The trouble with liberty

The traditional political compass for most people follows a main sequence in which the more right wing you become, the more authoritarian you are likely to be. And the more to the left you are, the more in favour of personal freedoms you are likely to be. This is something of a generalisation, as there are exceptions. Libertarians for example, tend to be to the right, but also fairly liberal in terms of both economics and personal freedoms.

More recently a lot of those on the right, often cynical of conventional party politics, have been jumping on the band wagon and declaring themselves to be Libertarians, or anarcho-capitalism or words to that effect. This is particularly true of those in the US Tea party or UKIP (the UK tea party).

However, as I will explore in this article, lots of what Libertarians believe isn’t terribly palatable to most on the political right. And if you genuinely are a libertarian, the worst thing you could possibly do is vote for the Tea Party or UKIP. For as we will see, if anything, UKIP and the Tea Party are actually the ideological enemies of libertarianism.

Immigration
Let me illustrate this point by looking at the issue of immigration. UKIP campaigned in the last election principally on the immigration issue, claiming that the EU want’s “unlimited immigration” into the UK, while UKIP plan to cap this. Firstly, this is not true, the EU is in favour of “softer” options to contain immigration (both internally or from outside the EU), as recent court rulings make clear.

But more importantly if you are a libertarian your political philosophy DOES endorse unlimited migration with even the restrictions we already have in place being scrapped. Think about it, what UKIP propose is to have a guy at the border in a uniform checking people’s ID’s and asking them their business and going through their things. That what someone on the political right would call “authoritarianism“. Meanwhile we have a bunch of faceless bureaucrats sitting in an office in London deciding who can come in and where they can live and what jobs they can get…or as Sarah Palin would put it “central planning“.

And of course all of these border guards and bureaucrats will need to be paid. One of my criticisms of the Tory policy on immigration is that they seem to want a harsh immigration policy, but not pay for the staff to enforce it. With the result that the UK border is as leaky as a sieve. Obviously UKIP’s policy would need a small army to enforce, and that would presumably mean a rise in taxes to pay for it.

And the libertarian position on migration is backed up by the Austrian school of Economics. This would take the view that restricting immigration represents the imposition of a trade barrier. Inevitably, proponents of this theory will argue, markets will simply find a way around such a trade barrier. Either by companies outside of the U,K with the power to recruit more freely, simply out-competing UK companies (who go bust). Or UK companies, tired of not being able to hire the staff they’d like, will move operations overseas.

In essence its not “foreigners coming over here and stealing our jobs” we need to worry about but “foreigners staying at home and stealing our jobs”. Far more of the UK’s jobs have gone to Asian manufacturing centres than have been lost to migrants coming into the UK. And most of the job losses to migrants have been low-paid, unskilled jobs, while the manufacturing and engineering jobs lost to foreign industry have tended to be higher quality and better paid positions.

This is why UKIP’s original founder, economics professor Alan Sked (yes really!), was very careful when founding the party to include clauses in its manifesto making clear that UKIP would not be anti-immigrant…of course once Farage (who was once paling around with Enoch Powell) came along, those clauses all went. Hence why Prof Sked dismisses Farage as “a dim witted racist” and UKIP as a party of “fruitcakes and bigots”.

I would idly note that I am not arguing for unlimited immigration, nor is the EU (as noted). Indeed those on the left would point out that the best way of protecting UK jobs is by making people in other parts of Europe (and beyond) wealthier, as that pushes up salaries abroad, makes people less willing to move and increases the competitiveness of British business. And it also succeeds in creating lots of new customers to shift our wares onto. Hence the importance of projects such as the EU.

After all, Ireland’s principle export a few decades ago was people, mostly to Britain. While we still have some migration abroad, its but a trickle of what it used to be back in the bad old days and Ireland is now a net receiver of migrants.

Those on the left would also point out that it was the destabilising nature of laissez-faire economics that caused the economic crisis in the first place (and thus created problems with mass immigration) and a return to a more regulated form of capitalism would probably prevent such crises in the future.

But I digress. The point is clear however, if you are truly Libertarian your position on migration cannot be more different than those of UKIP or the Tea Party. Voting for UKIP and endorsing their core position on migration is a bit like a devout Catholic complaining about how some guy in Rome is head of the church, and voting for Ian Paisley!

Not you’re Granny’s form of socialism
UKIP also wants to stop migrants, even those who have been here for years and paying taxes, from using the NHS or claiming benefits. Or to put that another way, they want to allow some lazy thieving chav to live on benefits, purely because his mother chose to drop him on British soil, while some hard working, tax paying migrant is denied the right to services his taxes pay for.

It is for these reasons that I argue that a more correct interpretation of UKIP (or the Tea Party) is not that of a liberal free market party, but it would be better to describe them as a party of “national socialists” or “third positionism”, as its sometimes called.

The term “National socialist” tends to be provocative, as those on the right get angry when they realise that you’ve successfully outed them, while those on the left point out that the sort of “socialism” we’re talking about isn’t exactly the sort you’re Granny (or Barbara Castle!) would recognise. I would point out that the term was coined by those on the centre right who tend regard any form of state intervention as “socialism”.

And UKIP’s recent advertising campaign in which Farage implores people to join his “people’s army” hardly helps. He seems to be unaware that the term “people’s army” has been applied to many other forces in history. Notably the German Volkstrum (a force of fanatical old men and Hitler youth members who committed various atrocities defending an already beaten Germany in the dying days of WWII, as portrayed in the recent film “Fury”), the East German People’s army, or hastily organised units of the Red Army who were sent off to attack the nazi’s in mass infantry attacks, often unarmed, by Stalin’s police state (incidentally, while these tactics are accurately portrayed in the film “enemy at the gates” the Russian’s rarely used these tactics by 1942). The result is something of an unfortunate metaphor with UKIP encouraging the public to become the equivalent of political cannon fodder for a pointless and ill-conceived cause.

