Vlad the Lad

 

vlad

As much as we all enjoy those pictures of Vladimir Putin riding bears, we must consider the effects he’s had on Russia. Working with this man will be key whilst deliberating over Syria; as Assad’s strongest and only ally Putin wields immense power over the Assad regime. Without his support the West would be at liberty to launch military strikes against Syria, and it’s only Putin’s continuous speech making and veto-taking that stops them from doing this. Kind of.

He is seen by many as a merciless strong-man, who used authoritarian and morally questionable techniques to centralise the Russian state, and to cement his own grip over the country. He replaced many high ranking officials in the Kremlin with his own supporters, viewed by many as his puppets. He is an enemy of the oligarchs who rose to immense power and wealth following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the chaotic privatisations that followed. However, the thing that gets Russian liberals worried is his KGB background and dodgy human rights record.

The KGB served as the Soviet Union’s secret service, the Russian counterpart of MI6 or the CIA. During the Cold War it fought an espionage battle lasting half a century against Russia’s Western enemies, such as the USA or Great Britain. It was founded in 1954, and its name translates as ‘Committee for State Security’.

Putin was born in 1952 Leningrad, and studied law and economics before entering the ranks of the KGB. From there he worked his way up the lubricated pole of Russian bureaucracy until he replaced Boris Yeltsin as President in 2000. Since then he has dominated Russian politics, often exercising control through questionable means. When his ‘protege’ Dmitry Medvedev won a landslide election against him, he remained in the office of Prime Minister and never truly stepped out of power.

His office has seen a crackdown on tax evasion, a general dislike for free speech and blatantly cloutish behaviour towards Russia’s smaller neighbours, using energy price-hikes to punish them for leaning towards the West. Putin is viewed as a hard-line conservative, who has let corruption spread throughout Russia, and allowed human rights abuses by security services to become common practice.

One of the most die-hard of Putin’s critics is Mr Alexei Navalny, who uses blogging and social media to organise mass protests against Putin’s regime. When he started blogging about corruption in state-owned corporations in 2008 he used a very clever tactic: to become a minor shareholder, and delve into the dark information that this made him privy to. As it happens, this man is one of my minor heroes, and he is currently fighting a law suit against claims that he planned to steal 16 million roubles from a state-owned company. These claims are highly suspicious, I might add, but I’m in no position to spectate on that.

What we learn from this is that despite his spin-doctors’ desperate attempts to portray Vladimir Putin as a macho bear-rider, he really is all mushy inside, and just wants a cuddle.

The Queen’s Agent- How Walsingham saved England

I’ve recently been reading ‘The Queen’s Agent’. This is a scrupulously detailed book, covering the life and times of Francis Walsingham, the spymaster who worked for Elizabeth I. His office was at a time of great insecurity for the English state, both from abroad and at home. His actions were formed by a desperate need to protect England, Elizabeth and the ‘the reformed religion to which he was devoted’.

It was not unheard of for him to send agents into Catholic communities and trick them into treachery. Actions like these can only speak of a man who was deeply motivated, in Walsingham’s case it was for the protection of Protestant England.

His ‘Machiavellian’ techniques in dealing with Catholic agents within Britain stopped hundreds of plots to depose Elizabeth, viewed as a heretical bastard by most Europeans. Her mother had been Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. To marry her Henry had to break with the Roman Catholic Church, an action so remarkably self-centred that it could only be the work of a medieval monarch. The result was that most Catholics regarded her as illegitimate, and unfit to sit a throne.

Her grandfather had united Britain after a bitter and bloody Civil War, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. His claim to the throne had been weak, but the English people were tired of dynastic bickering. Now, it was Elizabeth’s turn to shield English hopes, and the Tudor dynasty with which they were invested. But she faced a series of problems:

