Musings

Nov. 30th, 2015 10:08 pm
chrishansenhome: (Default)
  • I got two kitchen implements today. The first one is a combination egg boiler and poacher. I have always been crap at poaching eggs and not much better at soft-boiling them. This machine does both perfectly (I tried it, readers). Plus, it is easily cleaned and doesn't waste water. The second is motorised salt and pepper grinders. The manual ones I have are crap, but these (after some wondering how to get them open to insert the batteries) work beautifully. The old wooden ones go to the Church Good-as-New stall.


  • There has been a lot of discussion in the UK about the UK joining the US and France in attacking ISIS/ISIL/Da'esh/IS in Syria. The Prime Minister is for it, much of the Conservative Party is for it, but Labour has been tearing itself apart the past few days over it. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is firmly against military action without firm and unambiguous justification, and has been placed under pressure by many of his supporters and Labour's national executive to require Labour MPs to vote against it should it come to a vote in the House of Commons. On the other hand, much of his Shadow Cabinet (ministers-in-waiting) intended to vote for military action, and would have resigned had he issued such an order to MPs. The airwaves have been full all day with pundits opining on what Corbyn should do. He finally decided to allow MPs to vote with their consciences. There will be repercussions on the Left of the party for this. There will be a debate and vote this coming Wednesday, and I'll bet the planes will be ready to take off almost immediately.


  • Back in the early 1970's I began to listen to shortwave radio. This was the end of the heyday of that hobby. There were hundreds of radio stations, mostly run by governments, transmitting worldwide in the only medium available for international communications at that time. BBC World Service, Radio Moscow, Voice of America, Radio Canada International, and many many others. Of course, where there was a hobby, there were hobbyist clubs. I quickly joined two of them, the American Shortwave Listeners Club (ASWLC) and SPEEDX (don't ask; I can't remember whether this was an acronym or not). Over the years I branched out into other "fields" of the hobby, and joined other clubs such as the National Radio Club and the International Radio Club of America (both devoted to listening to stations on the AM radio band), an FM and TV radio club whose name I forget, and the North American Shortwave Association (NASWA), which was the biggest and, arguably, the best of all of them. I spent lots of time listening to far-flung stations, getting acknowledgment that I'd heard them by collecting postcards back from the stations after reporting that I'd hear them with proof, and becoming involved as a contributor to the club magazines by collating reports of stations heard by members and getting them printed up, first by mimeograph (those stencils were crap) and then by producing the copy ready to print.

    At the end of the 1980's I grew tired of the club politics and more interested in the newish world of computing. So I quit the clubs, discarded all my back issues (I had bound a lot of them and I now kind of regret discarding them, but I was moving from NYC to Chicago and didn't want to take them all with me.), and disengaged from all my club friends except for a very few.

    At this time shortwave listening as a major hobby is dead. Most of the large international stations have moved to streaming over the internet, and have closed down their transmitter sites and sold them off for housing. A few still remain in places where it's difficult to get regular radio broadcasts or where the internet can't support streaming or doesn't exist.

    A while back I became curious as to whether any of the shortwave listening clubs still existed, and did some internet searching. Google came up with some sites, and I investigated (primarily for idle interest). What I found was invariably dead sites that had not been touched in years, in some cases more than a decade. I just looked at the 2015 World Radio TV Handbook, the authoritative source for information about world broadcasting, and they still list a lot of these clubs. So I shall do some more digging. Not to rejoin, mind you, but to satisfy my curiosity for a remembrance of things past.
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Well, we now have the results of the roller-coaster Labour leadership election touched off by the resignation of Ed Miliband after the narrow Conservative election victory in May. Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader by nearly 60% in the first round of preference voting. Tom Watson has been elected deputy leader.



The pundits are sharpening their tongues (and their pencils) to try and analyse this victory and predict what it will mean for the Labour party and for Parliament.

How this happened

First, the quick resignation by Ed Miliband probably wasn't necessary. He could have remained as leader and called for a leisurely leadership election. He resigned the morning after the General Election defeat and has pretty much disappeared, except for appearing in a picture sporting an incipient beard. He's kept out of the race and will continue as a backbencher. I expect he will follow his brother (whom he defeated in the 2010 leadership election and who decamped to the United States rather than remaining in Parliament) into either academia or some kind of think tank.

Second, the election rules were changed. Traditionally there were three electoral groups: The labour unions, regular party members, and Labour MPs. If you were a Labour MP, you got at least two votes (as a regular party member and as an MP), and if you were in addition a trade union member, you got three votes. This system was thought to be undesirable since the trade unions had a huge veto over the identify of the leader. To dilute the unions' influence, Miliband changed the system to a one-member-one-vote system. This has produced two difficulties. First, the unions have enormous influence and could sign up thousands of their members as individual members and get them to cast their votes. And second, Labour MPs no longer have much influence over their leader. They band together to nominate one of their fellow MPs for the leadership, but after that they can't influence the election very much.

Corbyn was only nominated at the very last minute by some MPs who were not on the left of the party, but who thought that Corbyn would add some "spice" to the contest and that the left needed representation on the slate. Some of these MPs have been kicking themselves ever since.

On the plus side, many people have joined the party and gotten involved in politics because of Corbyn's presence on the slate.

Other changes included the thought that anyone who paid £3 could become not a Labour member, but a registered supporter, and vote for the leader. Aside from the fact that members of other parties registered as supporters in order to vote for the candidate who would most benefit their parties, this led to an expansion in the number of Corbyn-supporters, who tend to be younger, more socialist in outlook, and more disaffected from the current Labour leadership.

The party tried to exclude people who they could demonstrate had supported other parties, but it ended up with political egg on its virtual face, as long-term Labour supporters who had resigned from the party but who signed up again were unfairly excluded. Some of them were prominent people (Jeremy Hardy, for example) and when they were excluded they went public.

What may now happen

First, I think that a goodly number of shadow Cabinet members (for the parliamentary-democracy-challenged, these are Labour MPs who "shadow" the government cabinet members and who are responsible for calling the government to account and serving as spokespeople for the Opposition's positions on matters within their own portfolio) will resign—some have done so already. Other prominent MPs will not serve with Corbyn.

Some of this comes from the fact that Corbyn has often rebelled against his party since he was elected. Demanding loyalty from his MPs now will be difficult. I predict he will be relaxed about this rather than forcing them to vote as he wishes.

The rest comes from the fact that many Labour MPs owe their preferment to Tony Blair or his Blairite associates. Corbyn is the antithesis of everything that Blair stands for, and during this campaign Blair (who has been pretty silent about his successors Gordon Brown and Miliband) said that anyone who votes with their heart for Corbyn needs a heart transplant. So no love from Blair toward Corbyn then.

What might be a positive outcome is that Corbyn is likely to be much more of a sharper questioner at Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesdays at noon when Parliament is in session. Miliband tended to look for sound bites in questions, and Cameron fielded these not only with ease, but with venom and even personal cruelty. Corbyn is a teetotaler, a vegetarian, and a Socialist who has not been aligned with his own party. Thus, his questions will tend not to go for the sound bite but be real quests for information, which Cameron will struggle to answer truthfully.

The EU Referendum, to come within 2 years, may hinge on how Labour comes out in reference to EU membership. The last time there was an EU referendum, in the 1970's, many Labour MPs, including many on the left of the party, were against membership for various reasons. Corbyn may not be in favour of continued membership, but I expect he'll allow Labour members to vote with their consciences rather than toeing a party line.

