All entries for October 2006

October 24, 2006


Below is this week’s newsletter, written by our esteemed Chair, Joe. If you want anymore information about the society, check out the ‘About Us’ section above, and also feel free to email me (address also in ‘About Us’).

Meeting this week: Wednesday 2pm S0.13 (as per usual)


Firstly, to Hungry. The Commemoration of an attempted uprising against the communists in 1956 ironically turned into a riots as protesters against the government clashed with police. Over 1000 people were actively involved in the clashes. They stem from comments which came from the Hungarian Prime Minister who admitted that his socialist party lied again and again in order to win the election. What I wonder is; how far can people morally go in order protest? how far should people go to change a government?

Secondly, on Prisons. The prisons in the UK are reaching capacity (of around 80,00), now police cell! s have had to be drafted in to meet the gap (interestingly the last time this happened it cost £325 per person per night to keep them in the police cells – more than the Hilton costs!), the government is even considering resurrecting the idea of “prison ships”, which will hold prisoners off the coast. We can all agree that this situation is a bad thing (I would think…), but what is the best way to deal with this? One traditional response is to build more prisons, but does this help to reduce crime? If it doesn’t (which, to be fair, it doesn’t seem to be) then how can we best reduce crime and the prison population? Death, community based sentences, treatment, harsher treatment in prison – have your say.
The BBC has a special report on prisons at

Finally, smoking and the dangers it creates. An NHS trust has decided that people who smoke will not be! given life-changing operations (although essential eme! rgency t reatment will not be affected). Operations which will be affected include hip and knee operations. Smokers take longer to recover from operations and therefore cost the NHS more money, so this will be a good way of saving money, but Smokers have complained they are being discriminated against. Neil Rafferty, of the pro-smoking pressure group Forest, said: “This is blackmail, pure and simple. Smokers pay their taxes like everyone else. In fact, because of the very high duty on tobacco, they probably pay a lot more tax than the average person. They are entitled to free healthcare and health trusts do not have the right to make up conditions.” Does the NHS have the right to enforce these rules if other people who live dangerous life styles are still offered free treatment (like people who do extreme sports)? Or does the NHS have the right to protect its interests and force people to take actions which are sensible for themselves. (I know, it’s the Daily Mail – but this time they did genuinely have the best write up)

With thanks to Ceri on suggestions for stories. If you want any more info or have suggestions for the newsletters or society (you might even get your name here – wow! ) you can e-mail me at;
-Joe (the Chairman)

ICA: TV Guide – By Rose

Hungary 1956: Our Revolution (BBC4)
(24th Oct, 9.00pm-10.00pm)
This documentary recalls the Hungarian uprising of 1956, repressed by the Soviets and their collaborators. The film brings together the memories of a varied group of men and women who tell the story of 1956 from a personal point of view, recalling the drama of the events, how they affected them as people, and how they shaped the mood of Budapest as a whole.

This World: Iraq: A Doctor! ’s Story (BBC2)
(24th Oct, 9.50pm-10.30pm)
This documentary was filmed by an Iraqi doctor working inside the Al Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad where every day at least 40 civilians are brought in with gunshot wounds or bomb injuries. It captures the fear and despair that pervade the city and reveals that some Iraqis would rather endure the known terror of Saddam Hussein’s regime than continue to suffer the current random violence.

Question Time (BBC1)
(26th Oct, 10.35pm-11.35pm)
The panellists include the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown and the writer and broadcaster Janet Street Porter.

The Russian Newspaper Murders: Storyville (BBC2)
(30th Oct, 11.20pm-12.20am)
Documentary about the murders of six Russian journalists between 1995 and 2003 and the subsequent police investig! ation which some, including human rights lawyer Karen Nersisyan have seen as a cover up.

EU Immigration

The government today have decided to apply restrictions on immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania when the countries join the EU in the New Year. In the plans, the immigration policies of the two countries will remain, to all intensive purposes, exactly the same as they are now. The only effective alteration will mean Romanian and Hungarian tourists will be allowed to travel without a visa.

This is in stark contrast to the last enlargement where TEN countries joined, and no restrictions were imposed. The Daily Mail et al. had a field day then showing ‘hoards’ of Poles swarming the immigration centre in Warsaw. (They didn’t mention that the place had been shut for many days before and this was simply the backlog.) Some time after this it was reported on the ‘devastating’ effect of the ‘600,000’ new immigrants had arrived. (Again, not mentioning that over half had already left to go back home.)