  • Henry VIII needed to divorce his wife, and Protestant ideas gave him an excuse to do so. When he died England was left as a country Catholic in tradition, but removed from the Pope’s jurisdiction. Edward and Mary had very different views. The official line on religion had been changed far too often in the last few years, and what England needed was consistency. Elizabeth made the Church of England into something which most Catholics could adhere to, as well as Protestants. Those Catholics which refused to merge with her religious settlement became known as ‘recusants’, and would be the focus of Walsingham’s superstition.
  • The greatest threat to Protestant England was Spain, wealthy and populous with the ability to field a large army against England. In 1587, this threat was to become realised when Spain sent an Armada of 34 warships across the sea to invade England. The invasion was defeated by bad weather and bad timing more than English naval strength, but it was a crisis narrowly avoided. France and Scotland were also hostile to the English nation, and exiled English Catholics made a home for themselves in Paris.
  • Elizabeth had no heir. She was the last of her line, and unless she married and had a son, the throne would pass either to the Greys or to Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic. Several attempts to negotiate a marriage alliance with the Duke of Anjou ended in failure. Because of the woman’s submissive role in the 16th century marriage, any foreigner marrying the queen would lead to ‘blurred lines’. Who would rule the country? Elizabeth or her husband? The people of England had no wish to see the country ruled by a foreigner, as Bloody Mary had learnt when she tried to marry Philip of Spain.

Of course, these were only a few of the problems Elizabeth faced. The interesting point is that in this book, Elizabeth is not portrayed as the excellent leader for which most people take her. The author (John Cooper) makes frequent references to the queen shutting herself off for days when important decisions had to be made, unwilling to face difficult situations. Whether this view is valid or not, I would be the last person to say. Indeed, I would almost always trust a historian’s view over my own. But there you are. The most amusing of Cooper’s side notes are when he describes how she hit her privy councillors with her slippers, frustrated at some slight they had done her.

On the whole, and I think the author would agree with me, Walsingham did what needed to be done. His methods in dealing with hidden traitors were often questionable, but I feel that they were necessary. In the long run, Francis Walsingham and the spy network he controlled took such a harsh line against Catholics because they were in no position to take chances. The sad truth is that if England had let its guard down for one moment in those years, things might have gone very differently. There might not have been an Empire, or two World Wars. It’s impossible to tell if history would have been bloodier or more peaceful had Spain, France or the Pope managed to defeat England in one way or another, but I’m glad they didn’t.

Small minded and Growth Obsessed

It has long been recognised by the more leftist minded among us, that GDP has some serious shortcomings as a measure of prosperity. I write about this now because of the widespread joy and street parties that have arisen all over Britain due to the government forecast for an improvement in our economic fortunes.

The roots of this growth obsession come from the Thatcher years, in which neo-liberalism was ‘all the rage’, and in which we sacrificed the fabric of civil life, public services and publicly owned enterprises on the altar of GDP growth, without actually achieving it. This is the ultimate irony of modern life. Thatcherism put GDP growth as the top priority above all else, and neo-liberal policies disrupted growth. Because when workers spend less, the whole economy suffers. Thatcher should have known that, Cameron should pay attention now.

One of the biggest reasons that we shouldn’t trust GDP as an absolute measure of happiness and prosperity, is that it treats disasters as equal to humanitarian boons. A hurricane will get people to spend, but the human cost will be devastating. Not to mention the ‘unseen opportunities’ that have been lost for economic activity, so skillfully described here.

A war will create a flow of money. Weapons will be bought and sold on both sides, men will be employed in armies, and medics and ambulance drivers will all receive their dividends as well. But there will be thousands of refugees. Thousands of casualties from the fighting, whose lives are painfully disrupted. This wouldn’t be such a problem if we didn’t treat growth as essential to human happiness, but at present we do.

I’ve heard it said that the Capitalist system is by nature exploitative. Resources are extracted from the earth, capital surplus is extracted from the working class. I do not view employment as essentially one-sided, but the environmental impacts of our current system are painfully bare for all to see.

We consume vast amounts of natural resources. Food and oil, especially. These are things which will become far more scarce in the future, and for that reason we should scale down our inputs and focus on our outputs. In other words, we need to recycle much more than we are. Reuse everything you can to the best of your abilities, and when all else fails buy something with a minimal carbon footprint.

At present, 30% of all food created for human consumption is wasted. Why is this number so painfully high? Who are these bureaucratic, socialist idiots who are misplacing a third of our food? They are you. Restaurants frequently discard food. Not because it is unsafe to eat, but because their commercial ethics would be called in to question should it ever be discovered that they are using three-day old food. We all contribute to this wasteful society, and we are all guilty of inaction.

