fevereiro 28, 2009
Deflation is coming to the UK. In fact, it is already here. Prices have fallen 3.8 per cent since last September, according to the official retail prices index. When the February figures are published, economists are certain the annual comparison will be negative for the first time in almost half a century.
While Britain is far from alone in watching the inflation figures tumble, it is unusual internationally in the number of contracts for savers, investors, pensioners and employees that are linked to the RPI – many of which were written at a time when falling prices were inconceivable “[Negative inflation] is striking because it hasn’t happened for such a long time,” says Jonathan Loynes of Capital Economics.
Peculiarities in the RPI may make the UK’s plight look worse than it is. The index’s treatment of housing costs – assuming all owner-occupiers have standard variable rate mortgages, which have plummeted as interest rates have come down – is not followed anywhere else and has been the main factor driving it down this year.
As such, the falls in prices already experienced can be viewed as “good” deflation, says Mr Loynes, since they will raise real incomes and help foster a recovery. The danger, though, is that the experience of a falling price index will change expectations about inflation, induce greater caution among consumers and foster further liquidation of assets to repay debts.
This is a significant risk, recognised by the Bank of England and causing worries at the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. All have reiterated their ambition to maintain public expectations of low but positive inflation in recent weeks.
In a deflationary environment, there is little question that savers get a bad deal on interest rates. Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, said as much recently when he expressed “sympathy” with those who had done the right thing and not spent too much.
In January, the British Bankers’ Association reported a sharp outflow of deposits as savers sought higher interest rates elsewhere. Meanwhile, the UK’s building societies – which are dependent on retail deposits for funds – have expressed concerns about the impact that official rates near zero are having on fund flows. Data from the Bank of England show that interest rates on instant-access deposits are now comfortably below 1 per cent and likely to fall even further.
The prospect of outright deflation has even raised questions about whether savers could end up paying for the privilege of keeping cash on deposit. “Absolutely not,” says a spokesman for the Building Societies Association. “Most contracts say that interest is payable from the building society to the customer and not the other way around.”
What tends to happen, he says, is that savings rates linked to inflation promise to pay interest at some spread above the retail price index. If an account paid interest at 2 per cent above RPI and the index registered a 1 per cent decline, the rate paid would be 1 per cent. If RPI fell by 2 per cent or more, the account would pay zero interest.
Economists point out that deflation increases the purchasing power of savings. Some of what savers stand to lose in interest may be recouped by much lower prices for key staples such as food and energy.
Interest rates near zero seemed to have little effect on savers in Japan during the deflationary 1990s. Between September 1995 and January 2001, central bank rates were 0.5 per cent. The savings rate hovered between 10 and nearly 12 per cent of income until 2000. Savings slid after September 2001, when rates were cut to 0.1 per cent, but even then there was no net outflow.
Pensioners whose income provider is secure could be some of the big winners from deflation. Helen Ball, a partner at Sackers, the London-based pensions law specialists, says that at the very least they are unlikely to lose out.
Most trust deeds, which govern the award of discretionary increases, were written long before anyone contemplated the possibility of deflation. Even trustees of schemes where the deed implies that pension payments can fall would find it difficult to trim in line with RPI. “Morally, that is very difficult to do. People are expecting an increase to fixed incomes,” she says.
Most UK schemes rise in line with inflation, she says, albeit often up to a set limit. Some trust deeds make no reference to RPI but require annual minimum uplifts, say of 3 per cent, regardless of what inflation is doing.
UK rules require that deferred pensions – the benefits of those who leave their employer before they reach retirement age – have payments adjusted to reflect the effects of inflation. A short bout of deflation is unlikely to significantly dent their incomes.
The one group of retirees who could be harmed are those who have purchased annuities that allow for cuts in the event of deflation, according to Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdowne.
UK social security payments for retirees are index-linked and, even if inflation is zero, there is a small guaranteed annual uplift.
Most European state pension benefits and some private sector benefits are also index-linked. In France they are adjusted for the costs of living, while in Denmark disability pensions are adjusted in line with wages growth.
In the US, private sector pensions are never uprated for inflation and, in most cases, retirees see incomes fall in real terms as price increases erode purchasing power, according to Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Deflation could help such pensioners, she says.
Investors in almost every asset class bar government bonds are likely to be worse off in a deflationary environment, according to Graham Secker, equities strategist at Morgan Stanley. “Deflation is not good news for equities markets generally,” he says. “It is a signal that the economy is very, very weak and that sales and profits are going backwards.”
However, for companies that remain profitable, there will be pressure to maintain dividends, he says. While many companies have a dividend policy of maintaining a pay-out in real terms – ensuring that rises at least keep pace with inflation – they will be under pressure not to reverse themselves in a deflationary environment.
During some of the UK’s most torrid periods of inflation in the 1980s, corporate profits rose strongly because producers could put prices up. In a deflationary environment, the reverse pressures will be in force.
Investors in corporate bonds may find themselves somewhat better off. Interest payments are generally fixed – and even when floating are at a premium to some other interest rates, providing hard cash at a time when prices are falling. However, in a deflationary environment, the companies that issued these bonds are much more likely to default and investors may not get all their principal back.
There are real risks for investors in other asset classes, too. Commercial property, often seen as a risk halfway between equities and bonds, is rapidly falling in value. In the UK, virtually all gains since 2002 have been wiped out, and values are falling in continental Europe and in the US. Those who purchased it for the rental income are feeling the pinch, too; insolvent occupiers cannot pay rents.
The one group of investors certain to do well – at least initially – are those buying government bonds, Mr Secker notes. Governments rarely default and these bonds still carry regular income payments.
Pay is likely to be one of the most contentious issues debated during a bout of deflation.
Alistair Hatchett of Incomes Data Services, which tracks pay claims, says employers and workers are in uncharted territory. For decades, the rule of thumb was that salaries edged out inflation by 1.5 to 2 percentage points, allowing wages to grow in real terms. But in recent years, national average earnings have been subdued and lower than inflation, he says. A number of employers in the UK have already announced pay freezes, while others are discussing pay cuts as a jobs-saving measure.
