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Archives for June 2011

Daily View: What does Greece's austerity vote mean?

Clare Spencer | 09:37 UK time, Thursday, 30 June 2011

Commentators ask if anything has changed after the Greek parliament voted in favour of budget cuts, against allowing the country to become insolvent.

The Economist explains why, despite protests, it sees the austerity measures as necessary:

"Without it, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund will not release another tranche of a large rescue loan to the country. And without the loan, Greece cannot afford to meet the interest payments on its monumental government debt. But because the package will bear down too heavily on ordinary Greeks without addressing necessary structural reform, it is likely to fail."

Jason Manolopoulos says in the Times that he's not surprised Greek people are protesting as subsidies are for banks and the euro itself, "not for your average Greek citizen":

"The bailout consists of more debt being piled on to the existing mountain of sovereign debt to prevent, or delay, a disorderly banking crisis and to salvage the single currency - an unsustainable policy that compounds a monstrous financial crime in which the victims are future taxpayers; not only Germans but Greeks and almost everyone else...
"Greeks await an admission from Brussels that its mismanagement and economic ignorance, and the structural flaws of the euro, have played their part in the meltdown. Greece's problems will need to be solved at the European level. But an EU leadership that, for decades, has urged a communautaire spirit among the people has yet to display this quality itself."

Conversely, the vice-chairman of Open Europe, Derek Scott, says in the Financial Times that those owed the money will pay eventually:

"At some stage the creditors will pay: it is a matter of how and when. None of the proffered solutions to the Emu [Europe's economic and monetary union] crisis will work because they do not address the nub of the problem. It is not primarily a crisis of deficits and debts but rather centres on the problems created when countries lose competitiveness within a monetary union."

In Forbes Louis Woodhill says Greece should lower taxes but stay with the euro:

"As things stand, Greece is going to default. At some point, we are going to have a big, fat, Greek bankruptcy. The only question is whether the coming default is used to make things better for Greece, or is allowed to make things worse.
"For Greece to truly recover, it must do now whatever it takes to get its economy growing now. However, whatever else it does, Greece must stick with the euro. Without a credible currency, an urbanized nation can quickly descend into chaos - and even starvation."

The Independent's Adrian Hamilton isn't holding his breath that the vote for austerity will save the euro:

"European leaders, even David Cameron for all his public disassociation from the rescue efforts, are acutely aware that this is a real point of decision for Europe. If it can master this crisis, then Europe can show some worth. If it can't, it is difficult to see the whole project holding together."

Daily View: Johann Hari's defence of plagiarism accusations

Clare Spencer | 12:05 UK time, Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A plagiarism row has erupted over Independent columnist Johann Hari's confession that he had taken quotes from other written work and inserted it into his exclusive interviews.

It all started when political blog DSG found an interview Hari wrote in 2004 which lifted words from a 2003 book about Italian communist Toni Negri.

Following this, editor of Yahoo! Ireland and blogger Brian Whelan decided to test Hari's work by taking another recent interview at random and search through the quotes. This time he found an Independent interview with journalist Gideon Levy had line for line the quotes from an article in Israel's Haaretz newspaper. Whelan explains his annoyance:

"I know many hacks lift quotes and thats not a crime but Hari appears to be passing off copy-pasted text from Levy's writings in Haaretz and interviews with other hacks as an exclusive interview."

In his blog, Johann Hari admitted he had indeed taken quotes from previously written work and put them in his interviews. He explained sometimes people are clearer in writing than they are face-to-face. But "bemused" by accusations of plagiarism, he defended himself by saying that he kept the sentiment of his interviewees:

"I stress: I have only ever done this where the interviewee was making the same or very similar point to me in the interview that they had already made more clearly in print. This is one reason why, after doing what must be over fifty interviews, none of my interviewees have ever said they had been misquoted, even when they feel I've been very harsh on them in other ways."

Not everybody is convinced by Hari's defence. In the Telegraph Toby Young calls it feeble:

"If his overwhelming concern is clarity and accuracy, shouldn't he be clear about the fact that the interviewee hasn't given that quotation to him?"

The blog Fleet Street Blues calls the apology "stunningly brazen about playing fast and loose with the truth":

"The main art of being an interviewer is to be skilled at eliciting the right quotes from your subject. If Johann Hari wants to write 'intellectual portraits', he should go and write fiction. Do his editors really know that the copy they're printing ('we stare at each other for a while. Then he says in a quieter voice...') is essentially made up? "

Anonymous blogger Fleet Street Fox is angered that Johann Hari's admission may do further harm to the reputation of the newspaper industry:

"It also provokes many non-journalists to say 'ah yes, but you all lie, don't you?' It's the most common accusation hurled at the people in my trade, it is the easiest thing for a red-handed and red-faced public figure to splutter on a doorstep, and personally I find it the most frustrating and offensive."

These revelations also sparked mockery on Twitter. Using the hashtag #interviewbyhari Twitter users came up with their own ideas for quotes for Hari to insert into his interviews. Typical of these is tweeter Sam Wilson's:

"I walked into the room and there he was. Lionel. 'Hello,' he said, shaking my hand 'Is it me you're looking for?'

Having his reputation subject to "to trial by Twitter" Hari wrote an apology published in the Independent. While he still stood by his claims that what he was doing was not plagiarism, he did concede he had made an error:

"It depends on whether you prefer the intellectual accuracy of describing their ideas in their most considered words, or the reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon. Since my interviews are long intellectual profiles, not ones where I'm trying to ferret out a scoop or exclusive, I have, in the past, prioritised the former. That was, on reflection, a mistake, because it wasn't clear to the reader."

Daily View: Does the warrant for Gaddafi's arrest matter?

Clare Spencer | 09:25 UK time, Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Libyan man walks past caricatures of Muammar Gaddafi and his son near a courthouse in Benghazi


Commentators ponder the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court's arrest warrants for Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, his son and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity.

The Times editorial commends the move, as it will help to deter future "aggressors":

"In issuing warrants for the arrest of those accused of violence against Libyan civilians, the ICC has given heart to those suffering under despotism, and given notice to oppressors that they will be pursued and tried if they violate the laws of war. The court has also enhanced its own reputation for upholding impartial standards of justice in an anarchic world order."

