Category Archives: democracy

Wikileaks and Assange – complicated but compulsory reading

I’ve let my thinking about Julian Assange and Wikileaks swing one way and then the other in the last 10 days – and make no apologies for what you might call being quick to change position but I’d rather say is being open minded. The work done by Wikileaks and its founder is so important that it bears time and attention to work out what’s going on as best we can.

Assange’s publisher Colin Robinson added some excellent perspective today in the Guardian, following on from what was a lengthy but revealing and insightful recent piece by would-be Assange ghost writer Andrew O’Hagan. It prompted me to write the following comment in response to the Guardian piece.

Great to have this counter point to O’Hagan’s piece – this is valuable material.

I disagree with you on this bit, the second sentence:

O’Hagan’s LRB piece is no part of an organised dirty tricks campaign. But by focusing as it does on Assange’s character defects, it ends up serving much the same purpose.

O’Hagan’s piece is essential to understanding where all the confusion arises from in all things Assange.

I read it as a huge admirer of what Assange has achieved. I concluded it thinking that Wikileaks and/or its founder were done – too difficult to work with to the point of taking themselves out of the equation on these issues.

Your piece has re-opened my thoughts on this – so I’m grateful for that.

Must get my copy of Cypherpunks.

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Popular savvy about finance – more than just money

Screenshot from 2014-02-25 11:28:49

 

Geoffrey Ingham, a Life Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge has weighed into openDemocracy’s Just Money debate with a worthwhile article called: “Whose money is it?” He talks about how money is created and the way that relates to power.

The piece is part of a wider series run by OurKingdom to mark the publication of Ann Pettifor’s e-book, Just Money: How Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance. I’ll certainly check that out.

The series explores the nature of money and the politics of the financial system.

I tried to post a comment before getting tied up in knots with the site password system.

Rather than abandoning it, I’m putting it here instead.

Good piece – I totally agree that, like it or not, we have as individuals to wrestle with ideas of how money is created and this article helps in that process. It is essential for people to get to grips with this in order to give needed context to wider societal questions of both poverty and environmental despoilation. I would also recommend the work of Positive Money UK (http://www.positivemoney.org/)

The author did not touch on the aspect of our money-creation system that is even more problematic for all living beings – which is how it acts as a motor for wrecking the planet for all its inhabitants. Debt-based money demands interest repayments alongside the principal, which means we must all perpetually consume or face economic collapse.

Yet if the economic system doesn’t collapse, or we don’t manage to transform it – along with the existing money-creation system at its core – we will face a far more problematic collapse of the eco-system itself. Nature doesn’t do compound growth except as cancer, epidemic or plague. We need a money system with that reality embedded inside it.

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United Kingdom – but for how long?

The Friend

This is an article I wrote for this week’s edition of the Fox Report in The Friend Magazine.

The Friend is the most widely read Quaker magazine in Britain. Its Fox Reports, of which the Democracy unmasked series is the latest, is the magazine’s investigative arm, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Patrick Chalmers reflects on the health of democracy in Britain. He
looks forward to the Scottish referendum, sits in on a Holyrood debate
on growth and hears how 38 Degrees and YouTube are the envy of
conventional politicians.

Public trust in British politicians and the institutions
they inhabit is in tatters – with more than half the
electorate wondering whether to bother turning out
to vote. Yet, despite public disdain for those thrown up
by the Westminster version of representative democracy,
many Britons are far from apathetic about politics itself.
Moves underway in Scotland imply an inevitable
transformation to UK politics. Just how radical a change
lies ahead for the Union?

Scotland’s eligible resident adults, probably including
anyone aged sixteen years or older, will soon get the
chance to wield huge influence over the future of British
politics. On Thursday 18 September 2014 those who do turn
up to vote will answer the simple yes-or-no question: ‘Should
Scotland be an independent country?’

The result will certainly set the speed of Scotland’s
political divorce from the Union but won’t halt
completely a process that is already well set. Yes or
no, the northern partner to a marriage spanning three
centuries is destined to drift further apart from its over-
sized mate to the South.

The Scots have run something of a political marathon
since voting for more devolved powers in the referendum
of 1997. In four elections since, the Scottish national
Party (SNP) has emerged from Labour’s shadow. The
outright majority it won in 2011 cleared the way for a
vote on full independence.

Paying lip service

In a recent television interview the comedian Russell
Brand said he didn’t vote because the system didn’t
represent his views. None of the political choices available
would stop the destruction of the environment or tackle
growing disparity between rich and poor, he said.

