Politics Explained FFS part 2

June 30, 2011

Hi! This is part 2 of my guide to politics, helpfully entitled Politics Explained FFS. You can read part 1 here. Part 3 is here.

So what is politics? In March 2006, Yahoo! Answers was asked the question: “How do you define politics?” The Best Answer was from user Crash&Burn, who said:

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and election funds from the rich by promising to protect each from [the] other.

A pretty good answer, considering where the question had been asked (I’m assuming here that Crash&Burn lives in/comes from a “Western”, “developed” “democracy”. Because of course, in “nondemocratic” countries there’s no real need to lie to the poor.  The poor don’t vote.  Or if they do, it’s probably because the local warlord or whoever drove them down to the polling station and helped him with the ballot form.

Thing is, the average citizen of a Western/developed/democratic country has just as little control over his life as the poor downtrodden guy from the overt dictatorship.  Think about it: when election time comes round, how many manifestos and pledges have you really, truly believed?  If you’re a  repeat voter, how many promises have you seen politicians break?

There are a few fundamental flaws with “democracy”.  The first, I explained in Politics Explained FFS part 1: majority rule does not scale.  The larger the electorate, the more losers.  Secondly, there are the vested interests.  And I’m not talking about the vested interests whose AK47s and worthless banknotes persuaded the poor to vote the “right” way.  In the 1980s, the Thatcherite Conservative government in Britain played a few nasty tricks to keep the nation under control.  Luckily for the Tories, they’d inherited a recession.  “Socialism gone mad!” they declared.  Thatcher actually said, in an interview in the British magazine Women’s Own:

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

Thus Thatcher did away with the essential foundation of socialism itself: Karl Marx’s famous slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” There was no such thing as duty to wider society anymore. In fact there was no society. Everyone was responsible for himself and his own. Everyone else could go hang – perhaps literally. During this time there was a resurgence of so-called “Victorian values”. Put the poor and the homeless into the workhouse. That’d sort out the feckless layabouts who believed the mythical “society” owed them a living.

And to make sure everyone took his responsibilities seriously, the government gave the British something to concentrate on: their homes. Compare the housing markets of Britain and the rest of Europe during this time. In the 1970s, Britons, like their European counterparts, mostly had their homes on long-term rental agreements. But in the 80s the Thatcherite government pushed through measures like the Right To Buy council houses. You were a failure if you didn’t own your own home. Home ownership was a mantra. So you took out huge mortgages to buy your home. And then, when it all started to bite, you had that grave duty – putting and keeping a roof over your family’s head – which made it much more unlikely that you would press your employers for more pay and better conditions. Simultaneously the government produced a raft of anti-union laws that left British workers the least protected in Europe. It became pretty routine for employers to take you on as a temporary worker on a 12 month contract, because temporary employees did not qualify for workers’ rights.

So, Britain enjoyed a period of great insecurity. If you complained about your lot, you might end up unemployed and homeless – incapable of providing for your family – while the Tory press told stories about how much worse things would be under a Labour (ie socialist, Marxist, probably full-blown Communist) government. Did you now that MI5 (the UK’s state security service) actually put about rumours that Harold Wilson, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, plus senior union officials and Labour politicians, were actually KGB spies? Absolutely ridiculous; but MI5 actually used their fabricated “evidence” to obtain permission to spy on Wilson and his colleagues.

Anyway, I’ve written far more than I initially planned about the vested interests that can keep so-called “democracy” from being truly democratic. I’m going to take a wee break now. But fear not, for I shall return with Politics Explained FFS part 3. What I’m really looking forward to is outlining my own suggestions as to how states could get governments who would be truly representative and accountable. Think I’m crazy? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

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What ya gonna do about Syria then, NATO?

June 25, 2011

Western powers, operating under the NATO flag, have involved themselves in the Lybian civil /war, on the grounds that Gadaffi is using his armed forces to terrorise and kill civilians in his own country. This is very laudable and all that; but governments frequently use terror to silence their people.

I could break open the history books to demonstrate how often this has happened without any outside interference. But I don’t need history to show I’m right – cos it’s happening right now. Look, for instance, at Syria. Yesterday (Friday 24 June) up to a thousand civilians have fled across the border to Lebanon after demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime. Troops used tear gas and live ammo to disperse the crowds of demonstrators. It is estimated that 20 people were killed by troops – at least 6 Syrians died in Lebanese hospitals after they were taken across the border. It’s very difficult to get reliable figures from inside Syria. Syrian state-run TV has claimed that the shootings were carried out by “unidentified gunmen”.