In contrast Simon Tidsall argues in the Guardian that the arrest warrant could make Col Gaddafi more dangerous because it means he has nowhere to go:

"On his refusal to budge, Gaddafi has been entirely consistent from the outset and, because he has nowhere to go and because the ICC has effectively branded him an international outlaw, it seems implausible to believe he will change his mind now. The ICC has added its weight to attempts to corner Gaddafi. But cornered, he is rendered all the more dangerous."

In a similar vein, the Boston Globe's editorial argues the ICC should have waited:

"The ICC is not supposed to let political or tactical considerations enter into its decisions about whom to indict. But if granting Khadafy safe passage out of the country could shorten Libya's civil war by weeks or months, saving many lives, calling for his arrest only after he had fled Libya would have been the wiser move."

In Foreign Policy David Bosco is dubious that anyone will follow through with an arrest after the warrant:

"The Western powers may have welcomed the warrants but do they feel any responsibility to ensure that Gaddafi and the other indictees end up at the Hague? Or are they now so intent on extricating themselves from the crisis that they'll willingly ease Gaddafi's exit to a place beyond the reach of the court?
"One of the most serious problems the ICC faces is that it attracts plenty of support in the abstract and at the outset of its investigations. But when states are asked to support - and to prioritize - its work in the midst of complex crises, the picture changes."

Vivienne Walt is doubtful in Time about the ICC convicting Col Gaddafi even if there is an arrest:

"Despite billions in funding, the court has failed to convict a single defendant in its eight-year history. Its arrest warrant against Sudan's President Bashir was issued in March, 2009; more than two years later, the Sudanese leader is still in power and even traveling internationally - albeit only to countries that do not recognize the ICC - and officials in The Hague have appeared powerless to bring him to justice. When people are brought to court, trials can drag on for years.
"With no foreign forces in Tripoli, arresting the Libyan leader and his son could require a cataclysmic split in the regime. Many military commanders and politicians have defected since February, but they have fled the capital to the rebel side, rather than moving against Gaddafi and his inner circle in Tripoli itself. "

Daily View: How widely will the teachers' strike be felt?

Clare Spencer | 10:04 UK time, Monday, 27 June 2011


Primary school teacher with children


Commentators look at the possible effects of Thursday's planned teaching strike over pensions.

Newly qualified teacher Mary Alexander explains in the Independent that she is going on strike because she thinks the pension reforms will put people off going into teaching:

"Teaching is an amazing job. You put a lot into it and you work incredibly long hours. In the past two years, during my training and this year, I've worked harder than I've ever worked before. There is a lot of emotional stress. I think teachers feel undervalued already compared to other professions. But because we had an OK pension that sort of compensated for all that, you could think that your future was going to be secure. Take that away, coupled with the increasing workload and the pay, then I don't think people will want to go into the profession."

The Guardian's Jackie Ashley worries that if Education Secretary Michael Gove continues to annoy teachers the consequences will be seen in British students' ranking lower internationally:

"If ministers don't keep good people teaching, all the fiddling with school constitutions and exam systems in the world will make no difference. And we will continue to languish in international tables. And the economic consequences will be dire - for everyone's pensions, for everyone's future.
"So I'd like to see good new housing specifically for teachers and promises of a pension review upwards as soon as the economy improves. If there's money in the private sector for investment in academies, why can't private firms be encouraged to subsidise their best employees to go and teach for five or 10 years? Just now, with this week's strike looming, ministers are on a collision course with teachers. That is disastrous. They - not ministers, not journalists, not bankers, not lawyers - are the key to a better future."

Meanwhile, Melanie Phillips argues in the Daily Mail that the UK has already got to the point the Guardian warns about and the willingness to strike coincides with teaching not being a vocation any longer:

"The awful fact is that the guts were ripped out of teaching long ago. From the Seventies onwards, state education stopped being about the transmission of knowledge. Ludicrous ideological fads inimical to education took over instead.
"Educationalists decided children should learn not from teachers but from their own experience. Any kind of structured teaching was regarded as an assault upon a child's autonomy and a threat to his or her self-esteem.Teachers accordingly took a back seat as mere 'facilitators' of a child's voyage of discovery."

In the Telegraph Cristina Odone wonders what the long-term effects of the teachers' strike will be on students like her stepson:

"The prospect of freedom from lessons means Johnny is now an ardent union supporter: like the Jesuits, Dave Prentis and Co must be calculating that if they get them young, they are theirs for life. But having spent my formative years in an era when humble citizens quailed under the unions' whip hand, I suspect that the lesson drawn may be different."

David Blackburn predicts in the New Statesman the recent NHS and sentencing reform U-turns will influence how the government will react to the public sector demands about pensions:

"After the U-turns of recent weeks, a whiff of weakness has attached itself to Cameron's government. The demise of Edward Heath is proof that the history of union success is a story of the exploitation of political weakness. Cameron is determined not to look weak."

Labour MP Michael Meacher says in his blog the challenge for the union is winning over public opinion:

"The real problem remains however as to how exactly the arguments can be got across to the public when the media, and particularly the tabloids, are determined not to give a fair hearing to potential strikers, will certainly not provide a full or detailed explanation of the isssues, but rather will seize the opportunity to demonise the unions (and indirectly the Labour Party too) as wreckers or worse."

But the Socialist Worker editorial says winning over public opinion is not the point of a strike:

"When it comes to strikes, public support matters - but not in the way that Tory tabloids present it...  The point of a strike, as opposed to an advertising campaign to sway opinion, is that it hits the system where it hurts.
"It shows who produces the wealth, provides the services and does the work that keeps the system going."

Daily View: Should everyone get a share of bailed out banks?

Clare Spencer | 09:50 UK time, Friday, 24 June 2011

Commentators look at Nick Clegg's proposal for everyone on the electoral register to be given shares in the bailed out banks RBS and Lloyds.

