Naomi Klein V Trump 1

I saw the book title, ‘NO is not enough’ by Naomi Klein, read the blurb and thought this is my cup of tea. However, I was met with a cup of gloop. No doubt well-meaning and to some extent forward thinking. But! Then I hit the last pages and began nodding my head, yeah, I’ve hit hard core. Ooh! I was at last excited, Klein and I are on the same train heading to somewhere better. But!

The mention of dismay that Hillary Clinton failed and could not be, “…a role model…” (17) had me reaching for the megaphone to scream the title of the book. Clinton was and is an entrenched and fully paid up member of the establishment. Many in the Democratic Party did not support her and actively campaigned against Clinton as their candidate. The champion of the hour was Bernie Sanders.

In hindsight, perhaps, the ruling elite of the Democrats regret their decision to force Sanders off the ticket. He could have beaten Trump but the fat cats at the top did not want to wrestle with Sanders brand of politics.

Ms Klein to her credit supported the Sanders campaign but later found fault in his policy decisions. Notable was the decision on reparations for slavery. (125) Klein quotes Sanders that reparations would be ‘”divisive”’ and that that decision may have cost him a substantial black vote. Is she suggesting he play to the gallery just for votes? I disagree with her analysis and believe that Sanders showed more understanding of the big picture of what it takes to unite the people.

Opposition to Sanders on that issue points more towards a lack of understanding of the bigger picture, which has become characteristic of the ‘Left’ in politics. There are too many questions associated with the policy of reparations: would payments be generic or individual? How much overall? Who decides how to spend it? Spend on what? The whole episode could prove fractious in the extreme. Not to forget the rest of the poor looking on.

The ‘left’ get a policy idea and run with it without much, if any, debate. You are either with them or against them. It’s an assumption of righteousness. On the mild side it’s patronizing on the other it’s dictatorial. We know what’s best for you! They get so engrossed in pursuing their own agenda they don’t see the need to consult or feel the anxiety of the poor. It’s the Moses syndrome!

Isn’t ironic that Klein supports Sanders only to go nit picking when he fails. She should be having a go at the hierarchy of the Democratic Party for their lack of vision and courage, which she acknowledges (123). But then all the guys at the top think alike. They may sport different colour ties when they meet up at the country club but eat at the same table.

Going back to the possibility of Hillary Clinton as president would only have ensured a continuation of the same old policies. Gender has no bearing on what a leader does; it’s their politics, their belief system. A female leader does not ensure a more thoughtful or caring approach to policy.

My way or …

I’ll refer you back to 1979 in the UK and the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. Her policies battered the working class into submission and caused severe damage to the manufacturing base of the economy. Her approach involved the ‘shock’ attack of neoliberalism, economic thinking of the Chicago School.

And recently, we have the rule of

Better my way …

Angela Merkel, a so called centrist politician leading a left leaning coalition. Well!! If we are to believe Yanis Varoufakis, finance minister of the Greek government 2015 and no one has refuted his analysis of what took place.* The sting began with the bailout of €110bn to the Greek economy in 2010, the first of three. Varoufakis is adamant that as the money poured into Greece it was just as quickly siphoned off back to the German and French banks that were facing collapse.

*Yanis Varoufakis, Adults in the Room (34)

This blatant and shameless robbery of the people’s money to save the banks was one of the most audacious scams in our history. To pay the debt Europe was forced into austerity. Merkel used the clout of the troika* to impose the deal. A decade later the debt is still being paid. Europe has been put on a very strict diet while Germany feasts on its ill-gotten gains.

*European Commission, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Klein bemoans that Obama did not take the opportunity during the financial crisis (2008) to steer America in a different direction but no such condemnation of Merkel. Instead Merkel is commended for the creation of 400,000 green jobs (214) while coal still remains the basic energy provider for the nation. The decision to extend the green environment may have more to do with a dependency on Russian oil and gas.

Moreover, the ordinary people of Europe have paid an extreme price to bolster and maintain the German economy. Cracks are now appearing as the duration of the German plan continues to hurt. The EU is in deep trouble!

We must commend Ms Klein for accepting that Merkel’s raid on Europe was “merciless” (214). The actions of Merkel were a precursor to Trump’s campaign. Merkel put Germany first and had no concern for the needs of others. Trump has stated on numerous occasions that he will put America first come what may. Is he following Merkel’s lesson plan?

Merkel kicked democracy into the tall grass while she went about her business. Clear evidence can be found with the troika’s actions in Greece and Cyprus. Will Trump go that far?

Let’s leave the last word to Yanis Varoufakis:

I witnessed first hand what I can only describe as a naked class war that targeted the weak and scandalously favoured the ruling class.

Marchers Against Trump

Of course it is early days but can the movement set up to oppose Donald Trump, the new President of the United States be successful. Or is it all much ado about nothing? The turnout for the marches was very impressive. The question is whether it can be maintained. According to the NY times there was a four (4) hour meeting directly afterward in New York by the organisers to think of ways to keep and build on the momentum. The danger is that it will frizzle out like so many other spontaneous movements.

An article in the NY Times by Farah Stockman makes disturbing reading as it points out that the issue of race was raised almost immediately by black activists.  A comment by one such activist from Brooklyn wrote on the Facebook page encouraging participation, “…white allies. Listen more and talk less.”

