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The cost of austerity

by IdiotSavant Tue Mar 20th, 2012 at 07:39:29 PM EST

In May last year, Portugal reached a deal for a bailout from the IMF and European Central Bank.  The bailout of course came with conditions: cuts, austerity, and privatisation.  Now the cost of those cuts is becoming apparent: dead people.  

There is a chart on the wall beside a machine that accepts credit cards. It shows the charges for seeing a doctor in one of western Europe's poorest countries, where opposition politicians blame budget cuts for a thousand extra deaths in February, 20% more than usual.

"They hiked the fees in January," said the receptionist, pointing to the new charges for everything from jabs and ear washes to having stitches removed. "Now a visit to the emergency room costs €20 instead of €9. A consultant costs €7.50. People are angry."

The health service is just one victim of sweeping cuts and increased charges for public services across Portugal.

Its a similar story in Greece, where German-imposed austerity has seen a resurgance in HIV and malaria (because needle-exchange programmes and hospitals were cut), and is expected to lead to a significant rise in infant mortality.  Which is what happens when you cut healthcare and price it out of the reach of ordinary people.

It will take years before we have the proper numbers on this from an excess death study.  But there's little doubt that these cuts will lead to tens of thousands of deaths in each country.  And every one of those deaths can be laid at the feet of the foreign bankers demanding their pound of flesh.  What they are doing to Greece and Portugal constitutes mass-murder on a vast scale. And they need to be held to account for it.

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Dictatorship is not a solution

by IdiotSavant Tue Dec 6th, 2011 at 09:18:10 PM EST

The European Commission's answer to the Eurozone crisis?  Foreign dictatorship.  Yes, really:

The European commission could be empowered to impose austerity measures on eurozone countries that are being bailed out, usurping the functions of government in countries such as Greece, Ireland, or Portugal.


A confidential paper for EU leaders by the EU council president, Herman Van Rompuy, who will chair the summit on Thursday and Friday, said eurobonds or the pooling of eurozone debt would be a powerful tool in resolving the crisis, despite fierce German resistance to the idea.

It called for "more intrusive control of national budgetary policies by the EU" and laid out various options for enforcing fiscal discipline supra-nationally.

This is madness.  All it does is swap economic instability for political instability.  We're already seeing in Greece that people will not put up with austerity for the sake of the bankers when imposed by an elected government.  Imagine how they'll react when its imposed by foreign officials in the interests of a foreign power, without any suggestion of a democratic mandate.  

Europe's great achievement has been to spread democracy from the Atlantic to the Baltic.  Now they want to throw that away, while releasing the most toxic forms of nationalism from their box.  And all for the sake of the banks.  If Europe goes down this path, then the European Project might as well be over - because it will no longer be worth supporting.

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Europe leaves refugees to die

by IdiotSavant Sun May 8th, 2011 at 10:26:58 PM EST

At the moment, NATO, backed by a UN mandate, is bombing Libya, ostensibly to save civilian lives.  Meanwhile, it left a boatload of refugees fleeing the bombing to die of hunger and thirst at sea:

Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of European and Nato military units apparently ignored their cries for help, the Guardian has learned.

A boat carrying 72 passengers, including several women, young children and political refugees, ran into trouble in late March after leaving Tripoli for the Italian island of Lampedusa. Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a Nato warship, no rescue effort was attempted.

All but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters for 16 days.

As the article points out, the law of the sea requires all vessels to respond to distress calls.  But the military forces of Italy and France refused, because that would mean the refugees would be entitled to asylum in the rescuing country.  So instead, they left them to be someone else's problem - which in practice meant leaving them to die.  At the least, it is a violation of international maritime law, and the officers who gave the order to ignore need to be prosecuted and stripped of their positions.  But beyond that, it exposes an ugly policy on the part of European nations to ignore cries for help when they come from people with the wrong coloured skin. And that is simply racism.

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A whitewash on torture

by IdiotSavant Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 09:59:50 PM EST

From No Right Turn: New Zealand's liberal blog.

