Thursday, June 24, 2004

Open University - Idiots Politics Session 4 - Terrorism

I do not think I need to add anymore to my fairly well-publisised view on violence however what does need to be looked at is the perception of who the aggressor is in many of the instances of "terrorism". It is a much-vaunted mantra that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, but does the evidence support the claim?
If you take Ireland as an initial example, the problems stem from the British occupation and the planned migration of many protestant Scots to the hitherto Catholic Ireland and principally the northern Ulster province. Britain needed to drive the indigenous population as far away from the coast as possible to avoid them giving assistance to the Catholic Jacobite rebelllions which were taking place to undermine the accession of William of Orange. (Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that) Hence for many years the Irish had been fighting the English in what would legitimately have been called an independence struggle but would have been seen by the British as terrorism. In the other 3 Irish counties fighting stopped after the gaining of Irish independence after the First World War but a part of the independence conditions were the retaining of the six counties of Ulster by England as part of the United Kingdom. It is interesting that people regard partition generally as a very bad thing and see unification as an ultimate goal -look at the perception of Germany in 1990, and yet they do not understand why there are still problems in Ireland. Of course the situation of the six counties is tricky because of the Protestant contingent (the Loyalists) who do not want to go from being part of the protestant UK to part of the Catholic Republic of Ireland and the Catholic contingent (the Republicans or Nationalists) who for obvious reasons do not want to stay part of the UK. The original IRA was a Irish organisation fighting for an Irish nation pre-1922. After the treaty granting independence the organisation split many times before becoming what was known as the Provisional IRA (Provos) which is what most people think of when you mention the acronym nowadays. Generally it is accepted that the Irish had a right to fight for their autonomy and yet somehow an arbitrary line has been drawn in the sand declaring it unacceptable for those still in Ulster and remaining under British military rule to continue their struggle.

Now take the examples of the Palestinians who previous to 1948 had their land and post Israel settlement had large sections of it confiscated for the creation of a nation that has no geographic precedent (Like the Irish it was in fact the British that caused the shit in Palestine too!). Like the Irish the Palestinians had their territory occupied by a difference ethnic and religious group and this caused friction. Like the Irish the Palestinians chose to resist this in many different forms and the less electoral influence exacted the more violent tactics and civil disobedience was employed. When civil disobedience comes up against the most heavily armed force in the world it is clear that something is going to have to give. The less empowered people feel the more likely they are to take drastic measures. Unlike the Palestinians who do not have widespread representation in the Israeli Knessit, the Irish never felt the need to use suicide bombers because they always had a foot in the electoral door too which has eventually led to the potential for change. It would however be folly to suggest that the Irish question would have been in the agenda of any British premier were it not for the possibility of the IRA bombing the shit out of London. No, I do not agree with the bombing of civilians, but I also categorically disagree with the marginalising of peoples by oppressive governments leading people to believe that the only thing they can do is fight back violently. This is why I can understand the disenfranchised desperation that can lead to such actions even if it is not the course I take myself. Do not make the mistake in thinking that suicide bombing is a new or specifically Islamic thing. The military tactics of the whirling Dervishes as well as the Kamikaze Japanese pilots are a couple of examples. The most common and widespread use of suicide bombers is by the Tamil Tigers who are not islamic but a secular Marxist group fighting for autonomy in Sri Lanka. To take the example further there are Western soldiers lauded as heroes who, when the die was cast, decided if they were going to die they'd take as many of the enemy with them as possible. It's the old cornered rat analogy. This is seen as a legitimate military tactic in war-time, which is exactly the perception of reality of many groups using such tactics today

There are a myriad assortment of other struggles from East Timor's occupation by Indonesia, the FARC's battle against the repressive Uribe regime in Colombia, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Marxists in Nepal, Pro-Democracy movement in Burma, ETA in the Basque country in Northern Spain etc. etc. etc. However these are not high-profile cases because on the whole the incumbant regimes have done little or nothing to tick off the US, in fact in many cases the regimes have supported the US openly such as in Colombia and Central America and have therefore received funding, training and hardware courtesy of the jackbooted Uncle Sam. Basically if you have tactical significance or natural resources heaven help you if you democratically elect anyone that you're not supposed to. You can vote for anyone you like as long as it's the ones they tell you to.

