Saturday, March 17, 2018

Russia - Murders

The dreadful attempts to murder the Russian  ex-spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33 in Salisbury using a nerve agent of a type developed by Russia called Novichok, have led to speculation that  some other   of Russians living in England who have died, may also  have been murdered.

In particular  Mr Glushkov former  senior official at Areoflot died at his New Malden home on 12 March. A post-mortem examination has found he died from "compression to the neck".
The UK granted Mr Glushkov political asylum in 2010 after he fled Moscow.
Following the UK government's decision to expel 23 Russian embassy officials, the Russians have retaliated in kind with 23  expulsions from the UK embassy in Moscow together with the closure of the British Council and a consulate in St Petersburg.
The call by UK Labour Party's leader Jeremy Corbyn, for proof of murder, seems to me to be absurd:
Firstly; given the likelihood  that the nerve agent was placed in Miss Skripal's suitcase before she travelled to the UK to see her father, how would the UK have any possibility of proving the identity of the criminal or who gave him instructions ? 
Secondly; who else would seek to murder them both?
Thirdly, Jeremy Corbyn nonetheless approved the expulsion of the 23 Russian diplomats from London, which approval hardly seems compatible with the innocent until proven guilty approach that the Labour Leader suggests should apply to the Russian state's government.
Innocent until proven guilty, is a commendable part of the Common Law but  can rarely  apply to actions taken by foreign states, simply because a foreign states can prevent  the normal collection and evaluation of evidence of its crimes.
Now that the Russian Government has retaliated and more what I wonder will be the next step? From the England perspective my own view is that our football team should be asked not to play in the  football World Cup this summer. The Russian state has spent a fortune on preparing to host the World Cup and this would be a strong but temporary way of demonstrating that that breaking what should be an important part of international as well as domestic law, does not go unpunished.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Pope Francis - 5 Years on

Peter Stanford the former editor of the Catholic Herald wrote a very interesting piece for the Daily Telegraph earlier this week about the first Jesuit Pope Francis. Much to disagree with in the article but an interesting read none the less.

On the positive side Mr Stanford states:

From his debut on the world stage on the evening of 13 March 2013, when he appeared as the new Pope on a balcony high above St Peter’s Square in Rome, Francis has been firing the imagination of believers and non-believers alike with his humanity, wit and warmth, and his willingness to be more outspoken than any other Pope in recent memory. He has chosen to use the moral authority of his ancient office not to lecture the world on the dangers of sex, but rather to champion the causes of migrants, refugees, the economically marginalised and the environment.

On the other side  of the coin however Mr Stanford writes:

But there is another side to Francis, one less often seen, but on display later during that same Latin American trip. When challenged in Chile by journalists about his controversial decision to appoint local priest Juan Barros as a bishop, despite allegations that Barros had been involved in covering up sexual abuse of minors by a fellow cleric, Francis suddenly came over all authoritarian and snapped back at them: ‘The day they bring me proof against the bishop, then I will speak. There is not a single proof against him. This is calumny! Is that clear?’

My own view is that so far Pope Francis is proving a great but far from perfect, Pope. He appears even handed if not  impartial, about most matters political. Thus when replying to questions about the Falklands, he wisely balanced his Argentinian origins with the need to to avoid judgment and discord about matters of international  rather than canon, law, early on in his papacy. 

He has loosened some Catholic  strictures about  receiving holy communion as regards divorcees and makes no judgment about same sex relationships.

On the other hand, the gospels do not rule our women priests so the current stance of His Holiness, which appears to be that of waiting for the slowest ships in this area of  the catholic fleet  largely perhaps in Africa, to catch up before improving Church Law, is open to question. Possibly however Rome would comment to the effect that such radical updating could cause more than consternation in many poorer countries. 

The need to attract many more young as well as not a few older, people  away from consumerism and self  centredness, especially in the West  is I believe a key to the success of religion and The Church in C21.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

European Political Elections and Their Aftermath

Over the years it has been said not least by the Lib/Dem party in the UK, that the first past the post electoral system is out of date, unfair and needs reforming. The Lib/Dems when in coalition government with the Tories lost their referendum on this subject. Thus for UK parliamentary elections at least, the long established first past the post voting system applies.

The continental systems are said to be far more advanced and more in line with the C21 than the UK Parliamentary electoral system.

Recent developments on the continent of Europe might also make  one far from convinced of the view that the UK voting system needs reforming. 

The Italians are voting tomorrow for a new government  using their very much C21 Rostellium electoral voting system. The system is too difficult for mere mortals to fathom so presumably most Italians have advanced mathematics to the fore in their educational system. 

