Economy

Is the iPod over?

Onle a few pieces of technology can truly be considered iConic
Only a few pieces of technology can truly be considered iConic, and the impact of Apple’s iPod surely fits the bill

It had not happened since the Walkman. Our way of listening to music was earth-shattered, and it was inexplicably admirable to banish silence, and its associated boredom from one’s life. The bright metallic colours, that ubiquitous click-wheel navigation, through more songs than you could wish for and those unmistakeable white bud earphones: it had been done.

Technology was made beautiful.

But thirteen years and twenty-six devices later it seems as if these generation-defining slabs of metal could simply become history without the faintest fuss.

Apple’s latest earnings report shows massive profits (as always), but sales of iPods have dropped; 52% down on last year, and further declines are expected.

Is Apple anything but calm, relaxed and smooth? No, it’s not bad or even surprising news for the company, who can tell by their sales figures that customers are simply switching from a music player to a phone or tablet with that music player built-in.

Nonetheless, the iPod still remains the bestselling mp3 player around, and doesn’t look as if it’s about to freeze in a time-capsule of the 2000s: customers are getting younger still, and we’re all expecting a relaunch, to rush out and have ourselves the newest edition, the one that’s finally been fine-tuned to ultimate status. Still, I enjoy the iPod I have now and think I’ll stick to it.

This post was written by Shiven Limbachia. For more information, follow him on Twitter @ShivenLimbachia or contact him here

State of the Union 2014: Obama is voicing his limits

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A matter of hours ago, President Obama gave his annual address on the State of the Union. It marked the end of one phase of his presidency and the start of another. Gone is the shining vision of the second term we hoped for. Gone is the gifted orator who campaigned on change. In his stead is a leader well aware of the scope of his control.

Looking out over a chamber full of military personnel, disobliging Democrats and obdurate Republicans (not to mention a television audience in the tens of millions, and #SOTU being tweeted about by most people in most places), Obama delivered a safe speech full of themes of continuity, perseverance, and the promise of prosperity, albeit slight, around the corner.

Even with a dreadful 2013 which saw his legislative plan stymied and his approval ratings slump to a historic low, the President decided not to chart a new route. Instead he outlined plans to clear his to-do list before an already spiritless administration prepares for another election.

The largely domestic, fiscal-based speech was scattered with well-worn ideas and economic policy, which Obama has relied on time and again, without actually making them happen. Though the focus on economic disparity and a call for better upward mobility does echo that wave of populism piercing through the Democrats, and it’s uncommon to see that from a party in government.

The hike in minimum wage, which will only affect half a million Americans, (from $7 to $10.10) does follow his rhetoric on needing to strengthen the middle classes, but it was disappointing that he didn’t go near the pressing issues, like gun control or Syria.  There was only one newly-issued concrete number: this Presidency’s immigration reform (which can’t begin without the consent of congress) would cut the deficit by $1 trillion over twenty years. It sounds like a lot before you consider Obama’s adding $1 trillion to the deficit every four years.

But the soberest theme across the entire address exuded optimism and an approaching directness. With or without congress, you the people are with me. Everyone knows my relationship with the House is not good, but we can do it together. I will get it done “with my pen and phone”.

And yet the opposition won’t go away. After Obama’s first year, with a fast burst of dramatic legislative accomplishments ushered though during a brief phase of one-party Democratic rule in DC, the Republicans have set their eyes on precluding the President. That is why we all feel so underwhelmed in Obama’s actions now. They’re slowed.

Doubly bad because it hasn’t come off well for the opposition either. The government showdown/shutdown of 2013 has meant the Republicans and the Tea Party members have had to go back to their states and explain to their constituents why they let the US government be threatened, and haven’t come up with a decent excuse.  So congress might let Obama have this one, since congress doesn’t always make the best decisions.

