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.

 

 

 

Multiculturalism: From Dark to Darkness

Unless you welcome multiculturalism with open arms the branding irons come out and the familiar adjectives are burned onto the forehead. Therefore, let’s get the nova moment over with; I am neither a racist nor bigoted but I do have opinions.

The big hope of multiculturalism is that everyone will integrate and all the people will respect each other’s way of life. Thus diversity is viewed as maintaining each culture in a harmonious plane, with religion playing a central role in this nirvana.

However, this hope is based on the here and now which allows no thought of tomorrow.  Of course those who have promoted multiculturalism may view it as a long-term commitment for the human race.

My problem with the ‘here and now’ philosophy is that it allows no space for change. It is very much a ‘present time’ philosophy which is the maintenance of cultures, and, the legal obligation to respect it has an inflexible rigidity appended to it. A society so ordered is one set in concrete. One thinks of Stalin!

th5Suddenly, as if by magic wand (Harry Potter is real) all the religions will love and respect one another. Let’s forget the centuries of upheaval that religion has brought us. In the recent past we have had the murderous debacle of Northern Ireland where Catholic fought Protestant and, where the hate is still tangible.

In the Middle East where the two houses of Islam have no compunction in killing the other. Tension continues to increase between India and Pakistan. @France24_en November 7th. In India Hindu and Muslims continue to shed blood. Whilst in Pakistan religious differences have caused several bombings and where attacks on Christians are now a common occurrence.

Can we seriously dismiss what is happening around the globe as though it has no effect on the migrant populations in our midst? We know it can and does. Also, Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay p543 reminds us that politicians use ethnicity and religion for their own purpose.

Religions may speak of peace and love but harness swathes of intolerance and subjugation. All religions were basically the stanchion of men, and, women knew their place or else. In the modern Christian world the old culture is being broken down and women are gaining their rightful place as equals. Note, Tom Peters, The Circle of Innovation pp 402-407 he quotes several writers to argue that, “Women are smarter than men”. And better managers!

In contrast Islam is still mired in the ancient culture, as are some other religions. It is therefore difficult to give any credence to the Muslim faith, while promoting equality in every other aspect of life. We do not need to unearth the prohibitive nature of Islam towards women. On another tact we cannot have different laws operating for different sections of society. The law of the land must be initiated by parliament and not Sharia courts.

There are numerous cases of young women, children really, who have been plucked from their school to be sent to a foreign country to be married. A marriage of arrangement! No say, no choice – a diktat.

I read an article in the Daily Mail (November 2nd) concerning a woman, Maryam Nemazi from the group One Law for All. She holds a strong opinion against Muslim Councils and the use of Sharia courts in the UK. She accuses them as “tantamount to abuse”. When I read such stories I think, what would the Suffragettes think, and, how can a liberal society tolerate such subjugation.

Referring back to Tom Peters and the power of women and, recognising the imposition placed on the females of Islam, I think of a vast wealth of talent not nurtured. A Terracotta Army hidden!   I came across a refreshing little piece by E.E. Bradford (1860-1944) called Society.

“God made the country and man made the town – And woman made society”.*

Furthermore, faith schools are not a celebration of diversity. Rather such schools are a cold statement of difference and work to emphasize that difference. Faith schools do not best employ the concept of empathy. Unfortunately, as the country becomes more ghettoized differences become more heightened.

Moreover, multiculturalism signs the death knell of any possibility of achieving a secular society. Religions are obviously opposed to the very notion of secular schools for the simple reason that they would lose influence. An influence they use to cement the child’s belief system. We know this yet we pander to the needs of the soldiers of entrenchment.

A society based on a secular outlook would allow children to mix and to learn from each other. There would be no need to impose a law demanding respect; the kids would simply play together, grow together and build lasting bonds. Multiculturalism is a poor attempt at a quick fix.

The fact that law has to be used in an attempt to enforce respect tells its own story. Athqbhtaafd law is a demand that the people must obey.  They are told to adapt their language and thought processes to accommodate others but such a law has to be one that meets general approval otherwise it is likely to go unheeded. People have an aversion to being forced.

Audite et alteram partem – A Latin motto – Listen even to the other side*

Notwithstanding, multiculturalism has proven a great asset for big business. Perhaps that is the real reason behind its promotion? The influx of several million migrants was obviously going to cause upset hence the desperate need to design a concept for it, with the threat of the law to empower it. No doubt it was a blessing that the Liberal elite endorsed and readily adopted it as their own.

