Monday, November 29, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
35+ year old Mayfair Mall is the nearest mall to the troubled Rock Bay industrial area. It used to have a wide mix of stores: a meat shop, kitchenware, bookstores, toy stores, Woodwards and its food floor, pharmacies and clothing stores. That variety appears to be dwindling.
By January, Mayfair will have kissed good-bye to Build-A-Bear, Spencer Gifts and Blue Notes. Mayfair is opting to not renew their leases. Fans of Spencers Gifts have started a Facebook group. Mayfair Mall appears to be narrowing its focus to being a "fashion" mall of clothing stores appealing to 20-something women. If that's their goal, I wish them luck. Into the 1980's, department stores were active in the consumer marketplace: they had everything from toys to gardening, grocery to garters. Stores started to lop out product variety. In the 1990s, retail chains popped off of the landscape. Eaton's was the most telling. They were fashion-heavy. When they survived near oblivion, they came back and heavily invested in being fashion-centric to the exclusion of most of their other products. And they tanked and disappeared. Conversely, retailers like Wal-Mart dominate the marketplace by having something for almost everyone. This is a hard lesson that has denuded the retailer ecology.
It's a lesson that Mayfair Mall needs to pay attention to. Malls are effectively balkanized department stores with 100 departments (stores) that different people shop at. Mayfair's product mix is narrow enough to make it my third choice for a mall (#1 is Hillside; #2 Tillicum). I have a family. We choose a mall based on whether a place has something for everyone when we shop for sport (c'mon: on Black Friday how can shopping not been seen as something between a bloodsport and a pastime). Losing Spencers and Build-A-Bear is not enough to ignore Mayfair. But if I were a retailer not selling fashion, I would be concerned when the lease expires. Has Mayfair developed a conscious no-riff-raff approach to its retailer mix? The store with the bongs is getting tossed. The store selling teddy bears is out. Are they going to toss the cigarette shop; the game stores; or the candy store?
Mayfair is well within its rights to decide who holds a lease in the mall, but it's consumer-building approach isn't going to work. The customer make-up of the mall is not ideal-- they're consumers who spent too much money in shops instead of being thrifty. Swapping out shops is not going make Mayfair Mall be in a ritzy part of town or stop fugitives from Traveller's Inn from taking refuge in the remaining stores.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
I am biased in favour of Voting "No" for the bridge project loan. Here's what the Yes and No vote says to me about the decisions being made when you go to the polling booth:
- Maybe you just want to see the bridge repaired.
- It's not that you want to keep the old bridge, you just don't want to green light a $50 million loan because of its implications.
- The replacement isn't costing $50-million. That's just the loan amount. It's budgeted at $77-million. Budget overruns are a given. This bridge could be $90-million or more. If you let them take out the loan, the City Council will take the in-for-a-penny approach. The extra millions will come from your pockets.
- This is your money and the City's decisions. Remember when they urged people to vote on the bridge design? Three viable candidate designs were foisted on us-- they purposefully omitted the repair option. The people spoke: they selected an option. Council took the second most popular option instead. Why? Because they're elected and they can do what they want until you vote them out of office. Dean Fortin said almost exactly that.
- Shoot-from-the-hip finances aren't a good practice. The City budget is laid out in great detail. Every dollar is accounted for-- budgeted for. Dean Fortin drove by Our Place during the aftermath of a pedestrian vs. car incident. He was so moved, he immediately and unilaterally found money for them to expand their opening hours. If he sees something shiny to add to the bridge project, don't think he won't tack it on. He's not an engineer, but he's at the top of the pecking order in the project.
- The cost of the bridge works out to over $30,000 per foot of lane (bike, car, pedestrian).
- If you are pro-cycling and anti-car, you are voting "Yes" to keep cars on the road. If you vote "Yes" sit out the next Critical Mass event because you don't really believe in the cause.
- If you are pro-heritage, you are voting "Yes" to tear down a world famous artifact of bridge engineering.
