Michael Meacher's letter

I saw this letter on Twitter this morning:

The annual Sunday Times Rich List yields four very important conclusions for the governance of Britain (Report, Weekend, 28 April). It shows that the richest 1,000 persons, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth over the last three years by £155bn. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare.

Second, this mega-rich elite, containing many of the bankers and hedge fund and private equity operators who caused the financial crash in the first place, have not been made subject to any tax payback whatever commensurate to their gains. Some 77% of the budget deficit is being recouped by public expenditure cuts and benefit cuts, and only 23% is being repaid by tax increases. More than half of the tax increases is accounted for by the VAT rise which hits the poorest hardest. None of the tax increases is specifically aimed at the super-rich.

Third, despite the biggest slump for nearly a century, these 1,000 richest are now sitting on wealth greater even than at the height of the boom just before the crash. Their wealth now amounts to £414bn, equivalent to more than a third of Britain's entire GDP. They include 77 billionaires and 23 others, each possessing more than £750m.

The increase in wealth of this richest 1,000 has been £315bn over the last 15 years. If they were charged capital gains tax on this at the current 28% rate, it would yield £88bn, enough to pay off 70% of the entire deficit. It seems however that Osborne takes the notorious view of the New York heiress, Leonora Helmsley: "Only the little people pay taxes."
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton

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Ed Brayton's new podcast

I was delighted yesterday to discover that Ed Brayton, who used to host one of my all-time favourite political podcasts, Declaring Independence Radio, has recently started hosting a new show: Culture Wars Radio.

Declaring Independence was a show predominantly about American law and politics. It was constantly fascinating, with episodes being mostly interview with experts in constitutional law, civil liberties, police misconduct and such; interspliced with commentary and lighthearted discussion of current events. What I liked most about it was that Ed Brayton never shied away from getting right down to the tiniest details of case law and history, discussing the minutiae of various cases with his guests and drawing on his huge knowledge of American civil liberties law to get the best out of his guests. Also his staunch non-partisanism, hatred of hypocrisy and demagoguery, and willingness to harshly criticise Obama and the Democrats (while still poking fun at right-wing loonies).

Ed Brayton is an American political journalist, editor and development director of the American Independent News Network, and seems to specialise in civil liberties law. He seems to get particularly fired up about education, separation of church and state, and transparency and accountability in government. He has a general left-libertarian viewpoint. I don't agree with him on everything, but he's very knowledgable about law, and hella smart. To quote erstwhile acquaintance of mine, Seth Manapio, he is "a goddam genius".

I looked hard for somewhere online for old episodes of Declaring Independence to link here, because they're all really worth a listen, but it seems to have evaporated. I've got 74 old episode as mp3s if anyone's really keen. [Edit: find them here.]

The new show, Culture Wars Radio, only has a few episodes out so far, and I've only listened to the first two of them, but it looks to be much along the same lines as Declaring Independence, which is fantastic as far as I'm concerned.

I strongly recommend checking it out, if you've any interest in civil liberties law, American politics or just deep and informed yet intelligible political discussion.

Police suppression of peaceful pro-NHS protest, March 17th 2012

Here's what happened when me and a few friends went to London to show our opposition to the atrocious Health and Social Care Bill 2011. The one currently being forced through parliament with a middle finger to all who look on.

I feel it's important to document what I witnessed at this demonstration since, as many have noted, there has been little-to-no coverage of this protest by the BBC and other UK mass media. A deeply worrying trend for anti-government protests, but one others are better placed to comment on than me.

The bottom line is: this was a completely nonviolent, unaggressive protest. The police action was hostile and totally unprovoked. There is no way we could have been seen as a threat to anyone.

