Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Archive for November, 2010

“Britain is on the mend”

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), a government agency set up to monitor the UK government’s spending, has revised growth figures for 2010 from 1.2 to 1.8%, and predicted job losses in the public sector as a result of the cuts down from around half a million to one third of a million.

The Chancellor claims the revised growth figures from the watchdog are a endorsement of his policies. This isn’t a good argument; the government hasn’t been in power long enough to reasonably take credit, and the growth figures for the next two years have actually been revised down – from 2.3% to 2.1% in 2011, and from 2.8% to 2.6% in 2012 –  as a result of the planned VAT rises and spending cuts.

The reduction in estimated job losses comes from deeper cuts to the welfare budget as opposed to Whitehall spending. I think this is news that will put opponents of the welfare cuts who also oppose public sector redundancies in a difficult position. Anyone who rejects the Chancellor’s dilemma would have to demonstrate where exactly how and where they would make cuts – which is actually a fair challenge in my opinion.

The newly released figures are more an endorsement of the actions taken by the previous government in response to the economic crisis, but I don’t expect Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling to get lavish praise from the Chancellor any time soon.


The Irish bailout

It looks as though the EU and IMF have swooped in to make sure Ireland’s creditors get their money.

The Guardian is shrill:

There is a real danger of Irish society being hollowed out, with a discredited political elite holding nominal power and no legitimacy while an angry, disoriented, heavily indebted and increasingly poor population chase dwindling jobs. Ireland needs social and political renewal as much as it needs economic recovery.

… Sounds familiar.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler…

Nevertheless, I feel the need to knock back a few after reading these stories on Afghanistan.

The most alarming, but not entirely unsurprising read:

Afghans in two crucial southern provinces are almost completely unaware of the September 11 attacks on the United States and don’t know they precipitated the foreign intervention now in its 10th year, a new report showed on Friday…

The report by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) policy think-tank showed 92 percent of 1,000 Afghan men surveyed in Helmand and Kandahar know nothing of the hijacked airliner attacks on U.S. targets in 2001.

“The lack of awareness of why we are there contributes to the high levels of negativity toward the NATO military operations and made the job of the Taliban easier,” ICOS President Norine MacDonald told Reuters from Washington.

And I had to laugh at this:

But many residents near Kandahar do not share the view. They have lodged repeated complaints about the scope of the destruction with U.S. and Afghan officials. In one October operation near the city, U.S. aircraft dropped about two dozen 2,000-pound bombs.

In another recent operation in the Zhari district, U.S. soldiers fired more than a dozen mine-clearing line charges in a day. Each one creates a clear path that is 100 yards long and wide enough for a truck. Anything that is in the way – trees, crops, huts – is demolished.

“Why do you have to blow up so many of our fields and homes?” a farmer from the Arghandab district asked a top NATO general at a recent community meeting.

Although military officials are apologetic in public, they maintain privately that the tactic has a benefit beyond the elimination of insurgent bombs. By making people travel to the district governor’s office to submit a claim for damaged property, “in effect, you’re connecting the government to the people,” the senior officer said.


I find your lack of faith disturbing

Via Paul Waldman, at The American Prospect a few of the big papers on the conviction of Ahmed Ghailani, who has been convicted for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Here’s how The Washington Post played it:

Ahmed Ghailani, Gitmo detainee, acquitted of all but 1 charge in N.Y. The first former Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in federal criminal court was found guilty on a single conspiracy charge Wednesday but cleared on 284 other counts. The outcome, a surprise, seriously undermines – and could doom – the Obama administration’s plans to put other Guantanamo detainees on trial in U.S. civilian courts.And here’s The New York Times:

Detainee Acquitted on Most Counts in ’98 Bombings The first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on Wednesday of all but one of more than 280 charges of conspiracy and murder in the 1998 terrorist bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.The case has been seen as a test of President Obama’s goal of trying detainees in federal court whenever feasible, and the result seems certain to fuel debate over whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying terrorists.

