Monday, January 30, 2006

tax burdens?

Whilst the government is seeking to reduce the financial burden caused by those claiming incapacity benefit, and encouraging everyone to work until they drop to remove the need for pensions, the Corporations are fighting to preserve their 'creative' accounting practices to maintain their profitability.

The CBI is insisting not only that the business tax burden be reduced, but that anti-avoidance taxation measures be abandoned. They claim that these proposed actions are a 'covert means of extending the tax base whilst circumventing previously accepted tax principle and practice.' Similarly they oppose windfall taxes.

Company tax avoidance practices result in a considerable reduction in expected taxation income. This reduction is, on average, nearly 6% (and rising) less corporation tax paid by the UK's top 50 companies than is expected. For the year 2004/5 this amounted to £4.6 billion lost tax revenue, and £20 billion in the last 5 years. When extrapolated to the rest of the UK's companies the tax loss could be as much as £9.2 billion per year.

There are a number of reasons for this expected, but unpaid tax. These include misleading declared tax liabilities, information hidden in the accounts in a manner to prevent interpretation, and deferred tax.

Deferred tax accounts for a large proportion of the missing tax, and has risen by £3 billion a year since 2002. It now stands at £36 billion for the top companies. The tax breaks which have allowed this £36 billion tax subsidy to business are the result of corporate tax allowances given to encourage capital investment. However, they are interest free, and have no specified repayment date. In fact deferred taxation provisions can be used whether or not there is any possibility of the amounts owed being repaid.

The European corporate world is intent on presenting a vision of capitalism with conscience, and have introduced CSR (corporate social responsibility) for its finance sector. The European economy is the second largest in the world with a GDP (gross domestic product) of $8.2 trillion, and therefore has great clout. This voluntary CSR effort has been merely a smokescreen. The finance sector is devoid of any real level of social responsibility, it is unscrupulous, corrupt and unwilling to tackle such issues as climate change, poverty, human rights and sustainable development.

The finance sector:

provides havens for the wealthy minority who siphon off cash at the expense of developing countries;
places economic benefits above the risks of climate change;
provides loans to repressive regimes which fuel bribery and corruption;
provides high interest loans to those least able to repay, thus perpetuating poverty whilst reaping record profits;
finances projects that threaten human rights; and
does not fully assess the environmental impact of the projects it funds.

Additionally competition for investment in developing countries can lead to the lowering of standards.

And so the business world continues its profit quest at will, with little heed for any other consequence. Governments are unable and/or unwilling to exercise any control, and the self regulation of greed is just a joke.


CBI Recommendations For The Autumn 2005 Pre-Budget Report
Mind The Tax Gap
A Big Deal? Corporate Social Responsibility and the Finance Sector in Europe

Friday, January 27, 2006

legitimate torture

Following Hamas' success in the Palestinian elections, Jack Straw demanded that they renounce violence. He said, 'You cannot have democracy and violence.' Obviously this does not apply to the US and UK versions of democracy. Leaving aside acts of military violence perpetrated by these nations, there are also major human rights violations to consider. These are outlined in the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006.

The basic tenet of international human rights law is the absolute and unconditional prohibition of torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. There are exceptions to the right to life, which allow killing in a time of conflict, but torture in all its guises is absolutely forbidden. However, now world powers consider torture to be a valid option. And the United States is the prime violator, ably assisted by its loyal ally the United Kingdom.

The problem is far greater than that perceived following the Abu Ghraib revelations. Those abuses were a direct result of US policy decisions that allowed interrogators a freer hand in proceedings. The decisions taken included the removal of Geneva Convention protections for war on terrorism prisoners, the adoption of a torture definition that was meaningless, and the power endowed to the US President to authorise torture.

Creating a culture for abuse however was not sufficient, detainee abuse as a deliberate policy, soon became the norm.

The United Nations’ Convention Against Torture defines the term as 'any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.' However, the US defined torture as an act that caused serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulted in a loss of significant body function.

The US defend classic torture measures such as 'water-boarding,' a technique where the victim believes s/he will drown, and mock executions.

This stance is highlighted by Bush's avoidance of the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This is further exacerbated by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' claim that it is permissible to use such treatment for non-Americans held outside the United States. Dick Cheney is also on record as imploring Congress to apply exemptions to the CIA from legislation to ban cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, stated that U.S. interrogators have a duty to use all available authority to fight terrorism.