- If you are pro-rail, you are voting to keep light rail out of the downtown core until 2110. What? You hate light rail that much? Do you work for Exxon? Are you hoping we invent teleporters?
- You are hoping that the Bay St. Bridge is okay and handles the capacity during bridge construction, despite the fact that the city hasn't planned for this.
- You are hoping that this unproven design lasts 100 years-- though no other parallel to it has stood up for 100 years yet.
- If you are in favour of replacing instead of repairing, remember your mindset at the next election. Vote to replace all of the positions on council with new councilors. New is better, right?
- You should vote yes because of all of the money you, as a taxpayer, spent on pushing the Yes vote.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
For a long time I have involuntarily been helping the "Yes" campaign. All of the those bus shelter ads; and flyers and media blitzes-- I paid for those. As a taxpayer, I have been obliged to pay for the tens of thousands of dollars wasted on making the "Yes" side prominent and the defacto choice.
To be clear: the "Yes" isn't for the bridge-- it's for the loan and the plan to rush ahead. Flash back a year or so ago. The Conservatives were desperate to continue running the country. They flushed billions of dollars into the country to keep things going. They largely flushed it into the ridings where they had MPs. Gary Lunn got a super expensive overpass to speed people destined for the airport. Keith Martin should have asked for an overpass on the Colwood Crawl (like his rival Troy DeSouza was pushing for); but he asked for nothing and nothing came. Victoria is the NDP nexus (home of federal Denise Savoie, provincial MLAs Rob Fleming and Carole James; and NDP-aligned mayor Dean Fortin). If any part of the country was not going to get funding, it would be Victoria. Add its political leanings and biases to the fact that we got a tonne of money for transportation overhauls in 1999 and it's clear: no money was coming.
This didn't stop Dean Fortin and his staff from rushing in a proposal to tap into all of that juicy funding.
Fortin said the bridge was in dire need of replacement. He was likely right. Starting the year that Fortin was elected to council-- during Alan Lowe's second term-- the maintenance budget for the Blue Bridge plummeted. Rainy Victoria does no favour to metal. Lamp standards in Victoria have rusted through and spontaneously fallen over not a block from the bridge. The bridge, being 86 years old, needs maintenance. If the City gives up on such maintenance, then, yes, the bridge will fall into disrepair and need to be replaced.
But the bridge maintenance neglect has only happened over the last six years. It is possible to overhaul the bridge. But that's not what the Action Plan would cover. Fortin, being an excellent grant writer, knows how to hammer a square peg into a round hole. The repair option was discounted, they found a sole source for the bridge replacement design and declared that it would only cost $50 million.
To hammer off the corners of the bridge project, they jettisoned the rail line. The best way to move a lot of commuters is rail, so this transit route (the bridge) isn't going to be available to move high density transportation.
"YES" means that for the next 100 years (est. lifespan of the bridge) the rail line will terminate in Vic-West instead of continuing into downtown. So, the CRD's commitment to light rail as a means of moving people in the CRD will be stymied for 5 generations. "YES" doesn't give us the money needed to erect a bridge. It gives us $50 million. If the final cost is $60 or $80 million, we don't have a loan provision or a "blank cheque" checkbox on the referendum question. That additional cost will be our cost as taxpayers in the city and the region.
This has been a rushed process. Fortin and City Hall have painted themselves into a corner. They have said the
I am voting "NO" and I urge you to do the same.
- No to the loan
- No to excluding light rail in Victoria
- No to a blank cheque for budget overruns
- No to tearing down an 86 yr. old structure because an unproven structure could last 100 years.
- We still want to replace the bridge with a reasonable assessment of the situation; and multiple bids from contractors.
- We need to ask what the role of Downtown Victoria will be in 30 years.
- We need to ask what happens when the next big expense hits.