From what I can understand, nearly 30% of Italians  favour their anti-establishment Five Star Movement party. But there is another extreme right wing party, The Brothers of Italy, which may take c. 5% of the vote. Add to that the anti immigrant league with about 13.5% anticipated vote, the political position in Italy, the 4th most wealthy EU country does not seem to put it mildly, very attractive. 

The above is further complicated by the fact that Silvio Berlusconi,  who according to the London Times was the country's PM three times but is barred from future office by court convictions for tax fraud for which he was sentenced to a commuted prison sentence, is through his party, which I believe is the Forza Italia, in coalition with the anti migrant parties of  the League and  the Brothers of Italy.

What a mess this all appears appears, added to which, those in Brussels apparently favour Berlusconi, for his moderating influence though whether  or  not that favour  is affected by his being convicted of Tax fraud the Times does not say. Given the EU's own accounting questions perhaps they are used to sweeping matters financial under the carpet.

I await the outcome of the Italian General Election with interest. Meanwhile Germany again with an apparently sophisticated C21 voting system, has still not yet  more than 5 months after their last general election, formed a proper government.  The Germans are awaiting the result of internal voting  as to whether the SDP party is  prepared to form a coalition with the right leaning Christian Democrat party of Angela Merkel. The results of that  vote are also awaited with interest.

On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron, in  the French Presidential elections successfully saw off the French ultra right party supported and often led by Marine Le Pen. 

In fact though politically left of the UK's former Prime Minister the late Mrs Margaret Thatcher, Emmanuel Macron appears to be about to follow the path she took in the UK to deal with the major and often violent coal miners' strike, with the French train drivers. The French railways have a simply huge overdraft I believe some 45 billion euros. That is more than the whole national budget of a number of countries, so clearly firm action is needed. 

None of the above feature in the arguments about Brexit,   probably because one country's politicians do not wish publicly to criticise another country's politicians or  political system.

 Nonetheless, adding to the above, the political situations in other European countries, Poland and Austria for example, could reinforce the view that the UK 's decision to leave the EU is well timed.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Strikes by UK University Lecturers

One symptom of ageing in life appears to be that politically one moves to the right. In other words the younger one is the more one is likely politically to lean to the left or for a few, to the Lib/Dems.

Possibly such almost imperceptible change in political attitudes  is a reflection of the experience that follows age. However this coupled with practical issues such as older people  on average having  paid more income tax  over their lives than younger  generations.  Older people have also  observed  rather more of what has or has not, been done with their hard earned money by governments of all political hues.

So it is with the current strikes by some UK university lecturers. Working I gather for only 30 hours a week with two or three months holiday a year and earning £34.000 to £55,000 pa, arguably they are but part timers who could supplement their salaries by taking  on additional part time work and income.

Possibly a university lecturer's work is so arduous and tiring that earning supplementary income in this way is out of the question. Even so most workers tend not to strike over pensions. If university lecturers are being wronged by their employers they could and should test that by making an application to the courts for judicial review and/or breach of contract. 

Judges are not very forgiving of state institutions which seek short cuts or cash savings  transgressing individuals' rights. Such actions would save students from having their studies interrupted.

 Given the fact that there are unions/professional associations acting for many university lecturers the court action could easily be taken on behalf of members by their unions thus saving the students much bother and letting all continue with their studies.

Possibly a couple of the reasons for the university lecturers  not being supported so far at least, by their unions in court action against their employers, is apparent from two headlines in today's Times newspaper reading:

University activists have been plotting strike for seven years and Union Leader who condemns high pay earns £138,000 a year."

In a free society of course lecturers like most other people can decide not to work and go on strike. However the  university lecturers' pension fund is a £billion+ in the red, which presumably reflects the size of the pensions being paid, as stock markets around the world have over past years been booming - essentially until last week.  

There is no logical reason why taxpayers, many of whom   work 40 hours a week and have to fund their own non indexed linked and non guaranteed pensions, should pay to make up shortfalls in university lecturers' pension funds to enable lecturers to continue to enjoy far superior pension arrangements than themselves.

Possibly when I was 22 the blog post above might have read rather differently!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lourdes - Miracle in C21

An interesting article in The Daily Telegraph a fews days back mirrored elsewhere reads:

The case of a French nun who recovered from a decades-old back problem that prevented her from walking normally has been recognised as the 70th miracle at France's fabled shrine of Lourdes, her church said Sunday.