Eamonn Butler, the director of the free-market think tank the Adam Smith Institute, says in the Guardian that the problem with having millions of shareholders is that you lose having an owner that cares about how the bank is run:

"If you give shares to around 46 million people, few will actually be interested in running the business or even owning the shares. A large minority probably do not even understand what shares are. Many would want to turn them into cash at the earliest opportunity.
"That is what went wrong with Russia's voucher privatisation, when millions of citizens sold their free shares for a few roubles - allowing today's oligarchs to get very wealthy indeed. You don't want oligarchs, but you do want some concentration in the ownership of a large company. You can't get 46 million to a shareholders' meeting."

But Richard Murphy at the blog Liberal Conspiracy is concerned about an eventual concentration of owners:

"A company with a massively diverse shareholder base, none of whom vote because none of whom think they have any influence, is susceptible to control by a small minority of shareholders who can capture a block of shares at modest cost?
"And therein I think lies his plan: this is about letting a minority have control at remarkably little cost whilst they exploit the state that will have given them that opportunity and the rest of us who would be taken for a ride."

Professor Philip Booth from Cass Business School says on Sky News that the idea is inefficient:

"There would be a tremendous administrative cost - £250m has been suggested - at a time when the Government needs to reduce spending. Legal records of 45 million shareholders would need to be kept and all those people would be entitled to the information that any company has to send its shareholders."

FT reporter Neil Hume says that although it seemed instinctively wrong, it is actually quite a neat solution:

"The government gets cash to reduce the deficit and the public get a potential windfall that can be taxed. The downside, of course, is that the government would give up any theoretical upside. And if the FTSE, for example, changed the free float weighting of Lloyds and RBS to reflect the warrants there could be increased demand for the shares from tracker funds."

The Times editorial defends the theory as worth considering, despite practical hurdles:

"Mr Clegg's proposal, to offer a straightforward repayment to individual taxpayers for their generosity, faith and cash, has the appeal of both fairness and simplicity. It is unlikely that this action alone will recuperate the terrible reputations that bankers now endure in Britain. This newspaper has argued before that acts of retribution against the financial services industry are self-defeating in a nation that relies on it so heavily. However, there is no doubt that the actions of a minority imperilled the economic health of the majority, whose money was called upon to keep the system solvent. The mass ownership of RBS and Lloyds could be a good way to say thank you."

Daily View: US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan

Clare Spencer | 08:48 UK time, Thursday, 23 June 2011

President Obama


Commentators react to President Barack Obama's announced withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

In the Guardian Seth Jones is concerned that President Obama's remarks did not include a long-term commitment to assistance:

"Without such a commitment, Afghanistan, its neighbours and its enemies will likely interpret President Obama's statement as indicating a complete withdrawal.
"But there would be serious perils in abandoning Afghanistan, where the war is far from over. It would almost certainly increase Pakistan's impetus to support the Taliban and other insurgent groups as a bulwark against a perceived Indian-Afghan axis. It would also undermine any peace negotiations, if the Taliban believed it could simply wait out a US and British departure. Even withdrawing US combat forces from areas that have seen a loss of Taliban control threatens to unhinge the fragile, hard-fought success."

Doyle McManus says in the LA Times that it's far too early to say whether this plan will work:

"The parts of the puzzle that are most susceptible to applications of U.S. military power - tracking down and killing Taliban leaders, and training Afghan army troops - appear to be going well. The non-military parts - nudging Afghanistan's civilian government toward more efficiency and less corruption, persuading Taliban leaders to negotiate an end to the war - don't.
"Obama's decision is a gamble, but so are many decisions in war. If Afghans on both sides conclude that the United States is leaving the battlefield, and the Taliban resurges, the president's choice this week won't look brilliant. But if the U.S. military's assessments of the Taliban are accurate, that's not likely to happen."

The New York Times editorial detects a contradiction in Mr Obama's plans:

"It was a particular relief to hear him say that 'the tide of war is receding' in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"But he will need to do a lot more to explain why it is in this country's strategic interest to stick things out for another three-plus years. And why his drawdown plan has a credible chance of leaving behind an Afghanistan that won't implode as soon as American troops are gone."

In the Washington Post Dana Milbank is cynical about why Mr Obama is declaring a sort of victory in Afghanistan:

"Obama is sorely in need of a victory, and proclaiming one in Afghanistan is as good a choice as any. Sixteen months before the election, it seems his leadership is in trouble everywhere he looks. Liberal Democrats and many Republicans are uniting in opposition to his military action in Libya. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday steeply reduced its growth forecasts for both 2011 and 2012. Even Al Gore is complaining, about Obama's work on global warming. A Bloomberg poll this week found that only 30 percent of Americans said they would certainly vote for Obama, compared with 36 percent who definitely wouldn't."

In contrast, in Foreign Policy Ejaz Haider questions the idea the US won in Afghanistan:

"The surge didn't work, regardless of what the U.S. military may claim. Remember: The plan was to use kinetic force effectively to make space for negotiations from a position of strength. That has failed; the Taliban is not begging for mercy. Nor is it clear that the Taliban is ready to accept partnership in an Afghan political system, such as it is, that depends heavily on foreign largesse. And even in the unlikely event that dialogue succeeds, American taxpayers are liable to wonder why their tax dollars are going to a regime that includes Mullah Omar and friends."

Daily View: Can the eurozone carry on?

Clare Spencer | 10:22 UK time, Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Greek prime minister has survived a confidence vote, a requirement put forward by eurozone foreign ministers before considering what to do about Greek debt. It spurs commentators on to suggest how they think eurozone ministers should react.

Martin Wolf says in the Financial Times common sense is needed on Greek debt:

"The principal requirement now is to recognise unpleasant reality. One cannot make the incredible credible by endless delay. One can only make the recognition of reality more painful when it finally comes. The time has surely come to recognise the reality of the Greek predicament and act at once on the wider ramifications for its partners."

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling says in the Times the crisis has brought out in the open the problem of running a single currency for 27 countries with very different policies. Now it has a choice:

"It can carry on treating Greece, Portugal and Ireland as bad boys, imposing tough conditions on them that will never work and that will result in further bailouts. Alternatively it must face the fact that, as with any other single currency, the stronger parts of the economy have to help the weaker parts to make the reforms they need, so strengthening their economies."

