Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Layer 527 . . . The Singing President and BB King, Defending Libraries, Noam Chomsky, Geo-Politics, The Imperial Way, and Survival of the Species

If you're enjoying the repeats of The Singing Detective -

- we now have The Singing President!

Defending Libraries

I've just come across this article by Michael Rosen from last year. It's still relevant and well worth a read.
Libraries have become one of the expendable, junkable parts of modern capitalism.
The main alibi in circulation supporting the closure of libraries is that they've become less popular.
We need to be sharp about how we defend the library service and indeed be clear about what we are defending and what we would change about it.
Libraries provide free books, magazines and newspapers to everyone. They are a free source of information about rights, facilities and leisure, and librarians provide what is in effect an advice service in relation to all this. In many places there is also free or cheap internet access, and free or cheap borrowing of CDs and DVDs, photocopying and the like. For many people in particular groups in society - such as children, new migrants, old people, the unemployed, sixth form and further education students - libraries are more than a "leisure facility". They are crucial to how they live and develop.
For socialists, none of this can be an optional extra. Central to our struggle for socialism has to be that every one of us has a right of access to knowledge, ideas and skills. The education system cannot and does not deliver this because even as it appears to offer that access it segregates, divides, discriminates and discards.
As a form of cheap, portable and physically durable entertainment and education, books still have the edge over the alternatives. E-books will certainly do most of the job if people can afford the "platform" to read them on. But for the moment, at least, for young children there is no substitute for the picture book.
An issue here is specificity and variety. The sum total of books offers a range of ideas and thought not available through the mass media. The library service offers everyone access to this, though we're reaching a point where many people aren't aware that it does.
As with everything else I've been describing, this needs librarians so that the space of the library can be used to expand the "socialisation" of reading - through talks, readings, book groups, advice "surgeries", the Summer Reading Challenge for children and the like.
The prevailing model for us as human beings is as private consumers, and libraries and reading are being squeezed into this model. By defending the job of every librarian and demanding improvements to the service we are also opposing the idea that the mind is little more than a shopping trolley. We are saying instead that we are social beings who can use reading, writing and talk as part of our struggle for a better society.

Noam Chomsky continues to produce challenging articles, essays and books that give a very different world view to the mainstream dross that afflicts us through the majority of the media. Hats off to the Guardian for continuing to publish his work. If you want some perspective on what's happening in geo-politics - and everybody should - you have to read Chomsky.

'Losing' the world: American decline in perspective, part 1

US foreign policy 'experts' only ever provide an echo chamber for American imperial power. A longer, broader view is necessary

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy's decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-second world war period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam. The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during second world war, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this, Henry Kissinger's orders were being carried out – "anything that flies on anything that moves" – a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record. Little of this is remembered. Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

A the scale of the US defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along. In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the US military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege US investors in the rich energy system – demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance. And all well kept from the general population.

A close look at American decline shows that China indeed plays a large role, as it has for 60 years. The decline that now elicits such concern is not a recent phenomenon. It traces back to the end of the second world war, when the US had half the world's wealth and incomparable security and global reach. Planners were naturally well aware of the enormous disparity of power, and intended to keep it that way.

The basic viewpoint was outlined with admirable frankness in a major state paper of 1948 (PPS 23). The author was one of the architects of the "new world order" of the day, the chair of the State Department policy planning staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan, a moderate dove within the planning spectrum. He observed that the central policy goal was to maintain the "position of disparity" that separated our enormous wealth from the poverty of others. To achieve that goal, he advised, "We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization," and must "deal in straight power concepts", not "hampered by idealistic slogans" about "altruism and world-benefaction."

Kennan was referring specifically to Asia, but the observations generalize, with exceptions, for participants in the US-run global system. It was well understood that the "idealistic slogans" were to be displayed prominently when addressing others, including the intellectual classes, who were expected to promulgate them.

The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the US would control the western hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers. These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power. But decline set in at once.

In 1949, China declared independence, an event known in Western discourse as "the loss of China" – in the US, with bitter recriminations and conflict over who was responsible for that loss. The terminology is revealing. It is only possible to lose something that one owns. The tacit assumption was that the US owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed.

The "loss of China" was the first major step in "America's decline". It had major policy consequences. One was the immediate decision to support France's effort to reconquer its former colony of Indochina, so that it, too, would not be "lost".

In the case of Vietnam, the concern was that the virus of independent development might infect Indonesia, which really does have rich resources. And that might lead Japan – the "superdomino" as it was called by the prominent Asia historian John Dower – to "accommodate" to an independent Asia as its technological and industrial center in a system that would escape the reach of US power. That would mean, in effect, that the US had lost the Pacific phase of the second world war, fought to prevent Japan's attempt to establish such a new order in Asia.

The way to deal with such a problem is clear: destroy the virus and "inoculate" those who might be infected. In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions. Those tasks were successfully carried out – though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington's dismay.

Similar procedures have been routinely followed elsewhere. Kissinger was referring specifically to the threat of socialist democracy in Chile. That threat was ended on another forgotten date, what Latin Americans call "the first 9/11", which in violence and bitter effects far exceeded the 9/11 commemorated in the west. A vicious dictatorship was imposed in Chile, one part of a plague of brutal repression that spread through Latin America, reaching Central America under Reagan. Viruses have aroused deep concern elsewhere as well, including the Middle East, where the threat of secular nationalism has often concerned British and US planners, inducing them to support radical Islamic fundamentalism to counter it.

The concentration of wealth and American decline

Despite such victories, American decline continued. By 1970, US share of world wealth had dropped to about 25%, roughly where it remains, still colossal but far below the end of the second world war. By then, the industrial world was "tripolar": US-based North America, German-based Europe, and East Asia, already the most dynamic industrial region, at the time Japan-based, but by now including the former Japanese colonies Taiwan and South Korea, and, more recently, China.

At about that time, American decline entered a new phase: conscious self-inflicted decline. From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the US economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing. These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on.

Meanwhile, for the majority, real wages largely stagnated, and people were able to get by only by sharply increased workloads (far beyond Europe), unsustainable debt, and repeated bubbles since the Reagan years, creating paper wealth that inevitably disappeared when they burst (and the perpetrators were bailed out by the taxpayer). In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections – the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former "moderate Republicans") not far behind.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the major source of reputable data on these developments for years, is entitled Failure by Design. The phrase "by design" is accurate. Other choices were certainly possible. And as the study points out, the "failure" is class-based. There is no failure for the designers. Far from it. Rather, the policies are a failure for the large majority, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movements – and for the country, which has declined and will continue to do so under these policies.