This morning David Cameron finally announced his long-promised (and long-awaited) judicial inquiry into the UK intelligence services' collusion in torture.  Unfortunately, it looks like its going to be a whitewash from the start.  Firstly, instead of being headed by an independent judge, it will be led by Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner.  This is an equivalent position to NZ's Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, and it has the same problems of institutional capture and a lack of independence.  The UK government is effectively getting the spies to investigate themselves, through their pet judge.  And when its put like that, it is clear that the public can have no confidence in the outcome.

Secondly, Cameron tipped his hand in his announcement:

Mr Cameron told MPs that to ignore the claims would risk operatives' reputation "being tarnished.

Which suggests that the primary concern is not bringing torturers to justice and ensuring that it never happens again, but to protect the reputation (what reputation?) of the spies.  So, everything will be swept under the rug.

(Also note the focus on ending those embarrassing court cases, which threaten to drag the details out in a manner the government cannot control.  This is about PR and damage limitation, not justice).

But finally and most damningly, the inquiry will happen in secret.  Meaning we cannot see that it is fair.  And if we can't see it, we can't trust it - its that simple.

Crimes have been committed.  Their victims deserve justice, not a whitewash.  That justice is best achieved by a fair, independent and impartial court of law - not by another secretive, compromised "inquiry" with a mandate to bury the truth.

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Laughing all the way to the bank while dancing on corpses

by IdiotSavant Fri Jul 2nd, 2010 at 07:31:28 AM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

Today's must-read: a truly horrifying article by Johann Hari in the Independent about how US investment bank Goldman Sachs set up a speculative bubble in food futures and caused mass starvation as a result:

In 2006, financial speculators like Goldmans pulled out of the collapsing US real estate market. They reckoned food prices would stay steady or rise while the rest of the economy tanked, so they switched their funds there. Suddenly, the world's frightened investors stampeded on to this ground.

So while the supply and demand of food stayed pretty much the same, the supply and demand for derivatives based on food massively rose - which meant the all-rolled-into-one price shot up, and the starvation began. The bubble only burst in March 2008 when the situation got so bad in the US that the speculators had to slash their spending to cover their losses back home.

Two hundred million people went hungry as a result, not because there wasn't any food - supply had in fact risen - but because futures market speculation had pushed prices beyond what they could afford to pay.  There were food riots in 30 countries, and at least one starvation-induced revolution. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has called it "a silent mass murder" entirely caused by "man-made actions".  Another word for it would be genocide.

But hey, the bankers made money, so it must be OK, right?

This is the sort of shit which caused the French Revolution.  And if they'd done it in the places where people were actually starving, they would have been strung up.  But the joy of globalisation is that you can profit from a famine on the other side of the world, while being totally insulated from the angry, starving mobs you have caused.

Our bankers are genocidieres.  Time for some trials.

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Getting ugly in Greece

by IdiotSavant Wed May 5th, 2010 at 10:45:19 AM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

The past few months have seen a slow-motion train-wreck in Greece, as the government faces increasing debt as a result of the global economic crisis.  The government has negotiated a bailout from the EU and IMF, but the cost of that is savage austerity measures: a 25% cut in public sector salaries, wage freezes, cuts to pensions and public services, VAT (but not income tax) increases, followed by a terminal dose of NeoLiberalism.  But there's a problem: the Greek people don't like it.  They especially don't like the fact that the burden is being unfairly dumped on them, rather than the politicians who lied systematically about the country's accounts, or the wealthy who systematically evade their taxes.  And their protests have grown louder and louder.

Yesterday, they stormed the Acropolis.  Today, they held a general strike and set fire to banks - in the process killing three people.  Things are getting very ugly indeed, and if the government persists in bowing to the international money markets, they will only get uglier.  In 2001, the government of Argentina was toppled by its people in similar circumstances, and if the Greek government is not careful, they could find themselves sharing the same fate.  Unfortunately, in that case, the bankers will probably make out like bandits anyway.

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UK election open thread 3

by IdiotSavant Sat Apr 24th, 2010 at 09:19:08 AM EST

As requested.

Only two weeks to go... can we take the stress?

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UK Election open thread 2

by IdiotSavant Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 11:20:49 PM EST

By popular demand.