Those thinking Holyrood might do things differently
to Westminster, especially on the environment, shouldn’t
hold their breaths. I sat in on a sparsely attended debate
on the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Bill and all
major parties held standard lines on what  ‘sustainable
economic growth’ might mean.

The pioneering book Limits to Growth, published in
1972, showed how exponentially increasing economies
and populations would quickly run into global resource
limits. Today’s politicians, not just in Scotland but across
all those places we lazily dub representative democracies,
pay no more than lip service to the paradox of infinite
growth on a finite planet.

Labour MSP Jenny Marra seemed at first to be fighting
a corner for the ‘Limits to Growth’ perspective. Not,
though, when the SNP’s Derek Mackay challenged her to
say whether her party supported sustainable economic
growth. Of course it did, she said, but not at the cost
of ‘everything else’, which she qualified as meaning
health and safety regulations. So, for all the chat in
Holyrood’s sparkly new chamber, the fundamental issue
lay undisturbed.

Fundamental political reforms

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party for England
and Wales, certainly acknowledges the problem of
disaffection with politics. She’s not ready to give up on
elections though. ‘What happens next if you do that?’
she asks. ‘David Cameron isn’t going to say “all right, I’m
going to give up”.’

The Greens have long backed fundamental political
reforms in the UK. Their policies include introducing a
proportional voting system in place of first-past-the-post
for national elections and replacing the House of Lords
with a wholly elected chamber. They would also establish
a written constitution in place of the UK’s absurd
patchwork of statutes, treaties and court judgments. The
Greens also back economic stability within planetary
resources limits, not growth. The party’s problem is
getting sufficient votes to have an impact.

Bennett won her post as Green party leader in
September 2012 after an election in which just a quarter
of her party’s 12,000 or so eligible members took part.
She secured a majority in the third round on preference
vote redistribution. Those modest numbers compare with
barely more respectable ones for the UK’s three main
parties, which together account for only about one per
cent of the electorate. A parliamentary report published
in December 2012 gave Labour 193,000 members, the
Conservatives between 130,000 and 170,000 and the
Liberal Democrats 49,000.

38 Degrees

Conventional parties would kill for the near-two million
membership numbers enjoyed by 38 Degrees, a political
campaigning organisation aiming to work for positive
societal change, or to have people tune in to their
messages in anything like the millions drawn to Russell
Brand’s Paxman television interview on YouTube (More
than 9.6 million people had watched it by early January).

Maddy Carroll, a campaign director at 38 Degrees,
listed members’ top concerns as protecting the NHS,
finding alternatives to the current economic system,
regulating banks, capping the bonuses of bankers, ending
zero-hours contracts and clamping down on tax dodging
by global corporations. ‘What joins us all together is this
belief in holding those in power to account –
corporations, governments and other entities. Using that
model, we have had a huge amount of success,’ she said.

The organisation, as guided by members, is less
inclined towards fundamental political reform, more
intent on campaigns about policy specifics. 38 Degrees
has had a few stand-out wins by channelling popular
opposition to specific policies. It certainly helped
halt government plans to sell off the national forests
in 2011. Members’ efforts included gathering half a
million signatures against the sale, mobilising a hundred
thousand people to email or call their MPs and raising
the cash for ads and a YouGov poll.

Yet those same members failed to halt the government’s
flagship Health and Social Care Act 2012, which
farmed out large chunks of health care provision to
commissioning groups. Despite the setback, 38 Degrees
members continue fighting government health policies,
in court actions and case-by-case campaigns.

Popular education and empowerment

In these still-early days of mass membership campaigning
groups perhaps their most important work will prove to
be in popular education and empowerment. Carroll
highlights the work done by local 38 Degrees member
groups in pressuring their local MPs, holding meetings
and building networks outside the confines of old-style
party boundaries.

The best of individual MPs, once in office, soon find
the limits to their power and independence. A case in
point is Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston. She won
an open primary in her south Devon constituency and
then election to office in 2010. She has since struggled
for insider influence given her readiness to criticise the
government publicly.

Not all is yet lost, according to Anthony Zacharzewski,
founder of the Democratic Society. His membership
organisation attempts to promote democracy and new
forms of governance by encouraging citizen participation
and bridge-building projects linking the public to those
in power.

On good days Zacharzewski, an ex-Whitehall civil
servant, believes it is possible to radically transform
both the public accountability and transparency of UK
representative democracy. On bad days he’s less optimistic
about chances for orderly change. ‘It’s a much more slow-
burning crisis than people would imagine, it’s more a
hollowing out. The thing I find much more positive is
that there’s still a desire for representative democracy but
people want it to be more representative,’ he said.

