Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Posts tagged “Corporate Engagement

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.



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.


Prison reform

I just watched a very interesting interview with Ken Clarke on Channel 4 News about his proposed reforms to the prison system. It’s a fascinating break from the tough-sounding “prisons work” paradigm of the Conservative party, and it could be interesting to see how his ideas play out if implemented.

One concern of mine however is the proposed voluntary and private sector running of unpaid work sentences, which could have similar effects to the work for benefits proposals.

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.

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.

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.

Shut up and take your medicine

The Guardian reports on another fire on an oil rig. It comes just 24 hours after oil companies held a rally in Houston against the Obama administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf.

I found the following quote from an oil company spokesperson quite funny:

I have been in the oil and gas industry for 40 years, and this [the Obama] administration is trying to break us. The moratorium they imposed is going to be a financial disaster for the Gulf coast, Gulf coast employees and Gulf coast residents.

I would be able to take this claim more seriously if there were signs of impending disaster. There aren’t. More importantly, it’s the complete tone-deafness combined with the timing.

To my knowledge, this the second incident on an oil rig in a year, after nearly 5 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf, which resulted in revelations that safety standards have taken a back seat, and the oil industry has had little in the way of effective oversight for ages.

It beggars belief that in spite of this the industry is fighting the moratorium. What else is the government supposed to do to ensure safety? A disaster -and subsequent clean up operation- is far more damaging to a company than making sure disasters don’t happen.