One factor is the offshoring of manufacturing. As the solar panel example mentioned earlier illustrates, manufacturing capacity provides the basis and stimulus for innovation leading to higher stages of sophistication in production, design, and invention. That, too, is being outsourced, not a problem for the "money mandarins" who increasingly design policy, but a serious problem for working people and the middle classes, and a real disaster for the most oppressed, African Americans, who have never escaped the legacy of slavery and its ugly aftermath, and whose meager wealth virtually disappeared after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, setting off the most recent financial crisis, the worst so far.

The imperial way: American decline in perspective, part 2

The US's presumed right to impose its will on the world, by force if necessary, has not changed. But its capacity to do so has

In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, "losses" continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the US and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as "the backyard".

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries – Middle East/North Africa – which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". Control of MENA energy reserves would yield "substantial control of the world", in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor AA Berle.

The Iranian "threat" and the nuclear issue

Let us turn finally to the third of the leading issue addressed in the establishment journals cited earlier, the "threat of Iran". Among elites and the political class, this is generally taken to be the primary threat to world order – though not among populations. In Europe, polls show that Israel is regarded as the leading threat to peace. In the MENA countries, that status is shared with the US, to the extent that in Egypt, on the eve of the Tahrir Square uprising, 80% felt that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons. The same polls found that only 10% regard Iran as a threat – unlike the ruling dictators, who have their own concerns.

In the United States, before the massive propaganda campaigns of the past few years, a majority of the population agreed with most of the world that, as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to carry out uranium enrichment. And even today, a large majority favors peaceful means for dealing with Iran. There is even strong opposition to military engagement if Iran and Israel are at war. Only a quarter regard Iran as an important concern for the US altogether. But it is not unusual for there to be a gap, often a chasm, dividing public opinion and policy.

Why exactly is Iran regarded as such a colossal threat? The question is rarely discussed, but it is not hard to find a serious answer – though not, as usual, in the fevered pronouncements. The most authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and the intelligence services in their regular reports to Congress on global security. They report that Iran does not pose a military threat. Its military spending is very low even by the standards of the region, minuscule, of course, in comparison with the US.

Iran has little capacity to deploy force. Its strategic doctrines are defensive, designed to deter invasion long enough for diplomacy to set it. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons capability, they report, that would be part of its deterrence strategy. No serious analyst believes that the ruling clerics are eager to see their country and possessions vaporized, the immediate consequence of their coming even close to initiating a nuclear war. And it is hardly necessary to spell out the reasons why any Iranian leadership would be concerned with deterrence, under existing circumstances.

The regime is doubtless a serious threat to much of its own population – and regrettably, is hardly unique on that score. But the primary threat to the US and Israel is that Iran might deter their free exercise of violence. A further threat is that the Iranians clearly seek to extend their influence to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond, as well. Those "illegitimate" acts are called "destabilizing" (or worse). In contrast, forceful imposition of US influence halfway around the world contributes to "stability" and order, in accord with traditional doctrine about who owns the world.

While the principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, the capacity to implement them has markedly declined as power has become more broadly distributed in a diversifying world. Consequences are many. It is, however, very important to bear in mind that, unfortunately, none lifts the two dark clouds that hover over all consideration of global order: nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, both literally threatening the decent survival of the species.

Quite the contrary. Both threats are ominous, and increasing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Layer 526 . . . Welcome to the East End - the Lea Valley and the Olympic Park

I was talking to a friend of a friend last week who told me he's feeling very excited about moving to the East End. It turns out he was born in Bethnal Green and lived there till the age of five, at which point he and his family moved back 'home' to southern Nigeria. Having gone through school and university in Nigeria he eventually found his way back to London, via several other countries, and then found work and a place to live in the suburbs - somewhere near the bottom of the M1. Brent Cross?

By chance last autumn he was invited to a party in Bethnal Green - the very first time he'd been back there since the age of five. He described emerging from the tube station, walking down Bethnal Green Road, feeling the 'buzz' on the street - the strollers, the pubs, cafes and bars - and thinking "Wow! - this place feels like home! I need to live here!"

He's right - there's so much to appreciate about the East End in 2012 - so much diversity, energy, creativity - the whole vibe. It's not heaven on earth, but it sure as hell beats living in the suburbs. One small example - two brilliant little live bands playing on different street corners at Columbia Road market a couple of weekends ago. It was worth getting an open air coffee and hanging out in the cold air just to enjoy the music. The same thing also happens at Broadway Market on Saturdays.

Another friend recalled driving through ShoreDitch (!) last weekend - well gone midnight and the streets and bars still crowded to overflowing, traffic slowing down to avoid the throng, including, inevitably, various people staggering around drunk, behaving pretty badly.

Apparently the different tribes tend to descend on Shoreditch, Hoxton and Hackney at weekends - the West London crew, the Essex mob, the Kent crowd, etc. Apparently experienced spotters can differentiate them by their clothes and their taste in footwear. East End folk do NOT go elsewhere at weekends. How time's changed the old manor.

And now, of course, the Olympic thing is coming to its climax. Today the Guardian website features this excellent page:
Olympic Park: an alternative tour around the London 2012 games site
The Olympic Games are just around the corner, and thousands of curious visitors are coming to the site to see where all the London 2012 action will take place. Join Alexandra Topping on an alternative walking tour with Simon Cole, of Hackney Tours, to discover the area's greenest spaces and most interesting historical facts, as well as the top views and the best hot chocolate
Click below to go on the virtual video tour:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Layer 525 . . . Great Artists, Enlightenment, Zen, Dawkins and Obscurity

In the previous blog I wrote about some of America's greatest living artists, and it seems to me I need to say a little more on this subject. The job of an artist is ultimately to raise awareness, to express, celebrate and comment on the human condition, and to bring a little (or a lot) more enlightenment into the world.

There should be no doubt that artists such as Dylan, Cohen, Springsteen and Young fulfill all of these criteria. Anyone who doubts Dylan's credentials as an artist and a poet should read Christopher Ricks' wonderful "Dylan's Visions of Sin" and Michael Gray's "Song and Dance Man - the Art of Bob Dylan", and also pay careful attention to Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man".

Anyone who questions Leonard Cohen's right to be called a great artist also ought to pay attention to his words, his poetry and his music, and then allow themselves to go "a thousand kisses deep", or simply take a walk down "boogie street".

Bruce Springsteen's art, on the other hand, is based on a very different sort of poetics, and a determination to speak to his audiences clearly and directly, without obscurity, but without being in any way patronising or underestimating their intelligence. Of course there will still be idiots like Reagan who completely fail to understand the irony in a song like "Born In The USA", but Bruce has learnt to live with this as a fact of life.

Neil Young also comments on his country and his fellow humans through songs like Ohio, Let's Impeach The President and Restless Consumer.

Neil's all-time masterpiece may well be the Sleeps With Angels album, and in particular the track "Change Your Mind", which not only has brilliant lyrics but also features scintillating, extended guitar solos which tear at the senses and wrench emotions from stony souls. Try listening to this track on decent headphones with the volume turned up in a darkened room, with or without the video on the screen -

You'll need to be in it for the long run though - all 14 minutes and 55 seconds.   -  Horse Back -  This is even longer!


