Wednesday, June 30, 2010

After Hannity suggests no one has compared Obama to the Khmer Rouge, Murphy points out Carlson did it on Hannity's show.

Sean Hannity is shocked - shocked I tell you - to hear that people have been comparing Obama to the Khmer Rouge. It is then pointed out to him that it occurred on his own show.

But, seriously, has Hannity ever watched a single episode of any Glenn Beck show, because the name calling going on there is actually hard to keep up with.

Cameron to launch inquiry into MI5 torture allegations.

It's so rare that Cameron and Clegg's coalition do anything which I agree with that it's nice to note that they are doing something with which I am in complete concurrence.

Victims of torture carried out with the knowledge of British agents could receive compensation, the Government has decided.

David Cameron is expected to announce a judge-led inquiry shortly into the long-running allegations that British intelligence officers were complicit in British residents being tortured by the security services of other countries.

Before the general election, both the Conservative and Liberal Democrats called for an investigation. Ministers from both parties hope the decision will clear the air after the repeated allegations and limit the spate of civil cases now being pursued in the courts. Compensation will be payable in cases where the inquiry finds someone was tortured and that British agents were aware of it.
It will be interesting to see how Labour react to this news. I am quite certain that they won't put forward the idiotic defence mounted by some Republicans in the United States that the Con-Dem coalition are attempting to "politicize policy differences" with the previous administration or voice the defence often used by Dick and Liz Cheney that "enhanced interrogation techniques" save lives.

Any Labour MP or minister who tried either of those tactics would face public condemnation, as it is widely understood here that torture is morally reprehensible and is justified under no circumstances.

I also wonder what effect it will have on Obama's "look forward, not backwards" policy if a British judge finds that the British government did facilitate torture of prisoners held in American custody. How long can you go on looking forward when another country's legal systems are saying that the techniques employed by the previous administration amounted to torture and were, therefore, war crimes?

This is the thing which I find most disappointing about the Obama administration. He came to power promising that he would restore the United States as a country of laws, and yet he seems reluctant to have any of those laws applied to the previous President and Vice President, when both are on public record admitting having authorised torture.

I don't see how he can say he is restoring the US as a country of laws whilst this anomaly exists.

Last night human rights groups welcomed the Government's move. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "Only this kind of inquiry can end the slow bleed of embarrassing revelation and expensive litigation and draw a line under this shameful business once and for all."

Clare Algar, executive director of the legal action charity Reprieve, said the inquiry should be as open and transparent as possible. "Torture, and complicity in torture, is morally repulsive, counterproductive, and illegal under both national and international law, and these allegations are, sadly, too numerous to ignore. We cannot learn from history and avoid repeating our mistakes if we do not know what that history is," she said.

Cameron and Clegg are doing what Obama appears afraid to do. They are going to shine a bright light into the shadows and ask what exactly Tony Blair and the Labour government did during the War on Terror.

And they are going to allow the victims of that torture to receive compensation.

That is the very least that the UK can do for these men. And that is the flip side of Obama's refusal to examine what Bush and Cheney did on a much larger scale.

I thought it shameful that Obama's government behaved the way it did in the recent case of Maher Arar. But, more importantly, Obama's refusal to ever examine the criminal behaviour of the Bush regime man that the victims of that criminality can never be compensated.

As The New York Times said at the time:
There is no excuse for the Obama administration’s conduct. It should demonstrate some moral authority by helping Canada’s investigation, apologizing to Mr. Arar and writing him a check.
Hopefully, Cameron and Clegg's inquiry will reveal enough to shame Obama into doing what he should have done long ago.

You can't turn the page without reading what is on that page. And yet that is what Obama is trying to do.

Click here for full article.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Disabled people are not scroungers.

Emanuel Smith - in today's Guardian - argues that most people claiming disability benefits are not scroungers and that Osborne is simply using them as a political football in this battle he has launched to move many people from disability benefits to unemployment benefit.

I am 54 years old and deafblind. I have Usher type II syndrome, which means I have partial hearing and extremely limited vision (progressive sight and hearing loss). All I can see is light and shade, and I have been registered blind since 1985. I would be very restricted in the type of work I can do, but am a keen volunteer. It would be very difficult for an employer to take me on with my complex limitations.

I worked for 20 years for the civil service before I was forcibly retired on medical grounds 14 years ago. I survive on incapacity benefits, DLA and a small pension (this is reduced as I only worked for two decades). Contrary to what many people believe, this really does not amount to much. I am also allowed to earn £80 extra myself, which I do by playing the piano in local venues.

This coalition government wants to speed up what Labour started and move me from incapacity benefit to employment support allowance, with no transitional relief. This could mean a potential extra cut of £40-50 a week. Add to this a rise in VAT, stricter requirements for DLA (which is awarded to help with the extra costs associated with having a disability, such as paying for communication support) and, suddenly, the "firm but fair" rhetoric used by the coalition government looks anything but.

Now, I am sure that there will be some people claiming disability benefit who are actually able to work, but the figures are likely to be small and the evidence put forward for their existence has been largely anecdotal, but that hasn't stopped Osborne from targeting them.

And, when one looks at Smith's breakdown of the figures it's hard not to conclude that Osborne's real aim here is financial. The problem I have with this is that he is targeting people who are already terribly disadvantaged.

And, as Smith argues, there are already much riper sources of revenue which Osborne is not seeking to target.
We are not scroungers; just vulnerable people who already experience higher levels of poverty and discrimination. Yet, this government wants to pile on more. How much more revenue would be generated if tax loopholes were closed and the bankers who got us into such trouble were forced to be accountable and, at the very minimum, pay back the enormous loans they took to keep their banks afloat and their inflated bonuses rolling in?
Osborne had many more avenues open to him; he could have raised income tax for the middle class and the wealthy, he could have scrapped Trident, but he appears to have chosen to let most of us off the hook whilst he looks for cuts amongst those earning the very least or those dependent on the state to survive.

I'm not surprised as this seems to be what the Tories do whenever they get into power. However, as Smith shows here, behind those statistics lie real people, people who are already dreadfully disadvantaged. They really don't need Osborne piling on any more.

