Faced with a mounting level of protests about rising fuel prices, Gordon Brown presents us with his version of Being Seen to Do Something.
First, there's calling in a meeting of representatives from the North Sea oil industry, lined up and presented to us in an all too obviously staged-for-the-cameras opening speech, with Gordon Brown doing his improved but less than convincing I-have-now-been-trained-to-smile-while-speaking-like-an-automaton presentation style.
Out of this comes the key announcement, said to show that the government is "listening" to the public's crushing mid-term election votes against it, that they have now asked the oil producers to up North Sea oil production by 70,000 barrels per day.
Sounds substantial? It seems UK oil consumption in 2007 was 1,800,000 barrels per day. So that's an increase of, er, 3.9%. And it could well add to the cost of the oil the users pay, because it will cost more to produce than oil from oilfields which aren't as much in decline as the North Sea oilfields, and the North Sea producers are hardly likely to absorb the extra cost of churning out more of their declining asset.
In any case, it seems that, although the recent rises in oil prices are huge, the actual cost to us as users is nothing like as high as it was thirty years ago, once you allow for inflation.
Gene at Harry's Place is one of a number of active supporters of Barack Obama claiming that Obama is much maligned by commentators who claim that he's somewhat hostile to Israel, or pro-Palestinian, and that his views are influenced by advisers who claim to see the malign power of the "Jewish/Israel/Zionist" lobby as unduly influencing US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wider Middle East issues.
Gene has highlighted some articles and reports where Obama has talked up his support for Israel, leaving unanswered the question of how it is that Obama seems to have had a track record of picking or being close to advisers or associates who attribute shadowy power over the US to Israel and its supporters.
Now, as with the Reverend Wright, one of Obama's selected foreign policy advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has popped up, embarrassingly off-message, to do the very thing Obama's detractors say he does. Namely, claiming "the Israel Lobby" is "too poweful", McCarthyist, intimidates US politicians, the works:
Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser, said that the pro-Israel lobby in the US was too powerful, while the slur of anti-Semitism was too readily used whenever its power was called into question.
Presenting a solution for the Middle East, he listed historical compromises that had to be made by Israelis and Palestinians but accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) – the largest and most influential Jewish lobby group – of obstructing peace efforts.
He said: "Aipac has consistently opposed a two-state solution and a lot of members of Congress have been intimidated and I don't think that's healthy."
Mr Brzezinski said "it's not unique to the Jewish community – but there is a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community", referring to the Republican senator who led the anti-Communist witch hunt in the 1950s.
"They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonising. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel."
Although Mr Brzezinski is not a formal day-to-day adviser, he said that he talked to Mr Obama. He endorsed the Illinois senator, lauding him as "head and shoulders" above his opponents. He said that he was the only candidate who understood "what is new and distinctive about our age".
In turn, Mr Obama has praised Mr Brzezinski as "someone I have learned an immense amount from" and "one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers".
They share very similar views on the folly of the Iraq war.
Robert Malley, a Middle East expert, recently quit as an Obama adviser after it emerged that he was talking to Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, as part of his work for the International Crisis Group.
Hmm. I expect there might be a spot of damage limitation on the part of Obama and his team after this one. It wouldn't convince me. But then, I'm not a voter in the US elections.
I like to think I keep up to speed on the latest credit card fraud and identity theft scams.
I've experienced several calls from credit card firms telling me that someone had been attempting to use a faked version of one of my cards in places from Wales to Alaska. Luckily, my card firm has always noticed such attempts and avoided paying out. Except once, where an employee of a firm where I bought a television used the system to charge my account for a laptop which I hadn't bought. Luckily, I had no difficulty in convincing both the firm and the credit card issuer that I hadn't bought the laptop I was being charged £1400 for.
I also live quite near where there was once a spate of bin-scamming, where thieves were either fishing out documents to use as the basis for identity theft or, if the victim was high profile enough, to sell anything embarrassing to the press.
Since the introduction of chip and pin systems for credit and debit cards, it's clear that life got much harder for the gangs of thieves and pickpockets who used to make a nice living in the UK stealing credit cards and using them quickly before the owners could notify the banks.
Then came the time where you had to watch out any time you used a cash dispenser machine to make sure that a gang of scammers hadn't fitted it up with some sort of skimmer or camera to clone your card. Now it seems there's an ingenious new way to secure cash at someone else's expense...
Or at least, it's new to me and, apparently, to the police of north-west London. I got this post today via an email list which I'm on:
"My husband recently received a bank card on a new savings account
that he hadn't requested. He called the bank and they found a voice
recording of a man claiming to be him, with sufficient personal
information to open the account and transfer money into it from my
husband's current account. Shortly afterwards, an ATM card arrived on
the same unwanted account, but we were all slightly baffled, as there
appeared to be no way that the impostor could actually get the money
Little did we know...
On Friday morning, I found a small black mailbox on our doorstep. Our
letterbox was taped over, with a handwritten sign stuck onto it saying
" wet floor - post ->" pointing towards the mailbox, so that the
postman would leave our post in the box.
Fortunately the postman was
nearby, and from him I learnt that this box had been appearing on and
off over the past 2 or 3 weeks...which means that we have had our mail
stolen regularly...and had I not discovered the box, who knows how
long this could have continued!
It appears that the impostor has been attempting to retrieve the new
cards and the accompanying pin numbers, which explains the activity
with the bank.
Obviously we both ran credit checks and my husband's account is now so
secure we hope HE will be able to get money out of it!
But I am
posting this to warn everyone else to watch their mail as well as
their bank accounts, as we could never imagined this scenario, and the
police we spoke to have never encountered it either. The police
advised shredding EVERYTHING, even envelopes with name and address on,
as people are apparently paid to sift through rubbish for them, as
they indicate current occupancy (as opposed to say the electoral roll,
which is only updated periodically).
Isn't it a great world out there..."
I think this scam would only work where there was regularly a postal delivery reliable and early enough to have been completed before your target victims were up and out of the house. Where I live, the post comes so unpredictably, but always so late, that the chances are high that I'd be out and tripping over the fake postbox long before either the postman or the scammer got to it.
But I wouldn't underestimate the potential of this particular ploy.
The other thing is how vulnerable the supposedly noble act of recycling your paper for the weekly collection leaves us. I always feel very sceptical about how much energy the mass recycling of our waste paper really saves either the local authority or the planet. Years ago, I actually used to collect up bales of my waste paper and take it down once a year or so to the biggest waste paper works in London, where I'd get just enough to cover the cost of the petrol and car costs to make it worthwhile.
The last time I went down, over ten years ago, the man at the depot told me they weren't buying any more, because the glut of paper collected was so huge. He didn't need to tell me. I could see mountains upon mountains of baled paper everywhere I looked, right on down to the ends of the Thames Estuary. And that was before there was mass use of recycling boxes and weekly collection services.
Yes, I'm still dutifully filling up my recycling box. But I find it a real pain to have to remember to identify and tear into tiny pieces anything that could include potential identity-theft material. Not always so easy to suss out. My pet hate: the many circulars from my credit card company sending me so called credit card cheques which I haven't asked for and wouldn't dream of using, because they carry hefty cash advance fees.