUP, and the SDLP) decided not to contest the election. Alex Salmond did not stand for re-election in order to focus on the role of First Minister of Scotland but the SNP retained the seat with a different candidate and a reduced majority over the Conservative Party. (Wikipedia)

What is still amazing to me is that 502 MPs carried on regardless.

Now not all those MPs had behaved wrongly in the scandal but they all followed the expenses regime even if they technically did not abuse it. I personally challenged my sitting MP during the hustings on his behaviour. Along with many others in the audience we pointed out that if we had behaved as he had done in our military careers we would have been subject to a court-martial. He apologised, stated that he had paid the money back, then got re-elected alongside his fellow 501. The old saying that the British Electorate would elect a pig if it wore the right rosette remained true, but might that change?

Despite the so-called expert analysis that it’s Immigration and Europe that account for UKIP’s popularity, I am not sure. Nearly every interview I have seen recently with actual UKIP voters explains that there is more than this. The words Westminster elite, which the SNP has used in its campaigns, are reflected in the comments from these voters. There is an underlying anger with all our current politicians. Their weasel words, their blatant insincerity but mostly their sheer failure to address problems. These problems remain irrespective of which colour rosette is in office or which white middle class male is heading the other white middle class males (one notable exception I know but she behaved no differently). It is no use blaming the school they went to after all that choice was their parent’s not theirs.

An example – I am a fan of Grand Designs yet in virtually every design the builder gets their windows, materials etc from Germany because they are the only country that manufactures to the right specification. Is it really the case that our manufacturing and construction industries cannot build a window frame to the right high-tech standard? Come on Mr Branson, Sugar et al or the Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs why are you not investing in this capability or do we really need another branded train/bank,sauce experience! Where is government in this, why can BT take public money for fibre broadband then only deliver it to the cabinet up the street. Why aren’t new house built with fibre to the property with solar panels built in and with those high tech windows that save energy. The old manufacturing centre of the North of England are apparently desperate for work so why would I have to go to Germany to get a descent set of windows?

Instead we have proposals for hundreds of thousands of new homes. Homes that are built to the same poor standards we currently have. Homes that will be plopped into villages and small towns with no additional infrastructure, no new schools doctors etc. At least when the garden cities were built this was included. Now adding an estate of 200-300 homes results in a playground if you are lucky.

I believe there is an underlying unease with the political establishment and those that report on them alongside the bureaucrats that implement policies so badly. There smugness, their unnamed sources reported and constant manoeuvring for their own gain. If we are to have a better election with better MPs then our media need to do a much better job, but of course if they are to critical then they won’t get the inside story. It is in no one’s interest to have a reasoned sensible debate. Instead minor differences are blown up into fake huge rows where no facts are present just interpretation of carefully selected statistics.

Perhaps UKIPs rise is due to protests on immigration, Europe or is it something broader. The votes that used to go to Lib Dems in by-elections are now UKIPs, because the Lib Dems in government have shown themselves to be no different from the rest.

As I wrote earlier I had hoped for a major change in attitude if not parties after the last election. Perhaps it will come this time round but somehow, after months of campaigning I doubt that it will. We will have a combination of white middle class men from the same schools and universities carving up the offices of state for their own fulfilment.

What we can all be certain of is – it won’t change the price of fish.

Intolerance

After my excursion into religion last week I did think of writing on a less controversial subject like gay rights or paedophilia. This week’s headlines have been dominated by the events in Iraq whilst Ukraine nervously continues. Elsewhere the impact of missing girls in Nigeria has not gone away nor has the continued fighting in Afghanistan even if it is now local troops fighting rather than American or UK troops, or the other NATO forces that have been deployed there and shed their blood as well. As with Iraq, coalition forces will soon have departed and we can fully expect Afghanistan to return to its historical state of occasional tribal warfare. The Pakistan forces have just launched a major offensive.