Sister Bernadette Moriau from northern France visited the holy spring in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains in July 2008, then aged 69, seeking a cure to her ailment like millions of other pilgrims each year.
Shortly after returning home, her chronic sciatica or pinched spinal nerve disappeared for the first time since her condition was diagnosed at the age of 27.
Sister Bernadette had undergone four unsuccessful operations. "She experienced an unusual feeling of relaxation and heat in the whole of her body (and) heard a voice telling her to take off her equipment, the corset and the leg brace," said a statement from her Catholic parish in Beauvais in the north of France.
After further examinations by doctors and three meetings of church figures in Lourdes, the medical committee in the town confirmed that Moriau's recovery could not be explained scientifically, the statement said.
"Sister Bernadette Moriau now has a perfectly normal life," the committee's president Alessandro de Franciscis told AFP. "She is in very good health and herself visits the sick on a regular basis."
The popularity of pilgrimages to Lourdes by people of every religion or none continues in C21 which is so positive.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

OXFAM - Charities

The Times newspaper has written a number of articles exposing not only the scandals of some of Oxfam's staff in "earth quake-torn Haiti" as long ago as 2011, but also the apparent failures of that charity and the Charity Commission, to act firmly and openly by responding to and tackling, the  serious issues raised.

The scandals are said to arise from senior Oxfam staff using prostitutes whilst working for Oxfam in Haiti. The charity seem to have let the perpetrators leave their employment with Oxfam but did not then give a full report to the Charity Commissioners in England nor presumably, to HM Government, which continued to fund the charity with £millions.

Worse still, some of the former Oxfam staff involved  appear then to have secured posts with other charities, with the latter aparently not being forewarned by Oxfam  even to be careful.

Naturally following The Times reporting, everybody is blaming everyone else for the scandals. 

Probably the Charity Commission should have done more at the time the scandal was partially reported to it and likewise the government of the day but the real culprit apart from the rogue staff themselves, must  be Oxfam.

The Times reports that the government is reviewing its funding policy for Oxfam which runs apparently to over £30m annually.

Preventing the poor and helpless from losing out through Oxfam's failures is surely a priority? Simply denying Oxfam the funds would hardly assist the charity's really needy beneficiaries. 

Perhaps the Charity Commissioners of England and Wales could consider removing Oxfam's board and appointing its own at least for a limited period. That would serve to keep the undoubted general good work of the Charity continuing yet at the same time, serve as a lesson to Oxfam and charity trustees more generally, that good governance is key to the financial charitable reliefs that are given to all charities, in the interest of furthering their charitable works.

The relevant legal provisions for the above (gratitude to Third Sector) are:

The commission has the power to suspend a trustee or employee at a charity for a maximum of 12 months while it considers whether to remove them from their role, according to the commission’s website. Removing a trustee means they are disqualified from acting as a trustee of any other charity. The regulator has previously expressed frustration at the fact that the rules allow suspended trustees to resign from their position before they are formally removed.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

MORE TH>N Household Insurance - Fair Game or a Swindle?

Mrs maytrees and myself having owned in our Wimbledon home for 38 or so years took out a mortgage to buy the house at a time when the mortgage company was I recollect, able to insist  not only  that the house be insured for subsidence, fire, flooding etc but also that their designated insurance company be used for that purpose. 

We accepted that at the time and added contents and legal expenses insurance  for a reasonably small extra annual premium.

Subsequently the UK insurance was taken over or at least altered its name to MORE TH>N ("More Than").

 We  carried on paying annual premiums from all those years back and at some stage at the insurer's request started using direct debits. Indeed this arrangement continued until last month when we received the statement of the proposed insurance premium for 2018. This surprised me so I telephoned the company. Correspondence then followed on which see below:

Dear Sir or Madam

Upon receiving our annual renewal quotation from More Than Insurance  which is part of Royal Sun Alliance we were  at first, presently surprised to find that it had gone down from £1,432.71p pa to £565.20 pa.

Upon reflecting however I ... telephoned to query why the difference between the two figures as we have made no claims for years nor any changes.  Why was last years figure so large?

The gentleman I spoke with was quite frank - he did not know nor could he understand why there was that vast difference and promised to look into it and call me back although he said that that could take time. Meanwhile the insurance renewal at the new lower rate would go ahead. While  holding the line, I checked one or two of our old bank statements and found that we have been  substantially overcharged by MoreThan for some time.  In the more  recent years, the over charging, is as high as  4 figure annual  amounts, for your household insurance, representing thousands of pounds.   