Click here for full article.

George Will Thinks Unemployment Benefits Aren't Stimulative.

I see that this idiotic notion that, if you just stop giving the unemployed benefits then they will get off their asses and find work, is not unique to George Osborne and the Tories.

SANGER: And the president's also in the position in Canada of saying, don't do as I do, do as I say. I mean, just the day before he left, Congress could not come to an agreement on a very small extension of unemployment benefits, the most basic stimulus effort that the president tried to push.

TAPPER: 1.2 million Americans are going to lose their unemployment benefit extensions -- or unemployment benefits this week.

SANGER: That's right. So there's a fundamental stimulus action and the president had to go up and tell the Europeans they weren't doing enough for stimulus.

TAPPER: George, why can't they pass this unemployment extension? I don't understand. The Republicans say spending cuts should pay for this, the Democrats know it's emergency spending. It seems like this is something where there could be a compromise.

WILL: Well, partly because they believe that when you subsidize something, you get more of it. And we're subsidizing unemployment, that is the long-term unemployment, those unemployed more than six months, is it at an all-time high and they do not think it's stimulative because what stimulates is the consumer and savers' sense of permanent income. And everyone knows that unemployment benefits are not permanent income.

TAPPER: Rajiv, I'm going to let you have the last word, we only have a minute left.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Both sides in this town have an incentive to let this drag out longer. The Republicans certainly playing to their base don't want to be seen as adding to the debt issues in a midterm election year. The Democrats I think are trying to sort of push the Republicans and trying to make them look like the party that's denying 1.2 million people an extension of these benefits.

At a time when the economy needs stimulating, I can't think of a sillier thing than to deny money to a group of people who are guaranteed to spend every single dollar of what they are given.

Spending cuts mean police numbers 'not sustainable'.

The Tories have traditionally liked to portray themselves as The Party Of Law and Order, which has usually meant they favoured locking people up and throwing away the key. They have never been in any way sophisticated when it comes to crime and punishment.

However, the Tories have been coy about saying whether their cutbacks will result in a reduction in police numbers; but a leading police officer is breaking ranks and saying that it will.

The President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, is about to tell a conference that claims that police numbers will not be affected by the cuts is "misleading in the extreme".

The BBC's home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said ministers had so far skirted around the question of whether budget cuts would hit police numbers.

But he said Sir Hugh was now addressing the issue and seemed to be saying that they would.

To suggest the size of the police service is sustainable, Sir Hugh will say, is "misleading in the extreme... quite simply it is not".

He will say that a balance must be struck between the "understandable demand" for more officers on the streets and the "less visible, but equally critical" duties they perform.

This comes hot on the heels of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson saying that his force would "shrink" as a result of the cuts.

A very strange thing for the supposed Party of Law and Order to contemplate.

Click here for full article.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Liz Cheney baselessly claims "[w]e don't know if Obama is all in" on the war in Afghanistan.

Only Liz Cheney could agree that McChrystal had to be fired, agree with the choice of Petraeus to replace him, and yet still doubt that Obama "is all in" when it comes to Afghanistan.

She's such a snake...

Duncan Smith considers incentives to relocate jobless.

Somebody please tell me that there is a limit to what the Liberal Democrats will put up with in order to preserve this bloody coalition.

Iain Duncan Smith now appears to be repeating Norman Tebbit's eighties call for the unemployed to "get on their bikes" and move to find employment.

Unemployed people living in council homes could be offered incentives to move to areas where there are jobs, the work and pensions secretary has said. Iain Duncan Smith said millions were trapped in "ghettos of poverty" unable to move for fear of losing their homes.
People will move homes if offered a better job and better prospects, but Duncan Smith is talking about the long termed unemployed, people who perhaps are without qualifications and are probably not going to be offered a job at much above the minimum wage.

In order to work for this paltry sum Iain Duncan Smith is now proposing that they should sever ties with their families and the area with which they are familiar and almost be grateful that they are being offered any work at all.

Labour has warned that people could lose their rights to housing benefit unless they were willing to travel to find work and there were no commitments to rehouse workers should they decide to do so.

But Mr Duncan Smith said his plans were about assisting people, not forcing them to uproot.

"It is not threatening people; far from it," he told Sky News.

"Most people I talk to on housing estates desperately want work but they are trapped. It is about trying to help them to find a way out."

Asked about the idea, Chancellor George Osborne - who is attending the G20 summit in Canada - said anything that encouraged social mobility should be looked at.

"We want to give people freedom of choice and we want to give that freedom of choice to people in social housing just as people in private rented housing or who own their own home have," he said.

"It is about giving people on lower incomes in our society the kind of opportunities and aspirations that other people in our society take for granted."

It is, of course, nothing of the sort. Especially as Osborne has made it perfectly clear that lowering the bill for housing benefit is one of his prime concerns. Just as the government can now offer you a job in garbage collection and stop your unemployment benefit if you refuse, it strikes me that Duncan Smith is laying the groundwork to now be able to offer to relocate you miles from where you live so you can enjoy the luxury of the minimum wage and that he will give himself the right to stop your housing benefit should you refuse.

"It goes further than on your bike," he told Sky News.

"It is on your bike and lose your home. That seems to be profoundly unfair and the wrong way to deal with the unemployment problem."

"It is back to the 1980s," he added. "The idea somehow that the only solution to unemployment is to cut benefits and say to people, 'go and do it yourself'. We know that does not work."

Instead, he said ministers should be focused on bringing more investment into unemployment blackspots to create jobs.

This is typical Tory thinking. The unemployed, as far as they are concerned, are lazy and simply need their benefits removed in order to force them to find employment.

Now they will threaten to remove their housing benefit of they don't fancy moving thirty miles away to work in a bloody McDonald's.

Please tell me that the Liberals will be as outraged as I am by this? If they are not, then the Liberal Democrats no longer exist as a political entity.

Click here for full article.

Welfare crackdown begins with drive to reduce incapacity benefit claims.