Either way, the fact is that UKIP and the Tea party are anything but libertarian, they are in fact the opposite of this. As we will see they are in truth a party of authoritarian big government, central planning and more than a hint of nationalistic xenophobia.

The EU
Of course UKIP’s core policy is to withdraw from the EU because they “make up lots of laws”. However this is but one of many right wing myths about Europe. Actually, a more correct interpretation of the EU is that its job has been to harmonise laws and break down trade barriers. This is hardly surprising when you realise that for most of its history the people in the driving seat in the EU have tended to be centre-right (or occasionally centrists) politicians of the neo-liberal persuasion.

This is also why historically most of the opposition to the EU has, until relatively recently, come from the political left. The last time the UK voted on the EU it was darling of the Left Tony Benn who led the No campaign and Margaret Thatcher campaigning in favour of a Yes vote.

Certainly in a Libertarian world, the EU would be a very different beast. Some interesting articles by UK libertarians on this matter here and here weight the matter up from a truly libertarian perspective. They would in all probability prefer something more akin to the old EEC, before its democratic reforms. However libertarians would not be in favour of throwing the baby out with the bath water. As the reality is no organisation in the history of economics has done more to liberalise trade than the EU.

Grand theft Jesus
And as we go through the right wing play book of policies we see a similar trend. Take religion. Quite a few on the right in the US want to end the traditional break between church and state, arguing that the founding fathers didn’t really mean it when they put freedom of religion in the constitution. Well in a libertarian world there would be no link whatsoever between church and state, as this would constitute a trade barrier and a restriction on personal freedoms. More importantly, if the church is allowed to interfere with the state, then as history shows us that the state will interfere with the church.

In a Libertarian world, even the links we currently have between church and state would vanish. Links we have? Yes, I’m referring to the 52 days off a year for the Christian holy day and another 52 for the Jewish Sabbath, otherwise known as “the weekend”, plus a couple more off at Christmas and Easter. This represents a significant cost and inconvenience to businesses (just ask any shop owner!) as well as anyone who isn’t a Christian (you should see the look on some of my foreign student’s faces when they learn the uni will be closed and locked up and I’ll be on holiday for two weeks prior to the January exams!). So like I said in a libertarian world, such an arrangement could not survive.

Not so pro-life
To take another favourite of the US right wing, the death penalty. I always find it odd how they can be pro-life for the unborn, yet pro-death penalty for the already born. You cannot get any more authoritarian than allowing the state to legally kill its own citizens. And history tells us that authoritarian regimes have abused such laws to cling onto power (just look at recent events in Egypt). Hence why so many politicians in Europe, be they of the right or left wing, are all opposed to the death penalty, as they understand that this is the greasy edge of a very slippery slope.

Drug wars
And many on the right also favour harsh penalties for drug pushers. Again many want to put drug dealers to death. Unfortunately this is the polar opposite of libertarianism. They would argue that what you chose to put in your body is your decision, and the state “authorities” have no right to tell you otherwise. In a libertarian world ALL drugs would be legal.

And as I discussed in a prior post, the libertarians may have a point here, for the war on drugs is a war we are losing. Not because penalties aren’t harsh enough, or we’re not spending enough money. But because the drug laws and classifications don’t make any sense (which means they get ignored by many users) and anti-drug policies ignore market capitalist principles of supply and demand (you make drugs harder to come by, they become more valuable, so valuable that someone will take the risk of trying to import it in order to profit from the trade).

I would note that I’m not arguing in favour of an end to drug prohibition. I’d instead point to the success of countries such as the Netherlands and Portugal where decriminalisation of drugs and treating drug abuse as a medical condition has led to a drop in users and a drop in crime related to drugs. But again, if you are truly Libertarian you have no choice, you have to favour drug legalisation. This is an integral part of such a political philosophy.

Power…to the government!
And we could play this game all day, but suffice to say go through the Tea Party or UKIP manifesto line by line and you’re going to be throwing out policy after policy as incompatible with traditional libertarian thinking, or indeed traditional centre right ideology. Take for example UKIP’s policy on energy. UKIP want to swap to nuclear power while tearing down wind farms.

However, as I discussed in a prior post, the fact is that the power industry favours wind energy over nuclear, as far as low carbon energy options are concerned. This is despite the fact that the subsidies for wind power aren’t as generous as anything offered for nuclear. Indeed their reasoning has little to do with subsidies. As the power companies see it, the financial risks of nuclear are too great. Hence they prefer a mix of natural gas with as much wind, solar and other renewables as possible squeezed on around this.

So the only way Farage could have his way would be more “central planning”, i.e. forcing his policy through by effectively nationalising the entire energy industry. This is something the pro-nuclear Tories have resisted for what should be obvious ideological reasons and represent a far more interventionist approach than even those proposed by Miliband and labour.

The UK lacks the capability to actually build a modern reactor, hence the involvement of French and Chinese (state owned) companies down in Somerset. So UKIP would have to found some sort of nationalised industrial corporation to design and build the reactors, much like France’s Areva (a state owned French company who built the French nuclear reactors). And all this would have to be funded by public money. Keeping in mind the rate of building UKIP talk about would amount to tens of billions of expenditure on nuclear per year for several decades! So we’re not talking small change here.

And shale gas, another Tory/UKIP favourite, would require some sort of government support to fully exploit, particularly given recent price fluctuations and uncertainties. Coal too, as I discussed recently on my energy blog, wouldn’t be much better. Again in both cases more “central planning”, not least because both industries would struggle to compete against cheap imported gas and coal from overseas.

So the fact is that UKIP’s energy policy is anything but Libertarian friendly. It is in fact to the left of the labour party.

Falling Flat
About the only vaguely Libertarian policy you will find in the UKIP manifesto is a commitment to a flat tax, no doubt an entity left over from the Kilroy-Silk days.