On reading the above quote a wedding planner, Jennifer Willis from South Carolina was put off attending the rally. She had planned to do so with her daughters but felt that the message did not make her feel welcome.

While we may understand to a degree the activist’s attitude as black people are on the bottom rung in American society. Nonetheless, her belligerence put Jennifer Willis off. This was not an isolated incident as Stockman pointed out that the issue of race “erupted every day, exhilarating some and alienating others”. Tension was also visible in Tennessee and Louisiana.

Another damning point raised by Stockman was that Trump campaigned against ‘political correctness’ and won with half of white female voters supporting him. I’m sure that Trump had more than one issue on which he campaigned. However, the article highlights the divisions in American society which make it almost impossible to build a cohesive movement against his brand of politics.

A further divisive illustration comes from the Portland NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The body refused to become a part of, “…a white – women kumbaya march”. The main grievance was that the organising committee was not diverse enough and no speaker was arranged on the question of race. www.wweek.com/2017/01/11

Nonetheless, the march did go ahead and 100,000 turned out in the pouring rain to show their opinion. It is unclear whether the NAACP found a solution and participated.

Division was also evident in the choice of partner organisations. It appears that pro-life groups were not welcomed as found by the New Wave Feminists whose stance includes: anti-abortion, anti-war and against the death penalty. The complaint of the group was that they had been accepted onto the rooster but later ‘kicked off’, as were similar groups; ‘Students for Life of America’ and ‘And Then There Were None’. They joined the march anyway. www.catholichearld.co.uk

One group Planned Parenthood, who had carried out 324,000 abortions (2014 Annual Report), was accepted as a partner organisation. Therefore from the outset a political agenda was formed. Thus it is no longer a women’s movement but a political one. It may appear as a decisive step but if it leads to alienation then it is non inclusive. This is a sizable weakness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_Parenthood

The problem surrounding the abortion debate is the entrenchment on both sides. They are the ‘Bubble People’ they see only their point of view ergo there is no room for a cosy chat over a mug of coffee to find common ground.

The NY times also reported that minority women feared that any success for the movement would only benefit the white working class. While this would not be true it is illustrative of the hurdles that must be gone over.

The article in the Times also mentioned that, “Now a wide range of groups”, are trying to keep the movement going. At first glance such a coming together can appear as a sign of strength; rather, it’s a weakness. It is a weakness that can unravel the movement at any given time. Each group may come to a meeting not to find a common objective but to promote their own agenda.

Individual groups may argue that their programme for change is one that promotes all women. One could condemn any such group as wearing blinkers or of being politically naïve. Any bid to promote a singular issue is wrong on several levels:

  • I have highlighted two contentious standpoints that of race and pro-life. Both of these areas have multiple bodies claiming to represent the whole and within their field there will be factions that want a more confrontational approach, while others will abhor any hint of violence.
  • A place at the top table and how it will be manufactured can be a very divisive block. The question of representation can be critical as noted above. Will it be by quota, e.g. said amount of black people – Asian – Hispanics – Latino – white? What of partner organisations, will their size determine their quota or seat at the top table? How will this reflect on the political stance of the movement? Many questions, there resolution will be critical.
  • Any attempt to list their priorities can also be fraught with problems. A danger rests in trying to accommodate all the partner organisations and thus the demands become too numerous to gain political traction. Some groups may feel that their particular issue has not been given sufficient prominence.
  • In future demonstrations will the organisers insist on ‘passive resistance’ (Mahatma Ghandi & Martin Luther King) or allow each group to form their own policy. Another problem is keeping anarchists and others from trying to usurp the demos. Therefore who will police any future protests?
  • It will be assumed that the organisation will be democratic; the problem will come in unrolling equal participation. How will they prevent any one group becoming dominant? Therefore causing others to walk away.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/22/us/after-success-of-womens-march-a-question-remains-whats-next.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-2&action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/us/womens-march-on-washington-opens-contentious-dialogues-about-race.html?_r=1

 

There are so many hurdles, so many pitfalls that it will be incredibly difficult to maintain a united stance. Some inspiration may be found in the Shriver Report of 2014 written by Sonia Pressman Fuentes of NOW (National Organisation for Women). The report highlights eighteen (18) issues that women should fight to implement.

www.shriverreport.org/top-18-issues-challenging-women-today

  1. Poverty: I was surprised to read that in 2014 some 70million women and their children live in poverty in the U.S. That America has the largest number of homeless women and children of any industrialised country. Who could not lift their banner of protest against such a picture of despair?
  2. Wages: It is a universal truth that women are disproportionately found in low-paying jobs. But according to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin if employers showed more flexibility on hours and location the pay gap could be greatly reduced. This would help women everywhere.
  3. Violence: I was staggered by the numbers -270,000 rapes or sexual assaults annually in USA. That 1 in 3 females murdered is killed by a partner. Of course this is a world issue so perhaps the ‘movement’ in the U.S. could link up with Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) who have held large demonstrations in Argentina in a struggle against a culture of machismo. The fight in Argentina has been followed by groups in Uruguay and Chile.
  4. Abortion Rights
  5. Maternal Mortality Rates
  6. Sick pay and parental leave
  7. Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – needs to be enforced.
  8. Affordable Child Care: This like some others is a world problem. Johnathan Cohn cited in the report, states, “The lack of quality, affordable day care is arguably the most significant barrier to full equality for women in the workplace.”
  9. Women in prison and their horrid treatment.
  10. Human Trafficking: where nightmares are 24/7.
  11. Female representation in many aspects of society. A world problem.
  12. Discrimination in academia.
  13. Under representation in the Justice system.
  14. Under representation in large companies.
  15. Under representation and unequal pay in entertainment industry.
  16. Keeping women in high tech jobs.
  17. Lack of health insurance, affects 30m women and girls in U.S.
  18. CEDAW Treaty – an international bill of rights for women. USA only major country that has not ratified it.

