The Crook, the Toff, his Wife and they’re Donor

Not been able to blog for awhile, end of term madness kept we away. But anyway, what a week I’ve missed! On Saturday night we learnt that the Sunday Times had caught the vice treasurer of the Tories Peter Crudas, soliciting donations from overseas donors (which is illegal!) in exchange for dinner with Dave Cameron or Osborne in Downing Street, and the opportunity to put forward ideas to be taken up by the government’s policy committee. In essence he seemed to be implying that one could buy a policy for as little as £250,000, with a slap up meal in No. 10 thrown into the bargain!

Now these allegations coming on the foot of the 50p tax cut makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the recent Tory budget was, as I discussed previously, a rich man’s budget. It fudged any real deficit reduction to future generations and took £300 out of the wallets of every granny in the country (maybe they can have a whip-round and pay for one of the old dears to go to dinner with Dave C and wallop him over the head with a handbag!). It also paints the conservatives with the “corrupt” and “sleaze” label just two years into their government (it took the Maggie/Major government a good 8 years to get to this stage, as did it for the expense scandal under Brown, that’s got to be a record!).

Of course the Tories seem to have manoeuvred out of this crisis quickly, possibly by deliberately engineering a panic at the petrol pumps. Peter Cruddas fell on his Gin Bottle in under 24 hours. David Cameron, even appeared in his dorky looking fun run outfit (which gave me a good laugh!) to refute the allegations. Initially the PM tried to argue that what went on in his private house, was private (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas an appropriate metaphor given that he seems to run the place like it was a casino), but then quickly relented and said he’d publish any details of his dinner dates…but I’d point to the small print, he’ll only be publishing dinners at Downing Street, so these little get togethers can still go ahead if moved to another location!

Guess whose coming to dinner?
Incidentally, if there are any Tories who query whether its unfair for the PM not to have privacy in his own home, lets reverse the scenario and image an allegation came out about, say, Tony Blair trying to score some Charlie off of a Colombian drug dealer (well, he had GW Bush coming around!). Now if the Tory’s are to be believed, so long as this hand over was done in private in No. 10, then one presumes that the right wing press would back off…..hardly!

Indeed if David Cameron wants to have one of his Eaton Chums around so they can reminisce about playing flog the peasants on the Oxford high street, well okay, that’s private. But the instant discussions turn to politics, and this chum happens to have either a vested interest in that policy changing or he is a donor to the Tories, David Cameron has in essence just “clocked in” and is now on the job and hence anything he says or does is now part of the public record.

Shock horror?
But am I shocked at these allegations? well to be honest, no, not really, other than I didn’t realise it was that cheap to bribe a politician in this country (then again there is a recession on you know!). Do I believe that such corruption is merely restricted to the “Nasty Party” aka the Tories? absolutely not. Labour under Blair and Brown were haunted by occasional allegations of sleaze (notably Bernie Ecclestone) and the expenses scandal happened under their watch (although quite a few Tories did get caught out, most famously Moatgate). Miliband recently had a few wealthy chums around too. I’m certainly of the opinion that the Tories are “the worst of a bad lot” but that doesn’t mean I think any of the other parties are a bunch of angels.

Bloody Foreigners!
Of course what I found most objectionable about this story was the foreign element of it. The Sunday Times fake donors told Cruddas that they were working on behalf of Middle East investors. This is sort of like a Daily Mail-esque fantasy (sneaky dark skinned foreigners taking over Britain!), but no, not only did he not seem bothered about this fact he was keen to help them get around the law…..isn’t that illegal?

This latter point is important, there are rules limiting donations to UK political parties to voting and tax paying Brit’s because, well it’s an appropriate reward for having the decency to pay tax and contribute to British society. One of the core Tory arguments for not hammering non-dom tax dodgers is that they pay a heavy price as it is for their tax dodging by being essentially shut out of British politics and unable to gain influence over government. Not from where I’m sitting! Didn’t Lord Ashcroft bankroll the Tory’s the last election? Are they not beholden to such donors for the Party’s running costs? And what’s Phil Green still doing in cabinet? Clearly the Tories have just blown away another of there own arguments.

Any non-doms who don’t pay their fair share of UK income tax should be persona non grata as far as the UK government goes. They should be bared from meeting any UK politician, ineligible for any government contract (or a contract from a government quango, or indeed our state owned banks), and be charged for using public services on a pay as you go basis (i.e. next time Phil Green flies in he finds a guy waiting in the terminal with a bill for using the states runway, and when he gets to the office another with a bill for using the Queen’s highways, etc.).

