Oct 142010
 

Guest post by Evander Diarmand

The federal government of the United States is, through a practice of perpetual borrowing, on the verge of financial collapse. This is widely decried in media and among citizens to varying degrees but little is done to waylay the rampant expenditure of borrowed funds. These loans, derived from foreign states and from the banks of the Federal Reserve Board, are currently the primary source of revenue for the federal state. The United States Constitution establishes no clear limit on the purposes for which the federal state may incur such debt nor does it limit the extent thereof. Consequently, the congress has taken advantage of the omission to further its political aims both variously and collectively. This self-perpetuating debt—both a threat to the national security and to the integrity of the federated union—has been a common feature in American politics for decades; to the extent that citizens widely accept it as typical. Despite its ubiquity and the number of people employed by debt-funded government bureaus and agencies, this practice is onerous. It is the primary threat to the republic today and must be stopped even if drastic action is required.

Financial management is widely regarded by contemporary society as drudgery—it is a necessary task but bland and thankless. Most people avoid the subject and procrastinate when they face financial difficulties. The general atmosphere of distaste for accounting is amplified enormously in the public spheres of society: several American states ignored the problem and are on the verge of bankruptcy. By many accounts, attaining solvency for these states cannot be postponed. In the federal government, even this eleventh-hour urgency is nonexistent because the federal government derives its funds in a manner all together obscure; a manner which is certainly extra-legal for any single state to attempt. The federal government did not acquire this ability accidentally. The entire history of central government in America, when examined broadly, is a series of legislation and court decisions which have gradually allowed more varied sources of revenue for the central authority and fewer restrictions thereon. The Articles of Confederation famously established the most restrictive rules for revenue generation and it is widely agreed the founders drafted the US Constitution primarily to remedy this perceived flaw. Under the Constitution, the federal apparatus has grown rapidly as court precedent has become increasingly liberal in judgments addressing federal revenue. The twentieth century has seen the greatest expansion of federal sources of revenue while the infrequent judicial impediments have been superseded either by legislation or constitutional amendment. The federal state, its appetite for money apparently insatiable, has perfected the skill of marketing even the most outrageous proposals for generating revenue—some egregiously unconstitutional—to the American populace.

What is the aim of the congress that they must constantly seek new sources of revenue? The answer is simple: Power. And they never have enough. It is likely not a conscious decision to dominate American society or undermine the republic but rather a collective understanding among federal officials that having power is preferable to sharing it. Power, for a congressman, is in controlling the purse. The more revenue they collect, the more control and popularity they can maintain throughout the various states. For instance, taxation of the states or the people never decreases. This means the federal government increasingly controls the collective income and expenditure of the American people simply because so much of our currency goes through their hands. What they collect is held until the congress finds a political motivation to redistribute it. Obviously, those who benefit from this redistribution will lend aid politicians who willing to enact it. When enough congressmen find it politically advantageous to subsidize an industry, agency, or a state, they make pacts with congressmen (often of the “opposition”) who wish to spend it to further their own careers.* Thus, the money is returned to the economy and artificially adheres to certain regions or economic sectors. This is the nature of the modern tyranny. It is a political culture of patronage, inherently plutocratic: because federal revenue is seemingly endless, begging for a share of that revenue has become a lucrative profession for the silver-tongued** and political power has gravitated to the center rather than being diffused throughout the union. Unsatisfied with controlling the money of the American states and their citizens, the federal government has in recent decades turned to borrowing as their principal monetary leverage.

This represents a terrible danger because, today, congress distributes far more than it collects to a degree unimaginable to most Americans. The imbalance is so severe that borrowing has replaced taxation as the primary source of revenue. Our current political system as it is practiced today can only continue if the government borrows endlessly. This has created a paradox: taxation’s only purpose in this system is the payment of interest on federal debt. To elaborate, the federal government has become so gluttonous for revenue that it borrows against the debt itself and struggles to pay off the interest at all. Raising taxes will only delude congressmen into believing they can maintain charade while lowering them will only deepen the debt. Their hunger for revenue has drained the Treasury, Social Security, and anywhere else money sat unused or in trust. They have borrowed from nations around the world and from the Federal Reserve so much for so long that the books would be incomprehensible to even the most talented accountant. It is dangerous because, if for no other reason, it deludes Americans into believing loans and income are the same thing.

The real danger, however, is the source of the borrowed money. Because the federal government is borrowing against debt (and therefore the American people’s money itself) it has created the possibility of catastrophic “foreclosure.” China (among many others states) and the banks of the Federal Reserve essentially own the federal government. And its net worth does not even come close to what it owes. These are some of the most powerful entities on earth and they have the potential to subjugate our federal government. Further, the economy of our nation, far from recovering after the 2007 decline, is in danger of descending into deepest stagflation. The congress’s heedless borrowing compelled the Federal Reserve to perform the greatest feat of illusion in human history: they have separated currency from any kind of value whatsoever and in so doing have been an example for power-hungry governments worldwide. Their monetary policy defies explanation and justification. When the congress needs money, the Federal Reserve quite literally creates it out of nothing and lends it to our government. These loans are borrowed against debt and must be repaid with interest despite being imaginary money. Income tax exists for no other reason than to prevent the federal government from being sucked into this monetary singularity. All the while, the Federal Reserve buys up more and more of our government with money that never existed.

