Supreme Court upholds Obamacare: a key victory in election year

Francis Pitt 

Image © roberthuffstutter

The United States Supreme Court has upheld President Obama’s flagship healthcare bill, a decision that has given the Democratic Party’s incumbent a boost as he looks towards November’s presidential election showdown with Mitt Romney.

The legislation, which has polarised opinion in America, will now ensure that millions of Americans, who previously would not have be able to access healthcare, will now be able to do what so many in other Western countries take for granted.

Within minutes of the announcement, Twitter was buzzing with reaction. Many Republicans were not happy with the decision of America’s highest court.  Missouri Congressman, Todd Akin tweeted, “Since its inception I have fought against the adoption of #Obamacare. We must defund and repeal all of it.” Other tweeters were also not happy with the ruling: “There is only one guaranteed way to get rid of Obamacare: President Romney taking the oath on January 20th, 2013.”

The decision was a close run thing, with the court ruling by 5-4 in favour of the bill. The decision was carried by Chief Justice, John Roberts (a Conservative) who himself voted in favour.  Justice Roberts gave his reaction to the decision to not strike down the Bill and in particular the penalty for not getting insured, which many Americans saw as a tax: “The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

Despite the ruling the issue is far from over. Many Americans are still against the mere thought of a universal system similar to those in Europe, or their neighbours, Canada. They see it as an attack on their personal freedom and as something that could potentially lead to the eroding of American society as they know it. The darling of the Tea Party Right, Sarah Palin added her disgust at the ruling by tweeting, “Obama lied to the American people again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.”  Read more of this post

The Failure of Rio+20 is a Wake-Up Call for People Power‏

 Adam Parsons 

Image © CGIAR Climate

Almost a week since the Rio+20 Earth Summit ended, civil society is coming to terms with the ‘epic failure’ of global leaders to agree meaningful action for addressing the worsening planetary and social crises. Campaigners were near unanimous in decrying the inertia and lack of urgency shown by governments for tackling issues related to sustainable development, with national self-interest overriding any possibility of dealing with global problems in a genuinely cooperative and global manner.

Of particular concern was the ambiguous concept of a ‘green economy’, which many activists fear is the latest attempt of corporations to use the environmental crisis as an opportunity for making greater profits. Many NGOs observed the growing influence of major corporations and business lobby groups within the United Nations – one of the biggest differences between the first Rio Summit in 1992 and the latest gathering twenty years later, which is reinforcing policies that support the commercial interests of companies and preventing critical measures that serve the public good.

The real talk and action at Rio last week was not among ministers and heads of state, but in the parallelPeoples Summit for Social and Environmental Justice that was held over a 10 day period to propose real solutions to the serious problems that humanity is facing. This was the forum where the true meaning of ‘sustainable development’ was discussed and understood, with obvious implications for our current way of life and patterns of production and consumption. Clearly, long-term sustainability requires an acceptance that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. And living conditions can never be equalised around the world unless the over-consuming nations – the 20 percent of the world population that consumes 80 percent of the Earth’s resources – learn to live more simply and embrace the principle of sharing.

Sadly, the Rio+20 Declaration in no way reflected the global level of sharing, unity and cooperation that is needed to set humanity on a sustainable path. For example, instead of acknowledging that the solutions to poverty and inequality lie in ‘sustainable’ growth, the Declaration pledged 16 times over to pursue ‘sustained’ growth – i.e. growth at all costs, the root cause of ecological destruction – with only a vague call for “fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce”. The U.S. lobbied to remove the word “equitable” from the text, along with any mention of the right to food, water, healthcare and gender equality.  Read more of this post

2012 Reith Lecture: No More Heroes Anymore

John Curran 

Image © The Aspen Institute

Professor Niall Ferguson is giving this year`s BBC Reith Lecture. The initial talk examined the impact of the Glorious Revolution of 1688; an event leading to a constitutional settlement grounded in the notion of an inclusive pluralist state underpinned by the rule of law.

Professor Ferguson unapologetically makes the case for the Whig view of history seeing 1688 as the catalyst for political and economic freedom which saw Britain ultimately become the Workshop of the World. It is argued that the revolution of 1688 ended arbitrary rule resulting in the establishment of “inclusive rather than extractive institutions”. This he argues becomes an institutional template for sound governance exported around the world (a benevolent aspect of British imperialism) which according to Ferguson is key to understanding why the West advanced.

Western decline on the other hand is a result of “institutional malaise” leading to the unacceptable sovereign debt in Greece, Italy, Ireland, UK and USA.  Ferguson argues we must move beyond the jaded debate about austerity versus stimulus and instead concentrate on the issue at the heart of the problem the breach of a social covenant that Edmund Burke described as the “partnership between the generations”.  What is now required is new transparent forms of public accountancy which will identify the intergenerational impact of fiscal policy.

