Three years later

Since the bombing of government buildings and massacre at Utøya in 2011, self censorship has been the guildine o public debate. There has been no room for anger, no root and branch inquiry into the dark underworld of ideological racism by society. Can the lid final be lifted?

On this day three years ago the vision of Norway as a peaceful and inclusive paradise was shattered forever. The political aspects of Anders Behring Breivik’s attacks has been played down, leaving the police and emergency services in the spotlight of public scrutiny.

The secret police (PST) still insists extreme islamism is the bigger threat against us, despite the growing list of right-wing extremist attacks and the islamists current lack of such history.

Raymond Johansen, party secretary of the Norwegian Labour party recently broke cover, saying his party have gone to far in toning down Breivik’s politics. His facism, his rascism, his hatred of Social-Democrats, socialists and other people on the left he accused of intentionally letting Muslims into the country to break down “Norwegian culture”.

The Labour party played a decisive role in shaping the post-terror debate in Norway, but so did also the parties of the political right. Fremskritspartiet (Frp), now in coalition government with the conservatives, has been whitewashed by the other parties. Breivik was a member of the party’s youth wing before leaving because their immigration scepticism was not radical enough. The party’s anti-immigration and anti-muslim rhetoric has been airbrushed from history, as it would be “rude” to score political points on it.

A full confrontation and washing of dirty laundry in public will be painful and controversial, but it is absolutely necessary. On comment threads on news sites, forums and in social media, a strong current of racisms is still flowing, the same current from which Breivik emerged with his bombs and guns, on this day, three years ago.

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Money out the window

Students protested against more tuiton fees, but was defeated. Turns out Government had it all wrong.

The coalition’s decision to hike the tuition fees ceiling from £3,000 to £9,000 a year should save money for the state but might result in heavy losses.

As the number of graduates who fail to pay back student loans increases, the Treasure fears all economic gains from the fees hike could be lost. Experts have calculated that if the resource accounting and budgeting(RAB) rate of 48.6% is reached and breached, the government will lose money compared to keeping the old fees limit.

When the government introduced the new regime in 2010 they estimated that 28% of student loans would never be paid back, but this figure is now approaching 45%.

Raising the tuition fees was already damaging to students, now it is for everyone else too. Students leave university after 3 years with a Bachelor degree and £27,000 in debt due to tuition fees. What a great start to your career.

Repayments don’t start before graduates earn over £21,000 a year, which the Government thought most of them would do within a few years. It does not look like it will go that way any time soon. The ideologies at Conservative HQ and their Lib Dem minions have got their maths wrong. This system is stupid and unsustainable.

Tax avoiding coffee

The coffee shop giant Starbucks has suffered some finger pointing the last couple of days. Stories about how the international company’s UK division has managed to escape the taxman albeit it make good sales.

“A Reuters investigation uncovered apparent discrepancies between what Starbucks was telling US investors on one hand and what it was declaring to HM Revenue and Customs.” The Observer wrote on Sunday. According to the newspapers, Starbucks made almost similar sales last year as their native rival Costa Coffee – £398m and £377m respectively. The costs of the companies however, was another story. Starbucks reported costs of £319m, almost three times as much as Costa. As a result, Costa can show a tax charge of £15m, while Starbucks was charge a cent in tax.

Starbucks officials explains the high costs by the sourcing roasted coffee from a sister company in Holland and how some profits therefore must be reallocate back to Amsterdam. Costa operates their own roastery in south London. The more important factor however is that the payment of £26m in “royalties and licence fees” from the UK branch of Starbucks to other parts of the group. Kris Engskov, the head of Starbucks UK, defends the practice by pointing out that the royalties are levied at the same percentage of revenues anywhere in the world Starbucks operates. What is critical, is that he can nit clarify wether these payments goes straight to a tax haven or finds it’s way back to HQ in Seattle. Pre-tax charges such as these royalties and fees is the main reason why the exchequer has only been able to collect £8.3m since Starbucks established itself in the UK in 1998, despite sales of more than £3bn in that period.

Last Friday, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz gave his first public comments on the issue after being pressed by Reuters – at the opening of the company’s first branch in India. He said “We will absolutely comply with any government inquiry with transparency and respect.” Surely MPs should demand a clear explanation from Starbucks and other multinational companies that might be loopholing away from the taxman.

Maybe something to take into consideration next time your belly screams for a Cappuccino.

Predictions for the US presidential election 2012

I can clearly remember it, the massive wave of enthusiasm that rolled over the United States. It was 2008 and Barack Obama was the hottest of everything hot. After defeating Hillary Clinton in the primaries he entered the battle for presidency not only on a democratic ticket after eight years of George Bush madness, but he also ran as the first non-white candidate with a real chance of victory. Hopes for victory for Obama was probably even higher in Europe than in the US itself. Finally a sane politician in the White House, no more Texas lone ranger lunacy and warmongering. At least we could hope so.

Now 2008 is long gone and Obama stands for re-election in November. He played high to gain his presidency, and now many voters have lost faith in him. The Hope campaign has been replaced by a plea for more time to fix Americas problems. Many of the promises that he made has not been fulfilled in the last four years. Some of his other policies has also enraged many of his hopeful supporters from 2008. Guantanamo is still going strong as a prison far from international law and human decency and unmanned drones kills hundreds of Pakistanis in the border regions with Afghanistan were the death toll of US soldier just breached the 2000 line.

In the opposite corner, the Republicans has rallied to the banner of Mitt Romney. A right-wing radical bent on dramatically reducing the role of the state in favour of opening up for business. He’s mantra has been that he “knows business”, backed by his background as a successful businessman.

Until lately, Romney and Obama raced neck-to-neck in the polls. But then the week of gaffes by Romney and some of his legionaries has caused a severe slowdown of the republican campaign. His now famous comments about the 47% of the American population he claimed voted for Obama because they depend on the state and fail to take responsibility of their own lives. He said this under a fund raiser dinner and was never intended to reach the public, but a video was published on youtube and all hell broke lose.

Now Romney are trailing behind as Obama has secured a lead of 4.1 percent point, at least for now. The national polling average gives Obama a lead with 48.7 percent and Romney 44.6 percent. I the two important swing states of Ohio and Florida, Obama keeps his leads with 10 and 9 percentage point respectively.

So how will the election in November turn out?

There is still crucial weeks of campaigning and TV debates left before lection day, but I dare give my predictions.

Obama will win, that’s my bet. He will win important swing states like Colorado, Ohio and possibly Florida and secure enough delegates to the electoral collage and continue as president.