This is not a clever piece of rhetoric meant to generate support for a party, and ideology, or a philosophy—the situation is truly dire. The US Constitution is consistently ignored and power no long derives from the states or the people. Powers now derives solely from money in the most direct literal sense. Our ideals and the republic created to maintain them are already gone. Elimination of the federal government’s unlimited power to collect and spend revenue is not a risk or gamble; it is a necessity if this union is to survive at all. Financial collapse is imminent—perhaps even with our lifetimes—if we continue to tinker with our tax code and limit ourselves to small spending cuts. Politicians and lobbyists caused the problem and are therefore incapable of solving it.

What is necessary for our prosperity and our security is inevitably painful: the largely idle but extremely expensive bureaucracy must be dismantled; the military empire must end; the power of congress to borrow must be severely limited; and the Constitution must be reinstated and amended to outlaw borrowing and new federal spending during a deficit. Most importantly, we must wrest control of our currency from the hands of the Federal Reserve. The downward spiral must be stopped—partisan elections, regulations, and lobbying will accomplish nothing unless we resign ourselves to the truth. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending. It is too late to solve this problem without damage to our economy and political infrastructure; this is the price of delay. We must accept that we will not always be rich, that we will not always be powerful, and that politics is poison. All we can do now is save our country.

*Believe me, none of them actually wants to prevent the spending all together.

** i.e. those who aren’t politicians.

Jun 112010
 

BP is not British Petroleum, the oil spill is not the fault of the British people (many of whose pensions are in BP shares), and Britain has done nothing, nothing to warrant the kind of snide crap being peddled by the current American president, whose approval ratings are in the shitter, and his running-dog lackeys in Congress, who are so stupid they think Guam can capsize and tip over.

Fuck Obama – Support the British! Buy your petrol from BP.

May 072010
 

American commentary on the UK elections has me practically in stitches from laughter. This might have to become a series.

Take this, for instance, in Slate magazine (emphasis mine):

Our American campaigns have become decadent spectacles of horrifying length and expense characterized by 30-second attack ads, a class of parasitic professionals, and a running media freak show.

By contrast, Britain’s feel pure. They are swift (four weeks!), substantive, and not entirely driven by fundraising. Spouses are treated as human beings and allowed their own lives. The electorate is informed and engaged. The candidates are more spontaneous and accessible.

If there is one thing I’ve noticed about the ‘candidates’ in this election, it’s been their spontaneity and accessibility. Brown, for example, was so spontaneous that he called a little old Labour lady a bigot live on air. My local Labour and Conservative candidates were so ‘accessible’ that, in what was really four months of campaigning, not four weeks as Jacob Weisberg seems to think, I received one leaflet apiece from them. Not a single candidate’s supporters here actually doorstepped us; I only managed to talk to the one Lib Dem guy because I opened the door while he was… delivering a leaflet through the letterbox.

Substance, too, has been a running theme of this election: Brown has it, or so Mandelson would have us believe. But the ‘substance’ has been, more or less: Vote for me, I’m not as bad as the others! Yeah, that’s real substantive.

I don’t know what evidence Weisberg has for thinking that the British electorate is more ‘informed and engaged’ than the American one, especially since he wrote the article before the election and thus before voter turnout was known. American voter turnout in 2008 was about 61%; UK voter turnout this time round was 65%. That’s not a gigantic difference.

Later in the same article, Weisberg admires the intellectualism (he read Waiting for Godot!), atheism (his wife is a man of faith!), and multiculturalism (Dutch father! Spanish wife! Bruges and Brussels!) of Nick Clegg, whom he ‘laid eyes on’ once in Birmingham. On that occasion, Weisberg reports, Clegg failed to answer a direct question from a voter (‘Clegg replies, before going on to rephrase what he’s already said’) because evidently she wasn’t listening hard enough the first time, then ‘patiently tries to bring her around’ when, having been asked what she thinks, she tells him it’s his job to answer the questions, not hers. But that’s all right, because Clegg ‘handled a tough customer well.’ Um, what? Clegg treated her like she was an idiot. No wonder the Lib Dems lost seats.

Weisberg’s attitude toward Cameron, however, is nothing like so enthusiastic:

I’d seen Conservative Party leader David Cameron twice before, both times in off-the-record press conversations, and both times I came away with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I found his case for modernizing the Conservatives well put. In the United States, the Republicans have gone in just the opposite direction, moving closer to the most extreme positions of their base and purging themselves of any sort of moderation. Under Cameron, the Tories acknowledge the value of government and the necessity of taxes, not to mention the threat of climate change and the equality of gay people.

One has to wonder, now the count is in, whether ‘modernizing’ the Conservatives to be left-wing has helped them as much as remaining actual Conservatives might have done. And once again, an American reveals an implicit belief that somehow Conservatives equate to Republicans and Labour equate to Democrats. An American conservative, knowing the legends of Margaret Thatcher, would gasp in outraged horror at Cameron’s free bus pass and eye test guarantee. Weisberg might twig Blue Labour, but he clearly doesn’t understand American conservatives at all – not least because he seems to think that American conservatives are the same thing as Republicans.