This crisis has been building for years. As Sir Christopher Kelly who investigated the previous scandal with the Standard’s in Public life committee, pointed out, it would likely take a scandal to get the politicians to do anything about it. He seems to have been proved right. In his report he made various recommendations, notably limiting donations to individuals (not corporations or unions) and capping them at £10,000 per person. The politicians in both the main parties baulked at this. I think his suggestions (of which I’ve listed just two) need to be taken on board pretty urgently.

Others talk about the public funding of political parties. I’m somewhat against this. Corruption and sleaze with parties is partially due to the fact they end up beholden to donors, but also because of whom they are. There are far too many millionaires within the current government, which naturally gives them a strong incentive to bring in rich friendly policies and puts them out of touch with the real world, as the recent so-called “pasty-gate” and “Jerrycan gate” incidents showed. So public funding of parties would do nothing to prevent this. Also I’m not comfortable with the idea of Nick Griffin and the BNP getting state funding (the only state funding they deserve is the sort provided on the Isle of Wight!)

I think what needs to really happen here is to take the money out of UK politics altogether. While yes it takes money to run parties, no question, but we want to limit the amount of money parties receive, be it from the public or private purse. If there’s one thing that annoy’s me about UK politics it’s the import of this American idea of politics by spin and stage managed photo ops, sound bites and info-tainment events. This means we wind up with photo genetic but otherwise inept politicians who cannot make the big decisions and govern effectively. Such polices have in the US led to virtual political paralysis, where the parties on both sides can’t make any of the big decisions they need to make, and as a result we are likely to be in the last few years of the American Empire.

No, if we want effective politicians elected for what they stand for and their skills, rather than how good they look holding babies, then we need to cap the amount of money political parties are allowed to spend in a year, particularly during elections, as such media events, advertising and focus groups tend to be expensive to run. Every party should get equal airtime in the lead up to an election (maybe a slight swing for the bigger parties although the debates will likely achieve that) and not allowed to purchase additional advertising, other than a few campaign posters (a simple rule requiring they be put up by party activists as with any leaflet distribution would nip this one in the bud).

This scandal has presented us with an opportunity to once and for all, clean up politics and we should take it. Unfortunately, from where I’m sitting it seems the only opportunity it has presented is to the Tories to provoke a fuel crisis to distract everyone from this mess, labour to visit a Gregg’s and Murdoch to get revenge on the Tories for the hacking scandal.

A rich man’s Budget or a Greek Budget? What about the deficit?

The Chancellor’s budget speech on Wednesday was about as predictable as that of a super villain. As predicted, the 50p tax got cut (as I predicted it would be sometime ago), a little thank present to the wealthy who helped bank roll the Tories into power…well those that actually still pay tax that is! Meanwhile pensioners seemed to have gotten slapped with the bill. How charming and predictable!

The Tories will argue that the 50p tax cut will encourage growth and attract new business, why the day after the tax cut didn’t GlaxoSmithKline announce a new £350 milion pound investment in the country?. This has got to be the most obvious cynical poltical ploy I’ve every seen. No company makes a decision like this where that much money is at stake in less than 24 hours based on a government budget change (it would typically take many weeks of analysis by the beancounters for a company to even know whether a budget yields a net positive or not). Clearly this decision was made months ago and GSK held it back till the day after the budget and timed its announcement (regardless of what Osborne said) as a friendly thank you to the Tories for funding the board’s next round of Porsche’s, via the 50p tax cut.

The argument against the 50p tax rate seemed to be that it wasn’t raising enough money. Surely in that case I would argue it needed to be raised yet further. Or they needed to clamp down on tax dodgers, such as a certain “lord” Ashcroft or Phil Green of Topshop (inexplicably still a government advisor)… or is the name Greed of Top dodgers!

Anyway, the argument put forward by the millionaires for the tax cut seemed to be that with taxes so high they just couldn’t be bothered to set up companies or try harder and would rather just sit in the corner and sulk. I describe this as the Kevin & Perry defence “taxes are too high! Its so unfair, aw I hate you!” Of course isn’t the principle Tory argument against the wealthy not being subject to a wealth tax (as other nations apply) that they are motivated to set up businesses and earn more? If this is not the case and they are paying hardly any tax then surely a wealth tax is thus a good idea, no?

