The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Are US Politicians Lower Grade?

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 23, 2010 @ 09:59

Gohmert in better times...

On fairly regular occasions, I watch The Daily Show. Now, it can hardly be described as an unbiased source of “news”, but satire always has a stinging level of truth behind it. More than mere truthiness.

Whenever I watch, there is invariably a segment where host Jon Stewart plays clips of US politicians, either delivering sermons in the House or the Senate, or holding forth on Fox or some other news network. The clips are usually of someone talking utter bullshit, saying something truly outrageous and being allowed to get away with it.

One recent example was the case of Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who appears to have no brain whatsoever. He talked up the ludicrous notion that terrorists were coming to America to give birth, so that their offspring could claim US citizenship under the 14th Amendment, only to return decades later as a legitimate citizen and blow themselves up.

Where this batshit crazy man got this idea from no one really knows. And when challenged to give any proof to his assertion, he just got mad instead.

Allowing lunatics like him to be elected will always remain the great flaw of democracy. But what concerns me a little about America is that he is by far not the only example. Day after day, week after week, on The Daily Show, more and more politicians are put in the limelight displaying absolutely zero intelligence whatsoever.

While Britain too has its fair share of politicians who arguably lack the brainpower to stand up and make a coherent, logical speech, backed by evidence as they see it, it seems to me that the US has a lot more of them, despite actually having fewer politicians at the national level. From Michele Bachman to Jim Bunning. And plenty more.

It seems like a harsh question to ask, but there is definitely something different about American democracy versus British democracy. I’m not saying that our voters look for intelligence in their politicians either, but for whatever reason, there is a cultural difference. US politicians have historically won elections by being more “one of us” – despite not being “one of us” in the least. Whereas in Britain, historically it has not always been like that, though we’re heading in that direction.

For those who disagree, let’s hear it. I raise the question simply because I’m genuinely interested…

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Australia: A Tough Call

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 20, 2010 @ 10:12

She bravely toppled her leader and called that election. That's the way to do it, Gordon.

It’s amazing just how much the Australian election has turned on its head. At the start of the year, it looked like Kevin Rudd, former PM, could do no wrong. So much so that I made a bold prediction: that he would win another landslide later in the year in a “double dissolution” election.

Now, the words “former PM” sort of give the game away about how wayward that one was.

But now it’s the case of the Welsh girl made, not good, but Aussie, versus a climate-change denying, right-wing firebrand. One of those, what we lefty types like to call, paleoconservatives.

And the polls put it on a knife-edge.

Why should we in the West care? Oz is a long way away, after all. Most of us would only care if it’s going to affect our plans to retire there, or go on a two year jaunt picking grapes on a “working holiday” visa.

I humbly suggest that, to those of us bothered about global issues like environmentalism, and economic regulation, it really does matter who gets elected. It would, for a liberal leftie like me, be preferable to see the Labor Party win, in the vain hope that they will stick to their guns and push hard for wider, faster, and deeper agreement on carbon reduction. The more voices in that camp, the easier agreement will become.

Perhaps that’s a little naive, though. After all, too many nations, especially nations as significant on the world stage for their mineral production like Australia, are only in it for their national interest. And that is what in the end did for Kevin Rudd. He wanted to be bold, and ended up battling against the vested interests so much that in the end he backed down, and looked a spent force. His replacement, Julia Gillard, learning the lesson, is not quite so strong on the issue; especially in the face of a rival who came to the fore exactly because of it.

The election will be close, but I’m going to stick to my guns. Labor will win. No landslide though.

And the reason? Probably because of these.

In modern politics, leader ratings are just as important as the party ratings. All things being equal – as they are here – I believe the people will plump for the leader they just “like” more.

It’s going to be a good test of the theory anyway. Watch and learn.

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Comprehensive Spending Review Is Comprehensive

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 18, 2010 @ 09:49

It's not far from the truth. Avoid.

Clearly Nick Clegg has been doing a little too much 4chan lately, trying to keep up, or down, with the kids. Anyone with a bit of internet nous will have heard the meme: “adjective noun is adjective” – and it seemed like Mr Clegg was enjoying using it this morning.