It is the breach of Burke`s covenant that allowed previous generations to spend the inheritance of those not yet born, lumbering individuals in the future with massive debt, huge tax bills or alternatively cuts in public expenditure resulting from the profligacy of the past.

Professor Ferguson`s speech has a right wing Republican flavour especially when he observes that young Americans should if they “knew what was good for them” vote for the Tea Party. But he argues younger voters do not cast their ballots in a self serving direction because they are duped into supporting an agenda that is shaped by an older politically savvy generation.  Read more of this post

Team v: Helping young people to change the world, and now you can too!

“We’re just ordinary people who come from all over the UK but we’ve come together and we’ve done something so positive.”

Team vvInspired’s flagship leadership and social action programme is recruiting again! We are looking to recruit100 young leaders aged 18 – 25 who want to change the world, one campaign at a time.

The deadline for the first round of Team v applications is fast approaching.

Young leaders aged 18 – 25 now have just 5 days left to submit their applications before our recruitment deadline on Friday 29th June, 5pm.

What is Team v?

• A leadership and volunteering programme that empowers young people to be a positive force for social change by joining together to improve lives in their local communities

• A personal challenge – a 9 month programme developing confidence, leadership and teamwork

• An opportunity to change the world - delivering 3 national campaigns at a local level – informed by the social issues that matter to young people

• A chance to be part of something bigger – joining a diverse group of passionate leaders, united by a shared goal, working together and supporting each other

Team v is a unique 9 month leadership and social action programme which gives 18-24 year olds the chance to be part of an amazing network of young volunteers across England. Team v leaders recruit their own team of volunteers to help them tackle 3 big issues in their communities. In 2011-12, young leaders tackled food poverty, loneliness and isolation amongst older people and improving children’s literacy skills.

Need more information? Listen to Edenette Owusu-Frimpong, from the Team v class of 2011/12, who tells us what Team v has meant to her here.

If you’d like more information about the opportunity, please give us a ring on 020 7960 7039 or visit our website at www.vinspired.com/teamv

The Strange Death of Liberal Europe

John Curran

Image © BrotherMagneto

The Greek electorate have spoken and, borrowing a phrase from former US President Clinton, it is not clear what they have said. Although we have a decision, can it be described as a mandate? New Democracy winning by a mere 3% ahead of anti austerity socialist party Syriza, the majority party automatically gaining fifty extra seats thus placing them in the driving seat of a coalition government.

 As in the UK after the 2010 election, conservative politicians in open necked shirts make electoral agreements with minority parties with phoney liberal credentials. The political horse-trading in Athens was conducted in the Greek language but the narrative is one shaped by London, Berlin, and Brussels.

There has always been a liberal dilemma at the core of the European project. This is evident in the decision making process which is undemocratic and dominated by the Council of Ministers and the Commission. However, since 1979 the Parliament has grown in authority via the ballot box and the Single European Act. Despite this there is a problem in the governance of the EU, a quandary now thought key to understanding the crisis.  A predictable debate has begun with calls to abandon the EU project or establish a Federalist system.

The unprecedented interference from external influences in the Greek election is a worrying intrusion into the democratic workings of a sovereign state, justified by the ‘memorandum of understanding’ made on the cusp of the first Greek election this year. A document that binds future administrations to adhere to cuts of billions of Euros.

The interference in the Greek election are numerous, springing from comments made by European leaders such as Angela Merkel in Germany and George Osborne in the UK. Larry Elliott in the Guardian on 16 of June reported on comments made by Jean-Claude Juncker:

If the radical left wins [in Greece] – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable.

Read more of this post

Australia’s Media Ownership Debacle

Georgia Lewis 

Image © Mohamedn

Fairfax has been a presence on the Australian media scene since 1841 when John Fairfax bought the Sydney Morning Herald. Since then, successive generations of the Fairfax family have owned the company. Their power and influence over the Australian media landscape is not new. In a week where there has been a twin outcry over Australia’s richest woman, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, owning an 18.67% stake in the company and trying to demand three board seats, and concurrently the loss of 1,900 jobs at Fairfax, the closure of printing presses, the merging of newsrooms, the shrinking of broadsheets to tabloids and the suggestion that print editions will become online only with more paywalls going up.

The latest news is that Ms Rinehart won’t get the three seats – or indeed any seats on the board- or the right to hire and fire editors, as per her demands. She refused to sign Fairfax’s Charter of Editorial Independence. As a multibillionaire, she knows she can try and buy more influence in the form of a bigger stake in Fairfax. Her £55 million share spending spree is small change. It is also no secret that she feels Fairfax papers, most notably the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age, are anti-mining and that the paper’s party line is that mining companies should pay more tax. Editorial staff at Fairfax have insisted their journalists are independent and not influenced by commercial constraints.