The truth is that we cannot save the world alone. The mass movement of people has more to do with globalization. The pursuit of money leaves no room for the thought of consequence or a plan for the long-term. Globalization is a harvester of cheap labour.

However, many see no alternative, their eyes are pinned on the present for fear of a divide, leading to violence between the migrant and indigenous population. They are happy with their quick fix and are thus too busy patting their own back to consider any consequence.

*The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

*Economics: The User’s Guide   Ha – Joon Chang p458

Nonetheless, change is happening. The change is championed by an unlikely ally – capitalism. The source of the problem may actually lead to its solution. Change will not be advanced by politicians, no, they’re too wrapped up in their own cossetted world. The agents of capitalism, the marketing agencies and their never ending push to boost consumerism will be our knights.

Consumerism will break barriers that politicians are afraid to breach. While consumerism may smash the ramparts we will then need to reconstruct a society, the thcafjwb3ekind of society that we need as a human race. To anticipate, the answer is, no! we don’t want the Americanisation of the world. America has had ‘Affirmative Action’ for over 50 years and is the most ghettoized nation in the world. We need to think!

Change is taking place around the world as the poor demand a greater share of the wealth of the planet. They are using the power of democracy (take note) to send the message that they are unhappy. Power to the people!!

Therefore, multiculturalism is not the answer because it holds no answers. Multiculturalism is actually the harbinger of ghettoes. Its solution is to keep us separate, not to unify us as one people.

 

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!

Let Me Breathe, Please!

thLQSH1L46To accept the political outlook of compromise, the adage, ‘the art of the possible’ is to ride on a broken down train. Naturally progress on such a train will be slow, if at all.

When you come to the conference table with the proviso of compromise you are not being true to yourself or to the people you purport to represent. With the mindset that there is no alternative, there is no alternative. Politicians who follow such a pedantic logic congratulate each other on their political wisdom. So they arrive at a meeting with a tin of beans and leave with a teaspoonful and on the way out smile at the mirror before smiling for the camera.

Meanwhile, for 21 years representatives of world governments have been meeting to discuss the climate and the dangers inherent in sizable change. The next meeting will take place in December 2015 in Paris France. Each delegate will arrive with their tin of beans and having eaten something more upmarket will leave; not forgetting to smile at the mirror before smiling for the camera.

Therefore, can we expect a decisive response in December or will we be served with the leftover beans on a plastic plate? The view of scientists is overwhelmingly in favour of cutting CO2 emissions. But politicians don’t represent scientists, they represent business interests. Business enterprises have had at the very least 21 years to prepare a long-term strategy, but are still to be found having a tantrum in the background. Anything that effects profit adversely makes them cry.

One has to ask if it would do any good to present our politicians with a portfolio of factual information. I suspect not. Nonetheless:

American Medical Association

“Our AMA … supports the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report and concurs with the scientific consensus that the Earth is undergoing adverse global climate change and that anthropogenic [human] contributions are significant.” (2013)

Global temperature increased by more than 1.4oF over the last century.

The AMA is one of several bodies that have put their name to the argument that climate change is a reality. Check out the web site!!!

www.climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

An anonymous poll was carried out with 10,200 scientists being contacted of whom 3146 responded:

Question #1: When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?

About 90% of all the scientists and 97% of the climate scientists said temperatures had risen.

Question #2: Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

About 82% of all the scientists and 97% climate scientists agreed that human activity is a significant contributing factor.

http://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/928.asp

A large number of studies have been done and the findings are:

New Picture

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/images/science/models-observed-human-natural-large.jpg

This is a worthwhile site to visit. It is a question and answer piece and very informative. In one answer I came across the following statement: “… carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for at least 800,000 years”.

U.S. Global Change Research Program // Karl S Thomas et al

Thus at the meeting in December will we witness China, America and India come to the conference table and agree to give up the use of coal? Coal is deemed to be the worse polluter of the fossil fuels. Unfortunately, I think not!

All delegates may attend with their tin of beans but leave with less than their teaspoonful because the big boys will not compromise on issues that their industry makes mega-bucks from. And there you have the proof – the short-term interests of business are more important than the long-term health of our planet.

If I was a betting man I would wager £50 that no jaw-dropping decision will be taken, that some kind of fudge will be reached. Politicians will raise their shoulders in a gesture as if to say ‘what did you expect’. However, they will be united in agreeing that it is a good deal. They will smile for the camera and argue that everyone got something out of it. As for the planet and our health, well, that’s another matter.