YouGov now puts the LibDems in the Lead.  Which under the UK's unfair electoral system, means they win over a hundred seats fewer than the Conservatives, who trail them by 1%.  FPP has to go!

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UK Election open thread

by IdiotSavant Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 04:05:56 PM EST

Today UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown stepped out of the door of Downing Street and called an election for May 6th.  

Talk about it here.

bumped by afew

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Iceland rejects debt-slavery

by IdiotSavant Mon Mar 8th, 2010 at 08:22:49 AM EST

From No Right Turn, New Zealand's liberal blog:

Iceland went to the polls yesterday in a referendum on the government's debt-repayment deal with the UK and the Netherlands - and rejected it utterly, with 93% voting against.  That's a powerful message to Iceland's international "creditors" that the Icelandic people do not regard themselves as liable for the private debts of selfish bankers - and a powerful threat to any Icelandic government who dares to think otherwise.  Icelanders have already toppled one government over the banker's bailout, and it looks like they'll be quite happy to do it again if the current government fails to properly represent their views.

The interesting question is what the UK and Netherlands will do.  They're making the usual threats of financial armageddon, but the blunt fact is that the Icelandic government simply cannot meet their demands (and if it purports to, it will be rolled and replaced with one that rejects them).  Turning the screw tighter - e.g. by repeating their 2008 abuse of anti-terrorist legislation - won't change that, and will simply harden attitudes further.  Unfortunately, acknowledging that reality would mean a loss of face, and so we're likely see a lengthy period of pointless and futile sadism, as the UK tries to squeeze blood out of a stone.

frontpaged - Nomad

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A victory for privacy in Germany

by IdiotSavant Tue Mar 2nd, 2010 at 11:20:20 PM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

In 2006, as a response to hysteria whipped up during the war on terror, the European Union passed the Data Retention Directive.  The directive requires member states to log and store all telecommunications and internet data, such as call times, destinations, IP addresses - effectively, full traffic data - for six to 24 months so that police can datamine it (with a court order, of course - but they have tame judges to give them that).

The German Constitutional Court has just ruled Germany's implementation of that directive illegal.

The reason, of course, is privacy.  The law requires that the communications details of everyone, regardless of guilt or innocence, be logged and made available to police.  While the communications themselves are not recorded and stored, the fact that they were made is - and that violates individual privacy.  Who you talk to and when is fundamentally private information, and requires strong evidence of wrongdoing (not to mention relevance) to justify.  The law did not require any evidence of wrongdoing at all.  As a result, it was a "particularly serious infringement of privacy" and has been struck down.

This means that Germany will be violating the Data Directive.  But from the BBC story, it sounds like that will be being "reassessed" later this year.  Hopefully Germany and other countries will decide to ditch it entirely.

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Arrest Blair!

by IdiotSavant Mon Jan 25th, 2010 at 06:28:00 PM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

Tony Blair is a war criminal, guilty of "the supreme international crime", waging a war of aggression.  Unfortunately, the UK government has no interest in bringing him to justice.  The present government backed the war, and many of them could end up beside Blair in the dock should he ever face trial.  As for the opposition, they voted for the war, and so can hardly oppose it now.  The result is that a war criminal gets to walk free due to the protection of the powerful.

Enter the Arrest Blair campaign.  They're offering a bounty to anyone who attempts a peaceful citizens arrest of Tony Blair for crimes against peace.  The attempt doesn't have to be successful, but it does have to be reported in the media.  The aim is to embarrass the government into enforcing the law; making the rat live in fear of justice for the rest of his life (as Pinochet did) is just a bonus.

George Monbiot has more about the reason for the campaign here.

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UK government protects Israeli war criminals

by IdiotSavant Tue Jan 5th, 2010 at 08:44:37 PM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

The UK has a problem: it has universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity.   This has led to several embarrassing incidents where people have taken the law at face value, and demanded that the government prosecute war criminals visiting the UK.  In the absence of any government action to do so, some have even tried to enforce it themselves, by bringing private prosecutions against visiting war criminals.

