Month: January 2013

derouler le tapis rouge

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Well here we go again, ding ding, round two.

Before he’d even uttered his closing words about a Euro in-out vote Mr. Cameron was being heckled from across the Channel. M Laurent Fabius the French Foreign Minister speaking on the radio station France Info said “Si la Grande Bretagne décide de quitter l’Europe, nous déroulerons aux hommes d’affaire le tapis rouge”  or in other words, they’ll roll out the red carpet for British Business.

A reference no doubt to the comments made last year by Cameron regarding the French Corrective Finance Bill or as we all know it the 75% tax take on those earning €1m+ where he offered to roll out the red carpet for French Business.  Saying they could pay for the British Health Service, Schools and everything else, so completely realistic then eh Mr. Cameron?  No, I didn’t think so.

During the interview M Fabius pointed out that Europe is not “a la carte”, its a set menu, the members cannot choose which bits they want and which bits they don’t.  Well the French may be playing football and they may think the Brits are playing rugby but heck they’re both team games so it would seem the war of the metaphor is about as enlightening as the red carpet digs.

Anyway my plaudits go to M Michel Sapin the French Ministre du Travail who suggested that rolling out a red (or any other colour for that matter) carpet over the Channel might get it wet.

All this said, countries do actually pick and choose in reality on so many things and as far as I can tell always based on National rather than EU interest; just have a look at the Common Agricultural Policy and try to work out if it applies equally to all nations.  No, you don’t think its applied evenly across the EU?  Well perhaps not but the history of the CAP is based on French farmers concerns regarding keeping produce local so limiting the amount and ensuring a high price and to be honest I don’t mind paying if what I’m getting is authentic.

Long may these exchanges continue, highly entertaining I think.

The EU will almost certainly benefit from more integration but it’s gotta keep localized production processes to make the very most of the range and quality of food, drink, clothing, cars and any other product produced in a specialized way. Why would anybody want Bordeaux wine made anywhere else but Bordeaux?

M Sapin, I’m with you, wet carpets aren’t much fun and a devil to get dry.  After all with an ENS education he’s a clever chap.

Thou shalt not disobey! Oh really….?

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When we were rewarded for obedience we were obedient

When we were rewarded for compliance we were compliant

When we were rewarded for being competent we were competent

In our digital, post-industrial age the goal is disruption, creativity, innovation, solutions to complex, solutions to very complex problems.  It no-longer counts that the solution can be scaled, that it can be standardized and perfected.  We live in an era of total inter-connectivity, of mass individualized solutions.

It no longer matters that the person putting your iPhone, your lap-top, you tablet, your pizza together doesn’t care (they probably don’t either).  It’s the system that cares, the system that makes sure that your iPhone, lap-top, table, pizza makes the grade.  That the quality is right, the delivery is on-time, that the price you pay is right.  It’s the system that does these things, it’s the system that cares!

We are persistently encouraged to rebel, to be disruptive, to be entrepreneurial, to give a damn, but…. it’s probably fair to say that most of the time we don’t, wont and generally can’t be bothered to.  It’s a desk, a phone, a computer screen, numbers, letters….  whatever we do we’ll be paid at the end of the month.  Well that’s systems for you.

The connected economy does actually reward those who are disruptive, the rebels, the creators. Of course I speak of Steve Jobs, Sarah Curran, Fiona O’Hara, Richard and Anthony Joseph and Richard Reed, all great at what they do.   The internet might have lots of on-line video’s of cats, Lady Gaga, ABBA… but it wasn’t built for watching these.  It was built as a way of connecting, connecting to anyone, in any part of the world where a connection can be made.  But the thing is those connections are changing things, the way we think, the way we do things, our experiences, values, behaviors….

Social Media has been credited with bringing power to the people, well perhaps this is a bit of a big claim but you can see how it’s certainly influenced and allowed communication, how it’s facilitated disruptive behavior.  The fact that anybody can now write and publish a book wont make them known best selling authors, it just means more people can write and share their books and there might be a chance that they might be a best selling author.