Enlightenment and Obscurity

You have to hand it to Richard Dawkins - he draws attention to some pretty important stuff and gets people talking:
What is the proper place for religion in Britain's public life?
Britain became engulfed in a culture war last week as secularists and believers clashed over the role of religion in public life. Even the Queen intervened to defend the Church of England's role. Richard Dawkins, whose survey about Christianity in the UK ignited the row, defends his position on secularism, faith and tolerance in conversation with Will Hutton of the Observer

Once again Will Hutton ventures into territory he's not really qualified to have strong opinions about. It's not clear from this article that he really understands secularism.

On the other hand, Oxzen has issues with Dawkins' disbelief in what some of us are calling spiritual intelligence. He's not the only one who fails or refuses to understand this crucial intelligence. Most people do.

Here's what Oxzen said in Layer 12:

Key concepts for developing spiritual intelligence can be found in schemes of work with a sharp focus on human values. These are values that are subscribed to by humanists and by people of no particular religion, as well as by members of the many different faith communities throughout the world – values that give meaning to life and help to direct our most positive beliefs and actions. They are values that help to make our families, our communities and our societies better places to live in for all of us. Without such values we descend into strife, conflict, selfishness and aggression.

The following list is a summary of the key words and concepts we need to understand as part of a curriculum for human values and spiritual intelligence.

Curiosity, Equality, Honesty, Integrity, Intuition, Optimism, Truthfulness, Self-knowledge,

caring, compassion, friendship, forgiveness, generosity, helpfulness, joy, kindness, tolerance, sharing, sympathy, patience

calmness, contentment, dignity, discipline, happiness, honesty, humility, understanding, patience, reflection, self-confidence, self-control, self-discipline, self-respect, optimism

Contentment, Courage, Dependability, Duty, Ethics, Gratitude, Good behaviour, Healthy living, Helpfulness, Leadership, Initiative, Unity, Respect, Responsibility, Sacrifice, Self-confidence, Self-sufficiency, Simplicity, Perseverance 

appreciation of others, brotherhood / sisterhood, citizenship, compassion, concern for all life, consideration, cooperation, unwillingness to hurt, equality, forgiveness, global awareness, good manners, loyalty, social justice, service to others, respect for people and property, unity, universal love, collaboration

My feeling is - without having read his book on science, religion and atheism - that Dawkins and his ilk set up a false dichotemy with God on the one side and total disbelief in any sort of spiritual intelligence on the other . . . . . .  whereas most people neither have any definite belief in God nor any disbelief in the 'spiritual'. This would appear to be a perfect example of the wisdom of crowds - that the majority of people believe there is something within most of us that directs us towards the values and virtues listed above - in the broad categories of truth, love, peace, right conduct and non-violence. The question is not whether spiritual intelligence exists, but where do we sit on a continuum that goes from high spiritual intelligence to low spiritual intelligence?

The two most spiritual words I know are lovingkindness & enlightenment. Professor Dawkins has a problem if he can't understand or reckon with these key Buddhist concepts. I commend him in a spirit of lovingkindness for his stance in favour of atheism, but I'd recommend him to pay greater attention to Buddhist philosophy and metaphysics.

Enlightenment? Don't know what it is.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Layer 524 . . . Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball, Angry Patriotism, Optimism, Rocking, Protesting, Jingoism and Taking Care of Our Own

This piece is an appreciation of a man whose music is brilliant, and whose art stands alongside the best ever to come out of America, alongside that of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. His stage shows are still the most dynamic of all time - right up there with the Stones and the Who at their very best. The fact that he's willing and able to follow in the footsteps of the great blue-collar and overtly political songwriters of the past - Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger - is the icing on this particular cake. He's also steeped in the blues and can sing and play the blues as well as the great black songwriters and performers. He also happens to have a sense of perspective as well as a sense of humour.
Bruce Springsteen: 'What was done to my country was un-American'
The Boss explains why there is a critical, questioning and angry patriotism at the heart of his new album Wrecking Ball

