One of the best election video to cover #ge2010.


Gordon Brown is the worst sort of Hypocrite

#Bigotgate needs no introduction. That Brown labelled a voter a bigot behind her back seems to confirm all the public’s worst impressions of the man. He is two faced, which is bad enough, but worse he is scared to stand up for himself when confronted. But that is not all. Even worse for him Brown labelled a woman a bigot because she asked a relatively innocuous question about immigration; well, innocuous by the standards of most discussions on the subject.

On the above hypocrisies Brown is guilty as charged. But frankly speaking Paul has things right, Gordon Brown is a hypocrite, but only as far as any other politician ever has been. There’s no chance Cameron or Clegg haven’t vented at their back room staff after a difficult confrontation; what matters to this news cycle is that Brown was caught.

But there’s no reason to focus on that aspect of this when there’s something all the more revealing that has come to the fore. Focussing on Brown’s initial hypocrisy misses what is actually important.

Brown has worked for 13 years seeing immigration controls tighten. For everyone bar Europeans this country is far harder to enter now than it has been since the 1940s. We have had 5 immigration Acts from this administration, each one more restrictive than the last, asylum claims have sunk massively and are currently running at around 30,000 a year (of which roughly half are rejected either initially or after failing an appeal).

We have detention centres for children like Yarls Wood. Oh sorry, detaining children not tough enough? How about we beat some women too? Worried about Asylum Seekers swamping in? Okay we’ll ban them from working. Fucking scrounging Asylum Seekers, why don’t they get a job? Huh?! Hey look over there! The immigrants are eating swans again. Kick them out!

These are the policies that Brown has announced, backed and funded. This is what people like Gillian Duffy have demanded from 13 years of a Laboir Government.

What is bad is not that Gordon Brown called this woman a bigot. What is fucking disgraceful is that Gordon Brown has been following policies which he himself thought were bigoted. Brown is a bastard because for 13 fucking years he has been promoting policies designed to appeal to those he describes as “bigots” and he knew what he was doing was wrong the entire time.

Scotsman is grumpy” John Q Publican explains pithily. Of course to an extent he is correct but cynicism can blind you to the bigger issues. The only person who has come close to understanding what Brown did wrong is Thomas Byrne. Brown must deep down agrees with Alex Massie that opening Britain’s borders to Europe was “one of the best, even noble, things this government has done,” it fits our free trading history.

Rather than face up to this he has endorsed policies and soundbites which he admits were “bigoted”. He is damned out of his own mouth.

UPDATE: I’m angry. But I have a feeling Justin is even more angry – Recommended Reading.

Playing Football in North Korea

I recently finished reading The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan. It is an account of life in a North Korean gulag. It’s not incredibly current, especially as his time in the gulag finished in 1987, and the book was first published in France a decade ago. But in a country that seems to be plodding along at the pace of an ox drawn cart, and that has suffered a great famine in that time, it offers a relatively insightful glance into a world that very few people have gained access to. Excepting suspicious footage of the Gulag in which the memoirs speak of which surfaced on Japanese TV in the past few years, it is something which very few people have been granted access to.