And speaking of the “unfairness” of the budget, I noted that alcohol went up with talk now of a minimum price for booze. One could argue, using the same logic of the millionaires (of the 50p discriminating against them), that this alcohol duty discriminates against Irish people. Suppose I’m now so under-motivated to work due to this rise that I now don’t bother showing up for work Monday and just hang around and sulking? Or in the same way the rich feel justified in dodging higher taxes which they poltically disagree with, am I now justified in setting up a pot still and making Potcheen? Would those on the right agree that this is justified? I think not!

The Mansion Tax that will fail
To placate the lib dems and prevent Nick Clegg being lynched by a gang of pensioners, the Tories have promised a mansion tax to claw money back from the wealthy. However, I confidently predict it will miss the mark, as the wealthy will simply find ways around it. The wealthy already dodge stamp duty and council tax. Casing point take One Hyde Park, a plush pad for London’s mega rich. But of the 62 properties in the development, only 9 have registered to pay council tax, and only two stamp duty!

Further there is a world of a difference between a million pound home in, say, Westminster or Notting Hill (which could be just a small house or apartment) and say Glasgow or Liverpool (that would probably buy you a luxury penthouse suite!). Consequently if you are a pensioner of modest income, who bought a house in Kensington, when it cost you just 455 pounds and ten shillings, retired there on fixed income before the yuppies arrived and pushed up house prices. Now, struggling as you are to pay the council tax, thanks to Osborne you can’t even sell the house due to the stamp duty. No doubt such individuals are probably reading the sides of cat food tins and wondering whether they can live off them…other than that planning to burn down their house for the insurance money!

No, the best and fairest way to tax people is based on their ability to pay, and pensioners on a fixed income, or arbitrarily taxing people on the speculated value of their property are poor ways of doing this. Taxing actual accumulated wealth, earnings or consumption (VAT or Carbon taxes) are the best approaches as this directly reflects ones ability to pay on what one pays in tax.

A Greek Budget?
But I’ll finish with my title, the Greek element of the budget. In order to quell anger over the 50p tax rise Osborne had to work doubly hard to avoid increasing income tax to the rest of us. Unfortunately that leads to the obvious question, how exactly are we supposed to cut the deficit if everyone’s paying less tax? Austerity measures alone can’t solve a deficit, indeed they may ultimately slow down the economy, depress tax receipts and push the deficit higher, as we are seeing in Europe.

The government points to the fact that it will spend less on borrowing due to a lowering of borrowing costs (due to the Eurozone crisis many are hoarding cash in UK banks). This implies that the plan is to take advantage of the low interest rates to borrow more? Hang on, isn’t this exactly how the Greeks got into trouble? The low interest rates meant the Greek government got away with borrowing more (with a little help from firms such as Goldman Sachs), but because the cost of servicing this debt fell (due to interest rates falling prior to the bank crisis) nobody caught them at it. Large infrastructure projects such as the Olympics also helped conceal the looming bubble (Osborne also announced support for an Airport in the Thames on an Island big enough to accomodate Boris Johnson’s ego).

But of course it didn’t last for the Greeks. The banking crisis hit, interest rates soared, tax receipts fell and the Wall Street vultures realised they could make more money bankrupting Greece than saving her. The rest is history. What chance of this repeating? My view? about 50/50. And its worth remembering that an implosion of the Eurozone will have serious repercussions for the UK. Greece going down was always a pre-planned event. However, other eurozone countries could do a lot of damage, Ireland for example owes a good £80 Billion+ to UK banks.

Again one cannot avoid the conclusion that the Tory mantra about wanting to cut the deficit is just tosh. The truth is they don’t actually care about the deficit, which will be a problem for future generations of tax payers. Of whom they represent a slightly lower percentage of since Wednesday! No the Tories are merely using it as a ruse to hammer public services and flog the peasants and increase the power and control of their Bullingdon club buddies that little bit more.

Welfare Reform….or Welfare Chain Gangs!

For many years one of the touch stones of the right wing press has always been “mak’em work for their benefits!”. The new Tory government has come up with various schemes to enforce this mantra, such as reassessing those on disability benefits (to see how many are genuinely unfit for work), caps on welfare payments. And most notably – forcing the long term unemployed (those out of work for 6 months or more) into attending various “courses”, forcing them to undertake unpaid work or compulsory attendance of “work experience” schemes. Both of these last three being often run by private companieswith a profit motive.