by Fiachra Gibbons
At a Paris press conference on Thursday night, Bruce Springsteen was asked whether he was advocating an armed uprising in America. He laughed at the idea, but that the question was even posed at all gives you some idea of the fury of his new album Wrecking Ball.
Indeed, it is as angry a cry from the belly of a wounded America as has been heard since the dustbowl and Woody Guthrie, a thundering blow of New Jersey pig iron down on the heads of Wall Street and all who have sold his country down the swanny. Springsteen has gone to the great American canon for ammunition, borrowing from folk, civil war anthems, Irish rebel songs and gospel. The result is a howl of pain and disbelief as visceral as anything he has ever produced, that segues into a search for redemption: "Hold tight to your anger/ And don't fall to your fears … Bring on your wrecking ball."
"I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream," Springsteen told the conference, where the album was aired for the first time. It was written, he claimed, not just out of fury but out of patriotism, a patriotism traduced.
"What was done to our country was wrong and unpatriotic and un-American and nobody has been held to account," he later told the Guardian. "There is a real patriotism underneath the best of my music but it is a critical, questioning and often angry patriotism."
The tone is set from the start with . . . We Take Care of Our Own – a Born in the USA for our times –  sung with mocking irony through clenched teeth by a heart that still wants it to be true. "From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/ There ain't no help, the cavalry stayed home." It is a typical Springsteen appeal to a common decency beyond the civil war he sees sapping America.
"Pessimism and optimism are slammed up against each other in my records, the tension between them is where it's all at, it's what lights the fire."
Springsteen, 62, says he is not afraid of how the album will be received in election-year America: "The temper has changed. And people on the streets did it. Occupy Wall Street changed the national conversation – the Tea Party had set it for a while. The first three years of Obama were under them.
"Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no push back at all saying this was outrageous – a basic theft that struck at the heart of what America was about, a complete disregard for the American sense of history and community … In Easy Money the guy is going out to kill and rob, just like the robbery spree that has occurred at the top of the pyramid – he's imitating the guys on Wall Street. An enormous fault line cracked the American system right open whose repercussion we are only starting to be feel.
"Nobody had talked about income inequality in America for decades – apart from John Edwards – but no one was listening. But now you have Newt Gingrich talking about 'vulture capitalism' – Newt Gingrich! – that would not have happened without Occupy Wall Street."
You tend get a better class of comment on Bruce features:
kjeeThis a 62 year old musician saying these things.. and all power to him.Can we have a few more 23 year old musicians saying these things as well?
RonnieWouldBruuuuuce!!!Springsteen fucking rules.
BeazleThe greatest American white live act there has ever been and one hell of a genuinely caring guy.
6ofclubsThe boss, not only a great artist, but a great man in general standing up for everything that is decent and just in the world.He is what I would like to think is a true American Partiot.The man is a hero for many differant generations.
ChristinuvielWhat an utter legend! By far the best live act I've seen, and someone whose music is full of intelligence, passion and talent. It's always worth listening to what Bruce has to say, and as others have pointed out, his is true patriotism, wanting what will really help the people of your country and others. Look forward to hearing this album in its entirety, though it will be sad to hear Big Man Clarence's sax for the last time on it.
DontCallMeShirleyCan't wait for this album.The Boss is at his best when he goes political. Still hasn't lost anything, even at 62. I actually felt a little deflated coming out of his concert a while back - I knew that no matter who I would see play live in my lifetime, nothing could ever top that.
stfcbobResponse to kjee, As kjee says why haven`t we got dozens of angry bands/artists making songs like this ?Bruce Springsteen is a legend.
gingerjonI'm going to join the sycophantic parade ... Springsteen is angrier, better informed, more erudite and altogether rockier than artists forty years his junior.
cryddaThe greatest live performer rock has ever known and one of its best song writers.Long may he keep on rocking and protesting.
mmmmbeerThese kind of songs speak to me and for me and I don't care who trolls. Ry Cooder has recently released a similar polemic (Pull Up Some Dust) and it all adds to the groundswell.
Bruce Springsteen is not afraid to use the 'p' word (patriotism) either and I think he's right to do so. Patriotism is exactly about 'taking care of our own' and it's patriotic to care for your citizens. It's the antithesis of patriotism to grab as much wealth as you can, to lobby, bribe and intimidate your way to riches and wave a flag as you secrete your wealth offshore. Here in Britain we are less comfortable with outward shows of patriotism - Samuel Johnson refers - but maybe it's about time we took the flag away from the fascists and gave it to the Occupy group.
nattybumpoSpringsteen has always been political and his message has never been needed more. With muppets like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich running to be President; his voice could help The USA to escape from the perils of the new type of Reaganomics they offer.It's a shame we can't overturn the moral vacuum we now have in this country with someone of his stature. Someone who could articulate in verse the election lies of "The NHS Is Safe In My Hands"; or "Let's Fuck Over The Disabled"!In fact many Government policies would make excellent song lyrics; all we need now is for someone to add a decent tune.........
jamesdarWhy is it the guys protesting against the effect of the Bush years are the older ones (Springsteen, Neil Young on Living with War)? What happened to rock and pop for rebellious youth?
fortyrunnerSpringsteen is the single most consistent artist for nearly 40 years.
The Stones, The Who, Dylan, McCartney etc had a golden period of maybe 10-15 years. Springsteen has continued to knock out amazing material in a variety of genres and his passion is still as strong.e is also the best live performer I have ever seen - amazing stuff.
aylestoneboy1Why isn't there a British musician saying these things about the horrific state that this country is in? A minority government destroying the NHS and rejigging the educational system with limited opposition. The welfare state is being killed off.
This is a country where clearly the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Culturally Sir Julian Fellowes and Etonian actors dominate. Adele complains about paying tax.

Jingoism is no answer to England's ebbing power
From the EU to football and the Falklands, England must abandon its memories of empire to survive in a changing world
by Billy Bragg
Jingo is the default reaction of the English ruling class when they feel their interests are under threat. Unsure about our true position in a changing world, they hold on to the union flag like a comfort blanket, wrapping themselves in it to enhance their sense of importance.
While the Scots seem confident about their future, a Little Englander mentality is in danger of taking hold south of the border, in which every external challenge is perceived as a threat.
The rattling of the old jingoistic sword is a sure sign that the English ruling class feels its power ebbing away, torn between a European super-state, the aspirations of the Celtic fringe and demographic changes within England itself. Whether the English can awake from their long dream of empire and use this opportunity to renew their sense of identity remains to be seen.
Unless and until we throw off our imperial pretensions and begin to relate to our neighbours as equals, joining with them in creating new networks of active devolution and shared sovereignty, we English are in danger of becoming an insular people, jealously guarding the right to make our own laws while increasingly unable to control our destiny.

1111 comments on this piece so far.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Layer 523 . . . Satirical Cartography, Stereotype Maps, Yanko Tsvetkov, and Occupy London: What Went Wrong?

Speaking as a bit of a geographer, and as a lover of maps, the idea of 'satirical cartography' is very appealing. What the hell is it?
Stereotype maps: Is that what they think of us?
Tim Dowling is both intrigued and mildly entertained by graphic artist Yanko Tsvetkov's satirical maps of national stereotypes. Plus, see a gallery of maps from Tsvetkov's collection
Yanko Tsvetkov's stereotype maps - in pictures
It's well known that Americans have a disarmingly blunt view of other nationalities, but seeing such brazen prejudices laid out, country by country, might shock even them. This is the world as depicted by graphic artist Yanko Tsvetkov. It is also a world in which gay men view Ireland as 'being in denial' and Greeks see the rest of Europe as a 'Union of Stingy Workaholics'.
"The World According to Americans" is real genius. As is "L’Europa Berlusconiana". In fact they all are.

"No matter where you're from, you should be able to find something here to offend you."


Rise of the 'phablet'

Occupy London: what went wrong?
It gave a voice to the usually ignored, but Occupy's consensual model has seen it too often take the path of least resistance
by John Harris
What it has taken to keep the London camp in existence is unimaginable, and as it splutters to a halt, it's worth reflecting on its very real successes.
So, here goes. Occupy LSX's impact on a dithering Church of England was a joy to see. There is no doubt that the people involved played an important role in the upsurge of anger that has lately crystallised around the issue of bonuses, and the fact that the byzantine Corporation of London has seen an unprecedented burst of interest in its affairs. At least some of the camp's output (read, for example, this piece by its economics working group) has defied all the caricatures, and been incisive and original.
It's now a cliche to malign the fact that the camp at St Paul's became a "magnet" for the homeless and addicted, but I'd rather look at that issue from a slightly different perspective: there and in Bristol, I was struck by the fact that the camps seemed to be giving voices and roles to people who are usually completely ignored (and if anyone should know about the downsides of neoliberalism – well, you get the point). Most importantly, whatever happens in the next few days, do not think we have seen the last of the hundreds of people involved.
And yet, and yet. As the St Paul's camp fades out, it's worth reflecting on what you might think of as the Poverty of Horizontalism, and the serious drawbacks of organising – or, rather, not organising – in the way that just about all the Occupy protests have. 
We all know the drill: clear demands have been spurned, any idea of leadership remains anathema, communing with mainstream politics is largely off the menu, and the running of everything is almost painfully collective.
"This is what democracy looks like," is the campers' mantra, and fair play to them: to watch all those general assemblies in full flow has been both exciting, and fascinating.
But here are the problems. As can happen with any rudderless collection of individuals, Occupy has often seemed to turn introspective, until the issue in danger of consuming them has been the camps themselves.
Moreover, given a consensual, effectively leaderless model of decision-making – "jazz hands", and all that – it has ended up, pretty much by definition, recurrently taking the path of least resistance. This matter of basic logic presumably explains the absence of a clever exit strategy, and why the St Paul's camp is so miserably fading away.
Any alternative, no matter how creative, would always be greeted with at least some opposition, whereas staying put and fizzling out proved to be the least controversial option. On Occupy's terms, the result is assuredly democratic. From the outside, it also looks tragic.
Towards the end of last year, the basic point was put pretty well by the venerable Malcolm Gladwell, who compared Occupy to the civil rights movement: "It was a carefully controlled, incredibly hierarchical, thoughtful, even Machiavellian assault on the status quo. It couldn't be more different than the Occupy movement."
A reminder: the state . . .  remains every bit as top down (verticalist, if you will) as ever. If you want spectacular proof, have a look at last night's scenes in Athens, or think about the imminent arrival of the law outside St Paul's. The same, needless to say, is true of the world's most powerful corporations.
Power, moreover, has a habit of ensuring that any potential threats are usually so diffuse as to represent no danger at all – and in the case of Occupy, the job may well have been done for it, with no need for any effort. The most basic argument may actually be even simpler: in the end, what is there to fear from a movement that is not only fading, but has had such profound problems articulating what it wants?