But for how much longer? Will Ms Rinehart keep buying more and more shares? It seems the current Labor government has no issue with this. Stephen Conroy, the breathtakingly ineffective Communications Minister opined that Ms Rinehart is entitled to turn Fairfax papers into “the mining gazette” but but warns she can’t “trash” the Fairfax brand for other shareholders. Surely, turning the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age into the mining gazette is a trashing of the brand of the highest order? He went on to tell a radio programme: “I’m not sure government can do a lot when it comes to maintaining the independence of journalists and editors from boards of companies.”  Read more of this post

The Poor: The new enemy within

John Curran 

Image © The CBI

Liberalism, that all encompassing doctrine is alive in today`s coalition government.  However, the philosophy that prevails has more in common with Gladstonian liberalism than the doctrine associated with either Beveridge or Keynes.

In the era of `Workfare` no one should be surprised by the DWP announcement, that working tax credits will no longer be paid if recipients go on strike.

This is not news. But, Iain Duncan Smith MP is bringing something new to the agenda. His statement is a declaration that the UK is heading for full blown austerity (no surprise here) but he is informing his core support base that the low paid are the coalitions `enemy within`.

It is 1984 all over again. Mr Smith MP is preparing for a wave of industrial action that will be a likely response to his government’s programme of cuts and redundancies.  As John Cruddas MP has explained we are only 10% into the projected expenditure cuts and while many are feeling the pain a hard rain is about to fall.

The announcement from the DWP concerns workers earning less than £13,000 a year. The `enemy within` in 1984 the National Union of Miners was a worthy adversary although eventually vanquished in a yearlong battle. The government in 1984-85 arranged the resources of the state to defeat them but at least it was bordering on a fair fight. The battle ahead is a case of David v Goliath, as the recent report into poverty commissioned by the Guardian (18 June Amelia Hill) indicates:  

 7 million working-age adults are living in extreme financial stress, one small push from penury, despite being in employment and largely independent of state support.

The pinpointing of those on low incomes by the DWP indicates the areas of the economy the actual cuts are likely to come and the profile of the workers due to suffer. Of course we are all in this together but some of us are perhaps more in it than others.   Read more of this post

Can Francois Hollande Break With History?

Sam Fowles 

Image © idf-fotos

Francois Hollande has said he wants to follow in the footsteps of his namesake Francois Mitterand – he has to and will do better.

In the nondescript town of Tulle, far from the glamorous Paris ballroom where his rival had just conceded, Francois Hollande gave his victory speech. He said he was proud to give people hope again, referring to his predecessor, the only other Socialist President of the Fifth Republic, Francois Mitterand. The reaction of the left wing press across Europe, hitherto bereft of a hero and sick of writing editorials condemning the same austerity in different languages, showed similar elation to when Mitterand himself came to power in 1981. The Guardian called it “a stunning victory, not just for himself… but for Europe too”.

Before Mitterand was elected, the last genuinely socialist leader of France (excepting a series of loose coalitions that rose and fell with the tides during the 1950s) was Leon Blum, elected in the depths of the Great Depression in 1936. Both immediately set about implementing classically socialist policies but were forced into dramatic u-turns within a year of their election for very similar reasons. Financiers, still skittish from the Wall Street Crash, looked at Blum’s Paris and saw Moscow, panic selling of French government bonds and causing a run on the franc so damaging that France was forced off the gold standard. Mitterand saw a rapid exodus, not just of capital but of capitalists, as the highest earners in France rapidly relocated (mostly to Margaret Thatcher’s Britain). Blum was forced into a pause in his policy agenda. The pause became a wait and Blum resigned a year later to be replaced by the centrist Camille Chautemps, shortly followed by the conservative coalition of Eduard Daladier. Mitterand hung on to power until 1995 but found himself in “cohabitation” governments with a conservative majority in parliament. He never attempted to re start anything resembling a truly progressive agenda.

As a young government advisor, Francois Hollande saw Mitterand’s shackling. He may be worried that history is about to repeat itself. Although the Sarkozy campaign’s dire warnings of another run on French bonds in the wake of Hollande’s election has proved false, industry sources suggest that this may be because Hollande’s victory seemed so assured for so long that the market had already adjusted (downwards). In addition, France’s national debt could hardly be more distrusted by the international markets at this point anyway.

But reports are already rife of the richest in France are already eyeing up the more 1% friendly climes of London. Some major banks preparing to enact contingency plans to relocate top executives to states with a friendlier tax band. While the bond markets may have already adjusted, some investors suggest Hollande might be living on borrowed time. It is one thing for the markets to adjust themselves to the man but a class of investors bred on the doctrine of austerity may find it more difficult to adjust to his policies taking effectRead more of this post

The Falkland Islands: How much has the game changed?