The common thread through these conflicts is that there is a clear aggressor, whether you agree with the reasons or simply accept the way history has panned out or not, in the Ireland question it is the British, in the case of Palestine it is Israel and in Iraq as so many others it is the US. Thus the way the oppressed feel towards the oppressor determines how they feel it necessary to act in order to free themselves. In the case of many of the former Eastern Bloc countries the oppressive governments were overthrown by peaceful demonstrations whilst in Romania Ceaucescu was seen as a more entrenched despot and his use of the Securitate meant there was considerable bloodshed and battles like Timisoara in order to change the status quo. It may not even be the actual facts of the agressor that is important but the perception of the agressor and this is the part that can be used as a recruiting sergeant. The Americans have for many years used the Big Bad Wolf theory to justify many things in particular some homeland security measures and the defence budget to back up a very agressive foreign policy. The Big Bad Wolf theory requires there to be a threat from a monster, a renegade or a rogue state and looking back there has been one for the Americans for most of the modern era from Hitler direct to Stalin to Kruschev to Castro etc. etc. through Gadaffi, Ayatollah Khomeni, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden etc. There is always one, as soon as the threat from one is neutralised there must be another to take his place, the maintaining of the heightened state of public alert is paramount.

We are fed propaganda in a way similar to WWII but most people don't see it as such. There is the belief that since we have so many different sources of news that we cannot be hoodwinked how we once could. This is a total misnomer and one of the biggest smoke screens of all. This will be discussed in Session 5 the Media.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Open University Idiot’s Guide to Politics Session 3 - Taxation

Another in Professor Baron's occasional series in sociopolitical commentary.

So, tax yes, not much of a chortle on this one but I feel quite strongly about tax to tell the truth so I thought I'd share my convictions with you. Hell, it'll be a change from counting sheep for you!

Now if one accepts the necessity for an over-arching state then one must in turn accept the concept of it needing to raise money. This can be done in a couple of obvious ways.

The most obvious is taxation, a series of levies based around a tariff constant whereby the State effectively takes a cut of an existing transaction. The profit element for the state is 100% in cases where it is not having to provide the infrastructure for the transaction to take place but that is generally only the case within private industry and since I don’t believe private industry is a good idea we’ll leave one aside. So where the state has provided the infrastructure or is at least bound to it there will be a degree of overhead. Take the Inland Revenue for example, the myriad offices and tax collectors etc.

Another form of revenue is for the state to make money from the services that it provides, ie charges based on the usage of those services, be that fares on public transport and such like or a charge for the use of public utilities. Many people on the right-wing feel that the State should have levying powers on all services such as hospitals etc. It is important here to define services because the provision of hospital treatment is rather different to that of say a train system or electricity. One does not expect the amount of usage of a hospital to be charged the way say one might be for electricity or for traveling on the bus.

Now when it comes to taxation this is always going to have a degree of unpopularity because ideally people would like as much money to live off as they can. However it would not be true to say that people will never like tax. If a taxation system is managed correctly and open and accountable there is no reason why people will not accept it as part of daily life. The problems come when the system is poorly managed and either closed to scrutiny or so complex as to require a specialist qualification to understand it.

Taxation must be taken on an ability to pay basis, there is no point trying to extort money from someone who does not have the means to pay, the revenue is not forthcoming and money spent on recovery etc. is throwing good after bad. If a tax is taken proportionally this provides no basis for accusations of imbalance. Thus the percentage system is the only fair way to do so.

I am aware that there are people who do not believe in the concept of from each according to his ability to each according to his needs. These are people who see that what they have attained as being a direct result of their own hard work and they resent the fruits of their labours benefitting somebody else that they deem may not be as deserving as they. This fails to take into account that the people that have done well as a result of the system have often done so at the expense of many others whether directly or indirectly. To benefit from an iniquitous system and not seek to change it is to offer compliance however tacit. The current system is not a fair one and therefore there are many factors which go into who succeeds and who does not. A person subjected to prejudice because of creed, colour, appearance or gender will not have the same opportunities regardless of whether they work as hard as one not subject to the same restrictions, it is therefore a smokescreen to suggest that success in our current environment is directly proportionate to output. Thus by the same token it is right and proper that those who happen to be on the right side of such a system should be made to subsidise the services for those who are less able to fund them. This creates a society whereby everybody should at least be able to live with comparative dignity and not have to worry about the provision for basic services such as healthcare, education, pensions, transportation etc.