On the other hand, I was put off by Cameron’s focus on what historian Daniel Boorstin once described in a visionary book of the 1960s as “The Image.” He seemed more focused on the rebranding of the Conservatives than on the contents of the package.

Weisberg cannot make up his mind: he likes the Tory rebranding (yay, modernizing!), and yet he doesn’t like Cameron’s focus on the Tory rebranding. What, does he think that should have been understated? Does he really believe that a party that wants to get elected should understate the very aspect they reckon is likely to get them elected?

Oh, and also, unlike Nick Clegg whom Weisberg ‘laid eyes on’ once, during his several meetings with Cameron, he felt Cameron was inaccessible. Press access was, apparently, limited – limited to three meetings per random foreign journalist, I suppose. And even though Cameron ‘takes… questions seriously’ and is ‘relaxed, fluent and cogent’ when he speaks to voters, he is somehow less engaging than Nick ‘I Said That Already’ Clegg.

Oh, and also-also, Weisberg gets in a dig about the Contract With On America. Because obviously that worked out so poorly, what with six years of record prosperity following its implementation.

Finally, Weisberg moves on to Brown. Brown reminds Weisberg of a character in a novel who is half blind, angry, and unable to deal with other people. The character turns out to have Asperger’s Syndrome.

At a vast, Andreas Gursky-like Tesco supermarket in Newcastle, I watch [Brown] move briskly down an aisle, bumbling through encounters with people to whom he has nothing to say. Upstairs, in the employees’ lounge, he mistakes me for a Tesco worker and reaches out to shake my hand—even though I’m standing behind a barrier in the press section and had been chatting with him just a few minutes before in the second-class compartment of the train from London.

A second-class carriage? My God, how did they stand it? Folks who ride in standard class are a totally different type of person from them!

But wait, a heckler is yelling something about Gillian Duffy. Amazingly, the Special Branch officers are doing nothing about a possibly unhinged man menacing the prime minister—the luxury of politics in an unarmed country. A woman not more than 5 feet tall tugs at the protester’s sleeve. Eventually, he is dragged out, trailed by the press, as Brown continues his speech as if nothing has happened.

Ah yes – for all his admiration of the British way of doing things, Weisberg still seems to believe that armed bodyguards should be ‘doing something’ about a perfectly legitimate heckler. My God, drag him out of there! Apparently Weisberg remains blissfully ignorant of how that sort of thing went down last time Labour did it. ‘It’s a shouty old man! Quick, beat him up!’ Contrast Weisberg’s attitude toward this random heckler with his description of, quite obviously, another heckler (emphasis mine):

Julian Borthwick, who has blemished yet another day on the campaign trail for Gordon Brown, is an unexpected character. Nicely dressed in a hounds tooth tweed jacket, the 38-year-old academic says he is not a Conservative, not highly political, and not ordinarily given to interrupting politicians. He was having lunch at the museum with his parents when the prime minister interrupted them by arriving with his entourage. After listening to Brown’s speech for a few minutes, he became furious enough to begin shouting. In particular, he was appalled by his promise of subsidized broadband Internet access for the North, which, he says, already has excellent connections. Despite his poor manners, Borthwick has a point: Why is Labor promising new benefits of marginal value when austerity should be the order of the day?

I guess hecklers become a lot less menacing when you know they’re tweedy academic types ‘not ordinarily given’ to heckling. Julian Borthwick has a mild case of the bad manners, rather than being a ‘possibly unhinged’ and working-class trade unionist as mentioned earlier. Weisberg, you snob.

Not to mention the fact that Weisberg’s section on Labour revolves almost entirely around Gordon Brown’s inability to act like a human, mixed with anecdotes about members of his audience and people who chastised Weisberg for getting his press pass from the Grauniad. Julian Borthwick gets more of a hearing than any criticism Weisberg might have of Labour’s policies. Presumably this is because he has no criticisms to offer. After all, Labour are practically the same thing as Democrats, and look how awesome they are!

If this brief, intense visit showed me the pleasures of British politics, it has also underscored the miserable job that the next British prime minister faces. Simply put, he will inherit a government that is much too large in relation to the country’s post-crisis economy. He will have to cut services, reform pensions, and scale back commitments, ultimately reducing spending from current levels by about 12 percent, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He will literally decimate the government, reducing it by a tenth. America faces a dire fiscal prospect as well, but we have a better chance of solving part of the problem through stronger growth and have more ability to raise taxes.

Ahahahahahaha… oh, sorry. America has a better chance to recover because it has more ability to raise taxes? I beg to differ. Not because Congress couldn’t jack up taxes – they could, obviously – but because America will recover better, not through taxes, but through the fact that its private sector, unlike Britain’s, thriveth mightily.

That’s Weisberg, then: huge admiration for British politics despite its useless and insulting party leaders, its voters who heckle and refuse to listen, and its dire prospects for the future. Yup, there’s loads of stuff there to admire.