Of course such polices, as described above, ignore certain practicalities. There’s a world of a difference between living costs in central London, and ones living costs somewhere else in the countryside. Many on incapacity benefit, or raising children for example, are hardly in a position to work. Whenever I’ve been unemployed I was far too busy looking for another job to have any time to waste attending some half baked Daily Mail-esque vanity scheme. And the unfortunate consequence of our lengthy recession is that many people, even those with good qualifications, are likely to remain unemployed for sometime to come. I suspect that many of them are a little too busy to be wasting time sweeping the streets or stacking shelves at Tesco’s.

I think the first warning sign for me was as how few council’s seemed keen on taking part. Then again I’m quite sure councillors have heard the expression “if you don’t want to be asked to do a job twice, do it badly the first time” and reckon they’d rather not take the risk of the Neds or Chav’s showing how badly they can do a job. Also we all know how risk averse councils are these days, so no chance of them getting anyone without the proper qualifications (e.g. having taken a 6 month safety course in brush safety) do anything remotely risky. Similarly many charities have been uninterested too.

So the government has instead tried to farm off its unwilling work force onto private employers. For awhile they all seemed keen. After all it was a useful pay back for supporting the Tory’s all these years. However it has led to the accusation of “slave labour” levelled against these companies.

While this might be going too far, remember that many of these retailers work in an ultra-low wage economy and will try any trick they can to cut wages, just look at Wal-mart in the US. And there’s the rub. Far from getting people back to work, this scheme threatens to stop people getting jobs! After all if Tesco or Burger king can get some “compelled labourer” to work for them for the equivalent of £1.77 an hour (equivalent of a week’s job seekers paid out over a 35 hour week) then why hire someone at the minimum wage of £4.98 – £6.08?

Realising that the negative publicity from recent protests could cost them more than they’d gain, many of these corporations have begun to drop out of the scheme. Indeed, recently the announcement by Tesco of tens of thousands of jobs seems to confirm both that they had high hopes for this scheme, and that had they followed through, this scheme would have prevented employment not aided it.

A4e – Action for Enrichment?
And finally there is the scandal of A4e and Emmy Harrison. They were a quango supposedly set up to help run training courses and welfare to work schemes for these welfare reform policies, originally under Labour, but operated with renewed vigour under the Tories. Unfortunately, they are now under multiple investigations for fraud. Claims are swirling around that they faked employment records to claim money off the government, or got people jobs that they knew that would only last a few days or weeks. And Emmy Harrison, the A4e boss who paid herself a cool £8.6 million, has been forced to resign as a government adviser. Of course the image of a millionaire making her fortune off the backs of literally the poorest people in Britain (with the taxpayer picking up the tab…and there was me thinking all of this welfare reform was supposed to reduce the deficit), is the sort of thing that I thought we abandoned back in the Victorian era.

Indeed this is something that the Tories and their Daily Mail mob fail to appreciate. They are basically advocating a return to the workhouse era of the 19th century. Indeed oddly enough, even a recent Daily Mail article on this topic compares A4e to a “workhouse” (when the Daily mail takes the side of those on benefits, you know something’s gone horribly wrong!). Such policies of the 19th century ultimately failed. It led to the most awful grinding poverty, increased crime, and provoked civil unrest. It also directly harmed the economy, as such polices ultimately make it harder for people to get work rather than improve it. The welfare state was set up for many very good reasons and we would be fools to ignore them.

The scandal of the slipper farmers…and the silence of the right wing lambs

The BBC’s Panorama programme revealed a shocking fact last week. They showed how wealthy investors can buy up farming subsidy entitlements, assign them to any bit of waste ground they like, and then milk subsidy cash (intended to support food production) without ever having to do any actual farming! 88| Several large wealthy (and in many cases foreign) landowners have been engaging in just this practice, as well as the pin stripped suit brigade…hardly the sorts who you’d associate with farming! And we are again talking serious cash, tens of thousands to millions per year. A return in many cases of +30% on ones initial investment, per year.

And if the treasury being milked dry by wealthy landowners weren’t bad enough it gets worse. Many smaller farmers, the sort whom the EU farm subsidy system was specifically set up to help, are having to compete with these guys for the purchase of these entitlements. So in effect money from our taxes earmarked to ensure land management and sustainable food production is instead being siphoned off by the rich to top up their swimming pools. In any other country, we’d call this corruption.