They are all good causes though some are U.S. specific. I have chosen five (5) issues which I believe are uncontentious but significantly are world issues that could help galvanize women everywhere.

Poverty: Nobody can deny that poverty affects millions all over the world and if women didn’t cope our global society would fall apart. By embracing the cause of poverty and, the numbers in America are significant, a message of hope is sent wherever the internet reaches.

Wages: An issue that women in the Western World can readily agree with. It is in the West that the cudgel can be thrown down. If women in the West are not to be trifled with a message of hope flies around the world faster than a jet.

Violence: Where in the world have women not been acquainted with violence? The fight back in South America can only be uplifting for women everywhere. The culture of machismo is world-wide. Men are conditioned towards violence and especially when they feel inadequate. It needs a massive input into education.

Child care: Governments keep talking about getting more women into the workplace but do little to encourage or enforce businesses to cater for those with children. The quote by Johnathan Cohn above tells us just how big an issue it is.

Human Trafficking: The powerlessness of these women and children surely has a resonance with all women to some extent. A global business generating some $32 billion annually: what price misery. What cost men’s libido? It’s a tsunami of barbarity, women and children used worse than pigs in a pen. There is no bright star in their sky. Unless….

Equality of Burden

By accepting the premise that all women, no matter their status, are treated as second class citizens in some aspect of their life then you have equality of burden. There is no race, no religious or class issues; these are barriers to unity. If women can see beyond their present status and they can on many issues, then they can organise/vote for change as a singular body.

America has pole position in the chase for change. However, much will depend on their ability to overcome their biases. It’s a huge problem as bias can debilitate any organisation. As noted earlier tensions arose immediately concerning race, while some minority groups feared that it may become a programme for the white working class.

However, any change in working conditions would by necessity of law include all who work in that environment. What has emerged is just how divided American society is and how perceptions can be skewed. It is a massive task for the women’s movement but a unique opportunity to transform society.

A further testing case for the organisers of the women’s movement will be their attitude to the 53% of white females who voted but voted for Trump. (NY times & Newsweek) Two points can be raised immediately e.g. will they be welcomed to participate in subsequent action or simply dismissed as beyond exorcizing.

Unfortunately, some will dismiss them as right-wing fascists and want nothing to do with them. Others will recognise that if you nick them they will bleed. Surely there are issues on which the vast majority of women can agree? It would be a failure of magnitude not to invite the Trump supporters to participate. The opposition would correctly admonish the women’s campaign as not representative of all women.

Not to welcome, not to embrace the white women who voted Trump would be akin to railroading yourself into a cul-de-sac. It must also be remembered that around 30% of Hispanics voted Trump. If women are to make a credible difference, a long lasting difference, then they need the overwhelming majority on their ticket. This necessitates that some, perhaps more than some, will have to burst their bubble and walk out into the sun to welcome the warmth that camaraderie brings.

And thus it has to be noted that abortion is an extremely contentious issue and organisers must be cognizant of the millions of Catholic women and other religious groups that cannot accept abortion on demand. It is in recognising differences that we gain strength. As a fillip to the abortionist lobby I would recommend, the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

We Will Vote IF…

That is why non-contentious issues are vital. One such is violence. State the case by issuing an ultimatum: we will vote if your party will sanction stiffer penalties for violence against women and a fully paid programme in schools to educate about such violence.  If not fully implemented we will vote against you or abstain in the mid-term elections. Therefore you pick the battles you want to fight.

We will vote, IF… the government puts forward a programme to smash poverty by introducing legislation to build homeless shelters in every state. Produce a remit to subsidize specific charities to provide food and clothing to the most needy. No child should go hungry in America! No child should go without an equal chance in America! The same applies for the whole of the western world. A minimum wage can be a crucial element.

The issue of a minimum wage can be a winner as evidence shows it already has support from both Democrat and Republican women. At present the minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25. A proposition in 2014 to increase it to $10.10 over a two year period was defeated in the Senate by the Republicans.

However, the Republican states of: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all elected to increase their minimum wage.  This is a clear illustration that certain issues can bridge the gulf between the classes and race to gain cross political support. The measure would have affected 16.5 m workers and lifted 900,000 out of the poverty trap. A study of Claudia Goldin’s research might reveal a second route forward.

Furthermore, to have someone’s living standard dependant on the size of a tip is monstrous. It means that tipping becomes an expectation and a must, and, is thus an unfair burden on both the waiter and the diner. Surely the amount of a tip should be based on the quality of the meal and the standard of service and not as an obligation to help the worker survive.

It’s unbelievable that the worker gets around $2.13 an hour and has to make the rest up by tips. Does the owner of the establishment then take a cut if the tips go beyond the national minimum wage? The owner must be sitting in the back of the premises counting up his profit. Scrooge lives!

