Europe: Death Throes


Europe is at a crossroads and its survival may depend on the route taken. It is very clear that large numbers of ordinary folk have fallen out with the concept of ever closer integration, and with mass migration. Multinational companies are advocates of the EU, according to the analysis of focus-economics.com. This body paints a bright picture of vibrant colours for the immediate future of the Eurozone.
While the few, (big boys) find it exhilarating, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the poor throughout the EU fear the dark and unappealing clouds. Who is right and why the divergence of opinion?
Since the crash of 2008 not a lot has changed for the poor. Unemployment remains persistently high at around 11% for the Eurozone as a whole. The only country doing well is Germany with the lowest unemployment rate in 25 years.  www.focus-economics.com/germany
In contrast France has seen its unemployed rate rise above 10% as recently as December 2016. In Italy it’s almost 12%. In Spain youth unemployment is a persistent 24%. As the economist.com points out, there is “…high unemployment almost everywhere.” (October 2016).
Therein lies a major problem and to compound it we have the arrival of significant numbers of migrants. The figures vary, according to Frontex the EU border agency 1.8m came to Europe in 2015 with an estimated further one (1) million illegal entrants. Significant numbers continue to arrive. It really doesn’t matter whether you think it is a good idea, the humanitarian thing to do, or not. The crucial point stems from the impact. And the impact has proven seriously negative for the poor.
In highlighting the negative we need only look at the UK and that 73% of local councils take few, while councils in the most affluent areas take no migrants. Whereas, places like Boston in Lincolnshire has witnessed a huge influx. In consequence 72% of the electorate voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum of June 2016. Thus the burden of coping with migration has been firmly placed in areas with a high concentration of working class people. A class issue?
It is slowly being accepted that such an influx of numbers has a direct effect on: housing, rented accommodation and the cost of rent, school places, dentists, doctors’ appointments and the NHS especially the accident and emergency (A&E) departments. The same difficulties are not a part of daily life for those who castigate the poor for stating the obvious.
Therefore, it is the poor who carry the burden of migration. The well-off and the political elite berate the poor for moaning, and are unconcerned by the growing frustration and mounting anger of the people. As a means of demeaning and controlling any outbursts from the lower classes the establishment and their luvvie bedfellows demonize them as: ‘ignorant, uneducated, stupid or racist’ as experienced by Lord King, former governor of the Bank of England. (Daily Mail 2017/02/10)
A blind adherence to their prescribed agenda by the political class and their groupie acolytes has served only to alienate millions of voters. The consequence is now obvious.
Similar patterns are to be found throughout Europe. In Germany the altruism of Angela Merkel and her subsequent rise to fame has waned considerably. When the emotional high withers the harsh reality, the practical everyday environment comes to the fore. Germany was magnanimous but the rise of opposition has increased steadily. The AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) has been growing and estimates that it can now command roughly 25% to 30% of the electorate with an anti EU policy.
Now the Social Democratic Party (SPD) with their new leader Martin Schulz ex EU President, think they can muster a campaign. The youth movement of the party JuSos are filled by enthusiasm and think they could actually steal the election in September. www.theguardian.com/      15/02/2017
However, there are more fundamental consequences as many of the migrants are now feeling trapped in camps. Thousands complain that they cannot find work and their frustration and anger grows. Those who find work are usually a source of cheap labour paid below the minimum wage. Illegal workers are simply used and abused.
Nonetheless, the true horror comes from the sheer number of single male migrants, hundreds of thousands who have needs beyond that of shelter and food. Existing brothels will not cope with the increased need and so the void is likely filled by people traffickers to help satiate the overload. In consequence, thousands of women and children will be brought in and forced to meet the demand.
The sanctimonious will continue to berate their opposition with their abusive language and remain immune to the tragedy behind the closed doors. I’ve met their friends who accompany them everywhere they go:  see no evil – hear no evil – speak no evil! It’s unfortunate but reality cannot by itself break down a fixed ideology.
Throughout Europe there is fallout from the high unemployment, the migrant crisis and the deafness of the political class. In Sweden, once considered the hallmark of social democrat achievement has fallen foul to these undercurrents. In the city of Malmo the local police have asked for national assistance to combat the steep rise in crime.
One area particularly affected is the district of Rosengard which has an 80% migrant population but less than 40% of the total population have a job. A growth in social unrest, gang warfare and multi-ethnic violence has led to eleven (11) murders, 80 attempted murders and a spate of shootings, arson attacks and bombings. Little wonder that the local guys want additional help. (Reuters)
Si se puede
Meanwhile, a Spanish member of the EU parliament (MEP), Javier Lopez has written a piece on the ‘defense of democracy’. By democracy he means the maintenance of the existing order as he abhors the “bigoted populist movements”. Along social democratic lines he is calling for the reconstruction of the EU to incorporate a fiscal branch, harmonization of taxes, a minimum income throughout the Eurozone and better public services.
Lopez believes such a programme will curtail the build-up of populism. However, his ideas will necessitate closer integration which is the opposite of what many of the new parties in the EU want. Also, the Guardian newspaper, (theguardian.com October 2014) points to political scandals and corruption as prime reasons for the existing political parties losing ground.
In his homeland of Spain, has seen the rise of Podemos (We Can) founded in March 2014 and now the second largest party in Spain with a membership of 456,000 as of April 2016. It is also the third (3rd) largest group in the Spanish parliament. The party is a strong left leaning organisation that wants an end to austerity and changes to the Treaty of Lisbon. But to Lopez’s logic all members of Podemos and all those who voted for them are ‘bigoted populists’. Unfortunately for Lopez the motto of Podemos is – se si puede – Yes We Can!
www.socialeurope.eu/2016/12/europe-globalization-unrest
Of course all eyes are on Greece at this time and whether it can meet its debt repayment plan. There is little understanding from the ‘powers’ in Brussels of the political reality in Greece. The parties that once held sway, PASOK, centre left and New Democracy could look forward to 70% – 85% of the vote at elections.
Such numbers create a self-assuredness and in consequence a relaxed approach to the everyday needs of the electorate. The vote for PASOK has fallen to 5% at points and their joint vote to 31% at the May election of 2014. It is difficult to understand how such a change can go unheeded by the Brussels politburo.
The Greek economy has fallen by 25% which is equivalent to the 1929 crash in America. The country is on its third (3rd) bailout with the forth due soon. In the summer it has a debt of €7.5bn to repay before receiving its next tranche.
There is now an open rift between the IMF (International Monetary Fund)) and the ECB (European Central Bank) over how Greece should be bailed out. The debt problem of 184% of GDP which equals some €350bn means it will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pay off any of its debt. The IMF says the debt is ‘unsustainable’.
If Greece had a vibrant economy it could possibly reschedule its debts. However, the country is still in the doldrums; high unemployment, poor investment levels, poor productivity and the fact that the people don’t have a lot to spend means it’s between a rock and a hard place.
Hence the IMF wants the next bailout package to include some debt relief. But, the ECB want more austerity and are really none too happy that the Prime Minister Tsipras gave a Christmas bonus to pensioners and free school meals to children of the poor.
Now you’re aware of the priorities of the ECB and the German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Of course they may argue that the poor in Greece will be better off in the longer term but that don’t help when you’re hungry now. And that don’t help if you’re a political party trying to stay in power. And that don’t help unless it’s a stone cast guarantee!
www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2017/feb/05/                   (A good read.)
BBC Business News 2017/02/15
Poor Greece (literally as well as metaphorically) has suffered years of austerity. And while other nations get a boost from retail sales Greece doesn’t have that luxury. Instead it is under pressure to cut pensions again which would be the thirteenth (13th) time. Unlucky for some – no pun intended. Therefore the Greek debt problem is a headache and perhaps, that’s why the German newspaper Bild has suggested that the German government would welcome Greece leaving the EU.
www.marketwatch.com   www.taieitimes.com/news/editorials/  (2017/02/06)
According to the economist Paul Krugman forcing Greece to suffer austerity which comes with every deal, “…it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.”
https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/killing-the-european-project/?_r=0
CIAO Italy? (chow)
Another nightmare stirring in the background readying to wake the dead is Italy. This nightmare can truly disturb the sanity of the EU: dozing, dozing, dozing; alarm! The banks are described as “…an inexhaustible source of financial instability”. Unemployment hovers around 12%. It has the highest inflation rate (Feb: 2017) since 2013. Public debt continues to rise and there is no sign as yet of any economic recovery.
Interestingly, none of the major rating agencies: Standard & Poor, Moody or Finch is prepared to give the country a rating. The reasoning may be because the country’s debt stands at 132.6% of GDP the second largest in the EU. Bonds sold to keep Italy afloat are not being bought by private investors but by the ECB. Aggressively!!
