All entries for October 2007

October 31, 2007

Project for New American Century.

Today in the ICA meeting a member told us about the Project for a New American Century. It’s a think tank (set up in 1997) that aims to significantly increase US military spending and intervention in the world so to ensure US interests are promoted. On its foundation a statement of principles was a collection of signed supporters, below are a few of its signatories:

Jeb Bush: Governor of Florida (1999-2007) and George Bush’s brother.
Donald Rumsfeld: Secretary of Defense (1975-1977, 2001-2006).
Paul Wolfewitz: Deputy Secretary of Defence (2001-2005), President of World Bank (2005-2007).
Dick Chaney: Vice President (2001-).
Dan Quayle: Vice President (1989-1993).
Zalmay Khalilzad: Ambassador; Afghanistan (2003-2005), Iraq (2005-2007), UN (2007-).
Steve Forbes: CEO Forbes Inc (publishes Forbes magazine).


October 29, 2007

Two Americas?

America
The two maps here shows which states would have voted which way in the 2004 presidential elections. The first shows if only the votes of poor voters were counted, and the second if only rich people were counted; with blue signifying democrats. What we see is one of class warfare, the poor votes democrats and the rich votes republicans. However reading the newspapers gives the impression that America is fundamentally divided, since the 1960s, between liberal Vs Conservative line, such as in: Abortion, Gay marriages, War on terror, etc. Short term policies designed to divide the working classes so that the elite can control the economic agenda.

ICA newsletter, week 5

ICA newsletter – Week 5.

Hi all, my calendar tells me it’s another new week again so here’s another ICA newsletter:

• First story of the week is that the US has stepped up sanctions on Iran to target the finances of the Revolutionary guards, and three state owned banks. These sanctions also extend to the guards business interests. Condoleezza Rice claimed Iran is pursuing technologies ‘that can lead to a nuclear weapon’, but reiterated her commitment to a diplomatic solution, offering to meet her Iranian counterpart, ‘anytime, anywhere’. Such a position is a stark contrast from that of US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is believed to be lobbying for a military intervention. With Iran’s position similarly hardening also, after the resignation of Ali Larijani and his replacement with the more hard-line Saeed Jalili, is there actually any hope of a peaceful solution? Or will America and/or Israel replicate the Syrian operation? (If we believe the satellite analysis).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7063188.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7067378.stm – also it appears that it is perfectly ok for Egypt to build nuclear plants for power??

• Second, with the visit of King Abdullah, the first visit to the UK by a Saudi monarch in 20 years, ministers seem keen to stress the ‘shared values’ between the two states. One of the most important of those values seems to be the weapons industry, with the Saudis buying 72 Eurofighters from the UK in a deal worth £20 billion including maintenance and training. Lib Dem Vince Cable has boycotted the King’s visit, citing the Kingdom’s human rights record, and saying that the King should not have been invited. So should the UK press the Saudis harder on their human rights record? Or are the contracts and the jobs they bring just too good to resist?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7066754.stm

A UN expert has condemned the growing of crops to produce biofuels as a ‘crime against humanity’, calling for a five year ban on the practice. Production for biofuels has helped to push food prices higher. The IMF recently voiced concerned that a rise in the reliance on grain as a fuel source could have serious implications for the worlds poor.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7026105.stm

Also in the news:

• Lets all hide monkeys under our hats…. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6936533.stm
• Human race to split in two – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6057734.stm, along with artists impression
• Absence of goats made me speed – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/5322302.stm


October 23, 2007

ICA Newsletter, week 4.

Hi and welcome to week 4 with ICA. Obviously this week has seen a few sporting failures for England whether through toes going into touch, technical problems or just plain uselessness, but we’ll just gloss over those….

