Friday, 19 August 2011

Do you know the views of the super-rich about tax?

Warren Buffet is one of the richest men in the world so, one might suspect, he'd support tax breaks that help those who make the most money. Interestingly, he doesn't!

Read what he has to say about the American tax system in "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich"

Go on - it's well worth reading, especially if this recession has meant you're paying more tax, have lost your job or have seen your benefits cut.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Cycling in England

Earlier this year there were some calls for harsher penalties for dangerous cyclist, including the introduction of a parliamentary bill in the House of Commons that proposes a new criminal offence be created for dangerous cycling. These calls were generally motivated by an incident where "a 17-year-old girl, was knocked down by John Howard after he mounted a pavement at speed and ploughed into her and her group of friends in Buckingham." This incident is, indeed, shocking and any debate on how cyclists are accommodated on our roads, in a way that is safe for both them and other road users, is to be welcomed.

But the question that doesn't seem to have been asked is, why did John Howard mount the pavement? When I was a child, it was quite simple - you cycled on the pavement until you were big enough to ride an adult bike and then you cycled in the road. Technically, cycling on the footpath is still illegal. But when organisations, such as Pedestrian Liberation campaign about driving on footpaths - which is also illegal - with little success at stopping it, what hope is there for campaigners to get the police to enforce the law with regard to cyclists?

But the other part of the problem has to be cycle lanes. These seems to have sprung up like mushrooms after a heavy rain storm and, personally, I can see more coherence in a fairy ring than I can see in some of the cycle lanes. Let's look at some local examples...

These three all show shared footpath and cycle lanes, but is there really room for both a cyclist and the pedestrians?
This last one is confusing because not only is the path marked as a shared between pedestrians and cyclists but there's also a cycle path in the road:
So where are you meant to cycle? Then there are other ridiculous points, like you cycle along a marked cycle path and then...
Where, exactly, are you meant to go from here? There is actually no legal way to cycle past this sign so, presumably, one is meant to get of the bicycle, push it to the kerb, place it in the road and then re-mount. Let's be honest - who is going to bother?

And the final piece of nonsense is:
 How, exactly, are you meant to judge 10mph? Bicycles are not normally fitted with speedometers, so all a cyclist can do is guess their speed. Plus 10mph is still three times faster than the average walker (assuming they walk at 3mph, and I doubt those two young girls are walking that quickly) so from the perspective of a pedestrian, the cyclist will seem to whiz past, frighteningly fast.

Nobody can condone cyclist injuring or killing other road users. But before we introduce new laws to cater for these rare accidents, lets have some common sense over cycle lanes, and the use of spaces that are shared by pedestrians and cyclists.

Alternatively, we could enforce clauses 211 to 213 of the Highway Code which tells drivers to give motorcyclists and cyclists plenty of room. Then cyclists may feel more inclined to cycle on the road, and to leave the footpath for pedestrians.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Riots and the World Economy

With Cameron's latest announcement, about how Britain's "broken society" is to be his top priority, people seem to have forgotten the initial trigger for the riots in Tottenham. The police shot dead a minicab passenger in a 'planned operation' (as reported by the BBC). This was followed, on 8th August, by a piece in The Guardian, pointing out there were conflicting portraits of the victim, Mark Duggan, with his family saying, "He was a good man. He was a family man," and his fiancĂ©e reporting he was "a good Dad who idolised his kids". The Daily Mail reported "But Duggan, a known offender from London’s notorious Broadwater Farm Estate, became aware that he was being followed and opened fire on the officers.", repeatedly referring to Duggan as a gangster. But later in the same week, The Guardian reported, "Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police sparked London's riots, did not fire a shot at police officers before they killed him, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said" Does any of this sound familiar?

The same thing happened with Jean Charles de Menezes. The police shot him, and then claimed he was an illegal immigrant who was fleeing from the police - statements they later had to retract when his residency visa and CCTV footage of him walking into Stockwell Tube station emerged.

For those of us who lived in Hackney, even this story followed a familiar pattern as occurred when the police shot Harry Stanley. Immediately after his death, police claimed Harry was Irish and carrying a gun only for his family to point out he was Scottish and carrying a table leg!

To try and link Mark Duggan's death, and the subsequent riots, to gang culture is to simplify the current situation in Britain to the point of making it a nonsense. Even the Daily Mail felt obliged to report that Duggan "had become increasingly paranoid after a cousin was stabbed to death in a nightclub in March". A murder that, at the time of Duggan's death, remains unsolved. If the police can't protect you and your loved ones, who do you turn to? Is it really surprising that Duggan's Facebook page includes, "Several shots show him in gangster poses; in others he is dressed all in black, or shown gesturing from behind the wheel of a yellow sportscar with headlights blazing." Is this evidence of gang membership, or a young man posturing in the hope that he can scare away those who might him or his family?

There is also the minor point that people have been rioting on the streets of a number of countries, including Greece, Tunisia, Egypt and, of course, Libya where the British Government is supporting the rioters. In most of those cases, the riots have been triggered by rising food and fuel prices and, in some instances, the Government introducing austerity measures - so clearly nothing like the UK then!

Except there has been widespread strikes in June when there was a peaceful protest about changes in people's working conditions. The announcement of an 8% rise in train fares on 16th August was immediately met by demostrations! To suggest the UK is unaffected by the unrest across the wider world is to take an excessively myopic view of world affairs.

Much of the current unrest goes back to the chaos caused by the collapse of the banking industry and the world-wide bailout of banks. These bailouts gave banks 'money in their pockets' which they were meant to loan out to small business and, thus, kick-start an economic recovery. Instead the banks have used this cash to speculate (or should that be gamble?) on the commoditiy markets which has pushed up the price of basic goods, such as wheat, corn, rice and fuel. This, in turn, has lead to increases in prices for food across the world, the riots in the Arab world, the introduction of austerity measures by numerous Governments and the unrest across Europe and the UK.

It is hard to justify the damage and, in particular, the deaths, that have resulted from the riots but in the face of the damage caused by the collapse of the banking industry, and the cuts that are disproportionally impacting the lives of those who had least influence on that industry while those who caused the collapse not only escape, scot free, but still get paid their bonuses, is it really so surprising that people have gone out on the streets, and taken things into their own hands?