Daniel Crump 

Image © Tiger 2000

It was announced this week that the residents of the Falkland Islands will hold a referendum on their political status in 2013. The main focus of which will be their links with the United Kingdom, with 1,600 registered voters on the Islands deciding whether to remain under British rule or back Christina Fernandez’s view that ‘Las Malvinas’ should be a part of Argentina.

Views are mixed as to the seriousness of the escalated tension between the British and Argentine governments over the last few months. Some see the situation as harmless sabre rattling which should have been anticipated given that 2012 is the 30th anniversary of the 1982 War. Others are choosing to read more into the rhetorical exchanges between David Cameron and Mrs. Fernandez. Governments are rarely prepared to answer too many questions on their willingness to enter into global conflict through fear of provoking unnecessary alarm, but what can we divulge from the rhetoric so far, and what are the main areas of concern?

A different kind of Cold War?

Whilst categorically denying that their own country is willing to enter into a new conflict, both governments are doing their best to show that the other one might be. Britain is accusing Christina Fernandez of pandering to the staunch nationalists in Argentina and using bullish language, on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, to increase her approval ratings. For its part, Argentina has accused Britain of stepping up its military presence on the Islands and viewed Prince William’s recent visit as an obvious sign of disrespect.

Underlying all of this, the Falklands dispute has always involved, to a certain extent, concerns over natural resources, particularly oil. According to Argentine observers, the Falklands are an important strategic asset for the UK and give them an important route into Antarctica, which is seen as a potentially crucial area for future oil extraction. Many Argentines also recognise the cost of allowing the British to seize important natural resources so close to their own shores. Indeed, a significant part of the Military Junta’s reasoning 30 years ago was the possibility of improving their economic situation at home, and turning public opinion in their favour as a result.

The Dangerous Mrs. Fernandez?

Christina Fernandez is not leading a military junta. As a democratically elected figure, she is accountable to the people of Argentina and has historically shown her support for international law. There is also an unwritten rule in International Relations theory that democracies have much more to lose from war, and are therefore less likely to instigate a conflict than dictatorships, say.  Read more of this post

Time for Constitutional change but not in front of the judges, First Minister

John Curran 

Image © Dogfael

Carwyn Jones the Welsh First Minister has recently called for a written constitution, arguing the UK has altered dramatically in the last 15 years. He thinks the devolved assemblies are unable to keep pace with the new constitutional landscape nestling within an antiquated structure more appropriate for the era of Gladstone and not fit for today`s purpose. This is a necessary debate but a return to an issue that predates Labour’s victory in 1997. Further, the First Ministers emphasis on a written constitution illustrates major flaws in his analysis.

Labour under John Smith viewed constitutional change as necessary, hence the partial acceptance of the Charter 88 agenda. The increasing centralisation of power during the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher altered Labour’s thinking moving them slightly away from a democratic centralist approach while accepting constitutional change during Tony Blair`s tenure. However, Labour rejected the democratic republican thesis regarding a written constitution as a UK constitutional bridge to far. Or did they?

Labour`s record is impressive in terms of devolution and the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act, releasing the constitutional genie from the bottle while maintaining an agenda that made them look “tough on crime”. The constitutional programme placated the Charter 88 lobby while the government paradoxically adopted an authoritarian line giving an impression they were attacking civil liberties. This view is enhanced with reference to the record of various Labour Home Secretaries most notably (but not exclusively), David Blunkett.

Michael Mansfield QC has argued that Blair and Brown were jointly responsible for the destruction of civil liberties in the UK. Dominic Grieve MP (current Attorney General) from a different political perspective claimed Labour’s years in power akin to tyranny installing what he called the `Surveillance State`. Indeed, Conservative David Davis MP resigned from Parliament forcing a bye-election on the issue of forty-two day’s detention without trial. Of course this disdain towards civil liberties meant a written constitution was ignored if not laughed out of the Blair/Brown court.

Lest we get carried away with the notion that a written constitution is a civil liberties panacea it is important to keep a few caveats in mind. A written constitution grants significant power to the Judiciary, a professional group from an elite social and educational background. They overlook primary and delegated legislation through a process known as judicial review, a tame version of this doctrine exists in the UK where Parliamentary sovereignty takes precedence over the courts (in contrast to the USA).

In the UK it is not strictly true that no written constitution exists. The Human Rights Act 1998 is applicable to all UK citizens and residents. Joshua Rozenberg this Tuesday (BBC radio 4 Law in Action) explained that the Home Secretary Theresa May is setting a motion before Parliament to change UK immigration law due to concerns that foreigners who have broken the law avoid deportation by citing Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. If the motion fails Rozenberg outlined that the government may amend the HRA, forcing a conflict with the European Court of Human Rights. Such tensions are par for the course and if the UK acquires a written constitution then expect more of this.   Read more of this post

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