Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

It’s racism, not the economy

 

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post flagging up the considered view of Professor John Gray on the potential motivation of voters in the USA and the election of Donald Trump. The underlying point of his “letter” is that economic factors rather than social factors account for the result.

This opinion is not shared by all, and for good reason. The ever-vigilent Mehdi Hasan – has looked at the available data on the demographic that voted for Trump. It may not be as clear cut as we had thought. In actual fact, he argues, those who have been left behind economically – despite the logic – were not those who voted Trump. Rather it was those who have done better than average under neo-liberalism who put him in the White House. And the disturbing conclusion is not that the election was decided on economic issues. It was pure racism.

Reflections on a future

wp-1480168450862.jpgAfter the Brexit vote I was grateful to a number of thinkers who had contributed to a week of short talks on BBC radio. I wrote about them here. The BBC revisited this format last week to help us to make sense of the US election. It was – as with Brexit – left to Professor John Gray to present a hard truth. I’ve taken the liberty of uploading it below.

The stark reality, for Gray, and I fear for the rest of us, is that (liberal) progressivism is not the norm in European human history. Autocracy and war are more representative of earlier times over the continent. Moreover, humanity may get into an autocratic and illiberal mindset – indeed, vote for it – because progressivism is itself partial. Essentially, not everyone benefits and progresses. And this comes back to bite society. The question for us is whether what we are experiencing in 2016 – and probably further into 2017 with elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany – a reversible phenomenon. John Gray, I sense, is not so sure.

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Das Ende der Welt

derspiegel_11_11_2016_coverRegular readers of this blog will already know my political philosophy. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America is truly regressive. It represents not only an existential threat to liberals, people on the left and humanity more generally, but also a mortal threat to minorities, people of colour, LGBT, amongst others. In my lifetime, this is unprecedented. I grew up anticipating nuclear war – this was a time of Threads – in a bi-polar world of two ideologically-fuelled superpowers. But equally I grew up in a post-fascist world. This missing link, however, is about to be filled. Fascism has arrived.threadsmoviecover

The appeasement has started. With the noble exceptions in Europe of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, world leaders waited for a call from Trump for an all-important opportunity to cosy up to him. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had to wait quite a while on Thursday – she was 10th on his list – to receive a call only to find that Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, got a very early selfie-opportunity (below left) to discuss “freedom and winning” with Trump in his trump_farageeponymous tower.

The litany of regressive policy preferences for Trump is shocking. Trump is a climate change denier. To him, it is a hoax, despite all of the scientific evidence. Trump intends to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord that came into force on 4 November 2016 (but conveniently it was not ratified by the US Senate). This is an international agreement to hold global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It is a problem for Trump because his isolationist stance and job creation objectives require energy self-sufficiency through fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas and shale oil). The science points to a climate climate-agreement-finalcatastrophe involving fire, drought, desertification, flood, mass extinctions and rising sea levels. One man – and his like-minded cabinet – can render the planet uninhabitable even without nuclear weapons. Talking of which…

…Trump, in his election campaign, also asked – and I paraphrase – what the point of nuclear weapons is if they cannot be used. And similar to his belief in allowing guns into schools  counter-intuitively to prevent mass shootings, he believes in nuclear proliferation for the same reason. At the very least we might finally confirm that  Israel is a nuclear power and maybe it is time to expedite North Korea’s nuclear aspirations? Back to a Threads scenario, I think.

enemiesThis  fascism has consciously crept into the UK. There is no better example than the Daily Mail’s front page after three lawlords interpreted British law – as they had been asked to do by a British citizen – and noted that, constitutionally, the Prime Minister does not have the power to invoke Article 50 (the leave the EU mechanism) without the approval of the sovereign parliament. This decision is being appealed by the Government and will be heard next month. But Brexiters – led by UKIP leadership candidate, Suzanne Evans given a platform on Today (Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme) – that Judges are trying to impede “the will of the people”; namely leaving the EU. Nothing of the sort. But Evans believes, seemingly, that independent judges should be subject to control by the parliament (the very same one that the Government does not wantlego_pg to inform about Brexit conditions).