And now, of course, I shall make the obligatory defence that, no, I don’t hate Britain and I’m not a racist against the British. There are things I really admire about Britain – why the hell else would I be here? – but its political system is not one of them, except insofar as it provides me with copious entertainment. Oddly, what I like best about Britain is what Weisberg seems to like least: its individuals. Most of the British I know are among the most interesting I have ever encountered. Weisberg’s respect is reserved only for the idea of Britain which exists inside his head. Individuals, where he mentions them at all, Weisberg mocks and derides.

Apart from Julian Borthwick, who presumably is spared this treatment because, at the museum, he had a copy of Waiting for Godot bulging from the pocket of his tweedy jacket.

Apr 222010
 

Just some brief remarks, because I expended most of my rage by silently live-tweeting.

There were two main things that struck me about what the party leaders had to say.

The first was something Brown said about an hour into the debate: that if the voters realised how much of their daily lives was affected by government policy, they would be a lot more politically engaged. Someone had asked about coalition governments, hung parliaments, and voter turnout, and his response was to point out that income, benefits, housing, the environment, business, crime, social cohesion, etc. etc. etc. were all inextricably linked to government policy and action.

Frankly, I was horrified. If your argument that people should exercise their vote is that government affects everything in their lives, you’re not exactly pointing out a positive there. Unfortunately, I think he’s right. I don’t like it, mind, but he wasn’t misrepresenting the truth (or whatever is the parliamentary language for lying). The fact of the matter is that he is right. Government in this country does have an impact on almost every aspect of people’s lives. And that is profoundly depressing.

Oddly enough, the other thing that really gripped my wick was also a Brownism. I expected not to have any reaction to Brown – I thought I was completely insensitised – but actually I found what he had to say more interesting (if also more objectionable) than the other two know-nothings on stage with him.

During the question on immigration, roughly 20 minutes before the end of the debate, Brown was defending Labour’s points system (introduced less than two years ago, by the way) by claiming that it made sure that the only non-EU immigrants who came here (legally) were ones with necessary skills.

I beg to differ, my friends. Having gone through the torturous process of the new points system, I can say with absolute certainty that it has nothing to do with skills and everything to do with wealth.

Now, some of you may argue that wealth is a good indicator of skills, and that showing a high previous income roughly correlates with having useful skills. Perhaps so.

But not if your job is highly skilled (in the general, wishy-washy sense) but low-paid. I was a teacher. Britain had a teacher shortage. Before the introduction of the points system, teachers could immigrate here quite easily. After it, only teachers of maths and sciences can do so easily, even though the shortage of teachers has not diminished, regardless of the subject being taught. The ‘skills-based’ points system application never enquired as to my profession or the skills necessary to work in it. It wanted to know how many degrees I had, and how much money I had earned in the previous twelvemonth.

I was fortunate in that I had been earning in sterling during that time. But an American, or Canadian, or Australian teacher wanting to come here would have been in a pickle (and I’m sure many were) because of the exchange rates. Teachers in those countries are paid roughly the same number amount as teachers in the UK. So, for example, a teacher in the UK might earn £25,000 p.a., while a teacher in the US, Canada, or Australia might earn $25,000 p.a.

But the ‘skills-based’ points system only considers your earnings in pounds sterling. So a quite respectable wage in the other Anglosphere countries becomes miniscule under this system, because it has to be converted into pounds sterling. When I first applied for my ‘skills-based’ points system work permit, the exchange rate was roughly £1.90 = £1.00. That $25,000 an American teacher might have been earning would only count, under the points system, as £13,000 – not enough to earn even a single point in the ‘previous earnings’ section of the application.

The honest-to-God truth is that Labour’s points system gives the highest rewards to those who have earned the most money, not those who have the most necessary skills. Third-world kleptocrats would have no problem immigrating to the UK, whereas skilled professionals earning what would be considered huge amounts in their native countries would be turned away because the points system measures earnings in pounds sterling, not the average wage in the country of origin.

The other thing I’d like to point out regarding Labour’s points system is that it gives huge advantage to those who have an MBA. Many, many people on the left wing are big fans of Labour because they have the impression that Labour will stick it to the evil capitalists. They do not realise that Labour’s immigration system is now designed specifically to favour those evil capitalists: an MBA will automatically grant a person 80% of the points they need to immigrate here. Add into that the points you gain for knowing English, and someone with an MBA will waltz into the UK, way ahead of doctors, nurses, teachers, blue-collar workers, etc – the very people the left wing are supposed to be supporting.

Now, obviously I don’t care much about the massive advantage MBAs have in the British immigration system. Businesspeople are all well and good. But I found that, in the reality of Labour’s ‘skills-based’ points system, it no longer profited me to be a teacher. Instead, I have gone into evil capitalism. This country, with its dire shortage of teachers, has lost a skilled and experienced teacher because it treated me like a piece of foreign shit: not as worthy as a businessperson, and not nearly as worthy as a native Briton, despite the kind of bottom-feeding scum who are native to this country and contribute nothing to it in the way of hard work, taxes, or civil behaviour. This government (and all prospective governments) has done everything it can in the past two years to reinforce their view that compared to even the shittiest British wastrel imaginable, I am inferior. There are Britons who have never worked or paid taxes – I do. There are Britons who are criminals – I’m not. There are Britons who hate me, as part of a general ‘inferior’ class, because I was not born on this soil and because they think I’m stealing something from them, either a job or resources, or because I’m diluting their pristine and delightful culture that… treats immigrants like shit.

