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"We admire the development of the peace movement around the world in the last few years. We pray to God to empower all those working against war." - Saddam Hussein, February 2003

Saturday, November 23, 2002  

Right or wrong, top-up fees breach an election pledge, so we can gain the benefits of opposing them

IN A LETTER to the Daily Telegraph, Tory MP Robert Jackson makes a convincing case for Conservative support for university top-up fees. Essentially, he notes it is the fairest way to allow British universities to compete in the future. But whether top-up fees are right and whether they should be supported by the Conservatives should not necessarily have the same answer. Conservatives opposed the last Budget, not because they necessarily saw the tax increases as something that should be reversed at once, but because raising National Insurance was in breach of an election promise. Why apply the same logic to top-up fees? We should oppose their introduction as a breach of a manifesto pledge, then reap the electoral benefits of Labour introducing what could be its own "poll tax", just as the country gains the benefits of extra, non-state funding.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:21 | Permanent Link |

The everyday truths of communism

IF THE ONION'S satire of socialism made light but good comedy of a grim reality, then Peter Hitchens' recent piece on his return to Russia gives the humourless, miserable truth about life under communism, and the effect it has on ordinary lives and economies. I find it very hard to believe someone could read it with an open mind and not feel it innoculating them against Marxist dogma, and see the warning of what happens when a society is run in interests of a state plan, with market forces counting for nothing.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 03:55 | Permanent Link |

Friday, November 22, 2002  

Misery for Labour almost upon us?

DEPENDING ON YOUR perspective, today's Telegraph leader is optimistic. The problems New Labour is facing, both in the country and within itself, are great and long-lasting. The early years were easy, it argues, but they were squandered, and now the difficulties the government failed to tackle - and created for itself - are becoming a real threat for the future. I hope this gloomy analysis of Labour's future is accurate. I certainly think the next few years will not go nearly as well as most seem to think.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 19:06 | Permanent Link |

The continuing curse of cannabis

AS WELL AS causing perhaps one in every eight cases of schizophrenia, cannabis leads to severe depression in its users, new research suggests. This on top of the dangers of tongue and mouth cancer and brain damage is just icing on a poisonous cake. It is really rather obvious, though. If you regularly use substances to give you a high, and exist on that basis, is it any wonder you cannot truly enjoy life except under its influence? Most people have long known about those pathetic people who smoked pot for decades, and now can no longer express any interest in real life or enthusiasm for anything, all their brainpower geared towards the next high. Depression for those not yet in such a pitiful state is only to be expected. Drugs kill and destroy lives. We should be under no illusions about the misery caused by liberal attitudes to them.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 18:57 | Permanent Link |

Argument will combat racism better than censorship and imprisonment

THE BNP HAS won a fourth council seat, this time in Blackburn, the Foreign Secretary's constituency. It is time we stopped dismissing every BNP supporter as a Nazi extremist, suggesting that they cannot be won over to mainstream politics, and did something about the worrying numbers of people who are prepared to support what I am sure most know to be Neo-Nazi groups. Equally, we ought to ask whether criminalising certain political viewpoints does not simply encourage support at the ballot box for those who stand on such a platform. You may be able to prevent their opinions from being discussed publically, but the effect is only to leave their arguments unanswered, and when people reach the voting booth, their views cannot be silenced any longer. Censorship and jail have not prevented the greatest electoral successes the National Front and BNP have ever had, and I can't see them starting to work any time soon. Let's instead try tackling Neo-Nazism head on, allowing every viewpoint in existence to be expressed, rationally defeating those who are wrong with reasoned argument.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 12:46 | Permanent Link |

Why flat rate is the only just income tax

LET US IMAGINE X does a job valued by others in general twice as much as Y. The market rate for their labour ends up rewarding X twice as much. Broadly speaking, he has twice as much by way of possessions and property and so twice as much stake in the safety of society. Therefore, it seems equitable that X should have to pay twice as much in income tax, as he has twice as much property to be protected by the state as Y.