However, a flat tax would only really work in a state where the government is reasonably small. This is why the only countries with a flat tax tend to be small tax havens with a relatively low rate of government spending (as they don’t have to maintain the large public sectors or expensive assets that states like the UK have to operate).

As we have discussed, a UKIP or Tea Party government would be anything but small. Hence a flat tax would mean a massive tax hike for the majority and a huge tax cut for the well off. Hardly a policy anyone, other than the very wealthy (a number of whom fund the Tea Party and UKIP), would want to see implemented.

Breaking the code
So all in all we have to conclude that UKIP and the Tea Party are not libertarian, not by any stretch of the imagination. Those on the right who go around calling themselves libertarians need to understand what they are signing up for, because it’s not perhaps the sort of polices most of them want anything to do with. And actual libertarians need to realise they’ve made some strange bed fellows.

It should also be remembering that racists and neo-nazi’s have a habit of talking in code. As they are all too aware how politically incorrect (if not illegal!) their views can be if aired in public. So keep in mind that it’s possible when some call themselves “libertarian” or a “right wing anarchist” on their blog, this is just code word for something else, which those who read certain blogs and take such stuff seriously will understand and decode. Of course it has to be hugely frustrating to those who actually ARE libertarians as they find themselves with some not entirely nice bed fellows.

But needless to say if you do believe in libertarianism then the one party you shouldn’t vote in the UK is UKIP. You need to find another party (such as the New Deal party founded recently by UKIP founder Alan Sked) who genuinely believes in libertarian ideals….or perhaps re-evaluate your politic views.

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January News roundup

The Neo Crusades
Let us review the effects of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo from a Jihadi perspective. Last week the paper printed off several million copies, all carrying new cartoons of Muhammad, versus a normal print run in the order of 60,000 or so. Obviously, many in the Muslim world are unfamiliar with the term “the Streisand effect”. After all, its very unlikely any more than a handful of people would have seen either the Jylland-Posten or the original Charlie Hebdo cartoons, had they not started making a big deal out if it. So in summary, short of the Paris terrorists going door to door through France, putting a copy of Muhammad cartoons through every letter box, one can scarcely think of a better way of scoring an own goal.

As I’ve highlighted before, the issue here has little to do with offence of Islam, not least because its questionable whether such cartoons or images are offensive (as Muslim authors do it all the time, as they have throughout history), but with the attempt by various Wahhabi preachers, more than a few of them in the pay of Saudi Arabia, to use this issue in to stir up trouble and further a particular agenda.

Take for example, in Chechnya where there have been large protests about the recent cartoons. However this probably has more to do with propping up the local murderous despot, than promoting Islam.

Meanwhile in Africa we have the news regarding the recent advances by Boko Haram. When I first heard of this lot, I thought from the name they were some sort of new age band. However it would appear their greatest hits include “papa don’t teach”, “burning down the house” and “make me your slave” :no:

It is in short, difficult to make sense of groups like ISIS or Boko Haram, or the various wannabe Jihadi types until you realise, the mistake your making is to put their actions in a religious context. Whereas its better to look on their actions as those of a band of murderous, thieving thugs, using religion to justify their actions. Indeed one can draw an immediate parallel between these groups and the worst excesses of the Crusades of the Middle ages. There is a certain irony to this, given that these groups often point such violence and injustice from the crusaders (several centuries ago!) as justifying their actions today.

The unfortunate reality is that many of those who went on crusades in the middle ages were less interested in serving god, but more on plunder. This was a time remember when the church was hugely corrupt, as portrayed in the book “The Pillars of the Earth” by the Bishop Waleran character. It was an era when the sale of Indulgences (paying the clergy to pardon you for some crime you’d committed) was rife.

Consider for example that the Fourth Crusade missed the Holy land altogether and instead was directed first at the Christian city of Zara and then later attacked….and subsequent sacked the city of Constantinople, the capital of the (Christian) Byzantium Empire. And this was hardly a one off. Numerous Crusades, such as the Wendish Crusades, the Hussite Crusades or the Albigensian Crusade were launched not at Muslim nations, but at other Christians, within Europe.

Now you may enquire why did the crusaders attack fellow Christians? And isn’t Southern France or Northern Europe some distance away from the Holy Land?….and in completely the wrong direction? Well its the same reason why the vast majority of the victims of Islamic terrorism are other Muslims or why the main target for ISIS, the Taliban or Boko Haram have been Muslim minorities within their territory. It was because the leadership of these groups wanted to steal something and the managed to find some Priest/Imam willing to sell his soul and come up with some lame-ass excuse to justify it, framed in a religious context.

And Speaking of gun totting loons….
And speaking of religious nutters waving guns around, in the US there has been a fierce reaction to an interview by Irish actor Liam Neeson in which he made several idle anti-gun comments.

Inevitably the Fox News and Tea Party brigade have gone nuts overs. Several US gun companies have threaten to cut off ties and end co-operation on any films in which he stars. And there’s been the usual calls from Tea baggers for him to be deported, as they tried with Piers Morgan when he made the mistake of using his rights under the first Amendment of the US constitution (that’s the bit that guarantees freedom of speech btw) to bring up the topic of gun control.

Without reviving the whole debate against gun control, I think this shows just how poisonous and corrosive politics has now become in the US, as the Tea party types response to anything they disagree with is to nosily shout it down. In essence they seem to think the 2nd amendment trumps the remainder of the US constitution, including the right to free speech and religion (if you’ve been following the anti-Muslim paranoia state side recently). One wonders what sort of ISIS like state the US would become with them in charge and the only right you have is to own a gun and a bible….in fact that does sound a bit like parts of Iraq or Somalia (maybe they should emigrate? ;D)

Consider that there are many Hollywood actors, many of whom appear in action movies, who are also in favour of some form of Gun control. This includes the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Silvester Stallone. And yes I am aware both are Republicans, but you see the Republican party they joined allowed for people to have differences of opinion. Such as favouring some reasonable measures to ensure that guns don’t end up in the wrong hands, or closing number of loopholes (e.g. gun show sales of weapons) or restrictions on assault weapons.