Whilst the US is the only western democracy to approve the abuse of detainees, Britain has adopted policies that make it complicit. Blair has proposed the deportation of terrorist suspects to countries with well documented torture histories for such people, a full adoption of the US 'extraordinary rendition' policy (which it currently aids).

The Convention Against Torture prohibits sending people to a country where there is reason to believe that they would be tortured. However, the UK government has suggested sending their terrorist suspects to Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Each of these countries are guilty of torturing radical Islamists.

In order to salve their collective conscience, Blair and his government have proposed 'memoranda of understanding,' where the recipient countries promise not to mistreat the suspect, and periodical monitoring, to validate this promise. The memoranda are useless, each of the aforementioned countries have ratified the Convention Against Torture but ignored it. This form of monitoring is also problematic. Periodic monitoring will not deny torturers opportunity, and isolated detainees have little chance of exposing their mistreatment without suffering consequent retaliation.

This course of action is incompatible with international law, and therefore Blair has sought to change the law. The Brits and the US have tried to defeat a UN resolution that stated that diplomatic assurances were not sufficient to absolve governments of their duty not to send suspects to countries where they are likely to be tortured. In the European Court of Human Rights, the UK stated that this duty should be balanced against security considerations and urged other European governments to follow their lead.

Democracy without violence, not in their world.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

King Kong

The 1933 original of King Kong was famous not only for its ground breaking special effects but also for the multitude of subtexts that critics read into it. The monster in monster movies always represents something: it is a fear made flesh (of course, that fear is more likely to be literally made of latex), so that the films creators can consciously or subconsciously explore that fear. The original King Kong was rich in such symbolism. A feminist reading of the film reveals the way in which the depiction of the heroine portrays women as passive sexual objects. An analysis of the film sensitive to issues of race might suggest that the threat of King Kong symbolised white America’s fear of black people. Alternatively the ape’s rampage through New York might be seen as a metaphor for the damage done to people’s lives by the great depression. These are complex issues and, despite the now dated special effects; hint at the reason behind the films enduring appeal. Old movies are worth watching not just for their inherent value as entertainment (whether they are light-hearted or thought-provoking), but also because they can offer us an insight into the social context in which they were created.

The director of the 2005 remake, Peter Jackson, established his politically correct credentials in his multi-Oscar winning lord of the rings trilogy, where he beefed up the roles of a number of the women characters (women being most notable for their absence in the books), and so it is no surprise that he has made a number of changes to the story. There have not been too many changes though. Throughout the film it is evident that Jackson’s remake is very much a labour of love, with a number of direct homages to the original (although at times this verges on pastiche), and like the original, Jackson’s King Kong is all about the big ape and the special effects wizardry behind it. Kong is brought to life by Andy Serkis (who also played Gollum in The lord of the rings using the same technique of performance capture, where his gestures and facial expressions are mapped onto a computer generated character). It is his performance that makes certain that Kong dominates the film. Serkis’ expressiveness enhances the audience’s sympathy for Kong as he is captured, exploited and ultimately killed. Arguably Kong has become much more of a conscious and overt metaphor for the exploitation of the natural world/noble savage by the greedy and destructive white man. Naomi Watts’ version of Ann Darrow is similarly updated from that played by Fay Wray in the original. She is no longer a mere sex object that alternately pouts or screams; instead she sooths the savage beast through an impromptu vaudeville routine (no, seriously), and at a number of points, chooses to be with Kong.

However despite, or perhaps because, of these revisions which bring the film into line with a more contemporary morality, I found much of the film curiously unmoving. Even Jackson’s opening montage of scenes from the great depression failed to tug at the heart strings (certainly when compared with the moving way that Cinderella Man (2005) depicted the same period). A cinemagoer that is not aware of the great depression (and no doubt this includes many Americans) may be forgiven for remaining oblivious as to what is being portrayed on the screen. Where the film excels is in the wordless sequences between Ann and Kong as their relationship develops. Ann is introduced as a despondent, even nihilistic character, while Kong is a raging, savage beast, and yet through a series of deeply touching scenes, both find a kind of serenity through their relationship with one another. To my mind this retelling of the story of beauty and the beast is the heart of the film, and the film would have been much improved had Jackson spent more screen time exploring this relationship. The story of why a woman chooses the savage beast and reject the civilised man is fascinating and has generated a rich wealth of reimagined versions (even, for example, the animated Shrek films (2001 and 2004) where the princess falls in love with an ogre and embraces the ogress within herself). Jackson fails to develop this story arc to my satisfaction, and frankly cops out a bit where Ann ends up in the arms of her (human) boyfriend.

