July 31, 2009

“Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who’ll get the blame” Bertrand Russell

Be wary when you use the term democracy. It means different things to different people. There is no universally accepted definition of democracy, but there are some essential ingredients:
• competitive and fair elections.
• freedom of political expression,
• freedom of speech
• freedom of the press

JFK said “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
For democracy to work properly, every citizen should be well informed so that they are able to vote from a perspective of knowledge.

It is said that in a democracy, decisions are made by the majority of the people. This is rarely true. The decisions are made by the majority of those who make themselves heard, and who are prepared to turn out and vote. If every citizen does not take part, the result will not necessarily be representative.

Voter turnout is getting progressively lower in countries where voting is an option. In Australia, where voting is mandatory, the turnout is an unsurprising 95%. Although measurement for these things is questionable, it is recorded that in 2005 the UK General Election had a turnout of 61%. The 2008 Federal US Elections, despite the billions of dollars spent, only measured a 57% turnout. In many countries voter turnout is less than 50%. We should be wary that a low turnout makes these countries a democracy in name only.

New Zealand was the first country to introduce universal suffrage (votes for all adults) in 1869, the US introduced it in 1920 and the UK in 1928. It is promised for Hong Kong in 2017.

Currently we are attempting to export democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, countries who have neither the infrastructure nor the tradition to support such an upheaval. It is a chauvinistic idea, especially when we have a tendency to overvalue wealth and have not yet got our own house in order.

In Ireland the democratic referendum on European Union’s Lisbon Reform Treaty produced a resounding NO. Euro News labels Ireland a failure, and clearly the will of the majority is not now good enough because the ruling party in Ireland are looking for a ‘solution’ to the No vote. A second referendum is to be held on 2nd October 2009 in the hope that voters can be sufficiently schmoozed into saying Yes. The will of the Irish people is not being respected because of the greater plans for a Federal Europe where loss of sovereignty, possible tax harmonization and a threat to the country's neutrality are of great concern. One problem is that the Lisbon Treaty is not a stand alone document and is almost impossible to understand. It should get a No for that reason alone.

Economists have strongly criticized the efficiency of democracy. Their argument is that voters are largely uninformed about many issues, and have a strong bias about the few issues on which they are fairly knowledgeable. In an age where our intellectual flights soar little higher than the headlines of a daily newspaper, we seem to leave it to a commercial media system dominated by a small number of super powerful corporations to select our opinions. This is not good for real democracy. http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1406

Roosevelt possibly summed up the current situation when he said “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group.”

Democracy is also criticised for not offering sufficient stability. If governments are elected for relatively short periods of time, the frequent policy changes are likely to deter economic growth and investment. For this reason democracy is not necessarily the best idea for developing countries. Plato argued that leadership of the unwilling philosopher-kings was the only just form of government.

“The true democrat is he who with purely nonviolent means defends his liberty and, therefore, his country's and ultimately that of the whole of mankind” Gandhi

July 25, 2009

The Humble Poppy

Some of us are quite partial to a poppy seed bagel or cake. Not many know that this is seed from exactly the same poppy as the one from which opium and all its derivatives come (heroin, morphine, codeine amongst others). It is also the same delicate garden flower we all enjoy.

It is a common misconception that there is a clear distinction between poppies useful for opium extraction and ornamental or food poppies. It is not difficult to manufacture opium tea with a high morphine content from poppies readily available at flower shops. There is no distinction. They are all Papaver Somniferum, the sleep bringing poppy.

Morphine and codeine are popular poppy based drugs in wide use in the west as painkillers. The UK government has recently given the go-ahead to the pharmaceutical company Macfarlan Smith (Johnson Matthey) to cultivate opium poppies in England. One major opium poppy field is based in Didcot, Oxfordshire. Simultaneously, production has been made illegal in Afghanistan with millions of dollars spent on torching the crop.

The poppy has a chequered history. The Opium Wars in 1839 and 1858 led to the suppression of China and the British forced Indian opium on to the unwilling Chinese. By 1905 more than 25% of the male Chinese population was addicted. There were an estimated 70 million junkies by the time of the 1949 Revolution.

From 1898 to 1910 heroin was marketed as a non-addictive morphine substitute and cough medicine for children.

The World Health Organisation says that millions of people who are too poor for medicine suffer in agony as a result of being denied painkillers. In 2004, consumption of morphine per person in the United States was about 17,000 times that of Sierra Leone.