Your representative  in answer to my specific question,  confirmed that you never charged long standing policy holders such as us, more than new policy - holders, unlike some companies.

After putting the phone down I secured a quote from Direct Line  for annual cover for £189.28p as follows:

Building cover £1m Contents cover £83,600  including laptops etc outside the home plus bicycle up to £500

Policy excess between  £250 (eg water escape) and £1000 (subsidence)

Includes accidental cover and damaged boiler and for another £26.88 legal advice and costs up to £100,000.

The Direct Line also offered a slightly pricier quote of £333.76 pa for eg unlimited buildings insurance above £1m with higher contents insurance and eg bicycles worth up to £1000 but still far far cheaper than what we have been paying More Than.

I also secured an online quote from your company which again was far cheaper than anything we have been paying you which at best is absurd and grossly wrong.

Your annual insurance renewal states specifically that:

"...We have gone to great lengths to ensure your cover offers you comprehensive protection and great value for money..."

This  wording which in the absence of an honest explanation from you now, would be quite false, was the same in your renewal letter to us dated 12th January 2017. The premium details  in the latter, also shockingly state that the premium is £1,838.39 but that you gave discounts of £405.71p. In common parlance, that too  appears to be an appalling swindle.

For years we have assumed that MoreThan was a trustworthy organisation so i do not use lightly phrases like "false wording" or  words like "swindle" in this email. 

Nonetheless going back   to as long ago as 2011 and checking the premiums from old bank accounts, I conclude  that you have   over charged us by thousands of pounds for our insurance. Earlier bank details may even reveal that this over charging has taken place for even longer- please verify from your own records.

I  have  also come across an article in the Guardian Newspaper relevant details of which state:

 "....Customers are told at renewal that they are, once again, enjoying a “competitive” deal with “great value” insurance. But when an insurer claims this while charging £700 for a policy that costs £150 somewhere else, it’s a lie. And under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, deliberate mis-selling like this is a criminal offence...."
As our complaints now appear far more serious than seemed initially to be the case when I telephoned your representative  I checked your published complaints procedure. That  states:
We aim to resolve your concerns informally, within three business days. Where we have been able to, we will send you a letter confirming this. We’ll also explain how you may be able to refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you subsequently decide that you're unhappy with the outcome.

Therefore in addition to my telephone conversation with your representative, which I was pleased to learn was recorded by you, we are now using your published complaints procedure  as this gives a 3 day resolution period.
Please respond to these complaints without delay.

Your faithfully

Then on 23rd January 2018 I received a telephone call from MoreThan on which my letter to the company typed immediately afterwards reads:

Dear Sir
MoreThan Insurance Policy Number ... – Complaint
Enclosed is a copy of the email complaint of the insured dated 19th January 2018, which despite the MoreThan promise generally to answer within 3 days has not so far been answered or even acknowledged.
Your representative who I telephoned on the 19th January telephoned me back today to say that the £565.20p renewal quote was a mistake and  that your company’s previous years’ four figure quotes, were correct.
This I told him is absurd as even your own company quotes substantially lower figures to me online for the same property. He could not explain further but, having previously emphasised that your company unlike others does not charge new customers less than existing customers, made plain to me that MoreThan’s insistence that the 4 figure sums we have been paying for insurance, are correct is with respect fraudulent.
My own tests of your company and others for the same or better insurance quotes on line show that the true cost should be about £200 or £300 pa. In essence therefore unless you can show me good reason to the contrary I complain of huge over charging and fraud.
Please let me have your full reply within 3 days and if you continue to claim that the £1,500 or so we have been paying annually for years for our domestic insurance is correct please confirm – we will then take the matter to the insurance ombudsman.

Yours faithfully

The next development was a letter from MoreThan  saying that they would review the matter and respond by the 15th February 2018.

I await the next word from MoreThan but have lost trust in that company so telephoned them and noted as follows:

I telephoned MoreThan and cancelled the policy and DD wef 14/02/2018 speaking with a Mr lee Mason at 14:58 – he was sympathetic to the background but could say nothing more.

Insurance was then taken out with Direct Line on  rather better terms  for the same property for an annual premium of  £325 ie  over £1000 lower than  the purportedly correct annual premium of MoreThan.

Something most odd  is going on which I trust will be explained very soon by MoreThan. 

If MoreThan is correct and I am mistaken, details and an apology will be posted on this blog but will they apologise and repay over-paid premiums, if  I am, right? 

We wait and see.

Russia - Murders

The dreadful attempts to murder the Russian    ex-spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33 in Salisbury using  a nerve age...