The Times also reports that Italy has gained little from the euro. The paper also claims that the poorer countries in the EU can’t reach their potential because of poor growth and poor investment. Such a scenario may have fed into the logic of the Mediobanca report that states that many parts of the EU are caught in a “mouse trap” and adds “Without a major restructuring of the Eurozone, there is nothing you can do under these rules”
. www.focus-economics.com/countries/italy   www.times.com/2017/02/08/business/
Business Insider in discussing the problems of the EU concludes that “Actually, a lack of reforms, slow growth, a troubled banking sector and high government debt in Italy may be a bigger risk for the Eurozone.” Than Greece! www.businessinsider.com
La France – la sortie?
France the second biggest economy of the Eurozone has many of its own problems. Unemployment is up above 10% again and tales of political corruption have been in the headlines for a number of years. Add migration and terrorist attacks and the government is under severe pressure.
Since Hollande came to power taxes have risen to an all-time high at 47.9%, the highest in Europe. The real indicator of the well-being of the country is summed up thus, “… no significant economic improvement over the past five years”.
In terms of trade France exports 17% to Germany but imports 19% from the Germans. Their deficit is also high, while debt stands at around 102% of GDP. That only leaves Germany with a positive outlook.
www.ndtv.com/world-news/   citing an article by Reuters 2016/12/04.
It doesn’t look promising as the IMF say that the euro is about 15% undervalued but their analysis suggests that based on the French economy it is 6% overvalued. This is a problem faced by all the economies of the Eurozone but that of Germany. How would the other nations fare if the euro was 15% higher? The alternative is to leave the EU and devalue or a complete overhaul of the EU.
The French election should be an interesting one, Emmanuel Macron standing as an independent is now running high on the polls aided no doubt by the corruption scandal surrounding Fillon the right-wing conservative candidate.
Unfortunately for the French workers Macron is proposing more austerity with a package that includes cutting pensions and severely restricting trade unions to operating at company level rather than across the whole industry. Maggie’s back in town!
Marine Le Pen seems the likely opponent of Macron. The National Front programme is to leave the euro and devalue. Or create bedlam along the way.
Generally, the economic picture is not one to win investment and the policy of austerity has proved a disaster, so much so that it has been abandoned by some countries. Therefore there is no common policy to deal with the desperately slow growth that hangs over the Eurozone like a huge dark and brooding cloud as far as the eye can see.
The chief European economist for Goldman Sachs Huw Pill suggests at best the EU will stumble along making small gains. However, he warns that the EU needs ‘institutional and structural’ changes to overcome the weaknesses of the block.  www.goldmansachs.com
A further nail in the coffin comes from the economist.com (October 2016) and their assessment that there are “…deep flaws in the single currency’s design.” Flaws in the currency have been known for some time through the work of J Stiglitz and Paul Krugman both Nobel Prize winning economists.
Having already bailed out Greece, Spain and Ireland; the question must be how long can this process carry on. How long before the moneymen run for the hills?
On the political front the EU is open to severe attack from several flashpoints. In Austria Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party lost the presidential election by a mere 0.6%. The latter is far-right politically as is the AfD in Germany and other such movements have sprung up in many areas of the EU.
Austria’s new chancellor Christian Kern has made it abundantly clear that he expects the Eurozone to make big changes. He at least recognises that the writing is on the wall unless the people’s wishes are given a hearing.
The Danish People’s Party has increased its vote by 50% in eight years. In the Netherlands the far-right party of Geert Wilders the PVV with its anti-EU stance could possibly win in the next election. In Italy the Five Star Movement (M5S) has gained the mayor ships of Rome and Turin and is polling nearly 30% of the electorate. www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/
Just over a year ago Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament was quoted as saying, “The worst nightmare for the European project is an outbreak of populism or political upheaval in Germany. Now it is looking like a real possibility.” He went on to say that the Schengen area is ‘buckling’. www.express.co.uk/news/world/ (2016/01/15)
Which road will the politicians take? It seems that they have run out of rope but are afraid of the consequences once their actions become apparent. A Hungarian commissioner Sandor Lederer has demanded to know why the EU Commission has not released the extensive report on corruption.
He is of the opinion that “Corruption is rampant in Europe” and that transparency should be a “…top priority at all levels of governance.” Frans Timmermans reputedly told the Civil Liberty Committee that he sees no point in releasing the document. Hmm, interesting!
www.euractive.com/section/justice-home-affairs/opinions
Corruption stories keep coming up all over the continent and yet there are no sackings, no heads roll, it’s a carry on as usual syndrome. Meanwhile, ordinary Joe goes to prison for fraud. Hmm, interesting! The stories of corruption are causing a dust cloud.
It is little wonder that the populace have a growing contempt for the politicians. It doesn’t matter the party in power they follow roughly the same line of thought; it’s just different shades of grey.
There is a sweeping antagonism and a deep mistrust of the politicians and of the opaque bureaucracy they have installed. No one is accountable. No one takes responsibility for any wrong doing. No one admits to failure. Everything is fine in La La Land!
The most telling point comes from an 86 year old Frenchman Maurice Beauzac from Chartres during a street poll held by Reuters:
 “We are living at a time when the word integrity is becoming meaningless to our politicians.”
www.uk:reuters.com   2017/02/09
The crossroads has roadworks! Trapped in the mire of their own making all the politicians can think to do is attack with ever more disparaging language. Sad isn’t?
This year is one of crucial elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands the outcome could seal the fate of the European project.
If we assume that the establishment parties win by whatever margin will they read into the result a clear acceptance of their programme? Or will they note the size of the opposition, an opposition that did not exist a few years ago and concede that change must follow?
It may well be that they will carry on down that same road and continue with the policy of austerity. They may turn a blind eye to the exposé of corruption and continue their role as the proverbial ostrich.
Meanwhile, several notable commentators, Goldman Sachs, Mediobanca have called for serious institutional and structural change. The Economist magazine notes a weakness of the euro as have several leading economists. Many have commented on the sluggish performance of most of the economies of the EU and see few prospects in the near future.
The most recent set of stats from the German official statistical office Destatis paints a bright picture for Germany and the Eurozone. Germany it concludes has achieved 1.9% uplift in activity in 2016 making it the fastest growing of the top 20 nations, due to higher exports and the weak euro.
For the Eurozone it suggests the highest lift since 2011. Destatis also points to the French service sector as ‘booming’. However, this contrasts with France24.com when they highlighted that tourism, a major contributor to the French economy, had a steep decline and that Paris had seen a drop of 1.5m visitors alone.
Martin Baccardax, The Street 2017/02/23  reported in msn.com/news
Unemployment is too high throughout Europe it’s a persistent harbinger of poverty and causing a persistent distrust of the politicians. Ordinary Joe is not feeling any upsurge in their personal well being and there are few good signs on the horizon.
Note the point by the New York Times: 50% of all new jobs since 2010 are temporary jobs in Europe. It’s a job but one without prospects and one that simply keeps the debt man (raptors) from the door.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/business/europe-jobs-economy-youth-unemployment-millenials.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur&_r=1
Part time work feeds many problems down the line. If people are barely managing then how can they save for a rainy day? They cannot contribute to a pension for their retirement, a tab that will in all probability have to be picked up by the state. Tax increases?
Big business is screwing ordinary Joe now with part-time work and zero hour contracts. And will screw Joe later when Joe has to rely on a pittance of a pension from the government to survive.
Alternatively, people just fuel their own debt by taking out loans at exorbitant rates of interest and spend. Keeping up with the Jones’ is such fun – until the bubble bursts.
Nonetheless, at some point a state of listlessness creeps in, anxiety increases, stress leads to a host of other problems: break up of relationships, increase in violence fed by a growing anger, illness and crime.  Add a less than causal approach to productivity, all of which help to dampen the economy and force more fuel into the fire of discontent that has been growing.
Add to the mix the migrant crisis. These are people with as many aspirations as anyone else but many are finding that Europe is not the Promised Land. Lack of employment, trapped in camps, their culture clashing with local beliefs and other migrant groups. Desperate for the good life many enter illegally and too many become sub-human cheap labour for the profit hungry businesses.
“…traffickers are increasingly bringing in vulnerable people for the sex trade and as slave labour.”
Such is the problem created by traffickers that Frontex recognises that they are a       “…significant threat to the EU”.
On integration: “The high numbers of economic migrants – mostly with low educational qualifications and with a different cultural background – are not truly integrated into European societies. This causes social conflicts and critical perceptions of migration.”  http://frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Risk_Analysis/Annula_Risk_Analysis_2016.pdf