Further up the ladder would require legislative change to enforce employers to act accordingly with severe penalties if they do not. Example: Any employer found to be breaking the law should be made to pay full compensation to the employee- X – by the number of year’s service and face a fine of the equivalent of one year’s income for each employee affected, plus the cost of bringing the action.

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

child care

A simple must!

Child care is the one issue that affects every family though some much more than others. I was drawn to a TV news programme the 51% on France24.com. 31/01/17 The programme which focusses on women’s issues worldwide highlighted a growing dilemma for nations in Europe. Apparently women are having fewer children and a growing number are having none. This can be construed as a matter of choice but it has long term consequences.

The obvious downside is fewer young people which equates with less taxes = less to pay for pensions + less workers = less people available in care industry etc. The main solution was to greatly increase provision of affordable child care allowing more women to have a career and a family. It gives considerable credence to the view expressed by Johnathan Cohn cited earlier.

Discrimination against pregnant workers and new mothers is an ongoing problem. It should be a matter of law, an obligation of society, taken for granted that such provision is given. After all, were would we be without pregnant women? Again it requires government to get tough but it will only do so with your vote or threat of abstention.

Child care generally is patchy, haphazard and chaotic in places but its importance cannot be underestimated, “High quality early childhood programs are viewed by many educators as a critical way to help overcome the learning deficit many low-income kids face when they start kindergarten – an obstacle many never overcome”.

While 1.6 million families use federal subsidies the facilities and teaching are not always up to scratch. Overall there is $5 billion spent on subsidies but few reports on inspection or on background checks of the workers. www.cbsnews.com/news/review-finds-lax-child-care-rules-across-us

This investigation took place in 2013 and since then Obama has instituted a programme, Preschool for All with an estimated cost of $75bn over ten years, paid for by a tax increase on cigarettes. At the time over one (1) million were not receiving any preschool. The take up figures for those living below the poverty line was less than 50%. U.S. is one of the worse industrialised countries for preschool education and especially if your poor.

Moreover, Obama’s scheme has come under serious criticism from an educational specialist, Grover J. Whitehurst who argues that a study in Tennessee has more of, “…a positive effect on children’s social/emotional development”. He argues that Obama’s plan is lacklustre at best. Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN – VPK) is aimed at 4 year olds from low-income families.

https://thinkprogress.org/update-obama-budget-includes-75-billion-to-fund-preschool-for-all-initiative-83a77a17d8d8#.pe1z6ghdx

https://www.brookings.edu/research/new-evidence-raises-doubts-on-obamas-preschool-for-all/

Exploitation

There is a road so dark that only evil walks there, it’s the route of the people traffickers. It has to be the most despicable of all trades and this should be reflected in the punishment. A minimum of 30yrs in prison and all assets seized. Every nation should have special units that cooperate worldwide.

Any politician found to be involved must immediately stand down and all their assets seized even if it leaves their family without a home. Tough, but then they are the perpetrators of unimaginable misery.

This is a long term proposal over a ten (10) year period but action must be seen to be taken. It is also a critical issue because it mainly affects women and girls. If you can’t send out that message of hope – then go home.

The NOW organisation was founded in 1966 by 49 members of whom two were male. Only nine of the stalwarts are still active but seem to have their finger on the pulse.

Moreover, the folks at NOW might have a lot more to contribute to today’s organisers. What has inspired them to keep going all these years? What have they learned and what can they impart. There must be many stories about achievements and disappointments. There will also be lots of contacts; not forgetting the stored ability of those still standing.

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

http://now.org/

 

If the road was clear, with no traffic, then the women’s movement could march straight ahead gaining momentum as they pass each village and town. (Ghandi’s Salt March) Unfortunately, there are many actors who are cocksure of their direction and are adamant that their voice should rise above all others. They are a hindrance because they cannot hear the others sing. They are the soloist who feels superior to the choir.

It is these soloists that will hold back and eventually break a movement that holds a mountain of promise. They must be told to leave their baggage at the door. If they cannot burst their own bubble it must be broken for them.

There is abundant evidence that at grassroots there is massive support to push forward women’s issues. It is the collective noun that is the vital ingredient to the mix. There is an overwhelming wealth of talent out there, it would be a catastrophic failure to restrict it or allow it to fritter away. There is also solid evidence that a victory can be won by promoting a National Minimum Wage.

This is a win – win issue that can galvanize the whole movement and give heart to those on both sides of the track that all can contribute. It can be a significant stepping stone. Be careful Donald, there’s an army on your doorstep!

Vote or Abstain:  the power lies with you!

 

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.

 

 

 

The Rape of the Poor

 

Try not to live as a pretender,

But so try to manage your affairs

That you are loved by wide expanses,

And hear the call of future years.

Boris Pasternak – It is not Seemly to be Famous – stanza 3

It is now well documented that while the super rich have grown richer the poor have travelled in the opposite direction. According to several economic writers the blame lies squarely with the neo-liberal economic model*, and, that its demise signals the last rites for capitalism. It’s a stretch to suggest that because one economic model has failed that we must prepare for a new world order.

However, there is one truth and that is that the poor have been raped. They have been raped of income, of opportunity, of prospects, of their self-esteem and of their very dignity. Let’s draw our picture with a few succinct and powerful quotes from notable writers.

