Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

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The chutzpah

Que bola! I had to laugh:

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, praised the role of social networks such as Twitter in promoting freedom – at the same time as the US government was in court seeking to invade the privacy of Twitter users.

Lawyers for civil rights organisations appeared before a judge in Alexandria, Virginia, battling against a US government order to disclose the details of private Twitter accounts in the WikiLeaks row, including that of the Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, below.

The move against Twitter has turned into a constitutional clash over the protection of individual rights to privacy in the digital age.

Clinton, in a speech in Washington, cited the positive role that Twitter, Facebook and other social networks played in uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In a stirring defence of the internet, she spoke of the “freedom to connect”.

The irony of the Clinton speech coming on the day of the court case was not lost on the constitutional lawyers battling against the government in Alexandria. The lawyers also cited the Tunisian and Egyptian examples. Aden Fine, who represents the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the leading civil rights groups in the country, said: “It is very alarming that the government is trying to get this information about individuals’ communications. But, also, above all, they should not be able to do this in secret.”

The court case, which is turning into a cause celebre in the US, centres round the release of tens of thousands of Pentagon and state department classified documents by WikiLeaks. Outraged by the leaks, the US has set up a grand jury in secret, based in Alexandria, to investigate whether grounds can be found for a criminal case against WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange. As part of that investigation the grand jury ordered Twitter to disclose the details of the accounts of WikiLeaks and three people said to be linked to the organisation.

 

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Just wonderful

I went away for three days to train in development work, and returned full of vim…  Until I caught sight of an article about the latest fumduckery it appears my government plans to subject us to.

‘I would love to see tax reductions,” David Cameron told the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend, “but when you’re borrowing 11% of your GDP, it’s not possible to make significant net tax cuts. It just isn’t.” Oh no? Then how come he’s planning the biggest and crudest corporate tax cut in living memory?

If you’ve heard nothing of it, you’re in good company. The obscure adjustments the government is planning to the tax acts of 1988 and 2009 have been missed by almost everyone – and are, anyway, almost impossible to understand without expert help. But as soon as you grasp the implications, you realise that a kind of corporate coup d’etat is taking place.

Like the dismantling of the NHS and the sale of public forests, no one voted for this measure, as it wasn’t in the manifestos. While Cameron insists that he occupies the centre ground of British politics, that he shares our burdens and feels our pain, he has quietly been plotting with banks and businesses to engineer the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle to the ultra-rich that this country has seen in a century. The latest heist has been explained to me by the former tax inspector, now a Private Eye journalist, Richard Brooks and current senior tax staff who can’t be named. Here’s how it works.

At the moment tax law ensures that companies based here, with branches in other countries, don’t get taxed twice on the same money. They have to pay only the difference between our rate and that of the other country. If, for example, Dirty Oil plc pays 10% corporation tax on its profits in Oblivia, then shifts the money over here, it should pay a further 18% in the UK, to match our rate of 28%. But under the new proposals, companies will pay nothing at all in this country on money made by their foreign branches.

Foreign means anywhere. If these proposals go ahead, the UK will be only the second country in the world to allow money that has passed through tax havens to remain untaxed when it gets here. The other is Switzerland. The exemption applies solely to “large and medium companies”: it is not available for smaller firms. The government says it expects “large financial services companies to make the greatest use of the exemption regime”. The main beneficiaries, in other words, will be the banks.

But that’s not the end of it. While big business will be exempt from tax on its foreign branch earnings, it will, amazingly, still be able to claim the expense of funding its foreign branches against tax it pays in the UK. No other country does this. The new measures will, as we already know, accompany a rapid reduction in the official rate of corporation tax: from 28% to 24% by 2014. This, a Treasury minister has boasted, will be the lowest rate “of any major western economy”. By the time this government is done, we’ll be lucky if the banks and corporations pay anything at all. In the Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron said: “What I want is tax revenue from the banks into the exchequer, so we can help rebuild this economy.” He’s doing just the opposite.

My mood has officially returned to miserable.

 

They deal in answers, but ask no questions

Just read an excellent, excellent post on arguments equating abortion with slavery.