Simon Jenkins says in the Guardian that it is clear the eurozone doesn't work, but that doesn't mean it will be dismantled:

"Everyone seems to agree that what should happen will not happen - that is a shrinking of the eurozone, a devaluation of Europe's peripheral "currencies" and a corresponding cut in their indebtedness. Germany and France, the joint custodians of 'Europe', are not ready for such a step. A union is a potent thing. It usually takes a war to break one up, and Europe is not at war."

In the Independent Sean O'Grady suggests there is little sympathy for Greece among Northern Europeans:

"The principal weakness for Greece, however, seems to be the inability of the state to collect its taxes, especially among the middle classes and its elite, traditionally associated with the shipping trade.
"...In the good years, under the euro, Greece was able to borrow at cheap "German" rates of interest, which was easier than bothering to collect taxes; that option no longer exists and a decade of lost taxes has to be recouped."

Professor of European integration at the University of Athens Loukas Tsoukalis says in the New York Times a key decision eurozone ministers have to decide is who will pick up the bill for Greece:

"The sovereign debt problem in several European countries, including Greece, raises the question of who should pay for the accumulated mistakes of the past - taxpayers or private creditors - and how much of the burden each country should bear. We need a political agreement on these questions, instead of piecemeal measures that leave politicians two steps behind the bond markets."

The former governor of Argentina's national bank Alfonso Prat-Gay gives some advice in the Financial Times to the eurozone about getting out of a currency crisis:

"There is a more efficient way of buying time - akin to a bank restructuring agency, applied to sovereigns under stress. Turn EFSF into a European sovereign debt restructuring agency (Esdra) in charge of fiscal harmonisation and sustainability within the eurozone. Esdra should offer bonds to buy back all existing Greek sovereign bonds in a market auction: a par, rather long, Esdra bond alongside a shorter, discount bond, both bearing a low coupon and a five-year grace period on principal and capital. No default clause is triggered, since bondholders get a better-rated bond at a higher market value."

Daily View: What Greece's debt could mean for Europe

Clare Spencer | 12:09 UK time, Monday, 20 June 2011

Commentators ask what is next for the euro and Greece. It follows eurozone finance ministers' decision to postpone a judgement on loans to Greece until their parliament passes new austerity measures.

The Economist's Charlemange blog asks why politicians bothered meeting up for seven hours only to come out without a decision. But it says there was some movement:

"The only obvious progress tonight was that Germany has formally abandoned its demand that existing bonds be swapped for new ones with a seven-year maturity. Instead, the ministers agreed that private creditors would be asked only for 'informal and voluntary roll-overs of existing Greek debt at maturity...while avoiding a selective default for Greece.' The only stipulation is that the resulting contribution be 'substantial' - a weaker formulation than the original German wish for a contribution that is 'substantial, quantifiable, reliable and voluntary'.
"One must assume that the sums that can be raised for the rescue package will now be more modest, which raises the question of whether the prevarication is really worth the turmoil it is causing."

In Der Spiegel Carsten Volkery wonders if there was something other than indecisiveness behind postponing the decision:

"The euro group's decision to postpone a decision might be clever from a tactical point of view. But whether it will impress the financial markets is another matter. Investors, who value transparency and predictability, are unlikely to be reassured by the euro-zone governments' desire to put off dealing with the problem."

In the Wall Street Journal Marcus Walker looks at the ramifications Greece's crisis will have for the rest of the eurozone:

"The great fear among eurozone governments and at the European Central Bank is that a debt default by Greece could undermine bond markets' trust in other cash-strapped euro members. Ireland and Portugal are already struggling to rebuild investors' confidence, despite rescue loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. If panicked investors flee from Spain, a $1.6 trillion economy, the country could prove too big to save."

The director of the think tank Centre for European Reform, Charles Grant, asks in the Times if Greece's departure from the euro would be the beginning of the end for the currency:

"The financial markets would smell blood. Portugal could only avoid contagion by adopting bold reforms swiftly. The EU would have to give it huge economic and political support. Ireland, with a flexible economy and successful export industries, should be able to stay in, so long as it scraps the foolish guarantee given to those who bought bank bonds."

Boris Johnson argues in the Telegraph that if Greece left the euro the country wouldn't be any worse off:

"Look at what happened to us after we left the ERM, or to the Latin American economies who abandoned the dollar peg. In both cases, it was the route to cutting interest rates and export-led recovery.
"The euro has exacerbated the financial crisis by encouraging some countries to behave as recklessly as the banks themselves. We are supposedly engaging in this bail-out system to protect the banks, including our own. But as long as there is the fear of default, as long as the uncertainty continues, confidence will not return across the whole of Europe - and that is bad for the UK and everyone else."

Daily View: Winners and losers in Republican debate

Megan Lane | 10:54 UK time, Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The first major debate of the 2012 campaign allowed voters to weigh up the Republican hopefuls vying for a shot at the White House. But how did the debaters fare?

All came out of it fairly well, says Carl M Cannon in Real Clear Politics.

"All seven managed to express their differences on public policy without being uncivil to one another, or even disagreeing directly with their fellow candidates. This was made easier by their shared antipathy for the Obama administration - and because their differences are pretty nuanced."

Chris Cillizza says in the Washington Post that Mitt Romney did nothing in his 120 minutes on stage to undermine his frontrunner status.

"Romney was serious and well informed - in a word: presidential. His debate experience from 2008 clearly paid off as he stayed focused on President Obama and the economy to the exclusion of almost everything else. Romney also benefited from the fact that none of his rivals seemed to have the stomach to attack him directly."

So who else had a good night? Michele Bachmann is the common consensus.

  • "Bachmann dominated the stage with quotable lines galore and an audience hanging on her every word" - Chris Cillizza again
  • "She managed to tell viewers that she was a tax lawyer and that she raised three children and provided homes for 23 foster children - I don't care how cynical you are; that's impressive" - Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner
  • "Bachmann's strong showing ought to further discourage Sarah Palin whose populist mantle is now being seized by the congresswoman from Minnesota" - Jonathan S Tobin in Commentary

Which serves to remind Elspeth Reeve in The Atlantic Daily of a parallel in pop culture - a 2004 teen film penned by comedian Tina Fey.