- We need to remember that the Bay St. Bridge is even more important to the region.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
While MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower played roles in the drama, and this contributed to the political sunset of Hoover, FDR wanted to screw the veterans. When in office, Roosevelt turned them into workhorses as part of his overall New Deal plan to put people back to work. When 258 of the veterans-turned-workers died in a September 1936 hurricane, public sentiment shifted. This eventually resulted in the GI Bill of Right by 1944 (luckily passed in time for WWII veterans who were coming home). The effective reward for service resulted in the Boomer generation. World War II veterans were given education and home loans. This caused a bulge of post-labour workers with homes and it effectively created the "middle class". The Cold War sustained the military industrial complex and made the middle class a phenomenon that lasted into the 1980s.
Every generation for the last 100 years has had a great war in the US: The Spanish-American War, World War I (sure they arrived late, but they sure took credit for it), World War II (again, late for the party), the Korean War, the Vietnam War, then the first Iraqi War and the "War on Terror." Different wars had different outcomes, but only the veterans of World War II got the full force of the veteran benefits. War is meant to be avoided because of the cost in lives and the economic impact (ask the British-- after six years of war vs. the Axis, then endured another decade of rations and austerity). This holds true for veterans too: they come home after losing years of career building and potentially being maimed. Instead, the GI Bill of Rights gave veterans of World War II a net benefit for their time of service.
Pumping money into the economy through veterans gave us a a better educated workforce and a few decades of prosperity (allbeit through the pockets of spoiled Boomers). Veterans of the other wars have been forgotten and we've paid the price economicially.
The practice of war-time military bonuses began in 1776, as payment for the difference between what a soldier earned and what he could have earned had he not enlisted. Before World War One, the soldier's military service bonus (adjusted for rank) was land and money—a Continental Army private received 100 acres (40 ha) and $80.00 at war's end while a Maj. Gen. received 1,100 acres (450 ha). In 1855, Congress increased the land-grant minimum to 160 acres (65 ha), and reduced the eligibility requirements to fourteen days of military service, or one battle; moreover, the bonus also applied to veterans of any Indian war. Breaking with tradition, the veterans of the Spanish-American War did not receive a bonus. After World War I veterans received only a $60 bonus. In 1919, the American Legion was created, and led a political movement for an additional bonus.
In 1924, over-riding President Calvin Coolidge's veto, Congress legislated compensation for veterans in recognition of their war-time suffering. Each veteran was to receive a dollar for each day of domestic service, to a maximum of $500; and $1.25 for each day of overseas service, to a maximum of $625. Amounts owed of $50 or less were immediately paid; greater sums were issued as certificates of service maturing in 20 years.
Some 3,662,374 military service certificates were issued, with a face value of $3.638 billion. Congress established a trust fund to receive 20 annual payments of $112 million that, with interest, would finance the $3.638 billion dollars owed to the veterans in 1945. Meanwhile, veterans could borrow up to 22.5% of the certificate's face value from the fund. In 1931, because of the Great Depression, Congress increased the loan value to 50 percent of the certificate's face value; yet, by April 1932, loans amounting to $1.248 billion dollars had been paid, leaving a $2.36-billion-dollar deficit. Although there was Congressional support for the immediate redemption (payment) of the military service certificates, President Hoover and Republican congressmen opposed that, because it would negatively affect the Federal Government's budget and Depression-relief programs. Meanwhile, veterans organizations pressed the Federal Government to allow the early redemption of their military service certificates.
Arrival in Washington
The Bonus Army massed at the United States Capitol on June 17 as the U.S. Senate voted on the Patman Bonus Bill, which would have moved forward the date when World War I veterans received a cash bonus. Most of the Bonus Army camped in a Hooverville on the Anacostia Flats, a swampy, muddy area across the Anacostia River from the federal core of Washington, just south of the 11th Street Bridges (now Section C of Anacostia Park). The camps, built from materials scavenged from a nearby rubbish dump, were tightly controlled by the veterans with streets laid out, sanitation facilities built and parades held daily. To live in the camps, veterans were required to register and prove they had been honorably discharged. The protesters had hoped that they could convince Congress to make payments that would be granted to veterans immediately, which would have provided relief for the marchers who were unemployed due to the Depression. The bill had passed the House of Representatives on June 15 but was blocked in the Senate.