Its odd that every car in the US has a license plate and a registration tied to a licensed driver, and if the vehicle is involved in any sort of crime, the registered keeper is considered responsible, yet guns in the US are excempt from any sort of controls! :no: In effect its bordering on a religious belief for many NRA members.

Hence why my view would be, let everyone in America own as many guns as they want….except members of the NRA! As they are clearly the sort of loons we want to keep away from guns…or indeed sharp objects in general!

Paris Sues Fox
There was also news of the city of Paris suing Fox news over various derogatory comments made on the channel, claiming large areas of the city are “no go zones”. Much like the similar story regarding Birmingham, here’s the Young Turks latest report on that one, this Fox news claim was based on the usual half assed analysis from so-called “experts”.

Basically, they googled a map of areas in receipt of various structural funding. This generally applies to “deprived” areas (that said some of the areas on the map are quite posh and touristy), which in Fox news logic meant they were exclusively home to immigrants and of course all immigrants are Muslim terrorists, even those from strange places like “Poland” or “China” :))

Needless to say, the French have been caught between those deeply insulted by this, to others unable to stop pissing themselves with laughter at some typical dumb Americans. A satirical French News show, Le Petite Journal, has been mocking Fox News as a result (see here and here). Of course whether or not a city can sue a news channel is questionable, as many have been pointing out to the French.

But why do the Fox News reporters do it? Why do so many of these howlers creep in? Well because of what I mentioned above regarding Liam Neeson. Republican fundamentalism has reached such a crescendo that there is now no room for any sort of debate or dissenting opinion. Many of the staff at Fox news are scared out of their wits of saying something that might be considered “liberal” by their ultra-conservative viewers or bosses. Consider that they will get daily e-mails from their boss, Roger Ailes, setting the agenda for the day. And violating that will get you fired, even Glen Beck (hardly the sort known as a liberal!….he suffers from “nazi tourettes”) can get the shove if they fail to toe the line.

So in essence Fox news has become a bit like a Salem witch trial, whereby everyone goes along with the lie, or feels compelled to embellish it further, for fear that they might be next to be accused of being a witch if they speak out.

Ban Unemployed from Driving
UKIP have again had to rush out a statement, distancing themselves from comments made by a candidate. Indeed, they seem to be getting very good at this, as often now their press statement can come out before the candidate has even finished putting his foot in it.

Anyway, UKIP candidate for Charnwood, Leicestershire, Lynton Yates has suggested that the unemployed should be “banned from driving” and that this would “remove six million cars from the roads”.

Where to start with this one. Well firstly, there’s the assumption here that everyone who is unemployed is some sort of a scrounger and owns a car, which is of course not true. Many can’t afford to feed their families let alone keep a car, so I doubt you’d remove “millions of cars” from the roads.

And what about people with seasonal jobs? Should they be banned from driving just because its the winter? Or those whose job involves driving and therefore would need to keep a car and be able to drive to interviews, etc. I’m thinking of some of those driving gritter lorries right now (who may be on temporary contracts till the winters end) or drive tourist buses in the summer? Won’t stopping them driving make it difficult for them to get a new job?

And also, most of the cost of running a car is privately paid for. i.e. the owner pays for the car and its costs through taxes, insurance, garage costs, fuel, etc. There is a debate, particularly from the greens or oddly enough a number of libertarians, as to whether what we pay in taxes actually covers all the costs associated with motoring (road building and maintenance, policing, emergency cover, pollution, climate change costs, etc.) and this is prompting calls to change how driving is taxed, e.g. road pricing instead of petrol duty and car tax. However, what our UKIP candidate is proposing is a policy to the left of the green party.

Of course, this is the problem with a populist party such as UKIP, particularly one with a cult of personality built around its leader. They will make all sorts of insane statements that are tabloid friendly, but ultimately unenforceable in the real world.

Indeed one has to wonder whether these comments were more the reaction of Mr Yates to his precious party leader being caught in a traffic jam by nasty evil hobbits immigrants (who are of course all unemployed, terrorists over here to sell horsemeat, steal our jobs, claim benefits and drive around aimlessly in what little free time they have) last year.

Greek elections and EU QE
Perhaps the big story of the week however should be the news of plans for the EU to start a process of quantitative Easing across the Eurozone. This has produced a mixed reaction from economists.

I fear its a case of too little too late and all this will actually do is dilute the savings of many European pension holders. I certainly feel that some modest and temporary level of QE and the start of this crisis (as in seven years ago!) would have driven away the spiv’s and speculators hovering over Greece and other troubled nations, however, bringing it now is a case of closing the stable door after the horse has already bolted.

Of course why this is being announced now probably has a lot to do with events in Greece, where baring accident, Syriza a left wing populist party, will be in power come Monday. Obviously, the ECB is more interested in preventing a feeding frenzy from the spiv’s once speculation starts about Grexit.

It is important to put Syriza and their (likely) victory into context. The Greeks have applied a fairly one sided policy of austerity, rather than the more mixed “carrot and stick” approach I discussed has happened in Ireland or the policy of Obama in the US or the route taken by Iceland (which I might add has pulled all three nations out of recession and well onto the road to recovery). This has caused enormous levels of poverty and hardship in much of Greece. Also there is the long standing problem of corruption within Greece, which has always been high and which neither of the major parties have done a lot to combat it. So one can understand why so many are turning towards Syriza, even thought them might inadvertently be voting to leave the EU by doing so.