The USA, under neoliberalism, boosted profits by impoverishing its own citizens.” Paul Mason (p19)1

“…income inequality has reached extreme levels not seen since the 1920s, and before that, the 1890s.” James Rickards (p236)2

The general thrust of these quotes are supported by other economists that I have previously quoted in earlier posts: Stiglitz, Chang, Rodrik, and Krugman. There can be no doubt that the poor have not kept pace with the distribution of wealth that has been generated. The push to globalization and its fellow rider free trade have cost the poor of the western nations much.

*www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism    

 Multinationals have simply used their capital to invest elsewhere, mostly in Asia and China in particular, to utilise the cheap and at times slave labour. A prime example, quoted in several books is that of Apple. This company pays to have its phones etc. manufactured in China by cheap labour but when the finished product comes back to USA and Europe, Apple charge a price that would equate to the phones being manufactured in America or Europe. The company makes huge profits from such an arrangement. Huge!

We are all now aware why the big boys have been promoting globalization and free trade; it’s of great benefit to their profit margin. The rest of the populace can go take a hike!

Banksy

But wait! The hoi polloi have not sauntered off with their cap between their legs. No, they’ve used their democratic right to vote against the elite. They have done what our politicians have been afraid to do.

Stunned, the elite stare in amazement at the audacity of the low-life. Some have voiced their anger at this popular wave of sentiment: the Brexit vote in UK, the Trump victory and the referendum outcome in Italy. Shit! they cry. The bastards are ganging up on us! However, the real reason is that the elite have been blinkered by “decades of denial” Rickards (p230) Paul Mason (p258)

Nonetheless, the elite have sent out their Stormtroopers to defend their rights. Politicians of various hues have marched to the given tune. Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission has made it clear that events should not be dictated by populism. John Major, ex-Prime Minister of Britain bemoaned the “tyranny of the majority” (John Stuart Mill 1859). Meanwhile, Labour MP Chuka Umunna, speaking on the BBC News channel spoke of the “elective dictatorship”.

·         These little men are so full of their own self-importance.

Let’s try and explain to these political hacks why populism is so in vogue:

“Once the election is over, voters are ignored and winning elites carry out preconceived plans”. Rickards (p238) Ring a bell? Been here before?

This leads nicely to philosopher Michael Sandel, (p13) 3

“Disillusion with politics has deepened as citizens grow frustrated with a political system unable to act for the public good, or address the questions that matter most”.

I would make one quibble with Sandel with his use of the word ‘unable’; I would have used the adjective ‘unwilling’.

Michael Sandel’s book was published in 2012 and was probably written therefore in 2011, if not before. Five years later and the elite still had not grasped the significance of what was happening right under their noses! The logical explanation is that they couldn’t give a shit. And now the shit has hit the fan!

One can only learn if willing to. It seems our political masters are unwilling. Their attack on democracy, for that’s what it amounts to, is a clear attempt to diminish the power of the majority. We cannot as a society, have a democracy that does not adhere to the majority vote, whether we agree with the vote or not. Let those who talk of the “tyranny of the majority” stand up and demand a dictatorship.

I appreciate that Karl Popper in his work the Open Society had a dilemma accepting a majority vote in favour of a fascist party. My response to his concern is that society should never get so low down that it is faced with such a prospect. A democratic society has failed if it reaches that stage.

In the midst of a crisis people hanker for a solution, a solution with the least trouble. The question is should people push forward in a direction of which they are unsure, full of doubt but advised to dare. Or will people be more cautious and look for something vaguely familiar or perhaps rely on the political party that appears to know what it wants and how to get everyone there. The road to fascism!

Democracy: The Only Road Forward

In the general election of 2015 in the UK, the Conservative Party polled 36.9% of the public vote and secured power as the next government. The Labour Party won 30.4% of the popular vote and is now trying to override a majority decision of 52% that voted to leave the EU.

The Scottish nationalist with 4.7% of the national vote are busy screaming in alto from the upper circle; joined by the Liberals who saw their percentage of the vote fall by a staggering 16%. The refrain of this unlikely choir is, ‘All we are saying, is let’s stay in’. They’ll still be singing as the gravy train goes rolling down the track – out of sight.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results

We have reached an impasse, will the political class respond positively and accept that the times are changing or must they be pushed to the wayside. Will it be the death knell of capitalism as espoused by Paul Mason and James Rickards? There is little doubt that neoliberal policies have proved a nightmare for the overwhelming majority. Those at the top end of the table had a feast out of neoliberalism. The question is are they now willing to share?

Perchance they will remain in denial as both Rickards and Mason state. If so what are the consequences? I doubt the elite can carry on much longer on their present course. The deep frustration with the elite will turn increasingly to anger which will beget activist groups taking up the cause of the people.

Such a scenario will not strengthen the elite as the use of force against these factions will break down quickly. It will not bring out the silent majority against the perpetrators. That old reliance was only solid when there was trust and most people felt good about their lifestyle. The rise of populism is a clear indication that many are genuinely feeling downtrodden.

Many of the elite may feel just as Mitt Romney does, “…inequality is the kind of thing that should be discussed quietly and privately.” J Stiglitz (p33)4  Those days I’m afraid are gone, if they ever existed outside the comfort of elite homes and country clubs.

Winter for all Seasons

According to Paul Mason (p262) quoting from a survey from the OECD that world development will be weak for the next 50 years and that inequality will rise by an estimated 40%. If these figures are anywhere near accurate then winter is going to be all year round for the poor. And if winter is all year round people are going to get mighty fed-up! Guy Fawkes might get reinvented for real.