If you do take the time to understand the intertwined history of abortion and slavery, it becomes painfully difficult to assert that abortion is wrong.  Because then you must defend the slaveholder who wanted the enslaved woman to birth that child so that he could enslave them both (even as he probably used religion and morality, rather than economics and labor, as his excuse and defense for why one shouldn’t turn to abortion).  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus because she didn’t want that child to be a slave?  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus because she physically could not bear the burden of labor and pregnancy?  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus as a punishment to the man who raped her, barely fed her, barely clothed her, denied her religion, denied her liberty, and whipped her when she worked too slowly, made a mistake, or attempted to flee?  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus to protect her life and to save the evils of her life from those of her child?  To include the history of enslaved women in the history of slavery and then compare that history to abortion is not easy.

It’s all too easy when you have no interest in the experience of a whole swathe of your co-citizens beyond how useful it is as a cudgel with which to beat your political opponents.

Clowns

Good to see the Republicans are focused on job creation and fixing the US economy…

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly:

Last week, after a rather pointless vote to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans announced their second major initiative: the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.”

Nick Bauman at Mother Jones breaks down the misogyny:

For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to “forcible rape.” This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith’s spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)

Given that the bill also would forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old’s parents wouldn’t be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn’t be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.

Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes.

No doubt that the failure of this bill to pass the senate will be demagogued to the max in the districts of its proponents. Keeping the base riled up and the campaign funds coming in. I would love to be able to write that Smith and the co-sponsors of this bill have beaten their careers with an iron rod; but alas.

At least we have a royal wedding to look forward to

So the Chancellor wanted to take credit for improved growth predictions last November, but now it has been revealed that the British economy shrunk by 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010 (zero growth if you account for the weather) he’s changed his tune:

These are obviously disappointing numbers, but the ONS has made it very clear that the fall in GDP was driven by the terrible weather in December.

I think Osborne mentions the weather about 15 times during his interview with the BBC. However, highlighting the fact that the UK was brass monkeys completely elides the reaction of the private sector to public sector cuts and anticipated tax increases. I find it interesting that the Chancellor still appears confident that the private sector will pick up the slack as public sector cuts continue apace.

Our overlords to be

I caught this interview with Chinese students of international politics on Channel 4 News last night that I thought was worth sharing, especially with my American friends who tend to be fed a steady diet of “the Chinese are coming to get you!” by their media and politicians.

I have issues with some of their arguments but I thought one student, Zhao Liang, had a decent analysis highlighting the difference between the perception and reality of China’s rise, it starts at around 4:00, here’s what she said:

Power is the ability to coerce or influence others. But what we see right now is only capacity but no power. Because although China is economically now the second in gross GDP, the Chinese government is facing so many problems domestically. When others see China they see: Oh, 8% (growth) per year. But when the Chinese see itself they see unemployment, they see inflation, they see the rising cost of households.

A good friend of mine has a post up on her site about what American Exceptionalism means to her. I noticed in the comments one person who was particularly concerned with US decline, claiming that the US is “fast becoming just another of the many”. It’s a sentiment I’ve encountered quite a bit. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of ordinary Americans still have standards of living that are the envy of the vast majority of the rest of the world.

The US is in a bad place right now. The fragility, and the real pain people are experiencing as a result of the economic crisis, have shaken many American’s confidence in their country. And stories about the growth of Brazil, India, and especially China, lacking nuance and complexity, only fuel the anger and anxiety.

Alan Johnson resigns…

And Ed Balls gets a job he intensely desired.

This could get really interesting. The Tories will be hoping the appointment of Balls – a Brown ally – as Shadow Chancellor will prevent Labour from getting past the Brownite Vs. Blairite era, and tether the party to Gordon Brown in the minds of voters.

Furthermore, they probably hope that it will reopen old wounds that will disrupt effective leadership. Balls was passed over for the job the first time precisely because of his links with the much-maligned Gordon Brown, his clashes with Ed Miliband over the pace of deficit reduction, and because he wanted (wants?) to be Ed numero uno in the Labour Party.