Archive for the ‘Equality’ Category

“Trump’s ultimate impact on the court’s membership”

23/11/2016

Robert Barnes writes that the election has re-shaped the Supreme Court, “The political earthquake that hit has enormous consequences for the Supreme Court, swallowing up Judge Merrick Garland’s ill-fated nomination and dismantling Democratic hopes for a liberal majority on the high court for the first time in nearly a half-century. In the short term, Republican Donald Trump’s victory means that at some point next year, the nine-member court will be restored to full capacity, once again with a majority of Republican-appointed justices”.

Barnes argues that “Democratic attempts to filibuster Trump’s choice would likely lead Republicans to end that option for Supreme Court justices, just as Democrats did for other judicial nominations when their party controlled the Senate. Trump’s upset victory likely changes the court’s docket as well: Court challenges to President Obama’s regulations regarding the Affordable Care Act and immigration, which have preoccupied the justices in recent terms, will likely disappear under a President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress. The long-term question will be Trump’s ultimate impact on the court’s membership, and whether he gets the chance to do more than choose the successor to Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. Two of the court’s liberals, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, are 83 and 78, respectively. Moderate conservative Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is 80. As long as those three stay, the court’s rulings on sensitive social issues — protecting abortion rights, affirmative action and gay rights, for instance — are secure. “A lot of the big things are actually ones on which the court already has a so-called liberal majority,” Neal K. Katyal, the acting solicitor general under President Obama, said before the court’s term began last month. Tuesday’s election assures that Kennedy will remain the court’s pivotal justice, for now. Trump has said he will draw his Supreme Court nominee from a list of 20 judges and one senator: Mike Lee of Utah. All appear to be more conservative than Kennedy, the court’s longest-serving justice. Kennedy is the member of the current court most likely to be in the majority when the court splits 5 to 4 in its most controversial decisions. Most of the time, he sides with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s other remaining conservatives: Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito”.

The piece goes on to note that “on some social issues, Kennedy sides with the liberals: Ginsburg, Breyer and Obama’s two choices for the court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He joined them and wrote the majority opinion finding that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry; in fact, Kennedy has written all of the court’s cases protecting gay rights. Last term, he wrote the decision approving the limited use of race in college admission decisions, and voted to strike down a Texas law that the court said imposed unnecessary burdens on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. But three of the five justices supporting those issues are the oldest on the court. Abortion rights advocates immediately sounded an alarm. “President-elect Trump has publicly pledged to overturn Roe and promised punishment for the one in three American women who will have an abortion in her lifetime,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. She was referring to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision assuring a woman’s right to an abortion. Garland, a moderate liberal who is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, would likely have replaced Kennedy as the justice in the middle. Obama nominated him last March in part because Republicans in the past have said he was the most likely Democratic nominee to win confirmation”.

The writer points out that the “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared on the night of Scalia’s death that Republicans would not act on any Obama nominee. The move brought charges that McConnell had politicized the process, but the gambit worked: It will now be a Republican president making the lifetime appointment to replace Scalia. Trump has said his nominee will come from the list compiled with the help of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the legal group, the Federalist Society. His nominee will be like Scalia in seeking to overturn Roe and be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Trump has said. All eyes will now be on the court’s oldest members, Kennedy and Ginsburg. Replacing Kennedy with a more stalwart conservative would immediately impact the court’s dynamics. He has given no indication about how long he intends to serve on the court. Ginsburg has said she will serve as long as she is up to the job. She would likely be loath to allow Trump to pick her successor; she caused an uproar this summer when in media interviews she called him a “faker” and said she feared for the court and the country if he were elected. Ginsburg turned aside calls from some liberals that she retire years ago, so that Obama could name her replacement. She said it was unclear whether the Senate would confirm her successor. And she told The Washington Post that there was no rush: She felt it was likely that another Democrat would be elected after Obama”.

 

A history of environmental concern

18/06/2015

An article from Crux on the newly released papal encyclical, LAUDATO SI, opens that many popes have remarked on the environment, “Anxiety has so gripped American conservatives over Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment that you might think a pope had never before blamed fossil fuels for global warming. Or accused energy companies of hoarding the Earth’s resources at the expense of the poor. Or urged the rich to consume less and share more. But several of Francis’ immediate predecessors have done just that, inspired by the Bible itself — raising the question of what all the fuss is about. Why would US Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic who says he loves the pope, urge Francis to “leave science to the scientists” and stop talking about global warming? And why would conservative Catholic commentators attack the Vatican for hosting the United Nations secretary-general at a climate conference? It turns out that environmental issues are particularly vexing for the Catholic Church, especially in the United States. They carry implications for Big Business and their Catholics supporters, as well as for the world’s growing population, which brings up questions of birth control. For the religious right, the Vatican’s endorsement of the UN agenda on global warming amounts to an endorsement of the UN agenda to give women access to contraception and abortion”.

The report adds “How Francis deals with population growth as it affects the environment is one of the key questions that will be answered when the encyclical, entitled “Laudato si (Be Praised), On the Care of our Common Home,” is released June 18. Despite such divisive issues, popes in recent decades have not shied from framing ecological concerns in moral terms, given that in the Bible itself God places mankind in the Garden of Eden with the explicit instructions to not only “till” the ground but to also “keep it.” Recent popes have made clear that human activity is largely to blame for the environmental degradation that is threatening the Earth’s ecosystems. They have demanded urgent action by industrialized nations to change their ways and undergo an “ecological conversion” to prevent the poor from paying for the sins of the rich”.

The piece notes the John Paul II added to the papal mageristum on this topic, but it goes on to note  “Before him there was Pope Paul VI. In his 1967 encyclical, “Populorum Progressio” (Development of Peoples), Paul wrote that while creation is for man to use, the goods of the Earth are meant to be shared by all, not just the rich.

“No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life.”

And then there was Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the “green pope” because he took concrete action to back up his strong ecological calls: Under his watch, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria, and joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions”.

The piece goes on to mention “In his 2009 encyclical “Charity in Truth,” Benedict wrote:

“The fact that some states, power groups, and energy companies hoard non-renewable energy resources represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries. The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future.”

In that encyclical, the German theologian addressed the population issue by denouncing mandatory birth control policies and noting that even populous countries have emerged from poverty thanks to the talents of their people, not their numbers. At the same time, though, he stressed “responsible procreation” — a theme Francis is likely to take up himself given that he has already said Catholics need not reproduce “like rabbits.””

Interestingly the writer adds “So what is so new about Francis’ encyclical? First, no pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to ecological concerns. And no pope has cited the findings of the UN International Panel on Climate Change in a major document, as Francis is expected to do. Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, will also be bringing the point of view of the “Global South” to a social teaching document of the Church, which is in itself new. But on the whole, the Church’s environmental message has been articulated for years, though it has gotten lost in other issues. “To be honest, we have been talking about this, but not with enough emphasis,” said the Rev. Agostino Zampini Davies, the Argentine theological adviser to CAFOD, the development agency of the Catholic Church of England and Wales”.

He ends “Amid the alarm that Francis will go far beyond what past popes have said, US Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently addressed a conference of business and Church leaders on how sustainable actions can drive the economic growth needed to lift people out of poverty. “The teaching of Pope Francis and his efforts to address the environment are in harmony with those of his predecessors,” he insisted”.

Pre-Synod games

31/05/2015

Edward Pentin writes that there are pre-Synod games already taking place, he opens “A one-day study meeting — open only to a select group of individuals — took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Monday with the aim of urging “pastoral innovations” at the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in October. Around 50 participants, including bishops, theologians and media representatives, took part in the gathering, at the invitation of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Germany, Switzerland and France — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Markus Büchel and Archbishop Georges Pontier”.

He reports that “One of the key topics discussed at the closed-door meeting was how the Church could better welcome those in stable same-sex unions, and reportedly “no one” opposed such unions being recognised as valid by the Church. Participants also spoke of the need to “develop” the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and called not for a theology of the body, as famously taught by St. John Paul II, but the development of a “theology of love.” One Swiss priest discussed the “importance of the human sex drive,” while another participant, talking about holy Communion for remarried divorcees”.

Pentin’s idea of these talks is clear but many have merit. If all believers are equal before God why are gay unions considered second class? Equally the danger of the teachings of John Paul II is they turn the Church into a fertility cult with the entire focus on the procreation of children with little thought given to their quality of life and other attendant issues.

Pentin goes on to report that “Marco Ansaldo, a reporter for the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, who was present at the meeting, said the words seemed “revolutionary, uttered by clergymen.” French Biblicist and Ratzinger Prize-winner Anne-Marie Pelletier praised the dialogue that took place between theologians and bishops as a “real sign of the times.” According to La Stampa, another Italian daily newspaper, Pelletier said the Church needs to enter into “a dynamic of mutual listening,” in which the magisterium continues to guide consciences, but she believes it can only effectively do so if it “echoes the words of the baptised.” The meeting took the “risk of the new, in fidelity with Christ,” she claimed. The article also quoted a participant as saying the synod would be a “failure” if it simply continued to affirm what the Church has always taught”.

Interestingly he writes that “The closed-door meeting, masterminded by the German bishops’ conference under the leadership of Cardinal Marx, was first proposed at the annual meeting of the heads of the three bishops’ conferences, held in January in Marseille, France. The study day took place just days after the people of Ireland voted in a referendum in support of same-sex “marriage” and on the same day as the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops met in Rome. Some observers did not see the timing as a coincidence. The synod council has been drawing up the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the October synod on the family. Integrated into the document will be the responses of a questionnaire sent to laity around the world. Those responses, particularly from Switzerland and Germany, appeared to be overwhelmingly in favour of the Church adapting her teachings to the secular world”.

Some perspective is needed in this final statement. The Church is not jettisoning the death and resurrection of Christ or the foundations for the papacy, transubstantion, women’s ordination, the episcopacy or the Creed. It should simply be seen as refining Church teaching in light of scientific advances.

Pentin goes on to question why the meeting was held before closed doors, ” No one would say why the study day was held in confidence. So secret was the meeting that even prominent Jesuits at the Gregorian were completely unaware of it. The Register learned about it when Jean-Marie Guénois leaked the information in a story in Le Figaro. Speaking to the Register as he left the meeting, Cardinal Marx insisted the study day wasn’t secret. But he became irritated when pressed about why it wasn’t advertised, saying he had simply come to Rome in a “private capacity” and that he had every right to do so. Close to Pope Francis and part of his nine-member council of cardinals, the cardinal is known to be especially eager to reform the Church’s approach to homosexuals. During his Pentecost homily last Sunday, Cardinal Marx called for a “welcoming culture” in the Church for homosexuals, saying it’s “not the differences that count, but what unites us.” Cardinal Marx is also not alone, among those attending the meeting, in pushing for radical changes to the Church’s life. The head of the Swiss bishops, Bishop Büchel of St. Gallen, has spoken openly in favour of women’s ordination, saying in 2011 that the Church should “pray that the Holy Spirit enables us to read the signs of the times.” Archbishop Pontier, head of the French bishops, is also known to have heterodox leanings”.

If there is a problem it is with Pope Francis. He seems to favour smaller families but then reverse his statement and back large ones. His mixed messages do little to inspire clarity. Perhaps this is the purpose? Alternatively, Francis is so naïve as to think the Synod will not air any differing views other than Church thinking on these issues.

Pentin continues, “Among the specialists present was Father Eberhard Schockenhoff, a moral theologian. Some are particularly disturbed about the rise to prominence of Father Schockenhoff, who is understood to be the “mastermind” behind much of the challenge to settled Church teachings among the German episcopate and, by implication, at the synod on the family itself. A prominent critic of Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth), as well as a strong supporter of homosexual clergy and those pushing for reform in the area of sexual ethics, Father Schockenhoff is known to be the leading adviser of German bishops in the run-up to the synod. In 2010, he gave an interview in which he praised the permanence and solidarity shown in some same-sex relationships as “ethically valuable.” He urged that any assessment of homosexual acts “must take a back seat” on the grounds that the faithful are becoming “increasingly distant from the Church’s sexual morality,” which appears “unrealistic and hostile to them.” The Pope and the bishops should “take this seriously and not dismiss it as laxity,” he said”.

The final section of the report, Pentin addresses the participation of the media, “Also noted were the large number of media representatives. Journalists from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, German broadcasters ZDF and ARD, the Italian daily La Repubblica and French-Catholic media La Croix and I-Media were also present. Their presence was “striking,” said one observer, who predicted they will be used to promote the agenda of the  subject matter under discussion in the weeks leading up to the synod. Monday’s meeting is just the latest attempt to subtly steer the upcoming synod in a direction opposed by many faithful Catholics. A statement on the study day released by the German bishops’ conference May 26 said there was a “reflection on biblical hermeneutics” — widely seen as code words for understanding the Bible differently from Tradition — and the need for a “reflection on a theology of love.” This, too, is seen as undermining Church teaching. By replacing the theology of the body with a “theology of love,” it creates an abstract interpretation that separates sex from procreation, thereby allowing forms of extramarital unions and same-sex attractions based simply on emotions rather than biological reality. Gone, say critics, is the Catholic view of marriage, which should be open to procreation”.