Mason also states that the only way to keep globalization and free trade is by having the costs borne by the poor. Again if he is right – its winter! He gains support for his view from James Rickards (p227) who argues, “Yet free markets and free trade are flawed in theory, non-existent in practice.”

This assertion is proven when we look again at the practises of Apple and other conglomerates. Such businesses gain comparative advantage because their money buys more in China and the cheap labour make it a double whammy. China also gains comparative advantage by having the investment and the jobs. Who loses? The workers in America and other western nations!

Further examples are the manipulation of the Chinese currency the yuan or of their interest rates. Other nations have also made great use of the manipulation of both as well as the corporate tax which for example, is due to reduce from 28% in 2010 to 17% in the UK by 2020. Therefore there are no free markets or free trade; everything has a fix.

Nonetheless, the lack of truly free markets or trade does not spell the end of capitalism. The system has witnessed upheaval before, several times, and by hook or crook the system has mutated or morphed and we carry on. In living memory for some is the horror of the 1920s and 1930s – ‘Buddy can you spare me a dime’.

Another period of uncertainty was in 1968 when many of the young at the time believed they were on the brink of revolution particularly in France. In the USA there was the anti-Vietnam protests, civil rights, the rise of the Black Panther movement, and woman’s lib. The Prague Spring, trouble was brewing all over the world. “Many protests were a direct response to perceived injustices…”

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_of_1968

Most recently the 2008 financial crash has kicked many, right where it hurts. Ouch!

What is increasingly likely is turmoil in the EU. The euro () has never been stable and the single market is hurting many countries. These nations: Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland among their number have been on the receiving end of the slump that followed the 2008 crash. For eight (8) years they have held to the philosophy of the single market but, and it’s a big but, for how much longer.

Paul Mason (p261) argues that the EU is just one ‘political accident’ away from collapse. In this I would be in agreement with him. The self-interest of politicians from one of the nations mentioned above may be the trigger in a struggle to stay in power.  Moreover, the euro () was a political construct not a financial one and therefore weak from, GO. The bureaucracy is too big, and wields too much political power. A bureaucracy should never hold political influence; otherwise we enter the realm of Stalin.

However, any possible collapse can and should be managed. The EU needs to reinvent itself and those in power must surely be aware of the need for radical reform. The euro is but a starting point. It’s about the political class’s ability to face reality. If not – KA-POW!

Moreover, Mason and Rickards are not the first economic writers to predict the fall of capitalism. Joseph Schumpeter (1883 – 1950) had a whole school of economics named after him and prophesied the evolution of capitalism into socialism. It didn’t happen, as you are aware.

Schumpeter recognised that capitalism adapted and adopted but felt that the very nature of the system and the changes it goes through would cause its mutation.  Schumpeter  termed it ‘creative destruction’ thus the process of regular change and the growth of multinationals and management teams would stymie the entrepreneur, as a result  the system  would lose its dynamism and, the bureaucracy and the State would play a greater part in the new socialist world.

Of course others preceded Schumpeter. We can look back to Marx and Engels, to the world of Lenin and Trotsky, to Mao and the likes of Ho Chi Minh. With the exclusion of Marx and Engels, the other attempts at the promised land directed by the state from the centre came crashing down. The failure in all these enterprises was the insistence on ‘democratic centralism’ – basically the central committee told everyone what to do. It was the vision of the Politburo or nothing.

The other side of the coin of failure was trying to control development and trade in a predominately capitalist world. In essence they could not compete which forced their leaders to become increasingly totalitarian. And as usual the workers paid the price!

Market Economy?

Nonetheless, the state has a role in the capitalist system. Neoliberalism may want a minimalist state but we’ve never heard the big boys moan when regularly bailed out. In every economic downturn or crash as in 1929 and 2008 the state stepped in with tax payers’ money to prevent the catastrophe that would have followed in consequence.

Ha-Joon Chang (p456)5 is adamant that the state has a crucial role and may even be critical in maintaining a society for the public good. “The economy is much bigger than the market. We will not be able to build a good economy-or a good society-unless we look at the vast expanse beyond the market.” He cites Herbert Simon of the Behaviourist School, that 80% of economic activity happens inside organizations not in the market. (p159)

So what can the state do to help rebuild our broken economy? Many jobs can be created by investment especially by improving infrastructure: build more and better roads etc. Even Donald Trump threatens to help America get going again by infrastructure programmes.   

Retreat is another way to help our economy, retreat to the Bretton Woods agreement of July 1944 and claw back the free rein given to the banking sector through deregulation by Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Perhaps there’s a need for another clever intervention as with the New Deal 1933-1938 which held back the growing tide of anger at the depth and extent of poverty at the time. Of course the economy really took off with the Second World War but I’m not advocating a third.

The Bretton Woods agreement was an attempt to bring lasting stability to the world economy, and it worked until dismantled. The team which drafted the programme described the world of finance as “…a casino instead of a driver of economic well-being.” Rodrik (p97)6 Rodrik (p111) after examining a lot of evidence, stated, “The inevitable conclusion is that financial globalization has failed us.”  

Trade globalization can also be restricted and more power shifted to domestic governments. Let’s leave it to economist Ha-Joon Chang (p446) to lay down the case for a rethink:

“In the last three decades of hyper-globalization, economic growth has slowed down, inequality has increased, and financial crises have become far more frequent in most countries.”