The goal of the police did not seem to be to confront the protest or get into a fight. Each time a kettle was formed, it was dropped after a short time on some signal. The police were acting in a coordinated fashion, and their only goal seemed to be to suppress and disband the protest. By kettling and separating any big group which formed into smaller groups, they prevented the the crowd coordinating, communicating or decision-making properly. At its start, the protest was self-motivated, passionate, and made up of citizens trying to make a (last) stand for something they believed in. Through their action, the police successfully reduced it to separate groups of disconnected, scared, angry people who didn't know what to do and felt unable to continue.

The way the police acted was, while not actually violent in any cases I saw (grabbing, shoving and restraining, but no beating), extremely intimidating. They incited the crowd to run for safety on multiple occasions, though there were many elderly and disabled amongst us (this was a pro-NHS campaign after all). I did not see anybody get hurt, but if the crowd had been any denser, larger or had any rogue elements, things could easily have kicked off — if they had it would have been completely the fault of the aggression and intimidation tactics of the police. No attempt was made at dialogue, or even megaphoned monologue to warn the protest that action would take place. Instead, the riot police acted quickly and unpredictably, communicating with shouted codes, avoiding eye contact with the demonstrators.

There are other accounts online. Important points to note from my view of events that may contradict or corroborate other points of view:

  • All aggression I saw was on the part of the police.
  • All the protesters I saw were completely nonviolent, and not even aggressive.
  • I saw no signs of police firearms, though there have been alarming reports of this (including photos of police with automatic weapons within sight of the demo) from elsewhere.

Below the fold is my account in full, to the best of my recollection.

Edit: still no mainstream attention, but a great roundup of social media coverage by Steven Sumpter can be found here.

Edit: Since I complain here about a lack of media coverage of the protest, I should acknowledge that the Guardian's NHS Reforms Liveblog has just made mention of the protest and included a link to this post. I'm flattered that it's "worth a read" and delighted that they explicitly "don't endorse it's view" :P
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Letter to the government: drop the Health and Social Care Bill 2011

Everyone knows the shocking scale of the Tory-led coalition government's proposed changes to the NHS and degree to which they disregard public and expert concerns.

If you care about public healthcare in the UK, write to your MP. NOW.

Below the fold is the letter I have sent to my MP and to various members of the House of Lords, complete with references.

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Cultural Relativism and Technology

[Update: Now I am older and wiser, I don't necessarily any-longer agree with everything I wrote here, but I'm not going to delete it (yet). If you also disagree, let me know.]

I was talking to a couple of friends of mine about politics the other day. The conversation ended in a disagreement about whether or not one ought to adhere to principles of cultural relativism. That is, whether it is fair or legitimate to criticise the practices of members of another culture from the inescapable perspectives of ones own. I was arguing against cultural relativism but in the course of the discussion some arguments were raised which I hadn't considered before and which made me stop and reconsider my position.

My purpose in writing this is partially in order to get my thoughts in order and partly in the hope that the discussion can continue, 'cause it's one that interests me. I wish to wear my ignorance of many relevant topics on my sleeve and, as always, I'm completely open to the prospect of changing my mind.

My feelings were that open criticism of other cultures should be permissible. I felt that if we had carefully examined our own reasoning and motives, we ought to be allowed to criticise the practices of others, even if we understood that those practices may be the product of another culture and its historical context.
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UK stop and search powers are illegal

The Guardian reports:

The Strasbourg court ruled it was unlawful for police to use the powers, under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to stop and search people without needing any grounds for suspicion.

The widely-drawn ruling said that not only the use of the counter-terror powers, but also the way they were authorised, were "neither sufficiently circumscribed, nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse".

Vindicated!

Labour hates gays, loves Jesus.

Faith Schools Free to Preach Against Homosexuality

Oh fucking hell. The Guardian writes:

[Sir Alasdair] Macdonald said: "What we're trying to do, and I accept it's difficult, is find a balance between young people having an entitlement to knowledge, facts, information but where schools, particularly schools with a particular faith interest or other disposition, also have a right to put that in context of their particular institution. "

Why?

Think about that — a balance between young people having an entitlement to knowledge, and an institution's particular faith interests. This is just so irresponsible.