Tag Archives: Philip Hammond

Ding ding goes the alarm clock

The Guardian is waking us up. I was already awake as I have mentioned this danger close to two years ago; actually I gave rise to the risk even before anyone had heard of Cambridge Analytica. As we see the quote: “The government is launching an inquiry into the use of personal data to set individual prices for holidays, cars and household goods, amid rising fears of a consumer rip-off” from the article (at https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/nov/04/inquiry-personal-data-dynamic-pricing-consumer-fairness). You see, the issue is a lot larger and people are just not waking up to this danger. They all think that it isn’t really an issue, or that it will not hit them. Well, think again, it is already hitting you and the field of impact is growing on a nearly daily basis.

Setting the stage

The quote goes way beyond “Philip Hammond, has asked a panel of experts led by Jason Furman, a former adviser to Barack Obama, to examine competition in the digital economy, including how machine learning and algorithms are used to set prices and whether firms could gang up to disadvantage consumers“. You see, the large issues are actually the ones that are known in advance. World Business Forum, Forbes Women’s Summit, B2B Marketing Forum, E3, ComiCon, Call Center Week and so on. Some of these places are not merely known in advance, some will go to known places like Viva Las Vegas, so the impact is not as large as one would think, although an additional 2500 hotel rooms is still an impact. No, it is the other stuff, the IP World Summit – Amsterdam, the London Law Expo 2018. Niche markets where we think that it is merely a business venture and the expenses will not be noticed, that is where the coin is found and the impact and influence is felt over a larger group.

Even as it is currently states as ‘could’, the quote “when you think about posting to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you probably don’t consider how it could affect your insurance. The truth is, social media could very well become a standard part of the insurance underwriting process in the not too distant future“, I personally believe that it is already impacting people. The example in the US Insurance agent is: ‘Taking pictures while driving and uploading them to social media could result in having your policy non-renewed based on the implication that you are a distracted driver‘, Yet in Ireland alone we see ‘14,000 drivers caught on their phones in 2017 – and some were posing for selfies‘. Now consider that you must comply with: “If you received a fixed penalty notice for a road traffic offence, you will need to disclose this to motor insurance providers for five years if you were 18 or over at the time“, at this point your premium goes up by a fair bit, it is something that can often be checked and even those not convicted can be hit with an increase, you have become a risk. In addition, tat lovely new phone you have is also the issue as ‘Why social media posts could invalidate your home insurance‘. Here it is not merely what you do, but where you were. So as we see: “Insurers are increasingly rejecting claims made by customers whose houses have been burgled while on holiday if they have shared the fact that they are away from home on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram“. Yet, this is the small stuff. Life insurances are seen harsher. Insurance companies are getting more and more savvy in analysing photos online. You see, that one cigarette, or even a cigar to celebrate a birth has impact. The policy is: ‘if you smoke at all, you are considered a smoker and your rates will be higher‘, it gets to be worse. If you claimed that you were a non-smoker and the insurance company can find two pics of you smoking, you could be regarded as fraudulent and it nullifies your life insurance, so as you get planted six foot deep at some grassy field, whomever you left behind ends up not getting a penny. Decades of premiums paid down the drain. This is the direct and clear stuff, yet in that stage, we see the impact of fees, premiums and algorithms. The story takes a deep turn for the worse there.

The real and the not so real stage

Consider that every convention is online, every events is documented. Instead of the airlines setting the stage of the need for an additional plane in advance, they do that and increase the price of the fee. We might think that it is normal when we see: “The average cost of a flight out of the UK to all destinations between the 16th and 31st of December is 12 per cent higher on the big day itself“, yet if you knew this a year in advance, the increase is a little less normal, even as we understand that the bulk wants to get there on that day, now consider that this is applied to a stage where it is not thousands, but hundreds more and the issue is not Christmas, but an event in New Jersey, or a convention in Budapest. Yet, this is still merely the top of the iceberg. What if it is not a flight, but an item you desperately need to buy online? Not some Ubermeal, but the version of ‘John Lewis to launch £10,000 ‘private shopping’ service‘, a service where you always pay premium. Now, we might not care as these people are wealthy and they will not mind paying a few extra £’s on the dollar. Yet, that model will also impact the general population, it’s merely the stage as something becomes a ‘phase’ we all want it, most people tend to be sheep, and there is a loaded part here. Is it wrong for a place like John Lewis to maximise on their stock? It is merely ‘whether firms could gang up to disadvantage consumers‘, is that still the case? The point is that this is becoming a grey area. Even as we see the customer care part of: ‘another new service is called the Shopping List, under which a member of John Lewis’s team can be booked free of charge to gather either a specific basket of items or to help pick out gifts for specific people‘. The data behind it can become much more lucrative. Even as we see the battering that many of these stores have taken, and we are notified (again) of ‘It has also spent millions of pounds on improving its home delivery infrastructure and IT systems to cater to demand for online shopping‘. That data can prove to be invaluable setting the next stage in all this and the question is not merely what the watchdog is saying it is, but the underlying part becomes, if this is about staying afloat, about maximising the revenue, is there a case of ‘disadvantage consumers‘, or are we seeing the data impact of optional fraudulent claims of healthcare benefits whilst the subscriber was not completely honest on the application form. Even as I agree that the people need to wake up, even as I have stated that the people are in a vice, part of it is done to themselves. Now, I am less inclined to stand on the side of the insurance on the burgled house whilst doing the dance party 24:7 on Ibiza. It was not the person; it was the burglar in all this that is at fault. Yet the opposite that ‘telling’ a person that a house is safe and unguarded is still a dangerous step and even as we are so shareable in some ways, we need to see that this data is now a hazard to the quality of our lives. The question is more ‘what should you never do‘ and not ‘did you set yourself up to be the disadvantaged consumer?‘ We all know that Christmas presents are the best bought two days after Christmas, so even as we know that the price is higher on December 24th; can we blame the seller for charging 110% 21-24 December, knowing he will try to sell it as 65% on December 27-30? We forget on the stage that we set ourselves. On a rainy day an umbrella might optionally be £1 more expensive, yet is this data we are looking at, or can we claim that we know that we are knowingly selling to aquaphobes that day? The second is a clear stage of ‘disadvantage consumers‘. This stage is moving as dashboards can be changed in every way. You see if the answer does not match, you merely change the question which is politics 101. Data is actually almost the same, it is not on the results; it is now the population that makes the result. It is the grasp of an Old Dutch joke: “We see the impact where mothers are no longer working in families with 2.4 children“, so basically a pregnant woman with 2 children is unlikely seek employment, or to be employed; it is the same yet presented completely different. And when you consider the stage (the 70’s) is behind that, we see that this stage has merely matured in both the application of the spoken word, as well as the stage of presented facts. If we see that a number is, or that a factor applies, we automatically assume certain stages. As it is about a gender, or a location, yet it is still a weighted part, a presented population (the people that were part of the equation) and this field is growing exponentially. Consider that Google is adding close to a million facts every hour (highly speculative), this ensures not merely what is known about a person; it also makes its advertisement drive more efficient. Google’s non advertisement share grew by 14% in the last year. The other side, its advertising accounted for a total of 111 billion U.S. dollars. To make this grow, data granularity becomes increasingly important and even as Google does not allow individual access to data, the fact that some facts can be found, means that more and more will be known about everyone and a lot of it through our own actions. Selfies, Geo-tagging, and other parts are making identification and classification happen in all this. Even as we push forward in one direction, we give it away in another. It does not matter whether we move in Google Ads, or push towards Amazon Ads. We give away our details and we think that what one sees, none of the others see it, it is that part that is the folly, whatever we share online is almost instantly known to everyone and machine learning is merely making the exchange (read: collecting) of our details more efficient.