The next General Election

After the gerrymandering of districts that the Conservatives are planning in the UK, it's quite likely that Labour will lose even more seats in the next election. If Corbyn is not unseated in a coup by MPs, he will resign after the next election defeat. Conservatives may split after a referendum no matter whether "remain" or "leave" wins it. And that is the one hope of Labour: that the Tories will split around the subject of Europe and the next Parliament will be a hung one, with Labour being the biggest party.

One thing is certain: British politics will be quite interesting over the next 5 years or so.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Online these days all you hear about is Trump, Trump Trump. While the Donald is an interesting sideshow here that we can laugh at with impunity, the United Kingdom has its own primary sideshow, and it's pretty serious for us. Of course, I refer to the primary election for leader of the Labour Party. (Declaration of interest: I am a member of the Liberal Democratic party here.)

There are four candidates: Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper, and Jeremy Corbyn. I have provided links to the Wikipedia articles on each candidate, but I don't vouch for the authenticity of all the data in these articles.

The first three candidates are mostly "mainstream" Labour. That is, they were nurtured in their political careers by the likes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They were electable, the Labour Party had huge majorities in Parliament, and they were used to winning. Corbyn, on the other hand, is a self-styled democratic socialist. I would describe him as a more radical Bernie Sanders.



The problem came after the pasting that the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties got in the general election in May. There was a sentiment that the Conservatives would lose some seats, Labour would gain some,the LibDems would lose about 1/2 their seats, and some kind of Coalition would take over. In the event, Labour lost some, the Conservatives won some, the LibDems were almost wiped out, and thus the Conservatives formed a majority government (12 seats).

The LibDem leader, who had been Deputy Prime Minister, resigned from the leadership of his party, the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, also resigned. Thus was this contest set up.

Labour decided that, besides all their current members, people who registered as supporters for £3 could vote in the leadership election. The first three candidates above quickly threw their chapeaux into the ring. None of them are on the old left-wing of the party, so some MPs stumped up their votes to nominate Corbyn at almost the last minute.

Burnham was considered the front-runner at the beginning of the contest, but it quickly became apparent that a rush of new supporting members (something like 300,000+) was intending to vote for Corbyn. His rallies were overbooked, and Corbyn had to address the overflow crowds that had gathered outside while standing on a fire engine.

Corbyn's public stances were predictably left-wing: ease the legal restrictions on labour unions, continue quantitative easing by telling the Bank of England to print more money, and other policies aimed to ease the lives of the 99% by removing austerity economics from their backs. He would end the British government's Trident nuclear submarine deterrent (a very popular view among the young, the older Labour voters, and many Scots).

These policies alarmed the "New Labour" candidates for leader. Most of them were old enough to remember the 1983 election, or at least to have studied it in school. They recall the crushing defeat that Labour suffered under Michael Foot in that year. The Labour party manifesto that year has been called "the longest suicide note in history" It took nearly 15 years for Labour to regain power. They then went on to govern in the longest streak for the party ever: 13 years. They have attributed that to the charisma of Tony Blair, prime minister for 10 out of those 13 years. They are frightened witless that a Corbyn leadership would doom them to another 9 years in opposition.

So their first step was to question the loyalty of many of those who had joined in the past couple of months since the General Election. Some who had been Labour party members for years and who had resigned or drifted away came back, only to find that Labour had looked at their voting history and had invalidated their membership because they weren't considered real supporters. (Canvassers go from door to door here and record your sympathies for a party or candidate, if they can.) The fear was that numbers of Conservative party members and supporters would register as Labour party supporters to tip the election to Corbyn.

Corbyn, meanwhile, has galvanised people, especially young people and students. They have registered in their droves, and have become active in politics to an extent not seen before. This in and of itself should give the Conservative party chills, as their own policies have disadvantaged students and young jobless people. They do not have to hold an election for 4-1/2 years, however, so they feel they have time to neutralise this movement. Old Labourites, too, have rallied to the Red Flag in their thousands. Tony Blair repulsed them, with his refusal to renationalise the railways and especially his perceived lying to bring the UK into the Iraq war. Now they see hope that traditional Labour is back, with a vengeance.

The labour unions of course are all behind Corbyn, leaving the party open to the accusation that it's in the pockets of the unions. (The Tories of course deny that they are in the pockets of big business and big finance.) Several hundred thousand members of labour unions are also supporters of Labour, and several of the biggest unions have endorsed Corbyn. At the present time all the opinion polls suggest that Corbyn will win and assume the leadership.

So what is likely to occur if that happens? First, Corbyn will have difficulty assembling a Shadow Cabinet. It will end up being stuffed with left wingers while the rest of the MPs stew in their own juice. Second, the New Labourite MPs may vote to eject Corbyn as their leader and trigger another leadership election. The Tories will sit back with self-satisfied smiles on their fat-cat faces while Labour destroys itself in very slow motion. In this situation the new members and supporters will roar and Labour will tear itself apart.

One of the key requirements of a parliamentary democracy is both a Government that can command a majority of MPs and a Loyal Opposition that can hold that government to account. If Labour splits or becomes consumed with its own internal ructions, there will be no ability to hold the government to account. Thus the things that the Conservatives will do in the next 4-1/2 years will go unexamined and we will have only part of a parliamentary democracy. At the end of it we may end up with a Far Right party (UKIP), a near Far Right party (The Tories), a centre-left party (the Lib Dems), and a far left party (Labour).

The big issue in this parliament will be the referendum on our membership of the European Union. When there is no effective opposition, the Conservatives tend to fight among themselves, with the Looney Right moaning about Europe, the Centre desperately trying to neutralise the right, and a Relative Left that would like to go back to the 1900's with warm beer, village greens, and little old ladies cycling to Evensong. The Conservatives will be unable to present a coherent front on the question of Europe and thus we might find ourselves out of the EU in spite of ourselves. And so it goes.
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Up until 9:59:59pm last night, the smart betting was on a hung Parliament; that is, a Parliament where no one party had an absolute majority. The polls were neck-and-neck, and the Tories were very scared.

At 10:00:00pm, the BBC released its exit poll at the same time that voting ended. The Conservatives were on course to be the largest party in Parliament, with close to an absolute majority. Labout would be virtually wiped out in Scotland, going from about 50 seats to 1. The Liberal Democrats would also be reduced by around 47 seats, from 57 to 10.

I will declare an interest here: I am a Liberal Democrat party member, and I voted for our more than 30-year member of Parliament, Simon Hughes. For one of the few Labour gains, Simon lost to Labour. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, lost his seat, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, lost his seat. Charles Kennedy, the former party leader, has lost his seat. Nick Clegg, the party leader and Deputy Prime Minister, held on to his, but is likely to step down as leader of the party.

Simon helped HWMBO when he was applying for temporary leave to remain in the UK as my partner. The Home Office lost the application, and I sent a snail-mail letter to Simon's office, as well as posting the problem in soc.motss on Usenet. The very next day someone from Simon's office called me and asked how they could help—before they received the letter. A letter to the Home Office disgorged the application and it was approved. I joined the Liberal Democrat party and have contributed and voted for them ever since. He has been a good constituency MP and worked hard for us. I am sad to see him leave Parliament, and hope that he will continue to be involved in local and national politics.

For Labour, the wipeout in Scotland has also wiped out the shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander. In Leeds, the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls, has lost his seat. After the dust has settled a bit, it is likely that Ed Miliband will have to resign as Labour leader. And it is difficult to see anyone on the horizon who has the charisma needed to rebuild Labour in Scotland and shore it up in England and Wales.