Michael Sandel (p64) adds, “Economists often assume that markets do not touch or taint the goods they regulate. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark on social norms. Often, market incentives erode or crowd out nonmarket incentives.”

Sandel argues that to put a price on everything diminishes the human interaction. He gives several examples such as the selling of kidneys and blood. Such enterprises hurt the lower class the most; it is therefore unfair, as here survival often necessitates the action. His philosophy demolishes the logic of neoliberal economists that we are all motivated by self-interest.

The trafficking of women and children for sex is a clear example. The kidnappers / sellers are self –interested as are the men who pay to use these unfortunates. But can it ever be justified? Would we or should we ever permit it as a legitimized trade transaction?

The human factor cannot be discounted from any understanding of how the world works. Money is but one example of a motivator. However, it’s also regarded as the ‘root of all evil’. Somebody knew something. Economists don’t like nouns like ‘altruism’ because they can’t quantify it and therefore can’t add it to their constructed model.

Let’s refer once again to the philosopher Michael Sandel (p130)

“Altruism, generosity, solidarity, and civic spirit are not like commodities that are depleted by use. They are more like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise. One of the defects of a market-driven society is that it lets these virtues languish.”

This is an area that I don’t think Mason has fully taken on board; emotion is a most powerful part of our makeup and can lead us in many directions. I’m thinking of religion and its hold over people and their decision making. Any move to socialism may be blocked, unless we let God in, because religion can be very intractable.

Obviously, the market is not all that the neoliberal /classical economists would have us believe. But is the capitalist system doomed as Mason and Rickards suggest. I have an alternative view of what is taking place. I believe it’s a war of the elites.

Clash of the Titans

Wealth creation has a direct relation with power and consequently the Middle East has become one of the richest areas on the planet. Therefore, presumably, it could become the prime powerhouse of the globe and its elite the most powerful group. Add to that scenario the emergence of China and its record breaking productivity which casts it into a power player. Then of course, we have the West, led by America.

On the outskirts of this game lies Russia, rejected by the elite of the West because Putin won’t play ball by the set rules. Putin cannot be trusted to conform to the big picture. So, Russia gets up to as much mischief as it can in an attempt to be heard and still retain some credibility as a big player.

So here we have it, three main players at the table and an outcast screeching on a bench nearby. The Middle East has vast wealth and can turn on a tap to get as much as it wants. China has been accumulating significant wealth over the last few decades and can screw its people for more if needed – bang goes their saving plans.

The West has a fair back up but needed a whole lot more, hence the rape of the poor. It needed to replenish the coffers to make the banker feel good. But the West had an ace up its sleeve; it could cause big trouble in little China and particularly in the Middle East.

War! The Iraq war was only partially about oil and more about destabilizing the region. The Arab world was then encouraged to turn against each other. In Libya, under the guise of introducing democracy the West invaded – the nation is still torn apart. A similar ploy was utilized in Syria. For generations the different brothers of Islam, Shiite and Sunni lived in calm cohesion, now there is nothing but killing of their brothers.

 China has built a powerful industrial base but this has been on the back of Western capital. The multinationals can at any time transfer their allegiance back to their home nation leaving China with a major industrial wasteland.

It may seem that the West have the resource to come out on top. Perhaps, but the rise of populism has taken the gloss off their cosy abode, unless they come up with something new damp and rot will set in and they could lose any advantage.

Therefore the contention is that the world is in trouble because the elites are at war. Once this battle is resolved it will be back to business. Thus capitalism is not falling apart; it is being used by the elites to fight their respective corner.

There is so much more to this theory: industrial espionage, the deliberate interference on manufacturing of products. In this war some industrial giants are being forced to recall damaged goods which have been sabotaged, costing them $ millions. It’s nasty out there!

Notwithstanding, neoliberalism has proven a disaster movie: the steadfast, independent and strong individual (read – elites) have fought off the greedy bandits’ (read –poor) and secured world domination. Not quite! Ordinary Joe is back with a new army armed with the knowledge that:

·         Financial globalization has failed

·         Trade globalization has failed

·         That inequality has greatly increased.

The people want a better managed, more fair, more decent society than the ‘grab what you can mentality’ of the present system. Citizens want a ‘civic spirit’; they want to flex those ‘muscles’ to strengthen the positive values to take us forward. The people want a fair share of the goods they help produce.

So we are getting close to the crossroads, there will be change but I don’t think it will be revolutionary, it will be a while yet before the end to the capitalist system. Capitalism will not meld or morph into socialism; we are simply not ready intellectually for that stage of development. How damned unfortunate!

Instead governments will spend as Keynes advised. They will also introduce a degree of protectionism while continuing to promote free trade. Currency, corporate tax and interest rates will be manipulated. The financial world will be regulated as before. This will be a period of stabilizing the economy. Government investment will become a crucial element in future development.

Much may be determined by the political class. Whether they have the nous to change, the strength of will, the character, and a sense of civic duty. Or will they besmirch the aspirations of the people and cry foul as have British politicians over the Brexit vote.

We move on, perhaps a tad slower than before but hopefully happier.

1.       Paul Mason        POSTCAPITALISM A Guide to our Future.

2.       James Rickards The Road to Ruin

3.       Michael Sandel                 What Money Can’t Buy

4.       J.E.Stiglitz            The Price of Inequality

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

6.       Dani Rodrik         The Globalization Paradox

 

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!

