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Not voting is neither stupid nor disrespectful – it’s a tactic

Danzig shot

Below is my answer Jon Danzig’s challenge to respond to his post suggesting Russell Brand’s electoral advice to not bother voting was dumb and disrespectful to those who fought for our right to the ballot. I’d have posted it in the comments thread of his piece but got chucked off for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

Hi Joe – so here’s an answer that’s slightly longer than Twitter’s 140 characters. I said that I get but reject your logic about voting or abstaining, suggesting that you’d missed Russell Brand’s points in the Paxman interview.

How do I get your logic?

– People all over the world have fought over the centuries for universal suffrage – the right of almost all qualifying adults to choose their leaders from a restricted list of candidates in periodic elections.

– Because those people fought, some died, for our right to vote, a person’s decision to vote disrespects their memory and sacrifice.

I don’t in any way disrespect these people’s efforts – in fact, I both venerate them and am hugely grateful for what they did and some still do. I don’t think that’s an argument for me voting or not voting in UK elections.

So how is it that I reject your logic suggesting that I should exercise my right to vote?

For the record, I happen to be resident in France so am ineligible to vote in UK general elections. I do get to vote in communal, regional and EU elections here but not national ones. That’s not my point though.

If I were a British resident – as I have been in the past – I would almost certainly not exercise my right to vote in UK national elections. For the vast majority of UK constituencies where one of the main parties is the likely winner – Conservative, Labour, LibDem – I don’t think there’s any point in voting. There are marginal differences between the three but when it comes for example to economic policy – the bedrock of all policies – they are all variously but solidly pro-austerity. Throw in the UKIP EU dissidents and there’s still no change on that question. So for the vast majority of UK voters, what’s on offer involves choosing between parties who collectively subscribe to pro-austerity thinking – regardless of the fact that these policies aren’t working, that they heap the costs of the financial crisis on ordinary, poorer people when it was speculative capital and over-extended banks that got us into that crisis (NB we bailed out the banks – the real benefits scroungers/cheats in this debate) and because the reality is that “austerity” is in any case a cover for dismantling the public sphere and the welfare state in favour of private interests. That’s to say nothing of these parties’ failure to question the notion of economic growth as a sensible way to run the planet – it’s a recipe for ruining it more like.

I might be persuaded to vote in constituencies where there was a chance for an upset to pro-austerity thinking – perhaps where there were strong Green candidates and chances of their election or SNP candidates in Scotland (though for the latter, it is highly questionable whether the SNP would veer much from the pro-austerity model).

Choosing not to vote for any of these candidates is a political choice or tactic. It is not at all a suggestion that people disengage politically but rather that they ignore or minimise their engagement with the hulabaloo of elections and concentrate their energies elsewhere. Occasionally it might be tactically astute to vote – I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

We need radical political reform in the UK, at the EU level and globally. Nation-state representative democracy has had its time – a few decades of glory for citizens in Western countries in the aftermath of WW2, I’d suggest, but not any more. Real power has long left national parliaments – witness Syriza’s mauling by the German finance minister in the latest round of debt restructuring talks.

This interview with the Spain’s podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is highly instructive on what the future might possibly look like – though no one can say for sure.
For a UK perspective – the 2004 Power Inquiry was an intelligent stab at the question of why people didn’t vote. Though the inquiry failed to get much traction, it left us with a useful account of the then state of alternative democratic experiments around the world.
The work-in-progress bringing up to date of that report is here.
If you speak French – I interviewed a man called Charlie Bauer a few years back. He makes the case for radical democratic reform very powerfully, as you can see at the bottom of this post.
As a fellow journalist – a huge barrier to radical reform are the conventional expressions of our chosen profession. I tackle this in detail in Fraudcast News, which you more about here.

That’s way more than 140 characters.

