Wikileaks / Assange

...Weirdly, I have realised that I have called Mr Assange Nicholas throughout this ramble. What was I thinking about? Changed now!

In a sense, the hounding of Wikileaks and Julian Assange has sorted this out for me, from a moral perspective.

I don't suppose my opinion is adding much to the pot, but: do I like Assange and the Wikileaks bunch? Well, I can't answer for the the rest of the Wikileaks crew, but I can't say I find myself particularly fond of Assange, who seems to have the single minded focus of someone who is slightly too fond of his own voice. If you were a firm supporter of him, you would probably say that he has 'missionary' zeal. I'm not so sure. Meanwhile, however, do I support the existence of Wikileaks? Hell yes. Hell, Yes.

Do awful things happen in war? Yes. Do terrible, morally dubious things happen which are covered up by major govts? Yes. Must there be a culture where whistleblowers feel that if they see things which are morally abhorrent, they can and should step forward to state publicly that bad and terrible things are happening? YES YES YES. At all levels.

What do I mean by all levels. I was making a link from the macro to the slightly more micro recently, where NHS whistleblowers, attempting to stand up and shout that malpractice has taken place have instead of being congratulated been hounded out of their jobs, despite govt assurances that support for whistleblowers has risen. It's the normal, every day story of the 'powers that be' saying one thing in public, to reassure, and doing another thing in private, to avoid the scandal of having missed opportunities, employed the useless, etc. So... if the official whistleblower channels are not to be trusted, where are people to go? In this country, we have the fantastic and solid gold wonder of "Private Eye" which of course every sensible human being should subscribe to. It's a pretty good outlet for anyone spotting malpractice, but it has its own agenda obviously so there's no guarantee that they'll cover problems until you become a juicy enough story (eg: you have complained locally and been dismissed!). The point though is that not only does it exist, but it is taken seriously as a source for legitimate follow up by fellow journalists. At least there's the chance of something.

On a macro scale, is there any trusted whistleblower third party? Marta Andreasen famously published her thoughts with regard to the legitimacy of the EU accounts (ie: they're not) after being hounded out of her job by a succession of high ranking officials (including, according to her, Neil Kinnock) when she attempted to show the gigantic holes, and went public after being ignored internally (well, that's her story, anyway).

Now we come to Wikileaks. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the current batch of leaks, being shared via The Guardian amongst others, are not simply the light hearted whitterings of a bunch of diplomats. Here for example, is an American newspaper responding to the news that the US attempted to cover up an emerging story that the US Security company, DynCorps held a party for Afghani police recruits. Including the human horror story that is "Dancing boys". Not sure what these are? The practice is one of the central tenets behind the lauded Afghan novel "The Kite Runner". It is the forced selling or abduction of very young boys for sex with high ranking Afghan warlord types. Duties are to dress up as sexy young girls, and dance, before being routinely raped. This is outlawed, but in a country with barely any laws being enforced (for those with influence), that's not really important. Here, RAWA, the self professed Feminist charity working out of Afghanistan republishes an article on the BBC's film about Bacha Bazi parties, earlier this year. More here, and here, and here, if you can bear it.

Did this, amongst other highlighted documents, deserve to become public? As much as previous scandals involving UN soldiers ignoring or condoning trafficking and other horror. But because this is the US, not the UN, the security services in the States have gone predictably nuts (ask the readers of the Houston Press what they think). Assange's arrest on sexual assault charges has been called politically motivated. I have no opinion on that, but I do have an opinion on the hounding of Wikileaks, which  - here's the thing. If we were, in fact, the civilisation which we espouse, then there would be no need for Wikileaks, would there. But there is. There really, bloody is. The vast majority of these leaks show harmless opinion of worldwide politicians. The US is ultra defensive given that at present, their role as apparent leaders of the 'free world' (whatever that means) is diminishing. Anything that encourages derision must be stamped upon.

But, there must and always must be a place for legitimate whistleblowing of appalling, significant human rights abuses, incompetence on a grand or granular scale and major problems in command/control. There must be. Tolerance of whistleblowing comes as part of the long march toward civilisation. The US, in its current reaction to Wikileaks, shows how far from that tolerance they really are.

So. We must support Wikileaks. That's it.

A superb explanation of why the coalition's housing benefit policy is wrong

Did I say wrong? How about immoral.

This comes c/o a Guardian newspaper commenter, by the name of "TexasPete02", who wrote this in response to someone suggesting that he didn't see what all the fuss was about, seems fair enough to me, etc:

" are not paying attention to the full scale of the reforms (understandable given the media focus on the less important £400/week cap, and the unchallenged lies from the Tories that the £400/week applies across London).

There are four parts to the HB reforms which will all be implemented by October 2011. The key reform - which affects 750,000 people and raises half a billion pounds per year - is the first of these.

1. Local Housing Allowance capped at the 30th percentile rent in every local housing market area (i.e. the level which allows - in theory - 30% of houses in the area to be afforded)...

2. ...except in London, where the cap has been set significantly below this level (£250/week for 1 beds, £400/week for 4 beds)

3. A further 10% cut will be applied to those who have been unemployed for 1 year or more, to punish them for the crime of living during a recession

4. Housing Benefit capped at the 4-bed house rate to punish large families

To look at the full impact of this, you need to consult the VOA - the Government Agency responsible for setting Local Housing Allowance rates.

They've helpfully provided a table looking at the median rental rates (the current caps) and the 30 percentile rental rates (the future caps) in each local housing market area

Do have a look.

In Central London, the 30th percentile rent for a 4-bed is £850/week. There is no chance of anyone being able to afford to live in central London on housing benefit - the cap is set at less than half of the 30th percentile level. You could consider the poor to be "cleansed" from the area perhaps.

After moving out, they will not be eligible for the £400/week payment - this is only valid in central London remember. Elsewhere the 30th percentile cap applies. Let's say they move to Outer South London, where their rent would be capped at £299/week. This is not an outragous rent for a 4-bed house - I challenge you to find a 4-bed house at this rate in this area. I live in this area, and I pay £210/week for a very small 2-bed flat in a down-at-heel area (and even then because I got a great deal from moving in when building work was still going on around me, and the landlord had to abandon plans to sell during the recession). Even my flat is £26/week beyond the 2-bed allowance for the area - and I don't understand where all the 2-bed flats for £800/month are around me. I'm lucky - I have a decently-paid job (for now at least) and don't claim HB, but it must be a worrying time for families who work in minimum wage jobs and rely on Housing Benefit to make ends meet.

If they lose their job, they have the further challenge of finding a 4-bed property for £270/week (or a 2-bed for £730/month). Not a chance.

And many, many people lose out beyond London too. Let's imagine a family live in a 5-bed house in Tyneside and both parents lost their jobs in the recession in 2008. They are currently able to claim £207/week housing allowance. After the cap is applied, they are now only able to claim £140/week (£155 minus the £15 penalty for being unemployed). The Government will take £67/week from them. £3,500 taken from the poorest in society, in addition to spending cuts and VAT rises etc etc. This is not sharing the pain fairly is it?

Can you see what the fuss is about now?

The Tories have done a great PR job on getting the focus on the £400/week cap (despite the fact next to no-one will claim this, as it only applies in central London and there are no 4-beds to rent at half the 30th percentile rent) . Maybe a journalist may like to, say, scrutinise the plans and challenge the lies."