Blair and Andrew's mutual interest

The Duke of York is not alone in his fondness for Kazakhstan, the country whose president’s son-in-law bought his hideous house, Sunninghill, for £3 million above the asking price.

The gold-digger Tony Blair’s globetrotting also took him to the door of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the long-time ruler of Kazakhstan, back in 2008.
The U.S. State Department has made the following observations about Kazakhstan: ‘Severe limits on ability to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system; discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons.’ dailymail

Underground Great Wall

The Chinese have called it their “Underground Great Wall” — a vast network of tunnels designed to hide their country’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear arsenal. yahoo/WP

Will WW III be between the U.S. and China?

The country imprisons Nobel prizewinners such as the political activist and writer Liu Xiaobo, steals intellectual property and technological know-how from every nation with which it does business and strives to deny its people access to information through internet censorship.

The people of Tibet suffer relentless persecution from their Chinese occupiers, while Western leaders who meet the Dalai Lama are snubbed in consequence.

Other Asian nations are appalled by China’s campaign to dominate the Western Pacific. Japan’s fears of Chinese-North Korean behaviour are becoming so acute that the country might even abandon decades of eschewing nuclear weapons, to create a deterrent. dailymail

My small contribuition to the Tibetan People and Culture


"Chop the head of the snake"

Israel is not alone in talking about military action against Iran. Among the state department documents disclosed by WikiLeaks was one in Saudi Arabia called for action to chop what it called "the head of the snake". guardian

Note: we should look at how the iranian opposition as completely smashed by the regime.
Offices Of Charlie Hebdo Destroyed

According to a slew of international news wire stories this morning, the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were destroyed in the early hours of Wednesday by a petrol bomb. This comes on the day they released their latest issue re-named "Sharia Hebdo" and featuring the Prophet Muhammed on the cover announcing punishment for everyone not laughing. The insides feature an editorial written by Muhammed in much the same vein. In a PR move yesterday, the magazine named the Prophet the magazine's editor-in-chief for that issue. comicsreporter

It’s a fucking outrage!


Letter from a Cairo cell

After Egypt's revolution, I never expected to be back in Mubarak's jails. I have been locked up, again on a set of flimsy charges, five years after imprisonment for supporting the judiciary. guardian
Crimes against the humanity

"Based on available information, the special advisers consider that the scale and gravity of the violations indicate a serious possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed and continue to be committed in Syria," the advisers said in a statement. haaretz

Assad's crackdown killed more than 3,500

More than 3,500 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on protesters, the United Nations said on Tuesday, as the military pressed its campaign to put down resistance against President Bashar Assad's rule in the city of Homs. haaretz

Arab League votes to suspend Syria if doesn't end violence

President Bashar al-Assad given ultimatum to rein in his troops or face economic and political sanctions. guardian

Note: a bit late, isn't?


Merkel and Sarkozy are right about a Tobin tax

Some taxes have a large distortionary effect on economic activity — with a financial transactions tax, the worry is that investment activity will be curtailed– and others have a much smaller effect. Some taxes can even make markets work better, e.g. taxes that force firms to internalize pollution costs and other externalities improves the decisions firms make. From society’s point of view, they are more, not less efficient. Thus, in designing a tax system, we should look for taxes that provide the most revenue at the least cost.

So is a financial transactions tax a highly distortionary, costly tax? The answer is no. The tax would discourage short-term speculative activity, but much of this activity provides little social value. It pushes money around among winners and losers, and traders like it for that reason, but if this activity is discouraged through taxation it would have little effect on long-term investment decisions by firms. For example, one thing this would discourage is high frequency computer trading to exploit minute differences in prices. Does it really matter for long-term investment if these differences persist for a few seconds or minutes more?

In fact, there’s even an argument that this tax will improve the efficiency of financial markets. The late economist James Tobin, the originator of the tax, argued that speculative activity causes harmful fluctuations in financial markets. For example, pursuit of speculative gains can cause firms to increase leverage, and if a financial crisis hits it can be very disruptive to the economy when firm are forced to unwind that leverage quickly. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the costs fell only on those making the decision to take on so much leverage. But, unfortunately, as we have seen in this crisis, the costs can be very large and spread beyond the firms and individuals making the decision to take on so much risk. Thus, just as with pollution there are externalities — costs that fall on the innocent — and to the extent that a transactions tax forces firms to internalize the costs of their decisions, it improves rather than hinders the efficiency of financial markets.

There is one potential problem however: the ability to avoid the tax by moving activity elsewhere. But I don’t see this as a huge worry. Trading is mostly carried out on centralized exchanges, so keeping track of the transactions and taxing them isn’t that hard (the UK has had a tax on stocks for some time, and that hasn’t driven all activity elsewhere). Nevertheless, if the U.S. were to follow suit, as I think it should — it could raise hundreds of billions a year in revenue with minimal distortions — that would help to prevent evasive activity.

A financial transactions tax raises considerable revenue with minimal distortions to long-run investment activity; there’s even an argument that it improves efficiency by forcing firms to pay the full cost of their speculative activity. In addition, it helps to insulate the economy from the fallout when there is a financial crisis. Mark Thoma in blogs.reuters.com