tisdag 28 april 2009

Puttgarden to Rødby ferry to end

Train on the Puttgarden to Rødby ferry

With the recent confirmation of construction of a 19km long bridge from Puttgarden in Germany to Rødby in Denmark, which to be finished in 2018, one of the last train ferries will come to an end. A Danish IC3 train is seen here on the car deck of the Scandlines ferry.

måndag 27 april 2009

Old cars suddenly worth money

Rusty car

This car is probably too far gone to qualify for the government's new "scrapping grant" to boost the ailing car industry, but old cars now qualify for a £1000 grant and a further £1000 manufacturer's discount.

As a result of the law of unintended consequences, derelict old bangers are suddenly worth £2000. It is the kind of thing that happens when governments operate without any underlying principles to guide their decisions and policies can only be made on an ad hoc basis. It is a recipe for disaster.

The cost of this piece of nonsense is is expected to amount to £300 million, enough to pay for 60 new Electrostar trains like these. Who decided the priority or did the decision just happen?

Lewes station with Electrostar train

onsdag 22 april 2009

Why I am a "Roman" Catholic

The use of the term "Roman" Catholic is confined to certain protestant countries where it distinguishes it from other protestant religious groupings which refer to themselves as catholic. In England, for example, the Church of England describes itself as "catholic and reformed" ie protestant, and within it there is an "Anglo-Catholic" group which adheres to many of the liturgical practices of the Catholic church and considers itself as a continuation of the pre-Reformation English Church, whose allegiance was to Rome.

The Catholic church is that Christian body which is in direct line of descent from the Apostles and in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the successors of St Peter. Authority for this claim comes from Matthew 16: 18-19, which establishes the role of the Roman Bishop as exercising a special ministry as the head of the Christian Church on earth.

"You are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."

The Church of England is not recognised as being in communion with the Bishop of Rome, a matter which was clarified in Apostolicae Curae, a Bull Pope Leo XIII issued in 1896, which declared Anglican orders invalid.

Unlike all other Christian denominations, there never was a time after the Apostles when something called "Catholic church" came into existence. It is the church that begins at the foot of the cross when Jesus said to his mother "Woman, this is your son" and then to the disciple: "This is your mother". (John 19:26-27)

It is the magisterium of the Catholic Church, working out of tradition, that determines how scripture is to be interpreted. A key teaching is that through the ministry of its validly ordained priests, bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, not in a merely symbolic way but in a manner that makes them really present on the altar. In addition to tradition, we know this from John 6:53–56/60.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him".

"Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"

This was a deliberately shocking statement, because the drinking of blood is forbidden to Jews. Jesus made no attempt to soften what he said, no attempt to correct "misunderstandings," for there were none. His listeners understood perfectly well and were duly shocked, to the point that many of them left him. They no longer thought he was speaking metaphorically. If he had been and they had misunderstood what he said, why was there no correction?

Thus these passages can only have been included if it were intended to emphasise the point that the eating of flesh and drinking of blood were not merely symbolic. It is only the Apostolic (Catholic and Orthodox) churches which make this claim unequivocally.

To conclude, here is a performance of Tu Es Petrus by Palestrina.

Left Economics

Something called the "Left Economics Advisory Panel" is having a conference next Saturday under the title 'Capitalism Isn't Working'.

Speakers and contributors include the usual gang: John Christensen (Tax Justice Network), Penny Cole, Bob Crow (RMT), Andrew Fisher, Paul Feldman, Professor Gregor Gall, Gerry Gold, Rahila Gupta (Southall Black Sisters), Colin Hampton (UWC), John Hilary (War on Want), Jerry Jones, John McDonnell MP, Cllr Gordon Nardell, Rosamund Stock, Graham Turner, Professor Richard Wilkinson, Matt Wrack (FBU).

Leaving aside the question of what exactly is meant by "Capitalism", what is "Left Economics"? Isn't there just plain economics?