This headline has fortunately had quite an impact. Stop Funding Hate is pushing to get advertisers to abandon newspapers that propagate hate as a matter of course. These titles include also The Sun, The Daily Express and The Daily Telegraph. Last week Lego stopped advertising with The Daily Mail (see below). The current effort is to put pressure on the John Lewis Partnership, a supposedly ethical employee-owned high-street retailer, to do the same. Its  Christmas high budget mini film advertisements have become an anticipated festive season event in recent years. And they work. But some of the profit made goes into the pockets of these newspaper owners whose racist bile has undermined the fabric of British society’s values of tolerance, compassion and inclusiveness. John Lewis has so far responded with an anodyne statement (left) indicating that the company does not judge newspapers by their content. Fascist supportjohnlewis_tweeting, then? Customers need to know that. And we must stop normalising this thinking. They will come for us, too.

Finally, it is very difficult to enjoy comedy these days. Everything is beyond parody. Consistent throughout this US election campaign has been John Oliver. He tried hard to expose Trump’s fascism. His final show of 2016 screened on HBO on Sunday evening. Unfortunately it is not available in the UK to view. Some people have the means to Americanise their IP address. If you are one of these, I recommend. By the time the next series starts in 2017 he may have been deported (and HBO closed down).

Brexit watch – w/c 18 July 2016

David DavisWell, the Brexit Minister, David Davis (left) has been on overdrive this weekend. Whilst most of us have been overwhelmed by events in Turkey and Nice, Mr Davis has been busy making trade deals. Or at least feeding the Daily Express – that paragon of truth – some guff about the irrelevance of the EU single market.

I am also reassured that Mr Davis is the right man for the job. Having spent many years and much effort trying to get out of the EU, it is curious how little he understands about negotiating trade deals. He seemingly is of the opinion that it is possible to negotiate individual trade deals with EU members. He does really need to be briefed better before he starts negotiating.

What’s more, it is not even clear if it is his job. He’s minister for Brexit, that is not the same as Minister for Trade (and presumably agreements). That job goes to Liam Fox as Secretary of State for International Trade.

Oh, and then there is ARM, described correctly by ITV’s political correspondent Robert Peston, as Britain’s ONLY world-leading electronic company (sic). Mrs. May, in her Birmingham launch speech on 12 July, said that she would protect firms in strategic industries from foreign takeover. It did not take long for that pledge to be converted into Treasury orthodoxy; namely, that all firms have a price, strategic or otherwise.

The Founder does not think it is such a good thing!

And looking at this graphic above, it really is not good for the UK.

Brexit watch

OnoraO'NeillThe BBC is currently running a series of short talks by leading thinkers – real thinkers – on Brexit. I listened to two this morning as I traveled in to work. The Philosopher and Reith lecturer, Onora O’Neill (left), talks about the responsibility of media in a democracy and how the referendum debate was poorly served by the media. This was followed by John Gray (right), political philosopher, on the nature of opportunity arising from Brexit (however distant that may seem) and the legacyJohnGray of the European project. This one almost made me feel human for the first time since the referendum result. Worth a listen (click on name below).

Onora O’Neill

John Gray

Since writing this initial entry, three more speakers have made a point. Least tenable, as expected, was Roger Scruton; I have a lot of time for the constitution scholar, Peter Hennessy (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times); and the excellent Cambridge classicist, Mary Beard, who summarises the whole episode so well. If only we had listened to these experts, Mr Gove!

 

Pictures: BBC

Brexit watch

Euro_flag_yellow_lowOk, there is a lot happening at the moment. Today has been quite significant in terms of economic impacts of Brexit.

The Governor of the Bank of England, who seems to be our de facto Prime Minister running the country in the absence of anyone else, has reported that the economy has started to respond to Brexit.