In two separate interviews on BBC outlets, while doing the rounds celebrating the coalition’s 100th day as if it were an achievement equal to the discovery that the Earth orbits the sun, he described the comprehensive spending review as “comprehensive”. Gee, that’s useful!

But the argument itself was rather specious, for the comprehensive spending review (CSR from now on to save my fingers!) is not exactly comprehensive at all. The mere notion that the government reduces every budget to zero and works upwards is a nonsense. Some programs are never going to be cut. We’re not exactly going to stop funding our wars. Meanwhile, we’ve been told the NHS budget is ringfenced. And yes, that milk in primary school scheme isn’t going anywhere either.

So to dodge questions about whether X programme is in jeopardy, or Y is going to be protected, by replying saying the CSR is “comprehensive”, that no decisions have been taken yet, but everything is up for grabs, is misleading. Everything isn’t up for grabs. Child benefit is going nowhere. Neither is the winter fuel allowance.

But that’s how all this started. All of a sudden, journalists have remembered that politicians are politicians, and unless they’ve given a Sherman pledge on something, there is always wriggle room. For instance (page 26):

We will protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel, and free eye tests and prescriptions.

“Protect” is the verb. Protect is meaningless. One could argue that increasing the winter fuel allowance age limit to 66 is indeed “protecting” it, because if the government didn’t take such “bold and decisive action to preserve our economy” then the whole benefit would have to be scrapped. Easy.

Nowhere in that pledge does it say the government will not adjust eligibility requirements, or the value of the benefit-in-kind. And because of that, politicians, even in this “new politics”, are always going to be tempted to run things up the flagpole.

Of course, if the coalition document was full of Sherman pledges – comprehensive, shall we say – then it would run to about 3,000 pages, with a verbose explanation of every policy, covering every possible scenario. It would also be very boring and highly predictable. And, of course, it would only exist in cloud cuckoo land.

Not much of a spectator sport then. And that’s the comprehensive truth.

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Artificial Meat? That’s A Bit Weird…

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 16, 2010 @ 10:29

A vegetarian's favourite question! Guaranteed to irritate and annoy. But that's meat-eaters for you!

As a vegetarian, this story got me rather interested this morning…

Artificial meat grown in vats may be needed if the 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2050 are to be adequately fed without destroying the earth, some of the world’s leading scientists report today.

Erm. Yes. The thought of growing cow or pig muscle in a vat, being kept “alive” by regular injections of Nutritional Supplement D103 is quite interesting because of the ethical questions of whether this thing is really alive in any normal definition of the word. Surely, then, even a vegetarian could eat it because an artificially grown fine leg of meat doesn’t have a face?

People are often amused and intrigued when I say I won’t eat things like cheese unless I know it’s vegetarian. Then there follows a scouring of the packet to see what’s in it. People cannot believe that there could possibly be such a thing as non-vegetarian cheese, or yoghurt, or chocolate, or alcohol. Yes, it makes going out with me a rather fussy prospect. But maybe there will soon be a day when vegetarians ask, “Is the meat vegetarian?” – i.e. did it come off a real live animal, which was slaughtered, or was it grown in a test tube?

No, the thought actually repulses me. I couldn’t do it.

But surely there’s something rather stupid about this concept of – “there will soon be 9 billion people on the planet, let’s feed them all meat”? Because rather than feed that grain to a pig, for you to eat the pig several months later, why not just eat the grain now? Furthermore, with future supplies of water rather precious, and the fact that animals need much more water than grain crops, environmental and economic logic will dictate a vegetarian diet for everyone. Or, at least, eating vastly less meat than we current do.

There are two sides to every tale, of course, and a totally vegetarian world isn’t the magic bullet. Moreover, the major issue that maybe gets swept aside in all these debates is perhaps 9 billion people on the planet is just a bit too many.

Never mind what they eat, what the hell will they all do? Surely the financial services sector can’t support another 3 billion bankers.

Ahh, facetiousness!