U.S. Army intervenes
On July 28, 1932, Attorney General Mitchell ordered the police evacuation of the Bonus Army veterans. When the veterans moved back into their old camp, they rushed two policeman trapped on the second floor of a building. The cornered police drew their revolvers and shot and killed two veterans William Hushka and Eric Carlson who died later. When told of this, President Hoover ordered the army to effect the evacuation of the Bonus Army from Washington.
At 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry Regiment, Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, Fort Myer, Virginia, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of civil service employees left work to line the street and watch the U.S. Army attack its own veterans. The Bonus Marchers, believing the display was in their honour, cheered the troops until Maj. Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the civil service spectators to yell, "Shame! Shame!"
After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest camp and President Hoover ordered the assault stopped. However Gen. MacArthur, feeling this exercise was a Communist attempt at overthrowing the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty five veterans were injured with 135 arrested. A veteran's wife miscarried. The infant, Bernard Myers, died in the hospital after the incident but reports indicated the death was not caused by the evacuation of the BEF.
The Posse Comitatus Act—forbidding civilian police work by the U.S. military—did not apply to Washington, D.C., because it is the federal district directly governed by the U.S. Congress (U.S. Constitution, Article I. Section 8. Clause 17). The exemption was created because of an earlier "Bonus March." In 1781, most of the Continental Army was demobilized without pay. Two years later hundreds of Pennsylvania war veterans marched on Philadelphia, surrounding the State House where Congress was in session, and demanded their pay. The U.S. Congress fled to Princeton, New Jersey, and several weeks later, the U.S. Army expelled the war veterans from the national capital.
A movie, Gabriel Over the White House, was released by MGM in March 1933 that depicted the Bonus March, but with a more positive outcome. Produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, it concerned the actions of "President Hammond" who ends the depression and solves the marchers' problems through authoritarian means, which result in a stable economy, elimination of crime, and creation of world peace.
Following his election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not want to pay the bonus early either. In March 1933, Roosevelt issued an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the Civilian Conservation Corps for work in forests. When they marched on Washington again in May 1933, he sent his wife Eleanor to chat with the vets and pour coffee with them, and she persuaded many of them to sign up for jobs making a roadway to the Florida Keys, which was to become the Overseas Highway, the southernmost portion of U.S. Route 1. The third-strongest hurricane ever measured, the September 2, 1935 Labor Day hurricane, killed 258 veterans working on the Highway. Most were killed by storm surge flooding. After seeing more newsreels of veterans giving their lives for a government that had taken them for granted, public sentiment built up so much that Congress could no longer afford to ignore it in an election year (1936). Roosevelt's veto was overridden, making the bonus a reality.
Perhaps the Bonus Army's greatest accomplishment was the piece of legislation known as the G. I. Bill of Rights. Passed in July 1944, it immensely helped veterans from the Second World War to secure needed assistance from the federal government to help them fit back into civilian life, something the World War I veterans of the Bonus Army had not received. The Bonus Army's activities can also be seen as a template for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and popular political demonstrations and activism that took place in the U.S. later in the 20th century.
Friday, November 05, 2010
We expect sympathy and civility but we need do that for others. People are driving a mile a minute in a ton of metal and plastic. When you're standing on a wide sidewalk, you expect that a motorist shouldn't take a shortcut over a meaty speed bump (you). That expectation is a network-- it's only as likely to be received as it is to be given.
But instead, we are a consumer culture. The politicians who give us more get elected. Those who say that they will give you more for less, get elected. In the US, it means they elected the Republicans who will squash medical insurance requirements. In Canada, Gordo expected that a 15% discount on our BC taxes would make us buy Campbell band Kool-aid.
The problem is that these rules are breaking down. Cheaper is better: if paying for homeless shelters and drug rehab costs money, not paying for it is better. Conversely, if working for your food and shelter costs money; and working a job takes time, then not working for food and shelter is better. The rich are bad consumers: they earn money-- sucking it out of the economy and holding onto it. The poorer you are, the better a consumer you are-- the more likely you are to spend 100% of your income on key indicators that drive the economy (food, clothing, doodads). It gets to a point where if you're so poor that you're not making ends meet, then going into debt makes you an even better consumer. The interest you pay on debts funnels into investment return for those bad rich consumers who just plunk their money in the bank. Poor people are responsible for the retirement riches of the last generation.
