Sorry to say – NO revolution today!

th[7]

Why? You may ask. Well, the people are a bit busy at the moment. I’m not quite sure when they will have the time to follow their dream of a decent life. No doubt that once they have the opportunity to think about the future they will demand considerable change.

Then there’s the other problem.

What?

Getting organised! Many poor people are working 12 – 14 hours a day, often more. They get home have their fried bread and mash; tired they don’t feel much up to starting a crusade.

There are exceptions!

In the town of Flint in Michigan USA, population 100,000 a quiet fight has begun. The government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carried out a series of tests on the water supply to determine the level of lead in the supply. The EPA concluded that the water was fine.

One woman thought differently, she demanded further tests be carried out on her domestic supply. The recommended ratio is 15ppb (parts per billion). What the new investigation found was above 40ppb = dangerous level. Independent studies found several hundred more ‘dangerous’ cases. The EPA’s testing technique; a load of …. I’ll leave you to fill in the blank space.

It now emerges that all 50 states have cases of ‘excessive levels of lead contamination’ affecting several million people. When testing shows levels above 15ppb the authorities are supposed to inform residents and carry out immediate remedial work. Nearly 400 water suppliers are repeat offenders!!!

thDC82LPF2The crucial point here is that one woman stood her ground and now the government and its agencies are under close scrutiny. This woman should be nominated for -woman of the year –for person of the year. She gets my high-five award.

But wait:

At an elementary school in Ithaca NY another woman kicked up a fuss. Testing revealed that the water supply to the school registered at 5,000ppb that’s the EPA’s threshold for ‘hazardous waste’! Wow! Wow! Wow!

What both cases illustrate is that when people have the time to think they won’t allow themselves to be crapped upon. Well done mothers!!!

www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/3/11/nearly-2000-water-systems-failed-lead-tests/81220466

Alison Young & Mark Nichols

Two other points arise from this:

 

Still in America, in the state of Louisiana, a cut to local government spending has seriously reduced access to public defenders. In the Parish of Vermilion the number has been reduced from 10 to one. That’s one public defender and a waiting list of 2,300+ offenders.

Most of these cases are for minor crimes. However, many are kept in prison because they can’t afford bail money and can’t afford to hire a lawyer. Others can’t get a job while the prospect of a sentence hangs over their head.

Local officials are blaming a reduction on speeding fines for the chaos. Mm. Thus they can’t afford public defenders because not enough people are breaking the law by speeding. Mm. I find it unbelievable that the justice system is dependent on others breaking the law. I hear Patsy Cline in the background – Crazy.

Moreover, how much is this debacle costing in lost working days, on taxes, on prison costs, on social security payments. How much damage is it doing to families, to kids and the community? Who cares it only affects the poor!

www.nytimes.com/2016/03/23/         (twitter)       Campbell Robertson

I can hear a few voices declare that there are millions of poor around the world, why the focus on America. The USA is held aloft as the greatest of democracies, as the place where dreams are realised: ‘everything’s big in America’…..West Side Story. If welfare is a shambles in America and the poor are downtrodden, what hope to find anything better anywhere else?

Of course there are millions of poor around the world and many are found in India. The country claims a booming economy and the parade of the world’s top motor manufacturers tends to back that up. The boom- boom for the big car groups is based on the huge advantage of cheap-cheap labour.

The average wage for a low skilled worker is around 150 rupees ($2.40) a day. In the capital Delhi it averages 361 rupees ($5.80). But, averages disguise the reality for many of the poorest. The big boys sub-contract out the work which is again sub-contracted out. The little factories at the bottom are nothing less than hell holes.

Workers in these places find themselves in sweat shop conditions with no safety equipment and forced to work long days, 12 -14 hours, or more. While the Indian government speak of an economic miracle, and it may well be a hub for exports to General Motors and Ford etc. The truth is that it is only possible because of the poverty wages and the horrid conditions the poor have to work in. Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki are bad offenders!

In Bangladesh the minimum wage is set at 5,300 taka or $68 per month before tax. In China there are substantial differences from area to area. However, it is well documented that millions work in near slave labour conditions.

www.tradingeconomics.com/india/wages

www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/                        January 2016.

In the Middle East we have tyrannies of different hues from religious zealots to hard headed dictatorships. Religion holds the millions in check as it once did in Europe of old. In Saudi Arabia people are afraid to speak out for fear of prison and lashes by the score. Special religious police scour the towns and cities to enforce allegiance to the monarch’s determination to remain in power and promote their Sunni version of Islam.

Herein lays the reason there will be no revolution today. The people are exhausted byth66MZWZV4 the struggle to survive. They are smothered by the sheer weight and trauma of making ends meet. The poor have responsibilities that the wealthy will never know or understand. Many are in a constant battle to give, when there’s as great a need to have.

While the uncaring heart of business sucks at their strength they carry that burden and keep going. There are heroes in every street, unrecognised, unknown and yet they forge on because others are dependent on them.

And in this upside down world we make heroes of celebrities. The media maintain a constant downpour of trash TV to take the peoples mind off their struggle, for a few hours. In consequence the poor become divorced from the political world and thus from their ability to fight back. Whilst too many become the “mindless consumers” as recognised by Jürgen Habermas.

The Poor have NO Say!

E.E. Schattschneider argues that the politicians pay little heed to the people as there is no recognition of ‘popular preferences’. The fact is,

“that there is very low level of participation and political awareness, and real decisions are taken by much smaller groups of organised interests”.

Cited: Francis Fukuyama (p483) Political Order and Political Decay

In the UK the BBC is one of the worst offenders with their stratified TV programming to satisfy the class and educational bias in our society. The hierarchy at the BBC are of the same metropolitan elite that promote a left leaning political agenda.  Hypocrisy knows no boundary.