I am sure there are some people who are on disability benefit but are actually fit to work. However, I also believe that the vast majority of people on disability benefit are claiming that benefit quite properly.

So, I have no idea how much money George Osborne thinks he can save by targeting such a controversial benefit as a place where he hopes to make great savings, but that's the latest target to find itself in his cross hairs.

And let's not forget that Labour tried this to disastrous effect.

A new system introduced by the last government to assess whether or not the sick and disabled were capable of working wrongly found seriously ill people ready to work, according to a report in March by the Citizens Advice Bureau. People with advanced Parkinson's Disease or Multiple Sclerosis, with severe mental illness, or awaiting open heart surgery were registered as fit to work, it said.
It strikes me that there are so many places where this coalition could raise revenue - the scrapping of Trident to name just one way to save £80 billion that they refuse to explore - that going after the disabled comes across as crass and heavy handed.

The chancellor, George Osborne, signalled tonight that efforts to take more of those on incapacity benefit off welfare will form a significant part of plans to cut the deficit, saying: "It's a choice we all face. It is not a choice we can duck."

Osborne said the trade-off between cutting the £192bn welfare bill and the level of spending cuts required in other government departments will be a central feature of the first meeting this week of his pivotal cabinet committee on public spending.

Osborne is, once again, making out that we have no choice here but, of course, he does have a choice.

He could have raised taxation, but decided instead to raise Vat and look for cuts in welfare.

I am reasonably well off and find that this budget hardly affects me at all, which is why I find it so distressing when I see the government target those who most need our help.

Now, of course, Osborne will argue that he is only looking for people capable of working who are refusing to do so. But, as Labour found out when they tried this, you are just as likely to find yourself declaring seriously disabled people as fit for work.

This kind of reactionary behaviour is what we expect from the Tories, but this is actually being carried out by a Tory-Lib-Dem coalition. I wonder how long the Lib-Dem backbenchers can sit and watch this being done in their name.

Click here for full article.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nick Clegg's Extremely Odd Definition of "Liberal" Taxation.

Nick Clegg has an article in today's Independent which had me spluttering into my coffee over breakfast. He is attempting to defend the immoral budget he has agreed to, whilst simultaneously trying to place the blame for a global economic meltdown at the door of the previous Labour administration.

Under the headline, "Tackling the poverty that Labour ignored", he tries to make Osborne's ridiculous point that theirs was a "progressive" budget.

He begins with an utterly bogus point:

We did not announce the Budget with any relish – no incoming government lightly risks widespread unpopularity so early on. But our basic assertion is sound.
This is a perfect example of the way in which the Tories have Clegg in a box. The Tories are under no risk of "widespread unpopularity", especially not amongst their own supporters who have wanted the government to tackle "social security scroungers" forever and a day. A glance at the Daily Mail and the Daily Express the day after the budget showed that they were in seventh heaven as Osborne brutalized benefit claimants - and did so with Lib Dem cover - in a way which Thatcher could only dream of.

The person risking unpopularity is Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. It is they who are betraying their electoral promises, not the Tories. Although Clegg seems not to get that point.

He goes on:
It would have been a moral betrayal to have chosen the easy route, ducking the difficult decisions today at the cost of jobs and prosperity tomorrow.
Except Clegg's argument all through the election - when he was considered wildly popular - was the exact opposite of that. Clegg argued that doing too much too soon ran the risk of a double dip recession. Oh, how quickly he changed his mind once shackled to the Tories.

He then argues that Labour are simply hoping "the problem can somehow be wished away." How strange. His position during the election was far closer to Labours than it was to the Tories, so he's almost saying that his own electoral campaign was merely an exercise in wishful thinking.

Continuing this theme, he then enters into fantasy land:
In the past, every time budgets have had to be cut, the poorest have suffered the most. This time, the richest are paying the most, not just in cash terms but as a proportion of their income. This is completely different from the budgets of the past; this was a coalition Budget.
Except the rich aren't losing anywhere near as much as the poor have lost because of this budget.
The institute's [Institute for Fiscal Studies] director, Robert Chote, has noted that the poorest tenth of society will lose 2.5% of their incomes, whilst the richest will suffer a loss of merely 1% of their income.
Then we get to the attack on benefits:
Decisions on benefits have been controversial, but I believe they meet the same test of fairness. It is not fair, progressive or liberal to make people better off living on handouts than they would be earning a living.
Again, the Tory belief that people choose to live on benefits rather than accept employment. And Clegg is making this argument at the very time when the budget he is talking about is calling for savings of 25% from all government departments, which will inevitably lead to people being let go, which will increase the number of unemployed in the country.

When his policies see people being paid off and losing their jobs will he still make the argument that they are probably unemployed because they preferred a life on benefits?

Then he drops what, for me, is the biggest bombshell of them all:
They come, of course, together with an unpopular increase in VAT. But when it comes to a choice between taxing what people choose to buy and taxing work, it is liberal to come down on the side of consumption rather than payroll taxes.
That's simply the most illiberal thing I have ever heard any supposedly "progressive" politician say.

Let's take that to it's logical conclusion and imagine that we were to raise all taxation in that way, which, let's face it, is what the Tories would love to do.

If I earn £100,000 a year and spend £45,000, then I would have (with Vat at 20%) contributed quite a large sum to the treasury. However, I would still have £55,000 (and 55% of my income) on which I have paid no taxation at all.

People on a lower income, who do not have the opportunity to save; and who spend all their money by necessity simply trying to feed, clothe and house their families, would find that they had been taxed on 100% of their income whilst I - who earn more and have more disposable income - had only been taxed on 45% of mine.

On what planet is that "liberal"?

I know some Tories who would be embarrassed to make that argument; and yet, Clegg not only makes it, but he claims that he is carrying on liberal traditions "from John Stuart Mill to Jo Grimond" as he does so.

Simply calling something liberal don't make it so. And Clegg has just served up a text book example of that.

Click here for full article.

Israeli protesters press Binyamin Netanyahu to help free abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

Pressure is being brought on Netanyahu's government to take action to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier taken prisoner before the start of the Israel Lebanon war.