 

Differing pictures of inequality

27/05/2015

An interesting piece form the Washington Post discusses the meaning of inequality in light of the 2016 presidential election, “Inequality, we keep hearing, will be a major theme of the upcoming election. Hillary Clinton has been preaching about it. Republicans are suddenly doing it, too. Both sides have been talking to the same eminent academics worried about what economic inequality could mean for the future of American children. But here is an important point worth remembering about the electorate these candidates have been talking to: Most people — regardless of whether you ask about the poor or the rich, income or wealth, the shape of the income distribution or an individual’s position in it — have a terrible sense of what inequality actually looks like”.

It makes the valid point that “This key point comes from a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Vladimir Gimpelson at the Higher School of Economist in Moscow and Daniel Treisman at UCLA. They looked at several sets of international survey data gauging how much people know in many countries, including the United States, about economic inequality, the ways it’s been changing and how their own incomes compare. Their conclusion, which minces no words:

In recent years, ordinary people have had little idea about such things. What they think they know is often wrong. Widespread ignorance and misperceptions of inequality emerge robustly, regardless of the data source, operationalization, and method of measurement.

People aren’t good at guessing the share of the population that lives in poverty in their country (this comes from a European survey)”.

Correctly the writer goes on to mention that “We’re not very accurate at estimating how much workers in various jobs earn (in the United States, we’re not bad with shop assistants and unskilled factory workers, but we way overestimate what doctors and Cabinet secretaries make). We’re also not that great at recognizing whether inequality and poverty are worsening or improving with time. And many of these surveys suggest that the rich think they’re poorer than they really are while the poor think they’re richer — a pattern that implies a lot of us like to think we’re hanging out somewhere in the middle”.

It goes on to add that “One survey used in the paper, the International Social Survey Project, asked people in 40 countries which type of society they thought they lived in:The context of the question was economic. If we assume each of those bars is an equally spaced income group, Gimpelson and Treisman calculated a Gini coefficient, measuring income inequality, to correspond with each diagram. By that standard, worldwide only about a quarter of people got this right for their country (the share varies a little if you consider income before or after taxes and transfers). That’s not much better than survey respondents would do if they were just guessing randomly”.

It ends “All of this undercuts the theory that there’s a direct link between high inequality and poverty and what we want the government to do about them. It’s hard to argue, for instance, that more people will support forms of income redistribution when inequality is high if most of us don’t recognise what high inequality looks like. Over the next year, Americans probably won’t be able to avoid the message that inequality is real and bad. But, Treisman says, we’ll all probably be picturing very different things in our minds when we hear that”.

Intervention of Cardinal Nichols

09/03/2015

A report from the Telegraph details the intervention of Vincent Cardinal Nichols in British politics, urging justice. It opens “The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has condemned the Government for presiding over “shocking” levels of poverty and deprivation. Cardinal Vincent Nichols called on Tuesday for Catholics to judge candidates in this year’s General Election by what they intend to do to improve the lives of the poor. He said: “I’ve commented before on what I believe to be some of the unintended consequences of social welfare reform we see. I repeat; it’s shocking that in a society that is as rich as our there are people, even people in employment, dependant on food banks and hand-outs.” The Cardinal was speaking at the launch of a leaflet being sent to all Catholic parishes in England and Wales, urging members of the church to become actively involved in the political debate in the run up to May’s election”.

The report mentions that “He emphasised that it was the duty of Catholics, and other citizens to engage in discussion, cast their votes and ignore commentators such as Russell Brand, who claim there is no point voting because ‘all politicians are the same’. Cardinal Nichols said: “I’d ask them to pay more attention to me than to him [Brand]. We are citizens and we are called on to take part in society. Stir yourself”.

The piece goes on to state “The Cardinal’s call for more to be done to help the worse off follows a letter issued by the Church of England’s bishops last week, attacking the effect of the coalition’s policies on the poor. In their letter Anglican bishops condemned the legacy of Thatcherism and its emphasis on consumerism and individualism. The 52-page letter was attacked by Conservative politicians as being a ‘shopping list’ of left-wing demands.  Although the Catholic bishops’ letter to parishioners neither attacks nor endorses any party by name, it urges voters to decide on the basis of where candidate stand on the issue of poverty”.

The article adds “In its letter the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales urges Catholics to ask “where does your candidate stand on directly helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK and also helping to transform their lives”. Addressing education policy it says politicians should be trying to “ensure the best outcomes for the poorest children.” The four-page letter, 700,000 copies of which are being sent to parishes up and down the country, bemoans the fact that “rising inequality, increased loneliness for older people, job insecurity and over stretched community services” has made life more difficult for many and calls for business and the private sector to do more to meet people’s needs. “The market economy exists to serve humanity. People are not merely economic units to be exploited,” it states”.

The report rightly ends “The Cardinal repeated the Catholic church’s strong support for the living wage, saying that party candidates should be quizzed on their attitude to fair pay. He said that all Catholic organisations and charities tried to ensure not only that they paid their employees the Living Wage, and – in the case of those working in the capital – the London Living Wage, but that the church’s suppliers and contractors did so too.”

 

 

UKIP takes the long view

18/02/2015

A piece from the Economist notes the rise of UKIP.

It begins “AT FIRST Nigel Farage seemed unwelcome in Rotherham. The leader of the populist UK Independence Party (UKIP) was visiting the hilly Yorkshire town on February 6th to open its campaign headquarters there, but was now trapped inside it. Protesters had gathered outside the front door, chanting and brandishing placards accusing UKIP of bigotry. Passing cars and vans honked, to cheers. But it soon became clear that the horns, and many residents of the town, were for UKIP”

The writer adds that “Opinion polls suggest that one in five Britons could vote for UKIP in the general election on May 7th. Though hugely disadvantaged by the first-past-the-post electoral system, the party could win a handful of seats. By taking Conservative votes in up to 100 others, it could also deny that party a second term. Yet the drama in Rotherham also hinted at a bigger future for UKIP. Long a party of the Tory south of England, it is increasingly one of the Labour north, too. That shift has big implications for its character and prospects. The southern third of Britain’s east coast is generally considered UKIP’s heartland (pushing the point, a Labour politician says it does well where there is good fish and chips).”

Crucially the piece goes on to note that “Margate, a faded seaside resort in the neighbouring seat of North Thanet, shows why the nostalgic party does so well in such places. On the seafront, paint peels off the boarding houses where Victorians once summered. Now divided into cheap flats, many house Poles and Latvians who work as cleaners or at Thanet Earth, a nearby complex of greenhouses. Locals who have lived in the area for decades feel ‘pissed off and alone’, says Chris Wells, a Tory councillor who defected to UKIP last October. Many of these ‘bungalow Tories’, working-class folk who voted for Margaret Thatcher, are attracted by the party’s small-state message and its warnings about the economic impact of immigration, he says”.

However the picture that the author paints of Margate is more relevant than immigration. The ever increasing centralisation of money in London has sucked many of the regional towns around it dry of people. Successive governments, both Tory and Labour, have done little to help people in these towns as they have concentrated on the City and the myth that it was the key to solving all problems. As has been argued here before, immigration is only really an issue during bad economic times but it is made worse by poverty and deprivation. UKIP and other related parties feed on these interrelated issues and make political hay out of them.

The piece adds “far from the Kent coast, another UKIP heartland is emerging in northern towns hobbled by the decline of traditional industries such as coal and steel. If Mr Wells sounds like a traditional Tory politician, Jane Collins, the party’s candidate in Rotherham, sounds like a Labour one. As MP, she pledges, she would focus on “social cohesion”. Perched next to her on a sofa in his party’s besieged office, Mr Farage reels off a list of northern by-elections in which his party has recently come second: South Shields, Barnsley Central, Middlesbrough. All are places neglected by Labour and where UKIP alone speaks to voters’ gut instincts, he claims. Some of them have well-established Asian Muslim minorities that remain semi-detached from their white residents—so concerns about immigration there are more cultural than economic”.

Interestingly the writer notes that “Farage is doing something British political leaders rarely do: thinking beyond the next election. Matthew Goodwin, the co-author of a book on UKIP, says its strategy is to come second in some 50 or 60 northern Labour seats this May and thus be in a position to win them at the next general election. That explains why, though its most immediately promising constituencies are southern, UKIP held its annual conference last year in Doncaster and why Mr Farage will spend much of the election campaign touring the north”.

Worryingly the piece goes on to note, “In the long term, UKIP’s prospects may be best there. Voters who switch from Labour to the party generally remain more loyal to it than do former Tories, observes Mr Goodwin. And as the main anti-Labour force in places like Rotherham it will face little competition. The Tories are electorally toxic and organisationally moribund there; and the Liberal Democrats have been tainted by association with them. If May’s election produces an unstable Labour government, Mr Farage’s party will stand a decent chance of sweeping to victory across the urban north in 2020”.

It is uncertain how many seats UKIP will gain, not many is the most likely answer. However, it will take much longer for Labour and the Tories to undo the years of neglect that have led people in Thanet and Margate to consider voting for such a party as UKIP when what they are really doing is demanding that the political class pay attention to them.

He ends “The success or failure of his strategy is bound to influence UKIP’s ideological direction. A party rooted in economically leftish constituencies where immigration is mainly a cultural issue will be markedly more statist and authoritarian than one rooted in coastal, Toryish seats where it is not—probably excessively so, for some libertarian, pro-market types in UKIP. Tilting northward could leave Mr Farage more powerful than ever, but with a fractious, divided party”.

Another UKIP MP

21/11/2014

Another UKIP MP has been directly elected. A report from the Telegraph notes “The UK Independence Party has its second MP in the House of Commons after Mark Reckless won the Rochester and Strood by-election. Mr Reckless, the constituency’s former Conservative MP who defected in September, won with a 2,930 majority after a bitter seven week campaign. The victory is further evidence that Ukip’s hold on British politics is strengthening after the party won the Clacton by-election last month”.

The report goes on to mention “The result is a bitter personal blow for David Cameron, the Prime Minister, who visited the seat five times in five weeks to try to swing it for his candidate Kelly Tolhurst. Counting in a large gym in Medway Park, Gillingham continued into the early hours of the morning, with the final result announced just after 4am. In the event, Mr Reckless won with 16,867 votes, ahead of Miss Tolhurst on 13,947 votes”.

The paper reports with almost unadulterated glee that “The Liberal Democrats’ woes continued, with the party’s candidate Geoff Juby winning just 349 votes. The LibDem tally was the lowest ever for the party in a by-election and the lowest too by a party which was in Government. The LibDems’ vote share collapsed by 95 per cent since 2010, from 16.3 per cent to just 0.9 per cent of the vote”.

The article goes on to mention the victory speech given by Reckless, “‘As we savour victory, think of this: Rochester and Strood was our 271st most winnable seat. If we can win here we can win across the country.’ Mr Reckless said he wanted to see a ‘block of Ukip MPs at Westminster large enough to hold the balance of power’. Arriving at the count Ukip leader Nigel Farage proclaimed that his party was now the third force in British politics”.

Thankfully such thinking is, and will remain in the realm of fantasy. The threat from UKIP is complex but not to be overestimated. The party feeds on discontent, the obvious example being the expenses scandal. It is also a victor of the levels of inequality in the UK that are supported by the City and the Conservative Party’s allegiance to a refusal to raise taxes and neoliberalism despite its painfully obvious flaws. The other aspect that is more complex is UKIPs supposedly clear ideology. It is certainly true they wish to leave the EU but beyond that there is little that is clear in their “manifesto” this is made worse by their ever changing policies on every issue.

The article adds “Mr Reckless is now due to return to the Commons next week as the party’s second MP. Douglas Carswell, another former Conservative, in October became Ukip’s first MP in the Commons after winning a by-election in Clacton. Senior Tories are now braced for more MPs to choose to join Ukip ahead of the election. Mr Reckless has said he has held secret talks in recent weeks with two Tories about joining Mr Farage’s party”.

Unless Cameron decides to confront the UKIP threat directly then he will continue to grow ever weaker.

End of the Swedish dream?

11/11/2014

A piece in Foreign Affairs argues that Sweden and perhaps the Nordic countries in general have lost their exceptional nature.

He begins noting that the recent Swedish general election “marked the end of eight years of center-conservative rule in Sweden. In a sense, the victory of a loose coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left Party, and the Green Party was surprising, not least because the ruling coalition, led by the Moderate Party, has been hailed for successfully navigating the 2007­–08 global financial crisis and then generating respectable economic growth over the last three years. Sweden’s public finances are among the healthiest in the OECD, and, although the government had to make some cuts to the country’s generous welfare system, it left its basic universal structure untouched. Even so, the leading party in the coalition, the Moderates, dropped from 30 to 23 percent. But what was also surprising is that, although Sweden’s left-leaning parties will form the next government, they didn’t do as well as many predicted”.

He goes on to make the point that “Even against a background of sharply increasing economic inequality and the Swedish population’s enduring support for their country’s social welfare programs, the Social Democrats reached only 31 percent. For a party that used to score above 40 percent, this is a dramatic change”.

He adds later that “the Sweden Democrats, a populist anti-immigrant party, which won 13 percent of the vote, more than double its share in the 2010 election. Sweden Democrats is now the third-largest party in parliament, but the other seven parties refuse to enter into any political or budgetary negotiations with it. That will make politics all the more complicated and could force a new election as early as next year, something that would be extremely unusual in Swedish politics”.