For the UK Independence Party, Douglas Carswell has been returned (he defected from the Conservatives last year), and Mark Reckless has been defeated in Rochester and Stroud. It is not yet clear whether Nigel Farage, the charismatic leader of the party, has won in South Thanet. If he does not win, he has pledged to resign as leader. News flash: As of 11:00 am, Farage has lost the race to be MP for South Thanet to the Conservatives.

Now for the Conservatives, this has been an excellent night for David Cameron, who will be seeing the Queen at 11:30am to ask for permission to form a Government. He will probably have an effective majority of ten in Parliament.

So how will this shake out in governing the United Kingdom?

First, there is almost certainly going to be a referendum on UK membership of the European Union. Business is almost implacably opposed to an exit, or Brexit as it's been called. However, they have backed the Conservatives and thus, illogically, put our membership at risk. European leaders will be dismayed at Cameron's victory, as they don't get along with him very well and were counting on a hung Parliament or a Conservative loss to make it easier to deal with the UK. While UKIP will campaign, along with some Tories, for a Brexit, if the referendum is won for the EU then the "bastards" who so plagued John Major when he was Prime Minister and who have continued to irritate Cameron, will have to hold their peace. Europe will not compromise on the free movement of people within the EU and thus it is likely that, if the referendum is lost for the EU, that the UK will exit the EU and not accede to the EEA, the group of countries including Norway and Switzerland, which must adhere to EU rules without having any say in their formation. We will be cut off from our major markets and the economy will suffer greatly from movement of capital and companies out of the United Kingdom.

Second, the Scottish Nationalists will be catered to by the Conservatives without the SNP actually supporting them. This is to ensure that Labour does not regain a foothold in Scotland. Another Scottish independence referendum may be on the cards, but unless it's agreed early then the Conservatives will not permit it for at least the next 5 years. It's likely that the SNP will go along with this as power will continue to flow to them until the next referendum happens, perhaps in the Parliament after this one.

Third, the United Kingdom is likely to become a Federal state, with each country within it having its own Parliament and money-raising power except for England, which will still depend on the national Parliament for its laws. This may take longer than one Parliament to achieve, but the course is clear: to retain the United Kingdom as one country will require internal devolution.

Fourth, the rich will become richer and the poor poorer, as austerity has now gained a majority in Parliament. Privatisation will continue, with the NHS at risk of fragmentation and profiting from the misery of patients. There may be civil unrest over austerity, yet this will not change the course of the Conservatives. Those who depend on income support to keep themselves housed and fed will find that support being cut and cut again. Migrants will find not only government hostility to their presence, but bullies and know-nothings across the country will feel encouraged to verbally and even physically assault them.

Those who campaigned to punish the Liberal Democrats for joining in the coalition government have now paradoxically discovered that by punishing the LibDems they have let in a Tory majority that will continue on its course without actually having any brakes on its decisions in Parliament. I believe that these people thought that seats would pass from Liberal Democrat to Labour, but in most cases they have passed from LibDem to Conservative or SNP, thus guaranteeing a Tory majority in Parliament. And the students who punished the LibDems by voting for other parties will now find that they have almost inevitably made their own lot worse, with a tuition fee rise more likely in the next 5 years.

As a nation we have not solved the problem of how to function with a coalition government. Decisions that were inevitable but were against the manifesto of one or the other party were held against that party, with catastrophic results.

One of the things I have learned in my longish life is that landslides are not eternal except in Kazakhstan or North Korea. The Labour landslide of 1997 disappeared in 13 years, and has been turned into a minority, The LibDems were riding high after the last election and have now been clobbered all over the country.

So, the Conservative minority of 1997 has been turned into a Conservative majority in 18 years or so. However, it can be as easily lost as won. And, eventually, it will be lost. It's only a matter of time.
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You win battles by knowing the enemy's timing, and using a timing which the enemy does not expect. Miyamoto Musashi

The news these last few weeks has been dominated by examples of timing.

The Pope, the Pope, our only hope...


The Pope resigns—If Monty Python was right, and "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition", then we have the same feeling about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Aside from the fact that he is old and getting feeble, he resigned in such a way that the Conclave to choose his successor either has to be held very quickly, or dragged out until after Easter. He'll helicopter off to Castel Gandolfo on Thursday evening, and a few moments after he touches down, he'll no longer be Pope. We don't know what he'll be called yet. We do know that he'll be sticking close to his successor, living in a converted convent in the Vatican. There have been intimations that the result of an investigation into Vatican scandals, delivered earlier this month, provoked his resignation a day later. I think this is unlikely—the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rt Rev'd Lord Williams of Oystermouth, knew about the Pope's plan for resignation last December. But it's all a matter of timing.



Cardinal O'Brien resigns—The Cardinal Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, resigned after three priests and a former priest accused him of inappropriate behaviour toward them in the 1980's. He was scheduled to retire at the end of next month, but today the Pope accepted his resignation, effective today. He won't be attending the Conclave (even though he is still entitled to do so), and he is contesting the accusation vigourously, "taking legal advice", they say.

It's quite interesting that these accusations have lain hidden for 30 years, but come out just before O'Brien was ready to depart for Rome. Timing is everything.

O'Brien has been quite strident about abortion, gay marriage, and in vitro fertilisation.

He went on to argue that same-sex marriage is a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human rights(sic)," a stance that prompted angry rebukes from gay rights groups.

And from the link above, we have:

Church teaching holds that gays should be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." The church has opposed same-sex marriage unions because it believes marriage is a sacred union between man and woman.

I apologise for citing Fox News.

I am presuming that if "inappropriate behaviour" includes man-on-man sex, then Cardinal O'Brien is "intrinsically disordered".



Former LibDem official is accused of sexual harassment—I must here declare an interest; I am a member of the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Rennard was a very powerful Liberal Democrat official a few years ago, and was credited with ensuring that Nick Clegg won the leadership of the party and that many of the current MPs from the party were selected to stand for office.

However, he is now accused of sexual harassment of women who were either putting themselves forward for selection as prospective MPs or who worked at the central office of the party. He denies it. The current leadership claims that they never heard of specific accusations against him. The unspecific rumours they heard were left to a staffer to investigate, and nothing came of it.

So why are the accusations coming out now? Another LibDem Parliamentary miscreant, Chris Huhne, pled guilty to perverting the course of justice through getting his then-wife to take speeding points on her driving license. Her trial ended in a mistrial last week when the jury couldn't agree on a verdict and asked the judge some questions that were clearly legal nonsense. He resigned from Parliament, and this Thursday is the by-election to fill the seat. The timing of these accusations is interesting. The current leadership is quite embarrassed about all this, and the question of whether there was some sort of cover-up is still in the air.

So timing is behind three of the major stories this week.
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If you think about it, it all just makes sense.

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You can be certain that if people who are unfamiliar with social media try to use it to their advantage, they'll #FAIL. The Republicans (the US version, not the UK's own republicans) wanted to send messages to the President, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives and the Democratic leader of the Senate. The messages would oppose the President's healthcare law (which the Republicans have dubbed Obamacare.

Their idea was to train a webcam on a printer as people signed their petition. Each signature would trigger the printer to spew out a page opposing Obamacare, which would then be sent to the President.

You know what happened. People who signed the petition included such notables as "Weedlord Bonerhitler" and that perennial "Connie Lingus".

The Repugs are very good at perpetrating dirty tricks (such as robocalling voters to tell them that their registrations are invalid, or that their voting precinct has moved, although it hadn't) but not as good at taking them. The webcam was removed, but not before someone had captured the stream for posterior…er…posterity.
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This week elections for local councils in large British cities and in all of Scotland and Wales occurred, along with the election for London mayor and assembly. Do recall that the national government is a coalition between the Conservatives (to whom I shall refer as "Tories") and the Liberal Democrats (LibDems), with Labour, which lost the 2010 election, in opposition.

