Julie Wilson, 8, trying to work out how to let the big guy know he’s been had.
BROKEN FORKS – Saying she just wasn’t ready for the look on her dad’s face when she tells him that there’s no such thing as trickle-down economics, little Julie Wilson, of Broken Forks, Montana, today admitted it was getting pretty hard to answer her Republican father’s increasingly probing questions.
“At night, when he’s getting ready to head out to his second job – the one he works in the evenings to pay for our health insurance – it can be really hard to look him in the eye and say supply-side theory isn’t going to let him down this holiday season. Not like last year. And the 39 before it.”
Eight-year-old Julie says that the elaborate charade she goes through to avoid dashing her dad’s belief in the inherent decency of rich people…
Sleepless periods at night seem to get more frequent as I get older. But last night was bad. Yesterday the UK government decided to put the frighteners on not only MPs but the entire population, in a probably vain attempt to get MPs to back Theresa May’s deal with the EU in January. They certainly set my angst going.
They actually appear to be taking seriously the prospect of a so-called ‘hard brexit’, otherwise known as jumping off an economic cliff and reneging on your international agreements. (Who will do a trade deal with a country like that?)
They outlined plans to increase the national debt by TWO BILLION POUNDS to spend on preparation for a hard brexit (while use of food banks is increasing in a supposedly rich economy), and are sending letters to companies to say that they need to prepare. As the CBI rapidly pointed out the whole idea is not tolerable. What small company has the spare time and effort available to prepare for such an unknown world and keep their business afloat? No wonder some are opening branches on the continent and moving some of their business there.
Of course, the two billion will temporarily improve the economic figures, so that the government can ‘claim’ their economic policies are working.
The whole idea of ‘hard brexit’ is not acceptable, not tolerable, cannot be allowed to happen. This should have been the first thing agreed with Europe, rather than the UK trying to use it as a bargaining chip.
And this form of psychological warfare on parliament and the people is not acceptable either.
And it’s all happening because of the incompetence of the incumbent prime minister and the frittering away of the time since she invoked Article 50, trying to please the far right hard brexiteers in her party.
If it will not accept her deal, parliament simply needs more time – either to arrange a new ‘people’s vote’ (in which hard brexit should not be an option) or to sort out a new deal that the majority in parliament can accept, which surely involves working across parties. Shock, horror. What a thought.
It’s time to recognise that Brexit is a process and not a one-off event achieved at a particular point in time.
The Scream by Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s in the nature of polarity that neither side can ‘win’. There is always a balance to be achieved in the creative interplay of opposites.
So what are we to make of the attitude of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in this context? Everywhere, it seems, we see groups fighting for their ideal and resisting ever compromising on what they see as ‘right’.
In the UK, the Brexiteers will never compromise on anything short of hard Brexit. The Remainers think a big mistake has been made, which must be reversed. The US thought it ‘won’ the cold war and sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.
Of course, you can win in sport, and you can apparently win in life. In 2000, the neoconservatives ‘won’ the direction of US policy for decades, by fair means or foul.
But you cannot cheat the polarity for ever. The chickens come home to roost if the balance gets too far out of kilter. Make inequality too great, and you get unrest, then revolution. Ignore the scientific evidence on climate and the climate comes back to bite you.
Populism thrives on simple ideas about ‘winning’. We desperately need to reach a more sophisticated level of discourse. Winning is illusory, and usually involves overriding or ignoring the necessary counterbalance.
Featured image. When England won. The queen presents 1966 World Cup to England captain Bobby Robson, via Wikimedia Commons
Bush and Cheney: How They Ruined America and the World
I’ve had this book by Professor David Ray Griffin for some time, but hesitated to put it on top of the reading list. Having taken an interest in world affairs over the years, I sort of knew what it says. It’s still quite disturbing to see it all laid out in one place.
The neoconservative ideology, of which Dick Cheney was a major leader, had been around since the Reagan years, culminating in the articulation of the Project for the New American Century, aimed at maintaining American ‘full spectrum’ domination of world affairs. It seems that those ‘hanging chads’ in Florida in November 2000, and the resulting ‘stolen’ presidential election that brought George W Bush and Cheney to power allowed these ideas to have full effect. This had a profound impact on future decades, leading to the multiple crises we see today. Consider the contents of part I of this tome.
