19 February 2010

Terrorism - we'll know it when we don't see it.

From the BBC:
The pilot of a plane which crashed into an office block in Austin, Texas left a note expressing his anger at federal tax authorities, police say.

Police are linking the apparent suicide note left online to Joseph Andrew Stack, the man named as the pilot.

The note criticised the Internal Revenue Service - based inside the office block and declared: "Violence is the only answer".


The White House said the crash did not appear to be an act of terrorism.
So, a man, angry with the approach taken by the US state, crashes an aircraft into an office building, apparently leaving a note saying that violence is the only answer and the White House concludes that this doesn't appear to be an act of terrorism.

There seems to be a interesting tendency in the US media and government to conclude that it wasn't terrorism because it doesn't fit the current narrative. A line of reasoning is then sought which justifies that conclusion, the most common appearing to be that it was an isolated incident, rather than part of an ongoing campaign.

The main problem I have with that reasoning is that the same could have been said of Timothy McVeigh, yet, in the pre-2001 world in which he carried out his bombing, there appeared to be no desire to view his actions as anything other than terrorism.

So, by what standard is terrorism now defined?

17 February 2010

He's Spartacus!

I must admit that when I first saw this advert being discussed online, I was sceptical about it being genuine:
Even with the low opinion I've got of the government, it just seemed too idiotic to be true.  Surely, I said to myself, if somebody were to suggest the use of Spartacus in an ID card ad, at least one of the people involved would say "Hang on a minute.  This advert is implying that, if the Roman Empire had introduced ID cards, it would have enabled them to more efficiently identify and subsequently crucify a slave who had been treated brutally and was working to secure his freedom.  I don't think this is the message we want."

I'd almost written it off as a clever piece of parody, when to my astonishment, the ad was there, in print, in today's Metro.  Not only is it genuine, but they're still using it!  It's almost like they don't care any more.  What next?  Maybe it will be Jesus holding an ID card, with the strap-line "Judas wouldn't have got 30 pieces of silver if Jesus had spent £30."  I'm at the stage where almost nothing would surprise me.

15 February 2010

Irony Overload

From the BBC:
Australian former anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson is selling up and heading to Britain, according to an interview with an Australian magazine.

She told Women's Day that Australia was no longer a land of opportunity and she had "had enough" of living there.


"Sadly, the land of opportunity is no more applicable," she said, blaming high taxes, over-regulation and a "lack of true representation".
Where do you start?  It's an article out of which all the piss has already been taken.

09 February 2010

The Most Popular or the Least Unpopular?

From a BBC article on the proposed AV referendum:
up to 40 Labour MPs are still planning to vote against the plan. The rebels believe a change to alternative vote would benefit the least unpopular, rather than the most popular, candidates and could cost Labour seats at future elections.
Of course, the larger concern of the two for them will almost certainly be the potential loss of Labour seats. Turkeys don't tend to vote for Christmas and as back-bench MPs will tend to have smaller majorities, they will tend to have more incentive to worry.

What I find more interesting is the implication that it is better to elect the most popular, rather than the least unpopular candidate. The more I think about it, the less I agree with it, because, outside politics, it isn't the way civilised people normally behave.

If I go out for a bite to eat with eight of my friends, we decide where to eat by choosing a place where we're all reasonably happy to go. We don't go to the restaurant that five people really want to go, who then gloat while the other four end up hungry and miserable because there's nothing on the menu they like. We definitely don't go to the restaurant that four people really want to go to, because three of the others wanted to go to a different restaurant and the other two wanted to go to another different restaurant.

If there is any hope of a government being a part of a civilised society, it can only be possible if it behaves in a way that civilised people behave when working in groups. Given two options:
  • The majority of those involved are delighted with the outcome, but the rest are deeply unhappy.
  • Nobody is delighted with the outcome, but everybody walks away thinking "I can live with that."

I'd rather have the second.

It touches on a quote from the contractarian libertarian philosopher Jan Narveson:
We may here propose a general formula for acceptable law. What is needed is that each individual subject to it is better off, in his own terms, from being so subjected than he would be if not so subjected to it.
I tend to agree with that; if I'm bound by a law which says that I mustn't kill others, I'm generally happy with that, because I gain more from others being bound by the same law than I lose, as should everybody else. A law banning me from expressing my opinion would be a different matter.

A system of law of the type suggested by Narveson is possible (even if unlikely) under a system where the least unpopular options succeed, but it is almost certainly impossible under a system where the most popular options succeed.

Compromise isn't exciting or dramatic, but in a situation where everybody is bound by a group decision, it's still extremely valuable.

When it comes to AV itself, I'm general supportive, but as I've said in a previous post, it's suitability will depend on the future shape of the upper house. The two things are so closely intertwined that I don't think they can be viewed separately.

06 February 2010

Tax Allowances as Citizen's Dividend

Having discussed the Citizen's Dividend a few times, I find that some people are initially hostile to the idea of cash being paid straight out on a non-means tested basis. That got me thinking about alternative systems which might achieve the same thing, but in an easier to digest format, such as the negative income tax approach. One approach along those lines which I think could work would be non-wastable personal tax allowances.

For example, you could give everybody a £9000 personal tax-free allowance and increase income tax to, say, 33%, but for each pound of the allowance not used, the allowance holder would get a rebate equal to its cash value, which would be 33p, added to his or her pay packet. So, each month, employers would deduct a third from each employee's wages and then add £250; those earning less than £9,000 would get more from their allowance than they pay in tax, whereas those earning over £9,000 would be net tax payers.

In order to make it viable, minimum wage rules would have to be removed immediately, so that, at the very least, everybody would be able to go out and do an hour's work for a penny each month in order to get access to the £250 tax rebate. Get rid of unemployment benefits too and the job would be done.

Are there any stumbling blocks to that approach I need to consider?