The Engineering Employers’ Federation, whose members work largely in manufacturing, says that results of its wages survey for the quarter ending in January showed the average pay rise agreed over the period was 1.8 per cent, down from 2.7 per cent in the three months to December.
In January alone, the average wage rise was 1.6 per cent, down from 1.8 per cent last December and 2.9 per cent in November. “We had to double-check the numbers a few times because the scale of the movement was so unprecedented,” says a spokesman for the federation, noting that pay deals rarely move by more than 0.1 or 0.2 per cent over rolling three-month periods. The January survey, he adds, is particularly important because that is when most pay bargains are struck in the manufacturing sector.
Indeed, in light of the current outlook for inflation, the three-year wage deals that government struck with public sector workers last year, where annual pay rises range from 2.3 to 2.6 per cent, look generous.
Several UK unions struck deals last April at 5 per cent, while others settled in September and October 2008 with pay rises of over 4 per cent. Only one of the employers involved, British Midlands, is seeking to renegotiate. “The interesting thing is that there has been very little reneging on long-term deals,” Mr Hatchett said.
fevereiro 26, 2009
‘A quinta coluna do Profeta: islamistas ganham terreno em Serajevo‘ in Der Spiegel, 25 de Fevereiro de 2009
Radical Muslim imams and nationalist politicians from all camps are threatening Sarajevo's multicultural legacy. With the help of Arab benefactors, the deeply devout are acquiring new recruits. In the "Jerusalem of the Balkans," Islamists are on the rise.
The obliteration of Israel is heralded in a torrent of words. "Zionist terrorists," the imam thunders from the glass-enclosed pulpit at the end of the mosque. "Animals in human form" have transformed the Gaza Strip into a "concentration camp," and this marks "the beginning of the end" for the Jewish pseudo-state.
Over 4,000 faithful are listening to the religious service in the King Fahd Mosque, named after the late Saudi Arabian monarch King Fahd Bin Abd al-Asis Al Saud. The women sit separately, screened off in the left wing of the building. It is the day of the Khutbah, the great Friday sermon, and the city where the imam has predicted Israel's demise lies some 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) northwest of Gaza.
It is a city in the heart of Europe: Sarajevo.
"Tea or coffee?" Shortly after stepping down from the pulpit, Nezim Halilovic -- the imam and fiery speaker of the King Fahd Mosque -- reveals himself to be the perfect Bosnian host. He has fruits, nuts and sweetened gelatin served in his quarters behind the house of worship. A chastely-dressed wife and four children add themselves to the picture. It's a scene of domestic tranquility that stands in stark contrast to the railing sermon of the controversial Koran scholar.
Sarajevo's King Fahd Mosque was built with millions of Saudi dollars as the largest house of worship for Muslims in the Balkans. The mosque has a reputation as a magnet for Muslim fundamentalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the imam is said to be the patron of the Wahhabites, although they call themselves Salafites, after an ultra-conservative movement in Sunni Islam.
Halilovic is familiar with the allegations and the usual accompanying thought patterns: Wahhabite equals al-Qaida, which equals a worldwide terror network. He says he has nothing to do with that, but he "cannot forbid a Muslim from worshiping in my mosque according to his own rites." He explains the general air of suspicion surrounding the King Fahd Mosque as follows: "The West is annoyed that many Muslims are returning to their faith, instead of sneaking by the mosque to the bar, as they used to do, to drink alcohol and eat pork."
Many Bosnians have despised "the West" since 1992, when the United Nations arms embargo seriously impeded the military resistance of the Muslims in their war against the Serb aggressors. It wasn't until four years later, and after 100,000 people had died, that the international community -- at the urging and under the leadership of the US -- finally put an end to the slaughter. Over 80 percent of the dead civilians in the Bosnian War were Muslims.
This traumatic experience left a deep mark on the traditionally cosmopolitan Muslim Bosnians -- and opened the door to the Islamists. Years later, the religious fundamentalists have declared the attacks by Christian Serbs and Croats a "crusade" by infidels -- and painted themselves as the steadfast protectors of Muslim Bosnians.
Imam Halilovic served during the war as commander of the Fourth Muslim Brigade. A photo shows him standing next to a 155 milimeter howitzer, dressed in black combat fatigues, a flowing beard and a scarf wrapped around his head. He witnessed the arrival of the first religious warriors from countries in the Middle East and northern Africa. These fighters brought ideological seeds that have now found fertile ground -- the beliefs of the Salafites, Islamic fundamentalists who orient themselves according to the alleged unique, pure origin of their religion and reject all newer Islamic traditions.
Another Explosive Situation
Sarajevo is at the crossroads of the West and the Orient, in the heart of Europe -- a place where Islam meets the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and a place that shares the historical legacies of the Ottoman Empire and the Austria-Hungary of the Habsburgs. If Europe were to lose Sarajevo's Muslims as mediators between these worlds, it would have to contend with yet another explosive situation.
Bosnia's capital city still remains a bustling town with well-stocked bars, concerts and garish advertisements for sexy lingerie. Men with billowing trousers and full beards and women with full-body veils are still a relatively rare sight on the streets. The last reports of sharia militias intervening against public kissing in parks on the outskirts of town date back two years ago.
According to a survey conducted in 2006, however, over 3 percent of all Muslim Bosnians -- over 60,000 men and women -- profess the Wahhabi creed, and an additional 10 percent say that they sympathize with the devout defenders of morals. But since the radicals and their Arab benefactors have been subject to heightened surveillance in the wake of 9/11, they tend to keep a low profile.
In the evenings, though, individuals and small groups quickly exit the shell-pocked apartment buildings surrounding the King Fahd Mosque. At this time of day, there is a much smaller crowd of worshipers than at noon during the big Friday prayers, and the fifth column of the prophet can almost feel as if it has the mosque to itself.
