Attacks On All Those Opinions You Hear On The News

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Books are always very enlightening. No matter what they are about they seem to suggest a new view point, someone else’s view point that you may not have considered before. In a sense, every book you read changes you. Sometimes in a big way, sometimes in a small way. Freedom is becoming one of those books for me.

It’s by Jonathan Franzen, the author of the Corrections, but unlike that it seems to be attacking so much more. It seems like Franzen was interested in painting a family picture in the Corrections, of how the modern world and the American way of life is in this century. It seems deeply personal where as Freedom almost seems like an explosion of opinions, of rants and rejections. It’s a perfect novel if you want to feel disillusioned about pretty much anything.

One of the principle things it attacks, and something which caught my attention, is how capitalism depends on continual, infinite growth. If no one is aware, the world is filled with finite resources and suddenly you reach a paradox. Freedom shows just how crazy our obsession with growth has become. It talks about the damaging effects that this is having on planet and quotes some pretty scary figures. The number of people been born, the number of barrels of oil burnt, the number of acres of land in America been “urbanised.” I won’t ruin the surprise, be shocked and scared in the original context like I was.

Its perhaps comes more problematic when you start to realise that our obsession with growth is a bad thing. Where do we go from here? After all, it’s the entire basis of free-market economics and pretty much all government policies are built on it. Look at the debates that happen, their all about how best to get back to growth and stay in growth. It’s a strange scenario when you consider just how damaging it seems to be.

So where do we go from here? If we no longer support growth then what happens to social mobility? It seems like the only way to make sure social mobility happens is to continue to create wealth. What happens to people’s freedom? There’s one country in the world where they’ve tried to limit population growth and it’s had disastrous effects. So where do we go?

This might sound like a rambling review that springs in every direction but that just what Freedom feels like to me. Just like the Corrections attempted to be a panoramic view of the American way of life in the 21st Century, Freedom attempts to be a panoramic view of some very serious problems. I’ll admit though, think about it too much and it gets very depressing.

Mr Blue.

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Madagascar: Conservation and Political Crisis

In 2009 Andry Rajoelina, with the support of the military and several small public organisations, seized power through a political coup in Madagascar. The High Transitional Authority, with Rajoelina as its leader, is currently governing Madagascar.  Rajoelina ousted President Ravlomanana and his government in a move seen by many as unconstitutional. This hasn’t won him any favours internationally as many countries have refused to acknowledge the new power ruling Madagascar. The state has been considered in a political crisis, there are still those that support Ravlomanana (currently in exile and living in South Africa) and with the date by which free elections were supposed to have taken place long since passed, the crisis doesn’t look like it’s to end anytime soon. But with all this political upheaval, which is been quite frankly overlooked by international media, it’s easy for other issues to take a backseat, or be forgotten all together.

A recent assessment by a group of specialists in Madagascar has shown that the island’s lemur population, along with all the other extremely biodiverse and unique species that call the island home are at increasing risk. Since the political coup in 2009 illegal logging and poaching of Lemurs has been on a worrying rise. You may think that this is only natural to see a slight rise for a country in political crisis, however what is shocking is that there has been no effort, by the High Tansitional Authority at least, to control the situation. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well,” Dr Mittermeier (Chair, IUCN Primates Specialist Group) told the BBC in a recent interview. For me personally I think it’s yet another disappointing example where the personal ambition of a few has stunted the efforts of the conservation movement.

I say this because there has been no beneficial outcome in any aspect to the people of Madagascar, to the political coup. It resulted in its isolation internationally from both the African Union and further afield, aid from the US was halted in its official capacity, during the period 2009-2011 the GDP fell to as far as -7% and the majority of the population still live beneath the poverty line. If there had been any improvement in Madagascar, then perhaps the neglect of the government to its responsibility of the conservation of its unique wildlife would have been partially forgivable. But with all these short falls, it’s hard to see why the coup was needed and easy to see that it was a complete waste of time. Politics should not affect the conservation effort, but unfortunately it does and while there are still those that wish to threaten the biodiversity of the planet there will always be those that turn a blind eye.

Mr Yellow.

HSBC, the US and the Politics of Hypocrisy

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The financial sector has come under huge criticism lately as revelation after revelation is revealing just how sordid the whole business has become. First we had the Libor scandal in which Barclays fixed their inter-lending rate lower than it should have been, along with the promise that it wasn’t the only one doing things like this. Now we have the case of HSBC and how they have turned a blind eye to money laundering and have dealt money to states under strict international sanctions. But, with all the condemning coming from the political elite, can anyone else smell a bit of hypocrisy?