How we get charged

Yes the alarm clock needs to go ding dong, preferably at 100db so that you actually wake up. Even as it was a little over 6 months ago, Miles Brignall gave us: “Next time your car insurance renewal comes through, don’t fall into the trap of describing yourself as unemployed if, for example, you are retired, a student or a housewife/house husband. If you do, you could end up paying 50% more“, a comparison where they merely changed recorded occupation, now consider how up to date your LinkedIn account is. Do you still think that it will not matter your case? When you are confronted with: “MoneySuperMarket says students and retired people who mistakenly describe themselves as “unemployed” have the most to lose – potentially up to £700 a year in the worst cases. Retirees who do the same may have to cough up an additional 37%, it found.” Now we see the danger, this is not maximised ‘retail effort’ this is clearly a stage of ‘disadvantage consumers‘ and it came from an optional direction we never considered, because if LinkedIn is the one place where we can get a new job, how dangerous should their system be regarded when our cost of living could be hit by an additional 50%? And this is not via Hacked Data, this is you the optional consumer and in need of services being as visible as possible, a part you never expected is now affecting you in other ways too.

I have always believed that LinkedIn is a massive force for good, yet others have found an alternative use of that and with hundreds of thousands facing an optional £250 a year extra; we now have merely one side that starts amounting to some serious cash. So when you tell me who ignores such serious levels of cash, I will at that point introduce you to a liar. It is that simple in this day and age, machine learning is merely changing the threshold of you paying extra. It is a great benefit, but in some hands it will be their revenue benefit, and takes your cost of living through the roof.

Yet the question for me remains that even as I believe such a watchdog to be essential, there is a question on how effective they will be at the end of the day, because when the conversation degrades to a ‘he claimed‘, whilst ‘he gave in writing‘ against ‘he posted freely online‘, to the opposition trying to make a ‘disadvantage consumers‘ case, we will end up seeing a case that is unlikely to ever be won.

 

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Matt Damon’s Quote

You could wonder what Matt Damon has been up to, there will always be reason to do this, not because he is an exceptional actor, even a celebrity on Mars. No, the reason here is his connection to documentaries. He was the narrator on ‘Inside Job‘, which got a well-deserved Oscar in 2011. I personally feel that this is the best documentary on the financial crises ever created. So let’s get started. Today, we see a number of news items reach the twilight of dawn.

The first one (at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/08/panama-papers-22-people-face-tax-evasion-investigations-in-uk), gives us ‘Panama Papers: 22 people face tax evasion investigations in UK‘, with the added text “Philip Hammond also said a further 43 wealthy individuals were under review while their links to the offshore files were investigated further. He made the comments in a written answer to the House of Commons explaining what had happened since the offshore tax files emerged“. Now we might go all huffy and puffy on these tax evaders, yet when you consider the news from August (at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-31/ex-tesco-finance-chief-mcilwee-probe-closed-by-u-k-regulator), where we see “The U.K. accounting regulator closed an investigation into Tesco Plc’s former Chief Financial Officer, Laurie McIlwee, saying there wasn’t a “realistic prospect” that misconduct would be found in the case“, with the added “The Financial Reporting Council closed its case into McIlwee Wednesday, according to a statement from the regulator. It is still investigating the grocer’s auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and other individuals involved in Tesco’s accounts“.

This has been going on since 2014, they have not been able to find anything after two years and now you are going after ‘simple’ tax evaders?

My initial message (with all due respect) to the Chancellor of the Exchequer is “Mr Philip Hammond, are you out of your bloody mind?” You are still trying to get anything real on PwC, or were you ordered to let it die down?

When a company suddenly loses billions in value (also due to their own stupidity) and you cannot find anyone to prosecute and go to jail for overstating profits by £263 million ($345 million), whilst we also know that for that year PwC gave Tesco a 10 million pound invoice for auditing (annual) with an additional 3 million pounds for consultancy that year (Source: the Guardian). You cannot find anything and now you are going after people, where you cannot state whether they broke the law and you will rely on illegally obtained papers. How stupid is this?

How about you making the following change as per immediate!

a. Until the Tesco case has been satisfied, PwC and its senior employees cannot undersign any accountancy venue, or corporate balance for any UK corporation for 2016, 2017 and 2018 until the matter is solved.
b. In case wrongdoing by PwC employees is proven beyond reasonable doubt, PwC will not be allowed to operate within the UK.

How about them apples?