They pray differently, with spread legs and in tight rows, "so the devil cannot pass." They refuse to allow fellow worshipers to say the ritual peace greeting "salam" at the end, they don't say a word, they don't want to be part of the Jamaat, the community, and they leave the mosque together as a group before the others. [...]
Ler artigo completo na revista Spiegel Online International
fevereiro 19, 2009
Abu Qatada: O islamista radical que se ‘converteu‘ aos direitos humanos para não ser deportado in Daily Mail, 19 de Fevereiro de 2009
Radical preacher Abu Qatada was today awarded compensation of £2,500 by judges, who ruled that his detention without trial breached his human rights.
Qatada, often described as Osama Bin Laden's ambassador in Europe, had demanded tens of thousands for being unlawfully held in Belmarsh prison.
Ten other terror suspects today received similar levels of compensation from the European Court of Human Rights - which were lower than feared.
This was 'in view of the fact that the detention scheme (the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001) was devised in the face of a public emergency, and as an attempt to reconcile the need to protect the UK public against terrorism with the obligation not to send the applicants back to countries where they faced a real risk of ill-treatment'.
Today's victory came after Qatada claimed that his detention under anti-terror laws introduced by the Government after the 2001 attacks on America violated the Human Rights Convention.
Today's ruling acknowledged that at the time of the detentions, 'there had been a public emergency threatening the life of the nation'.
But it said the issue was whether the legal measures adopted by the Government in response were 'strictly required by the exigencies of the situation'.
The judges said when someone is detained on the basis of 'an allegedly reasonable suspicion of unlawful behaviour', that person must be given an opportunity effectively to challenge the allegations.
At the time the Government considered there was an urgent need to protect the UK population from terrorist attack and a strong public interest in obtaining information about al-Qaida and its associates, and keeping the sources of such information secret.
But balanced against that, went on the judges, was the detainees' rights to 'procedural fairness'.
Yesterday the preacher lost the latest round of his UK legal battle to stay in Britain.
Critics had branded the human rights case yet another example of human rights and European law madness.
They pointed out that the men could have walked free at any time if they had simply agreed to leave Britain.
News of the case, which by-passed British courts altogether, overshadowed a victory by the Home Office in the long-running saga over whether Qatada can be deported to Jordan.
Law Lords ruled that booting out the preacher of hate would not breach his human rights. But Qatada, 48, - who has already cost the taxpayer £1.5million in legal fees, prison costs and benefit payments - lodged an immediate appeal to the European court. The case could drag on for years, at enormous further cost.
Terror suspects get anonymity protection
Eight of the 11 terror suspects claiming compensation are protected by anonymity orders.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission - which hears all deportation cases involving terror suspects - grants automatic and immediate anonymity to anyone who appears before it.
This can be lifted only if the suspect decides to place his or her name in the public domain, as Abu Qatada did.
It gives terror suspects a protection not afforded to people in the regular court system, where all defendants over 18 are routinely named.
But SIAC's stance reflects the fact that the men have not been charged with any criminal offence and some of the evidence against them is heard in secret.
Qatada, who has been linked to senior Al Qaeda figures, will be allowed to remain in the UK - where his wife and five children live in an £800,000 West London house - while the appeal is heard.
The 11 men awarded compensation today include six Algerians and Abu Rideh, a Palestinian refugee with Al Qaeda connections.
There was no limit to how much the Strasbourg court could order the Government to pay them, which sparked fears that the payouts could be huge.
A family of Congolese asylum seekers was recently awarded £150,000 for being unlawfully detained for only two months. Some of the men in the Qatada case had claimed for three years in prison.
Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a security adviser to the Prime Minister, said last night: 'This is crazy. Qatada and the others were free to leave this country, and consumed our taxes while living here. The whole thing is a nonsense.'
The compensation claim was based on the time the men spent in Belmarsh under a crackdown in the direct aftermath of September 11.
Ministers passed an emergency law which allowed the detention without charge or trial of international terror suspects, who could not be forcibly removed because of human rights law.
It was made clear to the detainees that they would be released immediately if they agreed to leave the UK. In December 2004, the Law Lords ruled their detention was unlawful under the Human Rights Act and quashed the legislation which allowed it.
In March 2005 it was replaced with the controversial control orders.
The 11 men claimed for inhuman and degrading treatment', and unlawful detention, based on the Law Lords ruling.
Their lawyers went direct to Europe because no compensation is available in the British courts.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It's ridiculous that this hateful man is continuing to cost British taxpayers so much money.
'If we weren't tied down with all this EU human rights legislation then we could have slung him out years ago and saved a huge amount of money.
'It's wrong that law-abiding people are landed with massive bills for extremists just because we have sacrificed our national right to deport undesirables.'
Qatada is wanted in his native Jordan, where he was sentenced to life in 1999 for terror offences.
Jordan is one of a number of countries with which the UK has signed a 'memorandum of understanding' which the Home Office insists will ensure deported suspects do not face torture.
Qatada was released on bail last summer but returned to prison in November over fears he would try to abscond. His detention costs an estimated £50,000 a year.
fevereiro 13, 2009
‘O holandês voador‘ e a derrota da liberdade de expressão no Reino Unido, in Guardian, 13 de Fevereiro de 2009
We live in censorious times: the Dutch MP Geert Wilders has been turned back at Heathrow, Prince Harry is attending a racial awareness course, Carol Thatcher is still puzzling over the offence implied by "golliwog" and, in what is surely a case of otiose activity, the General Synod of the Church of England has formally proscribed membership of the BNP for its clergy. It is also 20 years tomorrow since Ayatollah Khomenei issued the notorious fatwa on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses, renewed by the Majlis in Tehran yesterday. The tension between free expression and respect for racial and religious sensitivities is always present.