However, my worry with Syriza is that, like many populist parties (such as UKIP) they have committed themselves to a miss-mash of popular policies that are going to be very hard to implement. Inevitably they are going to have to do what the mainstream parties did and compromise, e.g. in return for getting their share of this 1 trillion euros of QE, the Greeks keep some of the austerity measures, agree to EU budget spending limits, etc. How popular that will be with their supporters is the question. It might drive them into the arms of the radical right wing, with parties such as the neo-nazi Golden Dawn.

Also there’s the “what if” scenarios we need to deal with. What if Syriza puts its foot down and says no any austerity? Or they simply default on all of the country’s debts? What if the “the Troika” refuses to offer any compromise on the Greek bailout? The danger is this could very quickly push Greece towards the exit door. Both Syriza and EU seem to think they have one another over the same barrel. The Greeks gambling that they won’t be forced out of the Euro for fear of what that would do to the value of the currency, the Troika convinced markets are less jittery now and thanks to QE will not be overly disturbed if Greece slides off the table and implodes.

It is as the Chinese say, a recipe for “interesting times”.

Fox News Facts

You’ve probably heard about the spat over a Fox News “Terrorist Expert” Steven Emerson claiming that Birmingham was now “totally Muslim” where non-Muslim’s “don’t go”. He went on to suggest the streets of London are patrolled by “Muslim religious police”.

Needless to say this was so far off base, even the Daily Mail got upset about it. It also provoked a response from Twitter, with the setting up of a satirical #Fox News Facts by some Bromies. Which claims amongst other things that the Queen is now Muslim (they show a picture of her wearing a a scarf :DD), who personally beheads infidels (picture of her knighting various people), all those Mecca bingo halls are actually Mosques ;D and even the buildings in Bromie now have to wear Burka’s (picture of the Bullring) :)).

Jokes aside, I would point out that Birmingham is in fact about 22% Muslim, with Islam now the second largest religion in the city, behind Christianity. So he’s only off by a factor of five….which isn’t bad by Fox News standards. Should you be wondering how such a howler made it on air, well unfortunately this is quite common for Fox News, and should serve as an eye opener for Brits should you wonder why some Americans hold such bat-shit crazy views. The reality is Fox comes out with this sort of stuff all the time, its just people rarely catch them at it, because most of the people watching are nuts enough to believe them.

Consider that Fox is already in trouble over racist comments made regarding the French Terrorist attacks, refused to show solidarity with fellow Journalists at Charlie Hebdo, and if you think Steven Emerson is a tad extreme, wait till you hear another Fox regular, Anne Coulter, who reckons the US should invade Muslim countries and forcibly convert the population to Christianity.

While most other News channels rely on experts with some sort of qualification or that you be an academic or something, Fox news will happily pretend you’re an expert if you’re white, Christian and one of the Good-olde-boys. I mean this is a channel that will interview screaming “Lord” Monkcton, UKIP’s science spokesman, while ignoring the fact that a) he’s not a lord and has been told by the House of Lords to stop claiming to be one and b) knows about as much about climate change and science as a two year old….and a very dumb two year old at that!

Also, as I mentioned in several prior posts, many racists often talk in code, a tactic often called dog whistle politics. However the easy time Fox News gives anyone whose views suit their agenda, means its all too easy for their guests to forget for a minute that they aren’t wearing their hood, nor are they at their local Klan gathering, but live on TV. And if you’ve ever overheard a couple of racists talking amongst themselves this is the sort of ranting you’ll hear from them. Steven Emerson has since apologised, claiming he was going on “facts acquired from other sources”, which sounds suspiciously like “what I heard some UKIP supporter ranting about down the pub”…

…Indeed in the wake of this debacle, coincidence or otherwise, Fox News have begun too seek out another dim-witted racist to act as its UK terrorist expert…so a case of straight from the horses mouth and cutting out the middle man then.

Of course, as the BBC’s Panorama pointed out earlier in the week, some radical elements within the Muslim community of the UK have hardly done themselves any favours. There is for example, the debacle over the attempt of several hardline Muslims to bring their teachings in to state funded schools within Birmingham. There’s the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby and of course all those British “Muslims” fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

As I’ve been saying for quite some time there is a effectively a civil war ongoing within Islam between Saudi Wahhabism and secular Islam, or indeed the traditional forms of Islam practised in various parts of the world. And as Panorama illustrates, it is radical Wahhabist preachers who will “indoctrinate and lead young Muslims to the door of violent Jihad and even open it for them”…then deny everything when the inevitable happens.

Mainstream Islam needs to start confronting this. And I mean outing this lot as heretics, whose words are far more insulting to Islam than any cartoon’s ever could be, and who hold views as bigoted and racist as any Fox News journalists. And who would, if they had their way, condemn fellow into a life of drudgery and poverty, just read the accounts of life under ISIS in Mosul, where even such necessities such as running water are lacking…..after they blow up all the Mosques!

While such realities do not justify Islamophobia of the sort seen on Fox or voiced by UKIP, however it is certainly adding fuel to the fire.

Je Suis Charlie?

Not really a lot can be said about this that’s not already been said. How exactly these three Jihadi’s thought, that by killing a bunch of cartoonists, they were striking a blow for Islam (rather than providing the French National Front with some excellent PR material), is difficult to fathom.

However, as the widowed partner of the editor has pointed out, this could have been prevented, had the police or authorities taken the matter a bit more seriously. Furthermore, to all the journalists sticking pencils in the air and saying “Je Suis Charlie”, ya and why was Charlie Hebdo singled out for attack? Because the rest of the journalistic community were too chickshit scared to respond to the death threats against Jyllands-Posten and didn’t join them in re-printing the cartoons of Muhammad. So all this pen waving and sloganeering is really just an empty gesture.

To me the obvious response is a show of solitary. Too give the two fingered salute to these Wahabbists. Every media outlet in the Western world should either post the cartoons of Muhammad from 2005, or perhaps the more recent Muhammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo.