He poses the question about why the centre-right did not do better, “probably a combination of political fatigue and rising economic inequality. After eight years in power, the center-conservative coalition seems to have run out of steam. In the run-up to this election, it dropped one of its main vote-winning policies: tax cuts for those who work. The idea was that such tax cuts, combined with a decrease in unemployment insurance benefits and a tightening of sickness benefits, would increase the incentives to hold down a job and lower unemployment”.

He makes the point that “whereas Sweden used to have the lowest level of economic inequality within the OECD, a recent report shows that it has lately been beaten by five others. The increase in economic inequality during the last decade was greater in Sweden than in almost all other OECD countries. In other words, the neoliberal trickle-down economics of the governing coalition didn’t work — a major problem for the coalition throughout the election campaign”.

There is however a conundrum. Many of these trends do not start in ten years but have long roots that get build on and decision after decision. Sweden has had Social Democratic governments for much of its recent history but inequality has continued to rise. Unless the new government can reverse, or even halt, this worrying trend questions about the entire Swedish political class and the ideologies on which their party system is based will be asked.

He goes on to write that “For its part, the left was hurt by the replacement of the traditional class-based left-right divide in politics with what is known as the GAL-TAN divide: Green­–Alternative–Liberal versus Tradition–Authoritarian–Nationalist. This is a process familiar in many postindustrial societies, including the other Nordic countries and also Belgium and the Netherlands. This is a new political landscape in which traditional economic issues to a large extent are replaced by lifestyle and identity issues. From a sociological perspective, most of the people who used to vote for the Social Democrats — blue-collar workers and the lower middle class — now vote for the Sweden Democrats. They have found themselves on the losing side of a new globalized service and high-tech economy, and they have become politically alienated by what they think is a bundle of elitist political projects”.

He posits the rise in the Sweden Democrats as a result of the fact that “as a percentage of its population, Sweden has accepted more refugees (and relatives of refugees) than any other European country. The influx from conflict-ridden regions such as the Middle East and North Africa has increased competition for housing and employment. And the comparatively generous social benefit system and lack of low-skilled jobs has resulted in a large number of refugees and other immigrants living on welfare. Sparked by discrimination and lack of opportunity, Sweden has also faced the same type of ethnic riots that shook France’s suburbs a few years ago. It is not surprising, then, that a party mobilizing support with xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment is on the rise”.

He finishes the piece “So far, the conservative-led coalition has not been successful in addressing the problem of how to integrate these new groups. And the left has refused to acknowledge that Sweden has an integration problem and has also, failed to produce policies that could change the situation. The left’s strategy of labeling the Sweden Democrats as racists and fascists backfired. The election results reveal the weakness of this strategy”.

He ends “This election is thus a turning point. It stands to reason that Sweden will continue to be at the high end of almost all rankings of success — population health, living standards, innovation, gender equality, and so on. But the days of what has become known as Swedish exceptionalism are over. The country no longer has an exceptionally strong social democracy. Its level of inequality is no longer exceptionally low, and its level of public spending will no longer be exceptionally high. From now on, it will probably be closer to average. And what that will do to Sweden’s long-established political and intellectual identity is anyone’s guess”.

Divided Brazil

03/11/2014

On the recent narrow re-election of Dilam Rousseff as president of Brazil a piece discusses the Brazilian presidential election.

It starts “Close elections in corrupt countries stink. Sure, it’s great to see a peaceful transfer of power, especially when the numbers are on a knife-edge. But the result that Brazil has just produced in its presidential election — 51.4 percent for Dilma Rousseff to 48.5 percent for Aécio Neves — is about as destructive as can be. One reason is that someone, not always the candidate, usually cries foul. When the incumbent wins by such a slim margin, it’s easy to suspect that the result has been fixed. This is particularly true in a country where a 2012 survey found that only 46 percent of people trusted their government. (On the plus side, that number was up 8 percent from 2007, and many wealthier and less corrupt countries scored worse). To make matters worse, both candidates cited polls showing they were winning shortly before the election. Neves’s preferred pollster had him up by 16 percentage points just two weeks ago. How will he explain the disappearance of such a huge lead? He won’t have to if people start talking about fraud and malfeasance”.

He goes on to write “Another problem with the result is that half of the country has just been galvanised in opposition to the government. Even before the election, mass protests by people disappointed with the government swept Brazil, accompanied by rioting anarchists and police brutality.  Brazil is not in a situation where it can simply rest on its laurels, either economically or politically. After enormous progress in the early years of Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, growth in living standards since she took over has been anemic. Nor did the first two years of her mandate (later data are as yet unavailable) offer much reduction in income inequality“.

The author adds that since Rousseff was elected “according to Freedom House’s worldwide index, there has been no significant improvement in civil rights in Brazil since 2005. In the World Bank’s figures, the quality of governance — things like the people’s voice, the accountability of the government, the rule of law, and control of corruption — has been steady or possibly declined since Rousseff took office. The question is whether, with close to the minimum mandate and little to show for her first term, she will be able to effect any noticeable changes in her second. Her task is still more difficult because global investors have had such little faith in her in the first place, and such high hopes for Neves. From its peak after the first round of the election, when the poll showing him with a lead of 16 points came out, until the runoff, the Bovespa stock index tumbled by 10 percent — much of it on the day a less partisan poll showed Rousseff with a slim lead. The day after the election, the Bovespa dropped another 6 percent in morning trading before recovering about two-thirds of the loss”.

The writer turns to Neves and notes that “His platform was typical of center-right corporatists: reduce inflation, cut waste in government spending, float the currency, and reform the tax system — all with the goal of restoring the economy’s vigor. Essentially, he would have been picking up where Lula’s predecessor (from Neves’s party), Fernando Henrique Cardoso, left off. By contrast, Rousseff couldn’t dump her party’s baggage of popular but ineffective subsidies; nor could she staunch continuing allegations of the internal corruption that also plagued her predecessor. This is not to denigrate the important part that Lula, and to a lesser degree Rousseff, played in Brazil’s political and economic history. Struggling to move on from the impeachment of its first popularly elected president since the end of military dictatorship, the country reaped a wealth of benefits after Cardoso began to modernize its economic policies; he brought inflation under control and began to open Brazil’s markets to the world. But the center-left governments that followed legitimised his policies by redistributing some of the gains through welfare programs and looser credit”.

He ends “Rousseff will have to earn him that third term. For now, given her record, the odds of Neves running again and winning must be quite high. He’s only 54, and hey — it took Lula four attempts to win the country’s highest office”.

 

Inequality in America

08/02/2014

A piece in the Economist from September 2013 discusses income inequality. He opens that a host “of new statistics on American living standards offers some grounds for optimism. A typical American household’s income has stopped falling for the first time in five years, and the poverty rate has stopped rising. At last, it seems, the expansion is strong enough at least to stabilise ordinary people’s incomes. But the main message is a grim one. Most of the growth is going to an extraordinarily small share of the population: 95% of the gains from the recovery have gone to the richest 1% of people, whose share of overall income is once again close to its highest level in a century. The most unequal country in the rich world is thus becoming even more so”.

It writes, “the recent concentration of income gains among the most affluent is both politically dangerous and economically damaging. The political worry is a descent into angry populism. Americans are not about to string up the wealthy, but there is growing evidence of fury—witness the Democratic left’s vilification of Larry Summers, a progressive economist who this week felt compelled to withdraw his candidacy for the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve, largely because he was seen as too soft on Wall Street. Inequality can be a symptom of inefficiency. The implicit subsidy provided to banks that governments judge too big to fail allows bankers to overpay themselves. And a highly skewed distribution can lower growth, if it translates into less equality of opportunity for the next generation. This seems to be happening. The gap in test scores between rich and poor children is 30-40% wider than it was 25 years ago”.

It argues that help for the youth is crucial, “Many of the underlying causes of the growing gap between rich and poor—fast technological change and the rapid globalisation of the economy—are deep-seated and likely to persist. Tyler Cowen of George Mason University thinks the population will soon be divided into two groups: those who are good at working with intelligent machines, and those who can be replaced by them (see Lexington). The former will prosper; the latter will play a lot of video games. Plenty of American politicians worry about inequality, but few offer constructive ways of dealing with it. Democrats tend to turn to bromide leftist solutions, whether a higher minimum wage or another rise in tax rates on the rich. Too many Republicans, meanwhile, simply deny that there is a problem”.

The implicit rejection of a higher minimum wage and tax rises is both unfair and unjust. Both have long term consequences that fundamentally makes the world a less unfair place.

The author notes that “The attack on favours for the wealthy ought to start with the budget. America’s tax code is riddled with distortions that favour the rich, from the loopholes benefiting private equity to the mortgage-interest deduction (an enormous subsidy for those who buy big houses). A simpler, flatter code with no exemptions would be more efficient and more progressive. A blast of deregulation would help, too. Many of America’s most lucrative occupations are shielded by pointlessly restrictive rules (think doctors and lawyers). Investment in the young should focus on early education. Pre-school is a crucial first step to improving the lot of disadvantaged children, and America is an international laggard. According to the OECD, it ranks only 28th out of 38 leading economies in the proportion of four-year-olds in education. Mr Obama has a plan to push universal pre-school. The details are imperfect, but it is a goal that Republicans should embrace”.

It ends fairly, “Equality of outcome will always be a fantasy, but America should do more to spread opportunity widely. A society without hand-ups won’t have much hope”.

“A harsh critique”

27/11/2013

Pope Francis launched a harsh critique against “trickle-down” economics and an unrestricted free market Tuesday, as he lamented the growing issue of income inequality. In a new writing, the leader of the Catholic Church identified current economic conditions as a major challenge facing the globe. In particular, he argued that the “idolatry of money” in society has created a class of people who are basically disposable”.

“Passed a critical test of support”

09/11/2013

A bill banning workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people has passed a critical test of support in the US Senate, 17 years after a similar bill failed by a single vote. The Democratic-led Senate voted 61-30 to open debate on the legislation, with several Republicans backing it. The bill is expected to win final Senate passage as early as this week. The White House strongly supports the measure, but its future in the Republican-led House remains unclear. The Senate rejected comparable legislation by one vote in 1996. But on Monday, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or Enda, received bipartisan support and reached the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a procedural roadblock set up by Republican opponents. In the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, has voiced opposition to the bill, saying it could lead to lawsuits and hinder job creation. The proposed legislation bars employers with 15 or more workers from making employment decisions – hiring, firing or compensation – based on sexual orientation or gender identity”.

Domestic understretch

20/10/2013

James Traub has written a piece on the consequences of the shutdown for America and the world. Traub begins his article arguing that “Americans will find themselves witnessing the same melodrama in three months unless Congress agrees on a long-term fiscal plan, which seems, to put it gently, damn unlikely. For another, Americans have been stumbling in a fog of their own devising for the last generation or so. The end is not nigh; but the decline is”.

He goes on to say the far from overstretch as in Paul Kennedy’s book he writes that “That feels like the wrong diagnosis. First of all, unrestrained defense spending in the aftermath of 9/11 has not come close to bankrupting the United States, though it has certainly squandered precious resources. Second, Americans have contracted a severe case of indigestion from President George W. Bush’s vain attempt to swallow significant portions of the Middle East; they are now spitting out the remnants. Empire is an unnatural condition for the United States, and withdrawal to its continental fortress is an almost inevitable response to fears of overstretch. If anything, it is the new national suspicion of engagement, the mood of sullen disenchantment, that marks the country’s decline. Americans don’t want to shoulder the burdens of global leadership; they want the world, along with its demands, to go away”.

He is certainly correct in saying that America’s military buildup did not bankrupt America but he is incorrect in pointing the figure at President Bush in the “attempt to swallow significant portions of the Middle East”, whatever that means. President Clinton was happy to use American power in Somalia, Haiti, and Serbia but paid little heed to the embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole or a host of other terrorist attacks that should have warned him of something to come. Instead he did nothing. If President Bush went too far in an attempt to overcorrect for Clinton’s mistakes than so be it but to bemoan the fact when his predcessor did so little seems, at best, unfair.

Traub is right to say that empire in unnatural for America but he overestimates the power of isolationism in the body politic, and more importantly beyond it, with current with blowhards like Cruz and Paul sucking up the most media attention. However, like most things when the economy improves the desire to pull up the rope ladder will, thankfully become considerably less.

He adds that “We need a word more like “understretch” to describe the national condition. The problem does not lie with too-muchness abroad but with too-littleness at home. And the source of the problem is not an overambitious state but an implacable hostility to the operations of the state. Kennedy also writes that while America’s laissez-faire culture and economy make it better able to adjust to rapid change than are more dirigiste societies, doing so ‘depends upon the existence of a national leadership which can understand the larger processes at work in the world today.’ The deliberations of Congress — not just in recent days but in recent years — vividly show the danger of wrongheaded leadership”.