Let’s pray for rain.

Another telling piece of information was to be found in theguardian.com/2015/jun/22/. In the capital of Chile such was the smog that an environmental emergency was declared: the 7 million residents were warned not to do any physical activity, over 1.7 million vehicles were ordered off the roads and 1300 businesses were closed. It was the driest June in 40 years and the prospect of rain is weeks away.

In the last months we have heard of similar stories from Paris France, London England and Delhi India. This is an increasing phenomenon.

Do some good…..Join Robin Hood!

Environment: It Needs Oxygen!

 

th[3]Are politicians deaf to the cry of the wild that they would rather subsidise fossil fuel than promote a green environment?

A reminder: Government should benefit the people not those in power. Wang Fuzhi

Should we believe politicians and the faceless bureaucrats that the world will be saved by the buying and selling of carbon emissions? I dealt with some aspects of selling pollution in my previous post: Environment: It’s Dying. What is really interesting is the number of developing countries who are taking part in this market oriented money making enterprise. There are several projects initiated by UN-REDD Programme aimed at preventing further deforestation and degradation of forests in developing countries.

Madagascar is one such country which has allocated 705,588 carbon credits for a project in the Makira Forest. The Makira Forest of 400,000 hectares (1,500 sq. miles) is a sizable area. A number of projects are underway to convince the local communities that there is an alternative to deforestation. However these prevention techniques are small in scale e.g. one will take 30 years to offset 32 million tonnes of CO2. A second will avoid 1.6 million metric tonnes over a 25 year period. http://phys.org/news/2013-09-massive-carbon-credit-sale-madagascar.html

 

  1. The world emits 32 gigatonnes annually.

Other projects in Africa include Tanzania which has sold some credits for $US 200,000 in forest conservation. A further hope is to encourage eco-tourism. Trains and boats and planes go jollying by, burning fossil fuel but it’s ok because they’ll pay. An earlier project received $US 1.9 million over a four year period 2010 – 2013. Tanzania Daily News

Why the focus on Developing Nations?

Madagascar is losing an approximate 100,000 hectares (386 sq. miles) each year to burning for agriculture. Zambia is losing between 250,000 – 300,000 hectares annually, predominately in the making of charcoal for heating in business and the home.

thFTLUIBEWIn South America the situation is even worse. Peru, Brazil and Ecuador etc. the region is losing an estimated 13 million hectares year on year. In December 2014 the UN held climate talks in Peru, which has some of the worse deforestation in the region. Brazil attended but continues with accelerated deforestation under their president Rouseff, a former head of an oil company. The conclusion of the meeting was to replant 20 million hectares of trees. However, in the period 2001 – 2012 some 36 million was lost to agricultural expansion. The guardian2014/12/09

There is little sign of abatement as, theguarian2015/01/28 reports. Roads run deep into the Amazon where oil and gas blocks are now much bigger than those of Texas e.g. 730,000 sq.km. The setting up of National Parks has prevented some incursions but deforestation continues apace. Ecuador, who signed an agreement in 2007 to prevent further road building changed tact under economic pressure. So much for contracts! Bolivia too is open for business.

They’re killing us but the profit is excellent!

The talks in the capital Lima had been an initiative of Germany in 2011 and thus termed the Bonn Challenge. As we can see – they are doing the mad dog thing – chasing their tail. Not very successful based on the amount of forest lost. Scientists believe that around 17% of CO2 emissions – more than what America produces each year – is caused by deforestation especially in tropical areas. www.phys.org as above

The economic rationale of the region fits well with the self-interest theory as examined by Dani Rodrik p249 the Harvard economist, “In the case of global warming, self-interest pushes nations to ignore the risks of climate change”. This would appear to be the case in South America. But if we keep in mind the carbon emissions of deforestation (more than America) can we justify allowing these countries to simply cut and burn at will irrespective of the consequences to climate change. The Globalization Paradox

Dani Rodrik p277 gives an emphatic yes in principle to developing countries finding their own way. “The right approach would be to have China, and indeed all emerging nations, free to pursue their own growth policies”. As we travel down Rodrik Road and allow carte blanche development for ‘emerging’ nations, he argues that it would be ‘reasonable to expect’ that these nations would not pursue policies that would lead to huge trade balances. An alternative might be, “Every nation has responsibility”, Ottimar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; quoted: www.blogs.reuters.com   2015/04/13

Rodrik’s prime concern is the sanctity of the market, not the environment. Large trade balances in favour of China or India could swing the pendulum of power, and, power is the name of the game. Why with the economic power at their behest would China / India not seize the opportunity to dictate world policy just as others have done, past and present?