But has the President made the best decisions, considering his first promise in the job was to close Guantanamo Bay prison, and it still hasn’t happened? He said, hours ago, that 2014 would be the year in which Gitmo would be gone. What’s been stopping him these past four years?

The full text of the State of the Union address is available here.

George Osborne and Britain’s poor: Is he flogging a dead horse for money?

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The Chancellor’s new plans for cuts will push spending on public serviced to a level unseen since 1948.

The last time I think George Osborne spoke and the nation heard what he had to say was September 2013. At the party conference for the Conservatives last year, the theme of his speech was evident.

Don’t forget what a shambles New Labour made of Britain. Ed Miliband is not fit for politics. And it is the Tories who have brought the state of this country back to par, just in time for Baroness Thatcher to notice. 

But the most telling and memorable mood he was in was of accomplishment and, with his hindsight, complacency. The final paragraph of his address brought home that accomplishment: Osborne’s Recovery.

We rescued the economy together. We’re going to recover together. And together, we’re going to share in the rewards. For the sun has started to rise above the hill. And the future looks brighter than it did, just a few dark years ago.

But it’s January now. George has sobered up, and travelled to a Sertec factory in Birmingham to deliver a sombre message detailing a future full of hard truths and further storms ahead. He uses metaphor quite often, a bit euphemistically as if we’re in for something we’ll hate, but it’ll work out in the long term. Because we are.

Those “hard truths” mean cuts in spending. £17bn this coming year, £20bn next year and over £25bn further across the two years after will be taken out of the economy should the Conservatives win the next election. What we’re hearing for the first time is that £25bn across the 24 months will be cut, and that half of that money will be taken from working-age benefits.

Osborne stated that if by the end of the next parliament, we are to stop borrowing money and start paying it back (while government spending falls by 2.3% per year) then “you are going to have to find billions of pounds of welfare savings, and I think that is what this country needs to do, personally”. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed Osborne’s autumn statement, and implied most of these figures, but this is the first conformation from the Treasury. 

The explicit argument is that The Plan which was pushed for in the 2010 general election must continue. The deficit must be cut. Taxes must not rise. Spending must be reduced.

The implicit message is that the British economy is still not totally stable, and that the next election should not be the moment to return power to people who see the state as a tax collecting, service buying system.

And the public are getting wind of that. Labour have got alarm bells attached now, most probably because of every other major political party has personally and completely turned against them.

Trust in the left has been worn down over the past five years, and it’ll take more than shiny spending policies like wraparound childcare and a price freeze on energy to win the people’s confidence. Responsibility, sensibility and all-round prudence with the public purse have got to be sold, talked about and displayed in policy before 2015 to stop the grudging shift (as recorded in recent polls) to Ukip, and to the notion that cuts are frustrating, expensive, and downright painful… but needed.

Back to the Chancellor, though: to get his message into the right ears, this weekend it was David Cameron who vowed he would keep what he calls a “triple-lock” on pensions. This means having pensions rise steadily, corresponding with inflation, wages, or 2.5% per year, whichever is highest. To be told that the Conservatives will get the most out of your pension for you will surely be favourable with all those influential OAP voters.

And there’s the political move involved: polls published this weekend conducted by the former Conservative vice-chairman Lord Ashcroft told us that 46% of undecided voters say they’re seriously considering the Conservatives or Ukip. This will help the Tories shine a little brighter.

However, those pensions take up half of the entire benefits budget. This means the £12bn of welfare saving I mentioned will, as Osborne has confirmed, be taken from working-age claimants.

After all, he has also insisted that none of that money could come from higher taxes, for that’ll scare wealthy taxpayers away, leaving the people of Britain poorer. I would call the irony delicious, were it not so shameful.

The reason for such austerity, such austerity unprecedented in recent times, such austerity which we’ve experienced for four years and will continue to experience until 2030, is because growth since the economic crash has not nearly been as visible as expected. We have not seen such a prolonged period of fiscal weakness since before even the depression of the 1930s. 