As is true in many countries, local elections in between national elections often give rise to a protest vote against the governing party/parties. And such was the case in the UK this week.

Up and down the country, the Tories and LibDems were punished, and Labour gained a number of important councils away from both parties. In Scotland, they held on to Glasgow council, which was a target of the governing Scottish National Party. The LibDems lost control of one council (net), leaving them with 6, even though their power base was built up through careful cultivation of local voters and a number of local council seats. They have dropped below 2000 local councilors for the first time in the party's history. The Tories lost many local council seats up and down the land, and control of a number of councils.

The trend did not extend to the London mayoralty election, however. Labour gained some London Assembly seats, but Boris Johnson was re-elected Mayor of London by 3 percentage points, 51.5% to 48.5%, with second-choice votes being counted. Voters got a first and second preference vote, and second preference votes for all those below the top two vote getters in the first preference were added to first preference votes to produce a majority. This is a somewhat cack-handed way of doing what the French are engaging in at the moment: their first round of Presidential voting produced Sarkozy vs. Hollande, and tomorrow they will be voting again between those two candidates only.

Now the Tories are wary of their victorious London Mayor, Boris Johnson, He has a colourful history, is considered eccentric, has had an, um, varied marital life, is wealthy, a classicist, and is considered by many to be boyish and handsome. However, national Tory politicians are afraid that Boris will challenge Prime Minister David Cameron for the leadership of the Tory party, especially if Cameron looks set to lose the 2015 general election. So his victory in London was seen as dangerous nationally. Boris has publicly eschewed any ambition for national office, in a radio interview, but one of the things that politicians do all the time is change their minds about running for various higher offices, and I would not be surprised if Boris reappears on the national scene either before, or just after, the next general election. After all, he is the one politician in the United Kingdom who has a personal mandate from voters of more than 1 million votes. It would be natural for him to segué back into Parliament.

His opponent, Ken Livingstone of the Labour Party, has had more than 30 years in local and national politics. He was leader of the London County Council (the forerunner of the London government of today) during the Thatcher years, and so enraged the Iron Lady that she abolished the LCC rather than endure his public taunts from across the Thames. He slid into Parliament as MP for Brent during the 80's and 90's. When the Mayoralty was created in 2000, he had so alienated Labour that they did not nominate him for Mayor, as he had hoped. So he ran as an independent, and won. Blair & Co. held their noses and welcomed him back, and he won re-election in 2004.

Livingstone also has a colourful personal life. He has 5 children from several women, to not all of whom he was married. He is broadly favourable (in my opinion) to LGBT rights, but also invites some Muslims who are homophobic and anti-Semitic to speak in London meetings under his control. He has himself referred to a paparazzo who was following him around as a "concentration camp guard", and suffered sanctions because of that. He is a newt-fancier, thus giving rise to lots of humourous items in the opinion columns along with funny political cartoons.

He found losing to Boris quite a blow in 2008, and has been quietly running for the election ever since. He was chosen as Labour's candidate last year, over several very qualified politicians, one of whom, Oona King, is someone for whom I have a lot of respect. But Ken Livingston, like Marmite, is one of those politicians who is either hated or adored by voters. He carries a lot of baggage along with him, and has recently been in the news because he has used a company to receive speaking fees and book royalties, so that he could pay his wife as his researcher along with other part-time staff. The side effect of this is paying taxes at a low corporate rate, not a higher personal rate. He has indeed paid all the taxes for which he is personally and corporatively liable; however, his opponents smacked him hard over this, calling it tax evasion but ignoring that other politicians do exactly the same thing, including (I believe) one B. Johnson.

Now you might expect that, given the national trend toward Labour, Ken might have squeaked through to City Hall yet again. He didn't, although his defeat was much narrower than the pollsters expected. Why is this?

I contend that Boris did not win the election, Ken lost it. Through having a "history", through raising doubts about his fiscal probity regarding taxation, and through generally being a rather overexposed and tired figure, Ken lost the election that Labour might have won under a vibrant relatively new candidate such as Oona King. Alas, we'll never know this time around. There's always 2016, though.

And finally I turn to the party to which I have the pleasure of belonging, the Liberal Democrats. In elections before 2010, the Liberal Democrats benefitted from midterm protest votes from whichever side was in government. However, for those who wanted to protest in 2012 there was only one major party for which to vote: Labour. And voters (those who bothered to vote; turnout was in the high 30%s, which is low for an election here) took advantage of that opportunity and voted Labour in their thousands, protesting against both Tory and LibDem candidates, but smacking the LibDems a bit harder. Hundreds of LibDem councillors lots their seats.

In London, their mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, who (in my opinion) was the best qualified of the three major candidates through his experience as a senior police officer, was beaten down into 4th place by the Green candidate. They lost 1 London Assembly member, to Labour's gaining 4 and the Conservatives losing 2, including one of Boris's Deputy Mayors.

Nationally the troglodytes in the Conservative party are blaming the bad result on Cameron's relatively liberal social policies, such as support for same-sex marriage. Wrong. BZZZT! You're out. People do not generally vote down people on social issues here. It's the terrible economy, mired in a double-dip recession, that did for the Tories. Being known as the Nasty Party, slapping taxes on grannies and hot Cornish pastys while lowering taxes for fat cats, is not going to be a vote winner generally. Blaming it on Cameron's generally pro-European-Union-business attitude is also stupid, but we have come to expect that from some of the receding-jawed over-bred toffs who sit on the Government benches and for whom any mention of Europe calls forth foaming-mouthed denunciations. And as for the LibDems, being associated with the Nasty Party tarred them with that nasty brush, like stepping in a pile of dogshit before going to the Queen's garden party, and stubbornly refusing to notice the odour rising from your shoes.

So, all in all, a bad result for the Tories, a disastrous one for the Liberal Democrats, and a hopeful one for Labour, whose national leader, Ed Miliband, has come in for a lot of criticism lately for a perceived charisma-deficit and for not being his brother, David, who was the favourite of Labour politicians for the leadership in 2010 but who was defeated in the contest. Now that he has a national victory under his belt, he needs to concentrate on putting forward credible national policies to deal with the debt, to deal with the recession, and to make Britons feel like their government cares about them. If he can do that, he'll be striding into Number 10 Downing Street in 2015. If that were to happen, a very savage war would break out in the Conservative Party which might result in Cameron being propelled out of the leadership by the massed feet of the reduced band of Tory MPs and one B. Johnson, who says publicly that he'd really rather not be in Parliament because he now has the job he really loves, being propelled into it.
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Simon Hoggart in the Grauniad made an observation yesterday that was quite interesting.

To quote:

…once the media decide on the "narrative" about a government, it is as easy to shift as it is to turn an oil tanker through 180 degrees on a stormy sea. Journalists and broadcasters decided that the Major government was sleazy, then that Blair told terrible porkies, and are in the process of deciding that this lot are comically inept in every field, from kitchen suppers and emergency petrol storage to Cornish pasties. And once that happens, once the press decides that it's dealing with the gang that couldn't shoot straight, the perception is almost impossible to shift.

Note for USans and others: "Porkies" is rhyming slang for "lies", as in "porky pies=lies".

This is true in the US as well, but sometimes only in retrospect. Nixon, after his resignation, was seen as a liar, bigot, and sleazeball, and so was his entire administration. This glossed over some of his achievements, such as the rapproachment with China. Ford was seen as a stumblebum who had suffered too many knocks to the head while playing football. However, his achievement was to stabilise the country after the general disruption to life of the Watergate scandals.