Banksy

And the sanctimonious speak to their best friends: – see no evil – hear no evil – speak no evil!   Happy to smile for the cameras while playing politics with people’s lives!

Such is the political cauldron we live in today. There is but a tinge of hope that one day a door will open and objectivity will enter but alas – don’t hold your breath.
Do some good join – Robin Hood!

Democracy: Can it Survive?

 

Democracy holds more emotion in its wake than any other political theory. It has stimulated a considerable amount of discussion and hyperbole from the earliest philosophical writers to the present day. But the burning question is whether democracy can work, and, can it work for the majority of society or is it a pleasant guise for control by an elite?

Certainly, the thought of democracy has wetted the thinking of many writers considered among our best intellects over the centuries:

Plato: was not a fan as he condemned it “… followed citizens’ impulses.” rather than the common good.

Nietzsche: was not enamoured either, he wanted to be, “… beyond the lowlands of the herd conscience.”

Machiavelli: likewise; as the intellects would be the prisoner of the “whims of the people”.

Charles Maurras: believed we should accept that we have, “natural hierarchies”.

JS Mill: was concerned by, “…the moral coercion of public opinion” that the individual was sovereign and bemoaned the ‘tyranny of the majority’.

www.serendipity.li/jsmill/jsmill.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-democratic_thought

Without being disparaging these were yesterday’s men with yesterday’s prejudices, when the very concept of democracy held a fear of control by the ‘herd’. Mill’s focus on the individual is little more than a scream of a narcissist. Along with the others mentioned their fear was brought on by the prospect of the uneducated rabble who survived in vermin infested hovels having jurisdiction over them.

They saw no potential in the hoi polloi. They simply looked at the uneducated mass and contrasted that with their own highly educated self and, were blinded by that fear and blatant snobbery.

Would a look at a more modern picture reveal a more sympathetic view?

Robert Michels: opined “… that democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite…” He suggested that democracy naturally slides into an oligarchy. He himself moved from being a socialist to become a fascist. Can we see a trend?

Rabbi Elazar Shach: had no doubts, “Democracy is a machinery of lies, false notions, pursuit of narrow interests and deceit.” His preference was to follow the teachings of the Torah.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_democracy

Not much succour there for believers so let’s come right up to date:

A study carried out by Martin Gilens & Benjamin Page (2014) concluded that the majority of the American public had little influence on U.S. government policy. I have encountered that view several times and have raised it on previous posts.

A more damning assault on the weakness of democracy comes from ex U.S. president Jimmy Carter (2015) who is reputed to have said that the USA is now “… an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.” Wow! Don’t mince your words Jimmy. Again, it is a slight that has its own choir of substance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligarchy

We have come across the term oligarchy a few times and can now add other nouns such as plutocracy and fascism.

  • Fascism – strict rule by a leader & a small group of supporters.
  • Oligarchy – government by a small group.
  • Plutocracy – government by the wealthy.

Political scientists and sociologists will no doubt condemn me but the terms come across as much of a muchness. Or to put it more informally – money talks!

The political class will scream and bring forward an array of quotes from notables to try to establish that they don’t fit into any of the categories above. The social democrats in particular will holler their disapproval of any such characterization. In response I would suggest that they look in the mirror and learn the true insightfulness of reflection. They have ruled, especially in Europe for the last few decades, so anything that has gone wrong has done so under their watch, e.g. the rise of fascism and far-right groups.

“…extremism flourishes in an environment in which respectable voices offer no solutions as the population suffers.” Paul Krugman (p19) End This Depression NOW!

We’ve had ex-president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, so let’s hear from political philosopher Noam Chomsky. “It’s getting so that when I hear the word ‘democracy’ uttered by a politician or government official I automatically reach for my BS detector.”          Chomsky – Language and Responsibility There are a whole, whole lot of people do exactly the same as Chomsky.

So nobody likes democracy from the educated of the past to the educated of the present. What shall we do? Dump it in the rubbish can or just leave it to rot. For me, sitting on the next to bottom rung of the ladder of power (big ladder), I say keep it. As it has not yet completed its cycle.

There are weaknesses but there are in all political philosophies. There are also solid strengths as experienced in 2016 with the march of ordinary joe who shocked the political establishment with their voting power.

The body blow to the political class in UK, USA and Italy is a very hopeful sign, though a move to the right it was not a bridge to far. A thoughtful and inclusive campaign can swing things around.

A further strength of democracy is the ability to remove poor governments and the dirtbags whose back pocket is weighing them down. The system while open to abuse is also open to voices of descent and those who aspire to a good society. It’s just unfortunate that the latter voices cannot sing in harmony and as a choir.

Note what Charles Handy (p89) writes, “In a democratic culture, if it is not to degenerate into a battle between interest groups, it is particularly crucial that we find a common cause.”               Handy – Empty Raincoat

False Hope

To this end the social democrats and the general left of the British political scene probably thought they had found a ‘common cause’ with their promotion of political correctness (PCism). They were very wrong. It may have been perceived as a positive step forward towards a good society but it was clumsily introduced and implemented as tactfully as a bulldozer at a F1 race.

One can’t condemn fascism and communism as totalitarian regimes then seek to impose a political agenda, even if that agenda may be construed as for the common good. But to then lacerate opponents and doubters with vile accusations and, invoke the law to enforce its acceptance is hypocritical. It is not equality at work.