A recent proposal from the European Senelis Council hoped to solve the problems caused by the massive quantity of illegally produced opium in Afghanistan, most of which is converted to heroin and smuggled for sale in Europe and the USA. This proposal is to license Afghan farmers to produce opium for the world pharmaceutical market, and thereby solve another problem, that of chronic underuse of potent analgesics in developing countries. The proposal has been overruled by the British Government.

What is really going on in the poppy fields of Ahghanistan? Poppy farmers and the debt cycle in Afghanistan – an interesting article.


July 22, 2009

Rethink Afghanistan

1242 military dead in Afghanistan. 43,000 – 100,000 estimated civilian deaths

The 12 year old Afghani lad shivering in the rain at Calais has been sent by his family to find a better life. It has taken all their money and more than 10 months of unrelenting travel to get this far. He and others like him will wait for darkness and throw themselves under the chassis of moving trucks to try to get to England. The land of hope and prosperity which has bombed his home, killed his father and removed his chance of an ordinary education simultaneously beckons with the offer of freedom and justice. Legal/illegal? It doesn’t make much difference when you have nothing to lose. Of course he could choose to go to the Taliban.

Peace campaigners have to think about war. At the last count there are 42 wars waging around us. This does not include Iraq and Afghanistan as they are wars which officially ended some time ago.

It is entirely possible that military escalation will not liberate the people of Afghanistan. It is entirely predictable that more of the same will produce more of the same : death, maimings, orphans and destruction of the flimsy environment. Osama Bin Laden has not been found in eight years of fighting. Finding him was the main reason for going to war.

Pavel Grachev , Soviet General said: "I believed as sincerely as US officers do now that we were fighting there (Afghanistan) to help make our country safer. After the war, as a politician, I could see this war had been pointless."

We feed the extremists in nearly everything that we do. Years ago we armed the Mujahideen because we weren’t too keen on the Soviets, now we fight their successors, the Taliban, and do deals with vicious war lords. What we do not seem to have noticed is that the huge economic abyss which has formed between ourselves and the Afghanis makes tensions inevitable. With the infrastructure wrecked and employment scarce, the average Afghani has to spend more than 80% of income on food. An opium cash crop is money on the table. A sure bet when compared with the west’s promise of rebuilding which has so far not materialised, and in any case will cost many billions (which may be less forthcoming given current economic trends). 5 million Afghanis are due to receive food aid this year, and it is getting worse.
The hardships of war take a disproportionate toll on women and their families.

http://rethinkafghanistan.com/ shows a perspective that neither Gordon Brown nor Barak Obama would like to acknowledge.

July 17, 2009

Dame Vivienne Westwood

The grand dame of fashion made an impassioned plea about climate change on TV last week. She said “Politicians are stopping us from saving the planet. We can only be saved by public opinion... we're at war with something that's never happened before, we have to make politicians do what we want."

Writing in the British newspapers, NASA scientist James Lovelock argues that, as a result of global warming, "billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable" by the end of the 21st century. He has been quoted in The Guardian saying : ‘ 80% of humans will perish by 2100 AD, and this climate change will last 100,000 years.

For Vivienne Westwood the environment is an imperative. The pre industrial 2 degree increase in global temperatures is coming upon us fast and once past it there may be no return. It will mean starvation on a scale unimaginable. But before that the violence to secure precious resources will reshape the spineless politics we now endure. The fight will not be for oil. It will be for water and food. Steps to mitigate the effects of climate change will not wait for the banking systems to get back to ‘normal’. Who but our politicians are stopping us from saving the planet?


July 10, 2009

“Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?” - Robert Orben

Are our political parties are becoming little more than a decoy? It is fair to say that they are becoming very similar, but it is also very true to say that the parties with the most money to spend usually do best at the polls. We can all agree that there is no such thing as a free lunch – so who really pulls the strings?

Could Women’s Lib have been financed by the Rothchild banking family? This argument is quite beguiling when you realise that up until the 1960’s taxes had only been collected from half the population.

Aaron Russo discusses both of these topics and more at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGAaPjqdbgQ. It is feature length, and compelling, so set aside some time and settle down with your ears open.

This Sunday 12th July at 11.00 am BST, Tina-Louise – a fellow COEXISTer will be high on the plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of Anthony Gormley’s Art. Part of her one hour in the centre of our imaginations will be devoted to us – to COEXIST!
'I entered this competition to show support for the type of art and activity that speaks from the heart of people. That this is a chance for individuals to simply be, without a need to perform, is a wonderful and inspired idea. I never imagined I would actually get a place!

Click on this link http://www.oneandother.co.uk/ on 11.00 BST Sunday morning and we can share the moment together.