First of all, 12 soldiers and 32 PKK, (Kurdistan Workers Party), rebels have been killed in clashes close to the Iraq-Turkey border. These clashes occurred just days after MPs in the Turkish parliament had voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion to allow the
military to launch cross-border offensives against rebels based in the mountainous areas of northern Iraq. The heightening of tensions along this border comes after an increase in the frequency of attacks by PKK guerrillas on targets in the south of Turkey. There has been increasing pressure on the Turkish government to act against the rebels, but the Iraqi and US authorities are against any incursion into Iraq for fear it may destabilise Iraq’s most peaceful region. Can the Turkish justify an incursion into foreign territory to prevent terrorism? And would such an attack work anyway, or would it be another Lebanon?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,2196707,00.html

EU leaders have reached an agreement over the new EU treaty, (not a constitution, honest), after objections from Italy and Poland were overcome. The treaty includes the creation of a new longer term president of the European Council and an EU foreign policy chief. Gordon Brown said that the so-called ‘red lines’ declared around various policy areas had been protected, but still faced pressure to call a referendum on the treaty. So does the treaty really matter? And what would be the long-term consequences to Britain’s position within Europe if there was a ‘No’ vote?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6914468.stm

Former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano has one the inaugural, $5 million, Mo Ibrahim Prize rewarding a retired African head of state for ‘excellence in leadership’. Mr Chissano brought Mozambique from civil war to peace and progress during his 19 years
in office. However, with many of his competitors for the prize having less than glorious records in office, is such a prize actually an incentive for good governance? And to what extent is poor governance an explanation for Africa’s development problems?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7056159.stm

In
other news:

Iran’s nuclear negotiator resigns -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7053963.stm

Global stocks see sharp
decline – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7055161.stm

Dumbledore outed -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7053982.stm

Sarkozy gets a divorce -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7050770.stm

Send in the ladybirds -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7054892.stm


October 21, 2007

Its Politics, stupid!

Inequality.
Not exactly current affairs, but interesting nonetheless. The graph (from a entry last month from Krugman’s new, and very good, blog) show the proportion of US income that goes to the richest 10% of American’s. As clearly shown, there is increasing inequality in the US.

What is most interesting however from this graph is that, if anything, it’s a cry to arms for political activists (of any allegiance). Being an economist I often here the idea that the markets determines the distribution of income, etc, and there is little that the government can actually do that isn’t superficial.

However the massive decrease in inequality we can see that was achieved in the 1930s appears to be proof that the motivated intervention by the New Deal activists really did manage to achieve a real change in the distribution of income. Furthermore the reactionary conservative movement of the 1980s managed to sweep away the New Deal legislation and hence lead the economy to the previous levels of inequality. In the first case it took 5 years, in the second about 15 years, but either way the conclusion is the same. A strong and concentrated political movement can lead to very real movements in the nature of our society.


October 17, 2007

BBC Job Cuts.

BBC management are planning to enforce 2,000 compulsory redundancies, this is equivalent to cutting the BBC BBCworkforce by 10%. The cuts are necessary because of a distinct fall in planned future government funding. Anger amongst the BBC workers (including Jeremy Paxman, as it seems that many of the cuts will be in the News departments) has led to many to imply that future strike action is very likely.

The classic debate is will these cuts improve efficiency sufficiently enough to justify the fall in quality. Naturally the BBC journalist has cried that the sky is falling and that the quality of BBC programming will fall dramatically. However the management seems to be planning to synthesize the News radio, television, and internet departments, thus this gives them a way to argue that actually the cuts will be on useless management and duplicative journalists; hence quality will not be damaged.

But (putting my conspiracy hat on) what has led to the government cutting expenditure so much? One would imagine that efficiency improvements would be done naturally; it wouldn’t require the government to enforce it. Could it be in order to appease Rupurt Murdoch? Gordon Brown would remember Murdoch’s responsibility in causing Labour to lose the 1992 election, could this be an attempt to buy Murdoch’s support…


October 16, 2007

Lib Dem leader quits.