"It's like that moment in Mean Girls, when Lindsay Lohan's character ousts Rachel McAdams' to become queen of the Plastics. There's only room for one female bomb-thrower in this campaign!"

So a good night for Romney and Bachmann. Who had a bad night? Tim Pawlenty, says Jonathan S Tobin in Commentary, who fluffed a chance to attack key rival Mitt Romney.

"Offered an opportunity to hit his main opponent hard on Obamneycare as he called it just a few days ago, Pawlenty whiffed. In the end, it really doesn't matter whether it was because he was too nice or not courageous enough to call out Romney to his face. Either way he failed. It was a key moment in this race and one that Pawlenty will rue in the months to come."

Why do these debate matter? As well as votes, it's about the money, says John Dickerson in Slate.

"[A] common fundraising tactic is to call donors afterward and brag about your candidate's great performance or send around a clip of a pundit praising a big moment. It's ephemeral and sometimes silly, but it gets checks."

Daily View: Should religious leaders get involved in politics?

Clare Spencer | 11:04 UK time, Friday, 10 June 2011

Following the Archbishop of Canterbury's criticisms of the coalition government it has sparked debate about whether the head of the church should enter the political arena.

William Rees-Mogg argues in the Times that religious heads are ill informed:

"There have been archbishops who have made an effective contribution to social and political debate, but they have been rare. Archbishops are not politicians, nor are they economists. They are also very busy men, with little free time to spend on the study of different social theories. The business of an archbishop is to lead his Church. Lambeth Palace is not a political think-tank. There is no point in archbishops intervening unless they can bring fresh light or new information to a debate in which the arguments may already be overfamiliar. There must be added value.
Nevertheless, archbishops are often tempted to intervene in the current debate of the day."

Giles Fraser says in the Guardian there is a hypocrisy in the assertion that religious people shouldn't get involved in politics:

"Oh no, not this old chestnut again. Should the church get stuck into the mucky world of politics? How ridiculous - of course it should. Dom Helder Camara, former Roman Catholic archbishop in Brazil, put it perfectly: 'When I give to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.'
"The same sentimental doublethink about the church is equally true of how the Tories have responded to the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams's suggestion that the coalition government is letting down the most vulnerable in our society. The Tories want religious organisations to play a leading role in the formation of the "big society" (actually, it was our idea in the first place), but then get all uppity when those on the ground start reflecting back to government the effects of their policies - policies that very few of us thought we were voting for."

In the Daily Mail Steven Glover isn't against Rowan Williams speaking about politics, just as long as it relates to Christianity:

"I yearn for a Primate of the Church of England who lifts his gaze above party politics, and proclaims Christian values in a society that no longer cares much about them. I'm afraid I no longer have much confidence that Rowan Williams will ever be that man."

The Independent's editorial reminds us that it isn't actually that unusual for religious heads to get involved in politics:

"Turbulent priests have a long tradition within the Church in England. You don't have to look back as far the original one, Thomas a Becket, murdered at the whim of King Henry II. The history of church and state in far more recent times has been one of horns being locked on a far wider ranger of issues than the ones the Archbishop of Canterbury raised yesterday in the New Statesman.
"Those who suggested that Rowan Williams has made the most baldly political intervention by a serving Archbishop of Canterbury have short memories. Robert Runcie often pitched himself in opposition to the Thatcher government - on everything from the Falklands War to the Tories' 'lunatic' nuclear arsenal."

Finally, in the Telegraph Charles Moore makes an offer:

"Now he is guest editor of the New Statesman. Please could a journalist become guest Archbishop of Canterbury? I am available."

Daily View: What's behind the sentencing U-turn?

Clare Spencer | 10:01 UK time, Thursday, 9 June 2011

The government's U-turn on sentencing has got commentators talking about who should and shouldn't be in prison and why the government changed their mind.

Philip Collins says in the Times that the problem isn't how long people are sentenced but that the wrong people are going to jail:

"But we really do know that 100,000 persistent offenders commit half of all crime and that most of them are at liberty at any given time. The authorities know exactly who most of these people are and the future of policing must surely lie in more forensic concentration on prolific offenders.
"This is the way that we can have condign punishment for the criminal and reduce the numbers behind bars. Get those for whom prison works inside and those for whom it doesn't out."

In the Guardian Frances Crook argues against a reversal of sentencing reforms. He says they are necessary and sentence length is the "tip of the iceberg":

"The difference between cutting sentences by a third and a half for those who plead guilty early on is a technocratic issue that would have had little impact on prison numbers. Rather than squabbling about a third or half of a sentence, we should admit that the real problem lies in sending too many people - and the wrong people - to prison in the first instance, and we should push for more courageous sentencing that would keep people out of jail altogether.
"More than 60,000 enter the prison system each year on short-term sentences. Sent to prison for not paying the council tax for example, or for flouting the smoking ban, people are given their release forms along with their induction papers."

James Kirkup says in the Telegraph that the reversal has made it clear what David Cameron's views are:

"As so often, this affair comes down to one question: just what sort of Conservative is David Cameron? Is he a traditional Right-winger who believes in locking 'em up and throwing away the key? Or is he a tieless Notting Hill social activist with a bleeding heart? Does he follow Mr Clarke's way or Lord Howard's?
"As on many other issues, Mr Cameron has often tried to have a little bit of both: any successful party leader has to learn how to ride two horses at once. But in the end, to govern is to choose, and Mr Cameron has made his choice."

The Daily Mail's James Slack looks at why David Cameron seemed to change from his days working under Michael Howard with the "prison works" slogan:

"So what has gone so horribly wrong? Sadly, it appears that Mr Cameron was so busy worrying about how to 'detoxify' the Tory brand on the NHS and international aid that he forgot about the need to keep locking up muggers and rapists.
"Thus, we find ourselves in the ridiculous position of a Tory government being committed to increasing spending overseas while flinging open the prison doors at home."