Personally I agree wholeheatedly with the concept of a higher rate of tax for the more well-off. I believe that there should be a study carried out into how much is necessary for adaquate survival, based on circumstance like size of family etc. and those earning above that threshold will pay a gradually increasing percentage of tax. It may seem punitive that someone earning £30,000 is taxed at 40% whilst someone earning far more is taxed at 80% but if you look at it pragmatically the person earning £30k ends up with £18k net whilst someone earning £150,000 would even on an 80% tax rate still end up with £30k net. This would however go a long way to reducing the gap between the very rich and the vast majority of society as well as raising huge amounts of revenue for the Treasury. Put in context Britain would not have an insurmountable pensions crisis if a proper higher rate of tax was implemented.

The question is, is this a disincentive? Well, in the current system yes it is because we have been brought up of late to believe that we not only can but also should be able to have everything. People resent encroaching on what they perceive as being their "rights" and yet they do not expect to back these rights up by living up to their responsibilities. If people are brought up to believe that it is just as important for them to fill their roles in society and contribute to the good of the whole and not just the individual then it would be a more natural progression to recognise the need for a tax gradient.

Song Of The Day ~ Kenickie - Acetone

Friday, June 18, 2004

Open University Idiot’s Guide to Politics Session 2b -Britain (conti)

Welcome back to Dr. R. Baron's series of lectures on the declining shithole that is Britain. Having covered the historical precedent of British politics Dr. Baron will now go on to look at the role of the Monarchy in British political life, with particular emphasis on post 1642.

The Monarchy

Well, before I get into a diatribe about the monarchy it is important to explain to you what the monarchy actually does in this country. The simple answer is not a lot but there are things that require some further explanation. Obviously the monarchy now is substantively different to the monarchy in say the Middle Ages or even up to the mid 17th century. Up to this point it was the old Divine Right principle, monarchy put there by God and absolute power etc. etc. the monarch effectively ran the show. The only way to get anything done would be therefore to influence the monarch and thus things were only done for the wealthy and powerful anyway as these were the only people with sufficient patronage to gain an audience. Magna Carta is a good example of this, it is not some groundbreaking bill of rights as some might have you believe it is simply the underpinning of the rights of the richest and most powerful landowners to have serfs and levy taxes and raise armies independently from the monarchs control. As I said 1215 was hardly the age of enlightenment!

Since the Civil War and execution of Charles I the situation has been somewhat different with the monarchy tied down far more and subject to Parliamentary control, of course not until the 20th century did this make a vast amount of difference because the people in charge of Parliament were hardly dyed-in-the-wool reds! In terms of current monarchical power over the legislature the sovereign is largely symbolic providing a rubber stamp element to government, however the monarch has the veto, tho' rarely used it does still exist. It is also worthy of note that the current queen has exercised her power on occasions, partially it must be said on trivial matters but none the less in a wholly unconstitutional and undemocratic fashion. Tony Benn recalls in his diaries whilst serving as Postmaster General his attempts to change the design of stamps, something the queen has absolute veto over, when he met with the queen and presented the designs no objection was given but later he was informed that the queen would not sanction any design that did not have her head on it and the designs had to be dropped. This is I agree a banal example but it is perhaps most worrying precisely because of its banality, why should something so trivial not be under the auspices of the elected government what is it about this that the monarchy wishes to hang on to? To understand this point you have to understand the monarchy as a whole and where its politics lie. It will probably not surprise most people to know that the British monarchy, as establishment a set of figures as you could ever hope to avoid, is fervently right-wing. Some like the mad old Greek Prince Philip make no secret of the fact and regularly take pride in offending a new national group by making xenophobic and idiotic remarks, other like the dead queen mother were more subtle but no less vitriolic. The monarchy is understandably one of the most reactionary groups in the world, it has every reason to be so after all it would be able to survive far better in the old days than it does now. Bearing in mind that in the scheme of things the monarchy has every reason to fear the people it would like to keep them at a long arm's length, after all it's only relatively recently that they've started speaking the same language as the rest of the population and some might say that whilst the words are the same their language is still as different as the Americans.

If you want any example of the impact that the monarchy can have ask the people of Diego Garcia who today have found out that In Counsel for the Queen the High Court ruling that their eviction was illegal has been overturned. The islands were cleared some years ago to make way for an American airbase, interestingly the airbase was only on one island but it seemed necessary to remove the inhabitants of surrounding islands up to 200 miles away. The residents have campaigned through the UK judicial system and were recently rewarded with a High Court judgement in their favour - the High Court being the highest judicial court in the land bar the House of Lords. However rather than heed the judgement the government decided to go through a non-appealable process 'in the name of the Queen' and thus put an end to the matter in their favour. So that's the Queen's 'Rubber Stamp' power for you. What a surprise to find the Americans involved there as well.