I did not choose to come to this country out of romantic Anglophilia or anything like that. I came here because, in order to do my post-graduate degree, I needed documents archived in British libraries and it made more sense to get the degree here than to do inordinate amounts of travelling from the US. I stayed because, for the most part, I like the British people and I like British culture. I would certainly never do anything to harm either.

But I get more and more demoralised by the fact that a lot of British people, most of whom are perfectly happy to have me in their country, nevertheless go on about how ‘something must be done’ about all of these fucking immigrants. And they say it without realising just how hard it is, in reality, to be a legal immigrant in this country. They seem to have this idea that immigrants are just strolling over the border and doing whatever they please – and I can state without reservation that for 99% of immigrants, that is just not the case. It’s hard to immigrate here. And I’m not saying that’s wrong.

What I am saying is that none of the parties – none – are going to fix it in any reasonable, humane way. Cameron and the Tories want an arbitrary quota. Clegg and the Lib Dems want to intern migrants in particular regions. And the Labour party has already shown its fascist colours in making their points system overtly partial to wealthy businesspeople rather than, as Brown disingenuously avers, the highly skilled.

So let’s cease the lies, shall we? Forget complaining about racism towards immigrants. Let’s all just admit that the vast majority of British people are xenophobic hypocrites who preach endlessly about social justice but then vote to prop up an immigration system that is manifestly socially unjust. Oh yes, everyone has a right to education, healthcare, a living, blah blah, except immigrants. They can get to fuck. They’re stealing benefits that should be reserved for native Britons. And if they come here and work and pay taxes, then they’re stealing jobs. And if they come here as independently wealthy taxpayers, they’re diluting the culture.

Immigrants can’t win. And the three fuckers leaders have made that abundantly clear.

If I had the vote, I’d vote for whoever acknowledged that the vast majority of non-European immigrants subsidise your fucking state and come here because they want to be part of British culture.

But since I can’t vote, I simply have to ask the rest of you British people, with all sincerity and no small amount of self-interest: consider what the immigration system here is really like. Take a look at the UKBA website and see if you, as I did, could sort yourself out without a solicitor or immigration advisor. Ask yourself if you would be willing to do what I did to get a visa. Ask yourself if your boyfriend, girlfriend, or whatever would be willing to do what DK did for me. Consider whether you earn the minimum of roughly £22,000 p.a. that a foreigner needs to earn to get a work permit here, or whether you have have the master’s degree you would need. Really put yourself in an immigrant’s shoes. And then, when inevitably some of you discover that if you were an immigrant you would be turned away with a contemptuous laugh, give a thought to how you vote.

There are more people in Britain than simply Britons. Most of us have no say in this election. We are entirely at the mercy of whatever government is in power. If you have no preference yourself, consider what our preference might be. One of the primary precepts of libertarianism is that all people are human and equal, regardless of race, creed, gender, or nationality. Yes, we came to Britain knowing we wouldn’t have the vote. But I think most of us would like to think that the British are humane enough to consider us when making their decision at the polling station. We, the foreign minority, rely on you to protect us. Please don’t let us down.

Jan 152010
 

A thoughtful post from Megan McArdle, in which she ponders Paul Krugman’s assertion that Paris, Frankfurt, and London don’t look poor (which, to be fair, in places they don’t):

But the standard of living in any given profession is much lower. Preserving London’s dazzling antique architecture has meant that most of the people I knew had much longer and more expensive commutes than their American counterparts would. They lived in smaller quarters that were hotter in summer and colder in winter. At any given professional level, you found British people doing things that only much poorer Americans would do, like bringing lunch, hanging their clothes to dry, or going without cable (though the Americans I knew said the cable wasn’t worth it anyway). People in Britain are not poor. But they have a noticeably lower standard of living than Americans do. If they were doing it in 1960’s vintage apartment buildings and tract homes, it would be quite obvious. When I lived there, I literally could not afford to eat meat regularly or take the tube to work, and as a consequence wore holes in my shoes. (In fairness, I was being paid in dollars and the exchange rate was awful–but I wasn’t the only one walking to save money.)

I don’t want to sound as if I’m saying Britain’s a terrible place–it’s lovely, and I miss it. But the amount that people are able to consume is much less than the amount Americans are able to consume, and many of the things they forego make real difference in things like personal comfort.

Leaving aside cable television (I also hear it’s not worth the money) and hanging the clothes to dry (most London flats are probably too small to contain a tumble dryer), on some levels I agree with McArdle, that Americans have in general more personal comfort than the average Londoner. Owning and operating a car is cheaper and more convenient in the US; utilities are cheaper, as are their installation; commutes are shorter for those living in cities with comparable public transport to London; houses and flats are generally cheaper; etc. And that’s only comparing cities to cities. Americans in the suburbs and out in the country pay even less for all of that stuff, and they have roomy houses with all mod cons and big lawns for children to play on.