This has caused a great deal of embarrassment to the UK government.  Why, they can't play host to some very good friends with blood on their hands, while joint meetings on how better to effect war crimes have to be cancelled for fear that someone might end up in jail.  So they have a solution: require the Attorney-General to consent to any prosecution.  That way, she can veto any attempt to hold war criminals to account, and the law can go back to being what it was always intended to be: a dead letter which is never enforced (or at least, never against friends and allies - a tool for victor's "justice" or colonial "justice", nothing more).

This is how power protects its own.  And its a clear example of why we should regard all politicians as hostis humani generis, the common enemies of all mankind.

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Iceland revolts against debt-slavery

by IdiotSavant Sun Jan 3rd, 2010 at 03:51:32 PM EST

Back in 2008, we saw one of the most naked and tawdry displays of big-country power in recent memory, when the UK abused anti-terror legislation to freeze the assets of the Icelandic government to force it to guarantee the deposits of UK citizens in a collapsed Icelandic bank.  Faced with this sort of pressure, the Icelandic government capitulated, and effectively sold its own people into debt-slavery, accepting a debt amounting to 40% of its GDP which it had no moral obligation for.  

Last week, the Icelandic Parliament finally passed a law cementing the deal, providing for crippling payments to the UK and the Netherlands over the next 15 years.  But there's a problem: the Icelandic people will not accept being enslaved to pay someone else's debts.  60,000 of them - 25% of the voting population - have signed a petition opposing the bill.  And as a result, Iceland's President has delayed signing it into law, and looks set to invoke his rarely-used power to put a bill to a referendum.  With 70% opposition, if it goes to a vote, the bill will lose.  If it doesn't go to a vote, then there will almost certainly be a repeat of the mass public protests which forced the collapse of the previous government in 2009.  And those protests will be repeated until a new government is elected which repudiates the unjust debt.

The UK government will be furious, and will no doubt threaten further asset freezes.  But Iceland's people are not going to be enslaved.  And if their politicians collaborate with foreign economic oppression, then they will roll them and get new ones.

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Electoral Reform in the UK

by IdiotSavant Tue Dec 1st, 2009 at 08:10:22 PM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

After a decade of broken promises, the UK's Labour government is finally moving on electoral reform, announcing that they will pass a law before the election requiring a vote on the electoral system within two years.  Of course, New Labour being New Labour it is being done for all the wrong reasons:

Ministers, who agreed the move at a meeting of the cabinet's democratic renewal committee (DRC) yesterday, believe that the prospect of a referendum will have three key benefits. It will:

  • Allow Labour to depict itself at the general election as the party of reform in response to the parliamentary expenses scandal.

  • Make David Cameron look like a defender of the status quo. The Tories, who are opposed to abolishing the first-past-the-post system, would have to introduce fresh legislation to block the referendum if they win the election.

  • Increase the chances that the Liberal Democrats will support Labour - or at least not support the Tories - if no party wins an overall majority at the election, resulting in a hung parliament. The Lib Dems have traditionally regarded the introduction of PR as their key demand in any coalition negotiations. While AV does not technically count as PR, many Lib Dems regard AV as a step in the right direction.

Not what's missing from this list: anything to do with the actual fairness of the electoral system.  just another example of how under New labour, policy is just a rhetorical prop for spin.

But then, their "reform" - the "alternative vote", AKA preferential voting - is the electoral reform you have when you don't really want electoral reform and doesn't actually fix the core problem of disproportional results (just look at any Australian election for evidence of this).  But it is some improvement, in that it makes FPP slightly less broken while preserving its worst feature of large manufactured majorities, and if we're lucky, it will force a wider debate on a real alternative, rather than the pallid tripe New Labour is offering up.

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No freedom of religion in Switzerland

by IdiotSavant Sun Nov 29th, 2009 at 05:07:10 PM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

Switzerland has voted in a referendum to ban minarets.  I am simply appalled.  This is an outright attack on freedom of religion, specifically the freedom of Muslims to build religious buildings, and if it was reversed and applied to e.g. church spires, people would instantly recognise this.  

