February 26th, 2012
The Government 'has run out of money' and cannot afford debt-fuelled tax cuts or extra spending, George Osborne has admitted.
In a stark warning ahead of next month’s Budget, the Chancellor said there was little the Coalition could do to stimulate the economy.
Mr Osborne made it clear that due to the parlous state of the public finances the best hope for economic growth was to encourage businesses to flourish and hire more workers.
“The British Government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,” the Chancellor said. “The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector.”
Mr Osborne’s bleak assessment echoes that of Liam Byrne, the former chief secretary to the Treasury, who bluntly joked that Labour had left Britain broke when he exited the Government in 2010.
He left David Laws, his successor, a one-line note saying: “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left”.
Mr Osborne is under severe pressure to boost growth, amid signs the economy is slipping back into a recession.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies has urged him to consider emergency tax cuts in the Budget to reduce the risk of a prolonged economic slump.
But the Chancellor yesterday said he would stand firm on his effort to balance the books by refusing to borrow money. “Any tax cut would have to be paid for,” Mr Osborne told Sky News. “In other words there would have to be a tax rise somewhere else or a spending reduction.
“In other words what we are not going to do in this Budget is borrow more money to either increase spending or cut taxes.”
The strongest suggestion of help for squeezed family budgets came from the Chancellor’s claim that he was “very seriously and carefully” considering plans to help lower earners by raising the personal allowance for income tax, a proposal that has been championed by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.
But he implied there would be no more help for motorists struggling with record petrol prices this spring. “I have taken action already this year to avoid increases in fuel duty which were planned by the last Labour government,” he said.
The Chancellor’s tough words were echoed by Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne, the foreign minister, who warned that Britain faced “accelerated decline” without measures to tackle its debt and increase competitiveness.
In an article published today in The Daily Telegraph, he writes that Britain’s market share in the world used to be “dominant” but was now “in freefall” compared with the soaring economies of Asia and South America. “This situation has been becoming more acute for years,” he adds. “It is now staring us in the face. So we need to take action.”
Mr Browne writes that reform of pensions, welfare and defence is essential to stop the departments “collapsing under the weight of their own debt”. “Just because the spending was sometimes on worthy causes does not in itself mean it was affordable,” he says.
“Doing nothing when your prospects are at risk of declining is not the safe option. More of the same may be superficially more popular in the short-term but that does not make it right.”
Amid warnings that Britain urgently needed to adopt a more pro-business outlook, senior Conservatives have urged the Government to get rid of the 50 pence top rate of tax.
Figures from the Treasury last week suggested the policy was not raising the expected amount of revenue and was threatening to drive leading business people and entrepreneurs away from Britain. Dr Liam Fox, the former Conservative Defence Secretary, yesterday argued for the top tax rate to be scrapped, but added that cutting taxes on employment was even more important.
“I would have thought the priority was getting the costs of employers down and therefore I would rather have seen any reductions in taxation on employers’ taxation rather than personal taxation,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show.
Any efforts to scrap the rate this parliament would face severe opposition from within the Coalition.
Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said yesterday that keeping the current 50p rate was “the right thing to do”. He told the BBC: “I represent people in a pretty solid working-class community. What they’re concerned about is what happens to ordinary people out of work and where they get jobs.”
Last night, Labour argued Mr Osborne needed to take a more proactive stance on boosting growth by increasing public spending.
Chris Leslie MP, the shadow Treasury minister, said it was wrong of the Chancellor to argue that Britain was broke and to rely on business alone to create economic growth.
“George Osborne can’t complacently wash his hands and claim the lack of jobs and growth in the economy is nothing to do with him,” he said.
“He needs to realise that government has a vital role to play in creating an environment where the private sector can grow and create jobs.”
Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, urged Mr Osborne to cut VAT.
Meanwhile, the Chancellor made it clear he was resisting pressure to hand over up to another £17.5billion in taxpayers’ money to help bail out struggling European Union countries.
He said Europe had not “shown the colour of its money” by taking measures to help itself tackle its debt problems.