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Nick Griffin Dislikes Democracy; Film At 11

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 11, 2010 @ 13:20

Another classic

I’m sure everyone is gripped by the news that later on today the BNP will announce if any of their members have reached the criteria to ensure a leadership election.

Apparently, three people want to challenge Nick Griffin, but the process is so arcane, and so confusing, that the hopeful candidates don’t even know themselves if they’ve passed the threshold for a successful nomination, which would force a contest. Some party bigwigs have to make that call. Hmm. Stitch up?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. No one knows. And not many people care. Least of all Nick Griffin:

“In 10 years, our activists and I have turned this party from a bad political joke into a major factor in British politics. There is still much to be done, and it is best done under proven, principled and visionary leadership, without futile, time-wasting elections.”

The truth is often ugly, and sometimes shocking. But this little pearl of wisdom is neither. It is beautiful, totally unsurprising, and fits the exact stereotype of the fascist leader we’ve all come to know and love.

Yes, it turns out that after all this time, Nick Griffin has no interest in what the electorate think of him. Certainly not a trifling bit of internal bureaucracy, a distraction from his important task at hand. Be gone, foul plebs, and let the grown-ups decide what’s best for you.

Still, at least Mr Griffin can’t wave away the voters in four years time. At least the crazy people of the North West will have a chance to cast a verdict on his “proven, principled and visionary leadership”. Unlike his own party members…

Or perhaps he’s worried, given all the messing around with the membership requirements for the BNP, that there could be a minority lying in wait to subvert the party.

Now that’s a good conspiracy theory, eh…

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The Return Of Charlie K

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 10, 2010 @ 09:48

Superb. What is there not to like about this kind of photo?

OK, maybe Mr Kennedy has other things on his mind right now, but I can’t be the only Lib Dem thinking and hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Our Charles.

As anyone who’s met him knows, he’s a genuinely warm and friendly guy with a wicked sense of humour. His ease of communication was what made him such an asset to the party, and I was very sad when he was pushed out of office by the parliamentary party.

My long lasting hope, though, was that this wouldn’t be the last of him in a prominent position.

However, four years have now passed, and still Mr Kennedy is languishing on the backbenches, with no prospect of any level of promotion now the party is in power. The torch has passed to Clegg’s allies, and this puts Charles very much out in the cold.

What can be done, then, to bring him back in? At this moment, the Liberal Democrats need all the proxies we can get, working the media, selling our side of the story, reminding the public that we still are a separate, distinctive party, and if only we had a majority (in our dreams, but never mind) then the current policy of X would in fact be X+1, or X-1, or maybe even Y. Gently highlighting our differences, in other words.

Only a backbencher can take that role. Simon Hughes tries to do it, but the fact is he is in too high a position, and every time he speaks he embarrasses Nick Clegg and the Coalition.

Someone else is needed. Someone with charisma, and someone the media will listen to if they speak up, but at the same time the Coalition can clearly say, “That is a personal opinion” – while Lib Dem ministers can give a nudge-nudge and a wink-wink.

Charles Kennedy would be the perfect man for this kind of job. But is his health still in it? I hope so, and Guido is not always the most reliable source.

Is his heart still in it? Surely it must be, considering he just won re-election with another thumping majority?

Maybe he’d be better waiting for the Scottish Parliament election next year. Because if the Scottish Lib Dems take a tumble, there could be a rather interesting parachuting opportunity available. Charles Kennedy, leading a Scottish Lib Dem Party that had the authority to be a distinctive voice against the London Coalition. Party federalism in action.

One thing’s for sure, we need to be using all the talent we’ve got while we still have it…

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The Eurosceptic Dilemma

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 9, 2010 @ 16:37

Of course, supranationalism is also responsible for exciting tomes like this one...

Naturally, any dyed in the wool Eurosceptic will be opposed to this:

The European Commission wants EU member states to consider allowing it to levy direct taxes – a move that could ease the burden on national budgets.

The EU’s Budget Commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski, said he would present some options next month for direct EU taxes.

