25 August 2011

Reminding myself how good "War on Terror" is

Not the concept as copyrighted by Dubya Bush (obviously)... the board game.

I was doing a session with Burning Lodge last weekend (next month I really must reactivate Brother Typewriter's Golf Ball - lots of music-making and equipment to discuss) and after recording some fine tracks we ended up playing "War On Terror", which I was bought several years ago as a present when leaving my previous job.

It's an all time classic, it really is. One of the good things about the game is that you're almost hoping you're going to be crap at the start and go bankrupt or be stopped from expanding your empire by dastardly other players, so that you can become a terrorist. Playing the terrorist is a lot more fun than being a "normal" player.

I want to get the follow-up game from Terror Bull Games - "Crunch" - soon. It's billed as "the game for complete and utter bankers" and apparently contains "the collapse of capitalism (more fun than it sounds)" [hard to see how that would be possible, as the collapse of capitalism is what most of us are waiting for at the moment, but there you go].

Expect more breaks from politics in some of the future posts, as I need to broaden out the variety a bit... taking a break before the conference season (or possibly during it!)

19 August 2011

Once more unto the breach, dear Friends....

Have been kept, somewhat embarrassingly away from the mundanities of blogging by having to take care of administration on my new abode on the other side of the Atlantic,so have been on 'silent running' for a couple of weeks. however, despite a backlog of about seven posts (events never stop in the real world) a story from the UK necessitates comment. Several months back I referred to Labour's mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone as the Jason Voorhees/Freddy Krueger of British Politics for his tasteless comparison of opponent Boris johnson's Chief of Staff, Eddie Lister, to Bosnian Serb commander and suspected war criminal, Rlatko Mladic. In this stunningly hamfisted interview in Total Politics, he goes one better than that by equating the coming mayoral struggle with the fight between Churchill and Hitler in World War Two.

The blog entry by the controversist, Toby Young, author of How to lose Friends and alienate people posits that Livingstone, through a combination of frustration and possibly premature senility has become unhinged, and several commentators on the post take him to task for not realising that what was said was Ken 'being drole' or making an attempt at humour. Whilst I would also agree this could be an interpretation, the problem for him is that, of arguably any politician in the last 30 years, Livingstone is a master of taking vicarious offence on behalf of the many 'minorities' (women, non-caucasians, homosexuals, LGBT, even famously the Irish in the height of the troubles) that comprise his 'rainbow' coalition. To illustrate the point, can one imagine the reaction of the Labour Left, the Guardian, Independent and the BBC (funded by a £155 stipend on every TV watching household in the country) had Johnson made the quite accurate remark that the election were 'reminscent of Korea and Vietnam'? - a statement which given Livingstone's quite self -evident links with both the Northern parts of those two countries' proxy allies during the conflicts in question is really quite unobjectionable to anyone without a vested interest in this man's election.

The issue is ,when you take an innocent remark out of context and, even though not part of the 'minority' in question, call for people to resign or apologise, it is rank hypocrisy to expect others to turn the cheek to the most odious and outrageous calumnies,even if they are said in jest. Having fallen foul of this with a tactless comment comparing a Jewish Evening Standard reporter to a concentration camp guard, I'd have thought Livingstone would have known better.

The sadly departed from the Telegraph, Simon Heffer, summed up the position quite admirably following the furore over Cameron's rather crass remarks to Labour shadow Minister, Angela Eagle. The Left's very 'thin skin' and the basic paucity of many of their arguments mean that the reflex weapon of howling 'racist' or 'sexist' or 'homophobe' is often the only weapon in their armoury. however, unless one wishes to fall foul of Livingstone's rather curious 'sense of humour', I would strongly urge anyone reading this who is able to vote for Johnson next year, lest you find yourself tagged as a member of the Waffen SS and subject to 'denazification' or 'war crimes trials' (just joking on the latter of course, Christ, don't you people have a sense of humour?)

15 August 2011

Meanwhile in America...

Quick update on Van Patten's posts from a few weeks back about the likely Republican challengers for 2012. It now turns out that Rick Perry is definitely running, while Tim Pawlenty has dropped out after a poor showing in the very weird Iowa "straw poll".

It's probably going to be one of Perry, Bachmann or Romney for the GOP nomination to take on Barack Obama's "GOP-lite" ticket in 2012. That's assuming of course that Obama can get re-nominated, but I'd be surprised if it didn't happen. Michael Moore is apparently backing Matt Damon for President - I must admit I've never actually seen any of Damon's films, but I've seen several of Moore's. I still think an independent left-wing challenger to Obama is more likely than a successful primary challenge within the Democrats. Still holding out hope that Bernie Sanders will step up to the plate.