Jimmy Carter was seen as an amiable Southern gentleman farmer who didn't quite get it. (Remember the "fireside chats" with him wearing a sweater rather than turning up the thermostat?) Reagan was the Nation's Grandfather who was so old he napped in the afternoons, talked a small government but drove up the national debt to record levels. Bush the First was a patrician who hated broccoli and had no idea what a supermarket scanner was—seriously out of touch with little people. Clinton was a hillbilly who couldn't keep his zipper closed, but presided over 8 years of surpluses and was a very shrewd lawyer. Bush the Second was so stupid that as the joke said when his library burned down he rued the fact that both colouring books were lost, and he hadn't even finished one of them. He reacted slowly to 9/11, and was the warmonger who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, thus bequeathing problems to his successor. We're still too close to Bush's time to see what the truth behind the generalisation was, and I wouldn't want to speculate on Obama's repute just yet. We're still in the middle of it.
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This has been a pretty bleak week-and-a-half in politics. It started on Wednesday 21st April, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne (a millionaire and the heir to a baronetcy, eventually) gave his third Budget speech.

Budget Day in Parliament is surrounded by traditions dating back to the 19th Century. Up until relatively recently the details of the budget were kept secret until the Chancellor started speaking at 12:30pm, after a somewhat anemic Prime Minister's Questions, for on Budget Day the PM is definitely second-fiddle. This time, though, some of the details of the Budget were leaked beforehand, but not the parts that have caused the Government the most grief.

First was the so-called "pasty tax". There has been an anomaly in the VAT (value-added tax, a kind of sales tax on steroids) for hot food. VAT was charged on restaurant meals, but not on hot food to be taken away to eat elsewhere. Osborne announced that, from the beginning of the fiscal year (I believe it's April 2nd this year) VAT would be charged on food from shops and stalls which was served at a temperature "higher than the ambient temperature". This was meant to catch items like Cornish pastys which are normally served up hot at a stand, or sausage rolls sold at chains such as Greggs the Baker.

As soon as the Chancellor was finished speaking, questions began to be asked. "Ambient temperature" was thought to be quite an odd definition, as if it were a hot day it's likely that the sausage rolls might be cooler than the outside. Did that mean that the VAT should be charged or not depending on how hot it was outside? Cornish pasty shops (which have proliferated in the past ten years or so) warned that they would be forced to close if VAT of, say, 50 pence (around 75 cents) were to be charged on a £2.50 pasty.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, tried to defuse the situation. When asked when was the last time he'd eaten a pasty, he replied that he'd recently had one at Leeds railway station, and very good it was, too. Of course, the local press went to Leeds station and discovered that the last pasty shop in the station had closed months ago (and Cameron hadn't been to Leeds in a while) and the last Cornish Pasty stall had closed several years ago. So, in his attempt to be seen as a man of the people, Cameron actually revealed that he wasn't very populist after all.

It seems likely that this charge will be disputed. It seems that if the pasty is sold cold, but facilities (such as a microwave) were available in the shop to heat it up, VAT won't be payable. So all the money that Cameron and Osborne counted on to come in from hungry working-class Brits may be lost if the pasty shops and stalls invest in a small microwave.

Second, Osborne forgot Rule #1 in politics: Do Not Increase Taxes or Reduce Payments to Old People. As in the US, there has been an increased exemption on income taxes for old age pensioners here. Osborne promised to increase pensions and remove this exemption. Of course, the newspapers correctly divined that this was a slight on older people, and started to call it the "Granny Tax". When Rule #1 is broken, the oldsters stop voting for those who broke it. I suspect that Cameron, Osborne, & Co. are betting that enough oldsters will kick off or be forgetful by 2015, when the next election is due. I also suspect that the news media won't allow the oldsters to forget it (they can't do much about old people dying, of course…)

Third, the top tax rate for people making over £150,000 a year was reduced from 50% to 45%. As Cameron, Osborne, & Co. are fairly wealthy, this was correctly diagnosed as taxing the poor (pasty-eaters and poor grannies) to give tax-breaks for the rich (who wouldn't know what a pasty looked like, keep their grannies well out of sight, and make squillions). The newspapers were chortling in their joy.

So the newspapers were full of this for a few days, with the commentators slavering over the budget. Then Sunday rolled around.

The Sunday Times reported that the Conservative Party treasurer, Peter Cruddas, had been stung by people posing as wealthy UK expat representatives of a foreign company. He had said that a donation of £100,000 was chicken-feed, while one of £250,000 (US$393,116 at current rates) would get you a private dinner in the Prime Minister's flat at Number 10 Downing Street, with pictures and perhaps with Mrs. Cameron there as well whipping up the potatoes.

What a gift, not only to the newspapers, but to the Labour Party. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, immediately demanded a list of those who had had dinner at the PM's flat. The Conservatives wanted a list of all the labour union leaders who had access to Ed Miliband and who donate millions to Labour. The PM bleated that most of his dinner guests, while being donors, were also personal friends, and wasn't he entitled to have friends over for a pasty or a sausage roll? Oh, and Peter Cruddas resigned on Monday. The damage had been done. Fat cats were paying for access to the Prime Minister. Worse, the contribution that the stingers proposed would be highly illegal under UK election law, but Cruddas told them that there were ways of getting around that requirement. How many other contributors had given money illegally, asked Labour.

And this was only five days. Worse was to come.

This week the UNITE union, which represents drivers of petrol delivery tankers (=US gasoline tankers), voted to strike. The leadership of the union was leaning towards a strike over the Easter holiday. In the UK, the Easter holiday is a traditional travel time, with people visiting their grannies (who will be so impoverished by their tax increases that they won't be able to offer them a pasty) and driving a lot. The possibility of a strike raised the spectre of people not being able to drive to their granny's place, or to the airport to catch a plane to see Granny.

The Government put forward Francis Maude, the Cabinet Officer minister, to speak on the problem. Mr Maude told motorists they should keep a jerry can in the garage to cope with a potential fuel shortage, and top up their gas tanks. This was widely reported in the newspapers.

The fire brigades were aghast. The rules on keeping gasoline on private premises are strict. A jerry can holds around 20 liters of gasoline and is made of metal. However, if you want to keep gasoline in your UK garage you are allowed only two plastic containers holding up to 5 liters apiece. The fire fighters went public with their information and the government hastily amended its advice. Too late.

A 46-year-old woman, who was trying to help her daughter who was out of money and gasoline, tried to decant fuel from a jerry can into a glass jug in her kitchen. The oven was on at the time. You can guess the rest. The woman suffered burns over 40% of her body when the gasoline fumes ignited and set her clothing on fire. She is now in hospital, and we hope she will recover fully.

The Government was caught napping on this one. Besides the duff advice on storing gasoline, long queues formed at gas stations, which promptly ran out of fuel, even though the strike hadn't even been called yet. Fights broke out in places. Keeping gas tanks topped up meant that, two days ago, the UK pumped 150% of a normal day's supply of gasoline.

The newspapers and some politicians yelled for Francis Maude's head. The Government rescinded its advice. Worse was to come—the UNITE union called off any potential strike over Easter.

The Conservatives tried to get Labour to condemn the strike, which was unlikely given the fact that UNITE is a large bankroller of the Labour Party. Ed Miliband said that a strike would not be a good thing and urged both sides to get around the negotiating table. Grown-up words from Lbour, for a change.