Setting the boundaries to this is invidious. Any attempt risks becoming a victim of a battle for sectional capture as faith vies with faith in a league table of offence. That is why free speech is only limited by its potential to cause harm to others. But even that limitation has to be exercised with extreme caution, if at all. Take the latest example. Mr Wilders is an egregious example of a racist provocateur. But his principal campaign is not his claimed struggle to defeat the ideology of Islam. It is to promote himself by exploiting the ordinary if unlikable human mistrust of strangers. Look back 20 years and see how the row over The Satanic Verses was inflamed by political ambitions within Muslim communities. Mr Wilders and his opponents are up to the same tricks.
Few would ever have heard of him, let alone his hectoring exercise in filmic propaganda, had he not set out to promote it as a test of what was permissible. He openly declared his intention of depicting the Qur'an as a violent and warmongering text. He has done so (and faces prosecution in the Dutch courts as a result). A Ukip peer, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, invited him to show the film in the House of Lords. On Tuesday the government warned Mr Wilders that he threatened community harmony and told him he would be refused entry to the UK, but of course he came anyway. The consequences of the entry ban are greater than those of allowing his nasty film to remain unknown. Responding to the fear of violence does not always reduce disorder; it can make it more likely. Any faction might now see the potential of making alarming noises. Meanwhile Mr Wilders's deliberately distorted view of Islam has been widely circulated.
It was Mr Rushdie himself, 20 years ago, who argued that people "understand themselves and shape their futures by arguing and challenging and questioning and saying the unsayable; not by bowing the knee whether to gods or to men." He was right. Mr Wilders should have been allowed to come. His film is offensive. The ban is a defeat for the freedom of expression.
fevereiro 12, 2009
O que aconteceu à liberdade de expressão no Reino Unido?: ‘Geert Wilders não devia ser banido‘ in Guardian, 12 de Fevereiro de 2009
por Padraig Reidy
How do you solve a problem like Geert Wilders?
The solution certainly doesn't lie in barring him from entering the country.
Wilders' film Fitna, for those of you who haven't feverishly YouTubed it yet, is an unpleasant rant about Islam, and the Islamicisation of Europe. He follows the line that Islam, more than any other religion, is inherently violent. It's a poorly made, poorly argued, diatribe.
But the poverty of the argument, and indeed the editing, is irrelevant. If we are to defend freedom of expression, then we cannot pick and choose what expression we defend. This point seems problematic for some liberals. Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, has previously – and rightly – argued against prosecution for Holocaust denier Frederick Töben, saying: "In Britain, we value freedom of speech too highly to see it sacrificed because of the racist views of an oddball academic."
No such leeway for an oddball politician. Speaking about Wilders, Huhne said: "Freedom of speech is our most precious freedom of all, because all the other freedoms depend on it. But there is a line to be drawn even with freedom of speech, and that is where it is likely to incite violence or hatred against someone or some group."
This is not in the least bit consistent. But the problem is not with Huhne. The problem is that a man who is legally entitled, as an EU citizen, to enter this country, has been barred from doing do because of his opinions.
This is bad enough, but it is made even worse by what the ban suggests.
I've spent the morning, in my capacity as news editor of Index on Censorship, debating the Wilders affair on various radio phone-ins.
Among many reasonable points made by callers, many, sadly, held the opinion that this was another sign of the government giving in to "the Muslims".
This, of course, is precisely Wilders' argument – and it's an argument that is reinforced by this attempt to censor him (nevermind that his film has been out for almost a year now).
Traditionally, censorship has been used in an attempt to quell dissent and opposition, and in large part of the world it is used against progressive movements. But when we seek to censor reactionaries, such as Wilders, the BNP, or Hizb ut-Tahrir, we allow them to see themselves, and portray themselves, as the dissenters, the truth-tellers. The notion of oppression, of suppression, is now almost essential to any political movement's sense of self.
Censorship lends an air of legitimacy to arguments that may not necessarily warrant it. In this sense, it is as insidious when used against bad arguments as when used against good ones.
fevereiro 11, 2009
The United Kingdom does not want to admit anyone to its territory that would threaten “community harmony and therefore public security.” This argument was used to deny member of parliament Geert Wilders of the populist party PVV entry to the country on Tuesday. Too high a barrier to the free movement of people and the freedom of expression has thus been erected. Besides the fact that the law of both the European Union and the Council of Europe seems to be violated by this, the political concept of a free European space has also been damaged.
Ironically, striving for freedom often entails the prospect of confinement. That has now occurred. The fact that the ban affects a member of parliament makes the decision political, in addition to symbolic. The British are concerned about a well-defined political program that is democratically legitimised in the Netherlands. Voltaire is often credited with pointing out that freedom of expression means defending someone’s right to assert that with which one disagrees. That certainly applies to Wilders, who gives plenty of occasion for disagreement. But his freedom to express such disagreeable sentiments should prevail all the more. As should the duty to defend that freedom. Moreover what is at stake here is political freedom, without which other freedoms are all but unthinkable.
Incidentally Wilders himself falls short as a politician when it comes to defending this freedom. On January 25 he urged in parliamentary questions that religious leaders of “radical mosques” be divested of Dutch nationality and deported. Limiting access to Europe and the Netherlands to all those to whom he objects is a main theme in his platform. The British entry criterion of “harmony in the community” should not sound unfamiliar to him therefore. It is however far removed from the fundamental right to express opinions anywhere in Europe that may “shock, hurt and disturb.”
On February 3 the European Court of Human Rights confirmed for example the right of Dutch abortion activists ‘Women on waves’ to moor a boat in Portugal. The decision by Portuguese authorities to deploy a warship was disproportional. The women were not planning anything illegal – Portugal certainly had less drastic means at its disposal to counter any disturbances to order. That is all the more true of Wilders, who wanted to show his film Fitna, at the invitation of the British Upper House no less. Would the security of the United Kingdom be threatened by what an outsider came to say in one of the world’s oldest parliaments? And by means of a film that was intended to provoke and which has long been available on the internet?