Thanks to Raj Patel for this link:


Battersea Power Station - demolish, develop or preserve?


Hyde Park concerts threatened by Londoners' noise complaints

Westminster council to debate reducing number of events held in royal park

Friday, February 17, 2012

Layer 522 . . . Thought Systems, Religions, Beliefs, Worship, Meditation, Enlightenment, Secularism, Civic Life and Law

This week's 'In Our Time' on Radio 4 considered the An Lushan Rebellion. In the course of the programme Melvyn Bragg confessed he had no real idea about the richness and diversity of Chinese life and culture. So here we have a knowledgeable and highly intelligent guy who's spent years reading about and discussing philosophy, science and culture in general, and in spite of that huge intellectual effort he's somehow remained ignorant of Chinese history and culture. He's not alone in this. Western education and our Eurocentric culture chooses, for the most part, to ignore the Far East in general - including the history, philosophy and religions of China and Japan. This is a crazy and shameful situation.

The most interesting part of Melvyn's programme was a simple statement from one of the panel following Mr Bragg's enquiry about the religion of China at the time the An Lushan rebellion took place. The response was, "Religion? It was really a thought system, rather than about worship".

This is a brilliant and concise summation of the differences between Chinese or Japanese approaches to spiritual thought and behaviour and that of the rest of the world, where the worship of God or gods is the dominant mode of engagement with the spiritual and the metaphysical.

The two most ancient systems of spiritual intelligence and philosophy in China were Taoism and Conficianism, neither of which involved gods or worship. The third system, which came to China from India, was Buddhism - which eventually spread to Japan, and evolved another philosophical manifestation which was called Zen.

As we all know, Buddhism is based on developing our spiritual intelligence and ultimately enlightenment through various forms of meditation. There is no worship involved - and certainly no worship of the Buddha, who is seen essentially as an enlightened human being who serves as an inspiration, a spiritual pioneer and a role model. We can all aspire to becoming buddhas and enlightened beings - to a greater or lesser extent.

It's perhaps fair to say that the majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus aspire to becoming more spiritual and more enlightened. Those who support the use of violence in human affairs, and those who actually advocate it, are obviously very far from enlightened or spiritual. As indeed are all those who can't see that atheists and humanists are just as likely to be spiritually intelligent, virtuous and enlightened as those who call themselves religious.

Even James Corden - not the most cerebral of people - could see (as he explained on Desert Island Discs this week) that the so-called religious community that he was brought up in contained within it many individuals who behaved with a minimal amount of what Buddhists call lovingkindness.

Civic life and law must bind us, not ritual and religion
The Queen and Baroness Warsi might disagree. But there is nothing extreme about demanding church and state be separate
by Polly Toynbee
No surprise that the Queen defends the established church, as she is the anointed defender of the faith. In a week of attacks on secularism she has invented a new role: "not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country." Who is threatening the free practice of any faith? Not any secularists I know.
Hers is a curiously Jesuitical justification for the CofE's uniquely privileged status, but the faiths are glad to circle their wagons round her against the unbelievers. Each has their own divinely revealed unique truth, often provoking mortal conflict, Muslim v Copt, Catholic v Protestant, Hindu v Muslim or Sunni v Shia. But suddenly the believers are united in defence against the secular, willing to suspend the supremacy of their own prophets to agree that any religion, however alien, from elephant god to son of God, is better than none.
They can all feel their victimhood now, facing what Baroness Warsi called a rising tide of "militant secularisation" reminiscent of "totalitarian regimes". Warsi on the warpath headed a delegation to the Vatican of six ministers, all agreeing the common enemy was not just the secularists but the "liberal elite", too. 
How the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph loved wallowing in the CofE as victim against the rise of christianophobia, as if the waspish Prof Richard Dawkins had thrown them all to the lions. But in defending religious privilege, they are on their own: Ipsos Mori found 74% of Christians consider religion should be a private matter and should not influence public policy, so even most Christians are secularists. For Cameron, Lady Warsi may be a useful canary-testing if American flag-and-faith culture wars might fly over here. Mercifully, every poll shows the answer is no. The CofE is no longer the Tory party at prayer: polls show its pews filled mainly with the liberal-minded.
The prefix "aggressive" or "militant" is now super-glued to the word "secularist", but as president of the British Humanist Association and honorary associate of the National Secular Society, I find nothing extreme about trying to keep religion separate from the state. Aggressive? You should see this week's "burn in hell" messages to the BHA attacking "that spastic Hawking who denies God", and many more obscene unprintables.
I will defend to the death anyone's right to practice any faith, if it breaks no law, interferes with nobody's rights nor claims undue public policy influence. Church bells, calls to prayer, displays of crucifixes, beards or side-locks are freedoms, alongside bare midriffs and knicker-short miniskirts. Personally, I am affronted by women in face veils, but that's my problem. I will argue against them but freedom of speech, thought and dress are non-negotiable. But so is the right to robust argument that may offend religious sensibilities, including the right to challenge the improbability of the faith itself – and the right to make jokes.
A third of our state schools are run by religions, mainly CofE - oversubscribed as their results are burnished by admissions policies that consign an unfair share of poor or chaotic families to neighbouring schools. Though polls find only minority support for faith schools, the religions are rushing to set up free schools: this week the evangelical Christian Family Schools bid for 10 sites in Sheffield. Meanwhile, faith organisations are given more contracts for social services: once outsourced, clients lose Human Rights Act protection against religious coercion, harassment or discrimination. None of this is trivial.
"Faith and reason go hand in hand," said Lady Warsi. She's entitled to her view.
Odder still is the religious claim to a monopoly on moral authority, as Cameron did in his pre-Christmas "We are a Christian country" speech. Religious and irreligious alike commit atrocities, but faith ferments crusade, jihad and martyrdom. 
Belief makes people neither better nor worse: the latest research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations found the religious no more likely to volunteer than non-believers. As social animals, thriving through co-operation, the selfish gene vies with a collective instinct for social justice, from the day a child first protests "it's not fair". 
Claiming no special superiority, the view that our fate is in our hands makes humanists naturally progressive, not fatalistic. There is nothing militant about demanding that civic life and law binds us together as equal citizens, regardless of whatever peculiar ideas everyone harbours in their imagination.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Layer 521 . . . Greek Tragedies, The Gods of Speculation, and the Markets