So where to draw inspiration;

I like the story of Icarus.  Daedalus and his son Icarus were imprisoned for being disobedient, sabotaging the work of the king.  Daedalus came up with the idea of flying out of prison and made some wings with wax.  Now we all know the story, he told Icarus not to go too close to the sun, the wax would melt and he would fall.  Of course, he went too close to the sun, the wax melted and he fell to his death in the sea.

Thou shalt not disobey?  Well sometimes you shouldn’t disobey.

The full story however, tells more.  Daedalus also told his son not to go too close to the sea, the water would ruin the wings, he would crash and drown.

The question then is was Icarus disobedient or unlucky?  Did he try too hard or just make a monumental mistake?  We will never know.  Neither will we know if he had just did as he was told would he have escaped?

The story brings out the perils of being disobedient, fly high and travel far, fly too high and crash, fly to low and crash. Be obedient and chances are you will just be doing your job, uninspired.  The system will look after the details.

The moral of the whole story is not everybody has wings or the ability to make them but if we all try to fly then at least some of use will reach new heights!

Felix Baumgartner; “…the world belongs to those who reject convention…”.

Tour de Farce; le-cheat, eh?

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So… Lance engaged in doping to win, well what a shock! I just don’t believe it’s true, he was so convincing when he told us he hadn’t.

Actually he’s not the first to have been caught cheating and certainly not the last and I’m willing to speculate that there will be others in the future.  Le Tour de France is perhaps the most demanding race of human body, mind and spirit that the world has the privilege of seeing each year.  Its nothing short of a miracle that so many competitors actually finish, never mind the times they post.  But, not all winners are cheats.  Miguel Indurain won the race 1991 – 1995 inclusive with no hint of chemical help, now that’s a Champ!

Lance now faces several challenges:

How to continue, he got told to leave; to support the Livestrong organisation.  Lance had cancer and he recovered and that is a great thing (I know this to be true).  He’s gonna have to pull a trick or two out of the bag to do this, support Livestrong, admit to cheating and tell the story of cancer recovery.  I wish him well with that one.

He’s gotta explain his reasoning he wasn’t the ‘king-pin’.  This too another trick required me thinks.  The level of publicity, the number of wins the assumption is going to be he must have had a central role.  He all but abandonment his former team mate Frankie Andreu when he refused to become embroiled in the affair.  Betsy Andreu, Frankies wife, was one of the very first to make public accusations of doping.  She made it clear that Lance and Frankie were best friends; so go for it Lance, explain away.

The legal challenges will be varied and many.  Floyd Landis ex-team mate has gone for a whistlblower suit accusing Lance of defrauding the whole Postal Service Team which sponsored the team to the tune of more than $30m, WOW that’s a lot of money.  But it doesn’t stop there, oh no.  The UK Sunday Times want $1.6m back over a libel case they lost, it clearly hurt!  A Texan Insurance Company is suing for $11m for insured performance bonuses in his 4th, 5th & 6th wins.

So this is big, I think all will agree and I’m certain more will be added to the list of those who want their money back.

But…

He did it to win, he didn’t do it on his own.  He had support and his team were (not any more tho) happy to take the plaudits for the wins.  The pressure must have been enormous to do the doping thing and win!

Do I feel let down as a fan? Well yes.

Do I blame him?  Well yes also, but I also blame the whole organisation behind the cheat.

I wait for the Oprah interview to air, but from whats being said its not gonna be a surprise.  Oh yeah, can have my money back for buying his book?  It was an inspiration though, pity it was about Le-cheat.

Cabinet de tous les talents

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The Hollande government is already under pressure (falling apart?) faced with a deficit out of control, unemployment out of control, factory closures out of control….  Who’s gonna be the French super-Mario?