And here’s the L.A. Times:

U.S. civilian court acquits ex-Guantanamo detainee of all major terrorism charges A New York federal jury acquitted alleged Al Qaeda accomplice Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on Wednesday of all major terrorism charges in the 1998 suicide bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

Here’s The Guardian‘s take:

Leading Republicans have demanded that Barack Obama scrap plans to try the organisers of the 9/11 attacks in civilian courts after a New York jury acquitted an alleged terrorist of more than 200 murder charges over al-Qaida‘s bombing of US embassies in east Africa.

Let’s just process that for a moment. In essence what people like Mitch McConnell are arguing is that failure to secure a conviction on the more serious charges mean that Constitutional protections shouldn’t apply to certain classes of accused. And it should be noted that the Obama administration is no better on this, since it has claimed that it can imprison people as enemy combatants even when they are acquitted.

Reading the spin on the trial,  I’ve begun to wonder if Americans really believe in the rule of law.

Look. Ghailani’s acquittals on other charges were largely the result of  evidence which had to be thrown out as it was obtained via torture. Even if Ghailani were acquitted on all counts because of tainted evidence then his going free should be OK.  People are entitled to fair trials, and if after a fair trial the accused is acquitted, then the accused needs to go free.

Siding with Sanity cont.

More thoughts on the Stewart-Maddow interview over at Umbrella Drinks and Metatron.

Siding with Sanity

Just caught an interesting interview of Jon Stewart by Rachel Maddow. Stewart is responding to the reception of his Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear from people who take issue with what they see as a false equivalence between the practices of the right and the left.

The full interview is up at Rachel Maddow’s site over at MSNBC, do give it a butcher’s. There are good discussions, including the problems with 24-hour television news, the FOX News model, and the left vs. right paradigm.

I don’t want to skew anyone’s perception too much, so I’ll put my own comments below the jump. (more…)

Welfare to Work

It seems that US-style welfare ideas have arrived on British shores. In a white paper on welfare reform to be unveiled this week, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, will propose ordering the unemployed to do periods of unpaid work or risk losing their Job Seeker’s Allowance payments.

The measures will be announced to parliament by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, as part of what he will describe as a new “contract” with the 1.4 million people on jobseekers’ allowance. The government’s side of the bargain will be the promise of a new “universal credit”, to replace all existing benefits, that will ensure it always pays to work rather than stay on welfare.

In return, where advisers believe a jobseeker would benefit from experiencing the “habits and routines” of working life, an unemployed person will be told to take up “mandatory work activity” of at least 30 hours a week for a four-week period. If they refuse or fail to complete the programme their jobseeker’s allowance payments, currently £50.95 a week for those under 25 and £64.30 for those over 25, could be stopped for at least three months.

The Department for Work and Pensions plans to contract private providers to organise the placements with charities, voluntary organisations and companies. An insider close to the discussions said: “We know there are still some jobseekers who need an extra push to get them into the mindset of being in the working environment and an opportunity to experience that environment.

“This is all about getting them back into a working routine which, in turn, makes them a much more appealing prospect for an employer looking to fill a vacancy, and more confident when they enter the workplace. The goal is to break into the habit of worklessness.”

I’m acutely aware that we are in the age of un/low-paid internships and other kinds of volunteer work to gain experience, and make one more attractive to potential employers – the state of my finances attests to that fact. But I’m firmly of the opinion that interns should be paid a fair rate for the work that they do, which leads me to the first reason why I think this proposal is a bad idea: people who end up working for their allowance will in effect be working for below minimum wage rates.

I also worry that this new pool of cheap labour could lead to job losses or downward pressure on pay and conditions for workers doing similar jobs to people doing “mandatory work activity”. Also, it may lead to employers looking askance at periods of voluntary work on CVs if they surmise that candidates were one of the “work-shy” who had to be forced into work.

I’m thinking that if you want to adopt a welfare policy paradigm that nudges people into work you need to do something about the labour market to make sure there are enough jobs available. Right now there are about 5 unemployed people for every job vacancy.