Let’s take the example of the money laundering been placed into HSBC accounts by drug cartels. The US was quick to condemn it but its actions have placed huge power in the drug lord’s hands. Its well-known that the towns on the border between Mexico and the US are some of the most dangerous in the world. Kidnappings, murders, torture, just about every horror imaginable, takes place daily.

Why does this take place? Well the US has been waging a war on drugs for some years and it has used Mexico in order to try and stop the flow of drugs into its territory. Yet the US is playing a part in making the problem much worse. 87% of traceable weapons seized from the drug cartels originated from the US yet the US pressurises the Mexican government to crack down on the very drug cartels that are unwittingly arming. Perhaps the US should try and control its arms trade.  Then the US also place huge pressure when it comes to the immigration as it tries and blocks huge numbers of immigrants getting across the border, giving another way that the drug cartels can take advantage of people already in a vulnerable situation.

I’m not saying that the US shouldn’t be cracking down on the drugs or illegal immigrants. It just seems a bit hypocritical that it is causing the problems which fund the very things that HSBC have also helped fund. Can most people not see that the web of problems that are causing the problems of drug cartels are the reason for what’s happened? The bank situation needs solving but so do a whole host of problems in order to stop money laundering happening. And the US senate has questions it has to answer.

That’s just one part as well. Accusations have flown in the US about how transections in HSBC funded organisations that had already linked to Al Queda as well. Yet it seems to me that the US is forgetting that it has supported questionable regimes, and still goes on supporting some. It does this and justifies it by saying that it is for the best, that the alternative would be worse and that they are edging the countries into democracies. Its actions don’t seem to back this up, especially in places like Central and South America. There its actions seem to be about controlling their economies and gaining the advantage in trade. It’s basically justifying morally questionable actions so that it can gain advantage. Sounds just like HSBC to me.

I’m not saying that the US and the world have no right to question morally questionable actions. Just that it might be time to begin and change foreign so that we, as well as the banks, no longer support corrupt regimes. So that we longer support human rights abuses around the world. It’s a huge challenge, but so is taking on the banks.

Mr Blue.

Political Opportunity Blocks Reform

House of Lords Reform has become a statue in the parliament, in fact it’s older then the statues that stand outside of the House of Commons. It is, arguably, central to our nation. A radical rethinking of the way that the country is run, removing both hereditary peers and those appointed by politicians. It would, undoubtedly, make the nation more democratic. Yet, at almost every stage, the attempts at reforming the second chamber have come under pressure and have simply failed to get past anything noteworthy. Why?

The part Labour played in blocking the recent attempts to pass, to put it simply, a time schedule on the reform is easily explained. They were seeking an opportunity to bring down the coalition. Lords Reform is dear to the Liberal party and, with more than 70 Tories rebelling, Ed Miliband refused to support the bill. He claimed that this was because the schedule didn’t offer enough time.  You don’t have to understand Machiavelli to understand Ed’s actions. He was taking advantage of the situation, trying to pressurise the coalition into collapse, whilst appearing to still support the reform in principle. It’s a bit of a joke.

The part played by the Conservative rebels is perhaps more important, considering they are meant to follow what their leader says. David Cameron supported the timeframe but over 70 rebels went against him. They gave a variety of reasons for this, many MPs arguing that the Reform would mean that the ancient supremacy of the House of Commons would come under threat. Some even went as far to suggest that the entire idea of an elected second house was just wrong.

This seems a bizarre opinion to hold. After all, who can agree that it is fair for there still to be hereditary peers making decisions about the nation? Then you have a wealth of problems that come with the system. Many accuse some MPs of arrogantly believing that, after serving a lifetime in the House of Commons, they will simply be granted a seat in the Lords. Some claim to want a referendum, arguing that the country should decide. Is there really any need for another costly and drawn out vote?

It’s this type of attack that has led some observers to say that the rebellion was some type of self-defence. They didn’t want their retirement attacked, what would they possibly do if forced to leave the bubble of Westminster? However, it may also have been an attack on the premiership of David Cameron, who seems to becoming under more and more pressure to become more right-wing and appeal to old style conservatives.

So, when it comes to Lords Reform both main parties have decided to play politics, while the Lib Dems just want to get on with it. It’s a shame. I mean who really wants a load of unelected people deciding the future of our country? I thought that we lived in a democracy but no. Democracy will have to wait; Labour and the Tories are playing politics.

Mr Blue