Economic growth does, I think, involve a certain amount of resource extraction. In fact, it is pretty much what the entire system is based on. An alternative economy, which focuses on need and balance, as opposed to greed and glutton is surely the answer to this. We cannot keep using up the world’s raw materials, because soon enough there will be none left. The Transition Town movement is aimed at preparing us for that fateful day when the oil does run out, because dependence now will mean destruction then.

I am not, contrary to popular derision and speculation online, a total Marxist. I hold Marxism in high esteem, and have adopted some of its ideas for my own. The name: ‘Marxistmax’, is merely an excellent idea for a pen name that was too good to miss. I am not a commie scrounger who would have private property destroyed. I believe in gradual shifts in our society, simple and obvious things which we should have done already. A Tobin Tax, a Living Wage, Re-Nationalisation of the Railways and Utilities are all included on the list, as regular readers will know. The Tobin Tax would punish those responsible for the crash, as well as correcting the bad practices which caused it. $38 Billion were raised across the globe from the Tobin Tax in 2012. That’s money which could be used to reverse these terrible welfare cuts.

These are not actions which will have the world in uproar. They will not be detrimental to those hard-working CEOs who preside over 97% of the world’s wealth.

It should be clear by now that constantly extracting surplus from the earth’s environment is unsustainable and essentially unhealthy. However, this is exactly what the current system is based on. Unless we find a way of generating happiness and well-being through ways which don’t destroy the prospects of others, we will never have a leg to stand on when dealing with dictators like Hussein and Assad.

We must get our own house in order before we attempt to tidy other people’s.

The Battle against the Supermarkets

It was 1964 when the first supermarket opened its doors in Britain. It signaled the end of the independent grocers, and the beginning of a five decades long parade of glutton and consumerism. Involving an erosion of social fabric and community values, a destruction of local centers of commerce and a concentration of wealth in the hands of a select few.

We are now faced with a situation in which our whole food chain is controlled, bought and paid for by international giants who are interested only in squeezing every drop of profit from the people of the world. It’s a system which crushes small businesses, which pushes farmers into hardship and degradation, and which provides the public with cheap and suspiciously sourced food. Third World farmers especially are hit hard by this unfair system. Free Trade doesn’t work for them and never will, because their livelihoods are completely dependent on the speculation that takes place in the City of London or New York.

However, things have gotten so bad for the working man in this country that we are almost totally reliant on the supermarkets. Normal people are not paid a living wage, and until that time most people will not have the option of buying from local shops. Their prices may be just a little higher, but until people are paid a living wage, that difference will be paramount.

Spreading wealth more equally gives people power over their buying choices, and generally makes the economy much more democratic. Noe-liberalism is not the answer to an undemocratic economy, free markets concentrate wealth and power rather than spreading it. To say otherwise would not only be to talk total rubbish, but also to participate in spreading the most destructive myth this century.

If people had more power over their buying choices then they would be more likely to choose ethically sourced food and products in general. They will be in better control of their own lives. They will have more time for relaxation, they will be more inclined to invest, to advance their education. The Living wage is an idea which, when implemented, will empower millions of people, and make our country a better place.

But this isn’t the only way to take back power from the supermarkets. Government must intervene with a strong hand in favour of local producers and retailers if they are to make any difference. We should block any new branches of Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. If possible, I would like to see exclusion zones, places where multinational food selling giants are not permitted to operate. The shops already in these areas should be bought by local government and sold to local businesses.

After a few years, we could shift the exclusion zones around, eventually abandoning the policy. It’s one of a myriad of ideas to bring the supermarkets to heal, everyone of them worth trying, everyone of them vital. As George Monbiot says: “The fight against the superstores is a struggle for democracy”.

We should not simply put up with new chains opening up in every rural village, in every corner of our country. We shouldn’t stand by, powerless, as our community economies are stripped and destroyed by the supermarkets. The time for action is now.

 

The silliness of Conservatism

Progressivism is not a cancer. In fact, it has been credited to some of the best times that human civilisation has ever known. Conservatism, on the other hand, has been known to induce the purest form of human suffering from as many people as were affected by it. These are the facts that Kenpruitt666 needs to keep in mind when describing me and my contemporaries as a ‘cancer’.