It was and is ‘reasonable to expect’ America to pursue policies that aid the world economy and environment. At present US oil is $10 a barrel cheaper than the world average but is not for sale abroad. America has used its might in agriculture and pharmaceuticals to run roughshod over the globe. Because it has held the economic power America has the political power and has used it to their benefit. Why would China / India be any different? www.economist.com/news/united/2015/04/02

Moreover, it was the market that has brought us to this jammed road intersection and, still pursues a profit before people mentality. The market is about satisfying the demands of the 1%. The poor, the world over, still get scraps from the table.

Furthermore, the notion that developing countries need to push forward with industrialization to counter poverty is such balderdash. Recent demonstrations in Brazil and Venezuela and many parts of Europe prove categorically that the poor do not share in the wealth of the nation. Both China and India have horrific records when it comes to alleviating poverty. Or giving due consideration to the environment.

According to Reuters.com 2015/04/13 China will overtake America as number-one in carbon emissions and will do so this year. India is expected to leapfrog Russia into fourth (4th) place in the deadly table. Both countries, assuming present trends will surpass America and the EU together.

China has recently been accused of dumping chemical waste in Inner Mongolia. In a report for france24_en Observers, when the villagers protested they were met with rubber bullets and tear gas. Farmers from Doquintala village have reported that their crop is reduced by 33% and, the fruit trees have died. The ground water has been contaminated and instances of cancer and thrombosis have sharply increased over the last decade. For me Rodrik’s argument that we can ‘reasonably expect’ does not stack up. Check my post on Rodrik and India: No ‘Cover’ for Child Labour

It is a bazaar situation, this whole concept of carbon credits. The West gives the credits to developing countries and then buys them back. Some may suggest that its charity but it is not; there is profit to be made on both sides of the transaction. Bet you can’t guess who takes the larger slice of the cake.

thXJDRNI6QWhat is happening is that we are walking our way through an ocean of sludge because we don’t know any better. We are tied into the neoliberal economic school of thought; within which the market is enshrined in a golden casket that cannot be tampered with for fear that a world calamity will unfold.

Sadly it is a belief shared by many of our leaders and by powerful international bodies: UN, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. As far as they are concerned the market is the prime motivator for change. These are people with clout; they are in effect the Praetorian Guard of the 1%. The super rich, the big boys!

However, it is not just the developing nations that are screwing up our planet. Australia has made a hash of the coral reef and every nation has contributed to the shrinking of Antarctica. Where are our defenders, the peoples’ army? My next post will look at these and other contributing issues.

Do some good…….join Robin Hood

 

 

World Poverty: Too Little Too Late.

A trinity (not the Holy) of influential bodies:  the World Bank (WB), United Nations (UN) thCAO34NGVand the International Monetary Fund (IMF), aided by an army of bureaucrats have set a goal of seriously denting the sheer number living in ‘extreme’ poverty by 2030. Ending world poverty is an admiral aim which deserves acclamation and thoughtful support.

A High Level Panel of the UN met recently, April 2013, to look back at the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG’s) set in 2000. According to the blurb, “…the panel met with a sense of optimism and deep respect for the Millennium Development Goals.” They applauded:

  • The fastest reduction in poverty in human history. (China & India)
  • 0.5bn fewer living below the $1.25 threshold.
  • Child deaths down 30%

The panel set a new challenge, “Central to this is eradicating extreme poverty from the face of the earth by 2030.” Quite a task they have set themselves. Good luck.

During the course of the meeting they acknowledged the work of the MDG’s and the guiding ‘spirit’ of the organisation. Nonetheless, their objective is to go beyond the previous ‘goals’. In doing so they brought to our attention a few omissions of the previous cohort:

  • They did not focus enough on the poorest.
  • Were silent on conflict and its consequences.
  • Were quiet on good governance – (see later).

“Most seriously the MDG’s fell short by not integrating the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development…” www.pdfownersguide.net  I would call that game, set and match to the new guys. The old guys have probably been pensioned off with a nice golden handshake.