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Economics teaching failing students and society, says Prof

University economics departments around the world are failing their students by ignoring the real-world effects of their discipline, among them rolling financial crises and environmental destruction, according to Professor Clive Spash.
“It’s basically a failure, we’re training economists who don’t understand the real economy,” said Spash, Chair of Public Policy and Governance at WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
Despite recent efforts by some students to overhaul the way their courses are taught, incumbent thinking reigns on.
“The students have got to take direct action. They’ve got to make sure that the faculties, the economics departments, really understand that they are failing them. They are failing them in their education. They’re teaching them mathematical formalistic models that have no bearing on the real economy.”
Among the problems are ideas that unconstrained markets might remedy growing inequality or that economic growth and people buying more stuff could somehow bring about a recovery.
“If you want to really learn about economics maybe don’t go to an economics department, go somewhere else,” Spash said.

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Making case for Quakers to reach for their phone cameras

Showing by doing - Patrick Chalmers filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming's Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

Showing by doing – Patrick Chalmers is filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming’s Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

I’ve been working with UK Quaker organisations over the last couple of years, first as a journalist writing article series for the weekly magazine The Friend and latterly in various initiatives aimed at encouraging Quakers to speak their work to the world as citizen journalists.

I like spending time with Quakers – those I’ve encountered so far combine an engagement and energy for taking action to improve our society with a rootedness in their daily faith and practice. Though not a Quaker myself, I find this combination of activism and faith very inspiring. It somehow cuts a path between what seems like apathy on the part of many people with regard to the state of our political systems and the anger, judgment and aggression to which many activists can be prone, myself included. I understand why people might be either apathetic or angry, both at once even, yet I personally can’t accept not trying to do something about the state of things.

It is in that spirit that I joined forces with Quaker journalist Judy Kirby, ex-editor of The Friend and a life-long reporter, to pitch a funding proposal to the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, more specifically their Power and Accountability strand.

Our idea was, in fact it remains, to train Quakers as citizen journalists focused on improving both our media and the quality of our governance structures. For me, as I explain in Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies, there’s no point in doing one without the other.

Though we failed to get any JRCT money, I think basically we pitched for too much as an unproven start-up project, we have done some useful work in preparing the application and road-testing our ideas. We will build on these during the coming months on a more ad hoc basis, as funds allow.

Our latest example of road-testing was in London earlier this month, where Judy and I took part in the Quakers and Business 2014 Annual Conference. The theme was Food – there’s a story behind everything we eat, making it particularly suited to talking about the benefits of Quakers taking to citizen journalism.

Below is the 15-minute talk that I gave as an event speaker. I basically argued that yes, there are many food stories we can tell as citizen journalists but what we also need to understand are the chronic failures of our political systems to respond to those stories.

In addition to talking, Judy and I were also determined to demonstrate our arguments by doing.

That entailed shooting a series of sample videos, on the eve of the conference and on the day itself, to showcase the potential of using a smartphone video camera to shoot no-edit video reports for web broadcast. Had that been our sole mission for the event, what follows would be a more comprehensive video series than the four shown below. These are still a good sample of what’s possible.

We did a couple of videos featuring speakers John Turner*, a smale-scale Lincolnshire beef farmer and co-funder of The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, and Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming. These are the more conventional reports you might expect from an event such as this – allowing event non-attenders to get a flavour of proceedings.

In addition to these, Judy did her first publicly aired video interview – she, like me, having spent most of her career in print. It featured event participant Terry Hobday as the interviewee after she volunteered to tell her food story, one relating to researching the effects of poor nutrition on childhood behaviour and development. Terry then promptly accepted my challenge to take the microphone herself, conducting a debut interview with another volunteer storyteller John White having had only the most rudimentary training on how to do it. I was hugely impressed with the result – pure chutzpah!

The video series showed what is possible with nothing more than a smartphone, an attached microphone and some basic training in the shots template devised by those cunning types at visionOntv – Hamish Campbell and Richard Hering. Having spent decades of heartache trying to get activists to find their voices on camera, this duo have hit on a templates series for people to learn some very serviceable basics themselves.

Judy and I, during the coming months, are aiming to take this technique to Quaker groups around the UK. We’ve one event already booked for April – with the Quakers and Business group. We think it’s a potentially powerful tool to use as part of wider citizen-journalist efforts to promote positive-but-radical social change from the grassroots up.