Of course, I suspect the chances of this are pretty low, already several of the UK media outlets have actually mentioned that they weren’t going to publish the cartoons. Like I said, an empty gesture. One is reminded of the bit from Germany during the 1930’s “first they came for the Jews and I said nothing because I wasn’t Jewish, then they came for the trade unionists and I said nothing because I wasn’t a trade unionists….”

And incidentally, to any Muslims who say they are offended by images of Muhammad, well two points. Firstly, its far from clear that publishing images of Muhammad is actually offensive (or even insulting him), there are many from history, published by Arab scholars (why don’t the Jihadi’s work on a time machine so they can go back and blow up these guys? :))) or more recently from Iran. Also, the gist of why Islam discourages images of the prophet, is because this represents Idolatry. In essence, you’re supposed to be praying to Allah, not to Muhammad (who is merely the messenger). And of course murdering journalists (or blowing up mosques, or murdering Muslim women & children, as Isis regularly get up too) while screaming prayers to Muhammad, is about as insulting and anti-Muslim a thing you can do.

In short, Muslim’s have got bigger fish to fry right now than a few cheese munching cartoonists. As I see it, what’s going on in the world right now is that there has effectively been a Schism within Islam between Saudi Wahhabism and the traditional more tolerant brand of Islam practised by most.

And if of course you are a Wahhabist, and you dislike this western concept of “free speech“, perhaps you should consider immigration to Saudi Arabia. You’ll love it there, no offensive cartoons, no women drivers, women all forced to go around practically wearing a tent (even if it means preventing kids from leaving a burning school because they have no veil on), no free speech…although you might want to keep you’re opinions to yourself…and I mean don’t even type them into anything electronic or share them with friends or relatives…unless you want to disappear into some hole in the desert some night. And keep in mind that while the Saudi authorities like to pay others to launch terrorists attacks abroad, they get a bit stropy if any Jihadi’s bring their work home with them.

The lone gunmen
A more worrying line of debate is to ask the question of who is behind this. While I know they police are chasing two of three suspects, the attackers seem a little too well equipped and the attack a little too well planned for what we normally expect from the amateur wannabe jihadi’s. I’m reminded of how it seems eerily similar to the attacks carried out in the cold war by professional terrorists, such as Abu Nidal or Carlos the Jackal, often acting under the pay of various Middle East regimes.

Take the matter of the weapons used. Needless to say, getting ones hands on a AK-47…or a rocket launcher, ain’t exactly easy in the West, this ain’t Texas! Even in the seedier parts of Paris asking for such weapons is going to get you more than a raised eyebrow in response. There are certainly criminals who will sell such weapons (or so my friends from Liverpool tell me ;D). But they generally wouldn’t sell to Jihadi’s, as terrorists will of course inevitably use such weapons in a way all but guaranteed to draw the attention of the authorities, leading to an awful lot of heat being brought down on our villain, the sort of attention underworld types usually try to avoid (just ask Ched Evans!).

Now, I’m sure you throw enough money at some underworld villain, they’d sell you their first born kid and/or grandmother. However that’s my point. The sort of money and resources they’d need to pull this off, suggests someone was picking up the tab or helped smuggle guns into the country. Which suggests we’re dealing with a bit more than our lone gunmen. And the fact that Charlie Hebdo had published a cartoon of the leader of ISIS just a few hours before the attack does perhaps point the blame in a certain direction. although as always, I’d defer judgement until all the facts are in.

But sufficient to say, its very likely that if it turns out that the leadership of an Arab state (or those protected by such a state) were involved in this incident, then this could well represent an act of war, against not just France, but all its NATO allies. In short, I won’t be surprised if the oil price starts creeping up again soon.

Speaking of which…
And least we forget the only reason why the Saudi’s, a corrupt feudal despotism, is in a position to export terrorism, is because of its other great export – oil. Getting the world off oil, through greater energy conservation, improved public transport (96% of UK’s oil is consumed powered transport), encouraging alternative fuelled vehicles and renewables. This would, in the long term, strike a much harder blow against Whabbism than waving pens in the air…or smart bombing the crap out off some impoverished third world state.

Festive catch up

Great balls of fire!
For Hogmanany I went to see the Fireballs in Stonehaven, best free show in Scotland in my view!…well aside from when I used to live opposite a police station in Glasgow! There was a lot of hanging around waiting, but of course this meant I could try the local delicacies…such as deep fried Mars bar. Incidentally, there’s a dispute at the moment between Stonehaven and Glasgow as to who invented the deep fried Mars bar….only in Scotland could they argue over something like that! These culnary habits also explains why there was an ambulance on standby…not to deal with burn victims but someone getting a stroke from a deep fried mars bar!

Anyway, after the customary bag-piping, the “swingers” arrived (yes they’ve heard all the jokes, you could say I was at a swingers party :DD, the old couple are literally the oldest swingers in town :roll:…), they all went down to the dockside, having the balls lit just before midnight and parading out, starting to swing them just after the stroke of midnight, they then went around the high street swinging, while those of us watching tried not to get burnt! Checking your eyebrows are still intact is customary! After swinging with the fireball multiple lengths of the high street, they would go to the dock side and toss them into the harbour. With the last swinger heading for the water, the whole crowd would follow him and then sing auld-lang-syne, after which there was fireworks. Great night!

Carrauntoohil Dangers
I’d been back in Ireland for Christmas itself. It’s customary for a lot of people in Cork and Kerry to climb Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain, on St Stephen’s day (what brit’s call Boox’in dai).