The low value of the Pound Sterling – the UK currency – makes imports expensive. Prices will go up and hence inflation. Inflation coupled with low growth = stagflation. Not good.

Whilst the FTSE 100 index has increased in value, this can be explained by the fact that most of these firms are international and trade globally. The more pertinent 250 index, which tracks the value of more domestic-focused firms, is much less healthy.

Three property funds have suspended trading on UK property – basically, too many investors wanting to redeeem investments in anticipation of a property crash (see above link).

Brexit

Euro_flag_yellow_lowI apologise to my readers for not posting too much in recent days. My country is currently in political and economic meldown and it is very difficult to make sense of events. Being able to articulate what is happening to a wider – often international – readership is almost beyond my skills.

In a nutshell: the people of the UK have voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union. However, no one had a plan on how to do it. The Prime Minister resigned. Those who advocated leaving have all been found to be lying, self-seeking sociopaths (I am being generous with this description) and have largely absented themselves from responsibility. The next Prime Minister is being chosen by a small cabal of neo-liberal members of Parliament and around 150K grassroots members of the Conservative Party. The economy is in freefall and xenophobia/hate crime is on the rise.

I found the linked Buzzfeed take on events to be enlightening

If readers are interested in the legal dimensions around Article 50, the bit of the Lisbon Treaty that describes the leaving process, can be seen here. And here.

Here is a Twitter thread that details, in a straightforward way, the complications and consequences of Brexit.

I’m also impressed by Frankie Boyle, a terse Scottish comedian, who writes often incisive stuff on politics.

Brexit

Euro_flag_yellow_lowThis is my letter of 26 June 2016 to my Member of Parliament, Amber Rudd.

 

 

26 June 2016

Dear Ms Rudd,

My reading of the referendum result is that the country is now experiencing a constitutional crisis. It is clear that there was no contingency on either side of the debate – though I dispute that it was ever binary – as to what would happen afterwards. Indeed, it was remiss of me not ask this question of anyone prior to the vote. Maybe that reflects our collective complacency regarding the result.

We are told this is the will of the people. First of all, it is an advisory referendum. The people have spoken, for sure, but it is evidently clear that they have not spoken about the EU, rather the liberal elite’s many years of neglect. It is not surprising when, given a “meaningful” vote, it is used to give that very same elite a kicking. I can understand that.

Second, this was all about party management, not British interests. It should never have been called. And it should never have been decided on a simple majority. On this I want to know how this was ever allowed. For example, what was the input from the civil service and state lawyers? Why was it a only a simple majority? What is the Monarch’s role in this? What risk assessment was done? And is the sovereign Parliament going to talk about this before the nuclear button is pressed? Are there any lessons from Democrats in the USA trying to get gun control debated?

Third, there is a vacuum now at a time when leadership is required. Just looking at the newspapers this morning the issues do not seem to be about what we are going to do. Rather Conservative and Labour Party politics. So, who will succeed Mr Cameron (we cannot wait until October!)? And Mr Benn’s challenge to Mr Corbyn. These are side shows.

Please tell me who the “states-people” are. Is there anyone I can trust in the political class? Who are the people who are going to lead us? What are the Parliamentary options? Which street should I protest on?

Most disturbingly, the campaign has legitimised racism, xenophobia and no doubt other phobias – gender, sexuality, etc. History tells us that this is dangerous for the country and the continent. This is no longer a party matter. How can I help you stop this madness?

Kind regards,

Dr Andrew Grantham

 

Will the EU let the destruction happen?

For reasons that I cannot explain, I have been affected by the so-called Islamic State’s destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Palmyra in Syria (below right). The destruction of ancient artefacts for religious reasons somehow seems personal, and that is not diminishing IS’s penchant for killing that seems part of their ideology. But why should the destruction of ancient temples which I have not visited bother me?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yesterday the Guardian newspaper ran a story about the impending destruction of another World Heritage Site, this time in Europe and by a member state of the EU. The site in question is the Białowieża forest (left). It covers an area of 150,000 hectares in Poland. It straddles the border with Belarus, where it is entirely protected as a nature park. It is home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and 62 species of mammals – among them Europe’s largest, the bison (left).