Surely economics is the study of causes and effects and an attempt to establish what were the relationships between the two? Though Stalin had a go at enforcing a particular and false view of biology, there isn't such a thing as "Left Chemistry" or "Left Mathematics", so how can there be a left economics?

måndag 20 april 2009

Why I am a Catholic









Italian Church

I have not before referred to why I became a Catholic, but this Sunday's reading prompted me to go public. The reading was John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, 'Peace be with you,' and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, 'Peace be with you.' 'As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.' After saying this he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.'

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, 'We have seen the Lord,' he answered, 'Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.'

Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. 'Peace be with you' he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.' Thomas replied, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him: 'You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.'

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

One day in 1975 some colleagues asked me to take pictures for their wedding. I agreed and asked where it was being held. I was shocked when they told me that is was to be at the Italian Church in Clerkenwell (photograph). I thought they were too intelligent to go in for that sort of thing, as nearly all my other friends had got married in registry offices. But I needed to check out the venue beforehand. The only opportunity was to join them at a Sunday mass and in any case I was a bit curious to see what happened. I had not the foggiest idea of what was going on because the whole thing was in Latin and Italian.

He showed me His hands and His feet.

The world exploded. The words of the passage above came into my head. I know that I had actually met the risen Christ and like Thomas, been reassured that there was indeed a hole in His side. I sensed that the priest was not saying the Mass just for the people present but for me, too, and in fact for the entire world. I felt overwhelmed by an outpouring of generosity. And came away feeling, in a phrase that was around at the time, "that was a really nice thing to do".

There was more. From a very young age I had always had a sense of wanting something without knowing what that something was. A relationship, perhaps? An object? A satisfying job? I had always wished something nice would happen. Now it had. The Mass was the something. I had an intense feeling of light and love.

What then? I did not want to become a Catholic. It was a religion for poor stupid peasants and members of the IRA who would let off their bombs and then go to confession. And my family and friends would not like it. But after a short while the thing started to nag at me. So I mentioned it to my friend and he arranged for me to go to a Jesuit, a Father Richard Copeland +, for instruction. That went well until the time came to make a decision. People tried to talk me out of it but in the end I had to go through with it.

It proved to be the best decision I ever made. Only I didn't make it. The decision was made for me.

onsdag 15 april 2009

Microsoft - the biter bit

Microsoft has been ordered to pay US$388 million (£259m) in damages after a US jury found the company guilty of infringing a patent for technology meant to deter software piracy. The bill for infringing software patent Microsoft earned billions of dollars by using the technology in its Windows XP. The Singapore-based company Uniloc sued Microsoft in 2003, alleging it copied software designed by the company's founder Ric Richardson. The company alleged Microsoft earned billions of dollars by using the technology in its Windows XP and Office programs.

Last week, a jury in America found Microsoft violated the patent and directed the software giant to pay Uniloc $US388 million. The sum is the fifth-largest patent jury award in US history but the company is awaiting a final decision by the judge, who could increase the award three times.

The jurors found that Microsoft "wilfully and intentionally" infringed Uniloc's patent for a software registrations system that allows software makers to create try-before-you-buy versions of their work.

But why use Microsoft products at all? You can probably get all the software you need free of charge from OpenSuse. A good case of the biter bit. Read full article here

Spat with Tax Justice Network

The Tax Justice Network (TJN) has been running a campaign against tax havens for some while now. But it takes the view that the tax system just needs to be tightened up - a bit more regulation and exchange, and all will be well. It is unwilling to accept that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the tax system itself. I posted this comment on their blog site...

The problem with the tax system is that it is essentially a structure of perverse incentives. Successful, honest and legal, above the board activity, and thrift, are punished, whilst idleness, fecklessness, and dishonest and illegal activity, are rewarded. That is the nature of the tax system.

The effect is that the GNP is about 12% less than it would otherwise be due to the deadweight effect of taxes - that is wealth which would have been created were it not for the tax system.

Governments know this and mitigate with ad hoc concessions. These make the system ever more complex and incomprehensible, but they also create loopholes. The fat cats are best placed to pay for the professional advice to search out the loopholes and exploit them.