After all, giving more power to the elites in Brussels continues to undermine our own national sovereignty, and will in turn enhance the formative makings of the EU superstate. Taxation power should never be ceded.

Except when it should.

At the moment, France, Germany and the UK are all working on their very own versions of a banking levy. Whether they are successful or not all depends on whether the banks who will be subject to them calculate the cost of upping sticks and moving offshore is less than the tax itself. A simple cost-benefit analysis.

In the global economy, though, it’s not hard to see some banks indeed deciding the cost is not worth it, and move to a lower-tax country. Net result: jobs lost, no corporation taxes, no income taxes, no sales taxes as a result of that income, and so on. So maybe we shouldn’t bother with the taxes at all. Taxes which, let’s face it, ought to be levied in the first place because of how well the non-nationalised banks have done out of us.

Then there is the question of complexity and confusion. What if Germany had a transaction tax, while France had a tax on overall profits, and the UK decided to tax a bank’s asset base? All a bit messy for the poor corporations, but certainly difficult to understand the implications of where the money goes.

In other words, it could end up either a mess, or becoming self-defeating. More probably both.

Unless there was some way in which you could guarantee that every country raised the exact same levy, in the exact same way…

Some things make far more sense when done as part of a co-ordinated global effort. Environmental issues don’t stop at the border, and neither does capitalism.

To those who support the common market, there follows a relentless logic that only makes sense when taken to its conclusion. Common markets require common regulations. Common regulations require a common regulator. A common regulator requires common governance; an acceptance from all parties, in advance, for the rules of the game.

Step forward, for us Europeans, the EU.

If the EU had not already been invented, it would have been again and again in the decades that followed its creation. The role it plays, and could play in the future, is too important for the collection of nations within it.

The trends towards supranationalism will always continue, and the more we deny it, the more we put ourselves in danger of becoming irrelevant. The dilemma for Eurosceptics is either to deny it and bury their heads in the sand, or engage with it and see just how much we can shape it the way we want.

Oh, EU. Why are you so boring?

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The Importance Of Being Mandated

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 7, 2010 @ 17:57

This particular mandate caused a lot more problems though...

A post on politicalbetting.com this morning by the always excellent David Herdson about the tedium of the Labour leadership contest got me thinking.

David’s point was that the contenders just aren’t really talking about anything. They can all do platitude, but none of them is seriously raising a genuine policy agenda for what they would advance as an alternative during their opposition wilderness. It’s a fair point, but Tory observers need to recall that about the only substantive thing David Cameron said in his campaign was to bring the Conservative Party out of the EPP grouping in the EU Parliament…

But there is a serious downside to not saying anything during a campaign. And I mean any campaign. It is the question of mandates.

Mention “mandate” to Joe and Joetta Public and I suspect the eyes would glaze over. But mandates have a crucial place in the centre of a democratic system; one of these things that we acknowledge and accept without ever truly appreciating what they’re all about.

By talking about an issue, talking about it openly, publicly, and engaging in serious debate in the subject, you get a grudging appreciation from people that “x” is what you want to do about the issue. And then, if you happen to win said election, all of a sudden you have a mandate for that topic. Regardless of whether or not people were really voting for you with that particular issue in mind.

The voters have spoken, you can say. I have legitimacy to carry out my agenda. I have the endorsement of the public/my organisation/my trade union, whatever, to carry out these changes.

Mandates are an essential part of democracy. They are accepted by people without truly realising the underlying process. The present coalition government sort of has a mandate to carry out their rather radical agenda (though how radical it is remains to be seen over what the result of various reviews are) because the partners achieved a very significant backing at the polls compared to all previous governments.

The winner of the Labour leadership race will have authority as the winner of the contest. They will have authority to lead the party in whatever direction they wish.

But, because no one is really prepared to put their neck on the line, they’re not going to have a proper mandate for any of the pet projects they wanted to pursue. While it’s a useful strategy if you don’t want to frighten the horses, if you want to make a major change, by silencing critics with the weight of your ringing democratic endorsement, you really do need a thumping great mandate.