Oxzen has written previously about the world being run by "the markets" (meaning run by the people who control the vast majority of the wealth) and the fact that individual governments seem unable, playing by the current rules of capitalism and globalisation, to do anything except bow down to the power of "the markets". This is true even for massive entities such as the governments of the USA and the EU, which are afraid, very afraid, of "the markets".

This week "the markets" are back in the news, along with their Provisional wing, the credit rating agencies.

Moody's blues: George Osborne's wooing of the rating agencies turns sour
Osborne has been lavishing expensive gifts on the credit rating agencies. But now they have shown their capricious side
by Larry Elliott
Credit downgrade alert leaves George Osborne in a political fix
Inflation may be falling but the chancellor has only few options open to him after Moody's credit warning
by Larry Elliott

As Greece stares into the abyss, Europe must choose
The way out of the financial crisis faced by Greeks requires a choice about what kind of Europe we want
by Maria Margaronis
As I write, the Greek parliament is preparing to vote on the bond swap agreed with the country's private creditors and on the new deal with the EU and the IMF, which would lend the country €130bn in exchange for cuts that slice the last little bits of flesh from the economy – including a 22% reduction in the minimum wage and 150,000 public sector job losses by 2016. Without the deal, Greece will default by March; with it, the country will sink into a still deeper depression, with no end in sight. In a televised effort to rally the country behind yet more austerity, the finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, laid out a blunt choice between sacrifices and worse sacrifices, humiliation and still deeper humiliation, if Greece should default and leave the eurozone.
It's not clear, though, how many people were listening. Exhausted by interminable cliffhangers and last chances, many Greeks have turned off the terrorist soap opera of the TV news and are trying as best they can to get on with their lives. The misery to which Athenians have been reduced – the soup kitchens, the homelessness, the depression and suicides, the rising tide of poverty that's swallowing the middle class – is now a staple of the features pages. It's harder to describe the sense of pervasive breakdown that gets under the skin; the feeling of disorientation and lost identity that comes with the collapse of the assumptions people lived by and the stories they told themselves about the future and the past.
When you ask people on the street if they would rather Greece went bankrupt than submit to further measures, many now point out that it is already bankrupt, that public sector workers have gone unpaid for months, that hospitals have no supplies, that the poor are being wrung dry in order to pay the banks.
Why, then, have large sections of the Greek elite clung so hard to the fantasy that a new loan deal can "save" the country? The obvious answer is that default is a black hole and an enormous risk. No one can predict what suffering a default might bring. Another is that the current crop of politicians built their careers in the system that is now unravelling, based on oligarchies, clientelism and corruption; they've proved unwilling to make the reforms that might, in a different global climate, have revived both Greece's economy and its democracy.
The deeper reasons, though, may be cultural and political. The crisis has intensified old splits in Greek society. You can see it in the polls, which show support ebbing from the centre to the edges of the political spectrum, and especially to the fragmented left. You can see it, too, in the historical parallels people reach for in a vain attempt to name this unprecedented nightmare. Protesters chant slogans from the dictatorship of 1967 to 1974, comparing the deal's Greek enforcers with the CIA-backed junta. Both left and right talk about a new German occupation – an understandable reference given that Germany is calling the shots and that Greeks last queued at soup kitchens in the 1940s, but one that can edge into racism or crude exaggeration, as in a recent headline that read simply "Dachau". Both those tropes call up the silent ghosts of the Greek civil war, which launched the cold war in Europe and outlawed the Greek left for the next 30 years. In this story, the west plays the part of the repressive imperial interloper.
For the liberal centre, this is populist anathema. To them Europe is still Greece's heartland and its hope, the only guarantor of liberal capitalism, human rights and democracy.
The trouble with historical metaphors is that they can obscure the present: what's really at stake here is not Greece's identity but Europe's. All eyes are fixed on Athens, but the way out of the crisis requires a choice about what kind of Europe we want. The one we have now, with its deep structural inequalities and its rigid adherence to a failed economic ideology, protects neither democracy nor human rights. Stiff-necked and punitive, it prefers to eat its children.
Shame on Europe for betraying Greece
Capitalism is triumphant as EU states sacrifice the Greek people in a desperate attempt to appease the gods of speculation
by William Wall
The behaviour of the EU states towards Greece is inexplicable in the terms in which the EU defines itself. It is, first and foremost, a failure of solidarity.
The "austerity package", as the newspapers like to call it, seeks to impose on Greece terms that no people can accept. Even now the schools are running out of books. There were 40% cuts in the public health budget in 2010 – I can't find the present figure. Greece's EU "partners" are demanding a 32% cut in the minimum wage for those under 25, a 22% cut for the over 25s. Already unemployment for 15-24-year-olds is 48% – it will have risen considerably since then. Overall unemployment has increased to over 20%. The sacking of public sector workers will add to it. The recession predicted to follow the imposition of the package will cause unbearable levels of unemployment at every level.
In addition the "package" demands cuts to pensions and public service pay, wholesale privatisation of state assets – a fire-sale, since the global market is close to rock bottom – and cuts to public services including health, social welfare and education. The whole to be supervised by people other than the Greeks. An entire disciplinary and punishment system.
When we casually use a term like "bailout", it is important to remember that it is not people who are being bailed out, or at least not the Greek people. The bailout will not save a single Greek life. The opposite is the case. What is being "bailed out" is the global financial system, including the banks, hedge funds and pension funds of the other EU member states, and it is the Greek people who are being ordered to pay – in money, time, physical pain, hopelessness and missed educational opportunities. The relatively neutral, even stoic, term "austerity", is a gross insult to the Greek people. This is not austerity; at best it is callousness.
On top of this callousness, we must remember that the strategy itself is nonsense. Every intelligent observer is agreed that cuts do not produce growth. The highest rate of growth in the EU at present is in Poland where massive public investment is driving the economy. GDP is declining or barely moving among the "austerity" nations, including the UK.
In essence, this crisis is a failure of the EU states to show solidarity in the face of an onslaught from the financial markets. At first glance this seems to be a very simple fight. In one corner you have nation states, which have the wellbeing of their citizens as their raison d'être; in the other you have global capitalism as represented by the financial markets, which has the wealth of a tiny few as its raison d'être. But the nation state has, for a considerable time, identified itself with those same markets. States have agreed to see themselves as economies rather than societies. More recently we have been led to believe that the market alone can provide everything the citizen needs and much more efficiently than the structures that the citizens normally rely on and which they have, over generations, erected as protections against the revenge of the market.
This is the triumph of capitalism, that it has persuaded the world that capitalism is the world.
It has led to the undoing of 200 years of struggle between ordinary people and the super-rich. Trade unions didn't appear overnight, they were a response to exploitation. Their defeat has led to the ubiquity of precarious, and now free, labour. Workers are not protected in their workplace by capitalists, they are protected by the laws won by struggle against the capitalist. A sweatshop in China is a direct assault not just on the rights of the Chinese worker but on those of workers in, for example, the UK. Socialist internationalism and solidarity were conceived as a way of defeating that ploy. Old people do not die in the streets not because charity has saved them but because 200 years of struggle has brought us the old age pension and public health. The privatisation of those services is a return to the 19th century. None of this public good would have been won if people had identified with the super-rich of 1812. Now that we have been brought to such an identification, we stand to lose them all over again.
Now we see capitalism at its most triumphant. Greek police beat Greek people in order to impose the will of the banks and hedge funds. The EU member states, including Ireland, are the middleman, the quislings of capital. Rather than reach out a hand of solidarity, we say, "better them than us". As if the global markets will choose to pass on Ireland once Greece has been destroyed. Solidarity is not just compassion for one's fellow man; it is also materialist self-interest. One for all and all for one. We stand or fall together. There is strength in unity.
Instead we have decided to sacrifice the Greek people to the market in the hope that our sacrifice will appease the gods of speculation. We condemn them to misery and poverty to keep Standard & Poor's off our backs. But we have miscalculated. Firstly, the communist left currently stands at 42% in the polls, Pasok at 8%. Pasok (the leading party in government) will vanish and a combination of real leftwing parties will win the next election. They will not bend the knee and put their necks on our block.
It seems to me now that Greece will withdraw from the euro and default on its debt. Who knows what will happen to it then, but it can hardly be much worse than what we want from them, and at least it will be something of their own choosing. The speculators will then take a little time to consider which of the other economies to bet on. Perhaps then the Irish government will regret its lack of solidarity. Whatever happens, our behaviour and that of our EU compatriots has been shameful.