Any political agenda which is imposed may be considered as totalitarian. “What is a totalitarian regime but one in which variety of opinion is suppressed and conformity to a particular ideology is enforced.”  Catherine Rowett, www.academia.edu/1766239/A_dangerous_opponent_of_democracy

A more moderate view of PCism comes from Graham Good – University of British Columbia: “… it catches a certain kind of self-righteous and judgmental tone in some and a pervasive anxiety in others…”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_correctness

It may be shrouded in Karl Popper’s term ‘piecemeal social engineering’. Others may liken it to B.F. Skinner’s (1904-1990) view that society should develop ways to condition people to behave in a more appropriate way.  Book: Walden Two 1948

Some will associate it with George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (p241 (Appendix)) and his version of Newspeak, which was devised, “…to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism.” The sole purpose of Newspeak was to, “…to make all other modes of thought impossible.”

http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/piecemeal-social-engineering

Nonetheless, many right-wing activists believe that PCism is ‘indoctrination’ an attempt at ‘brainwashing’. Can the left in politics answer this view without being curt, inflammatory and dismissive? Dialogue is our only way forward in a positive vein.

Moreover, PCism was introduced throughout the western world. This would suggest a concerted and determined plan to impose it by the social democrat political elite. However, their haste was their undoing because they never took the time to talk it through with the electorate which suggests a contempt for ordinary joe. This fervent flurry to have it implemented and cemented before the likelihood of political change may have forced their hand to try to secure it with the weight of the law.

The law may remain in force, even after political change and, will stop people from openly voicing an opinion but will not change their mental attitude. The use of the law will foster resentment and that resentment will fester. The cost will be high.

There is a considerable loss of trust between the people and their elected representatives, admittedly, not solely due to PCism but it is a serious nail in the democratic coffin. Other costs include:

  • A decided move to the right in politics.
  • The rise of fascist parties in Europe.
  • People ‘feel’ the contempt of the political class.
  • Division in society.
  • A set back in the quest for a good society.

Of serious concern is that once people move to the extreme right in politics they very rarely move back to the centre ground. They become entrenched.

A chasm has opened between those in favour and those against PCism. A vehement opposition has emerged. In some parts of America it has reached fever pitch, with radio talk show hosts lambasting PCism at every opportunity and shows like South Park taking the mickey. It has given the right in politics a ready-made platform from which to pillory the left.

Jokes about PCism may not be heard much on television in the UK but are common in local pubs and clubs. And every time a silly case gains media attention it reinforces the held view and encourages others to join in.

Such a rallying of opposing loud hailers may appear as a positive thing for a healthy democracy but it is not. Entrenchment on either side makes it nigh impossible to find common ground, and a ‘common cause’. Thus the advocates of political correctness may have set back the very principle of equality because they failed to make it inclusive.

Call me a cynical conspiracy theorist but could the failure have been deliberate. In order to maintain the alliance of the political class and business interests and the windfall that comes from corruption.

Without doubt democracy has many challenges but still has room for development. In my opinion PCism is an exemplary example of the dangers inherent in democracy; it was too one sided and the brain child of a cabal of thinkers. The result is that we have factions of right and left at loggerheads or at worse entrenched and bitter.

People Power?

The weaknesses of democracy are apparent if we re-examine the views expressed earlier. We can dismiss the fear of the ‘intellects’ of the past as their vision of despair did not materialize. On the other hand there is a degree of truth in the more modern analyses.

Michels view that democracy is a ‘façade’ for rule by an elite is insightful. If we think in terms of the political class and the present feeling of alienation by the people, that gives credence to Michels’ observation. However, we do have opposition parties and organizations; perhaps not as strong as they should be but that could have as much to do with our lack of involvement as their whispered voice.

We can add to the voice of Michels the study of Gilens and Page and their conclusion that the electorate of America have ‘little influence’ on government policy. The obvious point being made is that the public are simply ignored. That being the case gives credence to Michels other contention that democracy slides into oligarchy.

I would lump together Rabbi Shach’s view on ‘deceit’ with Jimmy Carter’s condemnation of ‘bribery’. They both contend that corruption is rife in the political hierarchy. We should all be aware that corruption plagues our political system. It’s as widespread as trees in a woodland. There is not a country in the world which you could say was squeaky clean. Daunting, isn’t it?

In America, supposedly the great democracy corruption is second nature to the politicians. It is given the name ‘clientelism’ which simply means; you scratch – I scratch and both our backs are covered because the money given to my campaign is just a donation. And my vote for particular legislation is that I support it. A whole lot of $millions is involved.

The problem is so embedded in India that the government has recently changed its currency; new notes for old in an attempt to flush out corruption. As the Indian government has recognised corruption harms the economy. Good luck. However, we should take our hat off to them for such a bold move. Good to see some politicians with a large degree of bottle.

Another positive story comes from South Korea where the president Park Geun-hye has been impeached on bribery charges. The head of Samsung has also been questioned (for 22 hrs) about donations totalling around $25.5 million. The authorities are now trying to secure an arrest warrant for the head of Samsung. President Park’s future will be decided by their constitutional court.

China has only recently set up a new agency to investigate the agency they initially established to counter the growth in corruption. It makes me think it’s a lot like a dog trying to catch its own tail.

A more recent example comes from a report in the Daily Mail January 11 2017. The story outlined that a businessman flew $500,000 in a private jet to Liberia, Africa to bribe two officials in order to have the law changed to suit his mining company.

One more case to hit the headlines is that of Rolls Royce the engine manufacturer. Several areas of the media have given it some prominence with its fine of £641m or around $810m for bribing foreign officials to secure contracts. Daily Mail 2017/01/17

The Guardian claims that along with the BBC they exposed the scandal in October 2016. However, the investigation had been on-going since 2012 with the cooperation of the company. The good thing is that it was exposed. Let’s have a monthly column on corruption in all media.

These are but a few examples and as already alluded to there are few clean bums in the political world. On a serious note we should listen to J. Stiglitz (p165)  “Corruption undermines faith in our democracy.”  The Price of Inequality

What should we do next? It seems like an impossible task to rid the system of the pirates. It’s especially difficult in that we need the existing politicians to implement a programme of corruption busting. Progress is being made based on the evidence above. Fighting corruption is a big job which requires a considerable amount of mental strength and the belief that ending corruption is essential work.

I’ve illustrated with the examples of India and South Korea that it is possible and that there are good guys out there. I’m also of the opinion that there is considerable mileage for politicians to pick up the cudgel against corruption.

Can democracy be saved?? Will the Fantastic Four come to its rescue? The Guardians of the Universe! James Bond, even? Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the fantasy world to help us.

Though I’m reminded of an old movie I watched on TV; it was Michael Douglas playing the role of the American President, Andrew Shepard. He’s addressing the assembled press and uses a one liner which struck me as apt: “Democracy isn’t easy” and goes on to attack his republican opponent Bob somebody.

And that’s the reality, democracy isn’t easy. I wish I had a blueprint, all the answers but I come up against the pure logic of Karl Popper The Open Society. He argues, correctly, that there can’t be a blueprint that we cannot lay down a set path that people will follow because we want them to. If we can agree on something, then let’s have a go, see if it works, if not change it. It’s a slow process but eventually we get to where we hope is a good society. That should be our common cause.

I’m encouraged by the electoral votes of 2016 and hope that the movement continues into 2017 in both France and Germany. I just hope that the political elite can hear the alarm go off.

I was struck by the speech that British Prime Minister Theresa May gave at the UN in September 2016 when she reminded the assembled that:

“We must never forget that we stand here, at this United Nations, as servants of the men and women that we represent back home.”

Colour me surprised but intrigued by her reference to representation, which was positive. But the bit that got my real attention was the use of the word ‘servants’. Was this purposeful as a means to curry favour back home, an ideological slip or a clear understanding of what democracy should look like. Of course, as a believer I hope it was the latter and like me she is a true disciple. Arrrh! My cynical personality is coming out!!!!

Nonetheless, we know in which direction we need to go, for our sakes, for our children and our grandchildren. Let’s keep our common cause in mind every time we vote or want to voice an opinion. Our motto: we know where we’re going. If politicians or businessmen don’t want to come along – stuff them. A good society is too important to be side tracked by the merchants of greed.