If you are a user-- one who sucks down the products of others-- you are fulfilling our economic model. The problem is that the more-for-less approach is rife through our society. No longer is it about a cheap burger-- we want more for less in our social responsibilities.
To bring this home, Victoria's Mayor's home was vandalized. If you know me or know what I've written about Dean Fortin, you know I'm not a fan of his. I don't think much of him or his track record. This week, a downtown homeless shelter closed to be replaced by a larger and more inclusive shelter just outside of the downtown core-- the new facilities make provisions for homeless families, people with pets and the "common" homeless crowd. The out-of-sight location has rankled the riff-raff. Victoria is a short distance from a number of campgrounds and wild areas (like Goldstream and Mount Doug Park)-- but when the "homeless" (I have to quote that phrase because "homeless" gives people the mistaken impression all of the people do not have a home-- many do have homes and family in the region) sought campgrounds, they popped their tents in downtown Victoria. It's where their friends hang out, so it's where they need to be. When Haitians were displaced and made literally homeless following the quake in January, they took up in tents in deplorable refugee camps-- they didn't say "nah... I'd like a waterfront refugee camp, please-- maybe near a liquor store." Homeless people along the I-5 corridor in the US base themselves at rest stops because it's close to water, electricity and some panhandling; they live out of the campers or their cars. If Victoria's campers were so desperate that they needed to live in tents, they would hunker down where necessities were available and campgrounds were established. In the more-for-less mindset of selfishness, why not use the campground near downtown. If one doesn't exist, find a lawyer to help you make any park into a campground. It makes a lifetime of being in the homeless society that much more bearable.
People are saying that the attack on Dean Fortin and his family's home is "class war" may be true. And, I'm sorry to say: we need to fight and win this class war. We need to commit social genocide. If people are homeless, they are supposed to be homeless for the shortest period of time. They're not supposed to set-up the artifacts of society: a social network, an infrastructure that allows them to stay in a static state. Homeless people depend on the charity of others-- they need civility so that they don't become human speed bumps. But there cannot be a "homeless culture"-- we need to destroy the culture-- depopulate their ranks by making poor people into prosperous people. But prosperity needs to be easier to achieve and people have to reach for it. Instead, vandals are spray painting houses in the night when homeless culture is being threatened by the long commute to the shelter.
Gordon Campbell provincially and Jean Chretien/Paul Martin federally have long abandoned the government's social responsibility to the poor. The situation hasn't improved under Harper and his Conservatives, but they're reaping the benefits of years of Liberal apathy. Affordable housing is a necessity but only shelters for high risk/special needs people and those at imminent risk of being homeless has been funded. By dropping the Federal rental building subsidies, developers have stopped building apartments and started build condos and have done so for a generation. The net effect is people who are on a precarious footing because the inventory of affordable housing-- just plain cheap apartments-- is very low in the Victoria area. If you lose at this musical chairs game of shelter, you're out on the street.
The solution is not your government. The solution is you. I will grant you that people on the street are in a well. It's a Herculean effort to improve, made harder if your support network is intent on maintaining their culture. So let's say that if you're on the street, you need help out of that culture. Either street people are seeking to escape and they need help; or they don't seek escape and are content. If they are content, they don't need any help. They aren't freed of their social responsibilities. I have to obey the law, be civil to others, sort my recycling and not litter. They have that responsibility too. If they abandon that civility in themselves then they should expect none in return.
