Thursday, November 30, 2006

What did you expect, Mr Bush?

The Washington Post reports that the Bush regime is increasingly blaming the Iraqis themselves for the violent chaos their country has descended into.

So, Mr Bush, you blunder with overwhelming force into a complex and fractious country and culture you don't understand for stated reasons that turn out to be totally phony; you bomb the hell out of its infrastructure; wipe out its functioning system of government; capture its (admittedly brutal) leader and put him through a blatantly unfair show trial; wreck the country's economy; set up a weak new government that has little public support and is riven by internal disagreements; refuse to listen to advice from either the country's neighbours or your own intelligence experts; and insist on "staying the course" when it has long been clear to everyone with any sense that you are steering straight for disaster. Then not only do you wonder why your illegal and uninvited invasion is not greeted with open arms, but up to 650,000 deaths later you blame your victims for their plight.

How much longer do we have to swallow this crap?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Fried(man) from Poverty

I have been reading with interest the adulatory tributes (such as this one in today's Hongkong Standard) to the recently deceased economist Milton Friedman. Certainly Friedman is worthy of note for his technical contributions to his field, which won him the Nobel Prize.

However, a far more dubious part of Friedman's heritage is the ideological underpinning his free market obsessions provided for the worst excessses of the Thatcher/Reagan era (which still lingers today), when greed, previously regarded throughout human history as a sin, was instead elevated into a virtue. The road to the Enron scandal essentially originated from the Economics Department of the University of Chicago.

Also dubious was Friedman's frequent citation of Hong Kong as the chief exemplar of the success of the free market. Certainly no one who lives here can fail to acquire a healthy respect for the merits of entrepreneurism, but I strongly believe that the biggest single contribution to the prosperity Hong Kong enjoys today has been the government housing programme, which over the last half century has lifted millions of people out of insanitary and dangerous squatter huts into clean, safe and affordable public housing. Today a third of the population still lives in public housing; at one time it was more than one half.

Could private enterprise have achieved this without government intervention? I doubt it.

And incidentally, the claim in a number of the obituaries that Friedman coined the saying "there's no such thing as a free lunch" should not go unchallenged. Certainly Friedman popularised it, but there is another claimant to its origination: science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein. There is no clear evidence as to which of the two used the phrase first; maybe it predates both.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lame Ducks, Orangutans and Albatrosses

America's long national nightmare will not be completely over for another two years, but much of the world will sleep more soundly now that the Democrats have captured the House of Representatives.

At the time of writing, the Senate race is still undecided, but there is a chance that the Repugnants will also lose control of the upper house, leaving Bush a lame duck for the last two years of his presidency (though no doubt still quacking loudly). I fervently hope so.

Meanwhile, there seem to be a lot of animal stories in the news today, most of them bad news. Sadly, the illegally started forest fires in Borneo appear to have claimed the lives of many orangutans. Meanwhile, illegal fishing threatens the albatross.

Even the human animal species is threatened by the greed and stupidity of the human race, with unregulated use of chemicals causing brain abnormalities. Why are we so damn foolish?

What the Fox...

Fox hunting with hounds was banned in Britain in 2004. So why are the huntsmen still riding out in 2006?

As Stephen Moss says, "I don't want to see a hare torn to pieces, or a fox. But maybe I could stomach some other quarry for the handsome, hard-working hounds. The parliamentarians who, it has been calculated, devoted 700 hours to debating hunting and only seven to Iraq..."

One thing I've never understood about fox hunting (apart from the obvious question of why so many people find cruelty to animals entertaining): rabbits eat crops; foxes eat rabbits. Why do farmers consider the fox a pest, when it rids them of an animal that really is a nuisance?

Instant Karma

A man who caught a mouse in his house threw the living creature onto a fire, whereupon the flaming mouse ran back into the house, setting it on fire and completely destroying it.

My sympathies are entirely with the mouse.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

One Small Step for Mankind

Our American friends will go to the polls today for the mid-term congressional elections (and you would have to be very naive to think that the timing of Saddam Hussein's conviction and death sentence, following a manifestly unfair trial, had nothing to do with that fact).

The Founding Fathers of the United States were not perfect - they shared many of the prejudices of their age in matters such as slavery and the treatment of native Americans - but they were intelligent men who recognised their own imperfections. Politicians themselves, they understood that politicians were dangerous and should be treated with profound distrust. In a young nation populated by many fleeing from tyranny in Europe, they had no wish to establish a new tyranny in their new land.

In their wisdom, these men devised a Constitution under which the political system was cleverly designed to ensure that no one individual or group would wield too much power. The federal government was given limited power over the states, and at both state and federal level, power was distributed widely. Legislative, judicial and executive powers were separated, with each of the three branches expected to act as a check on the other two. Later amendments such as the Bill of Rights and the introduction of a term limit on the Presidency further extended these safeguards.

This worked pretty well for a couple of centuries, but however brilliant the Founding Fathers were, they were not fortune tellers. They could not foresee that political parties would evolve from loose agglomerations of like-minded individuals into two fiercely partisan fundraising and vote-getting machines, both of them conspiring to keep independent candidates off the ballot. They could not know that economic power, localised in their own day, would become concentrated in the hands of enormous national and global corporations, enabling the federal government to regulate more and more aspects of American life on the grounds that they were interstate matters. They were unable to predict the ever-increasing power of what the last decent Republican President dubbed "the military-industrial complex", and the influence it could wield through lobbying and massive campaign contributions. They did not anticipate that a small number of mass media outlets would have the reach and power to convince millions of Americans that lies were truth. They certainly could not have known that advanced technology would one day enable the government to spy on the movements and communications of the entire population. And they did not expect that those charged with overseeing elections would abuse their position to gain unfair advantage for one party over another. or that Americans would record their vote by means of machines with negligible security provisions and no audit trail, most of them supplied by a corporation owned by a dedicated supporter of George W. Bush. Last but not least, the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen that the fear and panic engendered by 9/11 would cause many normally sensible people to abandon reason and logic for hysteria.

[Sorry folks, I don't have time today to dig out the links for all this stuff, but a few minutes with Google and you'll find abundant evidence.)

All of which has led us to today, when an evil, greedy and dishonest Republican administration with majority support in both houses of Congress and a generally compliant Supreme Court has been able to disembowel the Constitution, eviscerate human rights guarantees, sweep away restrictions on the kidnap and torture of anyone they consider an enemy, start an illegal war that has cost over half a million lives, devastate the environment in the pursuit of profit, and further enrich the already wealthy while making life ever tougher for the poor. (I could go on all afternoon with a long list of Bush's crimes, but that'll do for starters...)

I have no great hopes for the Democratic Party, which has been frankly feeble in opposition, but even the loss of a majority in one house would lessen George W. Bush's ability to stomp all over the liberties of the American people and the world. And that would be one small step back towards civilisation from the moral morass in which the USA is now sinking, dragging the rest of the world down with it.

This is one election that really matters.