It was pretty wet so as we made our way up the devil’s ladder, which is the main tourist route up the mountain . We were literally climbing a waterfall with the amount of water coming down the gully! Take two bottles into the shower? no I climbed the devils ladder! :))

However, as neither I nor my dad had been up this way for a while it became apparent that the devils ladder is getting downright dangerous 88|. There’s lots of loose rock and increasingly a lot of large boulders towards the top. Some of the boulders being easily car sized in some cases and not attached to the mountain any more. In other words the only think holding them in place is friction and the weight of lots of smaller rock below….which is gradually being eroded by walkers. Eventually, there’s going to be very large rockfall in the devils ladder and I won’t want to be standing in it when that happens.

You may enquire, why if it’s so dangerous isn’t someone from the national park authorities putting up a cordon, or taking some sort of action? e.g. via ferrata the route, blast away the larger boulders, etc.. Well because inexplicably the highest mountain in Ireland isn’t within the boundaries of the National Park. The summit and its approach route up Hags Glen is on privately owned land. The summit itself is owned by three local farmers, with the land below a mix of commonage. Naturally, its asking a bit much to expect a couple of poor Kerry farmers to take on this sort of responsibility or expenses.

As I pointed out in a prior post there is a major problem in Ireland in that much of the country’s wild areas are technically in private ownership, with no right to roam and big question marks about who is responsible for maintaining things.

There was, for example, another safety issue for several years further down in Hag’s glen, where tourists and walkers would have to cross a series of rivers. These crossings were very dangerous when the rivers were in a spate, and there was at least one fatal accident here. With the co-operation of local land owners, the council, Kerry mountain rescue and the Swiss crane company Liebherr (who operate a factory in nearby Killarney as well as owning a number of nearby hotels) bridges were eventually put up. However, this took a good few years to sort out and relied on the generosity and co-operation of many different groups. I would argue, the current situation is too pressing to wait several years.

One obvious short term solution would be to direct people away from the ladder to a footpath that runs up the flanks of the mountain just to the left of the ladder. However, finding the beginning and start of this path (often called “the zig-zag’s”) is a bit tricky. Indeed the only reason why my dad and I were in the devil’s ladder was because we couldn’t find the start of the zig-zag’s path, even tho I’ve been up and down that way several times before!

You may enquire, why hasn’t a sign been put up to direct people? Well several people have done that, one guy even went up a few years ago with a tin of paint and marked a few spots at key points, only for any signs to be taken down again, or marks on rocks washed away. There’s a number of hillwalking puritans who want to preserve what they see as the “wild” nature of the mountain and want to eliminate anything that distracts from that (such as signs or cairns, etc.). A big part of the dispute revolving around routes up Carrauntoohil is the opposition of this lot to anything, even though its needed to help preserve the mountain and protect from erosion that they themselves are contributing towards :crazy:

The excesses of these purtians can be demonstrated by the fact that one of the reasons we were up on Carrauntoohil was to see the restored cross on the summit. Restored? Yes, some flaming vandals went and cut down the cross a few weeks ago. Now while I’d probably kick up stink if someone wanted to put a cross up there now, the fact is this is a monument that’s been on the peak since the 1970’s, and it was erected with the support of the local community, nobody has the right to just go and cut it down. Yet this is the sort of antics we’ve got to put up with in terms of dealing with the devil’s ladder or establishing alternatives, as there’s some crack pots who will oppose anything.

Inevitably, I see two outcomes, either the council or the government steps in and does something about it. Or eventually there’s going to be a large rock fall, possibly leading to some fatalities. This will of course, scare away many tourists (impacting on the local economy) and perhaps lead to the local landlords withdrawing access to the mountain. Keep in mind that while farmers should be safe from being sued in this situation, the legal limbo that exists means some might not want to take the risk anymore if there was a major accident.

Teaching economics after the crash
I heard an interesting piece on BBC R4 recently about something of a student rebellion brewing in several universities over how economics has been taught in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Several student groups across many prestigious universities have accused their professors of doling out the same tired old economic models and ideology, even though a glance at any newspaper has shown how such economic theories failed and led to the biggest economic crisis of the century. Even Alan Greenspan now accepts there were failings in how neo-liberal economics models functioned, that contributed to the crisis, yet this seems to have sailed over the heads of leading economists in their academic ivory towers. And indeed, lecturer’s who’ve taken up the student’s position and tried to change the syllabus or propose alternatives complain that they’ve been ostracised by their colleagues and even lost their jobs as a result.

This too me is precisely why I’ve long argued that economics isn’t a proper science or subject and that universities or departments engaged should not be given the same credibility as the rest of academia, and indeed that they should be excluded from bodies such as the Russell group. I mean can you imagine what would happen if lecturer’s in aviation, ignored the lesson’s learnt from plane crash investigations and insisted on rolling out the same aircraft designs for 50 years without any changes?

Or how about if car designers failed to learn the lessons of car crashes? As this IIHS crash test shows, vehicle safety has improved massively over the last 50 years, or even just the last ten years, as this video (from Channel five’s “fifth Gear”) shows. And this has come about because in a “real” science such as engineering we challenge old ideas by critically analysing them and coming up with new ones. Look at Dyson, he took the humble vacuum cleaner and pretty much redesigned it from the ground up, often relying on new technologies such as CFD (computational fluid dynamics) to drive the design process.

Similarly to publish in an engineering journal, you need to have some sort of “evidence” to support your claims (experimental data for example) and your paper needs too discuss something unique or new, not trot out the same old clap trap (conference and journal editors know the engineering community aren’t going to waste time reading a paper that tells us something we already know). And outside of certain journals that deal explicitly in issues relating to politics (e.g. energy policy journal) mentioning of the P-word is generally discouraged. And even then, you must frame such discussion as part of a wider technical point.