Do some good – join Robin Hood!

The Common Good and Trade Unions.

Europe is in the midst of an economic and social crisis, deepened by the migrant situation. At times like these we all tend to look at our own basket of goods and become a little self-oriented. However, throughout the ages, pioneers, our conscience, have tried to steer us in the direction of a better society. A society that does respect the right of the individual within a community made up of active and participatory citizens. And a goal of working towards a society that gives prominence to the notion of the common good.

This is an area were the Trade Union (TU) movement could take the lead. It has the resources and the organisation to have an immediate impact.

To speak of the common good is to open a can of worms for several reasons. Some philosophers will immediately jump up and scream of Utilitarianism (what’s best for the majority). Other politically minded servants of the present establishment will merely shout ‘bunkum’! Loudly, of course! Others on the left in politics will nod and add their wisdom; ‘good luck with that’. Those on the far left will raise their banner and advise; ‘call for revolution’!

Without doubt it is a tall order and needs a unity of purpose that has dissipated over the last few decades. Once there was a definite class aspect to politics but now it is much more diverse with ‘identity politics’ Fukuyama (p438) a whole host of interest groups pursuing their own campaign. In so doing the opposition to right-wing government’s has weakened considerably.

The poor have no champion. Once it was the Trade Union movement and then the Labour Party but both have been weakened over the past decades. To some the Labour party has lost its soul as it searched for credibility from the business class. The TU’s have never quite recovered from the Winter of Discontent of 1979 and the years of Thatcherism.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_Discontent

Identity politics is a gift of huge magnitude for the 1 percent. As it disperses the opposition into small and at times, irrelevant bodies who shout a lot then drive home for a ready-made meal. Alternatively, they agree to meet at the out of town shopping centre (Mall) for a big mac. Here they castigate those who go to football matches, are at home watching TV or hanging around the betting shop all day. Meanwhile, other campaigners are demanding a halt to air pollution.

Individualism is the cry of the day by the horde that cannot see beyond the mirror. It is also the cry of the neo-liberal economists whose view is the predominant one and the voice of the austerity economic programme. These economists opine that we are all rational individuals that know what we want and act accordingly. But wait, pay heed to the wisdom of Ha-Joon Chang (p194):

“There cannot be such a thing as an individual without society”.

Contrast the ‘rational individual’ opinion with that of the philosopher Jürgen Habermas who suggests that the press feed us celebrity gossip and we behave as “mindless consumers”. The quest to be in fashion, regardless, that garment suits or not. The insistence, almost, of only wearing a designer item and having the name brazen across the garment. Leaves me in little doubt, I’m with Habermas!  www.britannica.com/biography/Jurgen-Habermas

Consider also the opinion of John Stuart Mill, “One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam engine has no character.” Sandel (p51)

The Santa Clara University adopts a stance that the common good is unattainable because it’s in direct conflict with a pluralist society. And that a pluralist outlook is more in tune with our individualistic approach to life. Pluralism suggests that interest groups counter each other and thus create a political balance. I dealt with this issue on my previous post Europe: Moving Politically Right by quoting Francis Fukuyama that powerful interest groups with substantial funds seriously undermine democracy. www.scu.edu/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/the-common-good

Moreover, the common good and pluralism are not conflicting ideologies. One of the premier thinkers of pluralism Isaiah Berlin notes that we have to be thoughtful, listen carefully and sympathetically to the needs and wishes of others; therefore we are in the same ballpark. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism_(political_philosophy)

Furthermore, when we examine the philosophy of the neo-pluralists the political understanding is in tune with other thinkers, “the political agenda is biased towards corporate power”. This analysis gains wide support from Francis Fukuyama and others illustrates that we cannot rely solely on a balance of interests to aid democracy. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism_(political_theory)  In essence we need people power!

Jim Hightower is unequivocal: “The corporations don’t have to lobby the government any more. They are the government.” Chang (p172)

The Workers Struggle

The demise of class politics makes it more difficult, in some ways to create the environment to promote the common good. The sheer number of diverse groups with their niche political views means it’s harder to find common ground. Nonetheless, I believe it can be achieved, the philosopher John Rawls maintains that we can find, “certain general conditions that are [   ] equally to everyone’s advantage”. Sandel (p143) My list would be:

  • Free health care. An end to the slicing down of the NHS.
  • Clean Air Act. An approximate 40,000 deaths annually in UK.
  • A focus on good education for ALL.
  • Municipal community services, e.g. sports centres, swimming pools etc. What Michael Sandel (p243) refers to as the ‘infrastructure of civic life’.

This leads nicely onto the view of Karl Popper, as cited by Bryan Magee (p80)

“We must demand that unrestrained capitalism give way to economic interventionism”.

A view that finds resonance with Noam Chomsky, (p217) “…it’s ridiculous to talk about freedom in a society dominated by huge corporations”.

Building a powerful foundation for the common good would be a long term project. However, the TU movement has the wherewithal to be the standard bearer which can raise the issue of the common good, not as a political crusade but as an essential part of everyday life.

To achieve this end the TU’s would have to stand independent of the Labour Party on this specific agenda to reach as wide an audience as possible. The Labour party has not done much for the working class since 1945. The economy and what’s best for business has dominated their thinking.

A Potted History

Back in 1969 the then Prime Minister (PM) Harold Wilson tried to introduce laws to limit TU activity and hold wages down – In Place of Strife. Ironically, his plans were scuppered by James Callaghan, who ten years later would attempt something very similar when he broke the 1974 Social Contract agreement which lead to the Winter of Discontent 1979.