Thousands of Israelis are expected to join a 12-day march across the country beginning today to put pressure on their government to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted by Hamas four years ago.

The Shalit family and their supporters will set out from their home in Mitzpe Hila, Galilee, and take a winding route through Israel to Jerusalem. They hope to be joined by artists, musicians, rabbis, activists and "tens of thousands" of ordinary people. On arrival in Jerusalem, Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, plans to establish a protest tent outside the home of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, where he has pledged to remain until his son is freed.

"We don't see any alternative after four years of government failure to obtain the release of my son," Shalit told the Observer. "There have been many, many failures, but now it's time to put public pressure on the government."

The Shalits yesterday released a video urging Netanyahu to "pay the price" necessary for Gilad's release. In a direct appeal, Noam Shalit says: "Enough talk. Now is the time for decisions." Asked if "the price" – the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners – was too high for one soldier, he said: "The price is not our business to deal with."

It was widely presumed at the time Shalit was captured that the Israelis - as they have done so often in the past - would come to a deal in order to obtain the release of this young Israeli. But Olmert, for reasons I could not at the time understand, decided instead to throw Israel into a war in Lebanon, encouraged every step of the way by the Bush administration.

It led to an Israeli loss to Hizbullah, and did nothing to ensure Gilad's release.

Now Israelis of all political hues are supporting the government doing whatever needs to be done to ensure that Shalit is released.

An opinion poll published on Friday showed that almost 75% of Israelis support the release of Palestinian prisoners serving sentences for militant attacks in return for Shalit's freedom.

His fate has huge resonance in Israel, where military service is a requirement. Most families can identify closely with the Shalits' loss.

This could all have been done four years ago. But Olmert, goaded on by Bush, decided it was preferable to reduce Beirut to ruins.

Which is why we find ourselves here four long years later.
The Israeli media is backing the renewed Shalit family campaign, with most newspapers urging the government to strike a deal over his release.
How many lives would have been saved had Olmert done a deal over this four years ago, rather than embrace the insane neo-con logic pushed by Bush and Cheney, that Israel should expand it's raid on Lebanon and move into Syria or Iran?

As I said at the time, the release of Gilad Shalit got placed on the back-burner at the behest of Bush who was more interested in Olmert goading Syria and Iran than in securing the release of one young Israli soldier. His capture was ostensibly the reason for the Israel/Lebanon war, but he was quickly forgotten as once the war started.

Now Shalit's family are demanding that Netanyahu do what Olmert did not, and ensure that he is returned to his parents unharmed.

This should have been done four years ago.

Click here for full article.

Half of Liberal Democrat voters ready to defect after VAT rise.

Almost half of the Liberal Democrats supporters are ready to desert the party over it's U-turn on Vat, according to a new YouGov/Brand Democracy survey.

That doesn't surprise me at all. The letters pages of progressive newspapers have been filled with disgruntled Liberal Democrats saying that they were ripping up their membership cards ever since this budget was announced.

And Clegg's excuse for this betrayal - that the figures were much worse than the coalition presumed when taking power - simply doesn't wash with anyone with half a brain cell.

The poll results will spread unease in party ranks as MPs prepare for a Commons vote on Tuesday on George Osborne's emergency package of cuts and tax increases. They will also raise fears about the coalition's ability to survive for a full parliament as the austerity programme tests the patience of ordinary Lib Dem supporters.
The Lib Dem chief secretary to the treasury, Danny Alexander, sounded like a Tory when he attempted to explain why Vat had to rise:

"The Liberal Democrat manifesto was clear that we aimed to eliminate the deficit solely through spending cuts, only considering further tax rises if necessary on grounds of fairness," Alexander writes.

"With the structural deficit £12bn larger than Labour claimed, we could have filled that black hole with more spending cuts. This would have made it impossible to protect the most essential services, so the VAT rise was unavoidable. Raising income tax would reduce the rewards for work at a time when hard work will lead the recovery."

There it is again... The implication that people on benefits are not there because they cannot find a job, they are there because they are lazy. Which is why it is preferable to cut benefits rather than to raise income tax. Cutting benefits might encourage the lazy buggers to actually go out there and get a job; that certainly appears to be the skewered Tory logic being put forward here.

Among supporters of all parties, 34% said the VAT hike had put them off voting Lib Dem. A total of 25% of Lib Dems would be less likely to vote for the party again as a result of the budget decision to freeze child benefit for three years.

There will be more uncomfortable reading for Liberal Democrats today as a new study exposes the scale of pain the emergency budget is likely to inflict on the country's poorest families.

The study by economists Howard Reed and Tim Horton says those earning under £14,200 will be hit six times harder than those at the top of the pay scale, earning more than £49,700.

I've been saying this ever since this budget was announced; the Liberal Democrats will be the ones to pay the price for this, because Tory supporters will love this budget as it plays right into their prejudices. It plays into their ridiculous belief that the unemployed are unemployed through choice, because they choose to live a life of Reilly on benefits.

Liberal Democrat voters are not that naive. And Clegg has, for reasons I will never be able to fathom, gone against everything which his base stands for.
Ed Miliband, who has accused the Lib Dems of betraying their traditions by agreeing to slash the size of the state, said: "If this poll is an indication, the Lib Dems face extinction as a progressive force. Lib Dems MPs have a chance to vote against the budget on Tuesday, but if they fail to do so and lead their party into oblivion, the Labour party must reach out to their voters, and build the progressive movement for the future."
The notion, as put forward by Osborne, that departments can expect to cut themselves back by 25% is simply potty. Many of these departments offer essential services, it is simply impossible to imagine that a reduction of 25% could be found in any major Whitehall department without chaos ensuing.

The worst thing for the Liberal Democrats is that this is the reaction merely to the idea of what this budget proposes. It will only get worse for them once this budget is implemented and we start to hear stories of the actual suffering that these barbaric cuts are bringing about in real people's lives.

If the Liberal Democrat MP's have any sense, they will vote this budget down before it does irreparable damage to their party's reputation.