Theoretically, there are about 700 street people in Victoria. So, does that say that 700 circles of friends and family have said, "nah... I'd rather you live on the street than surf on my couch"? If so, those 700 circles should be ashamed. The most basic units of society are your friends and family. If they are turning their backs on these people, then that's where the failure lies. When David Johnston won his right to sleep outdoors, his mother in the background should have been ashamed that she so completely abandoned her responsibility to both care for her son and instill in him a sense of responsibility. While he may be the pinnacle of the Capitalist mindset-- getting property near Cook St. Village for zero dollars; people like him are lousy, selfish people.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
Campbell is a selfish micro-manager who does what he wants when he wants. Any decent politician would have resigned after being caught drunk driving. When he drove up to announce that the Coquilhalla toll booths were being shut down, the Ministry of Transportation and Highways had no idea this was coming-- even the toll booth workers in the background of his announcement didn't know he was announcing an end to their jobs. This approach continued into last week. Obama does a weekly address via Youtube, but Gordo needed to spend a quarter million dollars of our money to tell us that he was going to autocratically take 15% off of the first $72,000. Whoop-de-doo. The BC tax is part of your overall tax bill, so Gordo was promising something like a 5% reduction on income tax. Also, he was changing the budget and taxation without legislation-- Campbell has forgotten that he's the leader of a government.
Two weeks ago, Campbell's course solidified. Before Gary Collins could testify, Basi-Virk were given a sweet deal so that they could close down the trial. No doubt there is enough evidence to refute any of Collins' claims of innocence about corruption. So, if Collins couldn't lie, he'd have to pass the buck to the Liberal micro-manager, Gordon Campbell. This is why the trial was stopped in its tracks-- if Collins' testimony is never heard then the trail of guilt can be interrupted.
If you've seen the Sopranos, you know that when someone chops up a body, they either get help or their buddies know that Loose-Lips-Larry is now part of the sausage. Christy Clark, who has long sought to get her seat in the Premier's office, left the legislature following strong connections between Bruce Clark and the BC Rail trials. Campbell, Collins and Clark are not the only three people who know what's in the sausage: others in the Liberal caucus and cabinet know what was going on-- they likely gabbed about it like they do all of their misdeeds.
Campbell has turned from a lightning rod to a boat anchor with his sinking approval rating. The rest of the Liberals want to stay in office. Campbell wanted to control his cabinet, but he can't afford to ouster all of the Liberals who know his involvement in the BC Rail trial. If he tossed them, they could spill the beans. If he tossed enough of them, he may even threaten the Liberal majority. So he had to shuffle them. That didn't do enough to fix the problem. If Liberals didn't act soon, Campbell would eventually sideline those in the know. So, members of the cabinet had the ammunition to toss Campbell: if he stays in office, they'll play connect the dots. This is why sturdy micro-manager Campbell made a choked resignation speech-- he had to leave of his own accord, or the next raid in the legislature would happen in his office.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
This comes from Charlie Stross' site, but that site is crashing under heavy load, so I've reposted it here.
Did somebody just try to buy the British government?
(Hat tip to [REDACTED] over on LJ for spotting this one ...)
(DUE TO THE HEAVY LOAD WE'RE CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING, I'm going to disable comments for a couple of hours. Normal service will be resumed as and when the load drops below 50,000 readers/hour — cs.)
Hansard is the official printed transcript of the proceedings of the houses of parliament — in other words, the working log of the British government.
It is an authoritative primary source, and records every speech made in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Interestingly, it also records words spoken under parliamentary privilege.
So when an eminent member of the House of Lords stands up six hours into a debate and blows the gaff on a shadowy foreign Foundation making a bid to buy the British state, and this is recorded in Hansard, one tends to sit up and take notice. And one takes even more notice when His Lordship tip-toes around actually naming the Foundation in question, especially after the throw-away about money-laundering for the IRA on behalf of the Bank of England. Parliamentary privilege only stretches so far, it seems, and Foundation X is beyond its reach. I'm going to quote at length below the cut — if you want to read the original, search for "1 Nov 2010 : Column 1538" which is where things begin to tip-toe into Robert Ludlum territory.
(NB: The venue is the House of Lords, at 10:42pm on November 1st, 2010.)