David Hulme, had already savaged the thinking behind the MDG’s when he pointed out that while China and India were hailed for reducing ‘extreme’ poverty they, “…pretty much ignore[d] the MDG’s”. Moreover, the implementation was top-down and in need of better targeting. They may have taken notice of Hulme’s observations.  cpd.org.bd/Post/MDG/OPseries/SVOP2.pdf

Professor Rehman Sobhan was equally blunt when he suggests that the MDG’s,              “…address the symptoms not the causes of poverty”. post2015.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/sv-op/   Thus it would seem that the WB and its partners have pretty much wasted thirteen years!

If we examine the WB’s analysis of the situation June 2013, their target is to reduce ‘extreme’ poverty to 3% or below by 2030. They acknowledge that there are still 1bn people living in ‘deep’ poverty, while inequality was rising in developing countries. Certain restraints are also recognised vis-à-vis the need for ‘rapid economic growth’ and long term ‘structural changes’ and these must be sustainable for their targets to be achieved.

A number of points can be raised here: over the 13 years of MDG’s those in ‘extreme’ poverty declined by 0.5bn. Now the WB are accepting that 1bn people are still in ‘extreme’ poverty, so how many years will it take to ‘eradicate’ that number? There are only 17 years left till target day. Meanwhile ‘inequality is still rising’ in developing countries! The other puzzle is that while the UN wants to ‘eradicate’ extreme poverty, the WB is happy to reduce it to 3% or fewer. Is one being too ambitious or the other too cautious? Alternatively both may be flying as high as a kite!

Achieving their stated aim immediately comes under scrutiny when reminded that Oxfam warned that 100m more people face poverty because of price rises. Incredibly thCAJPIQU2the WB threshold of $1.25 does not include increases in fuel and food in its calculations, according to the charity. Mindboggling! It was such price rises that caused the food riots of 2007/2008. A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (2011) found that the riots were similar to those of 1972/74 and warned that we can expect more. The causes were identified as: fuel hikes, bad weather, lack of investment and speculation. On that basis I would concur that more food crises will happen.

In 1981 the threshold was $1; it was not revised until 2005, twenty-four years later, to a paltry $1.25 a-day. Therefore it is obvious that no account is taken of inflation; yet inflation can have an unbearable impact on peoples’ lives. It would seem a callous disregard for the ‘nether’ people. Living standards can be grossly affected by continuous increases on goods. A few examples will suffice to make the point:

Kenya: 10%         Nigeria: 12.1%                   Argentina: 25%                 India: 9%         (all 2012)

The recent riots in Brasil are testament to how hard life can be to make ends meet, just to wake up and find the government wasting vast sums on prestige projects.

Those mandarins that quantify the figures and set the targets seem divorced from the reality of a day to day existence. Their only concern is the target; the people are amorphous. I have mentioned in previous posts on world poverty how they disavow the ‘nether’ people; those in the darklands between the $1.25 a-day and the $2 a-day. No one is sure of the number of ‘nether’ people but it is well over a billion. They should carry out a survey in the Kibera in Kenya or a favela in Brasil to ascertain what difference the 75 cents makes.

“…when the Tendulkar Committee was asked to review India’s poverty line, it recommended raising the line from USD 1 a-day to USD 1.25 a-day. As a result 189 million Indian’s moved below the poverty line. This suggests that moving people above and below a poverty line is a fool’s game that tells you little about the nature and sources of poverty”. Rehman Sobhan

Before greed walked the land in the guise of bankers’, success had come easy for the WB, the UN and the IMF. Both China and India had had an industrial spurt which resulted in millions of menial jobs being created and thus lifted millions beyond the ‘frugal’ threshold. An estimated 680 million alone in China transformed the poverty landscape and brought joy to the ‘trinity’; their panacea had been found. Then the bankers froze their assets!

The recession that began in 2008 may be “…the worst in 100years.” www.telegraph.co.uk/finance   It has lasted five years and may take another 5 years before trading makes a good impact on peoples’ lives. Geoffrey Moore, has documented, 3 depressions, 6 sharp recessions and 5 mild recessions in the period 1920 / 2000. The downturns vary in length from six months to 18 months and longer. www.econlib.org/  Based on these figures and the fact that 17 years remain before the ‘trinity’ target date, I would suggest we will experience a few more recessions by the due date.

