Monday, 30 December 2013

Test Match Debacle or Far-Eastern Betting Syndicate?

A two-horse race between two well-matched runners producing such a one-sided debacle would result in the stewards becoming involved looking for nobbling. 

We know that betting is illegal in India and much of the far-east yet continues on a massive scale. The industry - for that is what it is - runs on a gigantic scale. The criminal masterminds behind the scams and spot-fixing do not get to be in charge without being either very nasty pieces of work or by employing others to do the vicious stuff on their behalf. As in Prohibition Era USA, the ‘crime’ of betting is not seen as being such a bad thing by many citizens. Blind eyes are turned, bribes paid, justice bought and sold and a complete infrastructure established to maximise profits. Legitimate banks of computers are devoted to speeding large sums of currency around the world.

In Britain our regulators have been found to be complacent and way behind the game. The Pakistani spot-fixing affair highlighted an area of betting unbeknownst to our administrators. The idea that a wide would be bowled at a given time or a no-ball sent down between the 6th and 10th overs of a match seems small beer. Until you know the amounts changing hands on just such an incident. There was a spell some years ago when football betting was still in its relative infancy that a popular bet would be the timing of the first throw-in. Hardened pros cottoned onto this in no time and before long the opening minutes of a match would feature an ‘ambitious’ pass from the kick-off just over the head of a winger on either flank. Kerching.

Where betting is legitimate it is somewhat easier to monitor how much is being wagered and on what aspect of the game. A sudden rush of money on an obscure semi-pro midweek game in the Midlands sets alarm bells ringing. This does not apply to the vast majority of the illegal betting industry.

The latest allegations involve a player being paid to get himself sent off. Apparently the ref did not see the first attempt to assault an unfortunate opponent so the poor sod had to be attacked again to achieve the red card. Others are reported to have been paid for yellow cards. Match fixing follows as night follows day. There was a remarkable story of a match in the Russian 2nd division between a side top of the league, hosting one from the bottom who had not won a match all season away from home. The Wednesday before the game a local investigative journalist discovered the plot. The top team would rest many of their best players. They would not attack all game and also they would try to give away free kicks on the edge of their area until one was converted into a goal. At this point the game would die as neither side would attack and the result would stand as a shock 1-0 win to the lowly opposition. Remember this all came out before the game. Most folks would think that having had the fix rumbled there would be a change of plan at the very least. Not a bit of it. The ‘game’ was played exactly to script. And before anyone mounts their white horse and harrumphs all over the place about greedy footballers, there was a far darker side to the story. 2nd Division Russian players are not well paid. The Russian mafia is a powerful organisation with its tentacles in many corridors of power. Players were paid very little to fix the score. They knew their families - their wives and children, mums and dads - were at risk of something horrible happening to them on their way to school, or the shops - if they did not follow the script. 

Corruption is all pervasive. Remember the shock when Hanse Cronje was discovered to be fixing matches? A more upright pillar of the cricketing establishment it would be hard to find.
If Cronje could fix matches, then who else could? And is?

There have been moments of genuine head-scratching in this latest series, none more so than the collapse from a position of strength to one of abject weakness in the last test at the MCG. One incident shines out among the gloom. Ian Bell walked out to bat with England in a bit of trouble having just lost 3 quick wickets. It is a situation he is familiar with. The shot he played for his first ball to an ordinary non-spinning slow bowler takes some believing. A defensive prod? A huge heave? An exaggerated leave-alone? None of these. He chose to gently push a benign delivery 30 yards into the hands of an Aussie fielder. First Ball. 

Others bear scrutiny. When discretion was needed and teamwork partnering Kevin Pietersen was called for we had slogs and appalling shot selection. The non-spinning spinner finished up with 5 wickets.

Now what price would that have commanded in the Indian markets? And what price would the Aussies have got for coming back from so far behind? Great odds.

It is a thought which seems to have left the great commentariat untroubled. 

The alternative? That the England players sheds have gone is also possible. But too much happened on that day three which was inexplicable ----unless the dark side is considered. It should be part of the Inquest.