Greece and the return of the economic 'death spiral'
The lesson of 2008 was that stimulus prevented a new Great Depression. Without similar drastic help, Greece will now default
by David Blanchflower
During the latter part of 2008, central bankers around the world worried secretly that the death spiral was approaching. The concern was that it was too late to stop economies crashing. In the event, concerted international action on both monetary and fiscal policy prevented collapse – although they did get pretty darn close to the precipice.
In the UK, then Chancellor Alistair Darling had only a few hours notice that the Royal Bank of Scotland was about to fail. The fear was that cash machines around the world would close, banks would fold and stock markets would tank within hours. This was a once-in-100-year shock: in my view, without such unprecedented intervention, unemployment rates in the US and Europe could well have risen to over 24% – which is where they are already in Greece and Spain.
Stimulus worked, simple as that.
On 9 February, the Hellenic statistical authority, which is Greece's central statistical office, published data on the labor market and industrial production (pdf), which suggests the Greek economy is headed over the cliff. This is a Great Depression for Greece and its 11 million inhabitants.
Without reforms to its product and labor markets, alongside the introduction of a fully-functioning tax system with enforced compliance, Greece has no future and is headed to inevitable default.
The only issue is, how disorderly will it be? It's not so much that the Greeks won't pay, it's that they can't. Greece remains uncompetitive.
For all the deals being signed in Athens and Brussels, the Greek people have worked out that they have no hope; protest and social unrest now looks a rational option to the ordinary people who are bearing the cost to bail out European banks. Cuts in the minimum wage right now are probably not very smart politics.
Greece does still have a card to play – which is "one down, all down". An exit from the euro would result in a depreciated drachma, which would potentially give a much needed boost to tourism. And that sounds better than all other alternatives currently on offer. There is still time for Germany's Angela Merkel to get out her cheque book; but otherwise, it's all over – and quite possibly very quickly.
This really is what a death spiral looks like.

And talking of tragedies - I give you the Sun newspaper/rag.

The front page yesterday had to be seen to be believed:

It's worse than on the website.

"Whitney's Death Bath - the First Images."

The bath in the photograph is still filled with the actual water in which tragic Whitney died. The bath photo shares the page with a photo of Whitney looking . . . somewhat . . . drowned.

Just when you think the bottom of the barrel has been well and truly scraped already . . .

But wait!

Also on the website -

40-stone Brenda is Britain’s fattest woman

I have to end this blog with something good and decent and inspiring.

Robby Krieger: soundtrack of my life
The former Doors guitarist talks about discovering rock'n'roll, blues and jazz and his memories of recording with Jim Morrison
Interview by Hermione Hoby

Still love that Crawlin' King Snake by the wonderful John Lee Hooker.


Layer 520 . . . A Sense of Shared Purpose? Poverty and Progressivism in the USA

An interesting comment on the Guardian website:
I've just watched Panorama on BBC. America is fucked.
This is under an article headlined
The re-energised US left has much to teach its dismal European counterparts
Moving from retreat to re-tweet, US progressives have linked the personal and political to create a sense of shared purpose
by Adam Price