We must also be aware that we can’t get everything we want. Let’s walk and talk and see where it leads us.

 

 

 

Elites: The Selfish Gene

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“Greed has taken over”.*

These are not my words but those of David Rubinstein (2007) who made $billions on Wall Street. He recognised the grab epidemic that had gripped the centre of finance. The selfish gene had infected just about everyone, and the infatuation with the big bucks overpowered the otherwise educated.

*Suzanne McGee – Chasing Goldman Sachs (p177)

Of course greed has long been a deadly sin and thus part of the human make up. Wherever there are winners and losers greed has been dangling its lustful bait.

Though greed and elites have been around quite a while the world has now changed significantly and the divide is much more noticeable. Ordinary Joe has become more aware of their daily grind and the comparison with those of wealth. Television, films and books help to keep them informed.

The dramatic change came with the advent of socialism, Marxism and democracy. These developments brought the growth of political parties and trade unions which have changed the dynamics by keeping people aware. Social media has a world audience that means we are neighbours in many respects.

Moreover, information on the great divide is well documented. Noam Chomsky, How the World Works deals with it by mentioning the philosophers David Hume (p129-30) and Aristotle (p209-210). Hume acknowledges that leaders are only in power as long as the people tolerate them.

Aristotle was challenged by a question on how to deal with the great divide – reduce poverty or reduce democracy. His answer was to lessen the impact of poverty, a purely logical conclusion.

It is quite obvious that if you are a part of the elite that you would chose to maintain your status. However, history teaches us that empires always fall and therefore the wise counsel of Aristotle should be heeded.

Unfortunately, greed clouds judgment.  Joseph E. Stiglitz – The Price of Inequality (p5) clarifies the great divide by pointing out that in America the top 1% gets 40% more in one week than the bottom 20% get in a year. Bloody hell! you may whisper to yourself but the worse is yet to come.

The top 0.1% in one and a half days (1.5 days) gets what the bottom 90% make in a year. Now you can scratch your head in disbelief. NO WAY you say, but. Obviously the elite is deaf to the wisdom of Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

Francis Fukuyama – Political Order and Political Decay (p479) hits the nail on the head when he states, “In the contemporary United States, elites speak the language of liberty but are perfectly happy to settle for privilege”. The same argument can be espoused for the elite everywhere. One consequence is that the poor and poorly educated become marginalized. (p488) Further consequence flow from this reality.

Therefore, few would dispute the analysis of Suzanne McGee (p354) when she says that attitudes on Wall Street have not improved since the 2008 financial crash that battered the poor hard. The cry of the financial elite is, “me first, me foremost, and only me”.

Though the election surprises of 2016, and going into 2017 may wake the elite from their slumber. The Brexit election in the UK and the Trump victory in the presidential election may bring a wakeup call with the cockerel. Throughout Europe we are witnessing a growing dissatisfaction with the elite and their political acolytes.

Furthermore, throughout the world people are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with the status quo.

Protestthiec512pf

South Africa:      Since 2008 an average of 2 million people has taken to protesting annually.

Main complaint: poor services and corruption.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_in_South_Africa

Venezuela:         Polls show that 75% of people are unhappy with the government of Nicolas Maduro. Massive oil reserves suggest it should be a wealthy country.

Main complaint: food shortages, power cuts and corruption.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36319877

September 2016 over 1million protest against government. NY Times suggest mainly middle class but then they can be the most dangerous.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014%EZ%80%9316_Venezuela_protests

El Salvador:         Main complaint: Corruption – effects food shortages and poor services.

Brasil:                    April 2016 poll shows 63% don’t like the government of Dilma Rousseff. Since been ousted, her successor has faced similar protests.

Main complaint: high inflation, bad recession = prices & unemployment + corruption

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-35810578

Equatorial Guinea:  has one of Africa’s largest oil reserves but is one of the continents poorest. Their leader is estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of $600 million.

Around the world a better informed populace are beginning to assert their rights. Power to the people!

thXB41ZEDFCorruption

A keyword in many instances is ‘corruption’. However, corruption takes many forms, from direct bribery to filling one’s own pocket surreptitiously. Moreover, corruption is not solely attributed to developing countries. Britain was rocked by the expenses scandal when our Members of Parliament took to giving themselves handsome handouts, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Then of course, there’s the semi-legal type of corruption known as lobbying.

Interestingly, Senator Ted Cruz, who sought nomination for the republican presidential candidacy, was noted as saying, “…career politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder”. In Texas 2015 www.theintercept.com/2015/07/30

Let me give you a handful of views on lobbying.

“…it defies belief that the banking industry’s legions of lobbyists did not have a major impact,”…on government policy. Francis Fukuyama (p481)

“In other cases, interest groups have been able to block legislation harmful to their interests”. Ibid (p486)

These groups, instead of pursuing wealth-creating economic activities, made use of the political system to extract benefits or rents for themselves”.  Mancur Olson – The Rise and Decline of Nations quoted ibid (p481)

Or it may be due to exploitative elites, typically in cahoots with the government, who block any improvement in economic condition that would threaten their power” Dani Rodrik – The Globalization Paradox  (p137) Rodrik was looking at reasons for poverty in poorer nations.

All told more than $3.2 billion was spent on lobbying in 2011 alone. The main distortion is to our political system; the main loser, our democracy” Joseph E Stiglitz (p119)

The pattern is clear, the political outcome of lobbying seldom works for the majority; as decisions are heavily influenced by interest groups. E.E.Schattschneider – The Semisovereign People   ibid (p483)

There are several other damning opinions I could add to those given but hopefully the point is made. Unfortunately, the material from which I got the quotes is not on the daily reading diet of the poor and poorly educated.

Ordinary Joe tends to rely on gut and experience, the latter a method favoured by Aristotle, to reach a conclusion. The poor may be marginalized but their brain has not ceased to work.

Dissatisfaction with the political class has grown over the decades to such an extent that, “…trust in Congress has fallen to historically low levels barely above double digits”. Ibid (p481) A similar point is made by Stiglitz (p117) that the rich have, “…become more distant from ordinary people”.

While these instances concern the American system they are readily transferable throughout the world. Perhaps, in understanding this ‘distance’ those who cannot grasp the seismic political upheaval called Brexit and the Trump victory can begin to comprehend that the ‘sleeper has awoken’!!

The Double Deal:

Backhander

Backhander

A good outline of the direct and moral corruption that is bought on a daily bases of lobbying can be read in Francis Fukuyama (p478) when he deals with ‘reciprocal altruism’. Basically, I give you a big contribution to your election fund and somewhere down the line, you do me a favour. It’s a fancy name for you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.

We are all aware of cronyism and nepotism and as distasteful as they are, we also know that they are an apron string around our lives. Who wouldn’t help a friend or look after one of our family when times are hard? However, when a similar thing happens at the top end of business its use is to maintain status and power, and to advance wealth.

That brings us back to the catch phrase noted by Suzanne McGee (p354) “…me first, me foremost, and only me”. The actions and statements of the rich are catalogued beside all the other pieces of exhibitionism that symbolizes their contempt for the poor. These are duly noted until a jigsaw has been completed and then contempt is fired back at those in power.

The notion that the poor lap up the display of wealth and the misnomer that their anger is only a form of jealousy is so out of place. The trite use of ‘jealousy’ was a smokescreen floated by the wealthy to browbeat the poor.

I refer back to the wisdom of Aristotle that experience is a solid learning tool; and experience is what the poor collect in abundance. The machine operator knows that they are producing wealth and have become aware that their share of the proceeds is hardly enough to survive on. Hence the ostentatious flirting of the rich does not engage their jealousy but their anger.