The news was not all rosy for Labour, however. Elections here are normally on a Thursday, and a byelection in Bradford, a northern city that has a large number of Muslim residents, had been called to replace a Labour MP who had to resign on health grounds. The seat has been a Labour one for more than 40 years.

However, George Galloway, a maverick politician here in the UK who was kicked out of Labour for protesting against the Iraq war in 2003, and who beat a Labour candidate in East London in 2005, stood for the Bradford seat. He turned a safe Labour seat into a huge Labour rout. He won by more than 10,000 votes.

Galloway was carried in trumph on the shoulders of his supporters out of the counting hall at 3am. The Labour candidate, who had taken victory somewhat for granted, left the counting hall without making the traditional concession speech. He hasn't surfaced since; I'll bet he's stinging a bit. Galloway took a victory tour the next day in an open-top double-decker bus, where the good citizens of Bradford West cheered as he passed. This is the first time that the official Opposition has lost a byelection for decades. Now Galloway, who has been on Big Brother, and was famously filmed in a leotard pretending to lick cream out of a woman's cupped hands, and who was suspended from the House of Commons for unparliamentary behaviour a while back, will return to London as an MP. (US readers may recall that Galloway appeared before a Senate committee that had accused him of oil profiteering in Iraq and wiped the floor with them.)

Labour hasn't come up with a good reason for losing yet. The Respect Party, which Galloway founded, is now represented in Parliament once again. They are unlikely to gather more MPs, as I believe Galloway's larger-than-life persona is responsible for his big win, rather than any organised opposition to the Government. But Gorgeous George will enliven the House of Commons more than even Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover, has done for the past 42 years.

What's next? Who knows? Parliament is in recess now for Easter, but the crises will still roll on. I shall be in the US from Wednesday until the 19th of April, so I hope nothing important happens until I'm back. I'd hate not to have a front seat for the festivities.
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…comes from Susan via Fr. MadPriest:

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We've been here before, of course. In many countries, and in many situations, politicians who are gay or bi feel the need to conceal this fact in order to be elected. One might remember Senator Tapper McWidestance, the Idaho senator who was caught soliciting in a men's lavatory at Minneapolis airport. Senator McWidestance…er…Craig repeatedly denied he was gay, in spite of a large body of evidence that pointed to a history of involvement with rent boys and the like.

The Secretary of State for Defence in the coalition government, Dr. Liam Fox, is married. To a woman. His best man, a gentleman named Adam Werritty, has been a close friend for years. Mr. Werritty handed out a business card saying that he was an "Advisor" to Dr. Fox.

The news broke last week about Mr. Werritty's connection with Dr. Fox, and the Tories formed a circle firing outwards. Werritty was not an official of the government, was not paid by the government, and was most definitely not an advisor to Dr. Fox.

However, Werritty has been claiming that he was acting for the Defense Secretary's office when booking hotel rooms in Dubai. He has been taking many trips with the Defense Secretary, and has been present at official meetings (there is photographic evidence). He has no current visible means of support, despite living in a £700,000 flat in London (with a female flatmate, it should be said). He was the director of a charity called Atlantic Bridge that was set up by Dr. Fox, and has now been wound up.

Atlantic Bridge, according to another article, has links to the Tea Party in the United States. So you Americans are also concerned in this.

And, finally, this morning it has been revealed that when Dr. Fox's home was burglarised last year, a man was staying in his flat with Dr. Fox. The man was an overnight guest, says Dr. Fox, and was not Adam Werritty.

Now, taken separately, all these facts would be innocent. And an interview with a political analyst on BBC Radio 4's Today program just now suggests that the innocent explanation was that Dr. Fox felt that he was isolated in the government, and that civil servants were undermining him. In those circumstances, it was only natural that someone that Dr. Fox trusted (ie, Mr. Werritty) would be tapped to assist him in talks with foreign officials and defense companies worldwide.

So we have an impasse. Dr. Fox is being prevented from doing his proper job by the drip-drip-drip of information and, to be frank, gossip that is appearing in the news media. I think that he will end up having to resign because the news media will make it impossible for him to evade or wave off these accusations. If he is not gay, the gossip is malicious and wrong. However, in politics appearance is everything. If it appears that a politician is dissimulating about his own personal circumstances in any way, he (it's often a male politician, but not always) can wave goodbye to his political career.

I would not venture an opinion as to Dr. Fox's sexual orientation. And the assumption that a person is straight unless otherwise specified is still very powerful. But I'm disturbed that politicians seem to think that the possession of a private life (which is important) means that they can separate that private life from their public persona.

Honest integration of one's private and public lives is a good thing. It means that when asked a question about something in one's personal life, a person can answer honestly and truthfully. There is no need to go and hide something just because it's at odds with one's public life. There would be no need to conceal anything, and the news media would have to go find gossip elsewhere.

Hackgate

Jul. 18th, 2011 09:55 pm
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I wonder why no one has coined the name "Hackgate" for the group of scandals currently convulsing the United Kingdom. You will probably be aware that News International's first UK newspaper, the News of the World, is now defunct, closed by the company because various reporters had enlisted the services of private investigators and computer experts to hack into the voicemail messages of various people, from the Duke of Cambridge down to a schoolgirl who was missing and later found murdered. In the latter case, the hackers deleted some voicemails from the schoolgirl's mobile phone so that more messages could be left. This gave her parents hope that she was still alive—a hope which was sadly mistaken. The Metropolitan Police arrested a reporter and an investigator a few years ago for hacking into the Royals' mobiles, jailed them and took their notes, which they promptly filed in the police equivalent of the bin.

After other people determined that they had been hacked, sued the News of the World about it, and had large monetary settlements from the Murdochs, pressure grew on the police to reinvestigate what they had characterised as a small-scale crime, stopping at the two people who were convicted. Lo and behold, the police revealed that they'd retrieved 11,000 pages of notes from their bin, and were busily contacted everyone mentioned there to warn them that their phones may have been hacked.

The editor of the NoTW when the original hacking case was prosecuted had quit. It wasn't his fault, mind you; these were rogue reporters. But the editor was ultimately responsible for the actions of his reporters, and resigned. Later on the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, one David Cameron, took the editor, one Andy Coulson, on as his Director of Communications. Then Mr. Cameron kind-of won the election in May 2010, and Andy Coulson became the government's Communications Director. When this second group of hackings came out, Coulson resigned again.

Various personnel of the NoTW and News International have resigned, including Mrs. Rebekah Brooks, once editor of the NoTW and until last week the CEO of News International, and several other long-serving minions of the Murdoch family business. Father Rupert, son James, and Mrs. Brooks are all going to testify in front of a Parliamentary Committee.

Various personnel of the Metropolitan Police, including John Yates, the Assistant Commissioner who originally said that there was nothing further to investigate but who hired a former News International minion as a PR flack and then discovered these 11,000 pages of notes (Surprise!), resigned today. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Met, resigned yesterday. And these are not the last resignations, I'm certain.

A judicial investigation has been set up and that will get down towards the bottom of the cesspit.

The Grauniad has been keeping the fire stoked under these people for the past couple of years, off and on. If you want more detail, the Guardian is the place to go.

Hack is the UK slang term for a newspaper reporter, and hacker is a term that you should all be familiar with. Thus, Hackgate. I suppose that few people now remember those heady days of 1973 and 1974 when the break-in at the Watergate Apartments office of the Democratic National Committee, and the Congressional investigation into it, were at the top of the TV charts. We used to watch every afternoon, hanging on every word that dripped, honeylike, from Sam Ervin's mouth, and cheering on Barbara Jordan. Since then nearly every political scandal has gained a name "{Something}gate", except for this one. Well, I'm going to refer to it as Hackgate and that's final.

