Wednesday, 24 February 2010

McTax

It is, even to a seasoned ex-Transylvanian who has seen old and new political regimes in my former homeland, astounding to watch the new measures that the brand new Romanian Government introduces in order to deal with the deficit and the general economic situation (to use a mild word).

One of the newest inventions is the tax on fast food or junk food as we'd like to call it. 'Unhealthy' food will have an extra tax, which may increase the price of these by 20%.

Now I'm not a McDonalds fan, far from it (far being the key word here, as my distance from junk food tends to be a large and relatively constant value measured in many many metres)... but... something is truly interesting about this new tax.

OK, junk food will cost inevitably more, and my heart may bleed in a spare moment for the people stuffing themselves full of burgers in burger joints... but it will not just hit such stereotypical junk food.

It will hit lower quality, cheaper, not quite healthy food that is the main food for vast masses of people on low income.

Which then brings to the vast social problem in Romania... the layer of people on low income is a considerable layer of Romanian society. They may not buy the best low-fat foods with least artificial ingredients and 'enrichments', because it is impossible for them to afford it.

The Government now hits these people and the same Government, which has such grandiose gestures about its apparent care for the wellbeing of its citizens, pushed vast numbers of people into abject poverty.

We are talking about pensioners and diabolically low income people who are working 14 hours a day to pay just the bills, and one has to look at the >90% proportion of average income being spent on energy bills and food in Romania, putting it at the rock bottom of the EU.

So we are talking about so-called energy poverty and food poverty... On top of this, the Government is severely underfunding health care, the budget runs out by middle of this year and nobody knows where money will be found for the 2nd half of 2010.

This happens while hundreds of thousands of pharmacies have not yet been paid for the subsidies since June last year.

But now we have such gestures showing the EU, that while many literally starve and freeze in the winter cold, the Government is caring so much for its people's health, that will introduce such 'healthy' tax on unhealthy food.

What is also interesting, is that the Western media, including in the USA, has given praise to these measures, showing just how misinformed some of the most respected TV new channels and press is, when it comes to the Romanian REALITY behind empty gestures.

The same countries and same media celebrated Ceausescu, whenever he made a superficial and apparently anti-Soviet gesture.

Nothing really changes... one just wishes that this Western media would once bother to scratch the surface of Romanian reality and find what rotting tissue is underneath. In the meanwhile, Romanian politicians can laugh their head off, as they again managed to fool most of the EU with empty and stupid gestures.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Disappointments

One wonders who feel stronger disappointment.

The European Court of Human Rights has recently ruled that random stop & search powers granted to the Police by the anti-terrorist legislation (namely the infamous, totalitarian Section 44 of the so-called Terrorism Act) are illegal.

While Home Office and police officials repeatedly denied that Police resorts to regular abuses of power (personally, I stopped counting the scandalous cases documented in the media and my organisation's newsletter), the European Court stated that these powers are a "clear interference with the right to respect for private life".

The Government, more specifically the Home Secretary, stated that they are 'disappointed'.

They also appealed against the ruling, which is quite interesting - considering that seven judges, one British, have ruled unanimously.

Let's face it, it is simply a Government that just gave one more clear indication that it is above any law when it comes to its anti-terrorism legislation... and it will and can apply it in any way it wants, not listening to absolutely anybody.

It is also interesting, that exactly when the Home Office appealed, suddenly the level of terrorist threat was raised to 'severe', of course again by pure co-incidence.

So there are, again, good reasons to be disappointed, but not for the Government.

One wonders how many people believe this is a democracy, when in the name of yet another faceless and ubiquitous enemy, yet another society can adopt 'laws' that give absolute power to the 'arm of the law'.

It just so happens, that while this Stalinist farce was happening, yet another photographer has won damages when sued the police.

He was unlawfully arrested and held while he tried to cover, as freelance journalist, a traffic accident. When refused to give detailed personal information and pointed out he was just doing his job, he was detained for eight hours and camera equipment confiscated.

It is a society where individuals and, as in this case, professional organisations keep winning cases against the 'arm of the law', so one could say that as long as such sanity exists to some extent, maybe there are still remains of democracy one can cling on to.

Monday, 1 February 2010

May...

Nope, I didn't confuse my calendar, not it is a wishful musing on the joys of spring to come...

Recent anti-terrorism actions from the police in the UK, which now reached a point where one has to ask how these are different from a regime that tried to police every sentence and every thought, made me think also of the relativistic and probabilistic approaches to our reality.

The word 'may' pretty much sums it up. Even concrete things, quantitatively measurable, like the legal tread depth on my car tyres, are subject to the cautious and probabilistic statement of 'it may need new tyres' (as recently a garage assessed it).

Medicines and mumbo-jumbo concoctions advertised on TV 'may' help with something or 'may' assist with something. Nobody dares to say it has an effect, nor that it doesn't, even when scientific trials have fundamentally proven repeatedly their expensive uselessness.

And then we are in the realm of security and counter-terrorism.

A photographer 'may' be involved in something 'suspicious'. Recently TV presenters recording a children's programme, suited in fake army apparatus were challenged by police, they 'may' have been terrorists... armed with a pink hairdryer and a cameraman filming them... of course, makes sense, doesn't it?

A sentence written in the heat of a moment on Twitter 'may' have been a genuine threat, so the person got reported and arrested next day.

Everybody 'may' be somebody (else). Everybody and anybody 'may' commit whatever anyone can possibly imagine.

And in a former citadel of democracy, we are actually policing this. We are enforcing everybody's paranoia of what 'may' happen or what someone or something 'may' do.

Absolutes become probabilistic relatives. Proof becomes secondary, tertiary. Rational judgment of proportions dwarfs in front of the almighty scary 'may'.

Well, we may return to sanity at some point. We may restore rationality and reason. We may have democracy again and we may have freedom of speech in the UK.

But for now, I and many 'may' be arrested for some blog or Twitter entries, one 'may' get held for 8 hours for challenging dictatorial police force confiscating one's photo equipment, and one 'may' be a terrorist based on arbitrary everyday paranoia of the everyday man on the street.

Some 'may' find this revolting.