Until that happens, Britain will not give any extra funds to the International Monetary Fund.
The Chancellor was speaking as finance ministers from the world’s 20 most powerful economies met in Mexico.
Mr Osborne said: “While at this G20 conference there are a lot of things to discuss; I don’t think you’re going to see any extra resources committed (to the IMF) here because eurozone countries have not committed additional resources themselves, and I think that quid pro quo will be clearly established here in Mexico City.”
February 26th, 2012
Clinton, Overseas, Doesn't Back Down from Obama Reelection Comments
Published February 26, 2012
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Sunday she may have been less than diplomatic when she told an audience in Tunisia to "not pay attention" to the rhetoric coming from the Republican presidential primary race. But she doesn't take back the gist of her comments.
Speaking Saturday in the first country to undergo the transformation of the "Arab Spring," the nation's top diplomat was answering a question from an audience member who asked how Arabs can trust candidates on both sides who "run toward the Zionist lobbies to get their support in the states. And afterward, once they are elected, they come to show their support for countries like Tunisia and Egypt."
Without addressing the audience member's question about supporting the Arab "enemy," Clinton, who was vanquished by Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, said that Tunisians will learn as their democracy grows that "a lot of things are said in political campaigns that should not bear a lot of attention."
"There are comments made that certainly don't reflect the United States, don't reflect our foreign policy, don't reflect who we are as a people. I mean, if you go to the United States, you see mosques everywhere, you see Muslim-Americans everywhere. That's the fact. So I would not pay attention to the rhetoric," Clinton said.
She then added that the audience should "watch what President Obama says and does."
"He's our president. He represents all of the United States, and he will be reelected president, so I think that that will be a very clear signal to the entire world as to what our values are and what our president believes," she said, adding that she is sometimes "a little surprised that people around the world pay more attention to what is said in our political campaigns than most Americans."
"So I think you have to shut out some of the rhetoric and just focus on what we're doing and what we stand for, and particularly what our president represents," Clinton said.
Clinton, whose post is supposed to be non-political, acknowledged Sunday that her comments may have been overly exuberant.
"Probably my enthusiasm for the president got a little out of hand," Clinton told CNN when asked about the remarks, claiming that her remarks stem only from wanting what's best for the country.
February 26th, 2012
The Washington Post / By Felicia Sonmez
Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on Sunday stood by his statement that President Obama is a “snob” because he wants
“everybody in America to go to college.”
“Now getting to college has been part of the American dream for generations, Senator,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Santorum in an interview on “This Week. “Why does articulating an aspiration make the president a snob?”
“I think because there are lot of people in this country that have no desire or no aspiration to go to college, because they have a different set of skills and desires and dreams that don’t include college,” Santorum said. “And to sort of lay out there that somehow this should be everybody’s goal, I think, devalues the tremendous work that people who, frankly, don’t go to college and don’t want to go to college because they have a lot of other talents and skills that, frankly, college, you know, four-year colleges may not be able to assist them.”
He added that “there’s all sorts of things that people can do to upgrade their skills.”
Santorum on Saturday had told a crowd of more than 1,000 conservative activists in Troy, Mich., that “not all folks are gifted in the same way” and that “there are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them.”
Asked by Stephanopoulos on Sunday about the “indoctrination” comment, Santorum defended the remark, arguing that conservatives are “singled out” and “ridiculed” at most American colleges.
“I mean, you look at the colleges and universities,” Santorum said. “This is not something that’s new for most Americans, is how liberal our colleges and universities are and how many children in fact are – look, I’ve gone through it. I went through it at Penn State.”
“You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed, you are — I can tell you personally. . . I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views. This is sort of a regular routine. You know the statistic . . . that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it. This is not a neutral setting.”
Stephanopoulos asked whether Santorum’s comments meant that he thought there was “something wrong with encouraging college education.”