But this is not to say that living in the US is idyllic. Even though the standard of living I’ve experienced in Britain is a bit lower than how it was in the US, there are certain trade-offs that mean I enjoy living here much more.

The rail network, though many Britons complain about it, is infinitely superior to what exists in the US. For my occasional journeys, I have no trouble getting where I want to go, and most of the time I get to do that travelling in a seat with a nice book. When I was commuting by train, I had the leisure of catching up on my marking with a cup of coffee, something I would never have been able to do if driving. I must also commend the London bus system and the Oyster Card.

High Streets (and their equivalents) are excellent, too. Being able to walk to the bank, the grocery store, the post office, and the corner shop is the height of convenience. I have never been able to do that anywhere I lived in the US; even when I lived in a small university town with a respectable sort of high street, the grocery store was miles away. Pubs, too, are fantastic. Most Americans have no access to anything like a pub; certainly few of them live within walking distance of a drinking establishment. Most of them have to drive if they want to go out for a drink; and in many states, if you want to drink at home, you have to purchase your booze at a state booze-purchasing place. Pennsylvania was particularly bad for this: beer could only be purchased in cases of 24 at the state beer store, and wine and spirits could only be purchased at the (separate, and sometimes all the way across town) state wine and spirits store.

Living spaces are smaller in Britain, of course, but this is not generally a problem for the childless, at least. And if few of your clothes can be put in the tumble dryer anyway, as is the case with mine, you really don’t notice the absence of the dryer.

I’m well aware that many people in London are far less well off than I am (when I’m working), and may have a very different perspective from mine, but quite often I also consider this: without the need for a car, or car insurance, or car payments, or gasoline, or health insurance payments, I already have more disposable income living in Britain. And when I consider as well that I actually pay a smaller proportion of my income in direct taxes here, then those small reductions in standard of living matter a great deal less.

Dec 102009
 

A gentleman called Mark Higginson left a comment recently on the older wordpress.com version of my blog, directing my attention to a project he’s been working on called Magna Carta 2009.

Despite the name, it bears more resemblance to a constitution than the original Magna Carta Libertatum, and it contains some interesting features, not least of which is that it is designed to come into force through plebiscite after England achieves independence. The document lays out some provisions for its maintenance, namely that it cannot be altered, once passed, except by further plebiscite, which alters the current relationship between demos, Parliament, and Crown (and is especially interesting given the growing numbers of culturally non-English voters in England).

The author, having asked me to comment, duly received some input, and he then requested that I tell others about his project so that they may make their own comments known, if they wish. Being a pleasant, obliging sort of lady, I duly draw your attention to the following articles of Magna Carta 2009:

From the section entitled The English Government:

VOTING IN ENGLISH REFERENDUM, shall be compulsory whether referendums are for general elections, national referendums on other national issues, or for voting in and for County councils and matters of county wide importance. There shall be a fine for anyone who does not vote without good cause for doing so.

From the section entitled Law and Order:

IT SHALL BE ILLEGAL for anyone (English people or not), to harm the flag of England in public or before a public gathering at a private function or party or other gathering in any way, as a form of protest either by stamping on the flag, ripping or tearing or cutting the flag, setting fire to the flag, or any other action against the flag in a manor designed to cause offence against the flag of England, England or the English people. Such action if proved in court shall carry a penalty of five (5) years in prison without the possibility of parole.

From the section entitled Rights of the Individual:

ALL ENGLISH PERSONS, regardless of age, have a right to free health care, clean drinking water, nutritious food and a clean environment, as well as a right to protection from any activities that can harm welfare and development.

ALL ENGLISH PERSONS have the right to privacy, provided that such privacy is not used for criminal or inappropriate acts that could result in court action or harm to others.

Nothing in this Magna-Carta-2009 shall give the English person the right to bear arms, except under the current rules for fire arms licensing.

THE ENGLISH GOVERNMENT SHALL help to restore an English person’s health, self-respect, and dignity, regardless of age, after abuse or neglect.

EVERY ENGLISH PERSON has the right to freely participate in English cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits, and have the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

From the section entitled Rights of the Worker:

There shall be a set of minimum wages worked out by the English government for work done depending on age and experience.

THE RETIREMENT AGE for both men and women shall be 60 years. However, nothing shall stop a person from working beyond that age, without loss of state pension, if they so wish.

From the section entitled Education:

THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE of England shall be English as spoken in England during the Anglo Saxon times before the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the modern Queen’s English as taught and practised in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

THERE SHALL BE THREE official dictionaries, an Anglo Saxon English dictionary dated to 1065, and a standard English Historic dictionary dated from 1066 to 1957. The third dictionary shall be the Standard Queen’s English dictionary dated during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The last dictionary shall be an English dictionary without any additions from foreign influences.

From the section entitled Other Matters:

ALL UTILITY COMPANIES, regardless of weather they are publicly or privately owned, be they gas, electricity, water or telephone companies, shall have a duty of care to their customers, and ensure that connections remain in place, regardless of the customers ability to pay.