Who’s greed? Whose selfishness? The average taxpayer works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for a sum of money which, after tax, barely meets his or her needs. A recent Californian Budget Study has shown that the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers saw an increase of 4.2% in their incomes. Income among the middle classes only grew by half a point and the poorest earned 2.8 percent less money than the year before. To add insult to injury, the poor and middle classes pay a greater proportion of their income in tax than the super-rich. In the UK the average person is working 2.5 months in every year just to pay Income tax and National Insurance. In essence the poorest among us are subsidising the corporations and the super-rich. What is the remedy?

How about profit sharing, co-partnership and workers participation? It is not new – the John Lewis Partnership has 69,000 partners and have shared their profits since 1920. In 2008 that share was 14% over and above each regular salary. www.johnlewispartnership.co.uk

Fastener Industries, Ohio, have been operating an ESOP (Employee Share Ownership Plan) since 1980 "Apart from the financial rewards, we now feel that our advancement is based on our achievement, not just the whim of an owner or supervisor” said one employee. “We've seen our work mates retire with sizable sums of money, and that's a tremendous incentive.” http://www.cesj.org/jbm/casestudies-vbm/fastener.html


The world’s livestock industry produces 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – more than all the world’s transport. It does so because of the constant burping of methane by cows, the nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizers and manure, the natural gas that is needed to make the fertilizers, and the destruction of tropical rainforests to raise cattle and grow soybeans to feed them. Our overall food consumption may cause as much as 30% of global warming if food miles, packaging and waste are taken into account.
In Belgium, the small city of Ghent, has declared every Thursday a day free of meat, fish, and shellfish. It is the first community in the world to do so. On each Thursday, every restaurant and canteen will offer at least one vegetarian dish, and some will go fully vegetarian. Starting in September, the city's schools will make a meat-free meal the default option on Thursdays. http://www.earthfuture.com/econews/default.asp

July 09, 2009

One hour of 'being' art made flesh.

Tina-Louise is an amazing woman. This Sunday 12th July she will be high on the plinth in Trafalgar Square as Art. Part of her one hour in the centre of our imaginations will be devoted to COEXIST.

'I entered this competition to show support for the type of art and activity that speaks from the heart of people. That this is a chance for individuals to simply be, without a need to perform, is a wonderful and inspired idea. I never imagined I would actually get a place!

Now that I spend every waking and dreaming moment pondering what I will do, how it will be and what it means to me... I find myself feeling like a fragment of Antony Gormley's vivid imagination - a piece of his art that will get a chance to act independent of the artist.'

'I am 11am Sunday 12th July...... '

Click on this link http://www.oneandother.co.uk/ on 11.00 BST Sunday morning and we can share the moment together. Only together can we build the world we want to see.

July 03, 2009

The Global Justice Movement

Four hundred years ago our planet was thought to be stationary at the centre of the universe. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and found guilty of heresy for suggesting otherwise. It is difficult to change the way people think – especially when they are bogged down in the status quo.

But this is a time when the old ideas have become stale. We are invoking the law of diminishing returns by doing what we have always done. If our leaders continue to do as they have always done they will magnify the mistakes of the past few hundred years. The rich will get much richer; the poor will get even poorer; the environment will become ever more degraded. But it could yet be worse. As the world balance of power tips over we see the disruption in the Middle East threatening the safety of us all. We see the precarious government in Pakistan – a nuclear power – losing ground to a strengthening Taliban. We have spent trillions on war games and the associated killing machines but we haven’t properly invested in alternative technologies. The current recession will see our already poor investment in research and innovation plunge even lower.

The time is ripe for change. But will our governments be ready to try new ideas, or will they confine their atrophied imaginations to feebly bolstering the old ones?
Our economic system has been built on credit expansion, and it is not sustainable. If you think you have recently lost your job or your money you are wrong. You have been robbed.

New ideas require people willing to be ahead of the crowd, willing to abandon their own ideas when they are wrong, willing to take risks, if necessary, for ideas that are right.

If you are sagely nodding at these comments you are part of the Global Justice Movement. www.globaljusticemovement.org

But what can we do now?

We can stop supporting the banks for a start. We can withdraw our funds and use Friendly Societies, Mutual Building Societies and Co-operatives. A small personal disruption is not too high a price for showing your distaste at current events.

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors

Environmental degradation, affluence that is only an illusion for many, war, the capital-labour conflict, a system that forces a man to fight for a job on an environmentally destructive project, unresponsive institutions,pensioner poverty and a consumer who can’t afford to pay for the pollution control costs that will inevitably be passed on to him. That is a good statement of the problem.