Lord James of Blackheath: At this point, I am going to have to make a very big apology to my noble friend Lord Sassoon [Treasury Minister], because I am about to raise a subject that I should not raise and which is going to be one which I think is now time to put on a higher awareness, and to explain to the House as a whole, as I do not think your Lordships have any knowledge of it. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde [Leader of the House] is not with us at the moment, because this deeply concerns him also.
For the past 20 weeks I have been engaged in a very strange dialogue with the two noble Lords, in the course of which I have been trying to bring to their attention the willing availability of a strange organisation which wishes to make a great deal of money available to assist the recovery of the economy in this country. For want of a better name, I shall call it foundation X. That is not its real name, but it will do for the moment. Foundation X was introduced to me 20 weeks ago last week by an eminent City firm, which is FSA controlled. Its chairman came to me and said, "We have this extraordinary request to assist in a major financial reconstruction. It is megabucks, but we need your help to assist us in understanding whether this business is legitimate". I had the biggest put-down of my life from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde when I told him this story. He said, "Why you? You're not important enough to have the answer to a question like that". He is quite right, I am not important enough, but the answer to the next question was, "You haven't got the experience for it". Yes I do. I have had one of the biggest experiences in the laundering of terrorist money and funny money that anyone has had in the City. I have handled billions of pounds of terrorist money.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham [Labour]: Where did it go to?
Lord James of Blackheath: Not into my pocket. My biggest terrorist client was the IRA and I am pleased to say that I managed to write off more than £1 billion of its money. I have also had extensive connections with north African terrorists, but that was of a far nastier nature, and I do not want to talk about that because it is still a security issue. I hasten to add that it is no good getting the police in, because I shall immediately call the Bank of England as my defence witness, given that it put me in to deal with these problems.
The point is that when I was in the course of doing this strange activity, I had an interesting set of phone numbers and references that I could go to for help when I needed it. So people in the City have known that if they want to check out anything that looks at all odd, they can come to me and I can press a few phone numbers to obtain a reference. The City firm came to me and asked whether I could get a reference and a clearance on foundation X. For 20 weeks, I have been endeavouring to do that. I have come to the absolute conclusion that foundation X is completely genuine and sincere and that it directly wishes to make the United Kingdom one of the principal points that it will use to disseminate its extraordinarily great wealth into the world at this present moment, as part of an attempt to seek the recovery of the global economy.
I made the phone call to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on a Sunday afternoon—I think he was sitting on his lawn, poor man—and he did the quickest ball pass that I have ever witnessed. If England can do anything like it at Twickenham on Saturday, we will have a chance against the All Blacks. The next think I knew, I had my noble friend Lord Sassoon on the phone. From the outset, he took the proper defensive attitude of total scepticism, and said, "This cannot possibly be right". During the following weeks, my noble friend said, "Go and talk to the Bank of England". So I phoned the governor and asked whether he could check this out for me. After about three days, he came back and said, "You can get lost. I'm not touching this with a bargepole; it is far too difficult. Take it back to the Treasury". So I did. Within another day, my noble friend Lord Sassoon had come back and said, "This is rubbish. It can't possibly be right". I said, "I am going to work more on it". Then I brought one of the senior executives from foundation X to meet my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I have to say that, as first dates go, it was not a great success. Neither of them ended up by inviting the other out for a coffee or drink at the end of the evening, and they did not exchange telephone numbers in order to follow up the meeting.