To us Brits it would seem Mem Lagarde, can do no wrong, in fact she’s achieved almost saint-like status to some but speak to French living in France and she wont get a mention.  No, Its M Pascal Lamy, he runs the WTO.  Mem Lagarde may get an invite to be a member of his cabinet but I wouldn’t be holding my breath on that one.

So over the border in Italy, well yes they seem to have settled comfortably having done away with democracy.  The trains once again run on time so I’m informed and they have new best friends in Germany, I’m sure history once tried to teach us Europeans a lesson about this sort of thing but then again the EU got the Nobel Prize for Peace so no worries there then.  So what are they going to do next?  Answer, nobody actually knows.

The Italian opinion polls suggest Beppe Grillo, a comedian none-the-less so eminently well qualified for role of Head of State, Bravo!

He’s anti-just about everything but definitely the EU. He talks of a “decade long varnish of s**t” liberally applied by the previous administration.  His outbursts against the EU would make even the British Party UKIP blush I’m sure.  Italy, as he point’s out pays €12bn into the EU and gets back €9bn which appears to go to those regions under the control of the Mafia; I’m sure you get the idea!

But if Beppe ain’t the answer then who is?  Well fingers are pointing at Monti.  The Italians are going to give him a make-over topped-off with a cloak of democratic respectability.  An approach in reverse so to speak; firstly choose the candidate, secondly build some kind of democratic coalition around them.  The alternative, Berlusconi!  I think the point is made, don’t you?

And what about Britain?  Well for all manner of reasons the Brits have got themselves in a bit of tiz about the EU, a recurring theme this one.  A referendum has been promised but the Government of the day doesn’t expect that it’ll like the result so they fudge, delay, hide from it.  So Britain is a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad as far as the EU is concerned (they might as well renew their membership of the flat-earth society while they’re at it as well).  They don’t want in, but don’t want out either; un petite problem n’est pas?

In step the Yanks, and for once quite right too.  Basically they’ve told the Brits exit the EU and you become an insignificant nuisance.  Stay in, hey you remain part of the club, you can keep your place at the big table.  You have to remember that the Brits are a shade under 1% of world population and shrinking but can’t help thinking they still have an empire.  Poor mites might just realise one of these days that went some time ago.

So perhaps the way to go is abandon democracy, after all ‘all things come to an end at some time or other’ and adopt a sort of benevolent dictatorship.  EU integration, I’m sure the Asians will follow suit at some point, then go for a super world coalition, ditching the UN along the way.

World Wide Cabinet de tous les talents.

Smell it, its humble pie!

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RAID, short for Recently Acquired Income Deficiency is the latest acronym to hit us squarely in the pocket I might add for some less than popular bankers.  Whilst bankers would once fly off to some far flung destination, 5-star+ and with a brand new Porsche waiting in the garage on their arrival once they have pocketed the January bonus.  Now threatened with ‘divorce’ from their screen/phone/desk bankers now claim the January bonus is actually a charitable contribution so that they can maintain their former excesses.  I’m quite sure that its a lonely place to dwell – an income deficient banker that is, but I’m also equally convinced that no so many of us would shed a tear, apart perhaps from the spouse of the afor said income deficient banker, or the car dealership or the swanky restaurant or the mortgage company.

Now what about the companies we all work for and are served by? They’re in a reputation crisis at the moment; rogue employees bringing companies to their knees, oil spills, and faulty cars all afflictions of 2012.  But honestly are these the things that are gonna enrage the public? I don’t think so!  Well not until the fury surfaced as reports surfaced that US companies were seen to be dodging UK tax, yes I’m talking about Starbucks, Amazon and Google here.  The effect on the public was nothing short of remarkable.

Not unexpected in an age of austerity, Twitter and Facebook.  The reactions…

Amazon and Google – no change! they haven’t broke the law after all so why should they.

Its reported that Google in-spite of the “don’t be evil” motto has hidden as much as $9.8bn in a shell company based in Bermuda.  You make your mind-up on this one, does that look like a tax dodge or just a company being prudent?