 

Taming the Beast (5)

Democracy in Peril!

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

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

If only it was about food waste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Empire Strikes Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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Dark – Darker – Darkness

human_evolution_article_big3[1]How far are we humans along the road of evolution? Some will point to our technological advances to suggest we are well north of phenomenal. They will point to developments in science generally and to medicine, travel and communication in particular and pronounce that the world is growing smaller and more beneficial for all.

A minority report may argue vociferously that the world has grown worse. This report would point to trafficking of people, drugs, and weapons, in effect anything illegal that generates cash. Money is the oil which keeps the wheels of the economic system working. This ‘black economy’ is perhaps the real economy.

Power and its offshoots – privilege –prestige – influence (there are more) are the motivators. It’s a truism that money speaks and money buys, whether you are a CEO of a major company or a head-honcho of a major drug cartel. If you are truly ambitious and have enough dosh personally and in support you can become the President of the USA, numero uno of the world’s politicians.thKGW4YVRM

“It is now painfully clear that elections depend substantially on money, and elected officials have to spend too much time raising money and respond disproportionately to the preferences of donors.” US Supreme Court cited Reuters 2015/01/19

www.blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/01/19/

In my previous post: Morality: Did it Ever Exist I mentioned that slavery is now more prevalent than ever and sad to say but the same is true of child abuse. The statistics are a tale of human depravity.

Figures such as, forty million kids below the age of 15 are subjected to abuse, WHO 2001. Most suffer from physical abuse. Emotional abuse can devastate for a lifetime. thBHNITY72Sexual abuse is estimated to affect 36% of girls and 29% of boys. In 2005 UNICEF suggested that an astonishing 100 – 140 million girls are subjected to genital mutilation. The ILO (2006) say that around 250 million kids between the ages of five (5) and fourteen (14) are used as forced labour. Also that one million kids have been trafficked for the sex trade.

Check the dates, they are from years ago but nothing has improved. Up to date statistics can be found at:

My attention was redrawn to this heinous crime by the events in Kasur Pakistan. Here child abuse was run like a family business.

Around 270 kids from the age of 12 were forced into sexual acts which were videoed. The child and family would then be blackmailed or the video sold. The depravity has been going on for years. We may never know the true number of kids abused in this way. Telegraph 2015/08/10 + uk.reuters.com

Another attention grabber was in Bedford England where a man was jailed for 16 months for having 20,000 images of child abuse on his computer. Some 3,300 were Category A – the most obscene. Personally, I would lock the cell door and toss the key! www.bedfordtoday.co.uk

The picture in the UK generally is not good, the NSPCC report that 62,000 children phoned Childline in 2014 of these over 18,000 referred to sexual abuse. Of 23,000 sexual offences against kids some 5,500 were under the age of eleven (11). The number of cases continues to rise.

Meanwhile across Europe 250,000 kids go missing. Almost half are runaways – from what? Of the rest; will we ever know? There is a European hotline 116000 but the funds to operate it run out at the end of the year. Do many know of its existence?          Euronews.

I was bemused to read that in western countries preventing abuse was “a high priority”, among politicians.  Read the coverage at this site.      www.en.m.wikipedia.org/childabuse

The situation in America is dire. The website childhelp.org suggests that 3 million child abuse cases are reported annually which is categorized as the worse of the industrial nations. In addition five (5) kids a day die from abuse and neglect.

Furthermore, compassion.com suggests that 20% of women and between 5 -10% of men say they were sexually abused as kids. That worldwide nearly two (2) million children are exploited in the commercial sex trade and, that sexual abuse is the second largest criminal industry and growing.

There is a slither of good news Google (developer) Facebook and Twitter are to block “hash lists” of child abuse. This is good news indeed by these companies but hiding it will not prevent it. Our politicians must do more.

What of the “high priority” pledge by politicians. Is it a pretence that something is happening when in fact it is not. We should demand a ten or twenty point plan with a timeline agreed to at a G20 summit.

At the 2014 UN General Assembly meeting – the 69th session –  seven (7) summits were organised for the week: indigenous people, climate change, counter-terrorism, Ebola, education and a Global compact – businessmen meeting. www.ipnews.net

Have you noticed any significant change in these areas? Ebola, but that in reality was a marketing exercise by the West. (Call me cynical) It was an easy fix in global terms. More people die in Africa from poor water supply and malaria. Let’s eradicate them!!

Another UN meeting in August 2015 the Sustainable Development Agenda was accepted with the aim to end poverty by 2030. The cost will be in the region of $3 – 5 trillion per year. Can you see it happening? Cynical!! One interesting point came from the discussions:

“Women and girls everywhere have much to gain from the SDGs. But to make it a reality we have to keep pressure on governments to follow through in their commitments”. Shannon Kowalski

Note the ‘But’! That’s a big ‘if’ factor as success depends on national politicians. Note also that everything is geared to sustained business development as the only hope of achieving the goals. However, centuries of capitalism has not ameliorated poverty, slavery or child abuse.

Capitalism is not the best-fit option for humanity. It stimulates our base instincts like greed and pride. When stress enters our lives some go dark, the greater the stress the darker they go. In times of great upheaval we enter the darkness, ethnic cleansing etc.

The world cannot grow until men learn how to!!