NEWSFLASH: EU enlargment didn’t bring the country to it’s knees, the street corners aren’t full of eastern european prostitutes.. For god’s sake, find some real news..

Sorry..went on a bit of a tangent there..Going back to the topic in hand.. It strikes me as odd that no ‘restricitons’ were placed on the last 10 countries that joined (remebering they all joined at once), and now we seem to pick on Romania and Hungary.

I want to know what position the country I live in takes. Do we support a liberal, free EU market (which must include the free movement of labour), or are we going down the line of crude nationalism and market protectionism. At the moment, we seem a bit schizophrenic, although I guess that’s politics for you.

October 19, 2006

Tax cutting tories

For all the rhetoric of the past few months, that public services are safe under the Tories, the future of the welfare state is garenteed under a Cameron premiership, we finally see the true blue members of the Tory party coming up for air. Today, one of Cameron’s policy think tanks has unveiled recommendations to reduce tax by £21bn. How nice!

[Edit: I realise this is a bit misleading. The Tax Reform Commission in fact only contained one member directly associated with the party. However, as I said in the comments, it wasn’t exactly a well balanced team of people. All bar one or two have specific interests in a lower tax regime, or had previously showed a great inclination toward lower taxes. These people were picked by George Osbourne. The only conclusion is that he wanted this outcome. The result: “want tax cuts? no problem, vote for us! Don’t want tax cuts? well that’s just an ‘idea’, we won’t do it really” ]

Unfortunately, the plans are incredibly regressive. The claim, obviously being touted by the Labour party at the moment, is backed up my the independant Institue of Fiscal Studies (IFS). It will be interesting to see how the Conservatives respond to this after years of using the IFS’s reports in their accusations against Gordon Brown.

Indeed, they are out in force doing damage limitation already. Deputy Cameron-in-chief George Osbourne is doing the rounds saying that he wants “this report to start a major political debate in this country about how we can make our taxes simple, fair and competitive.” Read: flat tax. Does he realise why our tax system in so complex? It is industry’s commitment to piling more and more resources into tax avoidance. Of course it has to be complex, otherwise billions of the revenue rightly due to the state simply wouldn’t get paid. The perception by the public that the taxman is needlessly causing companies so much strife over tax will only be further strengthened by comments from Lord Forsyth who led the commision that wrote this report saying, “it is clear that Britain needs a less complex and more competitive tax system” as if it’s some sort of self-evident tautology. Less complex means easier to fiddle, and more competitive means lower, even though we still are still behind the EU average for percetage of GDP being paid in tax. Even though we are actually ahead of the low tax haven the US in terms of levels of business freedom (I did read this somewhere, but can’t find the link, you’re going to have to trust me).

Let’s look at those IFS comments in more detail:

“It’s quite clear that these proposals would benefit the rich. Inheritance tax cuts, income tax cuts are going to benefit people in the top half of income distribution.” Carl Emmerson, Deputy Director of IFS

Pretty damning if you care in the slightest about social justice, and furthermore if you realise the fact that the top percentiles in terms of income already pay less as a proportion of their income in tax than the lowest earners in society.

So £21 billion (although some say £30 billion is a closer estimate of the extend of the cuts). How will this be funded? Cameron’s answer: green taxes, which will plug the gap and allow spending on public services to continue.. A tax which in principle I completely agree with. Aside from at best being income neutral, at worst even more regressive, the problem is that the income from green taxes, if implemented properly, should fall dramatically as they are designed to alter our behaviour. Final result: less money in the Government coffers, less investment in our public services. I must hand it to our ‘Dave’. Stealth tax cuts… impressive.

October 15, 2006

Liberal Ineloquence

Following the media saturation of the ‘problem’ with the integration of Muslim communities into their “British” counterpart, I thought something better be said on the blog. Although I’m struggling…

It strikes me that the English language is inadequate in arguing from the point of view of a British white liberal, especially when talking to friends who are also white British. All the time I find myself talking about “us” and “them” when my whole argument is based on deconstructing the “us/them” viewpoint seemingly taken by the majority of people.

Perhaps it’s my ineloquence, but I knew that on Wednesday when we talked about this in our meeting, it was very frustrating knowing that I disagreed with a few people in the room, but I hadn’t the words to adequately counter them. Some students there turned a question of the practicalities in Muslim women choosing to wear the full niqab into some far reaching discussion about how the Muslim community need to become more like ‘us’.

The idea that culture is somehow static, and outsiders have to be ‘integrated’/assimilated into it by accepting not only laws but ‘values’ (what they hell are they anyway?) seems so alien to me, perhaps I subconsciously don’t feel the need to labour the point by arguing it..