The Lib Dem leader Menzies Cambell yesterday quit after pressure fromLib his party. Doubtlessly his age (66) and relatively low-key media style (i.e. boring) are big factors, coupled with the fact that many younger Lib Dems are hungry for the job.

Who will be the next leader? I think that it wouldn’t be unlikely to see the party take a swing to the right. Those Lib Dem MPs in Left wing constituencies will find an easier time to defend their seats in the next election as support for the Labour party falls. While those defending their seats in Right wing constituencies will find it harder to defend their seats to in the next election due to the increasing popularity of the Tories. Thus the right-wingers in the Lib Dems are likely to be galvanised and be a more active force then the left-wingers, due to the former having fear for their jobs while the latter not.

The FT says that a leading right-wing candidate for winning the leadership election is Nick Clegg. He is only 40, 26 years younger then Menzies Cambell. Plus he is 13 years younger then Chris Huhne, another leadership possibility. So perhaps he holds a good chance of being the next Lib Dem leader.


October 12, 2007

Inheritance tax (again)

Follow-up to Conservative conference – Inheritence Tax from The International Current Affairs Society

Good article in the G2 today that supports my point of view.

There is the assumption, contrary to economic history and most current predictions, that house prices will just keep on booming and therefore make even the most modest of homes liable for inheritance tax. There is the allegation that the levy is a form of “double taxation” – well, so is VAT, and anyway, money earned on property is untaxed. There is the unlikely assumption that people will not downshift to a smaller place, or see their savings swallowed up paying for their own care in their old age – as Carl Emmerson, deputy director of the thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says: “Your wealth at 50 or 60, when it’s at its peak, will not be the same as your wealth when you’re 80 or 90.” You could even question the notion that inheritance tax can be called a “death tax” at all, when it is not paid by the unfortunate dead but by the fortunate living. Emmerson, who is studiedly neutral on the question of inheritance tax, runs through these arguments and counter-arguments and then pauses a little wearily. “Maybe it’s just a badly understood tax,” he says.


October 09, 2007

Strike out Royal Mail?

As anyone waiting for post will surely know, Royal mail and their Stikeworker’s unions have still failed come to any agreement. Yesterday they went on 48-hour strike, and next Monday the union’s head threatened continuous strike action. This is just the latest stage in the battle between the Royal Mail’s Unions and their bosses. There was another 48-hour strike last week, and in July was a series of staggered strikes. The industrial action of an army of 130,000 postal workers is predicted to cost the company up to £230 M, one can thus deduce that the cost to the greater economy must be much higher.

The cause seems to revolve around the management’s drive towards modernising reforms (such as making the jobs the workers do more flexible, so they may not know what job they are doing one day to the next). However the workers complain that the proposals will cost 40,000 jobs. There are disagreements over the pay increase also.

What should we do, if anything? Does these events acts as a signal justifying the privatisation of the service? If it was privatised then the management would be much more empowered to get the job done, as they wouldn’t be accountable to the government who are in turn accountable to the Unions. They would still be accountable to the democracy of the marketplace; the only difference is that now the wider consumer interest would take precedence over the narrower union interest.


October 08, 2007

Gordon's election fix.

After weeks of allowing public speculation to gather over whether he Gordonwill call an election or not, Gordon Brown now finally given us an answer: No. He has, if we can believe what they say, annoyed the leaders of the other parties. Cameron has said: ‘He was not being straight… everybody knows he is not having an election because there’s a danger of him losing it’, while Campbell said: ‘[Gordon’s] lost his nerve’. The resent polling data may confirm this, with the Times saying that the Tories has a three point lead over Labour.

The worrying thing is that these speculations seems to be well founded. Brown said that he was seriously contemplating an election. It seems a bit unfair that he can call an election whenever he wants, such as seriously contemplating it when the polls are in his favour but then deciding not to when things go the other way. In the interests of having fair elections should their dates be exogenously determined (e.g. at May once every four years)? Indeed this is what the Lib Dems are arguing for.


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