OPENING HOURS FOR THE PURCHASE and consumption of alcohol at all ale houses, public houses and other establishments where such activities are carried out by the public, for the day time Mondays to Saturdays shall be from 11.00 am to 03.00 pm, with time called at 02.30 pm. On Sundays the time will be 12.00 noon to 03.00 pm, with time called at 02.30 pm. Opening hours for the evening times, Monday to Saturday shall be from 07.00 pm to 11.00 pm with time called at 10.30 pm. On Sundays the time will be from 07.00 pm to 10.00 pm with time called at 09.30 pm.

OTHER ESTABLISHMENTS MENTIONED ABOVE shall include but not be restricted to; Supermarkets, hypermarkets, off licenses, private clubs and establishments, nightclubs and private parties.

PRICING FOR ALCHOHOLIC BEVERAGES shall be equalized between ale houses and public houses, and all other establishments that sell alcohol, so that all bottle and case prices are the same, including barrel prices and prices by the bottle and glass. In all such establishments there shall be no reduction of prices, including such things as happy hours, etc.

From Appendix C:

PRIMARY SCHOOLS.

Structured rudimentary teaching in the following core subjects;

Maths (no electronic calculators), Anglo Saxon English, Religion (Christianity), Science, Queen’s Modern English, Geography, English History, World History, French, Art, P.E., Swimming, ICT.

SECONDARY SCHOOLS

A continuance of original core subjects, plus the following additional core studies;

Basic money management, Historic English (Between 1066 and 1960), Cooking, Relationships between all people.

Appendix D contains a primer of English etiquette, including:

Women are usually independent and accustomed to entering public places unaccompanied. It is usual for women to go out and about on their own as well as with friends. Men and women mix freely.

It is ok for women to eat alone in a restaurant.
It is ok for women to wander around on their own.
It is ok for women to drink beer.

These are only the features that leapt out at me as significant, upon several readings through the text. There is much more, which I have left out as being largely unremarkable or uncontroversial. Mark Higginson, the author, welcomes your comments here.

Having said all of that, I feel compelled to point out that when I provided the feedback he requested, I was fairly unsupportive of this document. I do not believe he will ever get anywhere with it, for numerous reasons, but my overall impression is this: this document is so different in scope, tone, and content from the Magna Carta Libertatum as to be wholly unrelated to it. I have trouble imagining how this could possibly be based upon the original, as its author claims. It is no more a charter of liberties than my grocery list. It is a restrictive, self-conflicting, and invasive constitutional treatise, many of whose articles cannot be guaranteed except through the coercive power of the state, and sometimes not even then. Maybe it is the sort of thing English people want. But somehow I doubt it.

Oct 222009
 

I know Mr E said he was sick of hearing about it (sorry, dude), but since Nick Griffin’s forthcoming appearance is all over the internet, and my feed reader, and the newspapers, I feel compelled to write about it again, mainly because I suspect I don’t really understand the furore.

If you read this blog often, you’ll be aware that I’m one of them durty furriners, who despite years of ridicule and reminders, is still not fully emBritified.

And what I don’t understand, perhaps, is the significance of Question Time.

The BNP have been on the news, and on news commentary programs, even on the BBC, loads of times. Nick Griffin, as party leader and then as a candidate and now as an MEP, presumably goes to public meetings where regular people get to ask him about his views. He certainly gets plenty of interaction with the public in the form of protesters hurling abuse (and eggs) at his creepy face. His views, and those of his party, have been outlined and discussed and debated in newspapers. The BNP have a website detailing their policies. This man and his party have never not been given ‘a platform.’

So what’s the big deal about Question Time? It’s just another news program, right?

I mean, having Nick Griffin on the program is not exactly like pissing on a shrine, or taking shoes into a Mosque, or slipping bacon fat into the matzo-ball soup.

I get that Question Time is something of a big deal, what with it being a respected, once-a-week, publicly attended forum. But good grief, Griffin was interviewed on Newsnight. Surely that’s a respected (if more regular and less public) forum on the BBC, too. From my perspective, Question Time isn’t any more of a ‘platform’ than anything else the BNP have been featured on.

Is there outcry because QT is the country’s current-affairs Holy of Holies?

Or is there outcry because, as I suspect, it’s nothing to do with the program or the ‘platform’ – but because other ‘respected’ politicians don’t want to have to share oxygen, and thereby association, with a man who’s stealing their votes an unapologetic racist?

Only 5 hours to go, by the way. I’m getting really excited. Somebody had better end up looking like a jackass on QT tonight, otherwise I shall feel cheated.

UPDATE: Hurrah! Everybody looked like a jackass. They’re all shits. Yes, Nick Griffin got his ass handed to him on a platter, and that was great. I loved it. His hands were shaking by the end.

But the general hostility of the British people, as represented by many in that audience, was breathtaking. On the one hand, they hated Nick Griffin: they applauded when he was shown up, and booed when he said offensive things, and made it clear they had no love for his racism or his party’s policy of repatriation. On the other hand, they wanted to know what the government was going to do to stem the incoming tide of durty furriners.

‘Oh no, we’re not racists! We just think the population’s grown too huge and put too much of a strain on the public services!’