Yet this is not the way our tax system works. Through varying rates of taxation, a man who earns twice as much as another could easily pay well over twice as much income tax. A man earning one-tenth as much as another could easily pay much less than one-tenth as much in income tax.

It is very hard to fault this general principle of equity, yet it is how most tax systems around the world work. Despite the obvious simplicity of asking someone to pay, for example, 22% of however much they may earn, governments opt for the complexity of special allowances and rates of taxation that mean when someone's earnings pass a certain threshold, they are taxed at a much higher rate. Proportional income tax gives way to progressive taxation.

Now you can make a case for progressive taxation, and for regressive taxation. In the first case, you can say that the rich should pay more not only in absolute terms, but also as a proportion of their total earnings, on the grounds that it will enable redistribution of wealth. The tax system in this situation is not about demanding a fare in return for protection of property proportional to the amount of protection the state offers, but about working towards a social purpose that matters more than the basic injustice of demanding eleven times as much from someone who earns only ten times as much as the next man.

In the second case, you can argue - sometimes very convincingly - that a 0% rate of income tax beyond a certain threshold would be a wonderful incentive to hard work, and would reward that work once completed. Again, however, this means asking people to pay for defence of their property from thieves and foreign invaders out of proportion to the benefits they gain. Someone who has three times as much property to protect as someone else may indeed be encouraged to work hard by only being asked to pay twice as much in income tax, but this again means the subordination of basic justice to a politically chosen social good.

The best option is a flat rate, a compromise between the two. If someone earns seven times as much as me, let him pay seven times as much income tax. If he earns two-thirds what I earn, let him pay two-thirds as much in income tax. Anything else than this basic, just proportion is arbitrary. In general principle, progressive and regressive income taxation are equivalent to charging the rich man or the poor man more in a shop for the same goods on the basis of his income. What is the point of paying a man more because his talents are in greater general demand only to rake in much of the extra earnings in an unjust tax system?

The practical injustices of progressive taxation can be just as convincing. Why should someone who spends five years of their life without any real source of income, before finally publishing a long awaited book, have so much of his earnings taken from him once they start to accumulate, while at the same time, a man earning the same amount but being paid annually gets away with paying taxes so much lower? Why should one person in a less well paid job, whose one-off bonus for ingenuity passes the 40% threshold, have so much more of her income clawed back from the state than someone in a consistently better paid job who never quite passes that threshold?

Ultimately, you can choose to subordinate basic justice to various social ends, but the ends cannot justify the means in civilised ethics. It is wrong to make one man pay a greater or lesser proportion of his earnings in income tax than another. The market - that is, all of us - determines how much someone is worth, and no bureaucrat or politician has the right to think he knows better. A flat rate tax would keep their noses out of our earnings, remove disincentives to earnings over a certain limit and penalties for irregular bonuses and long-term projects, and be a fair system for all.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 11:34 | Permanent Link |

For the first time in a while, a good Question Time

TO THOSE WHO did not see Question Time yesterday, I recommend watching it online through RealPlayer. Since the programme has allowed five guests on the panel, the debate has been trivialised greatly, but nonetheless, a very good discussion of the issues of the day commenced. Seeing Peter Hitchens and Tony Benn going head to head was most entertaining, and Francis Maude also impressed me a great deal, speaking well and convincingly. The episode I linked to will be replaced with next week's on Thursday 28 November, so be sure to watch it before then.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 10:20 | Permanent Link |

Thursday, November 21, 2002  

What's so bad about Rush?

MOST WEEKDAY EVENINGS, usually online anyway, I enjoy listening to Rush Limbaugh's (in)famous radio programme. The commentary is interesting and the satirical liberal adverts can be hilarious, although there could be more input from callers. But what I don't understand is the man's reputation as some sort of crazed, right-wing extremist. His comments are unmistakeably conservative and forceful, and he makes no secret of this: if it's what you want to hear you can listen, and what you see is what you get. But I am at a loss to understand the emnity he receives. Bill Clinton and Al Gore have both condemned the influence of talk show hosts such as him, and now Tom Daschle has bizarrely tried to implicate Rush Limbaugh in the threats he feels his family faces.