Extremists and radicals from all over the world used to find shelter in London. Russians, Chechens, Algerians, but also radical Islamic groups were able to settle there. Karl Marx fled there from Paris. Wilders will be buying a return ticket. That should be permitted, even with a tightened up entry policy.
Authors who defend liberalism must often struggle just to get the word out without facing incomprehension or abuse—even today. To the left, particularly in Europe, liberalism means the free-market dogma of clever simpletons who created the present financial mess. The American right’s complaint is quite different. Forget that Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison fathered liberalism in the United States. For nigh on 30 years conservative Republicans persuaded American voters that liberals were godless, amoral, tax-happy hypocrites.
Intellectually, little of either charge makes sense. Twinned with “democracy”, as in what the West stood up for during the cold war, “liberal” was a term of pride. Since communism failed, the case for liberal democracy has only strengthened. Think of outstanding alternatives: illiberal Russia, undemocratic China, populist Venezuela, theocratic Iran.
Odder still, put this question to people who live, or would like to live, in a liberal democracy: “Which of the following values do you espouse—personal freedom, rule of law, active but accountable government, free but responsible markets, mutual toleration and equal concern for all?” It is a fair bet that people will tick most or all items on this list. Ask them if they are liberals, on the other hand, and many will turn contemptuously away.
That 20th-century connoisseur of doublespeak, George Orwell, would not have been surprised. Political language, it seems, has taken leave of political facts. Alan Wolfe, a professor of politics at Boston College, thinks it time to reunite them. His welcome and readable essay lays out what he thinks liberalism really amounts to and why it demands support.
Liberal politics, on his account, is rooted in a view of what matters in a human life. A gifted guide, he opens with a brisk Grand Tour of the liberal tradition. Glimpses of leading thinkers and the human values they argued for include Immanuel Kant (moral and intellectual autonomy), Benjamin Constant (protection from arbitrary power) and John Stuart Mill (promotion of human individuality).
The link with politics is that those three values all involve freedom. Whatever else it is, liberalism is about nourishing human liberty. Where liberals disagree is how that fits with a second powerful ideal, equality.
Right-wing liberals contrast “classical”, small-government liberalism and the modern, active-government kind. The one, so they claim, leaves people free while the other wrongly infringes freedom on behalf of equality. That story became popular in the 1970s, both as a history of liberalism and as a view of government’s limits.
Mr Wolfe, like other left-wing liberals, finds the contrast historically inept and conceptually confused. Making enemies of freedom and equality ignores, in his view, the democratic presumption that any one person’s liberty matters as much as the next person’s. It is deaf also to the fact that modern citizens’ freedoms are often limited by big social forces beyond their control. If all citizens are to be free in any effective sense, they require help from countervailing forces. Government is one such force.
If, the argument goes on, you take concern for everyone’s liberty seriously, you will treat the proper scale of government as a matter of circumstance, not principle. At times, government is overweening and ought to be cut back. At others, active government is required to steady markets, help the needy or serve the public good. Put abstractly, government may be called on to foster or restore equal liberty. Pragmatic, socially minded liberalism of that kind underpinned American and British government, from the New Deal until Ronald Reagan, from Clement Attlee to Margaret Thatcher. It seems, from necessity, to be with us again.
Mr Wolfe touches many topics. He defends liberals against the charge that they seek, illiberally, to keep religion and morals out of public life. In his most policy-minded section, he traces how liberal commitment to openness plays out with regard to free speech, immigration and transparent government. He notes the illiberal undertow of what he nicely calls “self-incapacitation books”, or popular-science writing in behavioural economics and evolutionary psychology claiming to show what little part reason and responsibility play in how we behave. He rebuffs the frequent charge that liberals are wobblers or dreamers. The true liberal temper, he tells us, is realistic, ironic and disabused.
Through no fault of Mr Wolfe’s, this fine defence of liberal values risks seeming to lag behind the news. He completed his book before Wall Street imploded, the American economy slumped and Barack Obama won the White House. Whether or not they buy the reasoning behind it, many readers will think Mr Wolfe’s call for active government is now merely pushing at an open door.
Faster than anyone expected, the argument among liberals has shifted. It is no more about active versus limited government, but about what active government should be doing. On that Mr Wolfe could have said more. No one with an open mind, however, can come away from “The Future of Liberalism” treating “liberal” as a term of abuse. Before long, who knows, even Mr Obama may drop his reserve and embrace the word with pride.
fevereiro 10, 2009
fevereiro 06, 2009
‘Economia norte-americana perdeu 598.000 empregos em Janeiro‘ in Financial Times, 6 de Fevereiro de 2009
The US economy lost more than half a million jobs in January for the third month running, figures showed on Friday, marking the deepest cut in 34 years.
The number of jobs lost last month reached 598,000, while the unemployment rate – 4.4 per cent before the credit crisis – jumped to 7.6 per cent in January, its highest level since 1992.
Economists had expected non-farm payrolls to drop by 525,000 and the unemployment rate to rise to 7.5 per cent, up from 7.2 per cent the month before. The total number of job losses since the recession began in December 2007 has now reached 3.6m, with half of this decline occurring during the last three months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Friday’s results raised the sense of urgency for the US government to pass a stimulus package. Christina Romer, chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that without fiscal action the US economy could lose millions more jobs and the unemployment rate could reach double digits.
“The situation could not be more serious,” President Barack Obama said on Friday, pushing Congress to pass a proposed economic recovery package. “These numbers demand action.”
The data did little to dent risk appetite in global equity markets, however, as investors continued to focus on the US government’s plans for further intervention in the financial system. US stock futures and European markets remained in positive territory.
The dollar consolidated its gains against the yen, rising 0.6 per cent to Y91.66, and edged 0.1 per cent higher to SFr1.1718 against the Swiss franc but was little changed against the euro at $1.2796.
The yield on the two-year Treasury note was little changed at 0.9 per cent while the yield on the 10-year Treasury note was 3 basis points higher at 2.943 per cent.