Starbucks took a radically different tack, you have to remember that people were actually boycotting their shops, not sure if or how that influenced their actions, you decide.  But they have decided to make a voluntary contribution of £20m to HMRC.  Now frankly either they owe the money or they dont, it almost looks like an admission of guilt.  But more importantly folks started to buy coffee again, so from a marketing perspective; GENIUS IDEA.

Starbucks smelt it, it smelled like humble pie and they liked it (well it looks that way).  They effectively have made a charitable contribution to a second rate, ailing nation, but it sets an odd kind of precedent if you ask me.  Should we all treat tax as optional?

I know given the opportunity I will avoid whatever direct taxation I can.

Solutions:

Banks – split them up, stop them from gambling with depositors money.  But heck, reward individual success like never before, nothing wrong with being filthy rich, they will spend it.

Starbucks et al – sales tax applied at the point of sale!

Direct Taxation – once a person reaches a certain level of income they will have the resources to avoid handing over chunks of money in tax so you have to be clever.  Tax the stuff they buy at the point of sale.  Whilst they’re earning they’re motivated, whilst they’re paying direct tax they spend too much time avoiding it and not creating wealth.

A final point; some time ago a friend beat me in a one-on-one road cycle race, I was devastated, distraught, I should have won!  But they explained that losing teaches the lesson that it ain’t nice but you can learn from it, the trick is not to repeat it too often.  They then said (by way of taunt) that winning isn’t everything, its the only thing!

I beat them the next time, and beat them well!

The point is this, we all, individuals, companies, nations will get it wrong, miss the point, fall some way short of the mark, basically screw-up at some point but we have to move on and become a winner.

I don’t like humble pie and I’m not sure I know anybody who actually does.

Tragi-Comic Anglo-French Relations

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Anybody who has any interest in the French-British relationship will know all too well its an up-and-down kind of affair.  Its mostly (well in Britain at least) a suspicious thing, lots of repeated misunderstandings (almost certainly accidental but often taken as deliberate) peppered with the occasional outbreak of open hostilities.  But on the up-side its just mostly bad!

Just now the French are less than pleased with what they (rightly???) see as ‘le French-bashing’ in the UK press.  The Economist led with a cover story picture of a bundle of baguettes made to look like sticks of dynamite with the header ‘The time-bomb at the heart of Europe’.  This might have hit a fair few nerves in Paris.

Then there’s the case of the under-utilized Mittal steel plant threatened with closure of two blast furnaces.  The French Government made it known they were thinking of nationalising the plant.  Boris Johnson whilst in India decided to make a speech in a language that can only be best described as French (but hey who knows it could have just been complete gibberish, I just don’t know myself)  inviting investors over the Channel to have a walk down David Cameron’s red carpet.

It’s probably safe to say that there doesn’t appear to be a warm friendly glow to the Cameron-Hollande relationship.  Hollande seems to think Britain are standing in the way of Eurozone reconstruction, cant think how he formed that point of view.  But whats the problem anyway?  Well, in a less than discreet interview with the FT le Gouverneur of the Bank of France, M Christian Noyer broke the news that in his view it was not acceptable for London to remain the financial center of the Eurozone.  He said it was his clear objective to move all Euro transactions to Paris and Frankfurt.  The Brits have long thought this was the case but the likes of Trichet and Draghi haven’t been so indiscreet as to say so.

Boris of course responded with lightening speed, perhaps too quickly and maybe before he had any time to consider how he might best respond.  He sought to tell M Noyer to carefully place his baguette where the sun don’t shine.  But you could tell this was getting serious when one Dr. Vince Cable enters the fray robustly in support of the City; a miracle at Christmas you might suggest?  So M Noyer seems to have done the seemingly impossible:  reconciliation between Dr. Cable and the banks.

Chapeau! M le Gouverneur.