There is not and cannot be such a thing as an international tax system. To prevent tax avoidance at that level would require collaboration in the implementation of draconian and authoritarian measures.

It is up to national tax jurisdictions to safeguard their own revenue through proper design of their tax systems, bearing in mind the fundamental point that people and capital are mobile, whilst companies can exist in many locations simultaneously and can shift their cash flows around internally to exploit differences in tax in different jurisdictions.

I received this in response...

Nonsense. Read more here, or here, or here,

My response was.

Those texts do not answer the fundamental critique that tax as we have it today is a structure of perverse incentives - that if you work honestly and successfully, the fruits of your labour are confiscated.

Nor do they address the deadweight cost of the system, the arms race generated by introducing loopholes or the fact that is would take draconian measures of control to plug the leaks.

Taking the points from the first of the links, you mention the four "Rs".

The first “R” is Revenue. Taxes raise money to pay for health, roads and education, or for more indirect things like good regulation and administration.

The tax system is incapable of raising anywhere near the amount of revenue needed for these purposes. It also ties up vast sums of money in welfare payments to alleviate the problems of poverty caused by the system itself.

The second “R” is Redistribution: taxation can help reduce poverty and inequality, and spread the benefits of development more widely. Different taxes have different effects.

Too true. Under our so-called progressive tax system based on the taxation of gross pay, for someone on the minimum wage, gross labour costs to the employer are 75% over and above the net purchasing power of the wage. This puts employers under inordinate pressure to reduce their total labour bill, and so they employ as few people as possible and often less than they need and would do if gross labour costs were more closely aligned to net wages. This is especially so in the care and public services sectors.

Who suffers? Young and low-skill workers, leading ultimately to the three-generation unemployed family. The tax system as we know it really is an engine for keeping the poor down. It creates, sustains and reinforces inequality.

The third “R” is Repricing. Taxes (and subsidies) can be used to change people’s behaviour: taxing tobacco, pollution or carbon-based energy, for example, is accepted by many people as a way to curb potentially harmful activities, particularly “externalities” that represent failures in free markets or other forms of social organisation.

Yes! This gets to the core of the issue. All taxes affect behaviour. Taxes on windows led to bricked-up windows. And it is precisely why taxes on labour lead to idleness. Taxes should not be tolerated without regard to their effects on people's actions. And people should pay the cost of externalities, both costs incurred and benefits received. Thus, it would be reasonable to levy taxes on packaging both to cover the cost of disposal and to signal to the customer that there is such a cost.

The biggest externality relates to the costs and benefits enjoyed by landowners, as reflected in the rental value of land, which ought to be collected as public revenue but in practice are ignored.

The fourth “R” is Representation. Historians are familiar with this function, but many of us have forgotten it. American colonists who were being taxed under British colonial rule famously demanded “no taxation without representation.” This is not just an oddity of history, however, but a much more general rule: citizens who are taxed tend to demand accountability and representation in exchange from their rulers. People want to influence how their hard-earned money is spent; as a result, taxation helps keep governments on their toes. As a result of this bargaining between rulers and their subjects, taxation strengthens and protects channels of political representation.

Where is the evidence for this? Sixty years of PAYE income tax does not seem to have done much for British democracy. We are still stuck with being run by an incompetent and mildly corrupt political class who offer substantially the same flawed policies - cyclic boom-busts, persistent high unemployment and an intractable housing problem - with the odd war to divert attention and spice things up. We haven'ẗ even managed to get rid of the evil "first past the post" electoral system.

The economic burden of income taxes falls on employers and the idea that individuals pay this tax is a consequence of the "gross pay" delusion. How can there be a healthy connection between taxation and representation when the whole thing is based on a deception?

Tax competition is generally harmful, for several reasons. It short-circuits democratic (or other) domestic or local processes by which governments set their tax policies. It results in the tax burden within countries being shifted away from corporate taxation in particular and towards other forms of tax whose burden falls disproportionately on the poor and the middle classes.