And despite spending cuts and further spending cuts, coupled with raised taxes, borrowing is still expected to be at historically high levels of over £100bn this year. Osborne tells us he is trying to get that number lower and lower until it’s zero over the next six years by cutting public spending further and without any tax rise. And let’s be clear, the spending cuts are monumental:

Even without the further cuts in welfare I’ve mentioned, total spending on public services will be 20% less in 2019 than it was in 2010.

The Office For Budget Responsibility has warned Osborne that such cuts on such scale would take spending on public services to a level lower than at any point since at least 1948.

I understand austerity. I support austerity. Anything other than austerity would be reckless. Yet Osborne’s mindset on this issue, the economy, his job, is so short-term that he’s trying to squeeze all the hard times into a one, perhaps two-term parliament. Another decade of curbed spending and better tax policing without cutting the services, help, lifelines, healthcare, police, libraries, housing and pittances of the poorest in our society so brutally might be easier for us all.

Whatever the nation wants, there are no easy solutions. Serious and sensible discussion of balance between austerity, tax and spending should be the stuff of debate and discourse until the next election. Perhaps someone, somewhere will throw up a fix. But I don’t think it’ll be George Osborne.

Nick Griffin declared bankruptcy, but how?

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The BNP leader owes nearly £120,000; an amount he claims holds “no political significance whatsoever”

Yesterday Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, was declared bankrupt but confirmed he will stand again in May’s elections for European Parliament. The far-right politician was named on a list published by the Insolvency Service after being declared bankrupt at Welshpool and Newtown county court on Thursday.

I simply can’t figure out how, though. The Daily Mail (a publication which the BNP most likely regards as a socialist rag) wrote last year that the average European Parliament member can make a salary of £182,826 including attendance and transport allowances.

Such a pittance was not enough for Nick Griffin however, who has been “ordered to pay what amounted to nearly £120,000 in outstanding monies and costs to Gilbert Davies & Partners”.

How could this have happened? Surely a man with an income of near £1m over five years, with a law degree from Cambridge should have more sense than to squander it away so quickly? And from the leader of a political party, proudly sporting the (all too specific) policy of “encouragement of savings, investment, worker share-ownership and profit-sharing”.

The irony is delicious, and best summed up on Twitter. The unabashed amusement, and supercilious glee of the “softly-softly politically correct yobs, asylum seekers and immigrants”, as the BNP calls them on their website, is fantastic reading. Tons of gags being cracked about moral bankruptcy and dry-cleaning his white robes, to name but two examples.

Yet in the end, we the British people are assured that Nick Griffin MEP is in touch with our feelings: he’s going to write a booklet on managing debt, for that’s precisely what we’ve been crying out for in these times of economic uncertainty. Perhaps one chapter could be dedicated to holidaying, and how if you’re in a bit of debt, Syria’s a nice place to go. A recent “fact-finding” mission was undertaken by the BNP leader. He rushed back with the revelation that it was “normal” in Damascus. I’m sure the booklet will make it to the bestseller list.

I do wonder what Mr Griffin will do, should his booklet-writing career not pan out, and his “professional” campaign for the European Parliament not succeed. It is worth considering now.

Matthew Goodwin, an expert on far-right politics at Nottingham University has said that “The BNP is finished in elections, and at the European elections this May Griffin is almost certain to lose his seat in the north-west, which will mean for the first time since 2001 Britain will be effectively BNP-free.”

I do hope he doesn’t end up unemployed and (more) bitter, seeing foreigners, immigrants, asylum seekers and the two-million plus illegals in Britain conscientiously placed ahead of him in the queue at the local Welshpool welfare office. It’s not like he deserves that…

Nonetheless, it’s a possibility. Nick Griffin has never gone in for proper work, and although he’s quick and frequent to boast about his university boxing days, at 54 years he may be a little too old to get back in the ring. Although I’m sure, unlike his upcoming booklet, there would be people who would pay to see it.