So here we have a situation very much like that in Libya – government forces are trying to kill critics and demonstrators. So will US/UK and its NATO allies going to involve themselves in Syria like they have in Libya, carrying out air strikes against government forces? And what about all the other places in the world where governments use terror to silence their critics?

I guess it depends on whether or not there’s oil in the region. Because, believe it or not, that’s why the US/UK “intervened” in Libya – and before that, in Iraq – and, before that, in _______ (insert country of choice). There’s nothing “humanitarian” about the West’s involvement in these places. It’s time to wake up and smell the crude oil.

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It’s that pesky Territorial Support Unit again…

June 3, 2011

…but this time TSU officers have been acquitted of breaking into a man’s home and battering him.

The jury at Southwark crown court took just one hour to decide that police constables Mark Jones, Roderick James-Bowen and Nigel Cowley and detective constable John Donohue not guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm against Babar Ahmad. But they were told only half the story. They were deliberately kept in the dark about a civil case in 2009 in which the Met conceded Ahmad had been the subject of a “a serious, gratuitous and prolonged” attack – and paid him £60,000 in damages. Why was that kept from the jury? Usually, confessions are used as evidence of a defendant’s guilt.

The jury were also not informed of the fact that two of the officers on trial Jones and James-Bowen – had 40 separate allegations of assault against them between 1993 and 2007, the majority involving black or Asian men. These complaints were dismissed as “unfounded” at the time; but it’s hard to see how those officers had been accused of assault again and again, by unrelated citizens,if they were as lily-white as they’ve been portrayed.

Some people in authority are going to use the manslaughter charge against PC Steven Harwood as proof that the Met and its violent Territorial Support Unit have changed, and are no longer the vicious scumbags they used to be. Will you believe that? Look at the photos of Ahmad after his arrest, and consider the TSU’s reputation, before you make up your mind.

Ahmad after the Territorial Support Unit had finished with him

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Biofuel isn’t green… it’s more like blood-red

June 1, 2011

Ever since it became widely known that you can run a diesel-engined road vehicle on used vegetable oil, all sorts of people have touted it as the cure for all our pollution-related ills. Well guess what: it ain’t.

Okay, it could help with our environmental problems. If used vegetable oil was recycled as fuel on a large scale, it would cut back on our need to drill for oil and stuff. A little. And it wouldn’t be dumped in land-fill, as it is at the moment. But that’s about it: vegetable oil works just the same as diesel, so all those vehicles driving round on it would still produce all those nasty emissions that are apparently going to kill us all. The main arguments for the use of vegetable oil are that it would decrease land-fill a bit, and it would cost less for the vehicle owners (especially in countries like the UK, where we are mugged by the tax-man every time we pull into a filling station. And I’m sure the government would find a way to tax the use of veg oil, negating that last plus point).

So large-scale use of biofuel hasn’t got much in the way of green credentials. And it’s absolutely packed with terrible problems. For instance, a lot of crops are now being grown for the lucrative biofuel market rather than for food. This is happening all over the place, but one example is Africa, where the change in crop use is leading directly to a rise in food costs and related famine. And far from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it’s actually causing these emissions to increase. It’s argued that deforestation could rise as local farmers clear land in order to grow the biofuel crops. And the environmental claims made about biofuels could lead car manufacturers to cut back on research and development of electrically-powered vehicles. Not good.

So who’s to blame for this? The governments and peoples of the nations concerned, of course. But the Guardian has discovered that British companies are investing heavily in biofuel production in Africa. And the EU in general has non-green blood on its hands too, with its laws that require an increase in blending biofuels into mainstream vehicle fuels. A Nuffield Council on Bioethics commission has called these laws as unethical and “backfiring badly”.

So you all need to get it into your heads: biofuels are not green and promotion of their use is unethical. Got that? In the near-future, we need to develop good electric cars. Eventually, hydrogen fuel-cells will have developed to a point where we can run our cars on virtually nothing but water. But for now, if you’re tempted to use biofuel, stick to using oils that have been recycled from fast food joints and restaurants. That way, it’ll be slightly more green than DERV from the filling station. But not by much.

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