Tax competition is only harmful if those who lose in the competition fail to get the message. People want, quite reasonably, to keep as much as possible of what they legitimately earn. If taxes on labour and production are low, this will be attractive.

But competition between countries is not just about keeping taxes on earnings as low as possible. Economic activity demands good infrastructure in the broadest possible sense. The quality of this infrastructure will also be reflected in land values, which will either be pocketed by landowers or can be used as the public revenue base to pay for the supporting infrastructure.

In a situation of tax competition, rotten and dysfunctional tax systems like Britain's will be weeded out and, if the government is smart enough to get the message, replaced by better ones.

Bring it on.

torsdag 9 april 2009

Good mid-Atlantic tax haven material


DSCN0116
Originally uploaded by mowran

Gordon Brown has been writing to the tax havens. Jersey and the British Virgin Islands are the latest recipients of his missives. They are just a load of words. Brown & Co. would choke off the flow of funds to tax havens at source if he was really serious.

If Iceland hadn't blotted its copybook so badly, Smokey Bay could have had a good future as a tax haven. It's a good name for one. Given that its plans to join the EU could yet go tits-up and it is well placed in the middle of the Atlantic, it still might. If I was Amazon or some other internet trade company, I would be checking it out with the aim of doing a deal for a tax free zone for a distribution centre.

Näckrosdammen


Näckrosdammen är den andra av fyra böcker skrivna av Annika Thor som handlar om Steffi, 12 år gammal och Nelli, 7 år gammal, två judiska flickor som skickas till Sverige från Wien av sina föräldrar i augusti 1939.

Avsikten var att föräldrarna skulle komma senare när hela familjen fick inresetillstånd till Amerika. Flickorna bodde för tillfället med fiskarens familjer på en ö i Göteborgs skärgård. Steffis fosterföräldrar var tant Märta och farbror Evert Jansson. De älskar henne men tanten var medlem i Pingstkyrkan och mycket sträng. Kriget började. Flickorna skickades till folkskolan. Föräldrarna väntade i Wien för tillståndet men det fick de inte. Sommaren kom och på grund av Steffis bra betyg skulle hon fortsätta på läroverket. Förhållanden för judarna i Wien blev värre.

Boken är skriven från Steffis synpunkt. September 1940 är Steffi 13 år gammal och det är dags för Steffi att flytta till staden för att börja på läroverket. I början bor hon med familjen Söderberg, en läkarfamilj vars dotter har vuxit upp och flyttat och hennes rum står ledigt. Familjen Söderberg hade bott på ön med Steffis fosterföräldrar som sommargäster och Steffi erbjöds att bo med familjen. När hon kommer fram till lägenheten blir hon besviken för att hon inte får bo som familjemedlem utan som inackordering. Livet är dock ganska bra. Lägenheten är stor och hennes rum är trevligt. Hon får rasta familjens hund Putte. Framförallt älskar hon läkarens 18 årige son Sven.

På skolan är förhållandet med klasskamraterna och lärarna inte alltid lätt. Det finns en annan judisk flicka som heter Alice och Steffi vill bli vän med henne. Men Alice vars familj är mycket rik och bor i ett av de största husen i Göteborg, avslår Steffi. Harriet och Lilian är klassens drottningar. De flesta flickorna i klassen vill vara med dem och alltid samlas en klunga runt dem. De är nyfikna på alla klasskamraters pojksällskap och när de ser Steffi och Sven tillsammans utanför skolan vill de ta reda på allt om Steffis kärlek. Sedan blir Steffi rädd att Harriet och Lilian ska sprida ut historien runt hela klassen. Steffis bäste vän heter Mai. Hon tycker inte om drottningarna. Apekatter kallar hon dem. Mai bor i en etta i arbetarklassområdet Majorna. Maj har svårt med matematik och när Steffi erbjuder sig att hjälpa henne, bjuds Steffi att följa med hem till hennes lilla lägenhet där det bor nio personer i ett rum och kök.