It proved to be a disaster for the Labour Party. Callaghan had made several errors of judgment which lead to the electoral victory of Margaret Thatcher.

Eighteen years later, and with most of the gains of 1945 privatized (A beautifully orchestrated hoodwink of the populace). In came Tony Blair, and the expectation, was that he would rescind the anti-union laws that had been enacted by Thatcher’s governments. Not a finger lifted!

www.libcom.org/history/1978-1979-winter-of-discontent

www.news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7598366.stm

The poor have gained very little from the Labour Party except for numerous platitudes. The TU’s also stand bereft, constrained by the power of the law while successive governments have allowed unrestrained capitalism. More privatization, welfare cuts and some 800,000 + zero hours contracts; the poor continue to pay for the banking crisis.

Here then, is a new recruitment drive for the TU’s; a fight for the common good. A simple programme that few could disagree with but with the powerful message that we should all gain from the wealth created. The TU’s are in a strong position to organise local and national meetings to promote the single agenda.

thVWJRZYWDHowever, if I were a member of the 1% I would not be too worried as too many high ranking Union officials are in a position to declare, ‘I’m alright Jack’. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) are trapped in their mindset, “the way we help business” in its opening blurb. The very strong Stalinist tendencies of the Left in politics suggest that they would want to dictate policy as viewed from their particular bent. www.tuc.org.uk

I revert back to Popper to put them in the picture:

“The fact that change is never going to stop renders the very notion of a blueprint for a good society nonsensical,” Magee (p116).

This then is the prime reason we cannot have a list of demands to suit every possible group with a political agenda. Moreover, it should not develop into a left V right shoot out at the OK corral. The common good is for the benefit of the community as a whole e.g. clean air!

“The environment is mine,” said the individual.

“And mine!” said another.

“Ours,” said their sister. It’s time we bound hands.

But first let us begin our campaign with an online petition whereby those who sign up, agree, that they will only vote for the political party that commits to enforcing the policy in the next parliament.

Colour doesn’t matter, policy does!   Power is the peoples.

Do some good – join Robin Hood.

Ha-Joon Chang      Economics: The User’s Guide.

Noam Chomsky     How the World Works.

Bryan Magee         Popper.

Michael Sandel      Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europe: Moving Politically Right?

  • Our politicians

There are fears that Europe is moving inextricably to the right in politics. The numbers voting for the parties of the right has grown. Nationalism and an increase in xenophobic

If only it was about food waste.

attacks have prompted scaremongering.  The parties of the left in politics are equally loud in protest and actions. The increase of extremism can be laid squarely at the door of politicians; they will not admit it but their poor management has brought us to this juncture.

America is also witnessing a political phenomenon. And this is where our story begins. The decision of the American administrations of Reagan, Bush and Clinton to deregulate the financial system led us directly to the banking crisis of 2008. The repeal of the 1933 Glass – Steagall Act which brought regulation to the banking sector after the great crash of 1929, lead the way. Suzanne McGee (p269). The crisis of 2008 still has us in the doldrums. Thank-you cowboy Ron!

In Europe the crisis was handled badly, made worse by our political leaders. Joseph Stiglitz (pxxv) Greece had been allowed to spend aided by Goldman Sachs bank until the bubble burst. The EU refused to bail Greece out and instead insisted that the country go cap in hand to the IMF. A political farce ensued, Dani Rodrik (p218). Panic engulfed the EU caused by political ineptitude particularly on the part of Germany.

Greece was forced to pass laws on cutting its health service, on trade union rights including collective bargaining and to cut the minimum wage to secure a bail out. Austerity, austerity the catchphrase of the neo-liberal economists had taken hold. Prune back, was the rallying call, in order to pay your debts. Believing in the ‘confidence fairy’, Paul Krugman (p200) e.g. make the markets believe that you are not being profligate and they will continue to invest. Mm, the very people who caused the crash!

Prune, hack, slice; wages, jobs, the welfare state. Prune, hack, slice, the debt man’s at the gate. That was the basic spin from our politicians. Somehow the economic mire we found ourselves in was the fault of the workers and the poor. A telling analysis of the absurdity of such a political logic is given by Krugman (p200)

“The trouble with the current situation, [2012] insisting on perpetuating suffering [austerity] isn’t the grown-up, mature thing to do. It’s both childish (…) and destructive”.

We can add the voice of Stiglitz (p76) to that analysis:

“The irony is that in the crisis that finance brings about, workers and small businesses bear the brunt of the costs”.

Income inequality has been rising since the 1980s. Ha-Joon Chang (p333). The trend is acknowledged by many economists. The trend was marked in the USA and UK who have followed the neo-liberal economic school of thinking — austerity. Thus over a sustained period ordinary people have witnessed a decline in their living standards and the failure of politicians to protect their well-being.

Dissatisfaction has been brewing, the kettle is not yet boiled, but. Wages depressed, jobs scarce at the lower end of the market, the economic crisis not yet resolved, forced cultural change with growing concerns over migration / immigration. A very large section of society is concerned by the onslaught of politically correct doctrine and worry about their culture and way of life. The negative response of politicians has many feeling that their voice is irrelevant.

In the midst of this cacophony the politicians in the UK gave themselves a pay rise. The gulf has just got wider!

The sustained barrage of political correct idioms to be learned coupled by the demeaning labels: racist, bigot, NIMBY, old and backward etc. etc. etc. leaves many feeling they are being brainwashed by New Stalinists. Having to mind your P’s and Q’s every time you speak, support their interpretation of events. Perception is everything!