A Learning Curve?

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is as stated by Ralph Schosstein, a banker on Wall Street, “Memories fade faster on Wall Street than on Main Street”. (McGee p383) The lure of the big buck is so enticing it’s almost irresistible. For the big boys it’s their raison d’etre. It appears that nothing much has been learned since the build up to the 2008 crash that we are still suffering from.

“A few years ago various cunning bankers were sitting around on their fat arses scratching their sweaty balls wondering how they could make themselves even more disgustingly rich….so they started looking around and they spied a vast amount of poor Americans who hadn’t been allowed loans before…” Geraint Anderson, Cityboy (p307)

Soon the world economy collapsed and we had to bail them out!

Control of the financial sector should have been exercised by the government. However, government must be free of corruption. Hm! I’m reminded of a child’s nursery rhyme – the wheels on the bus go round and round…. Lobbying all day long!

In today’s society we need the money men but they also need us. We are both sides of the coin. What they need to understand is that wealth distribution is a key element in keeping the fabric of society on a harmonious path.

Many countries throughout the world are experiencing an upsurge in people power. In the UK and the USA the people have exercised their democratic rights to let the elite know that they too want to participate in the nation’s wealth. Let’s keep it democratic!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water: Too Good to Waste!

thNG4Z4Y0DWe are nearing a crisis of our own making, water the most important element in our lives is draining away. Drip, drip, drip; land is drying, plants are dying. While 70% of the earth is covered by water only 3% is drinkable and of that an approximate 2% is ice. The ice of Antarctica and of the Arctic is showing increasing signs of melt which could devastate coastal areas. To add to the nightmare 50% of our wetlands have gone. This has a tremendous impact on wildlife.

The burden grows heavier with the knowledge that some two (2) million people die annually, mainly children, from diarrheal diseases.th7E749LQY

www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

The poorer regions of the developing world suffer the brunt of water shortage. Sub-thH8D57ZHVSahara Africa has enduring problems which show no signs of abating. The situation is made worse by, “Weak governments, corruption, mismanagement of resources, poor long-term investment and lack of environmental research…”. Conflict has made it difficult to make improvements; Ivory Coast, which split north & south four years ago. The on-going troubles which confront the nations of Darfur, Nigeria, Mali and Ethiopia conflict or famine here continues to wreak havoc. Surprisingly, Ethiopia is the most water abundant in the region.

www.cfr.org/world/water-stress-sub-saharan-africa/p11240

??? “Too often, where we need water we find guns” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

Overall, 25% of Africa’s population suffer from water stress. (www.cfr.org) Whereas, Ethiopia has sufficient water, the country of South Africa is one of the poorest in water terms. However, S. Africa has some 589 dams out of a total of 980 in the region. Here lies the key, S. Africa has the infrastructure and has better managed their resources and crucially has the means. We spend £/$ billions on aid in Africa and nothing seems from the outside to have improved.

Q? Is much of the charitable donation we make feeding war and corruption and not the people?

In Pakistan, the situation is reaching danger point. Population is increasing by three (3) million per year and the water table is falling which has led the World Bank to conclude that Pakistan, “…is already one of the most water stressed countries in the world”. Its neighbour India has a developing water crisis.

With population growing by 15 million annually and the water table falling all over the country the situation is becoming critical. Some districts have to have water trucked in. A major problem is the unregulated digging of irrigation wells of which there are an estimated twenty-one (21) million. With the water table falling and more wells being dug; how long before the government take control. www.theguardian.com

th6IKNYANAAlso, according to The Guardian, countries that have reached their water peak include: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In Saudi Arabia and Yemen it is understood that their water table is falling by six (6’) feet year on year. In Saudi Arabia over a 20 year period the aquifers have been seriously depleted which has had an impact on its grain crop. The country now has to import 15 million tonnes annually. Yemen will now need to import all its grain.

A running commentary on the problems facing Iran and Tehran in particular can be accessed via ‘Our Man in Tehran’. A series of articles is available at NYT World 2015/05/05. The issues are similar to many nations: water table depletion, rising population in Tehran which has tripled over the last thirty (30) years, made worse by a fall in average rainfall.

The great and the powerful are not immune to the rigours of water stress. China will face immense problems as water use is at a peak which will affect grain and rice production. The World Bank considers that China will face, “… catastrophic consequences for future generations”.

America may be mighty but it cannot escape the power of nature. It will need all the super heroes it can muster to get itself out of this problem. The US is a massive food producing country be it: grain, rice, soybean etc. However, a report by Ceres reminds us all, “Producing food, after all, requires more water than almost any other business on Earth”. Whereas we may drink 4 litres of water a day, it takes 2000 litres to produce our food. www.theguardian.com

  1. www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/05/11/405946749/why-food-companies-should-be-more-afraid-of-water-scarcity

thJSHFW8FRCalifornia seems particularly parched at present. The recent drought conditions may force a rethink on water supply and usage. Southern California gets nearly all its water from the Colorado River. To the north it is around 20%. Betting odds on there being a shortage of river flow on the Colorado has increased from 33% to 50%, not good odds. At present Lake Mead is only 38% full. The region needs a mighty downpour which incidentally may be helped by El Nino.

www.m.utsandiego.com/news/2015/may/11/colorado

Meanwhile, the California Department of Resources is predicting a huge increase in population.

2009                       2020                       2030

28m                       41m                       75m

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/water_scarcity

There is a sting in the tail for all of us that we need to take seriously. “Water use is growing twice as fast as population”. (November 2014) www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml

All the warnings are out there; well signposted but have not yet captured the imagination. The general media have not deduced the seriousness of our plight. Governments keep the lid on it perhaps hoping it might go away or don’t want to upset business. Meanwhile, the press feed us celebrity gossip and we become ‘mindless consumers’. (Philosopher Jürgen Habermas).

We cannot halt the use of water; everything we do is directly linked to it. We need constant reminders that only 1% is drinkable and that many millions don’t have the luxury of clean water. The potential of water wars in the developing world is very real. The prospect of severe rationing in the developed nations is increasingly likely.

It is equally obvious that we have the technology and the wherewithal to find solutions. One of our greatest attributes as human beings is devising solutions to extremely difficult problems. We are inexhaustible in our ingenuity.

One solution comes from a surprising source, Unilever, one of the world’s giant’s in chemical production. In Iowa State, they are paying soybean farmers 10c a bushel to adopt sustainable water practices. We should all cheer Unilever so where they lead others will follow.

The second enterprising solution is the use of solar power to distil water by nearly boiling it. Bedouins’ in the town of Dahab use a system called AquaDania’s WaterStiller which has proven five (5) times more efficient than other methods. (Wikipedia.org. as above).

These are practical initiatives which highlight the ingenuity of people. Finding a political solution will prove much too difficult in a liberal landscape. Politics is a blinding force; it strips the brain of the means to think beyond its narrow confines. Power and greed come to the fore and side-line any ethical approach. Thus the libertarians will sit back, enjoy a drink, toss a few coins in a charity box and turn a blind eye to the death and sheer hell of people struggling to survive.

People in the West are so afraid of taking a decisive step for fear that they will be castigated as erstwhile colonialists. They don’t want to be seen in any sense of appearing to dictate policy. These liberals suffer from historical restitution. They favour self-determination without thought of consequence, they hide behind a motto of; let them run their own affairs, find their own way. Give them some money to ease the stress.

Meanwhile, dictators, dictate and fascists terrorize but then, it’s none of our business. However, the ordinary Joes’ of Africa, Asia and the Middle East are making it our business by leaving their homeland in droves to find a better life. Immigration then becomes a major political and social issue.