No matter how much I’m disgusted by it, it continually remains “an issue”, when really, to me, there is none there.

No matter what I think, the media have decided to latch onto this. As Peter Wilby in the New Statesman saws, the Muslim community have become victim the “Alsatian dog syndrome”, whereby the metaphorical “Alsatian” savages a metaphorical child, and suddenly journalists are on the alert for savage dog stories. Ironically this happened with dog attacks the other week, but in this instance, Muslims are the flavour of the week, and the press can’t get enough. As Wilby says:

A Muslim can scarcely sneeze without making front-page headlines and this has been spasmodically true since 9/11, and particularly since 7/7…The actions of a single Muslim are taken by the press as a representative of Muslims as a whole…. Look at the headlines about Muslims and try substituting Christians. Christian cab driver refuses to carry Muslim. (Don’t tell me it’s never happened.) Christian youths vandalise house occupied by wounded Somali refugees. [People] find nun’ habits alien and unsettling. Christian Prime Minister supports bombing of Lebanon…Christians! Arncha sick of ‘em?

October 14, 2006

Bringing our troops home from Iraq?

This is my first post on this blog and I have decided to write about something that I feel will cause a lot of debate. General Sir Richard Dannatt has suggested that Britain should withdraw our troops from Iraq soon. This is a controversial statement but the opposite is equally controversial. I believe that we should not withdraw our troops until the situation has been sorted – but how long will this take? Dannatt has made some valid points. Many people do want to see our troops returned home.

I am interested in the debate that I hope this post will bring up. There are definitely pro’s and con’s to both arguments. I believe that it is our duty to “clear the mess that we have made by invading Iraq” but, of course, I would like to see our troops back home as soon as possible.

Sorry if I have taken the General’s comments out of context in any way. That is just how I understood the story.

October 11, 2006

'Death in Gaza'

For those of you who may have been at our meeting today, you will have heard me advertise the film ‘Death in Gaza’ film being shown by the PAIS department. I think I saw one person who was at the meeting turn up, and I think it was a shame that so many missed such a powerful piece of work.

I knew the film was going to be incredibly hard hitting (simply because of the subject matter) but what I didn’t realise that it was going to be incredibly good.

The film starts by saying it is not about who’s the better in this conflict, and instead tries to highlight the effect this culture of violence is having to the population, especially to the children of Gaza. The film’s director, James Miller, was actually planning to produce a separate project, concentrating on the children of Isreal. Aswell has demonstrating the tragic circumstances of the children it follows, the film also acts as a tribute to the director, who tragically dies during the filming, shot in the neck by Isreali fire as he walks towards a bulldozer saying, “We’re British Journalists”, and waving a white flag.

Ironically, whilst throughout the film Miller highlights the warped nature of the Palestine resistance, where the inability to match Isreali firepower turns every death into a cause for celebration, he himself has his image paraded through the streets of Gaza on a bed of flowers to the cries of “God is Great!”. Yet another martyr to be “celebrated” by the desperate people of the Gaza strip.

October 09, 2006

'Ecological Overdraft'

Today is the day that ‘humanity slides into the red’ as we further add to our ‘ecological overdraft’.

According to the Global Footprint Network, and as reported in the Guardian today, we have already consumed all of the resources that the planet can be expected to replenish in one year. And this as we have only just entered October.

As I ponder this, I gaze out of my window and see cars drive past, a policeman ordering a Subway sandwich, Christmas lights across the street ready to be turned on (why xmas lights?? It’s OCTOBER for christ’s sake! But perhaps this may be for another entry).. All of these things using energy the Earth cannot replenish.

According to the report, this over-utilising our resources began in 1987 when the year’s resources were spent by the 19th December. The date has been gradually leaping forward ever since. If we consider ‘ecological footprints’ (land and water required to sustain a person’s lifestyle) the average North American uses 9.6 hectares (or 23.7 acres) in a year. For an African: 1.4 hectares.. If we were all like North Americans in our lifestyle (which as a Brit I am depressingly close), four extra planets would be required to sustain our lifestyles.

Depressing but necessary reading if we are to create a sustainable way of living for the next generation to inherit.

October 03, 2006

Ageism and Director's Pay

Two of the editorials in the guardian yesterday seemed appropriate, given the second topic in the newsletter.

First, for obvious reasons, the editorial on ageism: typically you may say, for the guardian, they say they don’t go far enough. They make some interesting points though.