A note of caution from Howard Gardner the eminent Harvard psychologist (p51);

“…emotion is often a more powerful factor in influencing our behaviour than logic”. He suggests that there are: “…more neural connections going from the limbic emotional centre to the intellectual cortex”.

With the establishment of Sharia courts in the UK and the seemingly endless mention of the rights of minorities tends to suggest that the needs of the majority have already been met. This does nothing to broker acceptance or respect. Frustration and anger builds!

On and on the assault comes with an absence of someone to turn too. No political outlet because all the recognised parties are seen to be in cahoots. There is tiredness with interest groups hogging the limelight and achieving their demands. Politicians have forgotten the wisdom of Edmund Burke: cited in Charles Handy (p103)

“ Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate clink, while thousands of cattle, repose beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field,…”

The real danger of the present situation is that the dissatisfaction with the establishment becomes ingrained. It could make a good Shakespearian play:         Macbeth Act 1V sc.1

“Double, double toil and trouble,

Fire, burn; and, cauldron, bubble.

No surprise that the electorate, middle-left and middle-right scour the horizon for an escape route. The far-right too has quickly recognised an avenue to explore and found many alienated folk standing on the roadside.

 Germany            –              NPD (neo-Nazi???)

France                  –              National Front

Austria                  –              Freedom Party

Netherlands       –              Dutch People’s Party

Sweden              –              Sweden Democrats

Finland                 –              Finns

The list could go on but the point is made.

Much of the anger at this time is generated by the migrant crisis and once again political ineptitude rears its ugly head. However, many of the parties of the far-right are also opposed to the EU – the mammoth without ears. Some of these hard-line groups have secured up to 30% of the popular vote and together hold an approximately 33% of the seats in the European Parliament. Amazing!

www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/05/26/

The crucial point here is that they don’t want to reform the EU. They want to kill it off.

In the UK voters floundered in various directions, some finding solace with Ukip, but the electoral system (first past the post) dented their enthusiasm; 4 million votes but no parliamentary seats. Others took revenge on the Liberal and Labour parties leaving the Tories with a strong hand.

In the USA the republican right are being trounced by Trump, whilst the democrats have found an alternative voice in Bernie Sanders. Why?

The story unfolds with a Sky news correspondent Tuesday March 1 2016. A question of why a woman was voting for Bernie Sanders brought an illuminating response: she said it was not about Bernie but the doors his campaign opened to a wider discussion of many important topics.

Here an articulate, grey hair, voice of reason is seeking an explanation for her feeling of alienation from political life. Her voice is echoed in multiplies of millions around the globe. For decades the political class has ambled on impervious to ordinary folk and disparaging of their concerns. They had been emboldened by the lack of an opposition.

Floundering in the political mire, ordinary Joe felt powerless. Their only source of power they believed was their vote, but all the recognised parties were proving to be equally crap. Along came the extremes and sat down beside them and brushed their powerlessness away.

I can hear echoes of Caliban:      The Tempest   scene 2 187 – 195

No more dams I’ll make for fish,

Nor fetch in firing

At requiring,

Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash a dish.

‘Ban, ‘Ban, Ca—Caliban

Has a new master. Get a new man!

Freedom, high day! High day, freedom! Freedom, high day, freedom!

 

It seems that the political class are akin to an oil tanker, nice and steady when crossing the Atlantic Ocean but slow and in need of a lot of space when it has to turn. It has to turn.

Are we adrift?

Not quite but we are getting there. There is a growing feeling of unfairness out there in the world. Fairness is a powerful psychological trait. It is so strong that it can dictate people’s thinking, tied, perhaps rigidly, to a person’s emotion.

There is a sense of tiredness with the grab society; the, me, me, me philosophy of some. And with the flashy, look at my wealth occultists.

Charles Handy (p198) puts it well, “…it is ultimately not tolerable for the many poor to live beside the fewer rich”. Jealousy? No, disgust! During the so called ‘Golden Age’ of the 50s, 60s, 70s, everyone seemed to share in the prosperity created. Since the 80s times have changed.

The trickle-down effect

Many of the working class accepted the ‘spin’ of government that by cutting taxes for the rich this money would be used to create more employment hence the new wealth would ‘trickle down’. A similar ‘spin’ is given to corporate tax reductions. This view was entrenched until, “…in the face of considerable evidence that it is untrue”. Fukuyama (p465) Further evidence can be found in: Chang (p451), Stiglitz (pp 8, 78), Rodrik (p165) and Krugman (p84).

Quid pro quo

The rich and our politicians appear more focussed on feathering their own nests than being responsible leaders. The concept of clientelism: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, is very much alive in the corridors of power.

In the UK members of parliament (MPs) were able to employ their wife and offspring at the expense of the tax payer. The expenses scandal of recent years is still haunting some of them. Others have been caught doing dodgy deals.

In America clientelism is all but a business whereby interest groups give generously to a politician’s campaign for election and in return gain influence in the corridors of power. Fukuyama (p87) suggests it undermines democracy because it “…strengthens existing elites and blocks democratic accountability”.

Therefore we can see why the people feel alienated from the political system. The feeling of powerlessness is not a fleeting will-o-the-wisp experience. As Ha-Joon Chang (p106) points out, austerity governments in the Netherlands, France, and Greece were voted out in 2012 followed by Italy in 2013. It made no difference; the austerity package of the EU was nonetheless imposed.

Meanwhile, in the UK the conservative government is busy cutting away at areas of the state in the name of efficiency. Slice by slice it is cutting into the National Health Service (NHS).

Perhaps politicians should take note of the wisdom of Fukuyama (p532)

“When governments cease being accountable, they invite passive noncompliance, protest, violence, and in extreme cases, revolution”.