The failure to prevent 9/11
The nonsensical ‘war on terror’ and the Afghanistan war
The increase in military spending and policy of pre-emptive war and regime change (carried forward from the Reagan years)
The corruptly-justified Iraq war and incompetent dissolution of the Iraqi army that led to the formation of ISIS
The extreme Islamaphobia
The global chaos caused by America’s ‘war for the greater middle east’ – American supported insurrections in Libya, Syria, Yemen. (The policies were basically carried forward by Obama/Clinton/Kerry). The uncritical support of Israel’s unjust stasis. All this of course leading to Europe’s current refugee crisis.
The flouting of US and international law in drone killings and targeted assassinations, even of US citizens. A counter-productive policy that continues to this day.
Changing the US constitution that limited the ability of the Executive to make war, many violations of the first, fourth and fifth amendments, including warrantless searches, use of torture, capturing huge amounts of data as revealed by Edward Snowden.
Confrontation with Russia by moving Nato and weapons nearer to the Russian border, with the probable aim of regime change in Russia. Regime change in Ukraine that appears to have involved dirty tricks, as has the subsequent confrontation with Russia. Griffin suggests that similar confrontation with China led to the construction of the disputed islands in the China Sea. All this greatly increases the risk of nuclear holocaust.
Finally, the persistent denial and refusal to act on climate change and global warming has already closed the window on when the major problems could be averted. Continued refusal to act pushes us ever nearer climate breakdown (‘ecological holocaust’).
This first part of the book is profoundly depressing, and recalled the many occasions when I have personally recoiled at the grossness and lack of intelligence in the US’s policies.
You could just see this all as a grand conspiracy theory, but it seems that the cap fits. US exceptionalism and the thinking of Empire really is perhaps the greatest danger to today’s world.
But we do need to sometimes face the reality of the world as it is, in order to move towards a better world tomorrow. It should be clear to most thinking people that the US has been for two decades travelling up a long blind and self-defeating alley. Donald Trump just makes it all a bit more unpredictable.
Do they really want to be the Emperors of a dead world?
I thought this second Eliot quote might be appropriate, but I’m not so sure about the good intentions.
“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”
― T.S. Eliot
Maybe I’ll get to read part 2 of the book, on 9/11, when I’ve recovered.
Featured image of Bush and Cheney at 2003 State of the Union, from Wikimedia Commons
If you wish to understand how society always organizes itself:
Equals can get along if they have nothing to do with each other or both are generous to each other.
Superior/sub-ordinate can get along if both will be merely just to each other.
There was some interest in this so I’ll explain what I mean and why it is the case.
There are and have been many forms of social organization—democracy, republics monarchies, dictatorships, bureaucracies, clubs, churches, friends, families, neighbors, villages, cities, etc.—but they all share some basic traits because they are organizations of human beings and human nature imposes restrictions upon how human beings can be organized.
In a fallen world, one of the biggest problems which needs to be handled in human relationships is how to handle when two people’s wills diverge. There are only three possible outcomes: both get their way, one…
I’ve never really understood the case for Brexit. What was wrong with over 40 years of peace and prosperity? Of course there were issues to be addressed, there always are. In a recent issue of The Times, Max Hastings neatly summarised the situation we, the UK, find ourselves in with Brexit.
Three years ago any thoughtful citizen could identify the principal problems facing Britain: productivity; Londonification; the flagging education system; a society financially skewed in favour of the old and against the young; Islamist extremism; funding of the NHS and welfare; stagnation of real earnings; job losses to technology.
None had anything to do with the European Union yet a faction of fanatics not only believed, but was successful in convincing millions of voters, that if we could only escape the thraldom of Brussels, a Heineken transformation would overtake the country, miraculously refreshing everything else.
I don’t agree with all of his list of problems, but leave that aside. Why did Britain stop worrying about the most important issues facing the country (many self-inflicted by Conservative austerity) and instead focus all its energies on the single issue of Brexit, as indeed it continues to do today?
The catalyst issue was immigration, which Brexit will probably in the end not significantly address because of sheer economic necessity. But how did the ideas become so prominent in the public domain, such that the Brexit vote was lost by the Cameron government against all expectations?
Essentially, the problems of the status quo were projected on to questions of nationhood and Europe because the political establishment and the media had not, since the New Labour years, seriously engaged with the European project. It appeared from the start that David Cameron insisted on being a right wing outsider in Europe, rather than a mainstream player, pandering to the right wing of his own party. When he needed European help with the immigration issue, the help was not there, because the bridges had not been built.