What is so bad about Rush Limbaugh? What is it he says that makes him so unpopular with liberals? From my considerable experience of his shows, I think criticism of him is out of all proportion to the ideas and viewpoints he expresses. Could it be that liberals hate Rush simply because he helps make conservatism popular?

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 22:15 | Permanent Link |

Blair's success is combining efficiency with "compassion"

AS THE SPECTATOR gives Tony Blair the prestigious Parliamentarian of the Year Award, Peter Oborne profiles our Prime Minister. Overall, his analysis is exaggerated, especially in calling him "the most successful prime minister of modern times", a bizarre comment in this post-Thatcherite age, over which Harold Wilson and Roy Jenkins have had much more influence. Only if winning elections is the sole criterion of success can this be a fair comment on Blair or modern times. But on his personal success - which the fuel protests showed was much more shaky than the column suggests - one part in particular rang loud and true above all else.

To write about Tony Blair is to write about the British people: something that can be said of no recent prime minister, though Baldwin comes close.

One key to this is Tony Blair’s Christianity. It is well-meaning, sincere, yet barren of content: very like the Blairite interpretation of Britain or idea of socialism. The Prime Minister has distilled Britain’s bloody and truculent past into a handful of bland and uncontroversial virtues, like tolerance and fair play. Socialism, that great creed for which millions were murdered, has been implausibly converted into a poorly worked-out sense of generalised goodwill. Though Tony Blair now toys with Rome, his Christianity is in the autochthonous Anglican tradition: it consists of a warm glow of belief, stripped bare of difficulty, discipline or theological imperatives. On the right to life or family values, for instance, the Prime Minister unswervingly takes the side of modern feminist dogma against long-established Church doctrine. There is a whiff about Blair of Pelagius, the fourth-century British theologian who denied the Augustinian doctrine of total depravity and original sin, opening out the prospect of salvation through mere benevolence.

This easy morality is perfect for a spoilt and materialistic generation. Blair offers a contemporary version of Victorian hypocrisy: moral purpose which makes powerful demands neither on himself nor on the voters. The British middle classes want to enjoy the material benefits of capitalism and yet feel virtuous. That is the secret: Thatcherism with a public conscience. The contradiction is overwhelming, but Blair magically resolves it, mainly because we want him to do so.

The old politics was of a 'cruel but efficient' Tory Party versus a 'caring but incompetent' Labour Party. Blair's new politics has combined the false, professionalised caring of old Labour with the economic competence of Conservatism.

People want Thatcherite success, but also Dianaesque "compassion". Blair combines them, making himself the only feasible choice in modern times for an electorate that wishes to vote with its heart as well as its head. They want caring and efficient, and Blair has, so far, provided it.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 16:12 | Permanent Link |

What's wrong with protecting the British people from nuclear attack?

AS OBJECTIONS TO a missile defence system continue, Simon Tisdall condemns Geoff Hoon's hint this week that Britain would give military support to "Son of Star Wars", which requires British early warning systems, and would protect the UK and US from nuclear missiles. Apart from a sizeable but reasonable cost, I have heard one reasonable objection to this: that ballistic nuclear missiles will not be the choice method of attack with weapons of mass destruction, anyway. But this is clearly illogical in itself: the mere fact that a country faces multiple threats doesn't mean it should not work to defend itself against the less likely dangers.

More importantly, a missile defence shield would be an effective deterrent against biological weapons, because it allows the threat of nuclear attacks without retaliation. Currently, if a North Korean spy dropped a bottle of anthrax in the River Thames, we couldn't risk a nuclear attack because it would invite a response in kind. But if we had a defence shield, we would have no such response to fear. North Korea and all other enemies would know this, and so be deterred from such an attack in the first place.