Click here for full article.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Right-wing self-delusion.

National Reviews Jay Nordlinger quotes Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stating that, "A million and a half people are living in Gaza, but only one of them is really in need of humanitarian aid."

It's a truly abhorrent statement, for he is implying that the only person in need of humanitarian aid in Gaza is young Gilad Shalit, who continues to be held by Hamas who refuse to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to him.

Now, of course, the continued kidnapping of Gilad Shalit is to be abhorred, but are we seriously arguing that he is the only person currently suffering in the Gaza Strip as the Israelis continue to impose their cruel blockade of that territory?

But Nordlinger takes this even further arguing:

After observing that neither "the Cuban dictatorship or Chinese dictatorship permit the Red Cross to see prisoners, Nordlinger then claims -- with the needy victimization that typifies the Right -- that "there'd be mass demonstrations in [Shalit's] behalf all over Europe, and on American streets, too" if "Shalit were other than Israeli." In other words, Nordlinger believes that the Western World would never tolerate the denial of ICRC access to detainees except when the detainee is Israeli.
That's simply fantastical. Is Nordlinger unaware that the US - operating secret prisons under the Bush regime - held countless prisoners secretly and refused access to those prisoners by the ICRC? Did he complain about this at the time? Or is it different when America holds prisoners secretly and refuses to allow access to them from the ICRC? Does the fact that George Bush was fighting his war on terror mean that we couldn't afford to allow access to the prisoners by the ICRC? And was Nordlinger okay with that at the time?

The US has admitted for the first time that it has not given the Red Cross access to all detainees in its custody.

The state department's top legal adviser, John Bellinger, made the admission but gave no details about where such prisoners were held. . . . He stated that the group International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to "absolutely everybody" at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which holds suspects detained during the US war on terror. When asked by journalists if the organisation had access to everybody held in similar circumstances elsewhere, he said: "No".
Glenn Greenwald:
Many Americans defend the U.S.'s conduct not because they support it, but because they're completely unaware of what those actions actually are. Many of the people who support what they call the "enhanced interrogation" program really believe they're defending three instances of waterboarding rather than scores of detainee deaths, because they literally don't know it happened. And here you have Nordlinger -- a Senior Editor of National Review -- claiming that denial of access to the ICRC is the hallmark of brutal tyrannies (it is), and arguing that a country could only get away with it if they do it to an Israeli, making clear that he is completely ignorant of the fact that his own Government did this for years (without, needless to say, prompting a peep of protest from his magazine), and reportedly continues to do it. That the U.S. did this systematically just doesn't exist in his brain; he really believes it's something only China, Cuba and Hamas do. They really do live in their own universe and just block out whatever facts they dislike while inventing the ones that make them feel good.
There is a certain mindset, especially amongst the American right, which really believes their nation only ever engages in good and that it is other countries - usually Cuba, China, or almost any nation in the Middle East except Israel - which break international law and international treaties.

And when it proven against all reasonable doubt that their country is engaged in an activity which is illegal - including, but not limited to, torture, rendition, waterboarding, etc - then they see their task as to instantly defend this behaviour by claiming that "there are different kinds of waterboarding" or that "the normal rules don't apply at a time of war".

Of course, there is a very good reason why war crimes are known as war crimes and not peace crimes: it is because it is precisely at a time of war that one might be tempted to commit them.

But it's the instant cloak of victim-hood which they apply to themselves which I find most interesting. "The world wouldn't put up with this if it were anyone other than an Israeli."

And he says this apparently utterly unaware of the fact that his own nation had been indulging in this behaviour for most of the time that the last Republican administration was in office.

Greenwald explains the mindset which is on display here by quoting George Orwell:
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
That perfectly sums up the mindset which Nordlinger is exhibiting.

Click here for full article.

Blogger loses job; For Looking at Conservatives "As If Visiting A Zoo".

Dave Weigel has had to resign from The Washington Post having been discovered to have made sarcastic and scornful comments about certain conservatives on a private listserv called “Journolist."

Raju Narisetti, the managing editor who oversees The Post’s Web site, accepted Weigel's resignation and said this:

“I don’t think you need to be a conservative to cover the conservative movement,” Narisetti told me late today. “But you do need to be impartial... in your views.
Why do you need to be "impartial" to report upon conservatives? I've certainly never noticed any impartiality amongst the Fox News guys when they are covering Democrats.
With bloggers such as Weigel, “I think The Post needs to decide what it wants to be online,” said Dan Gainor, a vice president at the conservative Media Research Center. “Does it want to be opinion? Or, does it want to be news? The problem here was that it was never clear.”

If it’s going to be opinion, it ought to have somebody on the conservative side -- something Dave Weigel never was,” he said.

If The Post wants to assign a “good neutral reporter” to cover conservatives, “we’d be thrilled,” said Gainor. But quickly added, Weigelwasn’t one. He looked at the conservative movement as if he was visiting a zoo. We’re more than that.”
So conservatives are now demanding that they get to say what kind of blogger should get to cover them for the The Washington Post and are insisting that only "somebody on the conservative side" is really acceptable.

When did conservatives acquire this power? And how is it possible to cover present day Republicanism, where Obama is considered a person born in Kenya, leading Republicans actually believe that the Democrats are about to introduce death panels, and tea party protesters hold aloft posters demanding that the government keep their hands off medicare, without getting the feeling that one is looking at a group of people for whom collective hysteria has become more important than facts?

It is like looking at a zoo, that's the only way it is possible to report on the insanity which Limbaugh and Beck spout daily; and certain parts of the Republican base simply eats it up.

Click title for full article.

Friday, June 25, 2010

By George, he hasn't got it: What would JM Keynes think of George Osborne's Budget?

Robert Skidelsky has an excellent article in today's Independent, which is well worth reading in full, in which he argues against Osborne's budget, not on moral grounds or in terms of whether it is progressive or regressive, but on the grounds that it is theoretically incoherent.