In terms of Obama's chances, running on his "GOP-lite" policy platform will be a huge demotivation to the voting base which handed him the election in 2008. My prediction is that if the Republicans nominate Bachmann, Obama will win, but if they nominate Romney or Perry, he'll lose. This despite the fact that Perry's platform is likely to be closer to Bachmann's than Romney's: I think Perry has more cross-over appeal to non-Tea Party Republicans than Bachmann does, and that will make the difference. A Romney presidency will be pretty much indistinguishable from Obama; a Perry presidency will be the end of US democracy as we know it. Four years ago I compared Mike Huckabee (a comedy version of Rick Perry in many ways) with Stillson from The Dead Zone: with Perry, the comparison seems even more apt.

Future historians (if we survive that long as a species) will look back and wonder how, after the euphoria of November 2008, the USA managed to get itself in just such a mess. I blame the fact that the entire US political process is controlled by Wall Street. Politicians with guts could still stand up to multinational corporate power... but they are in short supply, seemingly everywhere.

09 August 2011

Into another abyss...

I'm writing this a bit dazed, frankly, after three nights of terrible and escalating violence on the streets of London, and now Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool. It turns out that, even as stock markets around the world continue to tank, the main story making headlines in the UK hasn't been that. It's been the riots.

The whole thing seems to have got very out of hand almost by accident on Saturday in Tottenham... a peaceful demonstration demanding answers from the police over the death of a local resident, Mark Duggan, earlier in the week was followed by a wave of violence directed against property in the Tottenham area, which the police were slow to respond to. The perpetrators of the violence seem to have discovered two inconvenient truths: (1) looting shops, once you've broken down the shutters/windows/etc. is very easy; (2) with only 1400 police immediately deployable in London (that is a figure from a recent interview with London Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse), the more disturbances there are, the less the police are able to keep order at each one (although reinforcements have been drafted in from other areas). What we've seen on Sunday and now Monday night, with escalating violence over a wider range of target areas, is opportunistic exploitation of thinly stretched police resources.

Some points on this:

Firstly, while the Metropolitan police have tried hard to change the image of a force described as "institutionally racist" in the MacPherson report of 1999, and there has been some progress, it's clearly not enough. A delegation of family and friends who had gone to Tottenham police station after reading in the local newspaper that Duggan died as a result of a police bullet were stonewalled and kept waiting by police for hours; it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that police decided that they weren't worth bothering with because they were black, or working class, or both. The Met's stock is pretty low anyway at the moment after revelations that officers were in cahoots with News International in the phone hacking scandal, and also the absurdly heavy-handed policing of the student demos last November and the Fortnum & Mason occupation this March. As this excellent article from Stafford Scott points out, given the Met's poor record on interfacing with so many citizens, it's hard to be surprised when something like this happens.

But at the same time, none of that excuses looting or violence against shops and other businesses which are employing people in extremely deprived areas. A Lewisham councillor sent out a tweet last night that said something like "please don't riot because our budget is being cut by 30%, which means if you smash Lewisham up we don't have the money to put it back together again". Spot on, that man. This is violence against communities who were already very hard up against it, suffering disproportionately from the ConDem cuts and now suffering a hell of a lot more because people - many of them, it seems, operating in well-organised criminal gangs - decided it would be a good idea to raid high streets and shopping centres for TVs and trainers. Now, Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell are right to point out that our current brand of turbo-capitalism sets a really bad example, and the bankers are engaged in looting of their own, but at the end of the day smashing up working class neighbourhoods does nothing to change society. Political activism (perhaps in the Green Party, the only political party opposing the cuts at present) is the way forward for the people who are losing out from the ConDem cuts.

Thirdly, the cuts aren't purely responsible for this situation because (a) we're only in year 1 of a 4-year cuts programme, and (2) even at pre-2010 staffing levels, the police wouldn't have been able to cope. However, the cost of the clean-up from these riots shows the folly of making deep cuts in police numbers or in other community services. The cuts could end up costing much, much more than we save. Conversely, it may be that by increasing public spending in some areas we can actually *save* money.

Fourthly, people calling for the army to be sent in need to remember Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland in 1972. Personally I have no wish to head towards a "death squad" model of society where people are shot without trial. Tom Watson MP's suggestion that the army be used as backup and escorts for emergency services workers (e.g. protecting firefighters and ambulances, etc., freeing up the police for frontline duties) seems like a good one.