This is undoutbedly true. He goes on to make the valid point that “The near default, the shutdown of the government, the sequestration of budget funds — these are just the latest symptoms of a political, but also psychological, disease. The leadership of the Republican Party– and not just the Tea Party faction — believes that the federal government is bad. It has believed that at least since Newt Gingrich overthrew the party’s moderate leadership in 1994. In 2012, Mitt Romney, a Republican centrist, ran for president on a platform that would have reduced federal spending to 20 percent of GDP, 2 percentage points lower than it was during the time of small-government apostle Ronald Reagan — even though Medicare costs were a small fraction then of what they are today. (Matt Miller of the Washington Post has long been an eloquent voice on this madness, as for example here.) To accommodate deep tax cuts, Romney would have eliminated much of the federal government beyond the Pentagon. That is now the orthodoxy of one of America’s two political parties. Meanwhile, the United States is falling behind in crucial areas where it led not long ago. The national store of human capital is diminishing as average rates of literacy and numerical understanding plummet in comparison with rates in other countries, as a recent OECD report demonstrated. A smaller percentage of Americans now both attend and graduate from college than in many Western countries. Crumbling infrastructure increases transaction costs; just compare the trip to JFK airport to the commute to almost any other global airport. The United States still leads the world in spending on research and development, but China has closed much of a formerly immense gap, and many countries now spend more as a percentage of GDP”.

Traub does make the valid point that “The United States is losing its position of global leadership because it is refusing to make investments that its competitors are making. In this regard, congressional Republicans may have lost the battle, but they’ve won the war. President Barack Obama agreed to accept the massive tax cuts his predecessor instituted in order to conclude a budget deal in 2011; since then, he has played on the Republican side of the field. Obama has never found, and perhaps will never find, the language needed to convince Americans that they cannot offer decent prospects to their children without a drastic change in priorities”.

He concludes the piece “Historian Edward Gibbon argued that Rome ultimately fell for moral reasons — because an ethos of patriotism and civic virtue gave way to selfishness and apathy (and lost out to the otherworldly focus of Christianity). Americans from the time of George Washington have worried that citizens would sink into a Roman torpor. That hasn’t quite happened either; Americans remain wedded to their republican virtues. Yet they don’t believe in the United States as an ongoing national project as they once did. Perhaps extreme inequality has loosened the strong stays of shared purpose so that we are predisposed to believe that virtue resides only in the individual, not in the community or collective. Thus, we redistribute resources to the individual, which of course only reinforces inequality. We respond to leaders who address us as separate, indissoluble atoms. Gibbon, who distrusted democracy, would probably say that Americans have become too individualistic”.

If, and hopefully when, America leaves this phase in its history and becomes a political class that can work together then it can still accomplish much more than any of its supposed competitors or China.

The model to follow

11/05/2013

An article in the Economist published some time ago notes the that the Nordic model has become, rightly followed. It opens “The Nordics cluster at the top of league tables of everything from economic competitiveness to social health to happiness. They have avoided both southern Europe’s economic sclerosis and America’s extreme inequality. Development theorists have taken to calling successful modernisation ‘getting to Denmark'”.

The article goes on to note that some of this attention is simply a matter of timing, “our special report this week explains, some of this is down to lucky timing: the Nordics cleverly managed to have their debt crisis in the 1990s. But the second reason why the Nordic model is in vogue is more interesting. To politicians around the world—especially in the debt-ridden West—they offer a blueprint of how to reform the public sector, making the state far more efficient and responsive”.

Yet, while it should not be forgotten that while the Scandinavian countries are a model to follow in terms of poverty, equality, good governance and a host of other examples, they are also exceptionally business friendly. Therefore they have low (business) taxes, flexible labour laws, and increasingly weak trade unions. However, the reason that this model works is that the societies are incredibly cohesive, partly as a result of their small size, and partly due to the beneficial hangover of

The article mentions, “The idea of lean Nordic government will come as a shock both to French leftists who dream of socialist Scandinavia and to American conservatives who fear that Barack Obama is bent on “Swedenisation”. They are out of date. In the 1970s and 1980s the Nordics were indeed tax-and-spend countries. Sweden’s public spending reached 67% of GDP in 1993. Astrid Lindgren, the inventor of Pippi Longstocking, was forced to pay more than 100% of her income in taxes. But tax-and-spend did not work: Sweden fell from being the fourth-richest country in the world in 1970 to the 14th in 1993″.

It then adds, “Since then the Nordics have changed course—mainly to the right. Government’s share of GDP in Sweden, which has dropped by around 18 percentage points, is lower than France’s and could soon be lower than Britain’s. Taxes have been cut: the corporate rate is 22%, far lower than America’s. The Nordics have focused on balancing the books. While Mr Obama and Congress dither over entitlement reform, Sweden has reformed its pension system (see Free exchange). Its budget deficit is 0.3% of GDP; America’s is 7%. On public services the Nordics have been similarly pragmatic. So long as public services work, they do not mind who provides them. Denmark and Norway allow private firms to run public hospitals. Sweden has a universal system of school vouchers, with private for-profit schools competing with public schools. Denmark also has vouchers—but ones that you can top up. When it comes to choice, Milton Friedman would be more at home in Stockholm than in Washington, DC”.

However, to balance against this (regulated) neoliberalism they have taken the best the left has to offer, “the Nordics also offer something for the progressive left by proving that it is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state: they employ 30% of their workforce in the public sector, compared with an OECD average of 15%. They are stout free-traders who resist the temptation to intervene even to protect iconic companies: Sweden let Saab go bankrupt and Volvo is now owned by China’s Geely. But they also focus on the long term—most obviously through Norway’s $600 billion sovereign-wealth fund—and they look for ways to temper capitalism’s harsher effects. Denmark, for instance, has a system of “flexicurity” that makes it easier for employers to sack people but provides support and training for the unemployed, and Finland organises venture-capital networks”.

The article bemoans the fact that public spending as a percent of GDP is too high and the level of taxes are “encourage entrepreneurs to move abroad” but whatever about the first point the second should be disregarded. As part of the social contract the only way that these societies have kept such high levels of state legitimacy, unlike some, and at the same time been flexible and market friendly is through high taxes. The fact that some young people move abroad to more neoliberal countries cannot be helped but it would be interesting to see how many return to their home countries when they begin their working lives in earnest.

The piece ends “The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical. The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Swede pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he gets decent schools and free health care. The Nordics have pushed far-reaching reforms past unions and business lobbies. The proof is there. You can inject market mechanisms into the welfare state to sharpen its performance. You can put entitlement programmes on sound foundations to avoid beggaring future generations. But you need to be willing to root out corruption and vested interests. And you must be ready to abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and right and forage for good ideas across the political spectrum. The world will be studying the Nordic model for years to come”.

 

The problems of capitalism

24/02/2013

The major article in the most recent Foreign Affairs entitled “Capitalism and Inequality” argues that “Recent political debate in the United States and other advanced capitalist democracies has been dominated by two issues: the rise of economic inequality and the scale of government intervention to address it. As the 2012 U.S. presidential election and the battles over the ‘fiscal cliff’ have demonstrated, the central focus of the left today is on increasing government taxing and spending, primarily to reverse the growing stratification of society, whereas the central focus of the right is on decreasing taxing and spending, primarily to ensure economic dynamism. Each side minimizes the concerns of the other, and each seems to believe that its desired policies are sufficient to ensure prosperity and social stability. Both are wrong”.

It goes to say “Inequality is indeed increasing almost everywhere in the postindustrial capitalist world. But despite what many on the left think, this is not the result of politics, nor is politics likely to reverse it, for the problem is more deeply rooted and intractable than generally recognized. Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist activity, and expanding equality of opportunity only increases it”. While he is correct in the sense that inequality is rising, with both the bottom and middle suffering the most with the very wealthiest losing least, or in many cases, actually gaining. It would be wrong to say that the only reason for this was capitalism but the kind of capitalism that has been worshipped over the last 20 years, or maybe more, has greatly worsened the level of inequality in many societies. This change in capitalism has itself come about with as a result of the changing nature of the economy and the work that more people are doing. It is far more skilled, even at low levels than it was previously which in turn has meant greater emphasis on education. Yet while many more than ever before have gained university degrees the wealthiest have gone further still thereby enhancing their advantage. There is nothing wrong with parents doing this for their children but there must then be a counter balance to this in order to mitigate and lessen this effect.

He goes on to write “Despite what many on the right think, however, this is a problem for everybody, not just those who are doing poorly or those who are ideologically committed to egalitarianism — because if left unaddressed, rising inequality and economic insecurity can erode social order and generate a populist backlash against the capitalist system at large”. He rightly praises capitalism for raising living standards and reducing poverty but goes on to warn “Capitalism’s intrinsic dynamism, however, produces insecurity along with benefits, and so its advance has always met resistance. Much of the political and institutional history of capitalist societies, in fact, has been the record of attempts to ease or cushion that insecurity, and it was only the creation of the modern welfare state in the middle of the twentieth century that finally enabled capitalism and democracy to coexist in relative harmony”.

He goes on to state rather controversially “If capitalism has opened up ever more opportunities for the development of human potential, however, not everyone has been able to take full advantage of those opportunities or progress far once they have done so. Formal or informal barriers to equality of opportunity, for example, have historically blocked various sectors of the population — such as women, minorities, and the poor — from benefiting fully from all capitalism offers. But over time, in the advanced capitalist world, those barriers have gradually been lowered or removed, so that now opportunity is more equally available than ever before. The inequality that exists today, therefore, derives less from the unequal availability of opportunity than it does from the unequal ability to exploit opportunity”.

He adds “All this progress, however, has been shadowed by capitalism’s perennial features of inequality and insecurity. In 1973, the sociologist Daniel Bell noted that in the advanced capitalist world, knowledge, science, and technology were driving a transformation to what he termed “postindustrial society.” Just as manufacturing had previously displaced agriculture as the major source of employment, he argued, so the service sector was now displacing manufacturing”.

He rightly goes on to mention the role of the family in society and its subesquent economic effects, “In the United States, among the most striking developments of recent decades has been the stratification of marriage patterns among the various classes and ethnic groups of society. When divorce laws were loosened in the 1960s, there was a rise in divorce rates among all classes. But by the 1980s, a new pattern had emerged: divorce declined among the more educated portions of the populace, while rates among the less-educated portions continued to rise. In addition, the more educated and more well-to-do were more likely to wed, while the less educated were less likely to do so. Given the family’s role as an incubator of human capital, such trends have had important spillover effects on inequality. Abundant research shows that children raised by two parents in an ongoing union are more likely to develop the self-discipline and self-confidence that make for success in life”.

He goes on to argue that education is not necessarily the answer “even though a higher percentage of Americans are attending college, they are not necessarily learning more. An increasing number are unqualified for college-level work, many leave without completing their degrees, and others receive degrees reflecting standards much lower than what a college degree has usually been understood to mean”, he adds “formal schooling itself plays a relatively minor role in creating or perpetuating achievement gaps”.

The answer to this he says is not greater redistribtuion which he argues “has two drawbacks, however. The first is that over time, the very forces that lead to greater inequality reassert themselves, requiring still more, or more aggressive, redistribution. The second is that at some point, redistribution produces substantial resentment and impedes the drivers of economic growth. Some degree of postmarket redistribution through taxation is both possible and necessary, but just how much is ideal will inevitably be contested”.

Whatever about his idea that greater redistribution will mean more redistrubition the second point that it “impedes the drivers of economic growth” is laughable.

The second solution which he also rejects is “using government policy to close the gaps between individuals and groups by offering preferential treatment to underperformers, may be worse than the disease. Whatever their purported benefits, mandated rewards to certain categories of citizens inevitably create a sense of injustice among the rest of the population. More grave is their cost in terms of economic efficiency”. Again this logic is questionable, to say the least.

The recommended cure for capitalism, he says, is more capitalism, “encouraging continued economic innovation that will benefit everybody, is more promising. The combination of the Internet and computational revolutions may prove comparable to the coming of electricity, which facilitated an almost unimaginable range of other activities that transformed society at large in unpredictable ways. Among other gains, the Internet has radically increased the velocity of knowledge, a key factor in capitalist economic growth since at least the eighteenth century. Add to that the prospects of other fields still in their infancy, such as biotechnology, bioinformatics, and nanotechnology, and the prospects for future economic growth and the ongoing improvement of human life look reasonably bright. Nevertheless, even continued innovation and revived economic growth will not eliminate or even significantly reduce socioeconomic inequality and insecurity, because individual, family, and group differences will still affect the development of human capital and professional accomplishment”.

“Throw up difficulties”

09/01/2013

After the succession has been altered in a number of European monarchies to allow the first born child regardless of gender take the throne, the plan was announced in the United Kingdom amid much fanfare and talk of modernity and fairness. Now however, after being silent for so long, the traditional rules have been defended by HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales who is heir to the current monarch.

An article notes that “Lord Carey shares the worries of Prince Charles, who is thought to believe that changing the rules which give male heir priority could throw up difficulties. He, along with other leading members of the clergy, believe the Prime Minister’s plan to remove a ban on an heir to the throne marrying a Roman Catholic could upset a ‘delicate constitutional balance’. If the planned changes go ahead, it raises the prospect of a future heir being brought up as a Catholic. This would result in the difficult scenario of the next heir, due to inherit the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England, being a Catholic and therefore barred from the throne. They fear the changes will lead to confusion and have been in talks with ministers over the issue, officials at Lambeth Palace said”.