It did not help that a significant portion of the mainstream media were very anti Europe, reflecting the self-interested views of their rich owners, reinforced by the amplification of reactionary viewpoints in the ghettos of social media.
The final nail was the referendum, called to see off UKIP, in which it succeeded, but with the result no one expected.
But wasn’t the real problem more in London than in Brussels?
This post by Bruce Nixon repeats an article published by Peter Kellner in the New European 24 November. It is worth reading, as it articulates well an important facet of the debate about a possible second Brexit poll.
Perhaps the most important point Kellner makes is that on the age of voters.
We know that young voters are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, while older voters voted two-to-one to leave the EU.
He goes on to quantify:
Around 600,000 Britons die each year; a further 700,000 reach voting age. Taking account of polling data about older voters, and recent surveys of the views of new voters, and allowing for the fact that older electors are more likely to vote than younger electors, we find that…
demography alone is shrinking the Leave majority by almost 500,000 a year, or 1,350 a day. As the overall Leave majority in the referendum was 1,269,501, the effect is to cause the Leave majority to disappear on January 19, ten weeks before the scheduled Brexit day.
So, at the point of leaving, the majority for Brexit has disappeared. Now it’s a weird form of democracy that does not at least pause at this prospect, and check ‘Is this what you really want?’. Particularly when the deal on offer is manifestly worse economically than the status quo.
I just discovered Tim Jackson’s excellent website and blog, particularly this item with the above title. (Thank you, daughter.) Tim seems like the sort of economics thinker that we need so much, questioning the conventional wisdom that is not working, and pointing the way forward.
In the post he reminds us of Robert Kennedy and particularly his thoughts on the usefulness of GDP as a measure for the health of an economy.
The GDP ‘measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country… It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.’
Robert F Kennedy, Kansas 18 March 1968
You can hear the Kennedy speech in greater length on the video included in the above blog item.
Tim goes on to identify a number of modern initiatives that give hope that the professionals in this area are really eventually going to move on from the obsession with GDP, which is stopping us from addressing many of today’s problems (I will not bore you by listing them all again). When will the politicians and media follow suit, one wonders? The obsession with GDP and ‘growth’ is still evidently pervasive in UK ‘mainstream’ discourse.
Of course, this is just one example of the modern business and political approach of managing by metrics, which gives the illusion of control, without actually addressing the real issues that need to be managed. Metrics can be useful, so long as you are aware of their limitations, and so long as they do not become the dominant factor in what you are managing.
As Tim reminds us, Robert Kennedy was assassinated a few months after his Kansas speech, while mounting his run for the US presidency. I well remember the devastating effect that event had on young people in the UK, including myself. Robert Kennedy seemed a beacon of hope in difficult times. How different history might have been…
Picture shows Robert Kennedy addressing a crowd in 1963, by Leffler, Warren K., via Wikimedia Commons
The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People
As one of a generation haunted by discovering the then-recent calamity of WW2, now disturbed by the rise in populism across the world, I found this a timely book by Julia Boyd.
It tells the story of the Third Reich through the eyes of people who visited or lived in Germany through the days of Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power, its consolidation, the increasing drumbeats towards war, and the war itself.
What is remarkable is how many people gave the Nazi regime the benefit of the doubt, despite the clear signs, such as the centralisation of all power, rescinding of civil liberties and press freedom, the early concentration camps, the persecution of Jews, the burning of books (all in 1933) through to Kristallnacht (1938) and the subsequent descent into war.
Of course, the desire to avoid another war was a major part of this, and there is the interesting story of Neville Chamberlain’s vain attempt to make peace in Munich in 1938, and Hitler’s dismissive attitude to the whole affair.
The book presents an interesting story, perhaps a bit long-winded at times. It certainly opened my eyes to some things, such as the fact that Germany welcomed English and American tourists throughout the 1930s, and many found the country very efficient and friendly, except where they came face to face with the persecution of Jews and supposed non-aryans.
The stories from the 1920s and early 1930s show that, after making a fair recovery from WW1, Germany was not in a good place after the shock of the great depression. The arduous reparation terms imposed by the Allies at the end of WW1 were a major cause of German suffering and dissatisfaction. It seems that these were major factors in the rise to power of Hitler.
The evident parallel today is the rise of populism following the 2008 financial crash, and the subsequent failure to make due reckoning with its causes. The missing factor today is there is no sense of national persecution similar to that caused in Germany by the WW1 armistice terms.