Abuse of power

A further hard hitting policy is the raising of the retirement age in the UK. Women had their retirement age raised from 60 to 65 in line with men. Now everyone has to put in several more years before they can escape the workhouse. The ‘spin’ by the government is that as a result of people living longer the pension bill will be much higher and needs to be offset by people working for longer.

Some women will have had their work life extended by up to 10 years. How much is the government saving by that little manoeuver??

The true implication is that successive governments have sanctimoniously mismanaged the economy. For 50 years many have paid income tax and national insurance tax and god knows how many other taxes and now when retirement looms they are a burden. Shame!!

This is an abuse of power as it leaves large numbers of people feeling anxiety and guilt. It only affects the workers as the better off have the means and can decide when they want to retire. No such luxury for the less well off.

Thus we have the rise of the Tea Party in America and Donald Trump viewed as a saviour. In Europe the rise of the far-right and extreme left. In the UK we have Ukip on the centre right whilst the far-left are still sucking their dummies and waiting for the resurrection of Trotsky.

A few more words of wisdom for our shamelessly needy politicians – from the 17th century

“…government should benefit the people, not those in power”. Wang Fuzhi       www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Fuzhi

Karl Popper adds his voice: we need an open society; “…in which the political institutions can be changed by the governed”.

Do some good join Robin Hood!

 

Suzanne McGee                               Chasing Goldman Sachs

Joseph Stiglitz                    The Price of Inequality

Dani Rodrik                         The Globalization Paradox

Paul Krugman                    End This Depression Now

Howard Gardener           Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice

Ha-Joon Chang                  Economics: The User’s Guide

Charles Handy                   The Hungry Spirit

Francis Fukuyama            Political Order and Political Decay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europe: No Highs.

 

Unity???

Unity???

As we spiral towards a referendum in June 2016 watch out for the spin of verbosity. It’s butter-up time at the polls. You will be near deafened by the bald tales from either side. Who has the correct answer about Europe, the stay- put brigade or the opt- out gang?

It should be obvious that big business, multinationals will favour the UK remaining in the embrace of the EU. It serves their business purpose. If Europe did not meet their needs they would be seen leading the charge to leave.

We are bound to hear stories of dire consequences, for jobs, livelihoods and a whole

Talking EU

Talking EU

gambit of other ghouls that awaits us if we depart. There will be ghosts in every unlocked cupboard which will become increasingly terrifying as we get closer to election day.

Nationalism will be bandied around like a worn tennis ball. Only Putin will be happy if we leave! However, an exit will not affect the sanctions that the EU has imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. It will not affect policy on Syria. It’s all a smokescreen to remind the older voter of the Cold War.

Cameron’s position is weak because he gained only crumbs from the EU table. Did he expect anything else? Time will show that the ‘gains’ are meaningless. His cause has only brought about a poorly constructed but definite political grave.

There was no mention of structural change because it would not have reached the table for discussion. No matter that the time frame was too tight, with insufficient space for major issues to be studied and debated. Why the rush? He locked himself in a cupboard by advocating a referendum and, viewing public opinion knew he had to put his skates on.

Being kind I would say that the rush to the polls was bad advice from his advisors. If real change had been on Cameron’s agenda he would have taken his time; we have until 2020 to get a response. So why didn’t we ask for more? The answer is sky- blue; he knew it would not be negotiable.

Look closely at what the Prime Minister brought home and this tells us that the EU has no intention to change. We can have a few crumbs if we close the door behind us and shut up. The electorate has been played, duped and now we need to be herded quickly before we understand.

The EU can only survive with fundamental structural reform. It has been floundering since conception. The euro was another massive mistake. Europe is still recovering from the 2008 banking crisis; it will take several more years to swim clear.

thGUA278IXA lack of an audit and the continual escalation of spend is a sky-blue indication that the whole bureaucratic system has no direction and no leadership. It is a growing giant of an octopus. It will fail and the cost of life support will be huge.

Many leading economists had grave reservations about the introduction of the euro and misgivings about its future. Paul Krugman describes it as Europe’s big delusion (pp177-187) and a mistake from the beginning (p168) Krugman argues that it lacked a central focus such as the US Federal Reserve or the Bank of England. The European Central Bank (ECB) basically followed German thinking.

He illustrates how the euro and the ECB directly affected the countries of: Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Greece driving them deeper into recession. The policy of austerity was foisted on them. It would take seven (7) years before the ECB accepted quantitative easing (printing money to buy debt) and poured 3.2bn euros to support them.

Joseph Stiglitz another Nobel Prize winning economist lays austerity bare when he states,”…there has been almost no instances of countries that have recovered from a crisis through austerity”. (pxxv) Dani Rodrik yet another top economist has much to say on the experience of Argentina and its austerity programme. (Chapter 9 pp184-206) It was a disaster!

In essence the EU has caused many of its own problems rushing forward politically without thought of consequence. It is plagued by indecision and a thought process which operates on the basis of – what’s in it for me- (WIIFM)

The EU apparatus is divorced from the citizenry. The people don’t matter. The WIIFM syndrome is illustrative of its political absurdity. There is no unity of purpose, only agendas. Rodrik (p215) is scathing, “European Parliament operates mostly as a talking shop rather than as a source of legislative initiative or oversight”.

Such being the case gives lobbyists an open door. Francis Fukuyama (pp501-502) points to a quirk, he terms ‘jurisdiction-shop’. It works on the basis that if unsuccessful at their national level lobbyists simply pack their briefcase and head for Brussels. He cites the work of political scientist Christine Mahoney who suggests that ‘outside groups’ those seeking social change have ‘significantly less access to European Institutions’.