All of the conflicts have one thing in common – religious intolerance. Just as my previous blog attracted some comments it does not mean I shall give up on my view in that all religions behave appallingly, given half the chance, and yes I do include Christianity in that view. This time I am not focusing on historical inaccuracies or whether the Bible say this or that or the Koran , Torah, and onward into whatever belief system or set of rules that for one reason or another the individual believes is the truth.

One thing is clear they cannot all be right, they cannot all have their version of God and religious duty. At the moment the conflict spreading from Syria to Iraq is between different branches of Islamic faith, Sunni and Shia. With perhaps the ISIS or ISIA forces another version of Sunni. Once Europe was full of competing version of Protestants and Catholics, helped by tribal rivalries amongst warring families so to see the Islamic faith fighting their wars should not be surprising.

Then we have on-going issues between in Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faiths in India.

The common factor is religion, not resources for a change. Organised religion as a proxy for the power of individuals. Whether it’s a leader in Iran, Saudi, Syria or or the never-ending fight of the Jewish faith and Arbia still seen in the battles over the future of Israel and Palestine. It was not that long ago that Hammas and Hezbolah were taking their fight onto the streets of what passes for a modern city in Palestine.

Compare and contrast these activities with more secular liberal societies. Has Western Europe become immune to religious tension. Certainly on the scale seen in other nations. The argument falls down where we have Syria and Lebanon. Both partially secular on the surface, Assad’s regime was and is oppressive but there did appear to be some religious freedom.

1960’s Lebanon was seen as a typical Mediterranean European-like city before it descended into chaos which thanks to the activities of Syria and Israel (expelling Palestinians) remains on the precipice of civil war.

What of the role of West in all this, the West a loose term for the alliance of USA and it’s allies. Falsehoods led to the second war in Iraq. The world’s moral indignation after 11th September 2001 has been lost. Instead of concentrating on fixing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iraq was attacked and Afghanistan ignored until it was too late. Just like Afghanistan was ignored after the Soviet Union left until the Taliban were firmly in charge.

Now we have nations whose idea of the rule of law is secret courts and mass surveillance of their own citizens using carefully worded statements to explain how they comply with a law. We have had secret rendition, we still have Guantanamo and even here in the UK we need the new Supreme Court to tell us whether a trial, for the first time in our legal history, can be held completely in-Camera.  Is this the freedom we believe we want. Judging by the lack of outrage ot these events I suppose it is. I looked at the Newspaper headlines today. There were more stories about the sex lives of minor celebrities and various free offers than there were about any of these issues.

Judging by the number of people who bother to vote in the UK approx 30% in the latest local and Euro polls and approx 60% in last general election. No one cares. The scandal of MP expenses rumbles on but virtually all of the MPs were returned at the last election just because they wore a particular rosette. The average MP is elected with 35% of the vote from 60% of the electorate who bother to turn out. Democracy in action but at least it’s better than a religious dictatorship, although it’s no guarantor of freedom of expression, religion or action and as for equality don’t get me started.

NSA and Snowden – A Year On

Another anniversary this past week. After the commemoration of D-Day 70 years ago on the 6th June, something far less significant in multiple nation’s collective memories, it is one year since The Guardian first printed Edward Snowden’s revelations about the activities of the NSA, GCHQ et al.  For an excellent commentary and summation read the article on The Register.

The article covers not only the scope of what was revealed but also discusses the impact of these revelations. It is clear there is still much to be revealed, and there is also the on-going reluctance of the British Press in particular to publish some of the revelations. Most notably, the Register also published details about the international fibre and communication link tapping operations notably in Oman. Quoting from the article from 2nd June.