That's all for now. If you are living in London or one of the other affected cities then I hope you are safe and well... all my thoughts are with you.

05 August 2011

The edge of the abyss?

As I write this it appears that Stage two of the Global crisis is already under way, and indeed appears to be gathering pace. The FTSE has been sent tumbling by more than 550 points, it's third worst fall in history. The Dow Jones' slump has been partially arrested by some surprising 'good news' on the jobs front, but it seems highly likely this is a 'dead man's bounce', Hal Berstram is already advising people to stockpile tinned food, and this seems pretty good advice. The trigger for the crisis appears to have been, once again issues with the Eurozone (the subject of several earlier and one stillborn post - the phrase 'Greek tragedy' is just too good to resist)

It appears the contagion evident in Portugal, Ireland, Greece (and also little Cyprus) has now spread to Italy and Spain. The ECB seems unwilling (or perhaps unable to intervene) and it is revealed that the EFSF (European Financial Stability Fund) is expected to be increased to £440 billion to anticipate issues in those much larger economies. In the meantime, hang on to your hats, as the chickens are definitely coming home to roost. More on this later - but in the meantime, invest in John West and Princes, if you want to put your money anywhere!

03 August 2011

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

Following this blog's originator onto Twitter , I was intrigued by the admittedly entertaining 'Moronwatch', evidently someone of leftist thinking, he does however seem admirably open minded, including Islamic extremists and members of the extreme Left on his list of 'following'. This became all the more alarming when this piece by the dreadful Polly Toynbee appeared on the airwaves in the wake of the admittedly contentious 'agreement' on the US budget deficit ,decried as yet another 'sellout' to Radical Republicans, basically the culmination of a 3 year retreat before the fissiparous 'Tea Party' and its acolytes since those heady days of November 2008.

However, the piece's significance is perhaps part of a greater struggle from the Left, a struggle which followers of American 'Higher education' will be familiar with from the Early 1990's and 1980's when the movement for Political correctness reached its apogee in US academe. Whole rafts of European authors were effectively removed from circulation or became 'samizdat' across many institutions, due to their alleged racist, sexist or homophobic viewpoints(part of the 'amputation of the time dimension from our culture' to quote Sir Ernst Gombrich). Authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, Aristotle and Mill (to mention just five) were shoehorned into the category of 'DWEM' (Dead White European Male) and two decades of college students in departments such as English and especially the Social Sciences were in effect given a narrow, hardline marxist view of the world that anyone with the slightest nous (or indeed critically experience of the real world outside academia)could see was utter nonsense.

To the creditof academics in the UK, outside a few niche disciplines such as 'Women's studies' or 'Race studies' these views never gained much currency in the UK, and it perhaps testament to the relatively benign state of race relations comared with the US that such vicious thinking never did really make its way into the mainstream, save for a few extremist Labour politicians (The famous racist Lee Japser for example) on the left, and the motley crew of the National Front and latterly the BNP and EDL on the extreme right.

However, the left has always sought to control the debate, hence its stranglehold (despite 18 years of Tory government) on the education system. that's whay the Toynbee article, though vaguely ludicrous is perhaops an indicator of how the Left is looking to use the 'Phone hacking' scandal to circumscribe the terms of the debate. The article starts by offering the Tories a backhanded compliment, applauding them (probably very politely!) over their refusal to drift as far right as the 'Tea Party'. It then launches into two paragraphs regarding 'Climate change deniers' that make me ask whether the author's sanity should be questioned. The term 'Denier' is in itself grotesque, designed to elicit comparison with those who would deny the holocaust . the shockingly lazy formulation comes forth:

'for some reason they (referring to commentators in the Mail and Telegraph) seem to consider 'the warmists' a left wing conspiracy'

Whatever could have persuaded them of that? Is it that, almost without exception, environmentalists, many of whom are retread socialists, are in favour of: Greater government intervention, more regulation, more restrictions on people's activities, higher taxes, less freedom of movement, and the list goes on. Whatever would make me believe that such people are left wing? As for the ludicrous assertion that a 'scientific consensus' exists. Such 'consensuses' were used to prove the 'inferiority' of certain races less than two centuries ago, and when the implications for policy are so critical, I would have to examine the background and vested interests of anyone proposing such wide ranging changes as, for example, the Green Party as indeed they no doubt examine closely the links with certain Oil companies or other 'polluters' of the Climate Change sceptics. I note with some interest that Toynbee is a regular contributor and keynote speaker at various Compass conferences. Is this a taste of what's to come under 'Mr.Ed' - people's opinions being silenced by 'consensus' on Global warming/Climate Change?(note the lingustic shift from 'warming' in response to declining temperatures in certain areas during part of the last decade) What next to be judged 'subject to consensus' and no longer worthy of debate? - Immigration/The EU? I for one hope we don't have to find out.