Give me a shout via @PatrickChalmers if you think we can do something together.

* Correction made on November 27, 2014, John Turner’s surname was corrected from “Hunter”

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Wrist slaps for rich, jail for the poor – suits you democracy

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

This is not a complicated post to write, nor need it be very long.

The basic premise is how the UK legal system treats criminal behaviour differently depending on who’s behaviour it is – somewhat at odds with Magna Carta notions of due process – an idea that dates from, err, just a tadge under 800 years ago – not to mention Ancient Greek principles of equality before the law – from 2,500 years ago.

Exhibit A – a powerfully argued Guardian Comment is Free post by columnist Aditya Chakrabortty. The author describes today’s Britain as a place where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks while MPs, some of whom fiddled thousands of pounds in expenses at little expense to themselves, create a system where the hungry go to jail.

I can’t disagree with his arguments.

Exhibits B and C – respectively referring to some piffling fines levied against HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, JP Morgan and Citigroup for cheating their customers and rigging foreign exchange markets, and the serial fraudlence-without-jail of too-big-to-jail poster child J P Morgan.

For all the breathless “record fines headlines” – the penalties levied are so much pocket change for these banks, expunged in a moment’s trading of their shares. And, more important still, no one goes to jail, I mean, how could they?

I will host a local screening of The Corporation this Friday – a film that describes the psychopathic behaviour of companies operating to the inexorable growth demands required under capitalism. Fuelling this machine necessitates the subordination of our systems of mock democracy – the latest US mid-term elections being the latest perfect storm. This promises to be an ongoing story as things stand.

The ancient Greeks nailed this problem too, describing it as oligarchy not democracy. The UK’s Russell Brand has a far keener grasp on this than do his detractors, even if he hasn’t yet identified much in the way of possible solutions. This site – participedia – seems closer to the mark with its listing of experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance around the world.

And my, don’t we need those?

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Media bias against Scottish independence laid bare

David Patrick

Yet another example of why Twitter is a hugely useful source of information. @DrDavidPatrick turns up as a follower of my @PatrickChalmers account – so I take a look at his profile. Up pops his excellent short film cataloguing and analysing the media coverage – sorry bias – of a year’s worth of newspaper coverage in the run up to the Scottish independence vote.

I highly recommend you invest the 22:35 minutes it takes to watch – not only for some profound insight into the Scottish referendum debate, which is important enough, but far more importantly for an introduction to what is an endemic problem of pro-establishment media bias when it comes to covering any politically important issue you care to name.

This is not a left-right thing as far as ordinary people are concerned. Anyone who gives a damn about their political future, that of the people they love not to mention wider humanity and the planet, needs to wise up to this stuff. This is what Fraudcast News is about – as it says in the book’s strapline – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

Unless we take personal responsibility for our political and media literacy – which includes understanding these well-worn but generally poorly-known and highly-effective techniques – we will continue to be kippered all ends up when it comes to having any influence over our lives. This is vital stuff for us all to understand, and to be able to spot, in the propaganda that bombards us daily. What’s more, you won’t, or didn’t, learn this stuff at school.

Dr David Patrick has done a great job for all of us with regard to the referendum – you can read about it all in more detail here – we should all be hugely greatly to him for that.

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Fraudcast News reading and Q+A, London, Aug 1

Screenshot from 2014-07-18 15:21:44

When Patrick Chalmers hit on becoming a foreign news correspondent, he dreamed of somehow helping advance the cause of social justice around the world. When he eventually landed that dream job, he soon realised it had little to do with improving people’s lives. So he quit to work out where he’d gone wrong, in the process transforming himself into an author, activist and campaigner for better media and governance structures.

Among the results was Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies published in paperback and as a free PDF download. Patrick will read from the book and discuss how it relates to current political events at all levels, ranging from climate change inaction, renewed conflict in Iraq, Scottish independence or the rise of UKIP.

 

Screenshot from 2014-07-18 15:26:29

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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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