Now, after that brief reprimand, lets take a look at what he actually said:

  • His first point- “Would you accuse “For Profit” food and water production of exploiting the hunger and thirst of the people in the same way that you accuse Private Healthcare of exploiting people’s sickness?”

Yes I definitely would. Healthcare is something which is needed on a more spontaneous basis, and is also very much more expensive. Everyone but the poorest American or Brit can afford a bottle of water, whereas keno-therapy is enough to bankrupt a family that’s living on the edge. It is for that reason that the British Working Class fought for a National Health Service, and that we haven’t regretted it since. We also fought for a financial safety net for the poorest in our society, so that people who couldn’t afford food and water would be provided for by the state.

In an ideal world, I would not have ‘food and water production’ in the hands of private companies. However, the practicalities of this plan are difficult. A more balanced solution would be to gradually increase support to community food growing groups, like Transition Eastbourne. I will always view it as exploitation that for-profit organisations control our means of sustenance. You shouldn’t be able to buy life.

  • His second point covers the living wage, with rambling intensity which makes it difficult to read and even more difficult to process. The first half of the argument regards the economic mechanics of the Living Wage, which I would be lying if I said I understood. However I might be able to help him out with the second half: “I’ve been told by many progressives that a Living Wage is that wage by which is absolutely necessary for survival. In other words, if you were paid less than a Living Wage, you couldn’t survive; you couldn’t afford all of the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.

This is nonsense, of course. I’m not sure who told him that, but I wouldn’t listen to them in future. The Living Wage is the level of payment which workers require to lead a decent, well-rounded life. Since their chief executive is likely paid 350 times more than them, I doubt this is such a difficult boon to grant. Ken claims that different workers have different responsibilities, and therefore the living wage differs between them. This doesn’t really matter, we only need to set the bar at a respectable level that will serve for the majority.

  • His third point, that politicians are not “patriarchs/matriarchs of the public good, working tireless for the welfare of all”. He also tries to excuse political corruption on the grounds that the politician is able to betray its funder.

This is no excuse at all. Are we supposed to feel better about our public servants being bought and sold for on the basis that politicians can abandon their funding if they want to? Surely a far better solution would be simply to ban private donations and give each party a set lump sum, which came out of the taxpayers kitty. Not only would it level the playing field for smaller parties (allowing national debate to widen, diversify and improve) but it would be the right thing to do. Ignoring the fact that the main theme of ken’s work is that he despises people who ‘do the right thing’.

Later he emphasises the difference between gambling and speculating, presumably in an effort to restore the good names of the banking community, following their successful attempt to destroy Western economies.His main argument is the difference in risk, in that the gambler creates his own risk, whereas the spectator is given risk by the market on which he is betting. This is no way diminishes the terrible effects that this vile practice can have.

  • His fourth point deals with “how silly progressives are being when they take up the mantle of environmentalism:”  He claims that environmentalists are hypocrites for wanting to invest in alternative energy, and at the same time wanting to invest in roads to create jobs.

No progressive has ever said that, least of all myself. No one would ever be stupid enough to propose such a contradiction. He also claims that we ‘vilify’ people who don’t agree with us. At times this is true, I concede. But this a problem that the whole political community faces, not just the left-wing segment. To suggest that all bigoted people are left-wing is simply ridiculous, especially when right-wingers are just as bad.

People who speak against the idea of climate change aren’t all the puppets of big oil companies, but lets face it, most of them are. It’s difficult to argue such a hopeless case unless you’re being heavily paid.

“The government has no stake in actually repairing or managing infrastructure efficiently. Why should it when those average people, who you selected to be elected representatives, can get far more by pillaging other countries, by bartering with each other for favors/votes, or to put it more simply; why should they try to serve the public when they can get far more by playing baseball?”

If anybody knows what that means, please get back to me.

To round off, he starts talking about the failure of public programs, including the state-school system. I can’t be bothered to argue this case, as it is so painfully obvious. I’ll simply end with a quotation from John Stuart Mill:

“Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are Conservatives.”