The piece goes on to say “Officials at Lambeth Palace also pointed to comments made by Dr Rowan Williams, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury until he stepped down last month, about the necessity of any heir to the throne being raised in the Church of England rather than as a Catholic. Dr Williams said: ‘If we’re quite clear that, so long as the monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, there needs to be a clear understanding that the heir is brought up in that environment.’ Prince Charles is said to back the principle of changing the law so that if the child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is a girl she would become Queen, if it commands popular support”.

This is especially noteworthy as Rowan Williams, now archbishop emeritus of Canterbury and an academic at the University of Cambridge was almost without thinking on the Left, both doctrinally and politically. He recently compared the birth of Jesus to a tweet and seemed to think things that were new and modern were automatically good and should be embraced. Therefore, to have him voice serious concerns, hinting that if equal succession was to proceed, then there should be little point in retaining the Church of England as the established church shows just how seriously Williams takes the issue.

The article ends, mentionig that Prince Charles, “reportedly raised concerns in a private meeting with Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, about what would happen if his grandchild were to be allowed to marry a Roman Catholic, as the Government has proposed. The prince’s concerns could deal a blow to plans to change the royal succession law, after David Cameron struck a deal with the 15 other countries where the Queen is head of state that the rules must be overhauled”.

The relentless march of “modernity” has taken a hit. Either Cameron must now withdraw the plan or disestablish the Church of England entirely, a decision which even he would not contemplate.

Give me taxes, or give me death

28/12/2012

In an excellent article in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs Andrea Louise Campbell, discusses the tax policy in the United States. This topic has already been discussed here before yet Campbell gives greater depth to the issue.

She writes that “Democrats think Washington can and should play a more active part, using taxation, regulation, and spending to keep the economy growing while protecting vulnerable citizens from the ravages of volatile markets. Republicans, in contrast, think Washington already does too much; they want to scale government back to liberate markets and spur economic dynamism”.

She goes on to argue that “Compared with other developed countries, the United States has very low taxes, little redistribution of income, and an extraordinarily complex tax code. These three aspects of American exceptionalism deserve more attention than they typically receive”. In the article she gives a graph showing total tax revenues as a percentage of GDP. Denmark tops the list at 48.1% with Sweden second and Italy third at 43.8%. Various countries follow, Belgium, Norway, Austria, Finland, France. America comes third from the bottom at 24.1%, just above Chile at 18.4% and Mexico at 17.4%.

She writes that “The first striking feature of the fiscal state of the United States, when compared with those of other developed countries, is its small size. As of 2009, among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a collection of the world’s most economically advanced democracies, the United States had the third-lowest ratio of taxes to GDP (see chart). But it is important to look at pre-recession data, which better reflect long-term trends. In 2006, before the financial crisis struck, OECD tax statistics showed that total taxes in the United States — at all levels of government: federal, state, and local — were 27.9 percent of GDP, three-quarters the percentages in Germany and the United Kingdom and about half of those in Denmark and Sweden”.

She goes on to write persuasively, “The reason for this discrepancy is not that the United States has lower personal income tax revenues than its OECD counterparts. In fact, in 2006, personal income taxes at the federal, state, and local levels in the United States came to 10.1 percent of GDP, just above the OECD average of 9.2 percent. Instead, the disparity results from the low effective rates — or nonexistence — of other forms of taxation. To take one example, in 2006, the U.S. corporate income tax at all levels of government collected 3.4 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 3.8 percent across the OECD”.

Indeed, much of the reason, though obviously, not all, is as a result of he voodoo economics of President Reagan and the infamous Laffer curve, which seemingly by magic, or voodoo, promised high tax collection rates as a direct result of lower tax rates. Naturally enough those that benefited most from whatever tax cuts did take place were the wealthiest which in turn concentrated wealth further in the hands of a smaller and smaller group of people. Both President Clinton and President Bush carried on this disastrous legacy of Reagan into the twenty first century.

Campbell goes on to write “U.S. tax revenue is not only low but also consistently low, having equaled roughly the same share of the economy for 60 years. Since the tremendous growth of the federal government during World War II, federal tax revenues have hovered around 18 percent of GDP. This stability has also proved to be true of state and local tax levels, which have fluctuated between eight and ten percent of GDP over the same period”.

Therefore for someone to argue about ever increasing taxes and the biggest tax increase in history as some commentators famously did is utterly false and should be treated with utter disdain. She adds “n 1965, total tax revenues stood at about 25 percent of GDP in the United States and across the rest of the OECD. But by 2000, tax revenue represented 30 percent of GDP in the United States and 37 percent in the rest of the OECD”.

These figures, added to Reagan’s mistake, which has been built on by both parties, has lead to the situation America is in currently. Campbell goes on to argue “according to a report issued by the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2000 and 2005, on average, U.S. businesses paid an effective tax rate of only 13 percent, nearly three percent below the OECD average and the lowest rate among the G-7 countries. Whereas corporate tax revenues have fallen, revenues from payroll taxes for programs such as Social Security and Medicare have grown”.

She goes on to write “The largest tax reductions from these changes went to high-income households. In fact, the United States currently taxes top earners at some of the lowest effective rates in the country’s history. Data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) show that the top one percent of taxpayers paid an average federal income tax rate of 23 percent in 2008, about one-third less than they paid in 1980, despite the fact that their incomes are now much higher in both real and relative terms. Although the rich enjoyed by far the largest tax cuts, the middle class is also paying lower taxes. In 2011, the effective federal income tax rate for a family of four with a median income was just 5.6 percent, compared with 12 percent in 1980”. She writes later in the paragraph “the individual income tax now constitutes a smaller share of the economy than it did 30 years ago, falling from 10.4 percent of GDP in 1981 to 8.8 percent in 2005. By permitting extensive loopholes, failing to create effective consumption taxes, and cutting individual income taxes, the United States has created a tax system that collects far less revenue relative to GDP than many of its OECD counterparts”.

Campbell goes on to note depressingly, “Although the 2008 financial crisis reduced the incomes of the top one percent in the United States by a fifth, by 2010 their earnings had largely recovered. And wealth is even more concentrated than income. According to the economist Edward Wolff, in 2007, the top one percent in the country earned just over 20 percent of all income but held more than 30 percent of all wealth. As the top has risen, the bottom and the middle have faltered. Congressional Budget Office data show that between 1979 and 2007, before-tax incomes increased by 240 percent for the top one percent but by just 20 percent for the middle fifth of earners and by ten percent for the bottom fifth. Although the bottom 90 percent lost less income than the top one percent as a result of the financial crisis, their earnings have not recovered as much as those of the top earners”.

If America is to continue to shoulder the burdens of the world it must do what is right at home. If taxes do not rise then who will the world turn to lead it?

Death of the dream

23/11/2012

Confirmation has finally come after many years suspecting it, the American Dream is dead, and has been for decades.

An article in Foreign Affairs argues this and elobrates on this theme. She argues that during the recent presidential campaign both GOP and Democrats wanted to promote opportunity. She notes that “In remarks in Chicago in August, Obama called for an ‘America where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, no matter who you love, you can make it here if you try.’ The same month, he urged the Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action in public universities, putting his weight behind what has been a mainstay of U.S. equal opportunity legislation since the 1960s. Days later, the Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, echoed Obama’s sentiment, saying, ‘We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.’ Romney, too, argued that whereas Obama ‘wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society,'”

She mentions that “one of the United States’ major successes in the last half century has been its progress toward ensuring that its citizens get roughly the same basic chances in life, regardless of gender or race”. She adds “women are more likely to graduate from college than men” as well as some other related statistics. Yet these results are mainly from the Great Compression in the 1950s and 1960s. However, since the 1970s and 80s worldwide inequality has risen sharply since the rise of neoliberalism and effectively zero regulation. She adds that “As gender and race have become less significant barriers to advancement, family background, an obstacle considered more relevant in earlier eras, has reemerged. Today, people who were born worse off tend to have fewer opportunities in life”.

The article goes on to add that ” there is general consensus among social scientists on a few basic points. First, an American born into a family in the bottom fifth of incomes between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s has roughly a 30 percent chance of reaching the middle fifth or higher in adulthood, whereas an American born into the top fifth has an 80 percent chance of ending up in the middle fifth or higher. (In a society with perfectly equal opportunity, every person would have the same chance — 20 percent — of landing on each of the five rungs of the income ladder and a 60 percent chance of landing on the middle rung or a higher one.) This discrepancy means that there is considerable inequality of opportunity among Americans from different family backgrounds”. She the goes on to mention, not suprisingly, that “The United States has less relative intergenerational mobility than eight of them; Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom all do better. The United States is on par with France and Italy”.

She makes the point that education in America was greatly expanded in the 50s and 60s which raised living standards for people, yet she adds “The share of poorer children growing up with both biological parents has fallen sharply, whereas there has been less change among the wealthy. About 88 percent of children from high-income homes grow up with married parents. That is down from 96 percent four decades ago. Meanwhile, only 41 percent of poorer children grow up in homes with married parents, down from 77 percent four decades ago. That has hurt poorer children’s chances of success”.

Indeed this social and familial decay is becoming increasingly prevelant in more developed countries as the corrosive force of individualism eats into society. This both attacks the family as well as people seeking to start a family with the relentless drive for money which has now proven to be socially and morally corrosive.

She argues that “Low-income parents are not able to spend as much on goods and services aimed at enriching their children, such as music lessons, travel, and summer camp. Low-income parents also tend to read less to their children and provide less help with schoolwork” adding that this trend is seen again, “According to data compiled by Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s School of Education, the gap in average test scores between elementary- and secondary-school children from high-income families and those from low-income families has risen steadily in recent decades. Among children born in 1970, those from high-income homes scored, on average, about three-quarters of a standard deviation higher on math and reading tests than those from low-income homes. Among children born in 2000, the gap has grown to one and a quarter standard deviations. That is much larger than the gap between white and black children”.

The same is true for university, she argues noting “The share of young adults from high-income homes that got a four-year college degree rose from 36 percent in the first group to 54 percent in the second group. The share from low-income homes, however, stayed almost flat, rising only from five percent to nine percent. When it comes time to get a job, the story is no better”.

She writes that “A universal system of affordable, educational child care and preschool could help close the capability gap that opens up during the early years of life”, again she argues that education is key, “Among Americans whose family incomes at birth are in the bottom fifth but who get four-year college degrees, 53 percent end up in the middle fifth or higher. That is pretty close to the 60 percent chance they would have with perfectly equal opportunity. Washington needs to do better at helping people from less-advantaged homes afford college. The average in-state tuition at an American four-year public university exceeds $8,000. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, attending four-year public universities is free”.

One of the simplest ways to begin to reduce the inequality is to raise taxes and a country that is clearly undertaxed.

Looking for a new economic model

12/10/2012

The rising gap between rich and poor (and the fear of socialist revolution) spawned a wave of reforms, from Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting to Lloyd George’s People’s Budget. Governments promoted competition, introduced progressive taxation and wove the first threads of a social safety net. The aim of this new ‘Progressive era’, as it was known in America, was to make society fairer without reducing its entrepreneurial vim”. It adds “as our special report this week argues, inequality has reached a stage where it can be inefficient and bad for growth”.

Same as before

16/02/2012

An interesting article on how homosexuality is viewed in the Islamic world reveals a pattern of history repeating itself.

It mentions how “Of the seven countries that impose the death penalty for homosexuality, all are Muslim. Even when gays do not face execution, persecution is endemic. In 2010 a Saudi man was sentenced to 500 lashes and five years in jail for having sex with another man. In February last year, police in Bahrain arrested scores of men, mostly other Gulf nationals, at a ‘gay party'”.

It goes on to note how there is something of a double standard with “Gay life in the open in Muslim-majority countries is rare, but the closet is spacious. Countries with fierce laws, such as Saudi Arabia, also have flourishing gay scenes at all levels of society. Syria’s otherwise fearsome police rarely arrest gays. Sibkeh park in Damascus is a tree-filled children’s playground during the day. By night it is known for the young men who linger on its benches or walls. Wealthy Afghans buy bachabazi, (dancing boys) as catamites”.

At the same time it notes the current situation across much of the Middle East. “where homosexuality is legal (as in Turkey), official censure can be fierce. A former minister for women’s affairs, Aliye Kavaf, called it ‘a disease’; the interior minister, Idris Naim Sahin, cited it (along with Zoroastrianism and eating pork) as an example of ‘dishonour, immorality and inhuman situations'”.

The writer goes on to mention how the Arab revolutions have had little impact on the situation. It goes on to say that “One small source of hope is the internet: life online offers gays safety, secrecy and the chance to make their case. In a campaign called ‘We are everywhere’ Iranian gays and lesbians are posting protest videos on Facebook”.

It rightly takes care to note the enormous differences in the region with “Earlier Islamic societies were less hardline. An 11th-century Persian ruler advised his son to alternate his partners seasonally: young men in the summer and women in the winter. Many of the love poems of the eighth-century Abu Nuwas in Baghdad, and of other Persian and Urdu poets, were addressed to boys”.

