Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Archive for October, 2010

There is no bottom to this cesspool

  1. The very model of a major clusterfuck.
  2. … and they’ll none of ’em be missedthey’ll none of ’em be missed.

We’re all in this together

Though it seems some more than others.

The UK government’s proposed cuts to housing benefits have me giving them the side-eye. Here’s my understanding of what the coalition want to get through parliament:

  • A cap on the allowance for people who rent in the private sector of GBP 250 a week for a 1-bedroom flat, 290 a week for a 2-bedroom flat, and 400 a week for a 4-bedroom house.
  • Housing allowance to be calculated against the 30th percentile of local rents rather than the median local rent.
  • Inflationary increases in housing allowance pegged to the Consumer Price Index, which is lower than the Retail Price Index.
  • A cut of ten-percent to the housing benefits of people who’ve been claiming Job Seekers Allowance for more than a year.

This will save the government about GBP 990 million by 2014-15.

I’m down with the idea that Old Blighty needs to get its house in order with regards to its finances, however when the preferred strategy for drumming up support for those money-saving policies involves picking on the least powerful members of society, I have a habit of becoming skeptical of those policies.

The Prime Minister had the following to say about the proposed changes:

Our constituents working hard to give benefits so people can live in homes they couldn’t even dream of? I don’t think that’s fair.

Cameron is giving succour to the impression that people receiving housing benefits are scroungers living in upmarket properties on the backs of the tax payer. According to this article in the Guardian, figures from the homelessness charity Shelter show only one in eight claimants of housing benefit is out of work. Furthermore, I can attest that rents in the city can be absolutely ludicrous. It’s no surprise that 89% of the households receiving more than GBP 400 a week in housing benefit live there.

For years successive governments have done little to increase affordable housing, effectively forcing people into expensive private accommodation, with rents going up because of the increasing demand, and the housing bubble. And now when the bill comes due, we are subjected to sophistry on the supposed lifestyle choices of poor people who happen to live in expensive areas of London, rather than the policies and wider structural issues that led to this situation.  Perhaps MPs ought to remove the logs from their own eyes:

Is it “fair” that normal people are expected to move to areas they can afford and travel in to work but MPs are not? Should we perhaps expect MPs under 35 years old to share London living arrangements, in the same way housing benefit claimants will be under the proposals?

Is it “fair” that lots of members of the Cabinet have not only claimed expenses to pay their mortgages on fast-appreciating assets but furniture to put in them too? In case you were wondering David Cameron claimed more than £1700 per month in mortgage interest for two years, and more than £82000 for his second home over four years. And for that matter is it “fair” that, while most people pay their own travel costs, MPs get the taxpayer to provide for theirs?

You have to laugh.

Hegel on Wall Street

Via Obsidian wings, a good discussion of the bank bailouts and regulation of financial institutions. In truth I’m too far removed from my studies in philosophy to adequately assess the author’s reading of Hegel. However it’s a decent read, and the following lines resonate with my own understanding of the financial crisis and the need for regulation:

Every account of the financial crisis points to a terrifying series of structures that all have the same character: the profit-driven actions of the financial sector became increasingly detached from their function of supporting and advancing the growth of capital.

What market regulations should prohibit are practices in which profit-taking can routinely occur without wealth creation

Give the article a butcher’s if you have the time.

Oh, for goodness sake!

After reading this post by Jamelle Bouie, Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic had the following to say about liberals:

Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way? Until more liberals internalize this, they will fail to persuade America of the occasional need for government because people will rightly suspect that what they are really about is penalizing or diminishing hard work.

It is frankly no surprise when a commentator in the US conflates success and hard work with wealth. It’s something I’ve come to believe runs deep in US culture, and indeed in the UK.

But what a silly argument. There’s enough straw there to fill a barn. Who precisely on the left does not acknowledge that many people who are rich earned it the hard way? Moreover if, as Sullivan argues, so many liberals indeed do not acknowledge that the rich work hard, then why would anyone be right to suspect them of penalising or diminishing hard work?

After getting called on by the crew at Balloon-Juice however, Sullivan doubled down:

As a moral matter, I see no reason why people who work hard shouldn’t keep as much of their earnings as possible, and the only reason to tax them is to provide a safety net for the unlucky and sick and poor, and to fund essential functions of government (defense, law and order, public works, education, basic scientific research, etc). But my real point was about making the case for the necessary evil of such taxation in a civil and constructive way. James Joyner gets this right:

The reason people like Andrew and myself wish the basic fact that most high earners got there through the dint of their own efforts acknowledged in the debate is that it’s crucial to a civil society.

We need a lot of money to fund a lot of public projects.  That would be true even if we just funded the ones that 85 percent of Americans agreed absolutely had to be funded.  And people with money are, by definition, going to have to pony up most of it.   But to confiscate it from the successful without acknowledgment of the sacrifice this entails is to court resentment.

No Messrs Sullivan and Joyner, what courts resentment is about three decades  of stagnant wages, while the rich and super-rich see their incomes increase significantly.

John Cole lays it out like a Persian rug:



A righteous rant

I’m sure you have heard by now of the story of Rich Iott, a candidate for congress in Ohio, who is a member of a group that reenacts the exploits of a  Nazi division, 5th SS Panzer Wiking. A historian calls Iott and his ilk on their spectacular ignorance.

Via Josh Green at The Atlantic.

It gets better

Joel Burns says what needs to be said.

I’m glad that Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project has helped draw attention to bullying, the social costs of homophobia, and the tragedies they can cause. I remember my own school years which, while full of genuinely good experiences, are marred by memories of harassment and humiliation. I know well the kind of despair that gives succour to thoughts of suicide.

Not every kid will be able to get out of unloving or violently hostile environments though. I hope that for them just knowing that there are other people like them, and people who do not think they are an abomination, freaks, or going to hell will be enough to mitigate their circumstances.

Oh, do be quiet

There isn’t much more I can add to this:

The government wants to add two new rules to offshore oil drilling. One says that offshore oil rigs need to have a spill contingency plan and practice it, and the other is about bore hole cement, maintenance and blowout protectors. Here’s the response from industry shills:

“We cannot have an approval process that creates unpredictable delays that could place at risk the flow of domestic energy in our country,” […]

“While the ongoing important investigations into the Gulf accident are necessary and may lead to new safety measures, requiring industry to navigate a tangled web of new regulations will only lead to increased uncertainty for businesses and consumers and less investment in America’s vast resources in the Gulf”[…]

Imagine if an airline said something like that after, say, the new crew rest rules that came about after last year’s Colgan Air crash in Buffalo.

Sadly, I suspect an airline or two did. You’d think that the US government was doing this just to be difficult, the way oil industry people seem to be talking.