To further illustrate the lack of unity Rodrik (p218) is unequivocal when he says that when the EU comes under stress ‘the responses are overwhelmingly national’. The migrant crisis we are presently experiencing is a sky-blue example of such a scenario.

Europe is not for turning!! Unless it is prepared to, we must jump ship!!

 

  • Paul Krugman    End This Depression Now!
  • Joseph Stiglitz    The Price of Inequality.
  • Dani Rodrik         The Globalization Paradox
  • Francis Fukuyama            Political Order and Political Decay

Affirmative Action: A Dodo in the Nest

Banksy

Banksy

Affirmative action was introduced in the USA in the 1960s in an attempt to address previous discrimination. To this day it is a very controversial topic with clear political divisions. Arguments range from the common good to forcing some to accept the sins of the father.

It is an emotive subject which brings bias bursting out as a good kick at a wasps nest might do. Was it a purely political decision to calm and contain the fervour of the period, with the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement?  If that is the case then the opposition can claim it had an inherent bias. Others will argue that the Kennedy period was a progressive one.

An important question arises as to whether we can ever right the wrongs of the past. America was a politically divided society then and, things ain’t changed much. Bryan Magee suggests an answer, “[I]f all individuals have equal moral claims it is wrong to sacrifice one generation to the next.”1

However, Noam Chomsky takes a different view when he states that anyone opposing affirmative action is accepting the ‘oppressive’ and ‘discriminatory’ measures of the past. He is 100% wrong! He himself hints at problems when he says “…you find plenty of things to criticize.” 2

A very important point is raised by Chomsky that affirmative action should not, “…harm poor people who don’t happen to be in the categories designated for support.” (p211) That’s probably most of the poorest in society.

The issue of poverty is raised by Michael Sandel when he cites the case of Cheryl Hopwood. 3 This was a young woman raised by a single parent who worked her way through the education system. She gained the appropriate grades and applied to the Texas Law School. Her application was turned down. It emerged that students from minority backgrounds with less impressive scores all gained entrance. Hopwood who is white thought her rejection was unfair; she took the university to court. She lost.

The university won its case by citing its affirmative action policy which committed it to accepting about 15% of entrants from a minority background. A quota? At the time African Americans and Mexican Americans accounted for about 40% of the population of Texas.

That the law sanctioned affirmative action does not by itself make it logical or just. A legal mind is also subject to a political outlook; hence each elected president attempts to have the Supreme Court at least balanced if not skewed in their favour. Political bias can sway the greatest minds e.g. Plato – closed society and Aristotle – slavery.

And so it would seem with legal judgements on affirmative action:

  • 1996 US Court of Appeals ruled that affirmative action could not be a factor on admission decisions as it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • 2003 US Supreme Court upheld that affirmative action can be applied as a mechanism by a vote of 5-4.
  • 2014 US Supreme Court ruled that voters can prohibit affirmative action in public universities by 6 – 2.

It might just be me but I detect some political bias at play in these decisions or am I just being politically biased.

To return to the Hopwood case, it would seem to me that she fitted the criteria that the system should not ‘harm poor people’ as suggested by Chomsky. I am also intrigued by the description of affirmative action by the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“In institutions of higher education affirmative action refers to admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, such as women and minorities.” 4

I suspect that that was written after the Hopwood case.

The rational of affirmative action is to create a ‘more equitable and just society for the future’ Chomsky, (p211) and to advance ‘a socially worthy aim’ Sandel (p171); who could argue with these sentiments. But is this what Popper would describe as ‘piecemeal social engineering’ (PSE)? Magee (107) And can PSE be justified on any grounds, some may consider it a close relative to fascism. This may seem rather strong but can manipulation ever be justified.

In recent years countries of Europe have taken a different stance: the UK has a clear policy that any discrimination, quotas, or favouritism is illegal. Sweden passed a law in 2012 that says that all students must face the same requirements for entry. 5 This draws us back to the view of Popper and Magee.

A more equitable society would doubtless benefit everyone. However, in implementing affirmative action was it the hope or intention that the minority candidates would emerge to become ambassadors for their ethnic body.

An alternative view would be that they take the money and run. Will they remain in the

Need we say more?

Need we say more?

neighbourhood – unlikely? If successful are they more likely to move to a nice suburb and join the country club – likely, if they have a wad of dollars. A further alternative view is that Hopwood being female and from a modest background would also understand the concept of barriers and may have become a better, stronger advocate of human rights than her minority counterparts.

Perhaps, all along, the plan was to build a middle class of the minority population and thereby secure the future of the system. A new Praetorian Guard? The World Values Survey study by Ronald Inglehart, suggests that the middle class and working class tend to drift apart on most issues. 6

The drift between the classes is no doubt due in part to income differentials, the gap is growing wider and this gets reflected in the social and educational environment. Which basically means that the poor get crapped on from on high. As a society we are pulling apart and as we do so tension grows. Not just between the rich and poor but also in ethnic terms, it’s the old survival syndrome.

When positing the idea that America could become a color-free country Chomsky sadly admits, “I don’t think it’s going to happen”. (p122) The question is why not? There is no political will to rock the boat of the capitalist system. Politicians may do a lot of tinkering but never advocate a serious shift away from the super rich. Politicians are dominated by the theory of the market but perhaps Ha-Joon Chang can open up a new avenue for exploration:

“The economy is much bigger than the market. We will not be able to build a good economy – or a good society – unless we look at the vast expanse beyond the market” 7

We don’t need the overthrow of the system just a better use of the available resources. Joseph Stiglitz highlights one glaring example of where progress can be made when writing about university entrance “Only around 9% come from the bottom half of the population, while 74% come from the top quarter”. 8 Francis Fukuyama also suggests that education is a key to the future. (p451)

Many writers point to the uncertainty that grows with the gap in inequality. In the long-term democracy may be in danger. Thus making politicians more accountable and responsive to the electorate is crucial for the health of a nation.