I could put together a several thousand page rant about the Korean Worker’s Party, the ‘Dear’ and ‘Great’ leaders, and the bleak situation which North Korean citizens have had to endure as a result,. It’s something that many people have done before, and with limited fresh information coming out of North Korea, runs the risk of recycling the words of previous commentators. So in an effort to keep this post somewhat topical (whilst avoiding all the election hype) I saw a specific section which I thought I could work with regarding the treatment of a former North Korean national sporting hero.
As you may well be aware, the North Korean national football team has qualified for the World Cup finals in South Africa this summer. A feat that they only achieved one time previously when the tournament was held in England (as a Scot I won’t dwell on the final outcome that particular year!). Considering that even less was known about the nation then than now, and that prior to the tournament, no Asian team had ever got past the first round (again, a sensitive issue to a Scot…) very little was expected of the team. Something that was reflected in the 1000/1 odds that were granted to the lowly Koreans prior to the tournament. After a steady, if unremarkable first couple of matches, their final group match against Italy at Ayresome Park in Middlesboro was a decider for qualification to the next phase. Lining up against one of the top seeds and, at the time, joint most successful team in world football with two previous tournament wins, most had resigned them to defeat. They surpassed everyone’s expectations with a victory to take them to the quarter final where they lined up against Portugal with the mighty Eusebio. After 22 minutes, they went 3-0 up, before conceding five and killing off what would have surely been one of the greatest ever success stories in World Cup history.
Understandably, following their incredible victory, the team went on a bit of a celebratory binge, which was then used as a reason to blame for their eventual exit from the tournament. After seeing pictures of the team celebrating, the Pyongyang authorities deemed their actions “bourgeois, reactionary, corrupted by imperialism and bad ideas” and the whole team, upon arrival back in North Korea were punished with a stint in the hard labour camps. Kang Chol-Hwan talks of meeting one of the stars of this team, Park Seung-Jin 12 years later, still serving after reacting badly to the punishment which included treatment which stretched as far as a 3 month stint in the utterly barbaric “sweatbox.” This, Kang describes as a Papillon-esque small shack where prisoners are forced onto their hands and knees. Where the prisoner’s heels are pressed so tightly into their body that the buttocks turn solid black with bruising. Barely enough food is provided to survive whilst in this prison, and the tortured are forced to pounce upon cockroaches and centipedes in order to survive. Prisoners are not permitted to talk – the only gestures allowed were to raise your right hand if you wanted to be sick, or left hand if you had to relieve yourself from the other end. If the prisoner made a noise, the guards would relentlessly beat them. If there was any other movement the guard would beat them. That is of course, unless they favoured other punishments such as being forced to crouch over a septic tank with the prisoner’s hands tied behind their back and their face forced downwards.
So other than to give you an unpleasant account of torture methods used in North Korea, what has this post told you? North Korea is isolated from the outside world. Even the route of escape which Kang eventually took – past relatively lax border guards in China has been limited with the construction of concrete walls and barbed wire lining the border to stop escapees. The lack of information regular citizens have of the outside world is startling. The internet is but a fantasy to all but an elite few. Tuning in to South Korean radio is punishable with a spell in the gulags. The country has the lowest rated free media in the world. The very few tourists allowed in the country are scowled at by the North Koreans, who believe them to be a threat to their great nation. The population of North Korea genuinely believes that their “Great Leader” saved them from the American Imperialists who invaded their country. They also believe that they are the most successful and most fortunate nation in the world. The thought of them losing in the World Cup (which, lets face it, looking at their group is incredibly likely!) is inconceivable to the 180,000 odd who can pack into their Rŭngrado May First Stadium in Pyongyang, which I recently learned is the largest stadium in the world.
The World Cup for me and many other people worldwide is a hugely anticipated sporting spectacle. It’s a chance to watch the best in the world compete in the world’s most popular sport. But naturally it brings political implications. I just hope that people pay a bit more attention to this North Korean team. I fear for these players who will almost certainly never live up to their nations impossible expectations. Whilst many casual observers may expect the team to return home to a heroes welcome regardless of the results, the reality may be far starker. So let’s hope, that in 43 days (and counting) when the tournament commences, that the team won’t be ‘corrupted’ in the free, western world and be accused of actions that are “bourgeois, reactionary and corrupted by imperialism and bad ideas.” Let’s hope that the media steer clear of arousing unwanted political controversy which would have extremely far reaching implications, and let’s hope that the logic and lunacy of Kim Jong-Il doesn’t stop these players enjoying their well-earned spot in the limelight amongst some of the world’s sporting elite.

That new IMF report…

I’m liking it.

Matthew Yglesias points me towards the IMF blog [1] which has some more explanation on their Financial Activities Tax.

A FAT is just a tax on the sum of the profits and remuneration paid by financial institutions. That sounds simple, and, in essence, it is. But why an extra tax on financial institutions? Here, I’m afraid, things get a bit nerdy. So brace up for what is coming.

Profits plus all remuneration is value added. So a tax of this kind would be a kind of Value-Added Tax or VAT. And that could make sense because current VATs don’t work well for financial services, which are largely VAT-exempt. This means that a FAT of this kind could make the tax treatment of the financial sector more like that other sectors and so help offset a tendency for the financial sector, purely for tax reasons, to be too large—or too fat.

Now suppose that the base included only remuneration above some high level, and only profits above a ‘normal’ rate of return. Then the base of the FAT may not be a bad proxy for taxes on ‘rents’—return in excess of competitive levels—earned in the sector. Some might find taxing that excess fair.

Or one might include only profits above some level well above normal. Taxing away some of these high returns in good times may help correct for any tendency to excessive risk-taking implied by financial institutions not attaching enough weight to outcomes in bad times (whether because of limited liability, or because they think themselves too big to fail).

A tax on rents? Sounds good to me. It sounds like it would reduce the size of the financial sector too which would be good in a number of ways.