So far we have seen massive leeway by the press and the SFO has not achieved anything at all regarding Tesco. So it is time to adjust regulations and legal premises, until that point comes PwC will have to operate on non-British companies. Now, we can all understand that when we see the quote “McIlwee resigned as Tesco’s CFO in April 2014, prior to the discovery of the accounting errors, amid reports of disagreements with then-Chief Executive Officer Philip Clarke” seems to imply that McIlwee was not privy to, and not guilty of any wrongdoings, yet the fact that the SFO got nowhere in two years means that there is something massively wrong. When we know that so many millions were overstated, we seem to have a decently clear case of fraud, yet no one goes to jail. In addition, we also know that PwC was in on it (at least to some degree) and in addition, the subsequent Deloitte investigation showed more than initially was found means that there is no scenario where PwC can be absent from guilt in the first or second degree.

The SFO gave that Carl Rogberg, Christopher Bush and John Scouler were charged (source: BBC), they pleaded not guilty and at present the court dates are set for September 2017. It is my opinion that until all that is settled, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no business whatsoever to dig into cases based on illegally obtained papers, whilst his branch as well as the SFO has no flipping ability at present to close a 2 year old case for at least another year (if ever). And as reported by the Times in September (at http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tesco-auditor-slips-back-into-retailers-aisles-0gm9xt8md) that “Tesco has appointed PwC as an independent adviser, despite replacing it as auditor with Deloitte“, which gives my emotional and slightly inappropriate response “Are you fucking kidding me?

So, whilst the PwC issues were kept very low key by nearly all the press, whilst there is no condemnation on a daily basis by the press and even less success by the SFO, we should agree that PwC has no business being in the UK to begin with, especially as “Last week the FRC cleared Laurie McIlwee, Tesco’s former chief financial officer, of wrongdoing over the scandal, but added that its investigation into PwC and other unnamed individuals continued“, we could go by once bitten twice shy, or we could go by the fact that as the SFO is either unable or unwilling to prosecute PwC, why would we even consider their presence? In case some are considering a specific rebuttal, to them I would respond with the April article (at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/apr/14/brexit-could-lead-to-loss-of-100000-financial-services-jobs-report-warns), where they stated ‘PwC report estimates 70,000-100,000 fewer jobs in 2020 compared with estimated number if Britain stays in EU‘, so let’s start with theirs and let smaller accountancy firms continue and allow for growth. In addition, when we accept the news by the BBC in Feb 2015 (at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31147276), where we see “We believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers’s activities represent nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale,” said Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)“, so in that light, we could just send PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) packing, giving light that the facilitator of tax evasion have been dismissed from the country and as such the UK will see a decline in Tax evasion, no need for illegally held papers, no long and expensive investigation and the thorn in the UK economies side is equally removed. It will not mean that tax evasion is a thing of the past, but if PwC is send packing now, the other three might do a 180 degree on that clientele, which would at that point make the tax evasion issue moot, or at least deprive it from many options, which would amount to the same in the end.

So, you like apples?

If I am accused from persecuting PwC, then I would plead that I am not entirely innocent in that regard. I would bring the defence that the SFO has not gotten anywhere in 2 years and they are supposed to have the ability to find those culprits. Yet, as John Crace pointed out in the Guardian on April 5th that “Only last year, the public accounts committee reported that the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was promoting tax avoidance on an industrial scale. To make things worse, it was first in the frame to benefit from administering the windup of Tata’s steel operations in the UK. So where was David Cameron? At PwC’s offices in Birmingham. Some might call it a brave choice“, in that light, there is an additional reason to give PwC their walking papers.

In all this the exchequer has one final issue to deal with, you see, accountant at large, including (read: especially) those at PwC are really clever with what they do, meaning that there could be no broken laws to begin with, making the actions from certain parties from 2014 until 2018 even more questionable, with a strong need to truly scrutinise the rules that accountancy firms applied and how they were applied. As I see it, there is nothing worse than to paint a lovely target on a person only to learn that the laws fell short and none were ever broken. If you question that, then consider the following two options.

  1. The SFO has, as it embraced corruption onto a new level decided not to dig into PwC on the levels needed to secure evidence for the prosecution regarding Tesco.
  2. The SFO has found that even as it is clear that PwC assisted in these levels of Fraud and Misreporting, yet when the books and memos were investigated for these transgressions, there was more than a reasonable doubt that PwC was not fully aware, in addition, there are no papers filed by PwC to implicate them in any way in fraud or misrepresentation. As well as the established fact that no laws were broken at present.

When you look at the two options, which one is more likely than not the situation regarding PwC?

In my book, the fact that a person is not guilty, does not mean that they are innocent. I remain of mind that shutting PwC down in the UK is not the worst idea at present, yet is that point of view valid when we consider premise 2, which is actually the most likely scenario? When we consider that the spirit of the law has been violated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, at that point we still have the issue that no literal laws were broken. Here we could set forth that the government (read: parliament) created the foundations and the setting where industrialised tax evasion and fraud became legalised options. Even as we saw that there was a clear case for fraud, the law has been altered to the degree that the facilitators cannot be held accountable, as such, an issue was created and until that is resolved, and PwC cannot be prosecuted (which is wrong in many ways from the point of a simple taxpaying labourer).

So, we now have the issue of the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, which should be seen as grammatical opposites, not just in grammar, it is that they are also opposites of the soul (read: soul of the law). When one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is obeying the literal interpretation of the words (the “letter”) of the law, but not necessarily the intent of those who wrote the law. Which is what black letter lawyers (and accountants) tend to do, because a nation of laws is about a nation with rules of playing the game. In our case, in Common Law, until a case is set as a precedent in law, there will be no adjustment and this can go on ‘ad infinitum’ and Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language (at times a mere comma does the trick too).

Yet, when one obeys the spirit of the law but not the letter, one is doing what the authors of the law intended, though not necessarily adhering to the literal wording, which could get them automatically prosecuted if the District Attorney woke up on a Monday morning with a really foul mood.

So, whilst we might agree with Margaret Hodge, stating “We believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers’s activities represent nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale“, the fact that they are not breaking the law, implies that no corrections to the law have been made to correct for this. As such, you only have yourself to blame and admittance of this failure to the public at large is an essential second step. As I see it, making a lot of noise going after people who might have done something like this, whilst papers are absent and whilst all parties know that this is because of illegally obtained papers from the law firm Mossack Fonseca is even less intelligent, as the people behind this have leaked these papers for their own personal interest and ‘late taxation’ was not their goal, so to adhere to the promotion of such crimes is not the best way to get results.