It mentions how “some Muslim thinkers are now finding theological latitude. ‘The Koran does not condemn homosexuality,’ says Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, an American Muslim convert who teaches Islamic studies centuries”. It concludes saying “The story of Lot, he argues, deals with male rape and violence, not homosexuality in general. Classical Islamic theologians and jurists were mostly concerned with stifling lustful immorality, he says. Koranic verses describe without condemnation men who have no sexual desire for women. Arash Naraghi, an Iranian academic at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, suggests that the verses decrying homosexuality, like those referring to slavery and Ptolemaic cosmology, stem from common beliefs at the time of writing, and should be re-examined”.

Is this not how the Western world behaved for so many centuries until attitudes changed?

Time to remember

21/01/2012

On this day 219 years ago, Louis XVI was murdered. Let us never forget the violence that swept France and Europe and the effects that still haunt the world.

Idealism in action

08/12/2011

American idealism encapsulated in Hillary Clinton’s speech on promoting the rights of gays and lesbians.

The rich get richer

03/11/2011

The poor get poorer, and the common good suffers.

“Won’t somebody please think of the children”

16/10/2011

So said Helen Lovejoy in The Simpsons as yet another attack on gender has been carried out, going unnoticed and uncritiqued, as usual. The attack is as a result of a survey of nine year olds carried out in Ireland.  

The newsarticle covering the survey, opens saying, “Traditional stereotypes of boys playing football and girls wearing princess dresses are as ingrained as ever”. It should hardly come as a surprise to anyone with a modicum of common sense that stereotypes, while broad and sometimes unfair, wouldn’t be stereotypes if they were not usually true.

The reporter goes on to write amazingly that “gender stereotyping is rife among Irish children. The finding came as a surprise to the co-director of the study, Sheila Greene, who is professor of childhood research at Trinity College Dublin”. Unless there has been a massive discovery that has gone unnoticed recently, there are two types of gender, male and female. Each have different biological features and strangely act different accordingly.

Greene’s report was entitled Growing Up In Ireland: The National Longitudinal Study of Children. The news report says that it “revealed a group of 120 nine-year-olds who defined themselves sharply by gender. In general, the boys who were interviewed explained how other boys ‘played football and rugby’ while girls ‘did ballet'”. The fact that this was even reported at all reveals the hatred that those on the hard left view gender itself. As has been said here before they wish nothing less than to re-write our genetic code.

The report goes on to say that “The study indicates that girls and boys have well-established ideas about what is suitable behaviour for their sex, and that this starts well before the age of nine, ‘probably in the cradle'”. Amazingly, and with the usual good grace, the report acknowledges that, “Biology is part of the picture, with boys being physically stronger than girls, but ‘biology does not explain a disposition to like pink and to be able to manage a Hoover. It doesn’t explain why boys see school as more for girls and why all boys seem to feel obliged to be fanatical about football”.

The news reporter adds that “there is a certain inevitability to children defining themselves and each other through their gender, there are people in other countries determined to avoid this, including the controversial couples in Canada and Sweden who refused to reveal the gender of their children”.

The writer notes that “A less extreme example is Egalia, a radical preschool set up in Sweden last year. At Egalia, teachers avoid using the words ‘his’ or ‘hers’, the students are known as friends rather than boys and girls, and every book, toy and educational tool has been carefully chosen to avoid gender stereotyping. Genderless ’emotion dolls’ are even used to navigate conflicts between the children. ‘Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty, and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing,’ Jenny Johnsson, a teacher at the school, has said. ‘Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.'”

The words “radical preschool” are not often used together, if ever, and for good reason. To “teach” children through genderless dolls is to firstly ignore biology itself, and secondly assume that when they get older they are incapable of discerning what is basically common sense, i.e. that there are two genders and that these cannot be wished away.

The newswriter ends on a predictably radical antisocietal note by quoting the “academic’s” report, “‘When stereotypes are given full rein, children’s choices and their freedom to be the person they want to be can be curtailed.'”

There is no escaping gender, in the same way there is no escaping gravity. Society must accept the genders are different, each with their own unique role to play in society. To tamper with this is to alter what it means to be human itself. The consequences of teaching children with genderless dolls will haunt society for decades to come unless it is halted urgently.

London twinned with Detroit

27/09/2011

After plans for the effective castration of the National Health Service were watered down, only slightly, the reforms as they stand are progressing apace.

It is now down to the House of Lords to gut the legislation and make Prime Minister Cameron realise that he will not only ruin a reasonably efficient health service that serves all, irrespective of abiliy to pay but to radically think again when it comes to the role of “the market” in these matters.

It has been said that the “Health and Social Care Bill has been passed by the House of Commons with a majority of 65”. Thea author notes that “I defend the NHS because the evidence shows that it is the best system to deliver health care” and not out of any ideological conviction. Although defending this model of health service/society is indeed ideological, but this is of course how society should work.

The author notes “Cameron promised no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, only to introduce a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. His Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, assured us that he would cut bureaucracy, and then proposed a bill that will see bureaucracy increase”. Of course, the only reason Cameron is backing Lansley is because Lansley introduced these reforms and not to back them would mean accusations of incompentent levelled at the government. Not only this, but Cameron does not have a proper hold on his government to know what his various ministers are doing, which says either that Cameron doesn’t care enough to control his ministers or alternatively isn’t able to control them and supervise what proposals they are doing.

The author notes that “We have had assurances that the NHS will not be privatised, only for freedom-of-information requests to show that the Department of Health has already had talks with a German company, Helios, about taking over NHS hospitals”. Not only is the privatisation of the NHS gathering pace but Cameron is openly lying.

The article says that “During Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, Cameron stood up and said that the Royal College of Nurses, the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Physicians all supported the reforms, forcing all of them to issue statements contradicting this and expressing their concerns”.

He adds that “We are told we need reform to tackle spiralling costs. But the NHS has shown itself to be one of the cheapest health-care systems in the world. Undeterred by evidence or fact, the Government pushed forward with its rhetoric. Despite what we are being assured, a privately run but publicly funded health service is the end of the NHS. The commercial interests of the providers become paramount.”

As a result of this the poorest and most venerable will suffer while the rich will pay their way around the problems. He cites an example of when the NHS was open to private companies, under the “Private Finance Initiative (PFI) [which] was introduced by the Labour government amid assurances that it would make services more efficient and cost effective, yet the opposite has been shown to be the case. The costs of PFI contracts have crippled trusts. Official figures show that, under PFI schemes, taxpayers are committed to paying £229 billion for new hospitals, schools and other projects with a capital value of just £56 billion. Some of the private companies are due to see returns of more than 70 per cent”.

Similarly, the commericalisation of the health service means that the government “takes a knife to the soft underbelly of the NHS and splays it open, disembowelling it for private companies to pick over the soft, juicy and profitable entrails. And it is we, the tax paying public, who will pay handsomely for this.”

He concludes that now only House of Lords can totally revise the Bill and make so many amendments that passing it at all will be useless for the government. Having a health service paid for by an equitable tax system not only means a good service but enhances social cohesion in an increasingly individualistic world.

Maybe another defeat for the government would be good for it.

Propped up and attacked

25/09/2011

In a bold move that will is not only moral and just but will also enliven his support base President Obama has decided to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The move to raise taxes was defended. It was reported that Obama “promised to veto any deficit-reduction plan from Congress that cuts entitlement programs but doesn’t raise taxes on the wealthy”.

The report goes on to say that “Obama’s $3 trillion deficit-cutting plan includes $1.5 trillion in tax hikes on the wealthy, including the elimination of Bush-era tax rates on households with annual income above $250,000”. President Obama defended his position against Republican desires not to raise taxes at all. Indeed why not go further, as has been suggested by them already, abolish the armed forces and have the revenue go to the rich in the form of tax cuts!

The report notes that Obama “rejected criticism that his proposals amount to class warfare, saying that after a decade of unchecked spending, every American has to pitch in and pay their fair share. Otherwise, Obama said, the U.S. will try to cut programs for the middle-class and the poor while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy. ‘This is not class warfare,” Obama said. “It’s math.'” The report adds that he “was dismayed to hear the Speaker say that increased revenues should be off the table”.

Worse still the GOP will attack Obama’s plans even though “a Census Bureau report last week that showed a record 46.2 million Americans living in poverty last year. That is the highest number in the 52 years the statistic has been measured. That means 2.6 million people fell into poverty in just the last year”, at the same time it was revealed that “The percentage of the population who are in poverty stands at an alarming 15 percent. For black Americans, the poverty rate zoomed to 27.4 percent. Hispanic Americans’ rate of poverty climbed to 26.6 percent. Asian-American poverty hit 12.1 percent while white American poverty was at 9.9 percent”.

Many Republicans say that the best way is to cut taxes and stimulate the economy but as Judd Gregg former senator from New Hampshire said that waiting for consumers to spend is to wait for Godot.

As Obama struggles to get his ratings up more criticism is not what he needs. A book that has been recently released has been heavily critical of his percieved lack of leadership. The famously arrogant Larry Summers was quoted in the book as saying that “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”

The report notes that Obama “told the author: ‘The area in my presidency where I think my management and understanding of the presidency evolved most, and where I think we made the most mistakes, was less on the policy front and more on the communications front. ‘I think one of the criticisms that is absolutely legitimate about my first two years was that I was very comfortable with a technocratic approach to government … a series of problems to be solved. He also stated that “Carter, Clinton and I all have sort of the disease of being policy wonks'”.

It looks as if Obama in the space of a few days has both propped up, and been attacked by the very base that he could normally rely on.

Let the Sage speak

18/08/2011

The so called Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffet has spoken. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Buffet makes his views on the US tax code very clear.

Buffet notes that the wealthiest Americans who he counts as his friends have been left virtually untouched. He adds that as “the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks”. It is apparent that these tax breaks are no longer sustainable and are only causing a societal rift that can begin to be healed by their removal.

He gives one example of this, with one investor who holds “stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors”. Buffet explains that his tax bill last year “was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office”.

Buffet rightly rebukes  those who claim that “higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation”.  He notes that the federal income tax fell, noting that “In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent”. This is the work of Bill Clinton with his New Democrats and allegiance to all things “free market”.  

Buffet says that “Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.” This is an honourable thing to say and is the very definition of the common good. It is a shame that the market and the individualism that it has bred has destroyed any altruism that once existed.

Let us hope the Buffet’s sage advice is heeded.

A question of fairness

16/08/2011

Before the riots engulfed large cities all over England, people were calling for making life for those worse off a little bit easier.

Vince Cable, secretary of state for Business, suggested that before the top 50% tax rate were lowered, the minimun income tax threshold should rise. It seems that “50p tax issue has become a divisive one with the Treasury and Mr Cable’s Department for Business at loggerheads. Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, will hope that a Treasury review into how much the 50p rate actually brings in gives him scope to argue for a cut”.

Cable is still wary about bringing it [the tax rate] down soon. He stressed any cut would need to be compensated for by another tax on the rich”. The news report notes that “Treasury analysis shows that while Labour’s increase in the top rate of tax from 40p in the pound to 50p has raised £2.4billion, 70 per cent would still be recouped if the rate was 45p”.

Again we see the point is being missed. If society is become more cohesive, and the notion of the common good is to return, there needs to be some sacrifices from the wealthiest in society, even if the amount of money being brought in is not substantially greater. The purpose would be to allow for people to begin to feel like those at the top are paying their share for the wealth they have accumulated.

Blame the feminists

20/06/2011

A not unreasonable article with flawless logic, even worse they’ve been blamed for keeping the poor poor.

Waiting for Concordia

28/05/2011

With world peace still immienent, social harmony is surely not far behind, but what about quotas for cats, dogs, zebra, lions, goldfish……………

You know it’s bad when…..

20/05/2011

Baroness Ashton has come in for more, wholly justified criticism, except this time from an unexpected source.

In a recent interview given by the Belgian foreign minister,  Steven Vanackere, said that “While accepting that Lady Ashton ‘cannot be everywhere at the same time’ in response to the pace and pressure of world events, Belgium’s foreign minister nevertheless questioned her personal track record.’We can accept that some react faster than Ashton, but with the condition that she can prove that she is working for the medium-term and long-term on very important issues like energy, for example. But I have not seen this either'”.

Apparently, “A growing number of countries, including France, are angry that Lady Ashton’s political failure has meant that her newly created European External Action Service (EEAS) has not helped the EU ‘to speak with one voice,’ an objective she set herself when taking the job”, speaking with one voice however is just one of the many problems that always beset EU “foreign policy”.

It was reported that “Mr Vanackere lamented deep divisions that emerged within the 27-nation EU during the ‘great test presented by the Arab awakening'”. He continued saying that “‘We have always wanted the External Action Service to be the central axis around which member states might organise,’ he said. ‘But in the absence of a central player that reacts, makes analyses and conclusions quickly, it is the Germans today, the French tomorrow or the English who take up this role. The result is centrifugal, not centripetal.'”

Stanuchly Eurosecptic “Nigel Farage MEP, the leader of Ukip, described Lady Ashton’s ‘incompetence’ as being a major obstacle to the EU’s attempts to develop European foreign policy at the expense of national sovereignty.’Ashton is not fit for purpose. She’s so bad, it’s good,’ he said”.

Just goes to show running foreign policy on the French revolution/gender politics doesn’t work, as if it ever would.

The only option

20/04/2011

Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Michael Cragg have recently argued that Ireland’s IMF and ECB backed economic plan is “doomed to failure”.