The government has passed a law allowing 188,000 cubic metres of trees to be felled by 2021. It is argued that some of the trees – maybe even 1 million spruce trees – are infested with bark beetle and are dying. The felling, however, seems to go way beyond what is necessary to contain the infestation – assuming it needs dealing with at all. Nature is pretty good at regeneration.

The Polish government seems to have put a price on the forest. The logging in Białowieża is expected to raise about 700m złotys (£124m); however, some see it as the thin edge of the wedge. Undermine the viability and diversity of the forest and that might pave the way for extensive and lucrative tree clearances (as if what is proposed is not damaging enough).

So, what is the link to the so-called Islamic State? Well IS was not a member of the EU, or even the UN, so negotiation over the Palmyra site wereTemple_of_Bel,_Palmyra_02 difficult to arrange. There was not much sanction at that point in time. They willingly filmed the destruction for posterity, keen as they are to share their violence with us. Poland is an EU member state. Sanction is there if it chooses to exercise it. We shall see.

But the story did help me with the question of why it might bother me. Both sites are ancient. The trees or the relics – if they could speak to us – could tell us much about ourselves, our history and origins. I know they cannot. Both are irreplaceable. Take them away and they cannot be replaced. With forest, the whole eco-system is lost. The flora and fauna will die. That is also an issue. With the ancient relics, we erase our link to history, ancestors and the humbling that often comes with huge ancient buildings erected without, at the very least, lifting technology. Wonderment, that is the connection.

In the comments accompanying the article in the Guardian newspaper (link above), one comment suggested that countries with elected governments can do what they like with their land. And there lies the problem. Human beings believe the land and its content to be theirs. They are resources to be exploited. They are very rarely viewed as there to be protected, even though protecting the forest sustains the environment on which we depend. Humanity often struggles to see itself as made up of organic life forms. Rather humanity locates itself as some superior entity removed from its place in nature.

Will the EU act?

Pictures:

Bison in forest: Herr stahlhoefer, Wikipedia

Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, Bernard Gagnon, Wikipedia

Belawege

 

What is to be done?

Donald_Trump_August_19,_2015_(cropped)What a depressing day this is, despite the sunshine. I have been trying to hide from the reality of Donald Trump being on the ballot for the US presidential election in November. But last night’s victory in Indiana and the withdrawal of the two remaining opponents from the Republican nomination guarantees his candidacy. And with it, the very real prospect of power.

Back in the UK, the punitive Trade Union legislation entered the statute book. It is a bare-faced attempt to outlaw strikes (in the public sector) by forcing a minimum of a 50 per cent turnout for strike ballots and a 40 per cent positive vote amongst those eligible to vote. Let me get my head around that. 40 per cent of the eligible voters have to be in favour even if they choose not to vote. Basically, choosing not to vote counts as a “no” in a strike ballot. Put another way, very few of our Members of Parliament meet those criteria for their own election.

What else? Ah yes, another unsavoury character, John Whittingdale (right), the inappropriately appointed Culture Minister, isWhittingdale desperate to abolish the BBC. Now I’m no lover of the BBC – with the exception of its factual output, essentially BBC4 – but abolition leaves us to the mercy of commercial media and commercial agendas. Whittingdale has already been kite flying arguing that the BBC should not be able to go head-to-head with commercial rivals; for example, Strictly Come Dancing against the X-Factor on a Saturday evening. He wants to top-slice the BBC licence fee to give to commercial broadcasters in the interests of fairness. The BBC has already had to subsidise pensioners with the free licence and take on the World Service, traditionally the responsibility of the Foreign Office. But last week during a Cambridge Conservative Association speech he described the demise of the BBC as a “tempting prospect”.

Pictures: Donald Trump By Michael Vadon (Wikipedia)

John Whittingdale – johnwhittingdale.org.uk