Några av lärarna är snälla. Hedvig Björk, Steffis klassföreståndarinna, undervisar dem i matematik och biologi. Hon tycker mycket om Steffi eftersom hon är duktig och begåvad i dessa ämnena. Tyska läraren däremot, som heter Fröken Krantz, kallas häxan av eleverna. För Steffi börde tyska bli lätt eftersom språket är hennes modersmål, men istället har Steffi svårt. Hon kan inte förklara grammatiska regler eftersom hon bara vet vad som är rätt. Och Fröken Krantz anmärker på hennes wienska uttal. ”I skolan talar vi ren tyska som i rikshuvudstaden Berlin”, säger fröken.

Värst är Magister Lundkvist som undervisar geografi. Han är en riktig nazist. I klassrummet säger han att judarna är ”ett främmande element i Europa”. Maj protesterar och både flickorna reser sig och går ut ifrån klassrummet. Läraren blir mycket arg och hotar dem men till slut händer ingenting.

I staden det finns många frestelser, till exempel, bion. En lördagskväll går Steffi till bion med Harriett och Lilian. Filmen som heter ”Till vi mötas igen” är barntillåten. Men på väg ut möter de fröken Holm, postkassörskan på ön. Fröken kommer att berätta för hela ön och senast på tisdag når nyheten tant Märta.

När Steffi kommer tillbaka på besök till ön, vill tanten ha ett litet samtal med henne. Steffi erkänner att hon har sett en film och har varit på en konsert. Hon tänker att hon inte hade gjort någonting fel. Steffis föräldrar har tagit flickorna till filmer och konserter och de var inte dåliga människor. Men världsliga nöjen är inte tillåtna för medlemmar i Pingstkyrkan. Märta söker ”vägledning”. Hon ska tala med Gud och Steffi och Märta kommer överens om vad Steffi får göra.

I läkarens lägenhet bli livet besvärligt. Doktorinna vill presentera Steffi för sina vänner. Men det är ingen inbjudan. Steffi tvingas klär på sig en mörk klänning och vitt förkläde för att servera middagen, och till slut presenteras hon för gästerna som stackars flyktingbarn. I slutet av november kommer en brev från Wien som förklarar att hans föräldrar får resa till Amerika om två veckor. Sedan hör hon ingenting. Under jullovet besöker Steffi tant Märta och farbror Evert. Strax efter kommer ett annat brev från Wien. De har inte rest. Mamma har blivit sjuk av lunginflammation.

När Steffi kommer tillbaka till staden blir hon inbjuden att äta middag med doktorsfamiljen. De pratar om Steffis mammas sjukdom. Snart kommer hon att bli bättre och sedan kan de resa, säger doktorn. Men det är inte sant. Steffi blir arg. De fattar inte hur det verkligen är för judarna i Wien. Sven försvarar Steffi. Efter måltiden vill doktorn och hans fru ha ett samtal med henne. Doktorn är rädd för att grupper som protesterar mot tyska illgärningar vill dra in Sverige i kriget och sedan kommer landet att invaderas. De vill inte har gräl i sitt hus. Steffi bör inte lyssna till Svens politik. Hon måste inte vara ensam med honom heller. Synbarligen har de märkt att Steffi och Sven har umgåtts för mycket.

Under vårterminen får Steffi större problem i skolan. Hon anklagas falskt av fusk i examen. Hon flyr tillbaka till ön. Maj och Hedvig Björk åker till ön och förklarar att skolan vet att hon var oskyldig. Men hon vill inte bo med familjen Söderberg. De övertalar henne att återkomma. Hon ska bo i Majs nya trea i Sandarna när hon flyttar dit i mars. För tillfallet får hon bo i fröken Björks lilla lägenhet i Johanneberg.