To be fair to him, Jack Straw was totally accurate when he said that recently the Labour government has made it much harder for immigrants to get work permits. When Baroness Warsi disputed that, I actually shouted ‘Fuck your mother’ at the television set. ‘Cause yeah – they have made it much harder. I’m the fucking proof. And every time I read or hear some sanctimonious twat going on about how there’s too much immigration, I want to punch him in the fucking face.

Right; that’s enough bitching for now. For the moment, the British people are dead to me. Here’s hoping I feel better about them in the morning.

Oct 212009
 

It seems I’m not the only one who understands Peter Hain’s reluctance to appear on Question Time with Nick Griffin. As I said moons ago, the only thing that differentiates the BNP from the ‘social justice’ platforms of the three main parties is its racism.

Richard Littlejohn agrees:

Interviewing the shifty and unsavoury Griffin was like trying to nail jelly to a wall. We went through his ‘manifesto’ point by point.

There was little in it which couldn’t have been espoused by any of the main parties.

His law and order policies, for instance, were straight out of the David Blunkett song book.

He was against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, just like the Liberals. The Tories and UKIP were both promising to repatriate powers from Brussels.

I put it to Griffin that what set the BNP apart was the large elephant not in the manifesto, namely that it is the ‘Wogs Out’ party.

Even when I confronted him with the incontrovertible evidence in chapter and verse, he shrugged and shuffled, mouthed a few platitudes and that was about it. I may have pressed him again on the overtly racist appeal of the BNP, but it didn’t achieve anything.

Needless to say, I shall be watching Question Time tomorrow night with great amusement. I’ve even stuck a reminder to myself on the television set so that I don’t forget.

H/T Obo the Clown.

Sep 302009
 

The men of the country have not come off well in a poll rating the quality of the world’s male lovemakers. With #1, the worst, being Germany:

2. England (too lazy)

7. Wales (too selfish)

8. Scotland (too loud)

Still, better to be too lazy, selfish, or loud, than have the problem Germans have, which is apparently that they are ‘too smelly.’

But hey, Irishmen are the fifth best lovers in the world, behind Spain, Brazil, Italy, and France. Too bad the article doesn’t tell us what, exactly, makes them so good…

Sep 082009
 

Continuing with the recent philosophy that learning has to be justified by national utility, President Obama gave a televised speech this morning aimed at schoolchildren. Most classrooms in American schools have television sets (books? why are you asking about books? this is multi-media learning), and so I reckon, though I cannot be sure, that all state schools were required to show this broadcast, on what is for many children their first day of the school year.

As a teacher, I cannot over-emphasise what a massive pain in the backside I would have found it to spend even fifteen minutes of precious class time on frivolous speeches. The curriculum is too vast, and the school year too short in comparison, to give up even a moment of it. For purposes of comparison, consider that, four years ago when Pope John Paul II died, I was a Catholic teaching in a Catholic school and I still resented the single day the school closed for mourning.

But Obama’s speech was not simply frivolous; it was a collection of egotistical bromides couched in terms no child could fail to understand: if you don’t do well in school, you’ll never have a comfortable life, and the nation will be doomed. How do you mean, egotistical, I hear you ask?

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

‘I, I, I. I’m you, American schoolchildren. I’m Everyman.’

Except that, of course, if you’re a kid, you’re thinking hmm. The president is telling me he goofed off and got in trouble and wasted time, and yet he still became the president. So clearly there’s no penalty.

And Obama puts the weight of a huge responsibility on these children’s shoulders. They’re not to have an education so they can be open-minded, well-rounded, happy people, oh no. They’re to have it so they can be of economic and civic benefit to the country:

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

‘Your mind exists to serve others. Your talents exist to serve others. Your achievements will go toward serving others. Because the absolute height of existence, the pinnacle of morality, the one necessary and sufficient incentive any human has or should have, is to serve others.’

There is a lot of talk about not ‘quitting on yourself’ in this speech, but no definition, unless it’s that quitting on yourself means you won’t be able to make money (lawyer, architect) or devote yourself to other people’s welfare (doctor, nurse, police officer, scientist, teacher, soldier, job-creator). I’m not saying he’s wrong – it’d be difficult to do any of those things without an education – but there is no talk of the personal satisfaction of setting goals and achieving them; the rewarding of curiosity; the simple joy of learning a skill and putting it to use, whatever the skill, whatever the use; the opening of the mind to ways of finding pleasure in any activity or experience. There is no focus in this speech on how you can use what you learn to give your life meaning – there is only offered the prospect of future usefulness.

And Obama is a bit out of touch with the heroes of today’s youth:

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

As much as I might find Michael Jordan impressive, he is not even a hero of my youth, seeing as he had retired from basketball before I left high school. He also – let’s face it – is not really the poster child for education; he dropped out of university to play professional basketball and finished his BA in tiny chunks in the years thereafter, finally ending up with a degree in geography. Funnily enough, this little nugget about Jordan’s perseverance comes right after the part in the speech where Obama says:

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

Kids are not stupid. They will perceive the contradiction. On the one hand, Obama tells them they’re unlikely to succeed in those professions where an education is not necessary. On the other hand, he uses as an example of success and a role model one of the very people who did just that. Hmm.

That said, Obama does offer one piece of good sense:

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.

Unfortunately, he follows it with this:

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

Argh.