Surely the EU should do something about this, I hear you say. Indeed they are aware of the problem and have proposed some changes of the law to close the relevant loopholes (e.g. you have to be a real legitimate farmer and payments will be capped at some particular means tested rate). Why isn’t it being implemented? Because the UK government keeps objecting to such changes! Yes, the Tory’s would rather see taxpayers money wasted by the EU, than do anything to stop it. It sort of makes everything else they say bashing the EU somewhat pale in comparison…course it may have something to do with the fact that the landed gentry currently milking the EU dry happen to be the Troy parties key supporters.

Indeed it’s interesting to note the wall of silence from the right wing media over this. I wandered over to the Daily Mail and Telegraph did a quick few searches to catch their opinion of this, as well as other right wing rags. Not even a whisper. Now you would think that foreigners taking money off the British government due to a cock up by the EU would be the sort of story that would have any Daily Mail editor frothing at the mouth. But there seems to be no interest in them taking up this story. Where the right wing press do mention it, they seem more apologetic to the EU and speculators than anything. A rare sight with them…or has it something to do with the property owning habits of these rag’s owners

What these “slipper farmers” demonstrate therefore, is the hypocrisy of the right, how they will bash the EU over one thing (Human rights act), but blatantly ignore or even block its attempts to solve another problem. On this occasion, the silence of the right wing lambs is simply deafening.

Liberating the Syrians

I’ve avoided commenting about the awful situation in Syria, as there’s little positive that can be said about the situation. Again, while the innocent are slaughtered the world watches on and discusses the horror by committee. But unfortunately, the opponents of the present regime are caught in trap set by competing international politics.

Why can’t the West go in like we did with Libya? many ask. Well firstly because that would need a UN resolution, something that isn’t going to be forthcoming due to Chinese and Russian vetoes (more on that later). Also, in order for the west to use airstrikes to topple the regime, they need to have forces on the ground to exploit these strikes and someone to take over afterwards. With Libya, they had the NTC and a number of defecting army units plus many rebel fighters. Many of the embassy staff abroad also defected to the NTC, making it relatively easy and indeed quite legal for Western governments to just recognise the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya, and Gaddafi as essentially the illegitimate usurper. Much of Gaddafi’s supporters where either his cronies, members of his tribe or West African mercenaries.

The situation in Syria could not be more different. Syria is a secular country, with large minority groups of non-Muslims, fully 9% are Christian, as well as many Islamic sects, such as the Druze (who make up a large proportion of the military officers corps) and the Alawi (of whom the Assad’s are members). You may ask how can any Syrian support the Assad regime. Many of these minority groups and the secular middle class do support the regime as they fear the consequences of it falling and a more radically Islamist regime taking over. Recent regime change in other Muslim countries, notably Egypt, have seen massacres of ethnic minorities, Coptic Christians in particular.

So the dilemma for the west is that if the Assad regime falls, the Sunni majority could take revenge on the minorities, including many Christians. Also, there’s the power vacuum. Who will take over? What if radical Islamists take over and found another Iran? One right on the border of Israel.

I would point out the chances of that happen are slim. Furthermore Iran would probably not have an Islamist government today if it weren’t for the oil revenues. Syrian oil output is barely sufficient to meet domestic needs so it will not provide much financial support to such a regime Meaning that after the Islamists wreck the economy it will be voted out of office or overthrown pretty quickly. But even so, naturally Western governments worry what will happen if Islamists take over.

More importantly, taking a step back, who is going to do the overthrowing? Chances are, especially if the West wanted to influence who takes over, troops on the ground would be necessary. As I pointed out before with regards to Libya, its clear NATO military advisors and forward air controllers played a key role in the downfall of Gaddafi. At the very least this or much more would be required again. After the quagmire of Iraq, I think there is little enthusiasm for western soldiers to go into another Muslim country and find themselves refereeing suicide bombing competitions.

But what about Russia? Why do they support a regime as awful as Assad? While “Polonium” Putin is not exactly a fan of human rights, he and Russia’s reputation clearly suffers from association with a murderous regime like the Assad’s.