Now that we see claims rising towards Tesco for misrepresentation from their investors for the amount of £100 million, which comes on top of the diminished value, so I feel that no matter what, there should be a negative impact on PwC one way or another, yet within the confines of the law of course. This takes us to ‘The letter versus the spirit of the law: A lay perspective on culpability‘ by Stephen M. Garcia, Patricia Chen and Matthew T. Gordon (paper here). The part that gives us the cakes are found in study 5 on page 486. “Study 5 sought to examine another instance in which the letter of the law is not broken but the spirit of the law may have been violated“, which is where I for the most stand with PwC in the Tesco matter as stated “We also wanted to control for various counter-explanations that underlie culpability such as violations of social and moral norms“, with references to Bicchieri & Chavez, 2010 as well as Mazar, Amir, & Ariely, 2008. Yet in the first there is Tonry, 2010, where he argues that “the foundations for disparity causing policy choices lie in the cultural and social forces that combined historically to shape U.S. society“, which is interesting as this implies that the policymaker and not PwC is the actual culprit and my rage was misguided. Yet, is that actually true? The spirit of the law is not equipped, or better stated should not be equipped to manage the input of self-interest, because the spirit of the will assume the setting for all people and as such will force the text and derail the letter of the law (as I see it). Tonry goes on into the racial destabilising side, yet in my view the racial part is not the real instance, I believe that the division is that we see two groups One is the (white) social enabled group who is set to the game with preparation (read: legal advice) to break the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law as long as self-interests are served. This setting will at that same time destabilise the (black) group, a group that is suffocating on the lack and lapse of social options and opportunities, where without proper and affordable advice the letter and the spirit of the law will be adhered to, yet at a massive cost through loss of opportunity. This now makes PwC a facilitator for the wealthy to avoid breaking the letter of the law and to optionally, when unavoidable adhere to the spirit of the law. From one point, can the facilitator be held to account? I believe so, yet the area is slightly too grey for my comfort. It is the policymaker that requires to shift the grey area, so that breaking the law is a more clear setting and as such the SFO could actually create a situation where conviction (let alone prosecution) becomes a reality.

I still believe that PwC has done great wrongs, yet as far as we can establish, not in the letter of the law. I find them guilty of knowingly set the stage for managed ‘breaking’ of the law. The spirit is as much a factor as the letter, either should be seen as breaking the law. Yet there is diminishment as the policymaker is seemingly also guilty, yet the reasoning for that flaw can never be easily determined, so we can tell it was wrong, yet to what degree is not a given, but an essential issue to address. When we look at the policymakers, we need to ascertain the application that the paper discusses. “This framework broaches a new language to understand complex situations such as those that are not technically illegal but seem wrong“, we can see that this applies to multiple incidents. In those cases it needs to be clear that these levels of protection do not make the cake edible. It makes for a sour venue where those with legal advice can abort too many payments whilst the underprivileged groups end up without support, protection and options. I am speculating here that this is the (read: speculated intentional) creation of the haves and have not, which is a policy drip down effect when you implement a prismatic system, which policymakers from business and sociological fields seemed to have resorted to as they (tried to) implement laws, on the premise of a non-legal mind. Which is what is pushing the issues. The political field needed the business view of opportunity and the resulting laws are toothless against larger corporations who end up getting a free pass here with PwC as the facilitating office.

In the end I am more correct than even I thought I was, yet this should not digress from handing out the penalties that are needed to give a clear signal that the party is over. We have learned the hard way from 2004 onwards that unless we make a massive shift, this will continue a few more decades, as such stronger language and harsher penalties are required, because continuing on this path is far too rewarding for all the players that can afford to play this game, which gave me the idea to give PwC their marching orders out of the UK. I don’t believe it is too harsh, especially as they made 35 billion last year alone. So the question to you becomes, do you have any idea how much taxation they paid? I have no idea how much exactly, but we do know that PwC was elemental in avoiding Lehman Brothers to pay an addition £1.2 billion in taxation, due to inconsistencies, we see the quote by Mr Justice Hildyard: “It is of real importance, both in terms of good governance and a fair market, that HMRC should make every effort to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen again“, (at http://www.theweek.co.uk/lehman-brothers/77510/lehman-brothers-creditors-to-avoid-12bn-tax-bill) giving rise that larger changes are needed to bring back fairness to all tax paying people, who have not seen a whole lot of fairness in that regard these last 12 years.

Judges will soon have to science the shit out of these tax laws, making them actually fair to all, not just large corporations, who seem to be judged on ‘the Principle of least accountability’.

 

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Gimme some Sugar

In the week where we saw the disgraceful act by Sam Gyimah, a British Conservative, who made sure that the wrongs against gays in the past remain, he filibustered the meeting, so that the Gay population will be stigmatised a little longer. Hiding behind “We have developed a way to do this without giving any perception that the pardon covers perpetrators of sex with a minor or non-consensual sex“, whilst it has been known quite clearly that there is no pardon for acts that are still criminal. We could ask if he has had non-consensual sex lately, because that might give cause for confusion. As I see it, this seems to be nothing more than the shameful act by a homophobic government representative. Yet that is actually not the worst what is happening. You see, George Osborne has had a few decent ideas and one of them was the Sugar Tax. The information that we get to some extent (at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/21/soft-drinks-industry-lobbies-government-dilute-scrap-sugar-tax), shows the information that “Research has found that drinking more than two sugary or artificially sweetened soft drinks per day greatly increases the risk of diabetes“, which would be worrying enough for most parents on the best of days. In this age of obesity, something needed to be done and the Sugar Tax would be one way of doing it. Is it the best path?

That is a fair enough question, and it could have been debated if the large corporations had actually done something, but they did not. They were in it to maximise profits. One could argue that the soft drinks companies are the new cigarette companies. The information that we get from all kinds of debatable sources is because the media at large refuses to properly inform the people. It is the old story of what I regard to be ‘whoring for advertisement‘ that is part of all that. The initial news (at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/16/george-osbornes-sugar-tax-economic-fears-budget), gave us the goods that when we see the Sugar Tax as “eventful by any standards”, you better realise that there will be plenty of opposition.