While developed countries can cushion the hardship of those affected with their welfare system there is still a huge cost to the nation. “However, the size of today’s welfare state, some economists argue, is hindering recovery by piling state debts higher and preventing the economy from realising its full potential.” Telegraph, op. cit.  citing the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

We have the ludicrous situation whereby big business is making big profits by farming out jobs abroad. Meanwhile, the state is borrowing money by the bag full to pay for the welfare system and the rest of us have to pay ever more tax to pay the debt off. Why don’t we give our tax to big business and they can keep the jobs at home!

Periods of prolonged unemployment can create a severe impediment to those who seek work or who lose the motivation to get back on the road again. The consequence is the gradual development of an underclass which has considerable cost implications further down the road.

The hopes of the trinity rest on the prerequisite of industrial growth and significant political changes. However, the economy is subject to a number of vagaries:

  • The frequency of recessions.
  • Speculation – see food crises.
  • Greed, the cause of the present depression.
  • Saving and spending habits of the people.
  • The influence of government.
  • The extent of monopoly V competition.
  • The environmental impact of unchecked industrial growth.

There seems to be a lack of coherent economic thinking on the part of the trinity: “It is perfectly possible to have economic growth without the creation of new jobs or improvements in working conditions.” www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-shank/  I have a

They will listen!

They will listen!

noted in World Poverty: America the NY Times of 2006, “…growth alone is an insufficient indicator of national well-being.” Meanwhile, it is hoped that India will be a major contributor to the eradication of extreme poverty; however, “…it will be a mediocre-at-best investment in destination for the next decade.” Proactiveinvestors.com

As the ‘trinity’ do not have the power to dictate the world economy, their scheme is as much at the mercy of the market as are the rest of us. Even with periods of sustained growth, poverty has persisted and will continue to, until the world economy is governed by a more visible ‘income distribution’. This is not simply a case of giving people money; wages will have to rise and profit margins will have to be lower.

A more credible income distribution on a world scale should be the prerequisite that the trinity promote. This can be achieved by an insistence on a minimum wage in each society. I’m sure the UN can pass a resolution of that nature and have enough bureaucrats to monitor the compliance to it. Or is that politically unfeasible?

In terms of political change / structural change required; that could take a whole lot longer than envisaged. We are dealing with base human traits. When selfishness and greed walk hand in hand the rest of us better watch out. Corruption is so embedded in several nations that it will take time and a high degree of sophistication to rid it from the land.

The WB must pay more heed to its own guidelines and drive them home with as much vigour as can be generated:

World Governance Indicators

  • Extent of democracy.
  • Political stability
  • Quality of public services
  • Private sector development
  • Rule of law
  • Control of corruption

These are building blocks to a better future and as such need to be forcibly applied where appropriate. However, the adherence to the principle of free trade is illogical in the interim as local industry needs a head start as it cannot compete with the conglomerates of the developed economies. As this could lead to countries becoming net importers which compounds poverty, does not relieve it or eradicate it.

How feasible is ‘sustainable development’? Can we have every nation working to full capacity making goods for sale? How many more cars, trucks and chimneys spouting out their muck can the environment endure? Is the end to extreme world poverty wishful thinking on a large scale? For 50 years and more the problems of poverty have been fought and there seems no end in sight. All the questions and answers are tied together, like a bunch of flowers, with a pretty ribbon, on which is inscribed, politician.

“Nearly a billion people entered the twenty-first century unable to read a book or sign their name.”             www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty

Now here is a travesty; it is unconscionable that in the modern era a problem of such magnitude exists. “… now’s the time for your tears.” Bob Dylan: The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll. This is a prime cause of poverty and as such should be tackled with the utmost haste.

I came across a shellshock of a fact: “Schoolgirl absenteeism could be cut in half by simply providing free sanitary towels.”  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty#   It is too staggering for words.

We have a problem Houston. A problem identified by Charles Handy: “Group-think is dangerous because like-minded groups have like- minded ideas and find it hard amongst themselves to re-frame any situation.” The Age of Unreason (1989)

Even rock stars are not immune:

“…extreme poverty has been cut in half the last 20 years, and the facts show that we can get it to virtually zero within a generation-but only if we act.” Bono, U2

We have a host of organisations for by the ‘trinity’ who are trapped by the $1.25 a-day threshold and the spiel that accompanies it. Perhaps they need to be reminded:

“Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.”  James Dewar, 1842-1923.

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm-but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”  T.S.Eliot

World poverty will not taking the high road just yet.