It all goes back to the cold war. Back then, the Soviets were desperate to undermine America’s links with various oil rich regimes in the region (Iran (till 1979), Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, etc.) by making its own friends in the region. Many regimes from Yemen to Libya were at some point on very friendly terms with the soviets, often accepting large financial loans from the Russians for various projects, and of course buying substantial quantities of soviet weaponry.

However, it was a marriage doomed to failure. Firstly, the soviets were hard core atheists. And I mean, if you thought Richard “no-god-nor-Santa” Dawkins is bad, I don’t believe he’s ever blown up a Cathedral or deported millions of Muslims to Siberia for “political crimes” (sort of puts the current whining about “religion under attack” in prospective). Also, many of these Middle Eastern states were oil exporters, making the Russians, still the world’s largest oil producer, essential a business rival.

Consequently, one by one, every single one of these Middle East regimes eventually broke with Moscow. Some even climbed back into bed with the Americans. The only relationship that has survived to this day was Syria. Hence why the Russians are reluctant to break with the Assad regime.

The Chinese? They are playing superpower catch up and reckon that beggars can’t be choosers and hence they will make friends with and support any regime regardless of human rights abuses. And lets face it the Chinese do enough of torturing in they’re own country to hardly be in a position to lecture others. Of course the flaw in this chinese strategy is that inevitably once Assad’s regime falls, the new rulers of the country will likely punish the Chinese for their support by breaking of contact, nationalising chinese owned businesses, supporting islamist groups within china, etc. This is after all what happened to the US after the Iranian revolution.

Finally, there is Israel. While you might think the Israeli’s would love to see the back of the Assad’s, the truth is they’d prefer the devil they know. While yes the Assad regime have been helping Hezbollah to attack Israel, they have never been as seriously anti-Israeli as the Iranians. Such terrorism and funding of Hezbollah is more aimed at scoring browning points with Islamists, domestic politics and maintaining Syrian influence over Lebanon. Indeed, Hezbollah is these days less of a terrorist group and more of a Jihadi spokesmodel for Syria.

Naturally the Israeli’s fear the consequences of a radically Islamic regime right on their border. Such a regime would probably support terrorism much more seriously, likely leading to a war, possibly one involving ultimately the use of WMD’s, of which the Syrians have an ample stockpile. And of course in the short term, they’d have to deal with millions of Christian refugees streaming across the border into Israel (which election year pressure from America would probably force them into accepting).

Finally, the West is hardly innocent here. The Bush and Blair administration co-operated with the Syrians to torture supposed “terrorist” suspects with its policy of extraordinary rendition. A similar, but less extensive policy was exposed when the Gaddafi regime fell. However, the rumours are that the Syrian side of these renditions make anything that went on in Libya look like the Monty Python Spanish inquisition.

The mistake of the Bush regime was to assume that such potentially damning evidence would remain safe in Syria. And the chances are that if the regime falls, much damaging information, the sort that could earn senior CIA, Pentagon and Whitehall staffers getting a free trip to the Hague, will come out (maybe even Bush and Blair will wind up in the dock!). Of course as some of these just happen to be the very civil servants advising Western governments, one has to suspect that they are probably arguing against intervention as much to save their own hides as due to any of the arguments put in above.

The unfortunate conclusions for the people of Homs are not good. They are caught in a meat grinder of international politics and there is little they can do…other than the obvious, leave their country. An Assad regime that suffers a brain drain of its top talent and international isolation will not remain in place for long. It will not save the lives of anyone tomorrow, but it will eventually topple the regime…and reward dithering regimes abroad with millions of unwanted guests…I’d recommend Russia, China or Israel as good destinations!

But maybe we have to ask about the more fundamental question, is it acceptable that the world’s fiddles while a murderous government massacres its own people ?

We’ve been here many times before, from Rwanda to Bosnia to Burma. Rather than waiting for a UN resolution, should we not instead have a rule allowing for military intervention against any regime that uses it military against civilians? I’m not saying that countries can invade and attack in any situation where violence is used against civilans (otherwise the UK would currently be undergoing French occupation due to the summer riots!). But they are entitled to enforce a no fly zone and conduct some limited airstrikes against military targets, without any need to go to the UN. It is difficult to believe that in 2012 any regime can get away with performing the sort of medieval tyranny the Assad regime is engaged in and not suffer any repercussions.

Don’t cardinals say the funniest things!