The good news is that Switzerland is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which affirms freedom of religion.  The Convention is legally binding and enforceable on its members through the European Court of Human Rights, and it is difficult to see how the ban could survive a legal challenge.  OTOH, the Court has previously upheld a Turkish law banning headscarves, so they may simply decide that allowing Christians but not Muslims to express their faith in architecture is within the "margin of appreciation" granted to states, and effectively piss on the document they are supposed to be enforcing.

This is also a perfect example of how citizens initiated referenda can be used by a majority to victimise and oppress a minority, and a strong argument for building human rights safeguards into any system of binding referenda.  

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by IdiotSavant Thu Oct 29th, 2009 at 07:47:22 PM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

Earlier in the month the Irish agreed in a referendum to EU expansion - prompting a wave of stories in the UK media about how of course this meant that war-criminal Tony Blair would be the EU's first president.  Now it looks like Europe isn't so keen:

Tony Blair's hopes of becoming Europe's first sitting president were receding fast tonight as Britain admitted his chances of success were "fading" after the continent's centre-right leaders made it clear one of their own must have the post.

Hours after Gordon Brown delivered his strongest statement of support for Blair - disclosing that he had spoken to him earlier this week - British sources indicated that the former prime minister was unlikely to assume the high-profile job.

"It would be right to describe Tony's chances as fading," one British source said. "Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are not terribly enthusiastic. Silvio Berlusconi remains his strongest backer."

"One of their own" means someone from the European People's Party grouping, the EU-wide group of national-level centre-right parties, currently dominant in Germany, France, and the European Parliament.  But reading on, they make it clear that the European left doesn't want Blair either.  In fact, the only people who seem to want Blair are... the UK.  Who for some reason - a legacy of Imperialism? - seem to believe that the rest of Europe will just naturally conform to their whim.  Fortunately, Europe doesn't work like that.

So, Blair seems to have been stopped.  Is it too early to celebrate?  Or do we have to wait until the stake is finally hammered into his chest?

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by IdiotSavant Mon Oct 19th, 2009 at 09:38:15 PM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

Not content with wanting to give massive subsidies to the nuclear industry, the UK government also wants to insulate them from the true costs of their activities by weakening standards around the disposal and storage of nuclear waste.  The highlight?  Letting them dump nuclear waste in local landfills.

This is simply insanity.  At a time when western countries are shitting themselves over the risk of a "dirty bomb" (to the extent that in 2004 they robbed Iraq of all its medical radiation sources, leaving Iraqis to die of cancer), the UK is now proposing that the materials required to create one be left lying around with the trash.  But its not just about terrorism - we've already seen the consequences of this sort of dumping in the third world and the former Soviet Union.  Dumping this stuff in landfills means it will be found, scavenged, played with, and people will be contaminated and die as a result.  But I guess the UK government doesn't care about that as much as it cares about the profits of the nuclear industry.

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World Day Against the Death Penalty

by IdiotSavant Sat Oct 10th, 2009 at 10:20:29 AM EST

Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty.  Europe is almost entirely free of the death penalty - Belarus is the only European country which still retains it - but executions still happen around the world. Today is the day we work to change that, and end the abomination of judicial murder for good.

This year the focus is on teaching abolition [PDF].  The children of today will be the citizens of tomorrow.  Encouraging them to debate the death penalty will help them to understand why it must be abolished.  In addition, there is a push to end child executions, outlawed under the (universally accepted) Convention on the Rights of the Child, but still practiced in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan.  There is a petition calling on these countries to end their practice of executing children; you can sign it here.

This is a struggle we are winning.  Last year two more countries - Burundi and Togo - abolished capital punishment, and the number of countries performing executions has fallen. By keeping up the pressure, we can end the death penalty globally, and consign it to the history books forever.

Promoted by afew

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Twilight of the European left?

by IdiotSavant Thu Oct 8th, 2009 at 06:07:02 AM EST

From No Right Turn - New Zealand's liberal blog:

There's an interesting piece on Crooked Timber on the twilight of the European left.  From near-total hegemony back in 2000, social democratic parties are now in opposition in most of Europe (and that map is pre-German elections).  Rather than blaming it on the natural electoral cycle (which seems to be moving into phase in much of Europe, just as it did a few years ago in South America), Daniel Davies instead blames Blairism:

promoted by nanne

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