Saturday, February 11, 2017

My 100,000th Tweet !





I have just sent my 100,000th Tweet. As I first tweeted in May 2010 this means that there has been an average of 40 tweets (and retweets) from me per day. Assuming that the tweets are on average 20 words in length my tweets amount to 2 million words. This is more that “War and Peace”, the Bible and “Lord of the Rings” together. Not a bad output in just over six and a half years!


I could see that anyone unfamiliar with Twitter might find this all a bit mad! “How do you have the time?” Well the answer is that if each of my tweets takes me thirty seconds that is only twenty minutes a day. I scan Twitter quite regularly and follow links from it a lot. That, for me, is Twitter’s most valuable role. I believe that I am better informed by using Twitter as a gateway to other online sources. I tend to be “on Twitter” in “Down time” – especially on a train or at an airport. I would accept, though, that I read a bit less because I take part in social media. I still read a lot, but not as much as the pre-Twitter days.


I also meet people on Twitter and feel that I know them. Of my nearly 3800 followers I feel quite close to at least a couple of hundred few of whom I’ve actually met. There is a camaraderie there which is very pleasing. Over the last few months I have stopped following people whose views are antipathetic to mine (with one or two exceptions). This is quite controversial but I take the view that following 1900 people (as I do) is probably too many anyway and why should my timeline be cluttered with people I fundamentally disagree with?


I am fairly open on social media. I use my real name and with a couple of clicks anyone can find my full contact details. This has caused no problems at all and I see no reason to operate behind a pseudonym.I get little spam and trolls avoid me mostly. I dont block people just because they disagree with me but I do if they are rude or exceptrionally stupid! I don't follow and often block Eggs.


So onwards to the next 100,000 ! And thanks to my followers and those I follow for making Twitter worthwhile for me.






Sunday, January 15, 2017

How the Daily Mail makes our green and pleasant land into a moral refuse tip





I could have chosen a hundred or more (many more) tabloid  front pages to make my point. Which is that thanks to those who finance and deliver this sort of illiberal, slanted, narrow, selfish garbage we have declined visibly as a nation.Not just from the fact that our citizens in large numbers read this stuff. But because it is far worse these days than it used to be and it has far greater effect.

The disaster of Brexit was in strong part a consequence of lies and biased half-truths spread by the tabloids. Every day there was a new edition and a new front page. 



That most of the headlines and the stories were patently untrue, as in the example above, became habitual. And that they appealed to prejudice hardly needs to be stated. There is a strong anti-EU Islamaphobia in Britain. Even though the EU has almost nothing to do with Islam and there are very few Muslims in Britain here as a consequence of the EU's "Freedom of Movement" rules. (British Muslims are, of course, overwhelmingly of New Commonwealth origins (from Pakistan and Bangladesh etc.) A week or so before the EU Referendum  a man in Teddington High Street said within my hearing that he would be voting "Leave" because there are "too many ****** Muslims here already". There was a similar interview on Charlie Brooker's BBC look back on 2016. The canard that Turkey was going to join the EU and that, as the Daily Mail put it "1.5m Turks were coming to Britain" was an influence in the Referendum outcome. Think about this for a minute. Something that was patently untrue. Something that was promoted by the tabloid press. Something that was openly bigoted and biased. Something that appealed to prejudice and to xenophobia. That (maybe crucially) led to Britain quitting the European Union.


The British Government has its policy decided by public opinion and that public opinion is substantially influenced by the tabloids. "Freedom of Movement" within the EU is characterised as "Immigration" by the tabloids and for a British Government (or Opposition) to be seen as supporting immigration is the kiss of death. (The fact that the indivisible “Four Freedoms” - the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people - have been overwhelmingly positive for Britain as with the rest of the EU member nations is ignored because one of the freedoms is seen as "immigration").