”These employment numbers are dreadful, but does it matter?” said Alan Ruskin, senior analyst at RBS’s global banking and markets division. “Not for the market today. All the prior labour market indicators, notably the claims data, gave a feeling of foreboding before these numbers. The data broadly delivered.”
Few industries were spared from losses last month. The manufacturing sector lost 207,000 jobs, a 1.6 per cent drop and the biggest monthly decline since October 1982. Construction shed 111,000 jobs, the retail sector lost 45,000 and 42,000 jobs in financial services disappeared. The healthcare and private education sectors added jobs in the month.
“Another horrific report, showing job losses across the economy,” said Ian Sheperdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.
A bright note was that hourly earnings rose 0.3 per cent in January and are up 3.9 per cent on the year. However, few economists expect this to last.
“With demand for labour evaporating, wage increases of this magnitude will be history very soon,” noted Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist at MFR.
Unemployment has risen by more than a full percentage point since September, when the crisis intensified with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. There was also a further rise in the number of discouraged workers no longer actively seeking employment. According to economists at RDQ Economics, adjusting for those who would like a job but are not looking, the unemployment rate is 10.8 per cent.
Earlier this week the monthly survey from ADP Employer Services, which tracks private non-farm payroll employment, showed further deterioration in the labour market. That result was better than economists expected and followed a more dire December report estimating 659,000 jobs lost after a revision.
The labour department also revealed on Thursday that the number of US workers claiming unemployment benefits for the first time surpassed 600,000 last week, reaching a new 26-year high. Initial jobless claims reached 626,000 in the week ending January 31, up from 591,000 the week before, pointing to further job losses in February.
Last month was marked by broad cuts from corporate bellwethers in the US and Europe, culminating on January 26 when companies slashed more than 76,000 jobs from their payrolls to confront the deepening economic downturn. The day was one of the most brutal yet for workers on both sides of the Atlantic.
US corporate groups such as Caterpillar, General Motors, Sprint Nextel and Home Depot led the retreat, as the domestic recession coupled with tough export markets continued to take a heavy toll on their businesses. Pfizer, the drugs group, added to the tally, saying jobs would be lost in its takeover of Wyeth.
Retailers have also been hit particularly hard this year, announcing several thousand job cuts, including 1,100 jobs at Saks and 7,000 at Macy’s. Most have also indicated that they are sharply reducing inventory levels.
Last week government figures showed that the US economy contracted by an annualised 3.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2008. It was a much smaller percentage than expected but still its worst performance since 1982.
fevereiro 03, 2009
Espanha: ‘cerca de 200.000 novos desempregados em Janeiro‘ in el Economista.es, 3 de Fevereiro de 2009
El número de parados registrados en las oficinas del Instituto Nacional de Empleo (Inem) traspasó en enero la cota de los 3,3 millones de desempleados, tras sumar 198.838 parados más respecto a diciembre (+6,35%), en lo que es la mayor subida en un mes de toda la serie histórica. El sector industrial y los servicios registraron las mayores subidas de desempleo en el primer mes del año.
Según ha informado hoy el Ministerio de Trabajo e Inmigración, en concreto, el volumen total de parados alcanzó a cierre del pasado mes la cifra de 3.327.801 desempleados, su nivel más alto en toda la serie histórica comparable, que arranca en 1996. El incremento mensual, cercano a los 199.000 parados, supone también el mayor en 13 años. Sólo en octubre de 2008 se registró una subida cercana a esta cifra (192.658 parados).
El mercado esperaba unas cifras aún peores para enero. Los analistas consultados por Bloomberg habían estimado que el desempleo subiera en 244.800 personas en el primer mes del año.
Diez meses de subidas
Este aumento del paro en enero supone la décima subida mensual consecutiva del desempleo y es superior a la registrada en igual del mes año pasado, cuando el paro se incrementó en 132.378 personas. En el último año, un total de 1.065.876 personas han pasado a engrosar las listas del desempleo, lo que representa un crecimiento interanual del 47,1%.
La secretaria general de Empleo, Maravillas Rojo, afirmó en un comunicado que la crisis financiera internacional, la falta de liquidez y la caída del consumo son los causantes del estancamiento de la economía y del repunte del paro, y subrayó en que a medida que estos factores se vayan corrigiendo, el impacto sobre el empleo y el paro irá cambiando a mejor.
Por sexos y sectores
El paro subió en enero en ambos sexos, aunque a diferencia de meses anteriores se incrementó en mayor medida entre las mujeres. Así, el desempleo masculino aumentó en 96.768 nuevos parados (+6,1%) respecto a diciembre, frente a un incremento del desempleo femenino de 102.070 mujeres (+6,6%).
También se registraron alzas del paro en todos los sectores económicos, aunque fueron los servicios y la industria los que se llevaron la peor parte, al ganar 136.610 y 31.276 parados más, respectivamente, con incrementos relativos del 7,7% y del 7,8%.
En cuanto a la contratación, en enero se registraron en el Inem un total de 1.125.773 contratos, un 28,8% menos que en igual mes de 2008. La contratación fija ascendió el mes pasado a 119.201 contratos, el 10,6% del total, con un descenso del 39,4% en tasa interanual.
Fait inhabituel, la grève dans les universités est initiée cette fois-ci par des enseignants-chercheurs. La coordination nationale des universités, qui affirme regrouper 74 universités, écoles et instituts, a appelé lundi à une grève illimitée dans toutes facultés, ainsi qu'à une journée de manifestations en France jeudi 5 février et à une manifestation nationale à Paris le mardi 10. Objectif : obtenir le retrait d'un décret réformant le statut des enseignants-chercheurs, transmis vendredi au Conseil d'Etat, et obtenir le retrait de la réforme sur la formation des enseignants.
Toutefois, «il ne s'agira pas forcément de facs mortes partout», a souligné Sarah Hatchouel, professeur d'anglais à l'université du Havre et membre du comité d'organisation de la coordination, en précisant que chaque université pouvait décider de son moyen d'action au niveau local.