But that is not the biggest issue in this. The article that drew my attention gives us the following parts. “Health campaigners in favour of the proposed soft drinks industry levy said they are concerned that neither Theresa May nor Philip Hammond has personally spoken out in support of the tax since coming to office“, the fact that this gets delegated to junior ministers gives rise to the fear that things will get bungled and that implementation will be delayed or just blatantly rejected. This article also has a few issues. One of them is “At a drinks party at the Tory conference sponsored by the industry, a spokesman for the British Soft Drinks Association pleaded with Greg Clark, the business secretary, and MPs on the Conservative Reform Group to drop support for the levy, saying it would harm small businesses and cause job losses at a difficult time for the economy“. The first clear issue is who exactly was this spokesperson?

So, I decided to take another look and my first impression is that this BSDA reads like a joke (I have an evolved sense of humour, often intensely inappropriate). It starts with Health ‘Helping our consumers reduce their calorie and sugar intake‘. It comes with the picture of a woman you want to fuck six ways from Sunday on a daily basis. So we see nameless products with labels like Product Innovation Sugar Reduction and Smaller pack sizes. At this point you wonder what you are in for, in the ‘UK Economy section’ we see how £11 billion was added to the economy. This sounds so nice, but where was it added to the economy? Being THEIR revenue? That is aid to them, but is it truly aid to the UK economy? This site just reeks like corporate marketing in what they call a ‘non-profit coat’ and it is high time some changes are made.

From my point starting by adding to the sugar tax would be a great idea.

You see, the executive council of the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) includes Pepsi, Lucozade, Coca Cola, Red Bull, Tropicana and a few others. Many of them not paying heaps of taxation in the UK, Coca Cola avoided £102 million in the UK in 2012 (I have no clear numbers from the years following that) and was mentioned recently as one of the 50 stashing a total of 1.3 trillion off shore. It is time to stop enabling these large corporations, because this is one of the main reasons the NHS can no longer continue the way it did. If there was no large scale tax evasion, the sugar tax would never have come into existence.  In addition, stories on what Diet Coke apparently seems to do to the human body and the relentless support from the media through not illuminating it, because of the advertisement they represent. So for the most, many people, perhaps even better stated most people are unaware of certain cause and effect issues seen due to the usage of what we now laughingly refer to as the ‘diet fuzzy drinks’.

So now we get back to the lady on page one. You see, if the members of the BSDA are not doing their part other than hiding behind statistics, changes will be required. So if we need more physical exercise the BDSA can send their fitness/yoga outfitted lady to my address where I can lose 15,000 calories a day through consensual sex (when doing it 3 times a day that is).

Is this thought too inappropriate?

I think the BSDA is a hatchet job in this age of marketing to serve the interest of large corporations and their needs. Their needs being profit and only profit. The issues of the BSDA is just like the acts of Sam Gyimah. They are legal and part of the political life that needs to be frowned upon. The fact that the BSDA a non-profit organisation is bombarding advertisements with added twitter stories from a ‘Tunbridge Wells newsagent‘ whose business will be ruined by sugar tax. If that is truly so, perhaps they should try to sell newspapers. The fact that their business survives on sugary drinks is a bit of an issue, as they tend to be over 150% more expensive then the nearest supermarket. Just a thought!

These levels of marketing require a lot more scrutiny and no one is stepping to the plate to do so. A harsh reality of big business in charge. Yet, there is more, the BSDA reports on one of their pages “‘We are pleased that the latest NDNS data shows a decline of over 8% in teenagers’ sugar intake from soft drinks between 2012 – 2014“, which is a statement that might be true, but where is the data? The second statement is one I have a definite issue with. The quote “Soft drinks companies have taken significant action to help their consumers reduce their sugar intake since the NDNS data was collected over 2 years ago. Independent analysis confirms that sugar intake from soft drinks has been reduced by over 16% in the last four years“, I believe this to be incorrect. You see Coca Cola is as ‘sweet’ as it ever was, so were most other drinks. So here we see the switch from ‘sugar’ to these ‘diet’ drinks and the dangers there have been avoiding visible presentation and scrutiny from the media at large, because they are nowadays too much about circulation and advertisement. Then the page goes one step further and states “we understand there is more to do and only last year we set ourselves a 20% calorie reduction target by 2020“, now it is suddenly about calories? calories are mostly from sugar, meaning that this is about alternative ‘additives’, they might not show up on the calorie list, but there is enough worry to consider that it will show a long term effect on the human body. No one can know for sure, which is a truth in itself, but the fact that there are long term considerations and the fact that the almighty US FDA is suddenly way too quiet and we see certain aspects, we now also see that the FDA is now no more than a valve of corporate discrimination as to what is considered safe, set by who is bringing it to market. Is that not an interesting development? The fact that we see in this place that “A 2010 Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine review of the literature on artificial sweeteners concludes that, “research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain”” (at https://usrtk.org/sweeteners/diet-soda-fraud/), whilst the media is too quiet is equally disturbing. The fact that the BSDA is all about promoting the biggest ‘dealers’ in sugary substances (with the clear exception of the British Sugar at http://www.britishsugar.co.uk/), seems to be pushed slowly into the background of the issue. The issue was the sugar tax!

So what economy is brought into danger? When we see Coca-Cola Coke 1.75L £1.71 and Any 2 for £2.00 (Source: Tesco), either the margins are astronomical, or Coca Cola is giving away their profits, what do you think is more likely to be the truth? So when we include taxation and Cola becomes 2 for £2.20-£2.40. Considering they are giving the second bottle for only £0.29, are they really in danger? Are any of those soft drink manufacturers in actual danger? No they are not, because in the end, there is a group that will stop getting the second bottle, yet in my pragmatic view, it is more likely that families will now only get this article twice a month instead of weekly. Which would reduce the sugar intake by a massive amount. Also, in light of the BSDA statement that teenagers were reducing intake by 8%, now consider that we see that Coca-Cola Coke 1.75L contains 29.0% sugar. How likely is that the 8% is just a weighted average and that the numbers are not that positive? I am using Coca Cola as an example, yet when we see that regular Pepsi contains 31.0% sugar, it seems clear that I have a case here. Now Pepsi might come with the response that their revenue comes from the Pepsi Max drinks, yet here we see ‘Low Calorie Cola Flavoured Soft Drink with Sweeteners‘ and ‘Contains a Sourced of Phenylalanine‘, with twice the sentence: ‘contains no sugar’. Yet the mention made me search and WebMD has this (at http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/phenylalanine-uses-and-risks). The warning is “Doses higher than 5,000 milligrams a day can cause nerve damage“, which sees like a really dangerous issue (and a massive dose is needed), yet there is no mention at all how much is in Pepsi Max, only that it has 0% sugar (on the website). In addition, the risk mention is “And use caution in taking phenylalanine if you have: High blood pressure, Trouble sleeping, Anxiety or other psychiatric problems, Also, it is unknown whether this supplement is safe in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