So our Government policy is being driven by lies and prejudice, by ignorance and bigotry. Few politicians have the balls to stand up for the Four Freedoms and those that do – Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke, Tim Farron and a few others – become tabloid targets. And all of us, including these courageously honest people, become the targets of the Mail and the rest:



Back to today’s Mail front page at the top of this Blog. This is classic stuff. The Hard Right is against Britain’s admirable Overseas Aid policies. So they invent and idea that if we cut Aid we could rescue the NHS (Does this sound familiar?). Its utter offensive nonsense of course but it will be believed. Again.  And there you have an example of how low we have sunk. Ignorant. Selfish. Nationalist. Xenophobic. Brutal. Not all of us of course. Probably nor even a majority of us. But sufficient of us to change this green and pleasant land into a refuse tip. And that hurts.


    






Friday, January 06, 2017

The threat of Fascism





The above was about Trump and the USA. But closer to home it rings alarm bells. 


(1)  Brexit is an overtly Nationalist proposition which turns its back on internationalism and predicates "Taking back control". The proposal to withdraw from the "European Court of Human Rights" is equally Nationalist as are the planned restrictions on Freedom of Movement and many other plans of the May Government.


(2) See (1)


(3) The European Union as a body and our current) 27 partners along with EU citizens working in Britain are among the many scapegoats of the current Government stance.


(4) The military is given a sentimental gloss , both retrospective and current, way above its real status as a Defence Force.


(5) The  glass ceiling is still in place and the Right has no plans to make significant change to the roles and rewards of women.


(6) Elements of the Mass Media are firmly under control of the Government/Media. The Telegraph, Mail, Sun and Express are under Right Wing control and considerable untrammelled power still exists despite Leveson. Some would argue that the BBC tows the Government line too often.



(7) The genuine threats from terrorism have brought bombastic rhetoric and threats of restrictions to liberty.



(8) The Prime Minister has played the God card more than once and she is clearly of the "We are a Christian country" mind-set. Some on the Right are calling for more social conservatism.



(9) There are continued paeans to capitalism from many on the Right and the Business sectors are being rewarded by the promise of less regulation and  more freedoms.



(10) There is an overt and determined anti-Union rhetoric and action underway.



(11) Intellectuals are condemned by senior Conservatives who decry experts and expertise. The Arts is characterised as "Luvvie" and its public funding is being severely cut.



(12) The swing to harsher prison sentences and punishment rather than helping criminals not to re-offend is the norm.



(13) The Honours Lists and the appointment of cronies to sinecures continue unabated under Theresa May.



(14) No plans to reform a not fit for purpose electoral system exist and the "EU Referendum" is held up as an example of democracy at work - which it certainly was not.




 








Thursday, November 17, 2016

Normalising Trump? Don't worry he won't allow us to do it !




There is a danger of falling into the trap of believing Donald Trump can be normalised  - like some sort of latter day Ronald Reagan. "Mr Trump is a big-government conservative" writes Tim Montgomerie in The Times today (perhaps with his fingers crossed). It sums up the dilemma up well. It is an oxymoron of course. Earlier this year, on holiday, I met a couple of Californans - rich, well-educated, articulate. One told me "Trump is a New York liberal". Another oxymoron. 

The thing is that (as with Brexit) the people have been duped. Trump did it on his own (much of the GOP establishment shunned him) whereas the "Leave" campaign had the tabloid media on its side as well as a handful of charismatic proponents on the make. Hardly anyone who was honest and in their right mind backed Trump or Brexit unless, in the case of the latter, they were fulfilling a lifelong ambition. Here the analogy was with a football team. You stick with your team through thick and thin. If you're a lifelong Eurosceptic the same - you don't suddenly change just because the overwhelming evidence, supported by every rational authority, is that the UK would be mad to leave the EU.

Back to Trump. He had even less credible support than the Brexiteers. For good reason. Normally reliable Republican figures, media etc. did not support Donald Trump. He was a loner backed only by the extreme Right - including the Klu Klux Klan and Far Right white supremacists. And grotesque political failures like Gingrich and John Bolton (who will now get jobs).  Now, of course, the Republican tribe is  salivating at the prospect of one of theirs (sort of) in the White House.