The new media, the net and social media can play a significant role in opening a discussion with ordinary Joe. A blog that addresses serious issues in a language that all can access may promote greater participation. This would be enhanced by powerful names being associated with the writing. It may generate an army of opposition but then you know it’s working.

Common good thinkers must come from behind their intellectual retreat and reach out to the citizenry. Otherwise they might wither behind their curtain with their frustration, pipe and slippers.

Do some good join Robin Hood!

  1. Popper Bryan Magee (p103) + (107)
  2. How the World Works (p212) + (122)
  3. Justice What’s the Right Thing to Do? Michael J. Sandel (p167) + (p171)
  4. www.ncsl.org/research/
  5. www.en.m.wikipedia.org
  6. Political Order and Political Decay Francis Fukuyama (p 441) + (451)
  7. Economics: The User’s Guide Ha-Joon Chang (p456)
  8. The Price of Inequality Joseph E. Stiglitz (p24)
  9. www.upoak.com

 

Taming the Beast (5)

Democracy in Peril!

th[3]There is fear in the air, a fear that Europe is about to be sold off to American multinationals via TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Concern has arisen because of a lack of information and of consultation by the EU Commission. Secrecy breeds doubt and scepticism. It allows a host of posits to be formulated and truth becomes the preserve of the speaker. Trust in the government system has been damaged by the Commission.

It is not simply the usual activists bawling their voices hoarse. The number demanding

If only it was about food waste.

assurances is considerable. The bbc1 report a huge demonstration in Berlin with over 100,000 in attendance. Demonstrations also took place in Madrid and other centres, caused by the ‘confidential talks’ that were taking place.

According to waronwant2 an online petition had already secured over 3.3 million signatories Europe-wide. War on Want point to several areas which may be under threat from TTIP: social standards, environmental regulation, labour rights, food safety and an opening up of the public sector to privatisation.

A further challenge comes from German small and medium enterprises (SME). This new group of business people have reservations about how TTIP will affect their livelihoods. They accuse the Commission, “The EU delegation has already caved in, weakening the standards associated with the carcinogenic Captan pesticide”.3   (Apparently it makes fruit look pretty4/5). The group are organising nationwide events to raise public awareness and are hopeful of adding another 5,000 businesses to their growing membership.

Anxiety is further heightened by a report in theguardian6. It notes that several documents from the EU dealing with correspondence between the Commission and oil companies were “heavily redacted”. Also, that detail of meetings with ExxonMobil and General Electric were “withheld entirely”.

Moreover, Lee Williams writing in the Independent newspaper voices7  endorses the analysis of War on Want but adds that most of the available information has come from leaked documents or freedom of information requests.

thHDQGIV03He brings our attention to ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlements) which many view as a direct threat to democracy. The case of the Swedish company Vattenfall is cited as they pursue the German government in court for reducing spending on their nuclear power generation. Williams suggests that there are some 500 such cases around the globe.

The article goes on to list a number of concerns with the trade talks. In particular, that th5GR2D1P370% of processed food in America uses GMO (Genetically modified organisms). The use of growth hormones in cattle while widespread in America is restricted in Europe. It is an obvious no-brainer that US businesses will insist on expanding this trade in Europe. The EU has virtually no GMO!

Furthermore, while Europe bans 1,200 substances from cosmetics the US only bans 12. Can we realistically keep our doors firmly locked against these products?

thABKKZDBBHowever, the area which caught my attention was the REACH regulations of the EU. These stipulate that goods must be proven to be safe before use. But, in America use is permitted until proven unsafe. Hands up if you want to be a guinea pig!

Another critical worry is that of data protection. According to opendemocracy8 the European Court of Justice has ruled that the US is not allowed to collect data about EU citizens. However, the article suggests there is “strong evidence” that Google, Facebook, IBM and Hewlett-Packard are lobbying intensely for a relaxation of the ruling. As you may have guessed, America does not have strong data protection.

The Empire Strikes Back

Cecila Malmstrom the EU Trade Commissioner has come back at the critics determinedly. She gives 10 straight No’s to: privatisation, treated beef, food safety and a categorical NO to a reduction in standards describing them as myths9.

In the UK we can already witness creeping privatisation in education and of the NHS. There’s a little procedure in the NHS which allows patients to make a choice of hospital, it’s called ‘choose and book’. It seems a minor intrusion but is a Trojan horse of massive proportions. There is an estimated 1250 private hospitals in the UK and expanding quickly.

The Commissioner claims that the negotiations are as open as possible. The phrase ‘as possible’ is a money sign to a lawyer and a credible doubt to a member of the public. It is well documented that MEPs had to seek permission to read some documents in a closed environment. This restriction has recently been lifted.

Furthermore, the evidence of the Guardian, the Independent, Open Democracy and SME of Germany tends to shed a different light on proceedings. Therefore peoples’ disquiet cannot simply be dismissed. In the latest draft the Commission has made a concession to include better access to information for small and medium companies after severe criticism from SME.

The Commission’s submission on trade and sustainable development, a whole chapter, states that there will be no relaxation on the EU’s present laws and commitments. That it will maintain all regulation based on ILO (International Labour Organisation) Decent Work Agenda. That such a commitment is not negotiable. But, in the small print the Commissioner accepts that the US and EU have different strategies on labour and environment and it may come down to legal interpretation.