That is a lot of risk groups, knowing that high blood pressure is a risk group here and also considering that “Approximately 16 million people in the UK have high blood pressure” (source: NHS UK) gives us that 24% of the population is a risk factor, so in my view, at that at this Conservative Tea Party (where tea is unlikely to be served), it seems to be sound advice that representing Pepsi, Mr Mark Elwell – PepsiCo International, remains quiet as a mouse. It seems to me that his conscience is better served with the Sugar tax in place, but that is just me speculating.

So here we see that those fueling the NHS customer base, are mostly all about not having to pay any bills in this matter. I think that the people forgot the 2004 movie Super-Size Me. Even as this was mostly about McDonalds, the fact that we are supersizing ourselves with that second bottle at a mere £0.29, we are doing the harm to ourselves. It is more than just taxation by rescuing us from ourselves. The Soft Drinks industry has the ability to throw millions in advertisement on a playful and sporty youth, yet they are not representative of this healthy life style, not to the degree it should be and that is the real danger. The fact that the BSDA spin machine is running at full power and that the image at present is that Prime Minister Theresa May is not taking this as serious as she should (by setting this agenda on the collar of a senior Conservative) is equally disturbing. You see, if the sugar tax is watered down or stricken off, she has absolutely no rights to deny the NHS the funds they need and she will have to order the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, The Right Honourable Philip Hammond to find those needed funds. In my view, good luck to that tall order, because there are almost no margins left to play with, the Sugar Tax was the first real step in creating some level of margins (to the smallest extent).

We have to admit that the BSDA has a right to do the things they are doing, they aren’t breaking any laws, yet the linked issues are there and the press overall for one isn’t doing its job to the extent they should be. When we see the end of the initial Guardian article, we see “The charity Action on Sugar has said the tax will have an impact on intake because people respond to price, but the government has said it wants the cost of the tax to be borne by the industry and not consumers“, there is truth in that and there is misleading parts in that. That is, when we widen the statement ‘the tax to be borne by the industry‘. You see, tax law overhaul is the only way to do this, the sugar tax will have an impact to the margin of profit making the industry increase the prices. That seems just mere logical. However, if we can make people reduce the purchase of these drinks, that too would be a positive effect. Any chance in lowering the intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners would be a massive win for the population of Britain. The fact that the government saw raising prices as a solution for the tobacco industry and not for the soft drinks industry is also worrying. You see, there is a direct health risk, so making these lemonades unaffordable would make sense, the fact that this isn’t treated as the dangers they represent, just like the denial we saw in the 80’s on tobacco is cause for distress and reason for debate. The only interesting ‘coincidence‘ is the quote in the Guardian, which is “The link between sugary drinks and obesity has been well documented with evidence suggesting they account for 29% of 11- to 18-year-olds’ daily sugar intake” and this is exactly the amounts of sugar that Coca Cola has in its bottles. Life is full of little coincidences, isn’t it?

 

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A dangerous sense of humour

On one side, we need to laugh every so often, laughter is good for the soul they say, yet, when the press and the media get involved in this situation, there is a real danger where they can actually make things worse. This has been proven on several occasions in the past, in several nations. You see, I agree, Conan was funny, introducing Adolf Hitler (Sarah Silverman) was hilarious and it was comedy. Nobody denies this! The issue is that it is also dangerous. The people are angry and they are not in the mood to trust anyone. Now here comes the loudmouthing blunt Trump. We see the thoughts of the American public like it is a cartoon text balloon. ‘He, doesn’t need the money‘, ‘he is already a success‘, ‘perhaps he figured it out‘, ‘what do those wannabe’s know?’ It is the last thought in all of this. Libertarians who threw the people to the wolves for high moral plans no one could afford, at the same time Wall-Street keeps on doing what it is doing with no accountability in sight. There are racial issues, there are inequality issues. The people are very angry and people like Conan know that, they hope that with a laugh and a smile it will go away. It is too late for that, the comedians will need to get serious for a while, if not, they end up having to deal with 4-8 years of Donald, not the Duck, the Trump and the fallout that follows!

You see, as a comedy there is a moment in Mel Brook’s ‘History of the world, part 1’ where we see the Roman senate, they are offered a question their response ‘Fuck the poor!’. To which we hear. ‘Excellent, now let’s get back to business’. That is exactly where America, Greece and many European nations are. I remain a little in doubt as to the drive of Japan, because I know too little there. The people are seeing their futures evaporate, their pensions will soon be lost and those who have no rainy day solution will work until they die.

That has become the reality of today and the people are, as I said before very very angry.

In the Netherlands we see a repeat of a different nature. I remember this the first time around, as I was there. In those days, an ultra-right wing bigot called ‘Janmaat’ was the problem. In those days clever politicians decided to ignore him completely, which I thought was a mistake, even as he was a loon to say the least. And I was proven right at the following elections he actually got three seats in a place called Schiedam. He actually ended up with a seat at the table. Now, as he was too extreme and outspoken lacking constraint and thought. He was for all intent and purposes the Dutch version of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Geert Wilder is another matter, like Marine Le Pen he is a lot more intelligent, which now gives us another problem as we see the issues escalate. When we see the Irish Times (at http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/rhetoric-against-geert-wilders-ratchets-up-in-the-netherlands-1.2531503), you could see this as an open and shut case. But it is not. The quote “Right-wing politician Geert Wilders has been described as “a threat to democracy and the rule of law” in the Netherlands after calling for “resistance” to the establishment of refugee centres to house migrants from Iraq and Syria“, the issue is not the quote, it is the context. Even as we see “The condemnation by the chairman of the Labour Party, Hans Spekman, came as a new survey showed that hundreds of local councillors are considering giving up politics because of credible physical threats against themselves and their families“.