In the case of Donald Trump and the US, it is maybe too early to say how far the parallels go – but he clearly came to the presidency by exploiting white male dissatisfaction with the status quo that had come about – economic, racial and misogynistic. On the positive side, the US constitution appears to be much more robust in resisting over-centralization of power than was Germany in the 1930s.
Human societies get so stuck in a collective mental groove, like a railroad track, that they cannot see a way out of the predicaments caused by being in that groove. Take ‘jobs’. As automation gradually replaces many of the jobs that make society work today, we worry about where the future jobs are going to come from. For instance, what are all those lorry/taxi/delivery drivers going to do to earn a living when transport is automated? How are we going to generate enough taxes to adequately provision the public sphere and feed those who don’t have jobs?
The only answer is to get out of the groove.
Why do we need a 5-day-week job, why not 4 or 3 days?
Why does everybody have to have a ‘job’?
Why not a basic income for everyone that provides for minimal subsistence?
Why do countries across the world need to compete economically, and thus drive down standards of living for everyone, can they not co-operate?
Why is money created to the benefit of banks, not of people or of governance?
Why can’t we have a more equal distribution of wealth?
The answers lie in the human imagination. History suggests that crisis precedes the inevitable change. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are enough intelligent people on the planet, but many vested interests that do not want things to change…
The same is of course true about other issues, such as climate breakdown and its consequent travails. The forward scouts (scientists) have long told us the bridge is down on the track ahead, and the train will go over into the ravine if we stay on this track. We just need the imagination to change track.
Featured image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History – via Wikimedia Commons
For many years Scilla Elworthy has been putting forward her ideas for a plan for peace. Here Bruce Nixon’s excellent post reviews her recent book. It’s about time the media took more notice of the need to invest in peace, rather than in war.
As I begin to write, it is Armistice Day when we honour the dead on both sides of the conflict. The best way to honour all those who lost their lives in the Great War and subsequent wars would be to commit to end war for good. In her book Scilla Elworthy shows us how this can be done. Her key message is: War is past its sell-by date.
This is a marvellous book both visionary and, as the title implies, hard-headed and pragmatic. It’s based on years of practical experience of peace-making and the prevention of violent conflict.
At the heart of this book is the belief that humans have the capacity to evolve and become more humane. There is a growing change of consciousness centred in Europe and much of North America. Thus peace and a future without mass violence is possible. Journalists on…
I was struck by these words in Steve Taylor‘s recent newsletter:
“I’m not a particularly political person, but I find behaviour of some present world leaders worryingly reminiscent of psychopathic and narcissistic dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mussolini. That’s not to say that the present leaders have perpetrated the horrors of the older ones, but it’s easy to see how they have the capacity to, and how similar their personality types are. Political power is naturally very attractive to psychopathic and narcissistic personality types – and we should do everything we can to rein them in, and even to prevent them from attaining power in the first place.”
We all know who they are. Good people will need to stand up and be counted to keep them in check and swing the balance back towards the good. And I’m sure they are doing so.
Of course, it’s not just in politics. These people are found near or at the top of quite a number of business and financial institutions, often leading them to spectacular failure due to loss of contact with reality. As has been observed many times, money and power are great corrupters of weak, easily glamoured egos.
My post on Competition and Co-operation touched on cultural differences between The UK and the US, so I was attracted to read Jon Sopel’s recent book ‘If Only They Didn’t Speak English’, which explores the differences Jon has found during his long stint as the BBC’s North America correspondent.
Jon’s book confirms that the US is a very different country, quite alien in many ways to a European perspective – resulting of course from a very different history and geography. A list of the subjects covered by chapter gives an idea of its scope:
the anger felt by many Americans, the ‘losers’ in the globalising project
the pervasive influence of race and discrimination
the evident patriotism
the system of government, and the current neglect of public infrastructure
the continued major influence of religion and God
the issue of guns and the right to bear arms
the easily aroused anxiety felt by many Americans
the ‘special’ role that Americans feel they have with the world, and the supposed ‘special’ relationship with UK
the increasing loss of contact with truth in the political arena
the descent into chaos with the Trump administration.
There is much insight here, although interestingly he does not focus on issues of competition vs co-operation. The book provides a stimulating read. And Jon warns that we should not expect major change or realignment; these are real differences. We really are confused by a common language, to suppose that the differences are not as great as they appear – they are.
At the end of the day, although Britain aspires to provide a bridge between Europe and America, our culture is much more European than American. Attempts to move us in an American direction must be seen in this light. Americans think we’re socialists, and most Brits don’t really want to change the current settlement and, for example, lose our NHS. Brexit puts this all in jeopardy, engineered as it was on a misleading and false prospectus of supporting the NHS.