He first states the beliefs of Keynes and argues that this is what has so far been followed:

The message of John Maynard Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) comes in three parts. First, the community's level of income and output is determined by the level of aggregate demand, or purchasing power. Second, consumer demand, especially investment demand, can fall short of the supply of goods, so that the community's available stock of labour and plant can exceed the demand for their services. Third, this situation can continue indefinitely, in the absence of an outside stimulus to replace the missing private sector demand.

Now compare what happened in 1929-1932 (the Great Depression) and what has happened since 2008 (the Great Recession). In both periods the world economy declined at the same rate for five quarters. But whereas the Great Depression economy went on declining for another seven quarters, the Great Recession economy's decline stopped after five quarters, and there has been a very modest recovery. Almost all analysts agree this was because this time, unlike in the earlier period, governments all over the world poured a huge amount of extra money into their shrinking economies. Many allowed their deficits to expand from about 2 per cent of GDP to 10 per cent; and their central banks flooded the banks with new money.

This was good old fashioned Keynesianism.
In a slump, Keynes said, governments should increase, not reduce, their deficits to make up for the fall in private spending. Any attempt by government to balance its budget in a slump would only worsen the slump.

Compare this to the key sentence on the first page of HM Treasury's Budget 2010:
"Reducing the deficit is a necessary precondition for sustained economic growth" – an almost exact reversal of Keynes's theory.
Now,of course, Osborne has never explicitly given us whatever theory he is employing, but his theory can be gleaned from statements which he has made.
It can be boiled down to three propositions of expanding generality: (1) in the absence of the fiscal stimulus, the economy would have rapidly recovered to full employment; (2) following a shock, economies quickly self-adjust back to full employment in the absence of counter-productive government efforts to revive them; (3) markets are optimally self-regulating in the absence of government interference. Osborne has never said any of this precisely, but his pronouncements make no sense unless he believes this.
Now, none of Osborne's theories have ever been proven, indeed, there are many of us who believe that we avoided recession only because the government pumped money into the system, exactly as Keynes demanded; but we should also never forget that Cameron and Osborne objected to this government intervention and even objected to the government bailing out Northern Rock and the banks.

Of course, there is a precedent for the situation we find ourselves in.

An important footnote is an exchange between President Roosevelt and Keynes in 1938. From 1933 to 1937, America had experienced four years of recovery since the Depression, with unemployment falling from 25 per cent to 14 per cent. Keynes attributed this recovery to the solution of the credit and insolvency problems and establishment of easy short term money; establishment of adequate relief for the unemployed; public works and other investment programmes helped by government funds or guarantees; the surge in private investment, and the momentum of the recovery. By the time of Keynes's letter to Roosevelt on 1 February 1938, however, the American economy was experiencing a "double dip" recession: unemployment had gone up from 14 per cent to 18 per cent, industrial production had fallen by 21 per cent and real GDP by 3.5 per cent. Keynes attributed this to the premature curtailment of the public works programme, as Roosevelt tried to "balance the budget" in 1936-37. Keynes's letter marks the start of the "Keynesian" phase of the New Deal which, by 1941 had reduced unemployment by 8 percentage points.

Whose judgement – or ideology – do we trust, Keynes's or Osborne's?

I am by no manner or means an economist, but I do struggle to work out how removing money from the economy is supposed to help the recovery. The problem at the moment is that people are not spending. Removing benefits from the poorer elements in society, whilst increasing unemployment, will only mean that there are even more people with even less to spend.

Osborne's theory appears to be the opposite of Keynes's. Which implies it's not only immoral, it's based upon an insane belief that the market will self correct, when most of us would conclude that the lesson to be learned from the recent economic upheaval is the very opposite of what Osborne is arguing.

Click here for full article.

Beck attempts to rehabilitate McCarthyism with guest M. Stanton Evans, who says McCarthy "was telling the truth".

Now Beck is trying to say that McCarthy was misunderstood by history. And he brings on a guest to tell us that "McCarthy was right".

Beck gets more oddball with each day that passes.

He then carried on his "McCarthy was right" theme on his radio programme. He actually argues that McCarthy's only mistake was in the tactics he chose.

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Shep Smith gets "grossed out" about Napolitano "standing up for BP" and "blaming the government" for the oil spill.

Shep Smith looks increasingly out of place on Fox News. Here he says that he is "grossed out" at Napolitano for blaming the government for the oil spill whilst defending BP.

He goes against the company line quite often these days. I honestly wonder how long he will last.

Budget cuts: top Lib Dems fire warning to Tories.

The left wing of the Liberal Democrats are making noises about the budget, but the noises they are making fall way short of an actual challenge to Osborne's regressive budget plans.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democratic party's newly elected deputy leader, has threatened that some Lib Dems might issue rebel amendments to the finance bill.

Hughes issued a blunt warning to the Tories that the government would break up if key pensioner benefits in the coalition agreement were cut. He launched the most significant intervention since the formation of the coalition in the debate that followed George Osborne's emergency budget on Tuesday when the chancellor of the exchequer said that welfare would bear the brunt of cuts.

Although Hughes, the veteran Lib Dem MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, said he supported harsh budget measures to help deal with Britain's weak public finances, he indicated that he was prepared to table rebel amendments to promote fairness. "If there are measures in the finance bill where we can improve fairness, and make for a fairer Britain, then we will come forward with amendments to do that because that is where we make the difference," he said.

The Lib Dem high command denied that there were any divisions. A spokesman said: "Given that fairness has been built into the budget there are no plans to lay any amendments."

The intervention by Hughes, which reflects the private misgivings of the former leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, comes amid concerns among senior Lib Dems that Nick Clegg is wrong to claim the budget is progressive. Many MPs were alarmed after Robert Chote, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, described the budget as "somewhat regressive". Lib Dem spokesmen pointed out that Chote had said the budget was regressive if the effects of Labour's budget in March were stripped out. Hughes endorsed this view when he said: "This government has continued with those elements of the budget passed earlier in the year. On that basis it is a budget that produces greater fairness."

He said he had hoped that the budget would not raise VAT, which is "clearly less progressive". But he added: "It is a measure that is necessary when we have to fill a huge debt the Labour party has left us."