Of course, the scandal still has months, maybe years to run. More scalps will be collected, more resignations tendered, more revelations will titillate us. But what will come out of all this?

First, the tendency of the UK tabloid press to do anything (legal or otherwise) to get a story, no matter how trivial, titillating, or privacy-invading, will be curbed in one way or another. The Press Complaints Commission, a toothless body that is financed by pennies from every newspaper in the country except for Richard Desmond's stable, will probably be retained but given teeth (ie, the power to fine newspapers). You'll be less likely to discover who's shagging your favourite football player in the Sunday press, but any newspaper that transgresses and is found out will have the book thrown at it.

Second, politicians and other public figures who court the press (not including people who are interviewed for publication, but people who suck up to press proprietors in return for favourable coverage—they hope!) will be doing much less of it. Politicians and civil servants will be forced to record when they meet media moguls, whether it's for a glass of champagne at a dinner party or a business meeting. These records will be public and toadying to the press barons will be discoverable. There will also be less cross-pollination between the press and politicians. You won't see former newspaper editors being trusted to run the publicity arms of the political parties again anytime soon.

Third, the cozy relationship between the press and some police officers will be broken. Some of the officers are accused of taking bribes to pass information along to the newspapers.

The steady drip-drip-drip of revelations is at once both exciting and annoying. I think that most Brits just want it over, the miscreants punished, and life to go on. Until the truth is known, Hackgate will run and run.

Oh, and the absence of the News of the World, formerly the nation's biggest circulation newspaper, has hurt more than just the 200 journalists who worked for it and are now on the dole (until the Sun on Sunday is started, perhaps in August.) This first Sunday in 168 years that the NoTW has not been on the nation's newsstands saw a fall in the total number of Sunday newspapers sold. People who read the NoTW, it seems, don't in general want to read other newspapers.
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One of the obligations of being a bishop or Archbishop of the Church of England is speaking out in the public forum on matters of national importance from a faith-based point of view. The Archbishop of Canterbury did it today, speaking out on the changes the Government is making in social programs in such a way that he suggests was not in the manifestos of the parties forming the Government. He also suggests that people are unsure about the changes and afraid of the results. He makes the case that the Government needs to explain these changes more clearly in order to get the country to understand and, more important, agree with them.

One of the reactions of government when a bishop or Archbishop speaks out on political matters is to rubbish the Church. They always say that while anyone has the right and opportunity to speak out on political matters, the bishop is naïve, unfamiliar with the realities of political life (this of bishops who sit in the Upper House of Parliament and participate in its debates and votes), or a socialist (if the Government is a Conservative one).

I have no brief for the Archbishop. In many respects he is a poor communicator (he is especially opaque on theological subjects, which he knows best). He has recently (in the Slee papers) been shown to be a bully and a shouter-down of people who disagree with him. And on the subject of the Anglican Covenant, I think he is malicious and seriously misguided. However, when he speaks out on matters of political interest and the Government immediately rubbishes him, I suspect he's hit close to the mark and the Government doesn't like that. At all.

Oh, the picture is just my favourite pose of the Archbishop. No intimation that he's a hand-puppet.
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You will all remember the Senator from the great state of Idaho who was caught in a stall in a Minneapolis airport men's room, legs planted wide on the floor and tapping away to attract the attention of men in the next stall over, won't you? I call former Senator Larry Craig Tapper McWidestance and I now see that the Tapper McWidestance Award for Miscreants in a Legislative Body has been won by former Representative Christopher Lee (R-NY), a married man with a family, who used Craigslist to post a personal ad with a shirtless picture of himself. He described himself as a lobbyist and shaved a few years off his age in correspondence with a woman who contacted him from his post on "Women Seeking Men". When she googled him and found out that the goods weren't as represented, she sang to the news media and made the picture public.

Former Rep. Lee voted against the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". He obviously was applying it in his own life.

I do not rejoice that people who make wrong choices in their personal lives get bitten back from it. I have made wrong choices too, and have been duly bitten. Even people in public life have the right to a private life as well.

However, people in public life, especially those who advocate a moral code of some sort, should not break that moral code in private unless they are prepared for that to become public.

I'm not gloating (a male Democratic representative from NY had to resign a year or so ago when he was caught groping a male House page, so goose's sauce is gander's sauce). But what I'm continually learning in my own life as well as in reading the news is that consistency in one's public and private lives is so much easier than doing one thing and advocating something entirely different. This cognitive dissonance in one's life really makes it difficult to be authentic. It also makes it difficult to be a legislator.
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The Bishop of Blackburn's Christmas sermon concerned the economic situation at this time and how people can fight back against the downturn and the cuts in services. I've looked on the Diocese's website and that of the Cathedral, and neither has posted the text of Bishop Reade's sermon, unfortunately.

I am very sympathetic to Bishop Reade's message. Some background may assist non-UK people in understanding exactly what is going on.

In England and Wales, most funding for local government (that is, on the town, city, and county levels) comes from central government grants, not from local taxes. So the cuts in grants must be made up by either local tax rises or by local savings. The central government has capped the amount that the local tax (referred to as "council tax" here. It is a household tax based upon the value of the property in which you live, not limited to owners.) can rise, and it has the power to roll back rises that it feels are too high. So the localities are caught between that metaphorical rock and the hard place.

There is no doubt that many local councils have featherbedded many jobs. The chief executives (think "city manager" in US terms) are often paid 6-figure sums (said to be needed to attract the best candidates) and yet the services that the councils provide have been slashed and slashed again. The bins in front of St. Matthew's Court (16 dwellings in the apartment block) were not emptied last week and the post-Christmas trash is now overflowing the area. I expect they will not be emptied this week, as Monday and Tuesday are Bank Holidays here to make up for the fact that Christmas was on Saturday and Boxing Day on Sunday. The mess will be monumental.

Services for children are also the responsibility of local councils. These services are labour-intensive and thus ripe for "economies"—slashing the number of personnel. This will end up being devastating for children who are in danger in their homes and will result in injuries and (sadly) in deaths. These will make the front pages of the tabloids and will force the Government to think again, but too late.

Housing is also a local council responsibility. The weather here has been perishingly cold for the past month (it hasn't gone above 4 degrees C [around 39 degrees F] and has often been below 0 C) and there are a number of homeless people on the streets. Emergency shelter is easier around Christmas, but after New Year's some of the providers disappear from the scene and people are left to freeze on the streets. The local council has the legal responsibility to house people, but has few open houses and even less funding to do it.

On the funding side, the banks have been preparing record bonuses for their employees and executives, waving their wads of cash in the Government and the populace's faces and bleating that if they do not pay high bonuses, they will not be able to attract and retain the best bankers. Of course, the best bankers are the ones who got us into the mess we're in now.

London is a world centre of finance and banking. You simply have to walk in the square mile of the City of London on a weekend to discover that it is deserted at times when no money is being made. The Government is scared witless that international banks will abandon London if they are forced to pare down bonuses and salaries.

I believe that the banks are playing a game of chicken with the Government. If bonuses are taxed away at 90%, even so the bankers who are here will be loth to move to, say, Dubai (where their champagne lunches will be few) or to Singapore (where there is little to do after-hours and where the weather is hotter than most of them will enjoy and where it's a long haul flight to anywhere to ski) or to Shanghai (where no one understands their language and where doing business is problematic because of the system of government).