In Europe the city's aflame, but America's Athens, Philadelphia, city of the founding fathers, has lit a very different touchpaper: its Occupy movement is the first in the country to announce it's running for Congress. Whether or not 29-year-old Nathan Kleinman beats the moderate incumbent, it says something about a new spirit of opportunism on the American left.
In December, a poll by the Pew Research Center found support for socialism now outweighs support for capitalism among a younger generation of Americans. In 2012 so far, in a spectacular series of victories, American progressives have taken on big oil, Hollywood and (some people's version of) God, winning every time.
The European left, meanwhile, is in freefall . . .  What has gone so badly wrong for the Euroleft, and what can they learn from the US?
The killing off of the internet censorship bills Sopa and Pipa in January, despite big-battalion backing by the entertainment industry, and Bank of America's binning of a proposal to charge for debit-card usage at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, were internet-fuelled successes. The US left, it seems, has gone from retreat to re-tweet in just a few short years.
The progressive revival may be tech-enabled, but it's far from tech-driven. The real social web these movements have created is a web of values, a vision that somehow connects with people at an emotional level, joining the dots between the personal and the political to create a sense of shared purpose – though often using new digital tools.
The American left learned their emotional intelligence the hard way in the culture wars of the 70s and 80s, when good arguments seemed powerless against ignorance and prejudice. During the Bush era, Democratic thinkers like George Lakoff and Drew Westen started the push-back by teaching progressives the importance of "framing". Yet Karl Rove and the Republicans already had that playbook and used it with devastating efficiency.
The real secret to progressive success is a 68-year-old professor called Marshall Ganz, the Mark Zuckerberg of activism, who dropped out of Harvard to organise migrant workers in 1965 only to return almost 30 years later to finish his degree and teach a new generation what he'd learned in the field.
Ganz's work has inspired a myriad movements, from Obama's grassroots campaign in 2008 to the world's first trade union for models. At the core of his teaching is the idea that leaders must build a public narrative explaining their calling, a sort of progressive elevator pitch in three parts: why they feel called to act (story of self), how this act relates to the audience (story of us) and what urgent challenge this action seeks to address (the story of now).
Political therapy for Ed [Miliband] will never solve the wider problem: a European left that is tired, dull, top-down and moribund. The American left, historically weak, is by necessity decentralised and diverse. This once meant disorganisation and division. But it's managed to find a new coherence across geography and generation.
Technology allowed the anti-Keystone Pipeline campaign to connect Nebraska farmers with DC environmentalists. But connecting people across time is just as important. A phalanx of institutes funded by philanthropists and the remarkable breakaway SEIU union have built a repository of knowledge of how movements win, creating what Forbes writer Giovanni Rodriguez calls "fast history", accelerating the pace of change.
Today's American left is where the old world of community organising and the new world of social media meet. The dismal official European left, by contrast, has neither invested in their past, nor in their future, discarding their history, ignoring new technology. Our only hope, if Obama, as looks likely, is re-elected, is that he might perhaps consider a new Marshall plan, to rebuild a left in Europe that's everywhere in ruins.

The Panorama programme referred to by jonniestewpot was broadcast on Monday night.
America's homeless resort to tent cities
Panorama's Hilary Andersson comes face to face with the reality of poverty in America and finds that, for some, the last resort has become life in a tented encampment.
Just off the side of a motorway on the fringes of the picturesque town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a mismatched collection of 30 tents tucked in the woods has become home - home to those who are either unemployed, or whose wages are so low that they can no longer afford to pay rent.
Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.
Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers' faces.Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities - they represent the bleak reality of America's poverty crisis.
According to census data, 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line - the most in half a century - fuelled by several years of high unemployment.
One of the largest tented camps is in Florida and is now home to around 300 people. Others have sprung up in New Jersey and Portland.
Depression-type poverty
There are an estimated 5,000 people living in the dozens of camps that have sprung up across America.
The largest camp, Pinella's Hope in central Florida - a region better known for the glamour of Disneyworld - is made up of neat rows of tents spread out across a 13-acre plot.
Unemployment in America today has not reached the astronomical levels of the 1930s, but barring a short spike in 1982, it has not been this high since the Depression era.
There are now 13 million unemployed Americans, which is three million more than when President Barack Obama was first elected.
The stark reality is that many of them are people who very recently lived comfortable middle-class lives.
For them, the economic downturn came too fast and many have been forced to trade their middle-class homes for lives in shelters, motels and at the far extreme, tented encampments.
Watch Panorama on iPlayer:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Layer 519 . . . Secularism versus Religion, Intolerance, Warsi, Liberal Elites, Dumb Politicians and Spiritual Intelligence

It's a strange business, this secularism versus religion - the godless versus the God-fearing and God-worshipping. Take this article in G2 today:
Is religion really under threat?
People with faith say secularism has become an aggressive and intolerant force in Britain. What has gone wrong? It should bring society together
by Julian Baggini

Mr Baggini's 3 pages in the paper today were inspired by the incredible Baroness Warsi and her ludicrous comments about secularism in the past few days:
Baroness Warsi attacks 'liberal elite'
(The Telegraph's headline actually calls it a 'lilberal elite', but we'll gloss over that.)
Baroness Warsi, the Conservative chairman, has launched an attack on the “liberal elite” who are attempting to downgrade the importance of religion in public.
In a speech to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains Papal diplomats, last night, Baroness Warsi warned of the growing danger of “militant secularists” to British life.
She attacked the “well-intentioned liberal elite” for undermining the role of faith.
She said: [They] conversely, are trying to create equality by marginalising faith in society and think that the route to religious pluralism is by creating a path of faith-neutrality.”
She claimed that this led to them attempting to “downgrade religion to a mere subcategory in public life.”
The peer continued: “But look at their supposed level playing field. Its terrain is all but impassable to anyone of belief.
“One of the arguments of the liberal elite is that faith and reason are incompatible. But they don’t realise, as the Holy Father has argued for many years, that faith and reason go hand in hand.”
“Just as reason should not be excluded from debates about too spirituality should not be excluded when we look at worldly matters.”
So here we go again - another God-worshipping individual believing that only people who believe in a God possess any "spirituality", and that atheists (and presumably Buddhists) can't consider the spiritual dimension of "worldly affairs". Which, of course, is patent nonsense.

Buddhists don't have "faith" in a supreme being. However, unlike a lot of religious 'believers' they possess enough spiritual intelligence to apply a doctrine of non-violence when it comes to "worldly affairs" - very unlike the God-bothering Blair and Bush, for example.

Readers may have noticed that Oxzen has very high regard for principled religious people of high spiritual intelligence such as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Rev Giles Fraser, late of St Paul's. I doubt very much whether any of these people feel threatened by secularists, atheists or Buddhists.

Interestingly Channel 4 News last night showed interviews with a rabbi and an imam - neither of whom felt threatened by “militant secularists” or felt that such people are a growing danger to 'British life' - unlike the idiotic Warsi. The female cleric who leads the daily prayers in the House of Commons, on the other hand, agreed with Warsi completely.

The rabbi and the imam both said that Britain is a brilliant country for Jews and Muslims and other religious people who wish to practise their faith.

What is it with dumb politicians and rent-a-gob careerists like Warsi? It's obvious that so many of these people would like 'godless liberals' and atheist intellectuals, who also tend to be on the left of the political spectrum, to become marginalised and disregarded in their critiques of society.

The other thing that Warsi has presumably realised is that the Establishment in this country stays powerful by sticking together - the monarchy, the political elite, the religious elite, and the financial elite. All of them consider themselves to be 'at the heart of public life'.

Give me an intelligent and truly spiritual Archbishop anyday, instead of an idiot atheist like Nick Clegg, for example. But please, someone, spare us the likes of Warsi and her diatribes - the only practising Muslim who thinks that Christianity should be at the heart of British public life, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of people in this country never set foot in a church, never pray to a god, and have no strong religious beliefs.