Trump is a Bozo, a freak, a fool - an infantile clown who in any rational world would never be given any of the levers of political power. And indeed he hasn't been. No political experience at all. Uniquely so. (Incidentally Dwight Eisenhower is cited  by some as being the only other political tyro in the White House - but you don't have Ike's military record without consummate political skills as well!).

Trump is not Ronald Reagan either. Ronnie was no fool or freak. He was not an egotist either (well no more than most actors). He employed good people. A capable decent Vice President. And he had genuine political experience. No liberal is a fan of Reaganomics, but it in hindsight had its merits. And even liberals can salute Reagan's charisma, leadership and decency.

Trump cannot last. His defective personality, pea-sized brain, and unpleasant friends will surely do for him. How and when, though,  I've no idea. When cataclysmic  political mistakes happen they often take a long time to unravel. Iraq anyone? When an Emporer has no clothes he can still strut on the stage for a while. But politics is tough and if you are unfit for a job (or, like Thatcher or Nixon have become unfit) then you are generally ousted one way or another. Before the inevitable happens to Trump all we can do is try and minimise his damage.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Will the "Founding Fathers" restrain Trump's madness?




"For almost a century in the west, democracy has meant liberal democracy: a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, the separation of powers, the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion and property. In fact this latter bundle of freedoms-what might be called constitutional liberalism-is historically distinct from democracy. Today the two strands of liberal democracy, interwoven in the western political fabric, are coming apart in the rest of the world. Democracy is flourishing; constitutional liberalism is not."

The above, written in 1997 by Fareed Zakaria in Prospect Magazine, was part of an article which commented on what was seen as a trend in the growth of elective democracies unaccompanied by a parallel growth in constitutional liberalism. He explained:

" 'Suppose the election is declared free and fair,' said Richard Holbrooke on the eve of the 1996 elections in Bosnia, and those elected are “racists or fascists, publicly opposed to peace. That is the dilemma.” Indeed it is-not just in the former Yugoslavia, but around the world. Democratically elected regimes routinely ignore constitutional limits on their powers and deprive their citizens of basic rights. From Peru to the Palestinian Authority, from Sierra Leone to Slovakia, from Pakistan to the Philippines comes the rise of a disturbing phenomenon in international life-illiberal democracy."

The democratic election of those who later become tyrants is a historical phenomenon that is disturbingly common - notably with Hitler but also more recently with Marcos in The Philippines or Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Perhaps Vladimir Putin (the iffiness of Russian elections notwithstanding) is another. 

Which brings us to Donald Trump. There are two problems. Was his election truly democratic ? Clinton won the popular vote by a substantial margin - only the archaic US electoral system denied her. The second question is will Trump do what he said he would do?

There is little merit in railing against the Electoral College. It's daft, designed for a different age but it can't be changed retrospectively. It applied to the 2016 election and that's it. 

But what about Trump? He isn't a politician. His election platform and his speeches were rants full of impractical proposals. Some of it was bigoted, vile nonsense. It was certainly not "constitutionally liberal" If he attempts to implement half of it he will move into tyranny. He will certainly struggle to do this as the American constitution does have checks and balances from Congress and the Judiciary. The hands of the President are tied - the Founding Fathers were smart enough to see the need for this. No President has slipped into dictatorship - Richard Nixon (dysfunctional but not a tyrant) had to go.

The Trump election is a disaster. But I doubt that the American people have elected a man who will ride roughshod  over democratic processes and checks and balances. Not because he might not like to, but because the Constitution won't let him.  That said perhaps they said that about other elected tyrants ? 😱

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Britain. After 55 years seeking a role again.





My hotel here in Dhaka is in the diplomatic district of the city. Across the road construction work is underway on a large new building which the boards outside reveal to be the “Franco German Embassy”. No doubt the rabid haters of all things European will feel that this initiative confirms their worst fears. For if two nations which spent the first half of the twentieth century fighting one another can now be sufficiently close that they share an Embassy can the first “European Embassy” be far behind? Along with, of course, the “European Super State” about which they so noisily complain. In the long term probably not, I would think, and that’s something to cheer on not to jeer about.