I found myself between a rock and a hard place that were totally paranoid about each other, because the foundation X people have an amazing obsession with their own security. They expect to be contacted only by someone equal to head of state status or someone with an international security rating equal to the top six people in the world. This is a strange situation. My noble friends Lord Sassoon and Lord Strathclyde both came up with what should have been an absolute killer argument as to why this could not be true and that we should forget it. My noble friend Lord Sassoon's argument was that these people claimed to have evidence that last year they had lodged £5 billion with British banks. They gave transfer dates and the details of these transfers. As my noble friend Lord Sassoon, said, if that were true it would stick out like a sore thumb. You could not have £5 billion popping out of a bank account without it disrupting the balance sheet completely. But I remember that at about the same time as those transfers were being made the noble Lord, Lord Myners [former Labour Treasury Minister], was indulging in his game of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic of the British banking community. If he had three banks at that time, which had had, say, a deficiency of £1.5 million each, then you would pretty well have absorbed the entire £5 billion, and you would not have had the sore thumb stick out at that time; you would have taken £1.5 billion into each of three banks and you would have absorbed the lot. That would be a logical explanation—I do not know.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde came up with a very different argument. He said that this cannot be right because these people said at the meeting with him that they were still effectively on the gold standard from back in the 1920s and that their entire currency holdings throughout the world, which were very large, were backed by bullion. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde came back and said to me that he had an analyst working on it and that this had to be stuff and nonsense. He said that they had come up with a figure for the amount of bullion that would be needed to cover their currency reserves, as claimed, which would be more than the entire value of bullion that had ever been mined in the history of the world. I am sorry but my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is wrong; his analysts are wrong. He had tapped into the sources that are available and there is only one definitive source for the amount of bullion that has ever been taken from the earth's crust. That was a National Geographic magazine article 12 years ago. Whatever figure it was that was quoted was then quoted again on six other sites on the internet—on Google. Everyone is quoting one original source; there is no other confirming authority. But if you tap into the Vatican accounts—of the Vatican bank--— come up with a claim of total bullion—
Lord De Mauley [Government Whip]: The noble Lord is into his fifteenth minute. I wonder whether he can draw his remarks to a conclusion.
Lord James of Blackheath: The total value of the Vatican bank reserves would claim to be more than the entire value of gold ever mined in the history of the world. My point on all of this is that we have not proven any of this. Foundation X is saying at this moment that it is prepared to put up the entire £5 billion for the funding of the three Is recreation; the British Government can have the entire independent management and control of it—foundation X does not want anything to do with it; there will be no interest charged; and, by the way, if the British Government would like it as well, if it will help, the foundation will be prepared to put up money for funding hospitals, schools, the building of Crossrail immediately with £17 billion transfer by Christmas, if requested, and all these other things. These things can be done, if wished, but a senior member of the Government has to accept the invitation to a phone call to the chairman of foundation X—and then we can get into business. This is too big an issue. I am just an ageing, obsessive old Peer and I am easily dispensable, but getting to the truth is not. We need to know what really is happening here. We must find out the truth of this situation.
I am left rubbing my eyes.
Did a not-obviously-insane member of the government — a corporate troubleshooter and Conservative life peer — really just stand up in the House of Lords and announce that a shadowy Foundation (that might or might not represent the Vatican) was offering the British government an investment of umpty-billion pounds in order to reboot the economy — free, gratis, with no strings attached?Or am I just imagining the "no strings attached" clause?
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Every year I angst for about 30 seconds that I am not diving into the NaNoWriMo. Maxwell Grant (one of my writing heroes) used to lap the NaNoWriMo by turning out two 60,000 word Shadow novels every month.
If you were an aspiring writer, what is more important to you? Accomplishing the goal of NaNoWriMo and completing a novel; or seeing what your friends are doing on Friday night via Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is worse than murder. The 500 million users expending a median of 10 minutes per day expend 126 lifetimes of time each day. If a car model used up 46,000 lives per year the CEO for that car company would be up on criminal charges.
To turn out 60,000 words, you need 60,000 "keeper" words-- words after typos and rethinks. When I write, I type at about 80 words per minute of which I end up with 20 "keeper" words per minute (WPM). Let's say I'm too fast which is why my writing sucks, so someone should be able to turn out 10 WPM.
To turn out a novel, you would have to write for 6,000 minutes or 100 hours. If you only use Facebook and Twitter a little then you can't mine those time sucks for found time. But what if you used those two sites for three hours a day? Would you give up Facebook and Twitter for a month and, in exchange, spend the time producing your Great [Country] Novel? Or, would you rather kibitz about what Jimmy and Ashley are doing on Friday night?