Andrew Porter seems flummoxed in the Telegraph that the Tories don't seem to have understood that being tough on crime and punishment is a vote winner. As if to prove his point, the Sun's editorial calls for Ken Clarke to be sacked and has the headline "It's time for Tubby bye bye". Meanwhile John Kampfner complains in the Financial Times that, once again, the tabloids have decided policy:

"Call it flexibility; call it panic. This government is performing U-turns at an alarming speed. Sometimes the original policy was crass, such as selling off the nation's forests or abandoning school sports. Sometimes it was an unholy mess, such as the NHS reforms. Mr Cameron originally sought to position himself in the centre ground. Now a good policy, albeit badly presented, has been sacrificed to the baying mob."

Daily View: Ending funding to extremist groups

Clare Spencer | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Commentators react to the review of Prevent, the Home Office's strategy for combating radicalism and terrorism, which is withdrawing support from extremist groups - even non-violent ones - and cutting off funding to those opposed to what the government calls "fundamental and universal" British values.

The Financial Times editorial asks what exactly are these non-British values the Prevent review is talking about:

"The review suggests that one way to do this is for the government to cut its support for groups that espouse "non-British" values. Some of these are obvious. No one would object to excluding those that championed the killing of British servicemen overseas or freedom of speech. But it becomes harder if one has to adjudicate on whether a group should be excluded because of its views on, say, the rights of women or the state of Israel.
"The government has done the easy bit in articulating the broad principle. But to make the policy work will require specific definitions on where the line of acceptability lies. In defining this the government must take care not to undermine the purpose of Prevent"

The Independent's editorial argues that breaking off contact with all groups that hold unpleasant views is "not sensible":

"It is plainly foolish for the state to be funding groups that promote intolerance. And the previous government's belief that radical groups could be used to steer individuals away from violence was indeed naïve. But breaking off contact with all groups that expound unpalatable views (and stigmatising the forums in which they, and other groups, might speak) is not sensible either. The way to deal with intolerant views is by confronting them in open debate, not silencing them."

The Guardian's editorial warns against what it sees as the values behind the review:

"And at its heart is an illiberal intolerance of ideas that amounts to a new curtailment on freedom of speech - one that will do nothing to end, among law-abiding communities, Muslim or otherwise, a damaging sense of exclusion."

Whereas the Telegraph's editorial says institutions such as the police and local government should stop feeling guilty. It expresses surprise at the previous funding of community groups in the first place:

"Extremism is best tackled not by throwing money at groups who we fear might otherwise produce terrorists but by unapologetically challenging everything they stand for. We should not need a strategy for that."

The Times editorial points out there was something else at odds with funding community groups - the gains were immeasurable:

"It has been impossible to quantify the benefit that has accrued for the millions spent on various projects and organisations. An accountancy of hope rather than rigour has been applied to the problem, and as a result a great deal of money has been wasted - money that could have been spent far more effectively. We take reassurance from the Government's promise that, in future, we will know exactly how this money has been deployed and to what effect. The time of soft subsidies for dodgy sectlets is over."

In the blogs, focus is on who will oversee the new strategy. At Conservative Home Paul Goodman makes a suggestion:

"With a Coalition partner opposed to key elements of the policy, some senior Conservative Ministers in their company, and resistant senior civil servants, the harsh truth is that the new Prevent policy will come to nothing if Cameron doesn't continue to keep his eye on the ball. And since both his eyes must usually be elsewhere, he needs someone in Downing Street to keep a watching brief for him - to plan and help execute the policy's strategic implementation across the Departments.
"Such a person should ideally be an insider (an outsider would be outfoxed by the Whitehall elements who think the policy's wrong) and a politician (a non-politician wouldn't carry the necessary weight). I hereby nominate Lord Carlile (pictured above), the independent reviewer of anti-terror laws, who has the added advantage of having been involved in the drafting of the Prevent Review. And if I can say so on a Conservative site, being a Liberal Democrat isn't a disadvatage in this context, either - the opposite, if anything."

Daily View: Could a private college rival Oxbridge?

Clare Spencer | 10:11 UK time, Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Commentators react to the launch of a private college which aims to rival Oxford and Cambridge and plans to charge £18,000 a year.

London Mayor Boris Johnson claims in the Telegraph that he thought of the idea first as it is clear there is not enough provision in the UK for elite students:

"It is the boldest experiment in higher education since the University of Buckingham was founded in 1983, and it fully deserves to succeed and to be imitated.
"If academics are fed up with the tyranny of the Research Assessment Exercise; if they are demoralised by endless government attacks on their admissions procedures; if they feel they are being scapegoated for the weaknesses of the schools, then the New College for the Humanities shows the way."

High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School Clarissa Farr says in the Times she is not scared of the risks students would have to take to go to the college:

"Ultimately, New College will succeed only if real students paying real fees want to go there. Can anything so brazenly new-minted hope to rival Oxford and Cambridge? I think so. I would encourage students to consider it alongside other leading academic institutions. The pioneering spirit of its founders is optimistic, courageous, ambitious and not complacent. This is an essentially young spirit to which New College's first generation of undergraduates, about to identify themselves, will want to respond. And what if this seems risky, untested and slightly uncharted territory? Blazing a trail and shaping the new is what my students do all the time. I hope some of them will be fortunate enough to become part of the pioneering generation of the New College of the Humanities and the exciting intellectual landscape it seems set to create."

In the Independent Dominic Lawson refutes the claim that this will be a private Oxbridge, but does commend one element it copies:

"Where Grayling's model is genuinely attractive is that these lecturers will be giving one-to-one tuition to students. This is a teaching method that only Oxford and Cambridge practice and it is the single most valuable aspect of their educational offering. It is very hard for a student to bluff in such a rigorous environment and therefore encourages the detailed reading and hard work that we would want our children to undertake at university: perhaps the biggest complaint both parents and students have of universities in this country, is the lack of "face-time" with teaching staff."