There’s a lot of nonsense currently being put forward about ‘no deal’ being a viable Brexit option. It is not. Chaos would clearly ensue across so many areas – products, services, health, fisheries, policing, finance, etc. The list is almost endless. Governments that created such chaos both in UK and Europe would not last long.
In any case there will still need to be a deal in each of those areas. The idea of ‘no deal’ is fanciful.
If UK just walked away from all its commitments and relationship with Europe, which country would subsequently have any confidence that UK would stick to any deal?
There’s also a lot of nonsense that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – in an environment where there is clearly insufficient time for every detail to be resolved. Sensible politicians will make agreements of principle and resolve the detail later.
The true cost of this crazy Brexit enterprise is becoming increasingly apparent.
In their recent report East Cheshire council was pleased to report that 55% of garbage is now recycled. That means it went into the recycling bins. How much was really recycled is anyone’s guess.
This reminds me of the first Knutsford Lectures in 1994, the days of the single black rubbish bin. We had subsidiary short talks on matters of local interest and one was given by a man from the then Macclesfield Borough Council. He had the good news that recycling was to begin soon, which indeed it did a few years later. So this was progress of a sort, and people are now furiously engaged in playing a part in recycling. Of course this led to the plague of wheelie bins that now disfigures streets and alleyways across the world. [One day we will get back to a single bin which is automatically recycled, like the mostly manual French dechetterie we toured round many years ago, but that’s not my main focus here.]
It feels that we actually generate more rubbish than we did 25 years ago. Now why is that? Packaging – both plastic packaging from supermarket products and the endless excessively large cardboard boxes and internal wadding from ever more internet purchases. Amazon and product producers are actually filling up the recycling bins and thereby increasing that recycling statistic. It seems like two steps forward and one step back.
And of course Amazon avoid paying the tax that would pay for the extra cost of all this recycling. Politicians seem so slow to grasp these nettles!
Featured image shows bins in Christchurch, New Zealand by gobeirne via Wikimedia Commons
The UK habitat will support hundreds of hen harriers. They were once a common sight. In reality there are now very few.
They have been protected by law since 1954. Numbers have not increased since then.
There are many instances of individual hen harriers simply disappearing, even when tracked electronically.
Despite this, the RSPB and many volunteers is making heroic efforts to increase numbers.
The hen harrier is emblematic of the problem in England for all raptors including eagles.
It is believed that gamekeepers on driven grouse shooting moors are responsible for killing the birds.
When evidence was gathered and individuals prosecuted the case was dismissed on a technicality.
Driven grouse shooting is a sport for the rich, or rich wannabees. It has support in high places in the UK establishment.
Essentially, driven grouse shooting is incompatible with healthy populations of raptors, or so gamekeepers appear to think.
If that is the attitude, then ultimately the only solution would appear to be another law – to ban driven grouse shooting. This would have other environmental benefits, such as reduced flooding after heavy rains in the north of England.
These are my impressions from the Hen Harrier Day at Parkgate on 12 August 2018. Hen Harrier Days are usually held on or around the so-called glorious twelfth when the carnage begins. Go to one, and support the RSPB and other organisations involved.
Feature image shows speaker Mark Avery at the event Photo of hen harrier by Len Blumin, via Wikimedia Commons
The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.
Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.
Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.
Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.
The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.
Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons
I found an article in the 21st July edition of The Economist quite intriguing. It analysed the results of a YouGov poll in June 2018 which actually did a 3-way poll on preferences for Remain, Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit (as suggested in June by MP Justine Greening). The intriguing part was that several voting systems were used.
First past the post: 1. Remain 40, 2. Hard 37, 3. Soft 14
Shows the country deeply divided. Few people profess to want the soft Brexit being pursued by Theresa May.
Alternative Vote: 1. Hard 47, 2. Remain 44
When the 14% soft votes are apportioned according to second preferences, the result is reversed and Hard wins. Of course, this pretty well reflects the result of the 2016 referendum.
When people are asked to compare the options, two at a time, Soft comes out as the winner. So deep down this suggests that the soft Brexit being pursued by Mrs May is the compromise that in the end satisfies most people.
Beware voting system!
Although plausible, a three-way referendum could actually be rather problematic and totally dependent on the voting system used, let alone the interference effects of Big Money and Russian Bots!