Sadly, there are some who, if America had invented the wheel, would condemn it as a dangerous tool of US imperialism. We can't give up on reasoning with them, but in the mean time we should not be swayed by their criticisms. If we sign up to missile defence, as Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague before him have consistently recommended, we get protection from nuclear weapons basically for free, and greater protection in all sorts of ways. This would be a safer country and a safer world if it were to go ahead. We should agree to it at one.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 10:12 | Permanent Link |

Monday, November 18, 2002  

Pot: Kettle is "black"

AN EXCELLENT DESCRIPTION of the attitude the Guardian encourages and prints towards all those who oppose a Federal Europe comes today, from ... The Guardian

Dissenting voices are often written off as paranoid Little Englanders, closet members of the Tories or, worse, the British National Party. To question the European project's gathering speed or direction is, in the eyes of many, heresy.

EU critics are either dismissed as xenophobes overly hung up on the past, as troglodytes ludicrously attached to the Queen's head on pound notes, or worse still, as fools labouring under the misconception that Britain is best.

They are deemed, in short, to be fearful time-warped reactionaries who can't and won't recognise that the EU is the future - "they don't know what's good for them" goes the refrain - and if they're not 100 % with us then they must be 100 % against us.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 17:36 | Permanent Link |

College Marxism doesn't work either, and for the same reasons

THANKS TO PEJMAN Yousefzadeh (just try saying that when drunk) for linking to a great Onion satire of socialism. That many a Marxist would dismiss this as a nasty propaganda piece just proves the power of humour in implanting ideas in the mind that straight reason and argument could not achieve half as easily.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 09:58 | Permanent Link |

Sunday, November 17, 2002  

The facts about Israel's UN resolutions

THIS WEEK'S SPECTATOR has a good column ridiculing the morally blind comparisons of Israel to Iraq. In detail, Douglas Davis also gives facts no one on TV news seems to present to people about the UN resolution Israel is wrongly claimed to be breaching.

High on the agenda of Channel 4 News after last week’s UN vote, for example, was the question, ‘Can we now expect the UN to take similar action against Israel for its flagrant violations of UN resolutions?’ Britain’s hapless UN ambassador, who was instrumental in framing the Iraq resolution, had to draw on all of his diplomatic skills as he floundered, flubbed and fudged an answer.

If the good ambassador had taken the trouble to read UN Resolution 242 - the celebrated ‘land-for-peace’ formula - which was devised by his predecessor, Lord Caradon, he would have been able to execute the steps of this particular diplomatic dance far more elegantly. The answer is surprisingly clear and straightforward.

First, UN Resolution 242 essentially provides a road map for the settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict. On the one hand, it calls on Israel to withdraw from territory conquered in the 1967 Six Day War; on the other, it calls on Arab states to recognise Israel’s right to exist within secure and defensible borders. These two clauses are interlocked. Israel cannot act alone and the UN clearly did not intend that it could, or even should, evacuate territory unilaterally.

Second, the UN ambassador should have known that resolutions affecting Israel fall under ‘Chapter Six’ (in UN bureaucratic-speak). This means that the resolutions, including 242, are non-binding recommendations that suggest avenues for a peaceful solution of the conflict. Resolutions affecting Iraq, however, fall under ‘Chapter Seven’, which gives the Security Council broad powers, including the use of sanctions and military force, to impose its will in order to counter ‘threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression’.

These two small technicalities do not, however, appear to upset the trendy media agenda, still less impinge on the consciousness of supposedly well-informed interviewers who persist in demanding a timetable for Iraq-style UN ‘action’ against Israel. But then this is a debate where rationality seems to have been suspended and facts become an inconvenient encumbrance.

Posted by Peter Cuthbertson | 04:02 | Permanent Link |
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