They argue that Ireland allowed itself to be duped by “false economic doctrines advocating unfettered markets”. They note that the new government can still save the Irish economy, and indeed Ireland itself, “but has failed thus far to address the underlying problems.” Yet it should be borne in mind that the new government’s economic policies are exactly the same as those of the hated Fianna Fail government with new faces delivering old policies.

They note that “in more optimistic scenarios, Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is expected to soar to 125 per cent in 2013, up from 25 per cent in 2007”. This they say with stifle whatever little growth is in the Irish economy as it is. They pull no punches when they say that “the EU recipe for recovery is more of the same: to meet the deficit reduction targets, more austerity – which in turn means still lower growth and still higher unemployment.” They argue, correctly that “It is the system of incentives that underlies the success of a market economy” with the implication being that those that lose money are aware of this and should not be recompensated for the losses they make on their investments.

Their indictment of what had been happening in the world before the crash involved, “those who seemed to believe in markets, started to rewrite the rules in the midst of the crisis. They argued for the socialising of losses, while the gains had been privatised. Such a system of ersatz capitalism is doomed to failure, and is fundamentally corrupt and inequitable”.

As always part of the blame lies the the incompent and moronic government that “governed” during these years, who are now fittingly reduced to 20 seats in the 166 seat parliament.

They go on  to say that “the IMF, ECB and Government must come to terms with imposing losses on the international lenders whose loose lending policies played a central role in the current crisis.  Debt restructuring [default] is neither easy nor costless; but the costs are far less than the alternative”.

Ireland may not default first, it looks like Greece may beat Ireland to it.

“‘Trying to fix something that’s not broken”

01/04/2011

At a Catholic school in New Orleans recently a demonstration took place but not like one that would be expected.

Apparently, “more than 500 students, parents and other supporters of the 7th Ward institution’s use of corporal punishment marched this morning on an Archdiocese of New Orleans office to deliver a message to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who has called on school officials to abandon the 60-year disciplinary practice”. Interestingly Archbishop Aymond is accused of “‘trying to fix something that’s not broken, and he’s going about it in the wrong way,’ Jacob Washington, student body president at St. Augustine, said”. It also shows that many in society, as has been stated here before, see less and less of a distinction and thus more of an “equality” between children and adults. This is partly casued by the worst excesses of the French Revolution which have been glorified unquestioningly in many parts of society. This can only end badly, both for children and society as a whole.

It is fascinting to see the students themselves support the use of corporal punishment in schools. It has, in many parts of the world, been taken too far and used excessively. However, used infrequently, it can be a tool that teaches pupils that bad behaviour has consequences. When so many children are  not brought up properly due to a lack of discipline the society begins to break down. The correct use of discipline and under the right circumstances can lead to this, over time, being corrected. It would then not be unreasonable to assume that this would filter out through society for the betterment of all.

This would mean that people would be much more aware of the fact that actions have consequences which must be faced up to. It should serve as a reminder to us all.

A tale of two decisions

31/03/2011

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has handed down two interesting decisions. 

The first was a brashly worded judgement which criticsed the UK government for refusing to allow convicted felons to vote. It makes little sense of course to bar all criminals from voting, those with only minor offenses should be allowed to vote having completed their punishment.

Jean-Paul Costa, “president of the European Court of Human Rights, said it would be a ‘disaster’ if Britain defied his court’s ruling over enfranchising inmates. In a thinly veiled comparison, he said only Greek military dictators had previously denounced the European Convention on Human Rights”.

It says much for a court, which wildly oversteppes its mandate, then acts in a wholly unprofessional and puerile manner by comparing a functioning democracy to a dictatorship.  The report continues noting, “asked why, said it would be a ‘disaster’ for Britain if it was to defy the judgment, Mr Costa told the BBC: ‘The only country which denounced the Convention [on Human Rights] was Greece in 1967 at the time of the dictatorship of the colonels. 

Costa “said he understood the anger the court’s decision had caused in Britain as some countries felt such matters were for parliaments not the courts. Mr Costa was one of only three European judges, out of 17, who was against the court’s decision and felt Britain was not breaching human rights by having a blanket ban on votes for prisoners”.

The court has gone too far in its powers by interfering in the sovereignity of another nation. Prime Minster David Cameron will have a difficult time from the already angry hard right of his party if he backs down.

In a more recent judgement however the court ruled on a case that began in Italy. The court ruled that crucfix’s are allowed in the classroom.   The judgement which was the result of “Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born mother who said public schools in her Italian town refused to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms. She said the crucifix violates the secular principles the public schools are supposed to uphold”.  The newsreport states that the “decision by the court’s Grand Chamber said it found no evidence ‘that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.'” There are similarities between this case and one where the Orthodox Church fought a similar case some time ago which the ECHR also ruled on.

Interestingly, the court made numerous references to the cultural sigificance of the crucifix. This esentially agrees with Pope Benedict’s idea of a Christin Europe, and therefore a rejection of Turkish entry into the EU. It also gives a helping hand to Benedict’s more general mission to get the West, but espeically Europe to acknowledege its Christian heritage and the New Evanglisation that he hopes to kick start.

Cardina Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, was reported to have said that “the crucifix was ‘one of the greatest symbols in the West,’ like the crescent moon is in the Muslim world, and that denying it or canceling it out risked canceling out Western identity.  The crucifix, he said ‘is a sign of civilization, even if you don’t recognize it theologically,’ said Ravasi”.

Myth of privatisation

08/03/2011

In a policy launch by David Cameron recently, the UK prime minster, set out a new agenda where the State would effectively cease to do its job.

In a speech Cameron said that the reforms, if they can be called that, “will put in place principles that will signal the decisive end of the old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you’re-given model of public services. And it is a vital part of our mission to dismantle Big Government”.

Discussing health care for his son he says that, “I never understood why local authorities had more control over the budget for his care than Samantha and I did”. He assumes that there is those who are less well off have the time to pore over the budget of their local hospital! Not too mention the expertise needed that few ordinary people understand that is best left in the hands of experts, who are accountable.

He does have a point when he says that, “stories about bureaucracy over-ruling common sense, targets and regulations over-ruling professional discretion, and the producers of public services over-ruling the people who use (and pay for) them – became the norm, not the exception”. Indeed this should be tackled, as personal responsibility for people’s decisions is at an all time low and needs to be addressed.

Yet, he says mistakenly, “that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service”. He goes on to list all the usual “arguments” about choice and competitiveness for the betterment of society. As has been shown time and again there are a limited number of areas where the State must control certain services, namely education and health care. There are other areas where a strong case can be made on the grounds of national security for state ownership, such as oil and gas and water utilities.

The arguments that are proffered for privatisation remain the same, but the evidence does little to support them. The oft cited examples of Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands where the State has a monopoly on health care with no exceptions, paid for by high tax with what is essentially a “top down model” but with a strong sense of community. In the related case of privatisation of the state broadcaster, the arguments made for more choice and better service are the opposite to what happens. Those who are interested in minority programmes, that are not profitable, are simply not produced, while the result is a mass of sameness due to lowest common denominator hunt for ratings and advertising revenue.

Cmaeron writes that his party “will give more people the right to take control of the budget for the service they receive”. This is another myth, that people can influence, and indeed change the policy of huge organisations just by engaging with them.  What normally happens however is that business gets involved and simply due to the amounts of money available to them they shout loudest and get heard most.

Not only that, when business gets involved there maybe competition initially, but the invisible hand really is invisible and a quasi monopoly begins to form with little difference between prices and new entrants finding it difficult to enter and compete.

This very American model, widely regarded as one of the most unequal societies on the world. Not only that, Cameron’s affinity for the Swedish model fails to recognise that nations like Sweden are highly ordered societies with very high taxes, neither of which Cameron has expressed much agreement with.

Sensible legislation

28/02/2011

Perfectly reasonable sentiments.

“Honours dishonour, titles degrade”

23/11/2010

So said Flaubert, and at the rate the UK government are going a title or honour will mean less than nothing.

Downing Street released a list of people who will be elevated to the life peerage over the coming weeks. What becomes apparent is the size of the list, over 50 names, who will join the 700 or so people already sitting in the House of Lords.

What is staggering is not only number to be ennobled, but that this happens every time a new government takes over. When the Labour party was elected in 1997, in order to get their legislation passed in the upper house they were forced to created hundreds of new peers, in what has traditionally been a Conservative party stronghold. Now that the Conservative government is back in power in order to reverse what Labour have had to do, they will create vast numbers of peers.

What is also worrying is not only the scale of the numbers being created but also who. The governing Conservatives in the latest batch nomiated Robert Edmiston, who  the “Conservatives previously attempted to ennoble Mr Edmiston, who has provided millions in funding to the party, but his nomination was retracted during the cash-for-honours scandal“. Another of the nominees, Sir Michael Bishop, “has also given the Conservatives hundreds of thousands of pounds, including a £335,000 donation shortly before the election”. Keeping with custom the opposition Labour party also get to nominate people for the peerage, and the is “expected to include Nigel Doughty, a major donor and City financier, and Sir Gulam Noon, the ‘curry millionaire’ who was also embroiled in the cash-for-honours scandal after being nominated for a peerage by Tony Blair”.

This leads to, as has been said above, a lessening of the value of the peerage and it also treats the monarch as nothing more than a signature dispenser.  It would be better for there to be a limit on the numbers created every year, in the low tens rather than the numbers that are created every year, or what would be more prefereble would be to allow the monarch the sole power to create peers. There is precedent for this, for some time the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle among others were in the gift of the incumbent prime minister. As a result the orders fell into disrupte due to the honours being awarded for party political reasons. It was agreed to return  the power to award the honour to the monarch alone.

There would be a political problem however if this power were returned to the monarch. It could be solved by giving whatever powers the Lords posessed to the monarch or make the Lords consultative. Either way the UK would become unicameral and there would be no need to create large numbers after a change in government.

Anglicanism’s future

13/11/2010

Amid the continuing economic gloom another gloom is setting in albeit in a different form. Over the last number of weeks the state of the Church of England seems to have been cleared further, for better or for worse. Those that are leaving the Anglican Communion thanks to Anglicanorum Coetibus of November 2009, “represent the most traditional ‘High Church’ members of the Anglican Communion. They believe that there is no place for women bishops and are appalled by what they see as the imposition of liberal reforms by the Church hierarchy”.

 One of the conservative members, John Broadhurst, “accused the General Synod of being ‘vindictive’ and ‘vicious’ in its treatment of Anglo-Catholic conservatives”. This will have more people joining the English Ordinariate to be established next year where conservative Anglicans can join the Roman Catholic Church, it appears they will not be a rite in and of themselves but as has been stated before they will retain certain aspects of their liturgy.

However “major questions remain over how the new system will operate. Priests will be expected to remain celibate, although married men may be ordained on an individual basis. The Ordinary – who will take charge of the Ordinariate – will certainly be required to be celibate. Newly converted priests with families face a tough time, as they are likely to receive much less generous allowances from Rome than they are used to getting from the Church of England”.

In addition to this there is news that five Anglican bishops have, or are about to, resign and convert to become Catholic priests. The prelates are “the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst; the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Keith Newton; the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham; and two retired bishops, the Rt Rev Edwin Barnes, honorary assistant bishop of Winchester, and the Rt Rev David Silk, honorary assistant bishop of Exeter”. Yet the numbers to convert, in comparison to the total numbers of English Anglicans is expected to be small, “The estimates suggest up to 500 individuals will join the Ordinariate in the first wave, with more expected to follow once it has become established.”

Crucially “the departing Anglo-Catholics believed that the Church of England, despite its Protestant roots, was part of the Catholic Church. Now, as it prepares to ordain women bishops, they have given up on it”, the writer emphaises how it was conservative Anglicans who asked Rome for this so whole parishes could convert. Interestingly “Many Anglo-Catholics, however, are determined to stay in the Church of England – and Dr Williams is encouraging them in their resolve. As a result, the High Church wing of the Church has become hopelessly split”. In time however those who favour the High Church will have to decide who to side with, Rome or Lambeth. He notes that some of those who are converting e.g. “Ebbsfleet and Richborough are not dioceses. They are suffragan sees created by the General Synod in the 1990s for ‘flying bishops’ who minister exclusively to traditionalists who reject women priests. Now two of the three flying bishops are resigning to take part in another radical experiment, this time under the aegis of the Vatican”. He points out how “the Pope has bypassed the ecumenists, giving responsibility for the scheme to his old colleagues at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Finally, the consequences of these conversions are clear, if the Church of England General Synod is wholly or mainly liberal, then for better or worse, there is less and less room for conservatives but what will arise, in time, is a more homogenous form of Anglicanism. However it could also be the informal death knell for ARCIC (Anglican—Roman Catholic International Commission) and end of any meaningful ecumenical discussions with Rome as there is little point, at least from Rome’s point of view, as Anglicanism drifts further away. This is typified by Cardinal-designate Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, whose main focus is expected to be Orthodox Churches.

Credit where credit’s due

06/10/2010

The EU, no friend of these pages, has done something quite remarkable. It seems to have had a sudden dose of common sense.

The great premise of the French Revolution, believed unquestioningly throughout the halls of power in much of Europe and beyond, is that everyone is equal. Taken to its logical conclusion “the widely-held practice of setting different [insurance] rates for men and women based on their sex violates EU anti-discrimination laws”.  The final ruling will be made by the end of the year.