Next session: Contemporary British Politics, same time, same place soon, thank you for your attention.

Prof R. Baron MA D Phil

Song Of The Day - Air ~ Cherry Blossom Girl

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Open University Idiot’s Guide to Politics Session 2a -Britain

The second in my occasional series of Idiot’s Politics, yes the apostrophe is intentional. Today I will attempt to give a brief overview of British politics as I see it, I stress the ‘as I see it’ because I shall be biased, so sue me!


British political history is long-winded and full of pompous arses I shall gloss over them and just start post civil war. In the 18th and 19th Centuries you had principally 2 political parties namely the Whigs and the Tories and this was the case right up until the early 20th century. You must bear in mind that at this point the actual political process was open to comparatively few enfranchised people. These were the landowners and industrial middle class there was no talk of votes for women or for the proles. Britain did not at any time in its history have a popular revolution and therefore missed out on the sort of political reform that say France had in the late 18th century. Thus even to this day the British constitution is no more than a loose interpretation of the Magna Carta which is dated 1215, 1215 is hardly a period in time known for its emancipation or universal suffrage of the masses.

In the 20th century after the Industrial Revolution had fully taken hold and transformed urban and rural life in Britain, mass movement ideas had been circulating for some time including most famously The Communist Party Manifesto of 1848 written in London by Marx and Engels. It is worthy of note that a document of such historical importance as this that was written here had by comparison little impact in England as it did across the rest of the world. The Labour Party in Britain was founded in London’s Faringdon district on the 27th Feb. 1900, whilst it was founded out of the Trade Union movement and the work of socialists such as Keir Hardie who believed it was necessary to unite the movement to achieve socialist success the initial founding was something of a mess, 2/3 of the Trade Union movement didn’t send delegates to Faringdon which undermined somewhat the claim to be a mass movement furthermore other socialist intellectual groups did not take part including the Fabians who believed in attempting to push a socialist agenda within the Liberal party. It wasn’t until 1906 when on the back of a Liberal landslide Labour actually gained any substantial electoral success returning 29 Mps. The Labour party stood for ideals such as nationalisation, emancipation, universal suffrage, human rights etc.

Since that point there have been 3 major political parties in Britain, and since the 1930s only 2 have really been able to call on the sort of support that enables the forming of a government. Between the 1930s and 1970s the 2 main parties stood pretty much either side of the political spectrum with the Labour party representing the Left-wing and the inner city populations, the working class and the philanthropic middle-class intelligentsia whilst the Conservatives represented the aristocracy, the upper middle-classes and the industrialists –the business vote. The Liberals mopped up the rest, the protest votes, the middle ground etc. etc. In the 1980s Labour started to change its agenda after suffering heavy losses in 1979/1983/1987 to Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives. Thatcher had embarked on a series of measures to dismantle Trade Union power which she and her followers saw as instrumental in bringing about the economic downturn in the 1970s [This view did however not take into consideration the global economic downturn which was being felt in many countries across Europe regardless of the political alignment of the incumbent government, this point is graphically illustrated by the recession in 1991 which was a direct throwback to the Tory economic policy of the 1980s and resulted in a devaluation of the £ in 1992 just as had happened after the Winter of Discontent in 1978-9]

Labour's response to the 1980s was to drop much of its socialist credentials such as Clause 4, which was a tenet in the party manifesto committing itself to the nationalisation of industry. The party did this in an attempt to address what it saw as itself being unelectable, it sought not to stick to its guns but chase the electorate to the right in the hope of capturing people on the whet end of the Conservative party. Now Labour may point to this strategy achieving success in 1997 which one of the largest landslide victories ever and backed up by a consolidation in 2001. This in my opinion is about as accurate an assessment as Thatcher's view of global economics. In 1997 the Labour party could quite literally have stood for anything and they would have been elected just as the Conservatives could have done in 1979, the incumbent governments had presided over a period of economic shambles and people blamed them for their personal lack of prosperity. In 1979 the Tories entrenched their position and Thatcherism became a phenomenon of right-wing thinking it was picked up on by many right-wing governments in the industrialised world such as the USA.

That's the history part covered in brief, and I think I was quite restrained there I didn't fill every paragraph with bilious comments even when mentioning Her name! There are a couple of other things that you need to know about British politics too, I shall tackle them in the next instalments.

Next session: The Role of the Monarchy, same time, same place tomorrow, thank you for your attention.

Prof R. Baron MA D Phil

Song Of The Day - Blondie ~ Good Boys