Exclusive Above-top-secret details of Britain’s covert surveillance programme – including the location of a clandestine British base tapping undersea cables in the Middle East – have so far remained secret, despite being leaked by fugitive NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden. Government pressure has meant that some media organisations, despite being in possession of these facts, have declined to reveal them. Today, however, the Register publishes them in full.
So not only do we have hidden spying activity, no surprise there, but a marked reluctance by our own media to discuss the issue. The often quoted excuse for not discussing the issues is that it put lives at risk and harms the nation. This is made as a statement with no factual information to back it up. Proof of a negative is always difficult, but really lives at risk from the UK public knowing that a location in Oman is built and operated for the entire purpose of monitoring Internet communication links, something that the locals in Oman. all the people who built and service the staions and all the agencies know, but the British public must not.

This reminds me of the farcical situation a few years ago when Ordnance Survey Maps and road atlases would show blank empty spaces where UK military and other sensitive bases were. Meanwhile the then Soviet Union was scanning those places with satellite photography almost hourly. So our prospective enemy knew what was there (at least what building were) but the British Public was not allowed to see that just inside the main gate was the entrance to the Officers’ Mess and NAAFI next to the tennis court. I have never been able to understand why this was the case, this in built secrecy left over from the war, like changing the road signs around as if an invader would not have a compass and discover our ruse.

Back to NSA and the latest series of revelations. The sheer scope and scale of the observations are in one way comforting, our spies are spying, protecting us. They claim to have prevented all sorts of illegal actions like Germany stealing a march on trade negotiations or when Chancellor Merkel was getting home from the state dinner. The plumbed into the content not just metadata of every single telephone call in the Bahamas. How many pizza takeaway orders were there? We should be told about this vital contribution to national security. The sheer scale of the monitoring beggars belief yet it has raised the merest flicker of interest in the UK. I believe that some of this is down to media jealousy. Much like the Telegraph when it broke the MPs’ expenses scandal. The Guardian had an exclusive and the rest of the media seemed reluctant to follow up.

Whether Snowden was right to release the information will be a matter for history to judge there has been a media backlash against him pushed forward by the self same agencies he has allegedly harmed. The bottom line is that like MPs these agencies work for us. GCHQ is funded by the taxpayer, if it is wasting needed national resources discovering how many of us posted tweets on our favourite dogs isn’t it justified that we question what they are spending our money on. At a time of national austerity with ongoing cuts still impacting numerous government spending, what exactly are we getting for our money. Our MPs don’t seem to want to find out as I have previously blogged here. Our media for spitefulness , boredom or just plain laziness have not followed up. Where is the probing Channel 4 or BBC Panorama expose? Yes, they have reported on the Snowden allegations but where is their own investigation adding to the story. The NSA intercepting and tampering with Cisco routers was an allegation without specificity from Snowden. Then film emerged of the NSA doing it, it’s referenced in The Register’s article but still the doubters question Snowden’s authenticity.  This week, having claimed for months that they had no emails from Snowden complaining about anything, they suddenly released one email from him. How did they manage to find that? No emails means no emails, not one. Where are the others he cannot have sent just one?  Another scandal waiting to happen unreported in the mainstream press.

My final comments for today concern the real issue. On Friday we commemorated a major step in the fight to bring freedom to Europe. Freedom what does that mean? Freedom in my view is about freedom from oppression, free to think, comment and express opinions. The Internet has greatly extended this freedom. It has also given us the freedom to shop, post dog and children videos and endless meaningless chatter. The e-commerce activities have been significantly undermined by our so called security agencies deliberate attempts to break encryption and other secure systems. There actions have made us less secure as a whole. Billions of financial transactions are at risk because of exploits they either created or left in place so that they could spy on everything else. This is akin to a policeman breaking the locks of every house in case he needs to raid it at some stage in the future or a doctor creating a virus so that he always has plenty of patients.

This is not security, this is not in my interest and it’s a colossal waste of resources. Every part of government is scrutinised about how it spends our money except this one. Perhaps our own MPs might do the job they are elected to do rather than the one their party or government tells them to do. Cosy-ing up to the security services is not their job, representing us is; I wonder if they ever will?