The context is not given. Elsevier gives us: “De PVV heeft volgens velen grote invloed. PVV-oprichter en partijleider Geert Wilders gooit, zoals premier Mark Rutte (VVD) zei, geregeld een stuk ‘rood vlees in de arena’, waarna iedereen daarop duikt. Meestal leiden zijn uitspraken over immigratie, de islam, de Europese Unie en de elites tot ophef. Afgezien van dat verbale theater zijn de resultaten van tien jaar PVV des­ondanks bescheiden“, {translated} According to many, the PVV has a lot of influence, Prime Minister Rutte states: Geert Wilders throws a piece of red meat into the arena, and everyone is going for it. Often enough the quotes are related to immigration, Islam, the EEC and the elite. Beyond that the results of 10 years of PVV presence is modest. Here is the issue and the context. It is trivialisation. Consider the quote “local councilors are considering giving up politics because of credible physical threats against themselves and their families, you see Geert Wilders did not do that. He has been clearly quoted as the person stating the need for non-violent non-compliance. Which is pretty much what Ghandi did. The people of the Netherlands are angry because life in the Netherlands is less and less affordable, housing, food, the prices keep on going up. Let’s not forget that the Dutch National population density is pretty close to that of London. Just in case you did not fathom that. The NATIONAL density of that nation approaches the density of the city of London. The politicians are playing with funds they do not have, budgets they cannot keep and now, they add more and more refugees. It is a commendable approach, but elected officials are still only elected by the people and the people are less and less agreeable with the decision made. Geert Wilders sees this and is playing those cards intensely. So as we see places like ‘The Post’ (http://tpo.nl/) are trivialising him and stating how he missed the boat. They are in equal denial on how much support the current political parties have lost at present. We see other statements by the Post on how PVV members are lowly educated and how they do not comprehend statistics. Well, that might not be incorrect, but the Post or better stated the people there have very likely read ‘How to lie with statistics’ and the people are realising how the numbers are no longer reliable.

The Dutch version of the Financial Times (at http://fd.nl/economie-politiek/1134584/pvv-naar-41-zetels-in-peiling-maurice-de-hond) gives them a current ranking of 41 seats, the fourth party ever to surpass 40 seats. Two of his contenders, those who usually are much higher than the PVV was are now on 18 and 19 seats (which might have been a typo by the Financial Times), implying that the PVV is now larger than the both of them. An achievement that even I never considered to be realistically possible. Now we get additional news from POW Ned (at http://www.powned.tv/nieuws/politiek/2016/02/syrische_oorlogsmisdadigers_mo.html), now I cannot vouch for the quality and reliability of that news, but consider that they stated 2 weeks ago that Syrian war criminals are currently in the Netherlands. They are not the only source stating this, some more renowned papers are giving similar statements, that those criminals, if applying for refugee status could not be removed from the Netherlands (source: Elsevier), if so, the Dutch people are likely to show a lot more anger soon enough, this is part of the danger that Dutch trivialisation is giving them, because the angry people (the numbers are growing daily) are siding with Geert Wilders, even though they are not in full agreement of his agenda and his voice, but the other parties have ignored the voice of the people for so long that they have had enough, which is part of the reason why many local politicians feel threatened. You see, they were there to fight for their constituents, not to dance to big business and the needs of a community that deserted them. If we accept that Humour is a moderator of compassion fatigue (see: Carmen C. Moran), we can get to the side that the higher the fatigue, the more direct the humour needs to be (the Adolf Silverman sketch, or was that Adolf Trump?), Kuhlman in 1988 gave us the premise that humour can be a bonding agent amongst colleagues as an emotional language, yet this is an environment of like-minded persons. That is not the case with the American people, and as such Humour is the trivialisation that no longer seems to work, it actually becomes the accelerant fuelling the American anger (to some extent). The same path is what the Dutch parties face with the PVV, like Janmaat, it would be great for them if Geert Wilders unqualified himself through his voice, but Geert Wilders is intelligent enough, not to be that extreme.

The growth of far right wing parties is what makes humour a dangerous tool to use, because the voters are either not getting it, or they no longer care who comes into power, as long as it is not the ‘current’ party. That makes for an unbalanced and dangerous escalation. As we see that Marine Le Pen is still the party to observe in the upcoming elections, the growth of the PVV and now the headway that German AfD (Alternativ fur Deutchland) is making, gives all the players several worries, more than ever before. Even as Italian Matteo Salvini with Lega Nord is unlikely to be the growing favourite, a wrong sense of humour in Italy could change that to some extent, yet I reckon not enough, which might make some people rejoice. What is a given is that the European map will soon starts to get  a major overhaul, the extent of the overhaul will remain a mystery until the election dust settles, at which time an entirely new sense of humour will be required.

Will this affect the UK? That is actually an uncertainty, you see Brexit will make part of that determination, yet in equal measure how David Cameron now deals with Turkey is going to be centre in all this, especially the next elections. Nigel Farage has already spoken out against Turkey and in all honesty, I am not sure if he is wrong. The European players have been too lenient on Turkey and too lenient of the acts of Turkey as a whole, which implies that any soft catering towards Turkeys goals, especially as people start to realise that the Greek mess (regarding refugees) is largely DUE TO Turkey, any non-firm stance by Prime Minister David Cameron and The Right Honourable Philip Hammond regarding Turkey will hurt the Conservative numbers, of that I am utterly convinced. This poses an interesting place for UKIP, as they have not had such an advantage before. There is no clear way to tell how those dice will fall. Those elements will get an additional levy when we consider that Nigel Farage will be in the Netherlands 2 days (next month) before the referendum on the ‘EU’s treaty of association with Ukraine‘. By some this treaty is seen as a general feel on the EU as a whole, with one difference. Dutch News quoted Nigel Farage with “If you win in your referendum, my goodness me, that will help in Britain too“, which seems to be correct, the Ukrainian situation is an unstable one and Nigel can get votes no matter how that referendum goes. It is quite literal ‘damned if you do and damned if you do not’, these are easy points to pick up for Nigel and that impacts Geert Wilders too, although he would need a clear win here. The political map is shifting for a multitude of reasons, but let there be no mistake. The Greek economy started this, the power players desperate for their ‘Status Quo’ only added fuel to the fire and now they are for the most out of the game, making threats on how people are losing out and that story became stale and no one believes it any more (the voting population at large), the players relied on a dangerous sense of humour and they are about to lose in three nations no less.