Secondly, they made a big hoo-ha about director’s pay yesterday. And it struck me that it’s no good arguing for fairness in the employment market, without addressing this key issue. Averaging 28%, the increase in directors pay is farcical (inflation is at 2.5%, average earnings at 3.7%). Success in the boardroom deserves reward, but when these massive gains are seen of what some see as failing companies, how long can this go on? As the Guardian says:

There is a morality to the principle that work should bring a fair but not excessive reward: but it is a principle that Britain’s elite appear happy to apply to everyone apart from themselves

October 02, 2006

ICA newsletter

ICA Newsletter and top TV picks? Indeed. See below.


This is the first weekly newsletter this year from the International Current Affairs Society (ICA, for short). These three stories should be what we will be (broadly) discussing in our first meeting (Wednesday 2-3pm, in Social Studies, S0.13) and some questions which might arise. The newsletters provide an opportunity to read about the discussion topics or think about your views on the topics. If you just want to turn up without, that’s fine too. All members get the newsletter as an e-mail each week automatically (usually on Monday night or Tuesday morning), which makes the URLs a lot easier to follow.

As well as the newsletters, we also have quite a few things in the pipeline for this year, including a trip to London and other great social events. Of course, if you were a member last year then please re-join.

The first topic for discussion is the coup in Thailand which ousted the democratically elected Prime Minister Thaksin and replaced him with a military junta. The army has now appointed a new PM, Retired General Surayud Chulanont. Despite the point that the military said that they would appoint a civilian PM they have decided to retain substantial powers themselves, at least until October 2007. What I wonder is, can a democratic government, which has majority support, ever really be ousted? Is it not inevitable that a similar, if not the same, government will be re-elected? And can government be secure in Thailand now that this precedent is set with the army?
(for more info see )

Secondly, turning to Britain, new laws against ageism in the workforce were introduced on October 1st, these laws aim to abolish employers seeking only younger or only older candidates or forcing older workers out of the business when they reach 60. The problem with these laws is that the minimum wage already discriminates, as does the amount of redundancy pay which workers can expect. People will still need to be over 18 to work behind a bar. But are these laws even worth while, they might endanger the minimum wage, they might harm businesses who could be forced to keep places open for apprenticeships for older workers who will soon leave. The law fails to stop people being forced to retire at 65. The law also fails to take into account different abilities from different age groups and to allow recruitment based on that. Do we need anti age discrimination laws at all? Do we need stronger laws? Will this law cause more harm than good?
(more info at )

Thirdly, Zimbabwe. In August the inflation hit 1,200%, up by over 200%, in September that figure could increase again, by the end of the year the figure could hit 1,800%. These are just one symptom of Mugabe’s handling of the country and the land seizure from white farmers, others include a lack of food, fuel and housing. Mugabe still blames all of Zimbabwe’s troubles on the UK. With the country in such trouble, and free and fair elections seeming unlikely I wonder, is it time to force regime change on Zimbabwe for the good of the people? Or is this just another Iraq waiting to happen? Could a peaceful solution work in Zimbabwe?
(Info at )

If you want any more info or have suggestions for the newsletters or society you can e-mail me at;
Joe (the Chairman)

Recommended viewing for this week:


Dispatches: Burma’s Secret War (C4 9pm) – “Journalist Evan Williams goes undercover to investigate Burma’s brutal military regime, where mass ethnic cleansing, forced labour and vicious clamping down of political opposition characterise the dictatorship.”

The Bradford Riots (More4 9pm) – “Written by Neil Biswas and featuring music by Asian Dub Foundation, this drama tells the story of the night of rioting in Bradford in July 2001 from the perspective of a group of young Asian men. Karim, a Manchester University politics student, comes back to his home town for the summer to find racial tensions are brewing. After a series of riots in other areas of the north, it appears the BNP are preparing to target Bradford for their next march.”


The Tank Man (More4 9pm) – “Documentary in which Antony Thomas investigates the identity of the Tank Man – the solitary protester who held up a column of tanks during a protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Through the testimony of witnesses and archive footage, the film recreates the historic events as Beijing citizens and students defended their city against soldiers aremed with live ammunition and tanks.”


Dispatches: That Data Theft Scandal (C4 9pm) – “The current affairs series investigates the call centre security failures which allow personal financial details to be stolen and illegally traded. In a year-long undercover investigation, Channel 4 News reporter Sue Turton infiltrates criminal networks who trade the confidential information of British consumers for large profits in India.”


Bremner, Bird & Fortune (C4 8.30pm) – “Topical satirical comedy from impressionist Rory Bremner and regular collaborators John Bird and John Fortune.”

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