What he foresees is something of a transition to mass
participation in decision-making. Perhaps something
that looks a bit like representative democracy but which
involves MPs working in very different ways to how
they do today. All of which sounds reasonable enough
while also being frustratingly far off for all those in
Scotland facing their imminent referendum.

So, will Scots shy away from taking back power over their
political destinies or kick the Unionist can further down
the road until the day reforms crop up for all?

Lesley Riddoch, an author, journalist and commentator,
hopes her fellow Scots will opt for power even though
she’s not yet convinced they’ll dare: ‘No one has been
here before, so who knows?’ Riddoch has her
ears closer to the ground than most, criss-crossing the
country to promote her book Blossom: What Scotland
Needs to Flourish.
What she hears consistently is people’s
frustration with politics as usual. ‘They are sick of
platitudes from politicians on either side,’ she says. ‘We
know we are not hearing authentic responses.’

So she ignores opinion polls showing a hefty margin
in favour of the Union. She also recalls the SNP’s record
of repeatedly springing political surprises despite being
ignored, patronised and ridiculed in turn by various
versions of incumbent power. She says: ‘They have done
nothing but pull rabbits out of hats. In 2011, they were
still behind in the polls a couple of months before the
election.’

With three centuries of history on their backs, that
would be some rabbit and some hat.

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Psychology of human responses to climate change

I recently spoke at, and took part in, a UK event organised by the Climate Psychology called Fertile and Sterile Dialogue in the Climate Change Debate”.

It was a stimulating day, shared with emotionally smart people who think deeply about why we are so slow to respond to gathering evidence of human-induced climate change. I emerged feeling more encouraged than I have in years thinking about climate change issues. Maybe we humans will fashion some sort of workable response, even if it is messy, imperfect and slow.

My presentation focused on personal experiences of reporting on climate change, during global talks in Kyoto and Copenhagen but also plenty of places elsewhere. These are packaged together with my broader critique of media and governance in Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

Below is a 30-minute video synopsis of the day, put together with great skill by the Hedgerley Wood Channel.

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Dare Scots take heed of Lesley Riddoch?

Blossom

I wrote this brief review of my chosen book for Green Left Weekly’s annual recommended books of 2013

I went forBlossom : What Scotland Needs To Flourish” by Lesley Riddoch, a gem of a book that had me both laughing and despairing as I raced through its insightful pages about my native land.

This was my review, one in a long list of great books chosen by GLW writers, contributors and others. I’ll be reading well into the new year at this rate.


Lesley Riddoch is the sort of life-long friend everyone needs – the one to warn you against making a total berk of yourself just as you thought you were looking pretty sharp. In Blossom : What Scotland Needs To Flourish, the lucky beneficiary of her advice isn’t a single person but an entire nation.

Riddoch chides her fellow Scots for their timorous beastiness in the face of what is a truly rare moment – the chance for a straight-out vote on regaining independence. Her book channels the Renton character in Trainspotting to tell potential voters they’ve more to fear from themselves than any supposed auld enemy to the South.

Her work stares straight into causes and effects of severe poverty and inequality in Scotland, not least the health statistics so truly awful they’ve earned infamy as “the Scottish effect”. Somehow she’s also truly funny.

Dare Scots pay heed?

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Brand value of democracy

Russell Brand has kicked up a welcome fuss with his responses to Jeremy Paxman’s recent questions in an interview about democracy and voting. His was a sparkling performance that showed the limitations of Paxman’s political thinking and highlighted the failures of the UK governance system. I would say the same is true of Western representative democracy as a whole.

The ex-junky comedian has seriously got his shit together.

For those who missed it, here’s the video.

More important for his arguments, going forward, is the response of official media outlets, by which I mean easily the vast majority of them. They show exactly the same failures of thinking and imagination as El Paco himself.

Their number would include people such as the Guardian’s Anne Perkins, who condescended to comment on the subject in the absurdly titled post “Russell Brand: mad, bad and dangerous for democracy?”

No Anne, he’s certainly not as dangerous as your thinking is.

I’ve written a far-unfunnier book than Brand would do covering the same sorts of points in specific detail based on personal experience. Its value is in being an insider account of why our media fail us.

It’s called Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

You can download a free PDF from here or buy a copy from here.

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Comment faire face au fascisme?

Yannis Youlountas parle de son film “Ne vivons plus comme des esclaves” – un documentaire qui fait le tour des actions, des journaux alternatifs, des radios rebelles et lieux d’occupation et d’autogestion qui se multiplient dans une Grèce en crise.

Pourquoi une mise en ligne gratuite? Youlountas souhaite que l’accès gratuit au film participera à faire réfléchir les gens et contribue à étendre le débat sur la nécessité de rompre avec la marchandisation du monde et de l’humain.