I am puzzled by the behaviour of the left of the Liberal Democrats. They appear to me like rabbits caught in headlights. They, of course, realise - as Hughes here admits - that a rise in Vat is regressive, but he's choosing to say that, as long as the government sticks by it's commitment to pensioners, then he will be able to pretend that this budget is progressive.

It's an extremely narrow area which Hughes is using to define what would and would not make this budget "progressive". If he had any honesty he would admit that this budget is actually a Tory wet dream, it's a classic Thatcherite attack on the weakest members of society, those dependent on benefits to get by.

Ed Miliband, for Labour, said: "It takes a long time to establish an honourable political tradition. But it takes a very short time to destroy it. Are [Lib Dems] still the party of Keynes, Beveridge and Lloyd George? We all know these three men would turn in their graves at the idea that the inheritors of the Liberal tradition were supporting this budget."

I happen to agree with that. I know several people who voted Lib Dem, but I can't think of anyone who voted for the kind of regressive cuts which the Tories are talking about implementing.

Hughes is trying to draw a line in the sand, but the line he is drawing is far away from any line which most of us would use to define what is progressive and what is not.

The left wing of the Liberal Democrats are rolling over, pretending that they are prepared to stand up on principle, but defining the place where battle will commence so far behind their own position that they have almost announced defeat before the war has started.

Click here for full article.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hannity and Coulter criticize "thin-skinned" Obama over McChrystal resignation.

I have no doubt that, had Obama decided to keep McChrystal in his position, Coulter and Hannity would now be saying that Obama had only kept him on because he lacked the strength to fire him.

Their position - and that of most of Fox News - appears to be that whatever Obama does is necessarily wrong because it is Obama who has done it.

Watch O'Reilly carry on the theme that Obama is acting strong to avoid "Jimmy Carterville".

On Fox there really is nothing that Obama can do that isn't wrong.

If he'd kept him on, it was because Obama was weak. If he fired him, Obama is simply too thin skinned.

The bias on Fox is as laughable as it is predictable.

Budget is not progressive, declares IFS.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies have blown apart George Osborne and Nick Clegg's ridiculous claims that the latest coalition budget was a "progressive" one.

The institute's director, Robert Chote, has noted that the poorest tenth of society will lose 2.5% of their incomes, whilst the richest will suffer a loss of merely 1% of their income.

If you are on £100,000 a year the loss of a grand is still going to leave you able to feed, clothe and house your family with enough left over for luxury goods. For someone on substantially less than that, the loss of 2.5% of your income is potentially devastating.

Cuts in housing benefit and in disability living allowance, again much more likely to affect the most vulnerable, are not taken into account either by the IFS or the Treasury, another reason why the official and IFS figures may underestimate how hard the coalition Government's plans will penalise the poor.
I watched Nick Clegg being interviewed on BBC Breakfast Time this morning and a viewer had emailed in asking how he could now give his support for the rise in Vat given all that he had said about this subject prior to the election.

Clegg came out with the hackneyed answer that the figures were much worse than anyone could have previously predicted, etc, etc. It was a master class in how a politician can justify anything he does and still somehow manage to look feasible.

However, I found it impossible not to wonder what Clegg would be saying about the rise in Vat had Cameron managed to get enough votes to form a government without the aid of the Liberal Democrats. One can be absolutely sure that he would be making the exact opposite argument to the one that he found himself making this morning.

For the Tories this coalition is proving to be a dream. Oh yes, Clegg might have managed to squeeze a thousand pound rise in the point where one begins to pay taxation, but the price for that small concession is that Liberals have to go out and defend one of the most regressive Tory budgets in decades.

It's easy watching Tories defending a rise in Vat because they basically would love to see taxation moved from income to spending, because that way they get to keep much more of their earnings. But watching a Liberal Democrat argue for this switch in how we raise taxation is simply painful.

The journey from Clegg's first TV debate with Brown and Cameron - where he won over the nation through his freshness and his ability to speak freely - to him finding himself sitting on the BBC this morning, arguing for a policy which we all know that he does not believe in, is not comfortable to witness.

His greatest strength then was that he didn't come across as simply another politician. On TV this morning, he did.


The satirists are already having a ball over this:

There's already been one positive outcome of the Budget, which is the pleasure of watching Liberal Democrats squirm as they try to justify the stuff that a few weeks ago they screamed would be a disaster. Tomorrow Clegg will mutter, "Look, when we said the Tories were planning a VAT bombshell, the point we were making was this country needed a VAT bombshell and only the Tories were planning it, but they were too modest in hiding their marvellous bombshell plans, so we were trying to help them. You see."

Then they'll tell us they've ensured the Budget was vicious in a fair way, because now VAT will be at a Liberal Democrat 20 per cent to ensure fairness, rather than the much harsher Tory 20 per cent proposed by George Osborne, a compromise that wouldn't have been possible without the tremendous efforts of Vince Cable.

To their own supporters they'll say, "If we weren't part of the Government it would be even worse", the line always put by liberals in an illiberal government. I bet there were Liberal Democrats in the Spanish Inquisition who said, "Because we're in government, the Queen has included in her bill a pledge to gouge out fingernails first rather than go straight in with the toenails, demonstrating the fairness we are bringing to the new politics."

The Budget has been presented as a necessity, with every measure "unavoidable", backed up by piles of figures that sound apocalyptic but mean nothing by themselves, like "We now owe £800 for every insect in Britain", or "The debt burden is equivalent to 300 years on a premium rate girl-on-girl action chatline" or "The deficit is more than the value of the moon."

But the cuts announced are measures the Tories support anyway, regardless of the state of the economy. For example, Osborne said in his TV speech he would no longer tolerate people who don't work, "Sitting indoors with the blinds pulled down, living on benefits." That's not economic necessity, it's an editorial from the Daily Express.

As I pointed out the other day, The Daily Express are in ecstasy about this budget, which reads like a Tory wet dream. The argument that it would have been worse without Liberal Democrat intervention rings hollow. The Liberal Democrats are giving them the cover they need to dismantle much of the welfare state and ensure that the poor bear the brunt of a crisis caused by the kind of deregulation which the Tories turned into their mantra during the eighties.