La coordination appelle également à une «cérémonie nationale de non remise des maquettes des masters le vendredi 13 devant le ministère et les rectorats», en référence aux nouveaux masters que devront suivre les étudiants se préparant à l'enseignement, selon la réforme prévue par le gouvernement. La coordination «encourage» enfin les enseignants «à faire cours en dehors des cadres habituels» et les syndicats à «faire le lien avec le primaire et le secondaire».
La grève a déjà commencé lundi dans certaines universités, à l'appel de syndicats et d'associations de droite (AutonomeSup, Défense de l'université) comme de gauche (Snesup). «Au moins 45% des activités d'enseignement» étaient touchées par des grèves d'enseignants-chercheurs, selon le Snesup-FSU, premier syndicat du supérieur. «Il y a eu des perturbations limitées et sporadiques: dans certaines universités, pas de cours et rétention de notes», précise pour sa part le ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur. Parmi les grévistes, les professeurs de l'Institut d'études politique d'Aix en Provence, une première dans l'histoire de cet établissement créé en 1956.
C'est la modification du décret de 1984 sur le statut des enseignants-chercheurs, issue de la loi sur l'autonomie des universités (LRU), adoptée en août 2007, qui suscite le mécontentement. Les chercheurs fustigent « l'arbitraire des présidents d'université» qui ont davantage de pouvoir depuis la loi LRU, la hausse du nombre d'heures d'enseignement et l'atteinte à leur indépendance. La ministre Valérie Pécresse a cherché vendredi à les «rassurer» en apportant deux modifications à son projet, mais cela n'a convaincu les syndicats.
L'avenir du mouvement dépendra peut-être des étudiants, dans une période où les examens s'achèvent et où il n'y a pas cours en raison du passage entre deux semestres. Selon le syndicat étudiant Unef, 20.000 étudiants se sont déjà réunis lundi en AG, dont 3.000 à Toulouse, 2.000 à Rennes-II ou Bordeaux-III. D'autres devraient suivre dans la semaine. L'Unef compte faire soit du 5, soit du 10 février, une journée de mobilisation étudiante, dans le but de «faire converger les étudiants et les personnels des universités».
Grécia: ‘Segundo dia de confontos entre agricultores e a polícia‘ in International Herald Tribune, 3 de Fevereiro de 2009
Clashes have broken out for a second straight day at Greece's largest port, near Athens, where police fired tear gas at protesting farmers.
Police blocked farmers who sailed from the island of Crete to try and stage a protest with their tractors in the Greek capital.
Tuesday's clashes occurred following nationwide protests by farmers who clogged the country's main highways to press demands for higher subsidies.
fevereiro 02, 2009
Reino Unido: ‘Greves podem aumentar após Mandelson chamar aos protestos xenófobos‘ in Telegraph, 2 de Fevereiro de 2009
The Business Secretary said that he had concluded there was "clearly no policy of discrimination" at the oil refinery at the centre of the disputes. However, trade unions insist that British workers are being automatically rejected when applying for work, with firms using an obscure European law to bring their own workforces to carry out work in this country.
Strike action spread on Monday with workers at two nuclear power stations and several other sites joining the unofficial action.
The dispute is also threatening to escalate into a major diplomatic incident. The Italian Government described the strikes as "indefensible". The Governor of Sicily warned that the employment of Britons on the Italian island may be threatened.
The British ambassador in Rome was sent to reassure the Italian Government that Italians would not face discrimination in this country.
The dispute is centred on a £200 million construction project at the Total oil refinery at Lindsey in north Lincolnshire. The contract was awarded to an Italian firm, IREN, which has brought a large number of Italian and Portuguese workers to Britain to complete the work. It is claimed that a British firm was initially awarded the contract but was unable to complete the work.
Lord Mandelson and Gordon Brown have seized on assurances from Total that British workers are not discriminated against. Total has also pledged to work with its contractors to ensure that Britons are employed.
The Business Secretary told the House of Lords: "On the Lindsey site, the great majority of the workers are actually British, so clearly no policy of discrimination or exclusion of British nationals is being operated at the refinery.''
He added: "Membership of the European Union, and taking advantage of the opportunities for trade presented by the EU, are firmly in the UK's national interest. Free movement of labour and the ability to work across the EU has been a condition of membership for decades."
He had earlier rebuked an interviewer asking questions about workers' concerns, saying: "Stop feeding this xenophobia."
However, the comments have been undermined by the managing director of IREN who said that he was forced to only use Italian workers for most of the contract.
Mario Saraceno said that the contract had to be finished within four months. Therefore, he said: "That's why it was absolutely necessary to send to England our specialized workers, a close-knit team that could communicate with each other without language problems, which was particularly important from a safety point of view.
"There was no time for training and so, with the agreement of the British unions, we contracted out the work [to Italians]. But we also took on 30 British workers, among them technicians and labourers."
Strike action spread to nuclear sites and power plants across Britain on Monday. More than 900 workers walked out at Sellafield. The workers, who are liaising via web sites and mobile phone text messages, are thought to be planning a co-ordinated national strike later in the week.
The issue is causing a split at the highest levels of the Labour Party. Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary and former union leader, has called for European directives to be renegotiated if necessary. It is claimed that firms are using loopholes in European law to only hire workers from certain countries. The proposal for the Government to intervene is also backed by senior Labour figures including former ministers Peter Hain and Frank Field.
Ministers are awaiting a formal report from Acas, the independent arbitration service, into the causes of the strike. Trade unions are calling for all contractors working on public infrastructure projects to sign contracts guaranteeing fair access to British workers.
fevereiro 01, 2009
The Israel-Palestine conflict is striking for the intense emotions that it generates. These encompass not just the people directly involved on both sides but outsiders, especially in the western world - from cyber-activists waging a "virtual' war in the blogosphere and comment-forums to NGOs, civil-society movements and international humanitarian agencies.