Still, Jackson clearly knows what will attract audiences to his film; breathtaking cutting-edge special effects fill up a goodly part of the films epic 3 hour 7 minutes duration. There is a stampede of apatosauruses, battles with giant bats and lots of giant creepy crawlies, and where in the original Kong battles a tyrannosaurus rex, Jackson trumps that with Kong taking on three of the brutes at once. It is all very impressive, and if you like that sort of thing then you will love King Kong. Personally, while at times I was caught up in the excitement, I found a lot of the sequences a little repetitive and at times somewhat tedious. Once you have seen one fantastic computer generated sequence the rest begin to lose their appeal in my opinion. Perhaps it is because I have become jaded by overexposure to special effects, or perhaps I am alienated from the human interest by the intervening barrier of technological wizardry, but I found myself yearning for good old fashioned films where you have to use a bit of imagination!

Ultimately a monster movie should be about something other than special effects; the monster should mean something. For example, Frankenstein is an exploration of the potential dangers of uncontrolled scientific advances; the zombies in George A Romero’s Dead films represent the oppressed underclass and so on. In his remake of King Kong I feel that Jackson has neglected the heart of the story in favour of cutting edge special effects and the end result is somewhat lacking. Frankly I think this film was made because Jackson was effectively given a blank cheque after the success of The lord of the rings which allowed him to recreate a film that he loved using the most advanced special effects available. I am not sure that is a good enough reason to make a film unfortunately.

An edited version of this review can also be read in the communist party of great britain's paper, the weekly worker at:

Saturday, January 07, 2006

big george on big brother

The apperance of the 'Worlds most important anti imperialist' the right hon G. Galloway on that prestigious television programme Big Brother should we feel be marked appropriately. Rather than sully the internet with the 'ravings of out of touch sectarians' ( that's us).
Instead, we are proud to reprint the 'authoritive voice of the anticapitalist movement', Socialist Worker, and its thoughts on Big Brother.

A SEWER FIRE HIT, socialist worker 26 august 2000 issue 1711

I HAVE a confession to make. Yes, I have found myself watching Big Brother. And I know I'm not alone.
Around six and a half million switched on to see "Nasty Nick" being given the boot. And if you want you can now get the Big Brother CD and T-shirt. The hype around this programme is immense. More people voted in one of the telephone votes to evict a competitor than took part in the elections to the Scottish Parliament.
Big Brother is the stuff of TV producers' dreams. They call it "water cooler TV". What they mean by this is that it is the TV programme we all talk about in our tea breaks at work. They encourage this by showing clips of workers all over the country talking about the show.
I was thinking of using this column to justify the reasons why I have watched the programme. My first line of defence was going to be that the programme exposes the class nature of society.
After all, isn't the main reason Nick is hated so much is because he is like a Thatcherite yuppie? Nothing was too low for this man. He even claimed his first wife was killed in an accident-a barefaced lie. The Financial Times asked various "city experts" if Nick is the kind of man needed in the City of London.
Peter Trowell, a managing director of City Jobs, said, "I think the chances of him being recruited by a London institution are zilch. "These days honesty and integrity are near the top of any job specification."
But a leading senior executive of a City PR firm let the cat out of the bag when he told the paper that Nick was ideal for a career in financial PR: "Manipulation is what it's all about in this game." Case proven.
My second argument was that Big Brother is only a game show-so what's the harm? But at the end of the day both arguments miss the point. The premise of the show is to lock people up and deny them any contact with the outside world. Then every move they make is filmed and every conversation is recorded.
If that isn't enough, on the programme's website you can log on at any time of day or night and view the contestants. There are even cameras in the toilet and shower rooms. Channel 4 has refuted the claim that the contestants are being exploited, saying all of them volunteered to do the show.
Of course they volunteered. But that doesn't make it alright. The contestants are desperate to appear on TV. They will do anything to win the £70,000 prize money or land a job as a TV presenter. The hamsters in the show have got more personality than this bunch.
The contestants are sad, vulnerable people. That's why it makes it even more disgusting to see Channel 4 taking advantage of them in order to raise its viewing figures.
Channel 4 is not just exploiting the contestants. It is debasing the viewers as well. By watching Big Brother you too become part of the dehumanising process. One last thing. The man who owns the production company that makes Big Brother is Peter Bazalgette.
The Bazalgette family made their fame and fortune in Victorian England disposing of sewage. So it's nice to see that he is carrying on the family tradition!
© Copyright Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original and leave this notice in place.