One way to overcome our ‘lazy eye’ is to have strict guidelines on the use of foreign aid and to monitor its implementation. If wells are vital to ensure clean water then we only give aid for that purpose, to provide and maintain. Corruption is siphoning off £/$ millions from the real need. We desperately need an array of methods to circumvent those who indulge themselves in the proceeds of corruption.

Furthermore, we must stop treating Africa as a car-boot-sale venue. Humanitarianism is not a business tool and should never be used as such.

Do some good…..join Robin Hood

 

 

To The Barricades!

 

thROE354NRA future ravaged by revolution, French style where the rich and powerful meet their fate on the guillotine or by firing squad in a Russian type overthrow. The crime will have been the denial of rights to the majority and an utter contempt for the masses. The growing separation through inequality may force the hand of the poor to take action.

There is little doubt that inequality is increasing; Ha-Joon Chang (p333) points out, “Since the 1980s, income inequality has risen in the majority of countries”. He goes on to highlight that this is especially so on the UK and USA, “…which lead the world in pro-rich policies”. Economics: The User’s Guide. Krugman (p73) lends his support concerning the USA “…the income of the typical family grew less after 1980 than before”. End This Depression Now!

This view is shared by Stiglitz (p9) who illustrates his point with a host of data over the last 30 years:

  • Low wage earners – increase over the period          = 15%
  • Top 1% of earners –                                                  = 150%
  • Top 0.1% of earners –                                               = 300%

Over a slightly different time scale Krugman (p76) substantiates the point made by Stiglitz. What this means in reality for the American worker is: an auto worker in 2007 could expect to earn $28 per hour now new hires are taken on at $15 an hour. Stiglitz (p71-72) The Price of Inequality

Another telling point comes from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which suggests that, “… the UK economy would have been 20% bigger had the gap between rich and poor not widened since 1980s”. Guardian 2014/12/09

thXB41ZEDFThe disparity is clear the rich have benefitted greatly, the super rich have benefitted fantastically. Over the same period extreme poverty has risen dramatically in the US as between 1996 – 2011 it has doubled to 1.5 million based on World Bank (WB) measures. Stiglitz reckons that 25% of all kids in the US live in poverty. (p20-21)

Two of the world’s rich nations have a damning ratio of inequality; what must it be like elsewhere: India, China and Africa, I dread to think. Moreover, we cannot rely on democracy to iron out the creases in our system, “…the political agenda is biased towards corporate power”. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism

A statement which is borne out by Chang (p325) “… recent dramatic upswings in inequality in the US and the UK can mainly be explained by deregulation and tax cuts for the rich”. A view supported by both Stiglitz and Krugman.

“Currently, as the wealthiest obtain more wealth, they use a portion of that wealth to reduce the risk of having and obtaining additional wealth. A good example of this is how the tax rate on the wealthiest decreases as they obtain more wealth. The average tax rate for the top 1% in the US is now 17%. The tax rate for the poorest is closer to 50%”. Maxkeiser.com cited in www.larsschall.com2011/06/13/hegels-masterslave-dialectic/

 

Therefore our politicians are less interested in the electorate. Is it because we are skint? In contrast we have the thoughts of Wang Fuzhi a 17th century philosopher who was critical of the rulers, “…government should benefit the people, not those in power”. A lovely sentiment but can we have it adopted in today’s world. It is a view shared by the 20th century philosopher Karl Popper who thought it essential that we have a society where ‘political institutions can be changed by the governed’. Personally I would have Wang’s statement emblazoned onto banners and paraded everywhere where there is a protest. It should be a mantra for all who believe in equality and democracy.

Unfortunately, we seem to be headed towards a society based on Hegel’s master – slave dialectic and the fight for survival that ensues. (Larsshcall.com as above)It would seem that we are outside /beyond the thought processes of the rich. In a study for the WB in 2000 which surveyed 10,000, Can Anyone Hear Us? Deepa Narayan et al. One of the main issues raised by those surveyed was the lack of a voice. Nobody listens! Stiglitz (p21 + 390 notes 69) It’s to their own detriment but the rich cannot understand the concept of fairness.

In elementary psychology the point is made clearly, “It is important for us to feel that we have some control over what happens to us”. Understand Psychology (p119) The rich accept no responsibility for the growing inequality; that is inexcusable. They cause it and then turn a blind eye to the consequences of their actions. According to the philosopher P.F. Strawson it is only natural that we hold others responsible for what they do. www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-responsibility

Nobody listens! Especially our politicians except when it’s election time. Then the voters are herded through a narrow alley where they are bombarded with spurious rhetoric and a bucketful of promises. At the other end they are set loose, once again, to fend for themselves against the wolves and other predators. Little wonder therefore that there is a rise of alternative political parties. These new parties have emerged because the people want a voice and because the mainstream parties have stopped listening.

People will make sense of the world in which ever way they can, in the environment they find themselves living; be it crime, gangs or non-participation in general society. However, any notion that such groups should be shut out of the welfare system will result in new sub-cultures with unforeseen consequences.

Moreover, control of the hoi polloi has more tentacles than your average octopus: booze, drugs, and soap operas etc. However, not even the legalisation of marijuana will depress the feeling of unfairness. On the other hand it may actually heighten the feeling of dislocation and anger. And the present fascination of the star-struck dilettantes, dazzled by the glamour will not dislodge the desire for equity.

Reality for most has two edges, work or unemployment. Those in work are generally thRZSGUKD9happier people. Understand Psychology (p256-257). For those out of work various studies have shown a marked deterioration in physical health which exacerbates the problem. Long term unemployment can lead to ‘learned helplessness’ (p118) which can lead to apathy and a resignation which prompts an attitude of ‘why bother’ and, generates a ‘victim mentality’. The consequential costs over generations can prove so severe for society that government should set up training centres and community work to reduce the knock on effects.

The reality of the downtrodden is depressing. It is easier looking in than living the life. Nonetheless, people have a strong tendency to want to help as Chang (p197) suggests, “…people can, and do, pursue enlightened self-interest”. But these are generally ordinary folk who understand that at times we all need a hand because they too know aspects of that life. The rich are too busy flashing their bling in our faces.

M.K. Covey maintains that “Trust is the glue of life”. The Leaders Guide to Influence (p79) The same terminology is used by Stiglitz (p152-153) when he emphasises that social capital / trust is the ‘glue’ in society; that cooperation and trust are important,     “…in every sphere of society”. Without the ‘glue’ without the belief that the economic and political system is fair, society won’t function well. He gives several instances where social capital works exceptionally well and where it has failed.

A poll carried out on behalf of the NYT/CBS News in 2011 found only 10% of respondents trusted their government to do things right most of the time. Stiglitz, (p440 notes 8) The distrust of politicians is widespread. In the UK trust has been steadily eroded by promises never kept and by the scandal of M.P.’s fiddling their expenses. Some have also utilised their position of authority for a fee to business. Obviously, lobbying is not enough for some businesses.

thP0BYI7XHHowever, corruption of politicians is not a new phenomenon as Chang (p338) purports that business “…let’s not mince words- legally and illegally [are] buying up politicians and political offices”. Krugman (p86) is equally forceful in his view, “There is plenty of raw corruption—politicians who are simply bought, either with campaign contributions or with personal payoffs”. Stiglitz (p137-138) weighs in with several instances of ‘dishonest accounting’. It will make your eyes water with anger.

More recently in Brazil, the Petrobras scandal has 54 politicians in the dock and President Dilma Rousseff under suspicion concerning corruption at the oil giant. Federal prosecutors are seeking $1.5bn from 6 construction and engineering companies who are said to have bribed their way to huge contracts with Petrobras. www.msn.com/2015/03/03

It’s no different in France where 11 dairy companies have been fined a total of €192.7 million for organising a cartel. www.France242015/03/12 No wonder prices are so high!