Men varför heter boken Näckrosdammen? Bakom Stadsgalleriet i Göteborg ligger en stor damm där det växer näckrosor. Steffi brukar sitta och fundera på bänken vid dammen.

onsdag 8 april 2009

More from the Tax Justice Network

"We get the same comments repeated from the same commenter: that land value taxes are the only way forward, and forget all the other taxes. As usual, we disagree: land value taxes have a role, but only as part of a broader tax system."

To which my response is that if TJN will not make the point itself, it will inevitably get these comments, and repeatedly - taxes tied to real estate are not avoidable.

Of what other taxes can this be said? There is a good case for taxes on, say, strong alcoholic drinks but these get avoided through booze cruises, which have the advantage for non-boozers that they help keep the fares down eg in the Baltic and Scandinavia. Guess why so many of the Baltic ferries are registered in Mariehamn? Where the f*** is Mariehamn? Quite.

And a multi national organisation can so easily make profits pop up in one place rather than another.

If the problem of tax avoidance through the use of tax havens is to be cracked, the lion's share of public revenue must come from taxes tied to something that cannot be moved. It surely takes no sophistication to appreciate the force of this argument.

As for these "broader" taxes, most of them are nothing more than fines and penalties for successfully engaging in legal economic activity. As such, they constitute a structure of perverse incentives. How can they be justified?

tisdag 7 april 2009

En ö i havet

Brännö Husvik in the snow

"En ö i havet" är den första av fyra böcker skrivna av Annika Thor. Dessa handlar om två judiska flickor under andra världskriget. År 1938 invaderade Tyskland Österrike och landet fick nazistisk regering. Från början hotades judarna men snart blev de utsätta för allvarlig våld även av poliserna. Rika judar blev tvungna att flytta från sina lägenheter och sedan bodde många familjer gemensamt i trånga levnadsvillkor. Så småningom blev livet hårdare. Poliserna grep judarna trots att de inte hade gjort någonting fel. Judarna förbjöds att äga hundar eller åka spårvagnar eller bada i sjön. Många judar försökte att flytta men de flesta fick inte inresetillstånd av andra länders regeringar. Judarna var fångade. Däremot gav några länder tillstånd för att barnen skulle få bo där och på detta sätt började den så kallade barntransporten.

Krigets moln samlas under sommaren 1939 när Steffi, 12 år gammal, och hennes syster Nelli, 7 år gammal, kommer fram till Göteborg, trötta och hungriga efter nästan två dagar i tågets trånga kupé på resan från Wien. Avsikten är att vänta bara en kort tid på deras föräldrar och sedan ska familjen resa till Amerika.

Barnen bli mottagna av hjälpkommittén och fosterföräldrar men inga väntar på Steffi och Nelli. Till slut stannar flickorna kvar när alla barnen har tagits till deras nya hem. Sedan bli de oroliga. En kvinna följer med flickorna med taxi till kajen och skickar de på en liten ångbåt. Nelli frågar vart båten går. Steffi hittar på sitt svar: båten går till en semester ö med sandiga stränder och palmer. Fartyget går nerför älven och ut på öppna havet som är någonting som flickorna aldrig hade sett förut. När båten möts av stora vågor bli Steffi sjösjuk.

Båten kommer fram till hamnen på en ö. Det luktar fisk och något äckligt. Vid hamnen ligger sjöbodar gjorda av trä. På kajen står en kvinna. Tant Alma heter jag, säger hon. Tant Alma tar flickorna i händerna och de går till tantens lilla hus, där väntar Marta, en gråhårig kvinna med strängt ansikte. Nelli ska bo hos Alma, som har egna barn, och Steffi med Marta och Evert Jansson som inte har barn. Flickorna är besvikna eftersom de separeras.