02 August 2011

Bernie Sanders for President

And so the disastrous US debt ceiling deal passed - fairly easily in the end - with most House Republicans voting in favour, while the Democrats were split down the middle. I think Paul Krugman is right: the deal conceded far too much to the Republicans, and it's time for the Democrats to start playing much more hardline. If that leads to dysfunctionality and default - then, as so often, Han Solo is my political hero. "Bring it on! I'd prefer a straight fight to all this fooling around."

Basically, Democrats - who control the Presidency (if we can still classify Obama as a Democrat - that is doubtful) and the Senate - should have said, no debt deal with less than a 50/50 balance between tax rises and spending cuts is going to pass. It's no good talking tough after the event, like Joe Biden. He said that the Tea Party were "behaving like terrorists" - yes they have, but the Democrats have tamely capitulated to that terrorism. Which gives the Tea Party an incentive to behave even worse the next time... simply terrible political strategy from the Dems on every level.

Anyway, having thought about it for a couple of days, a key question I want to address in this post is: should there be a presidential challenge to Obama from the left? I think yes, there should be, and it should come from outside the Democratic primary system, not inside it.

Obama's move to a mainstream Republican position in recent months has meant that next year's presidential election will most likely be fought between a mainstream Republican (in all but name) and a Tea Party right winger - leaving a huge vaccuum on the left. Remember that, like the UK, the US uses the idiotic "First Past the Post" system for its elections. For the presidency, an electoral college operates whereby the votes in each state are tallied and then the electoral college votes in each state (which are roughly weighted by the number of voters in each state) are awarded to the winner. This means that in a three person contest it is not necessary to have anything like 50% of the votes to win a state: if your opponents' vote is evenly split you can win with a lot less. This is the reason that (for example) Caroline Lucas won in Brighton Pavilion in the UK in 2010 despite only having 32% of the vote.

A convincing left-wing challenger could hoover up most of the votes on the left of the US political spectrum, leaving the real Republican and fake Republican (Obama) candidates fighting it out for the right. Remember Bill Clinton in 1992? He won with only 43% of the vote because 20% of the vote went to the independent candiate, Ross Perot. What we could be looking at in 2012 is something very similar.

So who should run as that left-wing independent? Sadly, my ideal candidate - Hunter S Thompson - is dead. This is a real shame, because Hunter would have been a natural for this gig. He almost pulled off something very similar at town level when he was running for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, in 1970 with a shaved head on the "Freak Power" ticket. The only reason he was beaten was because the GOP candidate stopped campaigning and told people to vote for the Democrat to stop Thompson getting in.

The rebirth of Freak Power in 2012 would have been an all-time highlight of American politics, but Hunter shot himself in 2005, so in his place I'm going to suggest Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, an independent "democratic socialist". Bernie is a fantastic speaker (see this speech on economic civil war in the US, for example - absolute classic, telling it like it is) and would absolutely kill both Obama and whatever moron the Tea Party nominates in the televised debates.

Fundraising would of course be a problem, but my guess is that, given that Obama has sold out so comprehensively to the right, the Obama fundraising tactic of huge numbers of small donations, which worked so well in 2008, could now be co-opted for a Bernie Sanders campaign. There must be millions - tens of millions - of people in the US who are so fed up with the path the country has taken over the last 30 years that there is a huge well of pent-up frustration and anger to draw on. A Google search for "Bernie Sanders for President 2012" produces some very interesting material - for example this post on the Irregular Times, where Sanders is closer to majority polling in the US on a number of key issues than either the new Republican incarnation of Obama, or the Tea Party.

So really, if it were to happen, there seems a very good chance that a Sanders bid for the presidency would be successful. Now of course, if Bernie did win it, he wouldn't be able to do that much except veto all GOP measures. But that in itself would be a huge advance on Barack Obama, who is the man who capitulates to the GOP. So the question for Bernie Sanders and the US left is: are you prepared to sit back idly while your country is destroyed? Or are you going to do something about it?

I will be sending a link to this blogpost to Bernie Sanders's office and I'll let you know if I get a reply.