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October 29, 2007

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). – 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?

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.

Also in the news:

• Lets all hide monkeys under our hats….
• Human race to split in two –, along with artists impression
• Absence of goats made me speed –

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 01, 2007

Conservative conference – Inheritence Tax

The Conservatives tried to grab headlines today to support their flagging pre-election campaign through, primarily ‘aspiration taxes’ (inheritance tax to you and me).

It is very easy to get into arguments about the moral standing of taxing the estates of the deceased, and one that isn’t easily finished. To me, it’s the prime example of where taxes should be used, but that’s beside my main point.

Instead of waffling on about how the government is taking advantage of the hard-working ‘middle englander’ and how the Conservative will come to the rescue, we should tell it how it is. This would be a tax cut for the top 6% most priveleged members of our society.

It is no good talking of how increasing house prices will mean Joe Public will now be facing a charge, since this is simply not the case. The housing boom has near enough peaked, in some areas starting to reverse, and still only 6% of estates pay the taxes.

If the people to whom inheritance tax is a travesty against hard work accepts this reality, I am very willing to have a discussion, but otherwise there is not much point.

January 15, 2007

BAE accused of corruption

So, what’s new then?

It’s true that it’s not that revelationary to highlight corruption in the arms trade, but the Guardian has a good piece on a Tanzanian deal that is now under investigation.

The alegations are serious. Apparantly, BAE paid $12m (representing 30% of the contract value) to a middle man, whilst securing a deal that would see Tanzania, a country higly dependant on foreign aid for most basic services, buying a sophisticated radar system. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for them to buy this technology. Most seem to agree that a basic civilian radar system, for a fraction of the cost, would be suitable for the coutries needs.

This story comes almost immediately after the Attorney General dropped all investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into extremely dodgy looking deals made by BAE to the Saudis.

My worry is not that this allegation, if true, will go unpunished. My fear is that the investigation will proceed wholeheartedly. Either the allegations will unfounded, or BAE will be punished in some form. Either way BAE can stand up and make claims of the legitamacy of its business. Meanwhile the authorities (and the public) will continue to ignore the (more serious) allegations in regard to the Saudi deals.


Also, for more government pandering to the Saudis, have a look at this report on Sandy Mitchell, Bill Sampson and Leslie Walker, three British expats, accused of terrorism by the Saudi authority. They were then tortured before they ‘confessed’. Posessions were confiscated and they were made destitute. No help has been provided to these British citizens by their own government in their search for justice.

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 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

September 05, 2006

Conservative Party's Statement of Aims and Goals

Writing about web page

Just in case anyone is interested the Conservative Party has produced a detailed statement of aims and goals which has been created through extensive consultation of the members of the party (can be read from the link in the head of this post). This isn’t a completely final document because the Conservative Party believes in democratic choice and discussion, so it will need to be voted on by members, but I do think that it could well be voted through.

If you are a member of the party do consider voting on this. If you are not then you can put your thoughts here. Regardless of your views it is certainly worth a read – there might even be some sections which surprise you.

(I was especially pleased with the section which explicitly noted the link between giving aid and gaining better security in return. Which was a very similar argument to that which I heard Bill Clinton making on CNN over the weekend.)

Desperate killer tries to escape

The title is perhaps misleading, but Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer, was found in his cell after an attempted suicide.

For the second time Huntley has tried to end his life through overdose, even after the first event brought to attention “serious system failures”. Perhaps the problems haven’t been addressed.

Huntley is currently at Wakefield prison, which surprised me, since originally he was based in a secure mental health institute (Broadmoor I think). So, having been declared sane (I hope), he was put into one of the most notorious prisons in the country. Indeed, Charles Bronson, apparantly Britain’s most violent prisoner, is based there.

I was compelled to write an entry on this simply because of my mother’s nonchalent reaction to the news. “Whatever, who cares, he deserves it, let him die” etc. Does he deserve it however? Is it an escape? He undoubtably experiences voilent bullying in prison, with reports of him being attacked with boiling water in an earlier incident. Even though his sentence is “at least 40 years” and not life, there will little or no chance of freedom, especially with him being a criminal of his notoriety.

The danger is thinking that death will increase suffering/punishment, when it will not. In my view, death is a lesser sentence for this man, though this does not mean I support execution, rather I’m referring to suicide. Now, the question, “Does he deserve death?” takes on a whole new meaning.

September 01, 2006

Headline news?

Interesting news headline on the BBC breakfast program…

“Tony Blair doesn’t say when he’s going to leave office”

Wow, spectacular, someone didn’t say something..

Does anyone else find this “Will he, won’t he leave” thing a bit tiresome… Even for the Blair haters, surely they realise he has an army of Blairites ready to take over… What about Brownites? Rubbish.. they’re ideologically identical. Brown said himself he’s commited the Blairite reform of public services, and to pull off any futher radical reform, the resentment in the Labour Parliamentary party will mean he will have to (eventually at least) resort to the arrogant, top down leadership style for which Blair is so infamous.

It’s all pretty insignificant anyway, the tories will win in 2009 and they can start happily start destroying everything Labour has achieved since they came into power.

The Third Way is starting to crumble, and I’m not sure if the imprint will last.

Postal Wars

I’m a bit late on this one since it was a few days ago…

You will probably heard of the postman who was sacked for distributing anti junkmail propaganda (in reality it was simply information regarding opting out of the Royal Mail’s ‘Direct Mail’ service). It dawned on me that by suspending the said postie, the Royal Mail kick started unprecedented publicity for the previously mysterious optout option. So, by trying to stifle the policy, they have in fact done the best thing they could have done to make sure everybody knows about it..

Nice one, 5 stars for effort..

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