I hope Clegg has great difficulty getting his party to back this budget. What he's giving away, compared to the minuscule advantages he's gleaned, is shameful.


A letter writer to The Independent makes the same point I made the other day about just how right wing Clegg actually is.

David Woods implores Nick Clegg to pull out of the coalition (letter, 21 June). But why would he want to? The coalition ideology is in line with The Orange Book, which featured contributions from Liberal Democrats such as Nick Clegg, David Laws, Chris Huhne and Vince Cable.

The Orange Book put forward pro-market policies of privatisation, a reduced public sector and PFI.

This debt crisis is the perfect excuse for the authors of this book to exercise their neo-liberal ideals. In a document called Setting Business Free, Liberal Democrat right stated that party policy should always "start with a bias in favour of the free market".

I know they might find power intoxicating, but the left wing of the Liberal Democratic party are being led down a dreadful road by Clegg. There must surely be some of them who realise that very few progressives will ever trust them again.

And the Labour supporter tactically giving support to the Lib Dems in the hope of keeping the Tories out of power is now officially a thing of the past.

Click here for full article.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stossel says escrow fund is a "thuggish Chicago shakedown," refers to "Vladimir Obama".

Stossel says that Obama has carried out a "thuggish Chicago shakedown" by forcing BP to compensate people hurt by the Gulf oil spill. What's funny is that these right wingers can't even be sure to keep Bill O'Reilly on board.

The last time I came across Stossel he was arguing that private business had a right to discriminate. So I regard him as simply a raving loon.


Limbaugh claims that Obama has stolen BP's property and that Obama has committed an "abject violation of the US constitution".

I honestly don't get what these people think there is to gain by putting their chips on the side of the polluting oil company.

"A Dismantling of Much of Labour's Welfare State."

You only have to look at how the newspapers which support the Tories have reacted to Osborne's budget to see what he has done which pleases them. The notion that he is hitting the rich the hardest is not the impression which papers like the Daily Express have taken from this budget.


GEORGE Osborne took his axe to benefits with a vengeance yesterday to stamp out Britain’s something-for-nothing welfare culture.

The Chancellor slashed housing, disability and single parent benefits as well as payments to pregnant women and new mothers in a bid to curb the spiralling welfare bill.

His tough measures are aimed at driving more people back to work rather than relying on the state for handouts.
They will slash Britain’s bloated welfare bill by £11billion a year within four years.
The things which excite the average Daily Express reader have nothing to do with balancing the books, it's yet another attack - just as Thatcher famously did - on "social security scroungers".

The Daily Mail are excited enough by this budget to call it "a dismantling of much of Labour’s welfare state".

There's no-one who will ever be able to convince me that this is not something which the Tories have always wanted to do.

And, of course, one of the prices that the Liberals are having to pay for power is the fact that they are now having to publicly align themselves behind a Vat rise which they campaigned against. Watching Shirley Williams last night on Newsnight, I actually had a residue of sympathy watching her make arguments which it was hard to believe her heart was really behind.

We now have this strange political picture here in Britain where both the Tories and the Liberals are making the case for Osborne and Labour are left as the sole voice of opposition.

And the Liberals appear silly to me as they pretend that they believe this budget is designed to make the rich pay for the deficit. One only has to pick up any right wing newspaper to see what the Tory base think is so marvelous about Osborne's butchery.


But, just as Shirley Williams appeared forced and somewhat uncomfortable making the case for the budget, the same is not true of Nick Clegg who actually believes in this nonsense.

And, he has left himself open to the wrath of his party by agreeing to what is essentially a Tory wish list to slash state spending. The claim that this budget fairly distributes the pain - or, indeed, that it is in any way "progressive" is exposed as a lie by the fact that £8 billion will be raised through taxation and £11 billion through cuts in benefits. In other words, this budget will hit hardest those who have the least, whilst taking much less from those earning enough not to need any kind of benefits. Most of us will hardly be seriously affected, but those with very little will face devastating cuts to their benefits.

Already some Liberal Democrats are speaking out.

But Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, suggested he would not vote for the Budget in the Commons because of the VAT rise – a move he had campaigned against in last month's election. "I am not at all happy," he said, warning that the rise would hit the low paid the hardest.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's former leader, said: "Liberal Democrats, and I don't mind admitting this, are a bit nervous about a rise in VAT, because it's a regressive tax ... that's why the increase in the level at which people begin to pay tax is so important." Benjamin Ramm, editor of The Liberal magazine, added: "This VAT rise is a tax on the poor to absolve the sins of the rich."

And unions spoke out against what they see as Osborne "declaring war" on public services.
"This is the most draconian Budget in decades." Derek Simpson, Unite's joint general secretary, said: "Today the mask slipped to reveal this Government for what it is – Tory slashers of services and friends of the rich and powerful."
And Steve Richards finds that Osborne's budget "veered more towards the reactionary, at times dangerously so."

Osborne did what he did because the dismantling of the state is at the heart of all Tory beliefs, and he is using the economic crisis to push through extreme right wing policies.

Margaret Thatcher famously argued in the 1980s that there was no alternative to her policies. Osborne did not repeat the phrase, but "unavoidable" has precisely the same meaning and serves the same purpose.

Such an assertion is nonsense, as the US administration indicates with its more expansionist policies.

There was nothing "unavoidable" about this budget, and the people it takes aim at - those with the least surviving on benefits - are exactly the same people who Thatcher set her sights on.

The people who will ultimately pay for this will be the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg might be a progressive when it comes to social policies, but he is rather right wing when it comes to economic policies.

He's certainly more right wing on those matters than most of the people who voted Lib Dem.
Those who argue that Clegg is a patsy mis-read what is happening. He was fully involved in the discussions that led up to yesterday's speech and believes in the package as a whole.
Clegg is a believer in this budget, and sat beside Osborne whilst Osborne claimed that this budget was "progressive". Somewhere down the line, I feel sure that the Liberal Democrats will pay a terrible price for that.