  1. Smaller financial firms would mean a smaller systemic risk of crises.
  2. A less powerful financial lobby twisting the state’s arm.
  3. Finance would stop attracting intelligent people to extract rents who could instead do something productive.
  4. Many crises spring from the financial sector so shrinking it should help diminish the frequency and severity of these.

What happened to the IMF in the last 10 years? It seems like they may have actually learned from some of their mistakes.

[1] Yes, they’re using the theme I used to use for this blog. The IMF, apparently quite frugal.

Happy Birthday: Left Outside is 1

This day in 2009 I wrote my first blog post.


297 posts, 1,150 comments and over 50,000 hits later and I am still going.

I wasn’t sure if I’d last this long when I’ve started but I am happy I am still going, I’ve got no plans to stop any time soon.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by, commented, linked to me, argued with me or encouraged me over the last year. I hope our next year together is even better than the last.

Why we need to scrap Trident

Trident is a waste of time and money. Its only real use is as a phallic symbol to wave across the English Channel and Atlantic.

Nuclear Weapons grew out of the Second World War, Nuclear strategy grew out of the Cold War. They are an expensive anachronism and I argue a militarily useless one at that.

Although never “just another weapon” the huge fear of Nuclear weapons we now sensibly have grew out of the Cold War and the prospects of an intentionally but unwanted global holocaust.

When the decision was taken to drop the Bomb on Hiroshima it was hoped to be something to hasten the capitulation of Japan. It was intended to wreck havoc and frighten the population and the administration into accepting surrender. However, the threat was of further bombings, such as that at Nagasaki, it was not of an existential crisis for the state and people of Japan, which is what a Nuclear strike today would imply.

The fact that they were then still not a normal weapon is evidenced by the fact that there really was a race between the Axis and the Allies to develop it; they knew it bestows a huge strategic advantage. However, the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki illustrates not that Truman was genocidal maniac, but that Nuclear Weapons did not inspire the horror they now do.

Nuclear Weapons have got more powerful but the tactics of Nuclear warfare have also moved on from World War Two.

A little historical detail is important in deciding on whether or not the UK needs and should have an independent Nuclear Deterrent. In the 1950s it was thought that Nuclear Weapons could be used in tactical nuclear strikes, or limited nuclear war. This meant only attacking military sites and avoiding major population areas.

For example, during the Cuban Missile crisis it was suggested that Nuclear Weapons could be used against a non-Cuban and faraway Soviet ship. This would show that the US wasn’t afraid to use nuclear weapons but wasn’t aiming at civilians.

This never happened as Kennedy say that it would likely escalate and kill most of those living in the developed world. However, it wasn’t Kennedy that formalised this doctrine, but Eisenhower many years ago who had to silence the baying of his Generals to make use of America’s nuclear advantage.

What Eisenhower saw was that any nuclear strike was bound to escalate as your opponent could never be sure it was just a tactical strike. He made it clear that any nuclear strike would blot out the sun over eastern europe and would be total rather than limited.

A lot of American Generals lambasted him for cutting off the tactics available to the US but cutting off tactics was exactly what Eisenhower wanted. He wanted to make Nuclear war as unthinkable as possible because he knew the options were either no nuclear war or no human race.

This was reaffirmed under Kennedy during various Soviet induced crises when he was advised to attempt various “tactical” nuclear strikes. He did not, and a good thing too. As it is clear from Soviet records and tactics they almost certainly would have overreacted and started WWIII and killed everyone.

The bulk of the Cold War years saw two military behemoths, armed to the teeth, hold fire and (mostly) preserve peace. This was because there was no chance for geopolitical intrigue as only two players mattered. There would be no shift in the balance of power if all the world supported the US against the USSR. On top of this there the new nuclear doctrine implying total nuclear war helped keep the peace. By making war unthinkable, it made peace possible, as I’ve discussed before with reference to North Korea.

What I’m trying to say is that I cannot possibly see a use for Trident or any Nuclear Deterrent as we will never be one side of two-way a stand off as the US or USSR were. Likewise, we will never and can never use nuclear weapons tactically against a nuclear state.

The only remaining option is nuking a non-nuclear state during a period of conventional warfare. This is the only remaining military option and it is one that I would back under no conceivable circumstance. This refers not just to Trident but also to the Lib Dems platitudinous replacement.

Labour have murdered before, but at least they can plausibly say it was a mistake even if they can’t say sorry. But could they do it with eyes wide open?

If our leaders are prepared to murder millions then they should come out and say so. This is the only option remaining and all talk of “long term strategic interest” is poppycock.

This originally appeared as a comment at the blog of John Q Publican, who is thankfully blogging again after an all too long absence.