“No, not at all, but understand that we have some real problems at our college campuses with political correctness, with an ideology that is forced upon people who, you know, who may not agree with the politically correct left doctrine,” Santorum responded. “And one of the things that I’ve spoken out on and will continue to speak out is to make sure that conservative and more mainstream, common-sense conservative and principles that have made this country great are reflected in our college courses and with college professors. And at many, many, and I would argue most institutions in this country, that simply isn’t the case.’
By 10:50 AM ET, 02/26/2012|
February 26th, 2012
Facebook is being accused of snooping on its users' text messages, but the social network says the accusations are inaccurate and misleading.
The company is among a wide-ranging group of Web entities, including Flickr and YouTube, that are using smartphone apps to access text message data and other personal information, according to a Sunday Times report (behind a paywall). The newspaper said Facebook "admitted" to reading users' text messages during a test of its own messaging service. The report also says information such as user location, contacts list, and browser history are often accessed and sometimes transmitted to third-party companies, including advertisers.
Facebook representatives did not immediately respond to a CNET request for comment, but the company told the Business Insider that the Sunday Times report was "completely wrong."
There is no reading of user text messages. On the Android App store, the Facebook app permissions include SMS read/write.
Lots of communications apps use these permissions. Think of all those apps that act as replacements to the build-in sms software.
The company said the permission exists because it has performed some testing of products that require short message service to communicate with the Facebook app. But Facebook says it hasn't made any such features available to the public.
"So the Sunday Times is completely wrong when it says Facebook is reading people's SMS. Wrong on the terminology, and wrong on the suggestion that it has been implemented," the company said.
Smartphone privacy concerns have increased in the past couple of weeks after it was revealed that when Path--a popular iOS and Android application--was found to be collecting user contact information without permission. Twitter also acknowledged that it retained data on its servers for 18 months after users selected the "Find Friends" feature on its smartphone app.
Updated at 1:20 p.m. PT with Facebook statement: "Facebook is currently running a limited test of mobile features which integrate with SMS functionality. SMS read/write is not currently implemented for most users of the mobile app. As part of this test, we declared the presence of that functionality within our app store permissions starting with the 1.7 version of our application. If Facebook ultimately launches any feature that makes use of these permissions, we will ensure that this is accompanied by appropriate guidance/educational materials."
February 26th, 2012
Editor's note: Steven James is the author of more than 30 books, including "Flirting with the Forbidden," which explores forgiveness.
By Steven James, Special to CNN
(CNN) – The Bible is a gritty book. Very raw. Very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without them.
Yet despite that, it seems like Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really is. They feel the need to tidy up God.
For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags.” The original language doesn’t say “filthy rags”; it says “menstrual rags.” But that sounds a little too crass, so let’s just call them filthy instead.
And let’s not talk so much about Jesus being naked on the cross, and let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the Greek would more accurately be translated.
And let’s definitely not mention the six times in the Old Testament that the Jewish writers referred to Gentile men as those who “pisseth against the wall.” (At least the King James Version got that one right.)
God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured planet.
Dozens of Psalms are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God, not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help” (New Living Translation).
And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to St. Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us (1 Corinthians 10:11). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable.
I believe that Scripture includes such graphic material to show how far we, as a race, have fallen and how far God was willing to come to rescue us from ourselves.
God is much more interested in honesty than pietism.
And that’s what he gives us throughout Scripture, telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.
Peter struggled with doubt, and we hear all about it.
Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers.
David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk, Abraham a liar, Moses a murderer. Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1).
It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces.
I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as pietistic. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19).
Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” He said the kingdom was like a homecoming celebration, a wedding, a party, a feast to which all are invited.
This idea was too radical for the religious leaders of his day. They were more concerned about etiquette, manners, traditions and religious rituals than about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they missed out.
That’s why we miss out.
According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (John 8:36), love rather than ritual (Mark 12:30-33) and peace rather than guilt (John 14:27). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and frees us to cut loose and celebrate.
I don’t believe we’ll ever recognize our need for the light until we’ve seen the depth of the darkness. So God wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness. And grace.
Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be).
We don’t need to edit God. We need to let him be the author of our new lives.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steven James.