Snart tycker Nelli att hennes nya liv egentligen är ganska roligt. Almas barn bli lekkamrater. De kan bada och cykla och ligga i solen på stranden. För Steffi är livet helt annorlunda. På första kvällen skriver Steffi till sina föräldrar att de bör komma och hämta dem, annars kommer hon att dö. Sedan läser hon brevet, knycklar det till en boll, döljer det i en lucka vid fönstret och skriver ett annat brev som säger hur spännande resan var, alla är snälla, och nu bor hon i ett rum med utsikt över havet. Men Steffi trivs inte. Hon förstår inte språket. Tant Marta är alltid mycket allvarlig och religiös. Huset luktar av rengöringsmedel. Hon är medlem i Missionskyrkan och vill att Steffi bli medlem och hon döpes också trots att hon är judisk.

Veckorna förflyter. Kriget börjar. Snart kan Nelli svenska. För Steffi är det svårare eftersom Marta nästan alltid är tyst och farbror Evert är borta på fiskebåten. Vädret bli kallare och efter en tid är det dags att börja Folkskolan. För Steffi är skolan besvärlig. Andra flickor i klassen mobbar henne eftersom hon pratar med konstig brytning, ser annorlunda ut med mörk hud och hår och framförallt tycker lärarinna mycket om henne eftersom hon är duktig. Steffi kallas ironiskt prinsessan.

Ibland får hon brev från sina föräldrar som vill flytta. Hon försöker få hjälp av Evert som skriver till en vän som är medlem i Riksdagen för att de ska få inresetillstånd att bli flyktingar i Sverige. Vintern är den kallaste i många år. Efter Jul fryser havet och man kan gå över isen till fastlandet. Steffi försöker att åka till Göteborg och talar med hjälpkommittén och tar kälken som hon fick som julklapp. Men några timmar senare har hon gått runt i en stor cirkel och kommer tillbaka till huset.

Våren kommer. Föräldrarna får inte inresetillstånd. Det är dags att bestämma om barnen slutar skolan eller fortsätter till läroverket. Steffi får bra betyg och vill börja på läroverket eftersom hon tänker studera till läkare. Men hon måste bo i Göteborg och fosterföräldrarna har inga pengar fast det är inte den sanna anledningen – till slut förklarar Alma att Marta inte vill att Steffi flyttar eftersom hon skulle sakna henne för mycket. Steffi har blivit en ersättning för hennes egen dotter som dog för många år sedan. Det ser omöjligt ut.

Under sommaren ändras allt. Tyskarna invaderar Danmark och Norge. Kanske kommer Sverige att invaderas. Alla bli rädda, men sommargästerna kommer ändå. Hos Jansson är sommargästerna mycket snälla. Pappan är läkare, pojken som heter Sven är lite äldre än Steffi. Det bästa är att Steffi, som älskar hundar, får gå ut med gästernas hund Putte.

En dag cyklar Steffi till affären med Putte. Affäresinnhaverens dotter Sylvia är mobbledaren och Steffis största fiende och hon står med pojkar utanför affären. När Steffi kommer ut från affären blir det gräl och slagsmål. Hunden biter pojkens byxben och sliter det. Putte springer bort. Steffi springer efter men kan inte hitta honom. Snart tänker hon att Putte är död. Hela denna långa heta sommar dagen gömmer Steffi sig i en grotta i klipporna. Sent på kvällen smyger Steffi hem. Hon går in i trädgården, tittar genom fönstret och ser tant Marta gråtande. Nu förstår Steffi.

Sommaren är nästan över. Nelli och Steffi har lärt sig att cykla och simma, att fiska och rensa fisk, och att ro båt. Sådant skulle de aldrig gjorde, hade de stannat kvar i Wien. På hösten kommer Steffi att bo med sommargästerna i Göteborg och börja på läroverket. Nelli har många lekkamrater på ön. Trots att kriget rasar och flickorna inte vet vad som händer med sina kära föräldrar är livet ganska roligt. Så var det för många under kriget. Som jag, till exempel.

måndag 6 april 2009

What is the Tax Justice Network really up to?

The Tax Justice Network has been running a strident campaign against tax havens, an issue which has been taken up by the British and US governments and was one of the matters discussed by the G20 meeting.