So what’s the difference between fraud at the top and fraud at the bottom —–prison?

It needs to be well documented that if politicians do not listen to their constituents then they must accept full responsibility for any downsides in society. They tend to think that every 5 years or so they can tell a different story and blame someone else. They never accept blame themselves. Make them responsible!

Do some good ……join Robin Hood!!!!

Government should benefit the people not those in power

 

 

Keep Yanks Out!

 

th1E4V7Y96The question of GM foods is a hot topic again. It has been brought to the fore by discussion of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a proposed trade agreement between the USA and Europe. This agreement is in keeping with the ultra-conservative economic outlook of neo-liberalism. The tension rose by quite a few notches when the EU approved legislation allowing member states to grow GM crops.

A GM crop, maize was grown in Europe for animal feed purposes. A potato was introduced but was later withdrawn as it was blocked from gaining Europe wide approval. (BBC 14/1/15) A final decision awaits as pressure mounts on the EU ministers to comply with USA wishes.

The power of big business is smeared all over this decision, described as “…a deceitful, messy and unprincipled compromise”. www.theecologist.org/News/   If a member state

what it means for MNC's

what it means for MNC’s

(EU) decides not to grow a GM crop the company can take that nation to court. These Multi-National Corporations (MNC’s) are multi- billion dollar businesses and thus can afford the best legal brains, as well as the money to contest the decision.

Case: Bayer and Syngenta are in court fighting the decision by the EU to ban the bee killing ‘neonic’.             I am not convinced democracy is safe. www.action.somofus.org

America’s MNC’s are poised to flood the European market with their seeds/plants. GM crops are already grown and on sale in America and parts of Asia. A problem for Europe is that it is far behind in research and therefore may become dependent on the MNC’s for their entire product. Of the largest 500 MNC’s 88% are American. David Farnham Human Resource Management

My anxiety is raised by a dispute between Testbiotech and Grace. Grace is an EU research programme dealing with GM crops. The study in question is one carried out by Grace, a 90 day feeding assessment on animals. Grace assures us that the study found nothing to be alarmed about but Testbiotech think differently.

The study over a period of 90 days sought to determine whether feeding GM maize had any adverse effect. The conclusion was that if maize constitutes 33% of the animal’s diet there is no problem. However, I have a few questions that need answered before I can feel assured.

  • cowpat

    cowpat

    Is 90 days a sufficient period to understand fully the gestation of the animal from consumption to the cowpat?

  • Is there any possibility of residual matter remaining in the animal’s gut?

Even at miniscule levels residuals can build up over time. It’s like dust on a mantelpiece, you don’t see the tiny specks but after a while you can run your finger through the dust. Therefore I don’t accept that a 90 day period is sufficiently exhaustive to assure me that I can eat the resultant beef or lamb etc. I am not convinced GM crops are safe.

Furthermore, I am concerned that the Grace study limited the animal feed to 33% of the animal’s diet. What measures will be taken to ensure that such a percentage of feed will be adhered too? We all know that business cuts corners to maximize profits and, that many animals can and are penned because it’s cheaper and helps to fatten the animal. Therefore, many animals can and will be fed a diet of 100% of GM maize. What would be the effect on the animal in such circumstances?

Of real concern is that Grace can openly state that while there has been many studies carried out on GM crops the evidence is, “…contradictory and the quality of research varies widely”. Moreover, “Overall, it’s true, drug company trials are much more likely to produce a positive outcome for their own research”. Ben Goldacre Bad Science p205    I am not convinced I’m being told the truth.

www.gmo-compass.org

What also worries me is that EU ministers have okayed Du Pont Pioneer’s Supercorn (maize) despite concerns of the effects on wildlife such as moths and butterflies. What other wildlife can be affected? (Guardian 13/1/15) Another question, what will be the affect when all our arable land is planted with GM crops?                                                 I am not convinced the environment is safe.

A political battle is brewing and ordinary Joes must be participants if we are to defeat the big boys in their attempt to control agriculture world -wide. This statement may seem a little OTT but the MNC’s: Du Pont, Monsanto, Bayer etc. by controlling the development and the sale of seed/plants they control what is sown and harvested. Ultimately what we eat. It is not hyperbole to suggest that these huge conglomerates can place a strangle-hold on the agricultural market. Once established it is a small step to the corruption of trade practices and in consequence the setting up of a cartel. History illustrates that such a manoeuvre in business is quite common.                           I am not convinced business can be trusted.

Nonetheless, it is heartening that some countries in the EU have a ban on GM crops, e.g. France and Hungary. However, the government in England support the introduction of GM crops. This in part is due to the powerful Lobbying of the industry. (Daily Mail 13/1/15) It would appear that business will not take no for an answer; they lobby to get ministers agreement but threaten court action if a government dare refuse them.            I am not convinced democracy is safe.

In the UK both Scotland and Wales have a ban in place which they seem likely to th5GR2D1P3maintain. Thus GM crops will only be grown in England. However, a problem arises on the question of border contamination (Friends of the Earth). We have no control over the wind or where wildlife may roam. The other dilemma is that once the GM is used the spread will become automatic as the industry will make it cheaper to produce in the first instance to entice farmers and consumers. MNC’s are “able to exploit their market positions and power to achieve greater economies of scale in production”. David Farnham ibid

It is akin to the national lottery UK, whereby in the early days the pay-outs were huge, the cost relative and thousands had several little wins (£10 / $15). Now the price has doubled and the pay-outs much smaller and no one talks of little wins.

Those in favour of the GM crop, www.farminguk.com suggest that there are two varieties of Roundup Ready maize poised for planting as soon as the go-ahead is given. The site quotes government minister, Owen Paterson, it’s a “wonderful opportunity”. Paterson goes on to suggest that GM crops are safer than conventionally produced crops. If Paterson is so convinced, why doesn’t he do something about the poor quality of our food? At least bring it to the peoples’ attention.                                     I am not convinced MP’s listen.

In 1990, a compatriot of his, Tory minister John Gummer made a spectacle of himself by trying to feed his young daughter a beef burger at the height of the Mad Cow’s Disease scandal. I am not convinced my food is safe.

Even more stridently in favour is www.forbes.com (13/1/15) who advises President Obama to dismiss fears about health, the environment and labour as well as market fears about the TPP. Oh, to be so absolutely free of doubt on so many issues. On the other hand one could say, oh, how callous of Forbes to dismiss peoples’ anxieties just to make a profit. I am not convinced when profit feeds their lust.

Unbeknown to us, we may already be eating GM food. Once again we may be getting used as guinea pigs. Once again history is littered by mad science, thalidomide being one of the nastiest. Also, in 2011 in Germany 19 people died in an E.coli outbreak caused by a lax in farming methods. Mad cow’s disease and more recently, 2013, the use of horsemeat in processed food sold as beef and lamb.                                             I am not convinced business can be trusted.

Moreover, of GM crops produced: soybeans 59%; the EU imports 40 million tonnes for animal feed. Of course we eat the animals. Feeling queasy? Rapeseed grown extensively in Canada is used in cooking oil and margarine. Cotton seeds are found in many food products. Are we being treated as ubiquitous morons?                               www.gmo-compass.org “Big pharma is evil: I would agree with that premise”.            Ben Goldacre, op. cit.

I only wish I had the techno skills to begin a campaign on twitter etc.

#I am not convinced…………

I am not convinced GM crops are safe

I am not convinced the environment is safe

I am not convinced business can be trusted

I am not convinced when truth is muted

I am not convinced MP’s listen

I am not convinced democracy is safe

I am not convinced Europe works for me

I am not convinced my choices are free.

Eat well, but carefully. The struggle has just begun.