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The theatre of elections – US or otherwise

I have a lot of time for the work of Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight centre for digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite school of journalism and mass communication. Not least of my likes is his publishing model for his book Mediactive (2010), about how people can be empowered as new media users. It inspired my own approach to publishing Fraudcast News. Where I have reservations, though, is in Dan’s all-too-conventional perspective on the realities of political power, as demonstrated in this opinion piece he wrote for the Guardian’s Comment is free section.

The title, “America’s next president had better believe in restoring liberty”, pretty much encapsulates the problem running through what he presents as the imagined speech of a presidential candidate running in the 2016 election. It suggests any future candidate with a chance of winning under the hijacked electoral system might ever say such a thing and then implement it in the highly unlikely event of victory.

It would be good to get Dan to incorporate some of the analysis and suggestions of Fraudcast News into his own critique of media and government.

I tweeted him my comment and got a response out of him, as shown below, so here’s hoping.
Dantweet
This was my reply to his original piece:

All well and good but this imagined speech and its messages supposes that its audience members accept the legitimacy of the presidential election process itself.

Speaking as a Brit, I am unimpressed with both the US presidential election process and its (rough) equivalent in my own country’s general elections. Both are lame affairs that offer no real choices to their citizens, whatever the razzamatazz of their campaigns and the rhetoric of the candidates.

The crisis in governance – intimately linked to the legitimate questions you raise about liberty Dan – has come about precisely because our political systems have been hijacked by narrow, uber-wealthy elites. The participation of we the people in the related theatre that is elections has almost nothing to do with the political decision making that ensues.

You say, for example:

we’ve chosen to limit liberties in order – we’ve told ourselves – to have more safety or less trouble

Except “we” haven’t really chosen anything at all – it’s been largely foisted on us with little more say so than making some consumer choices that no one ever said were linked to a coordinated global programme of mass surveillance.

None of that is to even touch on the question of why anyone might want to attack the United States or its interests. Howard Zinn anyone?

I like your work Dan, and your book publishing model of free PDFs and paid-for hard copies inspired me to use the same approach in my own critique of journalism and democracy, but I think your reading of all this is way too conventional. No presidential candidate who made a speech such as this would get anywhere near becoming a viable contender under the current rules of the game.

That makes the exercise a bit pointless IMHO.

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Crisis? What crisis? Yeah, right.

Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlantas meets his audience
Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlountas meets his audience

Franco-Greek film director and philospher Yannis Youlountas meets his audience

Yannis Youlountas talks about ‎Greece‬, the meaning of ‪‎crisis‬, ‪‎fascism‬ and people’s coping responses after a recent screening of “Ne vivons plus comme des esclaves” (Rough translation: ‘Let’s no longer live like slaves’).

The rights-free documentary is due for internet release on September 25th via http://nevivonspluscommedesesclaves.net/

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Groundbreaking approach to truth seeking

"The Act of Killing": New Film Shows U.S.-Backed Indonesian Death Squad Leaders Re-enacting Massacres | Democracy Now! 2013-07-22 13-04-18

I watched this interview with The Act of Killing director Joshua Oppenheimer over the weekend. He comes across as a man of massive integrity and cultural sensitivity. His film tackles the death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civil society defenders and others in the years leading up to the overthrow of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno in 1967.

Oppenheimer’s own coup is to have got some of the murderers to boast about and even to re-enact their killings, and to thread together the close relationship between these killers of the past and the politics of Indonesia today.

The fact that the killers remain at large, even that they continue to boast of their role in building modern-day Indonesia somehow as revered citizens, makes their stories stand apart from those of the 20th century’s most notorious mass murders.

As Oppenheimer explains:

“…it’s as though I am in Nazi Germany 40 years after the end of the Holocaust, and it’s still the Third Reich, the Nazis are still in power. So the official history says nothing about the killings. But, and yet, the aging SS officers have been allowed to boast about what they’ve done, even encouraged to do so, so that they’ve become these kind of feared proxies of the state in their communities, in their regions, and also perhaps that they can justify to themselves what they have done. And I realized at that point that this was a reality so grave, so important, that I would give it whatever it took of my life.”

This is no ancient history from some faraway country – it implicates not just today’s elites in Indonesia but also the foreign policies of both the United States, Britain and others of their Western allies.

I am definitely going to watch this film and to use it as inspiration for alternative approaches to truth seeking, the goal of any worthwhile journalism project done in service of society.

To understand more on the background to this story, I would recommend reading The Shock Doctrine and The Confessions of an Economic Hitman and The New Rulers of the World.

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