It seems as though “the move has been attacked as ‘madness’ by politicians and ‘potentially damaging’ by the insurance industry, who said it would mean higher premiums for women and the loss of many jobs. Should the ECJ agree with Ms Kokott [EU Advocate-General], the ruling would also stop firms using gender to set premiums on other products such as life and medical insurance. It could also stop pensions providers offering different annuity rates to men and women”.

The notion that women should get cheaper car insurance is nonsense simply because they supposedly drive better than men and cause fewer accidents. However what people fail to realise is that they cause not no accidents but only fewer accidents, it is of course the kind of accidents that they cause that makes the supposedly safer.

The ECJ will now have to choose which it values more, feminism or equality, both of which it holds dear but when they come into conflict it’s anyone’s guess which will get the upper hand.

Maybe people aren’t so equal after all?

Western “morality”

21/09/2010

In a group of surveys carried out over the last number of days in Ireland, it would seem that the excesses of the French Revolution are alive and well and at the same time Pope Benedict still has much work to do in challenging the rabid individualism that pervades all Western capitalist nations. As with most things in capitalist societies, if there is a large enough market for it, then it will be provided, irrespective of the consequences to the common good of society.

In one of the questions asked there is a large number of people that support gay marriage. As has been stated here the before, the state must provide gay couples with civil partnerships, and if some religious communities such as the Religious Society of Friends, wish to have a religious cermonony around this, all the better. The poll found that “67 per cent of people believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, while 60 per cent do not believe that civil partnerships will undermine the institution of marriage”. Marriage is between a man and a women with the hope that they will have children. Gay marriage is an oxymoron but gay couples must have the ability to create wills and have visitation rights as well as tax status within civil law. What is suprising is that so many people think having civil partnerships will affect marriage. It is not on the same basis as has been stated above and therefore poses no threat to marriage. The article quotes some who said that people are “aware that the current exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from civil marriage is deeply unfair and doesn’t make any sense in today’s Ireland”. This is incorrect as gay couples are not the same as hetrosexual couples and should not be treated the same in law. However, what is less suprising is the attempt to paint modernity/rationality as the best, indeed, the only way forward. Such thoughts on thier own can be very dangerous and lead to further down the path that the West is going.  

On a more general point, the survey reveals that in Ireland “The legal age of consent for sex is of course 17, and the great majority of Irish people clearly feel this is, if anything, too young an age at which to make such a decision”. The danger is that permissiveness begets permissiveness due to our inability to correct others behaviour for fear of being seen as “judgemental”. Others see such attempts to even begin a dialogue on people’s behaviour as an attack on the primacy of the rational individual. Two concepts that do not always go hand in hand.

Thankfully however, “90 per cent of people reject outright the notion that they might think less of a person if he/she revealed to them that they were gay or lesbian”.  

Closing out the series is the usual inaccurate and dangerous dichotomy about past attitudes being consigned to history with people now stepping into the light of modernity and progress that is is meant to inevitably bring. The author notes how, “what was once the most powerful institution in the land, the Catholic Church, the poll results must be deeply disturbing. If the Catholic Church were a political party running for election, and if these survey results were the actual vote, then this could be described as a rout”. Maybe it needs to be stated that the Catholic Church is oddly enough, not a political party and has no interest in pandering to the masses (no pun intended) to save a few seats at the next election.

The inevitable liberal sneering thus follows, “In fact, we don’t find the church’s position on anything to do with sexuality or women credible. The sexual revolution, the development of effective contraception, the growth of the women’s and gay rights movements – all these historical shifts have left the church stranded with an archaic psychology of sexuality”. While some of the these developments are indeed beneficial, to say that the Church is “stranded” for supporting committing life long, loving relationships is patently false.

The author goes on to say, “how have we fared morally without the church’s moral guidance? Remarkably well it seems”, for now perhaps, for now.

Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in Westminster Hall

18/09/2010

It was is the most important political speech of his ongoing visit to the UK, Pope Benedict yesterday gave a talk that defined the very essence of what he thinks. Thanks again to Rocco, as speech text via Whispers:

Mr Speaker,
Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.

This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

Pope Benedict’s mission in the UK

15/09/2010

On this, the eve of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK, as usual, controversy is never far behind. In a thoughtful piece, Dr Eamon Duffy, lays out the importance of Benedict in the UK.

Duffy says that “John Paul II was manifestly a giant on the world stage, his life story one of titanic struggle against 20th century Europe’s two great tyrannies, he himself a key player in the collapse of the Soviet empire. His social and moral views elicited no more enthusiasm from the secular world than those of Joseph Ratzinger, but his craggy integrity, mesmeric personal presence and mastery of crowds made him formidable even to those who rejected his religion. By contrast, Pope Benedict is an altogether smaller figure, a man of the sacristy and the lecture room.”

Thus it is fairly obvious that Benedict is “an academic to the toes of his red papal slippers, he has poor antennae for the likely public perception of his actions and utterances. That was made clear by the hostile reaction to his Regensburg remarks on Islam, and, more recently, by his disastrous though doubtless well-intentioned conciliatory gestures to the holocaust-denying Lefebvrist rebel Bishop Richard Williamson.”

This is perhaps one of the biggest problems facing Benedict personally as well as sadly, this. Benedict’s whole papacy, indeed much of his life, has been to fight against both relativism and the aggressive secularism that like the soon to be Blessed “[John Henry Cardinal] Newman believed that British society was in danger of cutting itself adrift from the Christian values that had given Europe and the West their distinctive religious, moral and aesthetic character. But he [Newman] also believed the slide into relativism would not be halted by mere denunciation. If Christian values were to survive and prevail, they must commend themselves by their intrinsic power and attractiveness. Modern materialism, he wrote, must be met ‘not by refutation so much as by a powerful counter-argument . . . overcoming error not by refutation so much as by an antagonist truth’.”

Benedict like Newman will try to bring Europe back to Christianity, for its own good, as much for the Church’s. As has been mentioned before, Benedict sees Europe as the heart that will beat again should religion be at least respected and ackkowledged by society. However, it is doubtful that groups like this will be going out of business any time soon.   

If Benedict is successful in the long term than all the PR disasters, media sniping, and abuse crisies that have never been far behind will, be if not forgotten, there impact will be lessened and the significance of Benedict’s message will be understood. Tolerence itself is at stake and it is hoped that these short term gaffes and ignorant and dangerous comments will not dull or impede Benedict’s historic mission.

EU slides further into irrelevance

02/09/2010

The EU and its “foreign policy” will talk itself into irrelevance with this nonsense. Countries like America and China did not get where they are today by worrying about gender balance in their diplomatic corps.

Not a great sign

18/08/2010

This is exactly the kind of thing that Pope Benedict has been warning about, not only for the sake of believers, but for the rest of society.

Freedom of conscience must be respected.

The drawn out death of feminism

10/08/2010

Following on from the last post, many who claim women are underrepresented in parliaments are also exactly the kind of people who claim men do none of the household chores.

A study reveals that men do more work than women both in the office and at the home. It says that “men do slightly more work than the women they live with when employment and domestic work are measured together”. The report justly revels in the fact that “an authoritative study on a key issue of so-called gender politics has come out with a self-evident truth that runs directly contrary to orthodox feminist ideology. The fact that it has been written and published by a woman makes it even more delightful”.

He notes that “Might a respectable study soon reveal that, contrary to what we are always told, one in four men does not batter the woman he lives with? Or that not all men are rapists? Might the entire edifice of lies that comprises modern feminism now be about to tumble? Hasten the day.”

Somehow I fear feminism isn’t based on reality and that the “right on sisters” will still spout this nonsense and worse still people will listen.

We can only live in hope that feminsim dies very soon.

Some people never learn

08/08/2010

Why do people still believe this nonsense. There are so many arguments against this that it is almost impossible as to know where to start.

Quotas are a ludicrous way of creating illusionary equality so wolly liberals can have a little less guilt so they can sleep better. The premise is that women should be better represented in politics because they make up half the population.

Firstly, there are women in politics, just not the correct number according to the equality maniacs. What does it matter if there are two women in the parliament or twenty? Surely, by their “logic” all women represent other women, never mind ideology or anything else. All women care about in politics is other women in politics, supposedly.

Secondly even if they weren’t directly involved, society would regrettably be hearing endlessly about women’s views on how all men are evil and these groups would, like the rest of civil society make its voice heard. He complains that parties don’t field enough women candidates, not that it matters but political parties want to get into office irrespective of which gender takes the most seats. He implies that political parties are getting every man that comes through the door to stand for office but refusing any women who wishes to stand. Maybe there aren’t the same number of women that come through the door as men?

The faster these people are ignored the better for all of us.

Slow collapse of Anglicanism

23/07/2010

In a coincedence that could only be divinly inspired, or at least timed, the Anglican Communion has pushed ahead with reforms that would pave the way for women bishops perhaps as soon as 2014.  While not long after, the Catholic Church revised its rules stating that women could never be priests.

The move in Anglicanism will only exacerbate the tensions already felt between the increasingly liberal Anglican establishment and the more conservative members who are increasingly being drawn to Rome. During the General Synod only “minimal concessions [were given] to traditionalist Anglicans who opposed the move.  They had sought to be in the care of a male alternative bishop on terms acceptable to them. But the synod decided women bishops should be able to decide the identity and functions of any such bishop”.

Even worse the “Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, had put their personal prestige behind the compromise plan, which would have allowed parishes unwilling to serve under a woman bishop to call upon the oversight of a male alternative”. The fact that this plan was rejected says much about the state of the leadership within Anglicanism. It is however only to be expected, allowing women as bishops is logical after they were allowed to become priests in the early 1990s.

Not only that but Archbishop Williams “found himself at the centre of a storm over the blocked appointment of Jeffrey John, the homosexual Dean of St Albans, to be Bishop of Southwark.” After John’s appointment failed to go through, Williams was then harried by traditionalists at the Synod for not doing enough to assist conservatives. “Sitting in the Synod chamber with his hands clasped as he listened to a series of speeches attacking his proposal, Dr Williams looked more like a man grimly awaiting his fate than a leader ready to rally his Church behind him”.

The paper says that “Dr Williams has come to resemble an episcopal version of King Canute, unable to hold back a tide which threatens to destroy a Church that for centuries was broad enough to hold different traditions under one roof.”

Now it is clearer than ever that the Anglican Communion has all but ceased to exist with the archbishop of Canterbury unable to restore order on any front with liberals and conservatives holding what little power he has to ransom. The Communion is falling apart with many conservatives feeling  marginalised with an women priests and npw bishops as well as other issues, notably homosexuality. They are increasingly attracted to Rome in the shape of the Anglican Ordinariate. It is just as much the weakness of Williams as the power of liberals and conservatives who pulling the Communion apart with less and less sign of compromise either being possible, or as has been shown with the result of the Synod, desired.

At almost the same time the Catholic Church has declared the ordination of women a “crime against the faith”. The  “rules issued by the Vatican puts attempts at ordaining women among the “most serious crimes” alongside paedophilia and will be handled by investigators from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” formerly headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Those who attempt to ordain women priests and those taking part already face excommunciation latae sententiae, however the “new decree goes further and enshrines the action as “a crime against sacraments”. 

At the same time the CDF has allowed for the “fast tracking of the investigation process of priests accused of child abuse following widespread criticism of the Church’s handling of recent scandals. The CDF will accelerate investigations of paedophile priests and extend the statute of limitations by 10 years to 20 years after the victim’s 18th birthday. It could defrock priests but would not be forced to hand over abusers to the civil courts.”

Someone needs to get their priorities right

18/07/2010

And they wonder why their not taken seriously in the real world with things like this! Not only is it irrelvant to how a company runs its also quite hard to do if your company only has a small number of women in it, what are they saying promote your secretary to the boardroom so they is better gender balance. If successful people enter any field their talents should be recgonised. Remeber this is from an organisation that only a few months ago was on the brink of breaking apart economically.

Myth of liberal tolerance

28/06/2010

As if further evidence were needed of the intolerant left.

Individualism and the end of the welfare state

09/06/2010

After the recent strikes in Spain, two things should be pointed out. The first is that people are unable to understand the common good where for the last, in particular, ten years people’s desires where only were what were important. The message not only from “the market” but from all of society was that nothing else matters other than your immediate needs – which is partly why we are in the economic meltdown in the first place. Now this greed is coming back to us at the worst possible time. A 5% public sector pay cut was needed in Spain to begin the process of restoring, in this case, Spain, to some kind of economic order. What is worrying however is that this is just the beginning of the pain. There will be more cuts, not just in Spain but across much of Europe.

With the levels of debt, not just personal debt, but the debt of governments, the size of the State and the things that for over a hundred years were taken for granted, things like a safe pension, will all disappear. States can no longer afford to support these services. Pensions as we know them will cease to exist, and ironically and sadly, return to what Otto von Bismarck intended them to be, a basic stipend that will assist the worst off to survive. Not only this but much of the health care systems, like those in Sweden and France will simply be too expensive to carry on in their present forms due to too much government debt.

Not only are we witnessing the end of capitalism as we know it but we are sadly seeing the death of the welfare state that much of Europe can be so pround of simply because it has become too expensive and unsustainable.