We should also consider the view of America’s trade unions that recognise that Europe has much higher standards and warns:

“…U.S. – EU agreement must not be used as a tool to deregulate or drive down these higher standards. If that is the goal, working families of both regions will pay the price.”10

Perhaps the greater concern is ISDS, reassigned by the Commission as ICS (Investment Court System). The whole concept of a court deciding and/or overriding the democratic rights of the electorate leaves me cold.

Cecila Malmstrom believes she has tightened the legal framework by insisting on qualified judges and a guarantee of an appeal. Her proposal will ‘enshrine’ a government’s right to regulate.

There are several issues with this court. It reads like a massive money spinner for legal teams. Interpretation of the law will become critical to any judgement and could be determined by the political bias of the legal mind.

If government can regulate (enshrined) and thus change the law to suit, will this not make the court null and void. When a company decides to challenge a national decision, must the court rule on existing law or EU law? Is there any possibility to introduce retrospective legislation? Or are we all aboard the EU ship?

There are doubts by the boat load. Minor and major concerns and a lack of detail about the process sees these concerns grow deeper.

thKF8B2C69The Commission are undertaking a charm offensive but the damage has been done; trust in the integrity and the ethics of the deal has soured many minds. There is no doubt the deal is about profit not people.

References:

  1. www.bbc.co.uk/new/world-europe-34807494
  2. www.waronwant.org/What-ttip
  3. www.euractiv.com/sections/trade-society/smes-want-ttip-rethink-319822
  4. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captan
  5. 5. sitem.herts.ac.uk/aeru/ppdb/en/Reports
  6. 6. theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/26/ttip
  7. 7. independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html
  8. www.opendemocracy.net
  9. www.ec.europa.ea/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip

www.trade.ec.europa.ea/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1364      also 1396 + 1393

www.bookshop.europa.eu/en/the-top-10-myths-about-ttip-pbNG0614128/

  1. www.aflcio.org/issues/Trade/U.S.-Free-Trade-Agreement-TTIP

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Taming the Beast (4)

On the Road to Human Progress

Can it be achieved? Yes! However, there has to be a clear recognition and understanding of the forces opposed to any proposed change. They will not go gently into that goodnight, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas. The road to human progress takes strong legs and a stout heart. There has to be a clear-sighted commitment to an agreed agenda.

One challenge will be to overcome the persistent onslaught of propaganda, marketed by specialist teams whose role it is to manipulate our thinking. An inundation from sections of the media will stir the emotions of many and leave others perplexed. This can only be overcome by a consistent voice hammering the same points in innovative ways. Think Banksy!

History supports the idea of a successful economy for the majority. The period 1945 – 1973 is considered the Golden Age of capitalism as economist Ha-Joon Chang points out,

“The Golden Age shows that capitalism’s potential can be maximized when it is properly regulated and stimulated by appropriate government actions”. Economics: The User’s Guide (p87)

A supportive view is expounded by the economist Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox (p22)

“Every well-functioning market economy blends state and market, laissez-faire and intervention”.

And in an earlier point:

“Markets are most developed and most effective in generating wealth when they are backed by solid governmental institutions”. (p16)

Government therefore plays a crucial role in the economic well-being of a nation but have to be aware, as Ha-Joon Chang maintains:

“The economy is much bigger than the market. We will not be able to build a good economy – or a good society – unless we look at the vast expanse beyond the market”. (p456)

It is unfortunate but at present we are tied to the austerity programme of the neo-classical economists. To them the market is the great breadwinner and should be allowed to bluster its way ahead. Of course, the market keeps stumbling and falling over and it’s the ordinary Joe that has to pay the cost of getting it back on its feet.

The neo-classical economist do not allow for the ‘cartel’ or the monopolies that develop. They cannot add to their equation the underhandedness of some players who corrupt the market in the name of profit. Nor can they equate the ruthlessness or heartlessness that the system throws up. Their only response is that the market will right itself eventually.

Millions are still waiting for the market to improve since its man-made catastrophe in 2008. The lifting and the shoring up of the market have come from government using the taxes of the people. And still we find further illegal double-dealing such as Libor in the banking sector and the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

Banksy

Banksy

The market could not have righted itself without the direct intervention of government. Government saved the day! The ordinary Joe paid with their taxes. They paid with their livelihoods; many losing their jobs. The great crash came like a tsunami through the everyday lives of millions of ordinary people. Their wages slashed, their working conditions trashed in an effort to save the market!

Lives ruined and small businesses destroyed. Then they have the audacity to expect all hands to the pump!

Henry Scott Tuke

Henry Scott Tuke

Unregulated the market fed the greed of the few. The thoughtless scramble for the quick buck, the maximization of the bottom-line, the end of year bonus, and the ultimate ME factor. The market has had its day, government must take control and regulate.

However, no government can withstand the buccaneer capitalists on its own. That is why the idea of the EU is a good one, pity it has become a burden. The EU needs to be remodelled. The bureaucracy has become a self-serving yoke dragging the whole of Europe into the deep. The bureaucracy needs to be democratized with a flag that reads transparency.

thUZ27UX9OThe people have to have trust in the leadership of the EU. The peoples trust may have been shattered by the failure to tackle Volkswagen over the car emissions. When money talks – democracy walks. Politicians should resign over their failure! Transparency, accountability generates trust; politicians must earn it!

In writing about the crash of 2008, Susanne McGee Chasing Goldman Sachs warns in a tagline:

HOW THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE MELTED WALL STREET DOWN … AND WHY THEY’LL TAKE US TO THE BRINK AGAIN.