 

The new Embassy is an overtly political symbol – though there will be sound economic reasons as well. The costs of the construction and operation of the Embassy will be shared – not least the costs of security. High these days anywhere, but particularly so in Bangladesh. But the symbolism is the real reason. If the French and the Germans share an Embassy that can only be on the foundation of also sharing a foreign policy and the reality is that that policy is not just theirs, but Europe’s as a whole.

 

When you have a broad-based coalition of 28 sovereign states there can’t be major differences of approach to international relations. The EU is not just an economic union, it is a political one as well. And you cannot have such a union if its member states disagree strongly with one another about external affairs. That there is common interest across Europe is fairly self-evident – even, I would argue, including the United Kingdom. Britain’s foolish and deadly adventure in Iraq, which was not supported by any of our European partners, was a blip in pan-European unity. But more than a decade later there is a greater spirit of cooperation across the EU’s 28 member states and only insular and petty nationalism could block the inevitability of “ever closer union”.

 

There is nationalism in pockets across Europe and that has led to the rise of parties of the extremes of Right and (in some cases) Left.  There is no room for complacency about this – history teaches us that in times of difficulty the extremes can prosper. The disadvantaged in America who will vote for the simplistic, banal nationalism of Donald Trump are not far removed from those who believed the snake oil of Britain’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and of the others who ran a disreputable and xenophobic campaign during the EU Referendum earlier this year. Nationalism does not just require the crude and maudlin portrayal of national symbols – the flag, sentimental anthems, the currency, reverence for institutions like the monarchy, nostalgia and reliving past glories –it also requires scapegoats. These are, of course, people and institutions that are external to the core of the nation and its history and who can be blamed for its ills. For Trump it’s Muslims and Mexicans (etc.). For UKIP and its fellow travellers it is the European Union, as an entity, and its officials as individuals – and, of course, foreigners in general and immigrants in particular. And for Hitler it was the Jews. Any study of the malevolence of Nationalism is also a study of bigotry, prejudice, intolerance and chauvinism. Patriotism is the veneer which barely disguises Nationalism. That patriotism is the “last refuge of a scoundrel”, as Samuel Johnson put it, we have evidence in abundance in Britain in 2016.

 

The opposite of Nationalism is Internationalism. That principle lay at the heart of Churchill’s call in 1946 “… to re-create the European Family… and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.” That is precisely what the European Union has done and is doing. This does not mean a Federal Europe and certainly not a “Super State” – except perhaps in the very long term. But it does mean closer union and also to a post-NATO European Defence Force as guarantor of the “peace and safety”. That the United Kingdom has chosen to be outside of this progress is distressing – the wrong decision, made for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. Churchill did not see Britain as being part of his united Europe – but that was a different Britain. In 1946 we were still Imperial Britain, a “Great Power” and the United States’ closest ally. None of that now applies. And when in 1962 Dean Acheson said “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role” he was pointing to this emerging reality. 

The answer to the question of what Britian’s ideal post-Imperial role would be was arguably clear just before Acheson said what he said. In 1961 The UK applied to be a member of the then “European Economic Community”. At the time Macmillan acknowledged that the EEC was more than “just” an economic entity. He said:

 

“This is a political as well as an economic issue. Although the Treaty of Rome is concerned with economic matters it has an important political objective, namely, to promote unity and stability in Europe which is so essential a factor in the struggle for freedom and progress throughout the world”

 

By applying for EEC membership the UK’s post-Imperial role was effectively being prescribed. It was to be, along with Germany and France, one of the leaders in a United Europe. This may well be why General de Gaulle initially rebuffed the application! But in a few years time, and post de Gaulle, the UK took its rightful place (many would say) among the leaders of the new Europe.

 

In a parallel world the new Embassy in Dhaka would be the “British Franco German Embassy” – a reflection of the progress made in European cooperation and of the tripartite drivers of it. Fanciful? No more so than the reality of the “Franco German Embassy” surely.  