In Crooked Timber Daniel Davies says that by necessity the college won't be egalitarian:

"So who would this appeal to? The answer 'people with significantly more money than sense' comes to mind. The prospectus is all about 'Oxford, Cambridge this, Ivy League that', but the actual educational offering appears to be more like an attempt to recreate the American concept of the liberal arts college education. And when I say 'liberal arts college education', the phrase 'liberal arts college' is meant to convey the impression 'eyeball-searingly overpriced'... This thing, if it has any chance of paying a return on the money invested, is going to be targeted at the seriously rich - probably the international rich - and it is not going to be made appreciably more egalitarian by the proposed scholarship grants."

Head of Lancaster University's English department Terry Eagleton says in the Guardian that there will be serious consequences to the whole of society:

"This piece of the so-called private sector will actually be parasitic on the public one, rather like surgeons who use public facilities for private operations. The college's degrees will be awarded by the University of London, which ought to know better than to collude in an enterprise which could result in seeing its professors poached by those with the biggest bank balances. London Uni will share its libraries and other facilities too, thus ensuring that its own students are forced to share resources with those who have bought their way in... Just when the real Oxford and Cambridge have been dragging themselves inch by inch into the modern democratic world, an ultra-Oxbridge is being proposed which will probably have an even lower intake of working class students than Cambridge did when I was there in the 1960s. Grayling's scheme is odious."

Daily View: Why does the war on drugs continue?

Clare Spencer | 09:57 UK time, Friday, 3 June 2011

The war on drugs should be declared over recommends the Global Commission on Drug Policy report. It says the policy of total prohibition followed by the world's most powerful nations for the best part of four decades "has not, and cannot, be won". Commentators mull over why governments have so far rejected the advice.

The Independent's leader article says this is not the first time the British government has ignored advice on drugs:

"The previous Labour government downgraded cannabis to class C status, but then promptly returned it to class B in order to curry favour with the right-wing press. In 2009 when the government's own drugs adviser, David Nutt, tried to launch a debate about the relative harm of various substances he was promptly sacked. This commission is to be commended for telling the truth about drugs prohibition and for making an admirably clear argument for a different strategy. The tragedy is that world leaders still show no inclination to listen."

Dan Gardner says in the Ottawa Citizen that this report and the rejection of it is a case of history repeating itself:

"The modern system of international drug control began 50 years ago, with the creation of the UN Convention which is still its foundation. There were critics in 1961, too. But they were dismissed as naysayers.
Years passed. The amount of money spent on the war on drugs soared. So did drug production, consumption, and distribution. Richard Nixon coined the phrase "war on drugs" and further ramped up drug control efforts. The drug trade kept growing. Ronald Reagan launched his war on drugs. Things got worse.
On and on it goes. Occasionally there's a new wrinkle, like the advent of the AIDS epidemic, which most epidemiologists agree was made much worse by the criminalization of drugs. But for the most part, only the names change."

In Time Ishaan Tharoor suggests that regardless of the evidence ending prohibition of drugs is just too taboo for governments to consider:

"Fighting gangs and cartels whose capabilities span continents requires a subtlety not evinced by most governments. Ruthless crackdowns have not worked, only leading drug producing and smuggling outfits to find more subterranean means of operation, which create greater dangers for those who inevitably seek their product.
"On a certain level, this all seems painfully obvious. But the report lashes out at a 'lack of leadership' at the highest level of governments around the world, where drug policies are still dictated by 'ideology and political convenience' rather than 'strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights.' The first task, says the commission, is to 'break the taboo' that seems to encircle real discussion of mass-scale drug legalization and decriminalization. Judging from the initial White House response, though, that plea may go unheeded."

Peter Wilby continues in the Guardian that the war on drugs may be too precious to politicians to give up:

"The arguments over drugs are done and dusted. Any independent body that looks at the evidence comes to similar conclusions. So why do political leaders refuse to countenance more than minor tinkering with the law, such as yo-yoing cannabis between classes B and C? One answer is that as Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at Transform Drugs Policy, puts it, drugs have been presented as an existential threat and the war against them almost as a religious crusade. In the popular mind, drug users have always been demonised as what sociologists call 'the other': Chinese gangsters, Caribbean immigrants, 60s hippies or other threats to the social order. Anyone who proposes ending the war risks being characterised by opponents, particularly in the downmarket media, as weak and cowardly, lacking the Churchillian spirit of 'no surrender'. History does not look kindly on those who lose wars."

Finally, in the Telegraph Tom Chivers picks up on the writer of the TV series The Wire David Simon commenting that he would agree to the US attorney general's pleas to make another series if the US government would reconsider "dehumanising" drug prohibition:

"Evidence seems, overwhelmingly, to suggest that prohibition is not just failing to fix drug problems, it is aggravating them. Generally, in a liberal democracy, you need a reason to make things illegal, not a reason to legalise them. There is, it seems, no good reason not to take a long, hard look at our drug policy, at what really works, not what is merely politically expedient. It is a sad day when the writers of an (admittedly brilliant) TV police show have a better grasp of health and social policy than our politicians. Hopefully, if the US attorney general is that big a fan, he'll take up their offer to get hold of season six."

Daily View: Can care homes be profit-making companies?

Clare Spencer | 09:56 UK time, Thursday, 2 June 2011

Southern Cross sign


Commentators discuss if care homes can be run by the private sector. It comes after the UK's biggest care provider Southern Cross, which has 31,000 residents, is asking its landlords to reduce their rent so they can avoid insolvency.

Q&A: Care home closures

In the Telegraph Graham Ruddick analyses how Southern Cross got themselves into the mess:

"With Blackstone's backing, the nursing home operator embarked on an acquisition spree, buying up packages of nursing homes, selling on the freehold property and locking in cheap loans to pay the rent.
"With the property sale proceeds more often than not covering the cost of buying the whole business, Southern Cross effectively got the operating company for 'free'. This meant its care home portfolio grew to 750 within months of its stock market float.
"The business model was known as 'sale and leaseback', or 'opco/propco', because of the separation of the operational business from the care homes. It appeared to work smoothly as Britain's economy grew. However, when the credit crisis struck, Southern Cross suddenly found buyers for its property harder to find."