Economics papers by contrast tend to rely heavily on politics (indeed one particular interpretation of politics), with little if any supporting evidence, other than a lot of maybes and wishful thinking. Reading an economics journal is like reading something published by the church of Scientology. And keep in mind, given that the physical laws governing engineering (e.g. Newton’s laws, Bernoulli’s theorem, Hooke’s law, etc.) are reasonably well established and proven (merely how we utilise them is what’s changed). The bar is set somewhat higher in areas such as physics, chemistry and/or maths, where new discoveries are being made.

So in short if the economics profession wants to be taken seriously, they need to realise that economics history didn’t end with the appointment of Margaret Thatcher and there is a need to reconsider old ideas and maybe try and come up with new ones. Otherwise, as things currently stand an education in economics is less an education and more a £9,000 a year lobotomy.

Another Greek Tragedy
Speaking of economics, we’ve got the story of an election in Greece, which raises the prospect of a euroskeptic party of the left, Syriza, coming to power. The fear is that this could ultimately lead to Greece defaulting on its debts and being kicked out of the Euro, if not the EU.

On the one hand, I’d argue that there is a need to shake the largely neo-liberal dominated EU leadership out of their reverie. As Robert Peston points out (and as I’ve been saying since this crisis started), the major threat to the eurozone isn’t economic, its political. Or more to the point a lack of political will to take certain actions. The threat of Grexit could well be what’s needed to do this, as well as promoting the idea that Dickensian policies of austerity need to be replaced with something more practical, humane and fair.

On the other hand, Syriza, like many populist parties across the EU, have made various outlandish promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled. It’s probable therefore that Syriza will be forced to compromise, row back on their promises, alienating both their supporters and the supporters of other populist parties across Europe. In short, a victory for them could serve to scare straight both the euroskeptics and the Junker Brigade.

On the other hand, what if Syriza don’t back down? Or what if the rest of the EU simply tells them to like it or lump it? This could easily see Greece chucked out of the euro and put on the road to economic ruin. It’s a fact of political history that a radical swing in one direction tends to result in the pendulum swinging to the other extreme, particularly if the party of one extreme screws up royally. So the long term risk is that a Syriza victory could eventually lead to the rise of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party.

UKIP forgery
A UKIP councillor is going on trial accused of election fraud, relating to forged nomination papers. Again, yet another example of the infighting, backstabbing, sex scandals and institutional corruption that UKIP is increasingly notorious for.

Germany discovers racism
Speaking of which, there’s been a number of protests by islamaphobic’s across Germany, revolving around a group who call’s themselves pinstripe nazi’s “Pegida”. The protestors complain about being “swamped” by Muslim migrants, notably refugee’s fleeing conflict in Syria and the Middle East.

Naturally, these protestors…who obviously skipped the bit of German history between 1932-1945…have been condemned by many leading German’s and derided in the German press. Indeed, in many cases the Pegida protestors were outnumbered by counter demonstrators. It was also pointed out to them that in the few cities were the movement seems to have any sort of serious support, such as Dresden, there are actually very few migrants. About 2.5% of the population of the city are foreign born….and only a fraction of them are Muslim, about 0.1%. In the area’s of Germany where there actually are large Muslim populations, such Berlin, Pegida see’s very little support, suggesting its more a case of a handful of bigots who don’t like seeing dark faces.

Even so, given what we’ve seen happen in other parts of the EU, it’s certainly worrying. But equally, we need to remember why these migrants are in Germany and not say Greece…or back home! The unequal spread of the EU economy needs to be tackled, which means raising up the economic standards of countries in Eastern Europe. Also, the failure of Europe to do anything about the Assad regime or ISIS, as well as the train wreck otherwise known as the Iraq war, is one of the key issues driving all these immigrants towards Europe. Tackling Assad and ISIS would be the best way of stemming the flow of migrants.

What the youth vote wants
Another interesting story from The Guardian discusses a poll by The Observer about the political views and voting intentions of many young first time voters.

While UKIP is high in the polls for other age groups, its clear the youth vote ain’t buying their racist rhetoric. UKIP poll at just 6% here, v’s 19% for the whole of the UK population, while Farage is the least trusted party leader at -51%. Young voters are also pro-EU at 19% to 67%. In terms of party support labour tops the poll at 41% with the Green party third at 19%, behind the Tories at 26%. The lib dem’s (aka the party that promised to abolish tuition fees and then yanked them up to £9k) are perhaps unsurprisingly at 6%. So clearly if the youth vote ran the country, we’d have a labour-green coalition, any EU in/out referendum would be an overwhelming vote to stay in…and the lib dem’s would become the liberal democrat (note lack of plural!).

That said, there is something of a traditionalist trend, with for example a large proportion of young voters supporting the continuation of the monarchy. Also devolution and the breakup of the UK tends to gain little support in this UK wide poll, in contrast to the Scottish independence vote, where a large majority of young voters voted Yes.

So I suppose there is hope for the future, we’ve just got to survive long enough for a couple of the old right-wing blowhard dinosaurs to die off…or lock up their zimmer frames the day of the election!

Windfall of a different nature
A wind turbine collapsed recently in Northern Ireland. Looking at the images, the reports of witnesses (who said that they heard grinding noises going on for hours…yet didn’t think to call someone it would seem :no:) and given that the tower appears largely intact with wind speed low, I would guess its an issue with the brake system failing (or a control failure) setting off a chain of events that led to catastrophic failure. Inevitably this has the anti-wind lobby practically foaming at the mouth.

Of course, it ignores the fact that all energy systems are prone to occasionally disruption, for example this last twelve months or so alone there was a major fire in a coal fired station, a power line failure (thanks to high winds) knocked out two UK reactors, forcing them to shut down for safety reasons, while issues with cracking in ageing nuclear plants forced several of them off line again in August.

Meanwhile in the US, Fracking has led to the contamination of the drinking water of many, not to mention the regular health problems and night-time explosions that come with having a fracking operation as a neighbour. The effects are such that leaks from US fracking operations can now be observed from space.

So like I said, its important we put this incident in context.