The mystery is why doesn't TJN go for a two-pronged attack? Most of the opportunities for tax avoidance arise due to the way that tax systems are constructed. If the tax systems are redesigned, then many, if not all, of the opportunities go away, and there is no need for draconian regulation and exchange of information between jurisdictions. TJN seems to have said nothing at all on this aspect of dealing with the problem of tax havens. This seems inconsistent. In its latest blog it complains about
  • Transferring assets to offshore tax havens that maintain secrecy to avoid IRS detection.
  • Fraudulently taking advantage of an exemption for portfolio interest paid to foreign persons.
  • Posing as foreign persons and taking advantage of U.S. income tax treaties.
If taxation is tied to land titles then there is nothing to transfer. UBR and Council Tax revenue is not lost to tax havens. And if taxation is tied to land titles, the nationality of the holder is irrelevant. Again, no UBR and Council Tax revenue is lost due to the nationality of the person or company liable for the tax.

The British UBR and Council Tax are bad examples of property taxes but they demonstrate the principle. Why does the TJN have this blind spot?

The drive for high speed rail

LED train

The growing support for the construction of a new high speed railway is to be welcomed, but it needs to be tempered by critical analysis of the travelling public's real travel needs. There is a danger that the funding will be drawn to the projects that will make the best headlines.

Most inter city journeys cover distances where travelling at 300 kph rather than 200 kph, or even 160 kph, results in relatively small savings in time but substantially higher costs. Nor do they start and finish in city centres. A high speed spine railway serving the main centres of population would need to be well integrated with local transport networks. The latter must be allocated a proper share of the total investment, so that the system as a whole will be tailored to the journeys that people actually make.

There is also a need for a debate about the loading gauge that the high speed network will be constructed to; future generations of travellers should not be saddled with trains built to the cramped British standard. If a new system is to be constructed, there is no need to accept old constraints. In countries such as Finland, where the railways were constructed to a more generous standard, the upper decks of the new double deck trains show what is possible when historic limitations are overcome.

Denounce your neighbour

My local council in Brighton distributes a propaganda sheet called "City News", explaining what wonderful things it is doing. The latest issue contains a feature headed "Tip us off on benefit fraud", with a story about a named villain who was caught following an anonymous call to the fraud office, having cheated the council out of £34,000 in housing benefit.

I do not condone benefit fraud but this looks ludicrous in the same week as the news is full of reports of MPs making absurd claims for expenses. A strongly worded letter from the Leader of the Council to the appropriate authorities would be more in order, pointing out that it is difficult for the council's efforts at fighting fraud to be taken seriously when the leaders of the country are doing the same thing on a vastly bigger scale, to say nothing of the robbery of the thrifty that is presently in full swing. The widespread view now is that if you steal a bottle of milk, you go to prison - but fiddle a few hundred billion and the government gives you more - of taxpayers' money. There is a lack of credibility about the whole business.

The suggestion that people should shop their neighbours is destructive of community trust and lays people open to blackmail. It is the same technique as was used by the Gestapo under the Nazis and the Stasi in the time of the East German communists. This is not the way things are
supposed to work in Britain.

There is of course a fundamental problem due to the complexity of the benefits system and the poverty traps built in, which lead to welfare dependency and moral decay. An acquaintance of mine was asked to repay one benefit but would have qualified for a different benefit to which they were entitled, and I know of others who are entitled to benefit but don't claim.

Councils ought to be working through the local government associations to get the legislation simplified and rationalised to get rid of poverty traps, provide proper incentives to work instead of living off benefits, and to ensure that benefits reach all those who are entitled to them. The main beneficiaries of the housing benefit system are in fact landlords, since the system serves to prop up rental levels at artificially high levels. Whether landlords should be subsidised in this way is an interesting question but it doesn't sound quite right to me.

And whilst on the subject of saving public money, City News could usefully be at the top of the list in the next round of council cuts.

The Journey East #2

The state of the Catholic Church A few years ago I visited Riga, the capital of Latvia. At 9.30 in the evening, a crowd of young people cam...