 

But now what? It took fifteen years for Britain to realise that to be part of the new Europe – indeed to be a key player in building it – was the right thing to do. Fifty-five years later, with much of the hard work of unification having been done and (especially) with democratic intuitions having been successfully introduced, we have decided to walk away. To what? Well nobody knows – least of all the Government wrestling with the enormity of what we’ve done.  The clock cannot be rolled back to 1946, or indeed to 1961. This is a Club which once you’ve left you can’t rejoin.

 

There is no Bliss in this new dawn to be alive, and for the young especially it is very hell. It was the meagre, stale, forbidding ways which got us here and the false and nationalistic “attraction” of a country in romance with its past. Sadly Reason failed to assert her rights. She was lost to the forces that would not go forward in her name.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A pardon for Alan Turing? It's not a simple as it might seem.



The issue over a pardon for Alan Turing and those similarly convicted of homosexual "offences" is more complex than some think. At any one moment in time we have laws. People are convicted under these laws and punished. Sometimes these convictions turn out to be unsafe and sometimes this only becomes apparent happens a long time after the event. The Timothy Evans or the Birmingham Bomb case for example. Here the pardons were made because of wrongful conviction - which they were. In effect the pardons overturned the convictions and made those convicted officially innocent in the eyes of the law (not much help to Mr Evans, sadly). 

The case of Alan Turing (etc.) is different. Nobody is saying his conviction was unsafe. He was correctly convicted under the law of the day. Nobody disputes that. So it would be inappropriate to pardon him because of wrongful conviction.  

Alan Turing and many others were convicted of transgressing against laws then on the Statute Book which are no longer on that book. We have in the last fifty years had a raft of social legislation which has liberalised our society. Among these has been the decriminalisation of homosexuality. What Turing was convicted as having done would today not be a crime.  

Today's generation has assumed it has the right to criticise the illiberality of previous generations. That's fine by me - and there's plenty to criticise. Slavery. Institutionalised discrimination against minorities. Dangerous employment practises. You name it the past was a tough old place. But that's how it was.  

Alan Turing was rightfully convicted under what we now believe to have been an unjust law. Today's mores and values and sense of what is right or wrong - and the laws which surround them - are different from those of 70 years ago. I think that we have advanced as a society as a consequence. Not everyone agrees - although as far as the decriminalisation of homosexuality is concerned few would argue that this change was anything other than desirable. 

We have a sense of guilt about what happened to Turing. But it is not guilt about our own actions but about those of a previous generation and the society that then existed. So what, if anything, should we do about it ? The usual requirement for a pardon (wrongful conviction) does not apply. It is frankly nonsense to argue (as some are doing) that because someone was convicted of an offence in 1952 that would not be an offence in 2016 he should therefore be pardoned. 

If we choose to pardon Alan Turing (et al) we should be very clear about why we are doing it. Because we believe ourselves to be more virtuous than our parents or grandparents is not a reason. Nor is it a good reason that Turing was a great man and that his life story has been well told in a fine movie. The failed Bill proposed by the SNP did not do that for me. If the Government bill does (as the pardon of those convicted and executed under Courts Martial during the Great War did) then I will welcome it. But, as I say, it's more complex than it might seem to be.



Addendum

Since posting this it has been pointed out to me that Alan Turing has already been pardoned and that this is about also pardoning similarly convicted men. I had forgotten that. Checking on the reasons given at the time (2013) for Turing's pardon they are as follows:

"The Justice Secretary has the power to ask the Queen to grant a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, for civilians convicted in England and Wales.

A pardon is only normally granted when the person is innocent of the offence and where a request has been made by someone with a vested interest such as a family member. Uniquely on this occasion a pardon has been issued without either requirement being met, reflecting the exceptional nature of Alan Turing’s achievements."

The "uniquely" didn't last long. And the reasons given (Turing's "achievements" and the "exceptional nature" of them) were highly questionable to say the least. And they do not apply to others for whom it is now proposed a pardon be granted. The can of worms is open... 


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When the Nationalists take power...