Sometimes politicians have to take risks with these things. The risk is they’ll lose the election by standing out. The reward, however, is that if you can win, and have your prior agenda in place, you’re going to get a lot more acceptance for whatever it is you want to do.

That’s supposed to be what elections are all about.

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Cameron’s “Misspeaks”

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 6, 2010 @ 14:20

Hmm...

David Cameron is a long way from George W. Bush’s league in terms of mis-speaking, but the past couple of weeks have been rather interesting and perhaps slightly concerning.

It’s hard to believe that someone so polished, with so much media experience, and with a term of handlers who know exactly how the media will react to anything, could be making so many deliberate mistakes though. From his frank talk about council housing, to speaking the truth about Gaza, or getting the Iranians’ backs up, and then marching Pakistan’s President up the hill and then down it again, it really hasn’t been a good time for him lately in the PR stakes.

We can only assume, given they wouldn’t deliberately be putting their foot in it, that these are actually the first tentative steps of a Prime Minister not yet acquainted with the extremely diplomatic language used on the world stage. A sign of inexperience. Not yet ready for prime-time, as some might cruelly quip.

The question, though, is maybe his approach is right. We all, apparently, want our politicians to be straight-talking with us. But how much “straight-talk” can we accept before they start saying things we really don’t want to hear? See Election 2010 for the proof, and the lack of acknowledgement of what cuts were around the corner.

The bizarre thing is that Cameron actually seems to be being liberated by power, rather than being constrained, as is the norm. In opposition, desperate to detoxify the Tory brand, everything the Tories said or did was carefully planned and co-ordinated. Sure, muppets like Chris Grayling would occasionally make a mistake, but on the whole, the top brass moved in lockstep, and nothing came from their lips unless it had been approved by eight out of ten focus groups.

But now, Cameron is increasingly speaking his mind, something he wasn’t really known for.

It might get him into trouble, especially on the international stage, where no one says boo to a goose. Indeed, the only person who ever really did in modern times – George W. Bush – ended up being quite widely despised for his total lack of refined character and inability to press the flesh or keep people sweet. Coalition building was never his strong point…

And that’s the problem. Coalition government requires the key players to keep talking all the time, and certainly not in public. Not if you want to keep the presumption of good faith on all sides.

Perhaps discretion from our politicians is the best thing after all…

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Eroding The Lords

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 5, 2010 @ 18:23

Just what kind of image would have been relevant to this post anyway?

Another thing interesting about coalition government is what is going on in the House of Lords. It’s been a long time since the governing party had a working majority there, ever since the hereditary peers were ditched.

But now, with Tory and Lib Dems combined, and with the new peers they have added, Baroness D’Souza on Lords of the Blog has sounded the alarm

It is reliably rumoured that the Government is planning to bring in yet more coalition peers come the Autumn. It already has a working majority of approximately 38 (the numbers change from day to day due to influx of new peers) and could have a majority nearer to 80 or more. This would place it in the same position as New Labour in the House of Commons in the last Parliament.

Baroness D’Souza has at least some authority here, as the Convenor of the Crossbench peers.

The idea of a government majority in both chambers is perhaps a bit worrying. Though their noble Lord and Ladyships have always been a little rebellious, and rather difficult to actually get in Parliament from day-to-day, there is still a hardcore of peers who attend regularly, and, if present trends continue, could be relied upon by the government to ensure it always gets its way.

In some respects, it would be sweet justice were this to happen. People like me, who have long argued against the uncodified constitution we have precisely because it could lead to its “conventions” being ignored by a government that doesn’t like them, might actually start getting listened to if the so-called “revising” chamber no longer does any revising.

Of course, we could blame it all on Labour. After all, they had 13 years to do something properly about it. Now they could be squished into submission in both Houses if the coalition sticks together. Thanks, as always, go to the useless Jack Straw, long-term opponent of House of Lords reform.

Whatever happens, though, I’m willing to bet that the muscle the Lords used to flex in keeping the Labour government under control will not be as used in this Parliament.

Unless they’re trying to stop elections to the House of Lords, of course.

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