Friday, January 06, 2006

subsidised free market economy

It appears that the psychopathy of the corporate profit drive knows no bounds. The free market economy that the CBI espouses is in fact nothing of the sort. In reality they want their economic opportunities fully subsidised from the public purse. Companies already benefit from low taxation, and little regulatory control, but this is not enough. They seek to maximise their profit potential by, seemingly, any means possible.

The sources of public subsidy to private profitability are many and diverse.

In the UK large payouts from the much criticised common agricultural policy are not actually going to farmers, but to companies such as Tate & Lyle, Nestle, Cadbury, and Kraft who produce refined products. Tate and Lyle, for example, received £227 million in 2003/4. Other suppliers to the processed food industry who benefited from these handouts include, Gate Gourmet and Premier Foods. Pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Boots, Reckitt, and ACS Dobfar were also beneficiaries. A similar story exists throughout Europe, large multinationals not farmers are the primary recipients of these subsidies.

The Curry Commission was supposedly initiated to aid farmers' recovery from the effects of the foot and mouth epidemic. The commission stated that the ‘key objective of public policy should be to reconnect our food and farming industry; to reconnect farming with its market and the rest of the food chain; to reconnect the food chain and the countryside; and to reconnect consumers with what they eat and how it is produced.’ £500 million was allocated to ensure that this was the case. Of course it was diverted for other uses.

Since the first report in 2002, Curry's proposals have done little to fulfill its self proclaimed prime objective, but instead have encouraged neo-liberalism in the food industry. International competition and subservience to supermarkets and other large multinational food businesses predominates.

The Food Chain Centre, run by the Institute of Grocery Distribution has been funded to the tune of £2.3 million. Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Compass, Nestle, Heinz, Procter and Gamble, Bernard Matthews, Kraft and Unilever, companies that are the root cause of the 'disconnection' between food producer and consumer, are the Institute's board members. The Food Centre's job is to increase company profits by reducing costs, and the bill is picked up by us, the public. Other public funding of companies' groups also exist, for example the Cereals Industry Forum, and the Red Meat Industry Forum which have also received millions.

And still the CBI want more. In fact it detailed an elaborate list in its CBI Recommendations For the Autumn 2005 Pre-Budget Report.

Further business tax cuts are demanded (both general business tax and corporation tax), a specific appeal is made to avoid 'new burdens' such as compulsory pension contributions, and further deregulation is required. They also demand enhanced business advisory and networking services, and free research from higher education establishments. Road taxes for business should be eased, but transportation systems, roads and airports, should be improved.

These business improvements are to be paid for by restricting spending on health, social security and local council services.

In summary, don't waste public finance on the people, spend it on business. And oh, we don't want to contribute to anything other than our profits.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

american miners

I was looking at some of the reports about the mining deaths in the US. Bush seems to be offering very little apart from platitudes and control.

A prayer and a bullet - George's solution to the West Virginia mining disaster.

Following the disaster, the US President said that the nation was mourning the lost miners. He sent his prayers and heartfelt condolences to the loved ones. Unfortunately State troopers and an armed Swat team were also sent in, in case relatives' grief spilled over into violence.

Is that all the President of the mighty USA can offer?

Had the accident involved Haliburton's board of directors (although they are never likely to suffer more than papercuts from counting their money), I'm sure much more would have been done.

happy new year, the police have new powers

From the 1st Jan 2006 a police officer has the power to arrest anyone;

1.who is about to commit an offence
2.who is in the act of committing an offence
3.whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit an offence
4.whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an offence

All offences are now arrestable. The triviality of the offence is inconsequential, and the final arbiter for the necessity of arrest is the arresting police officer.

Once arrested, not charged, you can be drug tested. This became law 1st Dec 2005.

Additionally the new powers introduce covert evidence gathering, including DNA, fingerprints, shoeprints and digital photographs.

A new stop and search power specifically for the under 18 year olds has been introduced, to search for fireworks.

Police may now apply for 'multi-premises' and 'all-premises' warrants which allows multiple access to premises owned or occupied by a suspect. These changes enable the police to apply for repeated entry warrants and extend the lifetime of warrants from 1 month to 3 months.

Police fishing expeditions anyone?