In the Daily Mail Ruth Sutherland pins the blame on Southern Cross's owners - private equity firm Blackstone.

"Private-equity players believed the residential care business was tailor-made for their money-making technique of borrowing heavily to buy businesses, subjecting them to some financial engineering, then offloading them at a hefty profit a few years later.
"Blackstone did just that.
"But when private-equity firms entered the care market, no one stopped to ask whether the human stakes were too high, or whether the ruthless, dog-eat-dog values of the City were remotely compatible with the care of our oldest and most vulnerable people."

David Brindle says in the Guardian that care homes have quietly taken over but during the "quiet revolution in social care" no provision was made for market failure:

"With Southern Cross teetering on the brink, local authorities have been left to work out their own emergency plans for safeguarding the company's residents - both the majority who are state-funded and others who pay their own fees - in the event of the company's collapse or any home closures.
"Such emergency planning is easier said than done. Many local authorities no longer have any homes of their own; most have no more than a handful. Few authorities will retain the expertise necessary to go in and take over the management of homes if Southern Cross ceases to trade."

In the Independent Sean O'Grady uses Southern Cross's problems to argue there are some social activities which are inherently uneconomic and the risks and rewards to the taxpayer need to be rebalanced:

"As with the banks, so with care homes: some private enterprises are just too important to fail. Gordon Brown had to promise bank depositors their money was safe; now David Cameron has to make a similar promise to the residents of Southern Cross. Profits to shareholders in the good times; losses sent to the taxpayer in bad. The parallels are powerful.
"There could be many more Southern Crosses. The firm's troubles are a timely reminder, as the Coalition Government plans to push private finance initiatives and outsourcing deeper and deeper into core public services - schools, housing and heath. Reforms to the NHS will shift the private sector's frontier ever closer to clinical care. Southern Cross highlights what happens if things go wrong."

The Financial Times editorial calls for a stronger regulator of care homes:

"Private care providers seeking to maximise profits are tempted to cut back on the spending needed to provide the best possible care for those vulnerable people in their charge.
"Given this temptation, a strong regulator, capable of improving standards and protecting the public, is essential. The CQC has the power to close down failing care homes but given the trauma that relocation causes ill and frail occupants, this option can be used only in extremis. That makes it crucial to identify struggling care homes before they fail. The best way to do this is for the regulator to inspect them regularly and publish the results prominently. To do this, the CQC will need greater resources than it has."

Daily View: Buying v renting

Clare Spencer | 10:10 UK time, Wednesday, 1 June 2011

In among a spate of reports about the housing market Research from the National Centre for Social Research, on behalf of the Halifax, suggests Britain could become a nation of renters within a generation as potential first time buyers' mortgage applications continue to be turned down. Commentators debate whether this is good or bad news.

In the Guardian Owen Hatherley defends renting:

"Today, crippling levels of household debt, repossession and housing-related stress coincide with low wages, long hours, and extraordinarily few strikes. It's hardly a coincidence. A housing crisis, with millions in insecure or overpriced housing, doesn't necessarily lead to anger, to a demand for something better - it leads to fear, anxiety that even the Barratt Homes rabbit hutch you've acquired could be easily lost.
"The UK's preponderance of home ownership is matched only by the poverty of its homes. The most expensive in Europe, they are also the most dilapidated when old, the smallest when new. And yet, from the London county council's arts and crafts estates of the 1890s to the Trellick Tower in the 1970s, we once had some of the world's finest low-cost rented housing. It was not owned by us as individuals, struggling to meet the instalments - it was owned by us collectively, as a public good. Rather than wishing cheap mortgages back, we need to be thinking outside of our own homes and lots."

In the Independent Sean O'Grady says there shouldn't be a stigma attached to not owning a house:

"Well within living memory it was quite normal for a newly married couple (when that was more conventional than now) to move in with their parents or in-laws for a few years while they saved up for a deposit on a house. That, in turn, would require the ability to demonstrate a determination to keep up regular savings (and thus regular repayments). Only then were the funds released. Buying a home in your 30s rather than your 20s never used to be a symbol of failure. So why is it now?"

The Times' property editor Anne Ashworth warns against "Generation Sofa" - people in full time employment forced to sleep on their friends' sofas because they can't get a place of their own. She suggests the Financial Services Authority should support mortgages with lower deposits:

"Amid this welter of views and recommendations, one organisation is strangely silent. The Financial Services Authority's lax boom-time mortgage policy, including its assent to the 125 % loan, inflated the housing bubble.
"Now, the watchdog proposes curbs on the banks that would ensure that Generation Renters would be perpetual tenants: 95%, 90% and even 80% loans would be rarer than at present.
"Such an overreaction would exacerbate, rather than tackle, the current inequality."

In the New Statesman Andy Hull disagrees, arguing instead that allowing more mortgages could lead to another housing bubble and "there is nothing aspirational or equitable about courting another recession":

"We need to strike the right balance, allowing people to take out affordable mortgages while reducing the risk of excessive borrowing creating instability in the economy as a whole. Mortgages are usually a 25-year commitment and high loan to income ratios allow borrowers to take out large mortgages that appear affordable at very low interest rates, but with no guarantee that interest rates will remain low, heightening the risk of defaults and repossessions. A 90 per cent loan to value ratio allows for a 10 per cent fall in house prices before negative equity takes hold.
As Shelter have found, this is an argument that first-time buyers support, even though it may make it more difficult for them to get onto the housing ladder. They recognise that loose lending and cheap credit is a recipe for future instability both in our housing market and our wider economy."

Finally, the Telegraph suggests people should lower their standards in the homes they wish to buy:

"Many feel like Bisto Kids, waifs locked out of unattainable territory.
"More strangely, the price of houses (merely a peculiar kind of inflation) produces an allure that some people seem to think rubs off just by looking at appetising pictures of them. It is like devouring TV cookery programmes without ever cooking a meal.
"If consumers of house-price porn remember the line 'there's no place like home', they forget the preceding phrase: 'be it ever so humble'."

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