This distinguishes the Israel-Palestine conflict from most other wars around the world. The discussion of armed conflicts, famines and repression elsewhere - Darfur, northern Uganda, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tibet, Burma, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other places - seldom rouses such emotions or provokes so many people (including those from the international humanitarian and NGO community) to take to the streets.
This is worth noting because the death-toll in a number of wars around the world since the 1990s alone is much, much higher and the attitude of their belligerents to killing civilians is much, much worse than that in Israel-Palestine. International civil society cares deeply about these other vicious armed conflicts and disasters. It expends enormous effort and resources on trying to publicise them and organise aid for their victims. But the Israel-Palestine conflict, as is evident in the 2008-09 war over Gaza, seems to evoke a disproportionate degree of outrage.
Such impassioned engagement raises the important issue of the relationship between humanitarian and political action, and the question of how it is observed in practice. Many people in the humanitarian world have strong political views on this particular conflict. This can be a problem insofar as impartiality is the guiding star of practical humanitarian work. The principle of impartiality requires that all humanitarian agencies "act in proportion to need alone". They should not "see" race, colour, or politics; nor should they choose what is easiest, closest and most high-profile. They must see and act only on the basis of the greatest need.
This professional obligation is increasingly compromised by the trend for modern NGOs to bend complex political realities into a classic liberal schema of righteous victim and malevolent oppressor. This satisfying trope can then allow self-mandated civil-society groups to use their aura of humanitarian impartiality to promote a partisan attitude. NGOs tend to do this wherever they are; but some humanitarian workers find it hard to maintain standards of professional independence where the Palestinians in particular are concerned.
This can be illustrated from a couple of my own encounters as a former NGO worker. During the first Palestinian intifada (1987-93), I found myself becoming suspicious of some European NGO workers in East Jerusalem who refused "to go west" into the Israeli part of the city, and made a conspicuous point of boycotting Israeli goods. In a visit during the second intifada which began in 2000, I listened at a private dinner to a number of United Nations people expressing the hope that the state of Israel "would only last another fifty years at most". In other parts of the world, NGO workers often long for the end of a particular regime or dictator; but only in the Israel-Palestine conflict have I heard them longing for the end of a state.
This "taking sides" is one indication of the blindspots that can be at work among those charged with assisting the victims of this conflict. Another is the way that NGO critiques of the conduct of violence in this region can employ a double-standard. People who adopt a pro-Palestinian standpoint, and express particular revulsion at Israeli conduct in Gaza or in earlier military campaigns, frequently overlook Palestinian ideology, choices and behaviour.
Public condemnation of Palestinian violence against Israelis by many NGOs and United Nations workers often has a routine aspect, as if it is something they "have" to do. Many representatives seem deep down to feel that this violence is an inevitable and understandable expression of "desperation". Internecine violence among Palestinians is also mistakenly understood as the tragic consequence of a factionalism produced by occupation.
The narrative, strategy and feuds of Palestinian nationalism too often go unexamined by outside supporters and "solidarists" with the Palestinian cause. But, like all nationalisms, Palestinian nationalism is constructed, contested, enriched by myth and not a little faked. Why not treat it with the same rigorous examination that every other case of nationalism receives?
This failure of scrutiny can extend to the use of violence by Palestinian resistance and liberation movements. A lot of this violence is politically misguided, illegal and narcissistic. But many western supporters (including those in the aid community) more often exculpate or even indulge it. There is a similar lack of critical attention to the abominable articles in the Hamas movement's charter that are clearly racist and exterminatory. Any equivalent sentiments found (for example) in Sudanese government documents or the pronouncements of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda would be eagerly denounced by international NGOs. The attitude to Hamas is different: its words are understood as relics of an earlier phase of the organisation which it has now outgrown, or the forgivable hyperbole of an oppressed resistance movement.
The tragedy of this misguided support is that it does the cause of Palestinian autonomy so little good. Arguably, Palestinian politics is overly dependent on outside solidarity, sympathy and gifts. More "solidarity" is the last thing the Palestinians need because it reinforces a sort of "rentier politics" dominated by small cliques - something that does nothing to cultivate broad-based power and agency.
The interesting thing about the slow emergence of Hamas and its eventual election victory in January 2006 was that the movement dearly wanted to do away with such dependency and its associated corruption. During the first intifada I observed health and education projects run by several Hamas supporters who were profoundly committed to the rights, social improvement and self-sufficiency of their people. Two decades on, many still are. But Hamas's continuous commitment to violence and the annihilation of Israel has made them dependent on a network of outside patrons whose support is too often guided by mixed messages and dubious motives.
A choice of visions
There is now a great need for comfort, repair and reconstruction in the aftermath of the Israeli attacks. But the Palestinian people of Gaza have rich friends such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia (who are already launching a fund that could soon top $2 billion) as well as western backers such as the European Union and the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid).
In this context, and in light of the above, western humanitarian agencies should think hard about whether their presence in Gaza is because they have a real humanitarian role to play there or whether they are there in solidarity. If Arab states are able to provide for Gaza's reconstruction - in stark contrast to their poor record in Darfur - then it is arguable that aid agencies in Britain and other European countries might find that need is greatest at present in DR Congo or Sri Lanka.
Humanitarian agencies need to use all the practical skill and political insight that they apply in many other wars to decide what it is best to do in Gaza. The majority of British NGOs appealing via the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) for funds to help Gaza - such as Oxfam, Care, and Save the Children - are multi-mandate agencies. They serve a wider vision of a just society and so are more than "just" humanitarian agencies. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) alone are solely humanitarian. Theirs is a single, immediate mandate. They are interested in protecting, healing and caring for the wounded and the destitute. Most NGOs have a wider, long-term goal of creating liberal and democratic societies. If this is a part of their goal in Gaza then they should make this clear to the public as they raise funds. They should probably also tell Hamas, which may not entirely share their vision.