Update 5/1/14
The shambles that was the second innings this morning confirmed that their sheds have indeed gone. No respectable bookie could risk engaging such an inept bunch of failures in any betting scam.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Food Banks and the Tories

“I went to the Trussell Trust food bank round the corner from the Observer's offices just before Christmas. If I hadn't been reading the papers, I would have assumed it represented everything Conservatives admire. As at every other food bank, volunteers who are overwhelmingly churchgoers ran it and organised charitable donations from the public.

But the coalition is not even prepared to play the hypocrite. Iain Duncan Smith showed why he never won the VC when he was in the Scots Guards when he refused to face the Labour benches as the Commons debated food banks on 18 December. He pushed forward his deputy, one Esther McVey, a former "TV personality". All she could say was that hunger was Labour's fault for wrecking the economy. She gave no hint that her government had been in power for three years during which the number attending food banks had risen from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000. Her remedy was for the coalition to help more people into work.

If she had bothered talking to the Trussell Trust, it would have told her that low-paid work is no answer. Its 1,000 or so distribution points serve working families, who have no money left for food once they have paid exorbitant rent and fuel bills.

But then no one in power wants to talk to the trust. As the Observer revealed, Chris Mould, its director, wrote to Duncan Smith asking if they could discuss cheap ways of reducing hunger: speeding up appeals against benefit cuts; or stopping the endemic little Hitlerism in job centres, which results in unjust punishments for trivial transgressions. In other words, a Christian charity, which was turning the "big society" from waffle into a practical reality, was making a civil request. Duncan Smith responded with abuse. The charity's claims to be "non-partisan" were a sham, he said. The Trussell Trust was filled with "scaremongering" media whores, desperate to keep their names in the papers. But he had their measure.

Oh, yes. "I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I'm concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear."

"Ministers will not confess to making a mistake for fear of damaging their careers. But it is not only their reputations but an entire world view that is at stake. Put bluntly, the Conservatives hope to scrape the 2015 election by convincing a large enough minority that welfare scroungers are stealing their money. They cannot admit that a real fear of hunger afflicts hundreds of thousands. Hence, Lord Freud, the government's adviser on welfare reform, had to explain away food banks by saying: "There is an almost infinite demand for a free good."
My visit to the food bank showed that our leaders' ignorance has become a deliberate refusal to face a social crisis. Of course, the volunteers help working families and students as well as the unemployed and pensioners. Everyone apart from ministers knows about in-work poverty. As preposterous is the Tory notion that the banks are filled with freeloaders.
You cannot just swan in. You get nothing unless a charity or public agency has assessed your need and given you a voucher. The trust is at pains to make sure that the beggars – for hundreds of thousands of beggars is what Britain now has – receive a balanced diet. To feed a couple for five days, it gives: one medium pack of cereal, 80 teabags, a carton of milk, two cans apiece of soup, beans, tomatoes and vegetables, two portions of meat and fish, fruit, rice pudding, sugar, pasta and juice. That this is hardly a feast is confirmed by the short list of "treats", which, "when available", consist of "one bar of chocolate and one jar of jam".
Sharon Cumberbatch, who runs the centre, tells me that she is so worried that shame will deter her potential clients that she packages food in supermarket bags so no one need know its source. The clients, when I met them, reinforced her point that they were not the brazen freeloaders of Tory nightmare. They trembled when they told me how they did not know how they would make it into the new year.
Most of all, it was the volunteers who were a living reproof to a coalition that can cannot correct its errors. They not only distribute food but collect it. They stand outside supermarkets all day asking strangers to buy the tinned food they need or hand out leaflets in the streets or plead with businesses to help. Sharon Cumberbatch is unemployed but she works to help others for nothing. Her colleagues said they manned the bank because hunger in modern Britain was a sign of a country that was falling apart. Or as one volunteer, Richard Moorhead, put it to me: "I am gobsmacked that people are going hungry. I'm ashamed."
The coalition can call such attitudes political if it wants – in the broadest sense they are. But they are also patriotic, neighbourly, charitable and kind. They come from people who represent a Britain the Conservative party once claimed a kinship with, and now cannot bring itself to talk to." Nick Cohen 28/12/13 Observer
Another way of putting this is: do not trust the despicable tories and their slimy coalition colleagues. The rich must be protected and saved from paying their rightful amount in taxation. Meanwhile the poorest, the most vulnerable and the weakest in our society have what little they have taken away. 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Trust us

The Coalition Agreement between the LibDems and the Tories back in May 2010 has a few things to say about civil liberties:

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.”

Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.”

“Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.”

As David Bowie sang so memorably this year, ‘Where are we now?’ 

Where indeed.

As the Chilcott Inquiry hits the solid wall of Cabinet obstruction, being met with outright refusal to release papers showing who said what and when in the build up to the illegal Iraq War......

And as David Cameron reneges on an earlier commitment to have a judge-led inquiry into rendition and torture......

And as the deafening silence echoes around Whitehall as revelation after revelation exposes the extent to which GCHQ are deeply in bed with the American NSA --and as our neighbours and reported ‘allies’ become angrier and angrier at the way they have been snooped on.....

And as Jack Straw and the ex-head of MI6 cower behind the execrable ‘defence’ of national security  when the reality seems to be far more national embarrassment or even national crime.....

It seems that there is one law for us, the hoi polloi, and another for them, our rulers. 

Anyone unclear as to why any of this matters needs to wake up and catch up. In our name, innocent people have been sent to so-called ‘black’ prisons around the world where they were tortured. In our name the reverend Blair agreed to send back to Libya a couple of Gaddaffi’s opponents - in fact we sent back their families as well - so they could all be tortured - all so Blair could help his cronies in BP get their grubby little fingers on Libyan oil..... And in our name GCHQ bugs and snoops its way round the world listening in to just about everybody without any by your leave....

It appears that whenever one of our political parties assumes power in the UK they immediately jettison any commitments they made to civil liberties. New Labour were awful. Remember 90 day detention without trial? Now the Tories and LibDems have followed suit.

As for dealing with the secret services we are left with the pathetic toothless club of never was-ers and blazered fools to hold them to account. Really. No rigour, no transparency and no chance.

So what is the answer?

It is absolutely clear there is no way we can trust our leaders - of whatever persuasion - to do the right thing. The answer will have to come from outside Parliament.

A massive campaign of Reform, or...

Failing that revolution will follow - with all the uncertainties and unforeseen consequences and correlated damage which will do irreparable harm to the nation. 

So reform it is then.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

What Would Mandela Do?

Listening to the shower of humbuggery cascading from the tory benches this week at the Mandela eulogy,  stretched credulity way beyond reasonable. The unprincipled and shameful support of apartheid, cheer-lead by Thatcher, Tebbit et al - was mysteriously forgotten. No surprise there - this bunch are adept at rewriting truth and would have amazed even Orwell with their terminology. 

As events unfold with continued attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society this government is turning out to be one of the nastiest and divisive in our history.

Not convinced? Compare and contrast. 

Homeless numbers = up. Bankers responsible for financial chaos = untouched.
Food bank take up = up. Bankers arrested for fraud = none.
Children in poverty = up. Tax avoidance = increasing and encouraged.
Benefits supplementing income = widespread and essential. Labelled ‘scroungers’.
Millionaire cabinet introduce bedroom tax.  No mansion tax for the wealthy. 
NHS under siege.   Private medicine = encouraged.
Over 1 million young unemployed.  Rich offspring can take up unpaid internships.
Zero hours contracts = up.       CEO’s paying themselves mega bucks = up.
Distrust of politics/politicians = up. Policies of all 3 main parties alike. Leaders ‘out of touch.’
Public sector = hammered.         Private companies can do no wrong - despite doing         
                wrong.      Again and again and again.

Mandela did not simply campaign for freedom. He was also indomitable on poverty and the causes of poverty. With his experience he had a deep sense of injustice. The cutting back on legal aid for the poorest whether in civil cases, employment tribunals or the criminal justice system is yet more evidence of squeezing the poor. 

The more the suits spoke, the vaster the gulf appeared between them and Mandela.

In all this unfairness and division there is one over-riding fact which should be borne in mind at all times:

We are many - they are few.