I got a good laugh this morning over breakfast, courtesy of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, who on the Today programme this morning compared gay marriage as equivalent to slavery :crazy:. Obviously, he seems to think that it will be made compulsory and he plus all the other priests will end up as bondage enslaved gimps to these gay overlords :)) (whom I for one welcome). Don’t priests just say the funniest things! Here’s a link to his ravings, and a post about it here should you’re bandwidth be playing up like mine.

In a previous post I discussed the attitudes survey towards religion complied by Foundation for Science and Reason, which revealed that in truth the majority of so-called Christians aren’t that committed.

But what about the more devote or extreme Christians?
Why do they always seem to go gaga over issues like Stem cells and Gay Marriage, or Muslims over cartoons of Mohammed? Well largely because the powers that be in the church recognise that they need a cause to rally the faithful around. But in the absence of any genuine threat to religion in the west, they are frequently forced to merely invent one, much as governments during the Bush era largely exaggerated the threat posed by Al Qaeda, as discussed in “the Power of Nightmares” by Adam Curtis.

Of course the danger with such tactics is that while it might be temporarily successful in railing you’re core supporters around a cause, but it tends to be counter productive in the long run. Clearly, the church has lost the debate on gay marriage and their going to have to do some immense back peddling in the future. Similarly the anti-stem cell argument is absurd. If we followed the churches attitude to the letter we shouldn’t wash our hands (do you have any idea how many bacteria you kill when you do that, murderer! :>>)…as well as take any “misses” post rumpy pumpy to the Priest to be blessed and given a funeral ;D. And don’t get me started on those cartoons or evolution!

All such tactics succeed in doing is making religions look silly and out of touch with the 21st century and ultimately drive away the moderates (who might well still tick the “Christian” box in census forms but don’t really do a lot else), leaving only the more committed “true believers” active in the church.

And in case you thought some Christians were crazy…
Of course this process has led in America to the creation of the distilled band of lunacy we know as the religious right. Again, the key driver was largely made up “threats” to religion such as abortion, gay marriage, stem cells and “intelligent design”. But in truth many of these “true believers” in the Christian right aren’t really Christian at all.

As the author Robert McElvaine points out in his book “Grand Theft Jesus” these “Xians” (he feels it would be unfair on Christians to refer to the Christian right anymore as such) have allowed this process, aided by the highly political motives of many conservatives, to morph and warp their religion to the point where it has little resemblance to the core Christian message anymore.

Take some evangelical preachers in the US, who claim that Jesus want rich people to be rich as he respect’s their “rugged individualism”. If the late JC has a grave to lie in he’s likely rolling in it right now!

Then there’s Andrew Schlafly the founder of Conservapedia (a website intended to counter the “liberal bias” in Wikipedia…what the rest of us call “facts”). He’s recently launched a Conservative Bible Project which aims to re-write the bible to remove all the “liberal bias” from it. You know, all that commie crap where Jesus turns the other cheek, heals the sick (socialised health care!), gives alms to beggars, says nasty things about rich people….I wish I was joking, but here read for yourself.

I’m reminded of the bit in the bible where Jesus warned about “vipers and demons coming in the guise of saints” or words to that effect.

The New Xian Church
I propose a solution, the Xians (aka the Christian Right) should just admit defeat and set up their own new religion:

This has them worshipping not Jesus, but…we’ll call him “Butch” (nice American name!). And predictably he was born in America, Texas in fact….at a NASCAR race, but not in a manger but his Daddy’s private viewing box. He preached against the evils of big government, while at the same time campaigning against abortion and gay marriage (which would both be banned…but not by big government presumably!) as well as low energy light bulbs.

Butch died, not at the hands of the Romans, but liberal illegal immigrant professor terrorists without any birth certificates, and only because he made the mistake of putting down his M16 so he could slap one of them on both cheeks (hence Xians can’t put down their guns at any time). He wasn’t nailed to a cross, but a wind turbine, or solar panel in some accounts (either way this is why real men like Butch can never use renewable energy, global warming being gods will anyway so that we can have more beach parties B) ).

preaches that one should accumulate as much wealth as possible, never pay taxes and be buried with all your wealth in a massive pyramid tomb like the Pharaohs, as this determines your standing in the divine treasury of the afterlife (okay I know I’m borrowing from the Ferengi religion at this point, but it could work!).

The irony is that this description is much closer to the belief system of many of the Christian Right in the world, than the King James Bible!