Any opposition towards the far right needs to get serious and remain so, even at social events for some time to come.

 

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My £13,000,000 invoice!

I got a ‘nice’ wakeup call just now, as I was reading an article in the guardian. It is at www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jan/14/ministry-of-defence-failed-computer-system. The title “Ministry of Defence ‘wasted millions on failed computer system’” got my attention. The UK is riddled with IT people trying to get a decent job. This article implied with quotes like “The recruitment partnering project, a £1.3bn scheme intended to enable the army to recruit online, is almost two years behind schedule and will not be fully operational until April 2015 at the earliest, the Times said.

Now, I understand that the MoD does things a little different and that this online approach takes a little time and money, but the fact that the cost of this system is more than the personnel costs of an entire regiment for 50 years (take into account that most IT solutions are usually set for a lifetime span of no more than 10 years) gives weight to the issue that it is time to go public. The additional quote “the problems are so serious that defence secretary Philip Hammond is considering spending nearly £50m on a new solution.” gives weight to my response “You pay me 10% of that and I will assist in getting the issue sorted

You see, any IT project is basically simple.

  1. What must be done and by what date?
  2. What must it cover?
  3. What are you willing to spend?
  4. Document the agreement and sign it by all parties!

The rest is usually political manoeuvring. (I apologise for oversimplifying the problem)

The fact that the article implied that the costs were a billion plus, gives the impression that the entire military network system got overhauled. This leaves us with the thought that there is a decent chance that Sir Iain Lobban of GCHQ is laughing himself to death reading about these events, so perhaps the loud honing laughter will move Defence to take a harsh look at themselves in the cold light of these events.

Do not get me wrong. I know that IT solutions tend to cost, and things get delayed, but this is about recruiting people, the price is implied to be set at thirteen hundred million pounds and it is already 2 years late. So, why was any amount paid in regards to a failed system? It is of course likely that those who delivered had a quality ironclad contract in place, yet the mentioned amount is extremely out of proportion compared to the non-working delivery.

The next quote is also one that opens debate “If the ICT hosting solution is not put in place then the MoD risks not gaining the appropriate number of recruits needed. Given recent criticism of army recruitment … and the use of reserves, this would lead to further negative media reporting and reputational damage for MoD.” So, the 2 year delay was not a clear indication of issues? I reckon that the spending of well over a billion on a non-working system is more than enough for laughter, ridicule and reputation damage for the MoD for a long time to come.

To put this all in perspective take a look at this quote from the Guardian made in August 2013 (at http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/aug/01/gchq-spy-agency-nsa-edward-snowden). The quote is “GCHQ now has liaison officers working inside MI5, MI6 and the Soca, the serious and organised crime agency. It takes the lion’s share of the £1.9bn budget for Britain’s intelligence services” so basically, the MoD blew on a non-working recruitment option, the amount that GCHQ needs to keep it completely operational (for a year).

Seems a little out of whack, does it not?

Now for some other fun facts! Recruitment is all about creating interest. Now consider that the cost to make a multiplatform next-gen video game is £15-£25 million pound. So, the youthful player could get introduced to all kinds of positions, challenges, military functions and so on. The development is when compared to what is wasted less than 2% of those costs. More interesting, it could be sold at the newsagent for £5. The MoD could break even, or even make some money too (which would definitely be a nice change). It is a game and it might not have all of the information, but together with an information website loaded with PDF’s, application information and a registration bank should never have exceeded £80 million, from what I envision at present (including the game development). Why was this solution not hosted via GCHQ? The people at the MoD might know of the place, it is in Cheltenham and it looks like a massive donut (Yummy!). It has better security and more options for facilitation than most secure banks can dream of (GCHQ is not to be confused with the NSA, where you can copy all data to a USB stick at your own convenience).

So, do I have a case here? Actually, it was not me, but The Times, who started it, and the Guardian for giving it the visibility that goes far beyond the UK borders.

I must try to be neutral in these matters and very likely the article is missing key elements considering the amount involved, but seeing how 1 in 7 in the UK lives below poverty on one side, whilst on the other side a billion plus is wasted to this degree is extremely upsetting. I have proudly worked in IT since 1981 and seeing events like these, just do not cut it with me and it should not cut it with you, the reader either.

There is however a little more. “This leaked report points to the latest series of catastrophic failures at the Ministry of Defence on David Cameron’s watch.” is a quote I have an issue with. The fact that it is 2 years late means that this was supposed to be finished late 2011. When was the project started? Who were the people starting this, who was involved? It is of course possible that this was all on the conservative watch, yet, that must still be verified. The mention in the article of “after failing in 2011 to challenge a MoD policy” on the article gives rise to the thought that this has for a large part been an internal MoD failing. In addition “The project management team was inexperienced and under-resourced and the army failed to take charge when delays started and put in a suitable contingency plan.” gives way to my four step issue. The first two steps, as I mentioned it, also cover resources, the fact that this was not met means that the failing was on more than one level. Who at the MoD was involved? Was this person aware of the required skillset?

All questions that should have risen with any senior decision maker before the project was accepted and the checklists should have tripped several ‘alarms’ as the project was going forward. The fact that the large amount had been ‘lost’ indicates that none of these issues were factually dealt with.

The article raises a few more questions, but the horror should be clear. It will keep on costing more for now and before Labour starts ‘calling’ for botched jobs, they should take a look at the issues we saw in 2010 (at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labours-computer-blunders-cost-16326bn-1871967.html). From that part we get the clear idea that infrastructure and policies alone are not getting IT choices done. Knowledge is likely to fix that; you just need to make sure the right person is on the job.

With the amount that has been spent, I feel comfortable sending them with my 13 million pound invoice.
(Payment within 30 days for this consult would be appreciated, as I have to pay my bar bill).

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