A senior EU offcial confirmed that there is only one viable exit option - if the UK is no longer to be part of the EU, and if it will not seek the "Norway" status, then "Hard Brexit" is the only way. 

Norway is not an EU member but it has Freedom of Movement and is in the Single Market. The two are indivisible. This is an odd situation as the country has the benefits/problems of both policies without being in a position to affect the policies. But Norway accepts it.

The UK will not accept Freedom of Movement not because we don't benefit from it (we clearly do) but because it is a political line which cannot be crossed. Our electorate voted against the UK's membership of the UK because they equated that membership's "Freedom of Movement" obligations with "immigration" - which they don't like. (I simplify, but that was the bottom line).

Everything follows on from the political "bottom line" I describe. If that line cannot be crossed for fear of the electorate's response then "Soft Brexit" is no longer an option. 

We are cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Brexit will set Britain back for decades. And all because a foolish man thought he could defeat his opponents on the Tory Right /UKIP with a reasoned and internationalist argument. History should have taught him that Nationalism has a powerful appeal to those who think that they are disadvantaged. And we all know what happens when nationalists take power...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Freedom of Movement within the EU is not "immigration"



Freedom of Movement within the EU is not "immigration". The myth that it is heavily influenced the outcome of the EU Referendum and is still being circulated by those opposed to the UK remaining a signatory to free trade in Europe. 

The core principle of economic alliances is the free movement of the factors of production - including labour. You can't pick and choose. If you want free movement of (say) capital free movement of labour comes with it. And free trade, the removal of barriers to the movement of goods also demands open borders - open to goods, capital, enterprise and people. 

Freedom of Movement of labour in the EU means that job seeking and employment has no national boundaries. It is, however, subject to the normal economic forces of supply and demand. If there is demand there will be supply. And the intersection of the supply and demand curves will give you the price. That price in the U.K. is regulated by minimum wage legislation. The legal employment of non British EU nationals is subject to the same laws as the employment of Brits is. There is no "cheap labour from Europe". (That there is illegal employment is a matter for the Police and is irrelevant to this discussion). 

Those EU nationals working here have not, in the main, migrated. They are Guest Workers doing a job, paying their taxes, consuming goods and services etc. Their net contribution to the economy is heavily positive. In time most of them will move on - back to their home country or elsewhere. The laws of supply and demand apply. Our economy relies on the availability (supply) of labour, capital and enterprise. The wider the source of all of these the better. The lower the costs and the higher the quality and the greater the choice.

Friday, October 07, 2016

For the Tory Right UKIP have been useful fools - crucial in securing their victory.


There is a cool, intellectually robust and factually undeniable article in "The Economist" today which states the reality that Freedom of Movement within the EU is strongly beneficial to the UK. And yet Nigel Farage who Paul Goodman praises today on the ConHome website (properly in the Lords - OMG !!) and his brother in crime Stephen Woolfe were the ones believed in the EU Referendum. 

Without question it was the lies of these and other doleful Kippers who secured the Tory Right their victory. There were a few unconvincing complaints from some Conservatives about the bigotry and mendacity of Mr Banks, Mr Woolfe and Farage. But most of them knew that every vile poster brought a "Leave" victory nearer and that the grubby means justified the ends. And those ends were, of course, the Thatcherites back in power for the first time since 1990. (I use the shorthand "Thatcherite" for want of a better descriptor. It's not wholly accurate as it was only in her sad demented final years that the blessed Margaret segued to where it seems Mrs May is heading now).

UKIP has been a vile scourge on the body politic. To the Tory Right they have been useful fools but they have been crucial in securing the victory. No wonder on ConHome  and elsewhere they are treated kindly. The extent of the plotting and the intrigue between fellow travellers across (nominally) the party lines (Carswell and Hannan, for example) may emerge in time. The short lived call for UKIP/Conservative electoral pacts pushed by some of the faithful (Toby Young, for example) got nowhere because it was realised it wasn't necessary. Just let the Kippers do the dirty work, stand at a distance and the prize will fall into your hands. Clever. Very clever...