The social gospel (a.k.a. South Bank Religion, exemplified by Bp. John Robinson, Bp. Mervyn Stockwood, Dean Colin Slee) has withered to a great extent. The causes of this are rooted in the long period of Labour Government, where money was extolled, valued, and promoted. The poor were told that they had only to try harder and they would be carried along to prosperity on the tide of business upturns. Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, proclaimed the "end of the boom and bust economy". If only.

Thus the Church as well as the State were ill-prepared for the next bust. The poor have become poorer, while the rich have escaped the worst of the cuts. What to do?

Protest in the streets will not be productive in the long run. The recent student protests have put Parliament into "siege mode", where they feel that they are being coerced into reversing their course. That never works with government.

The Church has a duty to inform its worshipers and the general public about the moral and ethical aspects to the current financial crisis. Without this background, protests will soon descend into a simple striking out at the police who are monitoring the demonstration, rather then intelligently planning for mass action to show the depth of public anger about the financial situation today. The current government is not responsible for the financial crisis, of course. Most of the devastating incidents happened before it took power. What it is responsible for is how we climb out of it, and how we ensure that services are provided to people who need them.

Will the Bishop's message penetrate to where it is most needed? Southwark's own Bishop-elect, Christopher Chessun, is the Bishops' Spokesman for Urban Life, and perhaps he might take up the challenge of persuading the bankers to behave more responsibly as well as encouraging people to vote, and vote in an informed manner. In the end, only votes matter to politicians in Western democracies.
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As many of you will be aware, Britain (and Europe generally) has been hit with a large (for us) amount of snow coupled with rather low temperatures in the last week. This has resulted in the closure and then tight flight restriction of Heathrow Airport, the cancellation of a number of Eurostar services, and a great amount of disruption on the East Coast Main Line from London to Scotland. On the roads and the sidewalks (pavements), clearing of snow and ice has only taken place on the main roads, while most pavements are still mired in ice and are skating rinks for the unwary.

For the last three years, Britain has lumbered under severe snowfalls at least once each year. This was not the case in the previous 14 years I have lived here—snow was rare and mostly consisted of flurries which did not stick, and temperatures stayed above 0° C most of the time. Every year for the last three, after the snow has fallen and the country is faced with paralysis, the scream goes up from the citizenry: "Why?"

Well, I'll tell you why. The United Kingdom does not believe that buying snowplows, antifreeze, sand, and salt in the amounts necessary to cope with the kind of winters we've had lately is economical. This is belied by the pictures on the evening news of acres of hopeful passengers camping out at Heathrow Airport waiting to get on an airplane, and the queue to get on a Eurostar train, which queue stretches out the doors of St. Pancras International Railway Station down the Euston Road, ending somewhere in front of the British Library.

Heads will, of course, roll. Probably not the Transport Secretary's; the government has no appetite for sacking yet another Cabinet minister (see below). Something may be done with the people at the airports and the railways responsible for deicing runways and running rails and overhead catenary wires. But sacking the personnel involved will not help the situation unless the country is willing to bite the bullet and plan out exactly what will take place when a snowfall occurs here.

Airports like that of Stockholm are still running; the only services curtailed are those to Heathrow and Frankfurt. Why doesn't BAA (the owners of Heathrow) tempt Stockholm-Arlanda's Director of Preparedness (or whatever they call the post) with a huge salary to come here and sort this out for us? If something like this does not happen, then next year, or the year after, when a paralysing snowfall dumps itself on the United Kingdom, I do not want to hear ANYone complaining about it. Either we decide to take our lumps and wait until the weather and the snow clears, or we plan for this occurrence and commit the money required to keep transport running through it.

In political news, we were greeted this morning with the news that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP (a Liberal Democrat), had been caught speaking indiscreetly to two people who he thought were constituents but who were actually reporters for the Daily Telegraph, which is the main Tory broadsheet newspaper here in the United Kingdom. Among the tidbits were:
  • Being in the coalition government is like being at war.

  • However, if the Tories push him too far, there is always the nuclear option of resigning.

  • He compared the Coalition Government's policies and reforms to 'a kind of Maoist revolution' and thought that the Liberal Democrats should be a kind of brake on them.

  • He "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch (owner of News International, Sky, and lots of other stuff here, in the US, and in Australia) and thought that he himself would win.

Now the first three should not be news to anyone who follows British politics. However, the last one is one nuclear option that perhaps Mr. Cable wanted to avoid. His department is considering whether Murdoch should be able to buy the portion of BSkyB that he does not now own. For the Cabinet minister who would make the decision as to whether this purchase should go ahead to express such bold anti-Murdoch sentiments to people whom he did not know is unwise, to say the least. While many were calling for Cable's head, the news has just broken that he will continue as a Cabinet minister while losing control over the BSkyB sale to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture, Media, and Sport Secretary. For the Liberal Democrats to lose two Cabinet ministers (David Laws being the first to resign from his post as Chief Secretary to the Treasury because he fiddled his expenses to conceal the fact that his landlord was actually his same-sex partner.) would be extremely unfortunate. (Declaration of interest: I am a registered Liberal Democrat.)

An additional bumble is this: the Daily Telegraph did not break the news about Cable's attitude toward Murdoch. A leaker within the Daily Telegraph passed that information to Robert Peston, the famously hesitant-voiced economics editor of BBC News. The reason that the Telegraph chose not to publish these remarks is probably because it agrees with them and did not want to expose Cable's indiscretion on this subject to public view. Sauce, goose; sauce, gander!

The third bumble was committed on the Radio 4 breakfast news and comment show, Today. I listen every day and get my main daily diet of news from it. Last week, one of the subjects of discussion was the aforementioned Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. In announcing the segment, James Naughtie, one of the main presenters, said that he was going to be interviewing "Jeremy C*nt". He followed this with a long interval of coughing and sputtering. This mistake captured the smiles of millions at their breakfast tables. While that particular word is considered fairly taboo here, it is not absolutely proscribed in print or on TV or radio. Any usage of it has to be justified. In the US, of course, anyone who made that particular mistake would be banned from the airwaves and the station or channel that carried it would be fined. Naughtie apologised later on during the show, and disappeared for a few days while the country was digesting the news that he'd slipped up. Later on another BBC presenter, in reporting Naughtie's mistake, made the exact same mistake. Another apology. The nation chortled.

Thus, I live in a country where gaffes are made almost continuously. I love the frisson of danger this adds to listening to, watching, or reading the news. Others think that the country is going to the dogs. If it is, then I say, "Woof!"
chrishansenhome: (Default)
There's a general election looming in Singapore, where the ruling party has not lost an election since independence in the 1960's. Democracy is thought by many to be expendable there, but just watch out…

chrishansenhome: (Default)
I have been astonished at the interest here in the midterm US elections. Normally there is subdued coverage of any US election not a Presidential one. However, this year the BBC suspended its Radio 4/World Service broadcasts from last midnight to cover the election results, and the news that the Republicans have now captured control of the House of Representatives is top news in the bulletins.

Thinking about the results, I believe that they are troubling to me personally, but also predictable. They may even help the President win a second term. Here are my thoughts.

From the vantage point of the United Kingdom, US politics this year seems to have been dominated by nutcases. The Tea Party seems to be running high in the water, and their rhetoric of getting the government off our backs and reducing the amount of government in total is very attractive to people who feel overtaxed, under-represented, and aggrieved at government's activities intruding on all our lives. However, in this rhetoric has been planted the seeds of their own destruction. Once they get in, the Tea Partiers will find that being in government makes them important, influential, and powerful. Rather than reducing the size of the government, they will want to increase it, so as to increase their own status. This happens every time someone who wants to "reduce the size of government" is elected to government. So in two years all these new Representatives and Senators will have been coopted by the system they were elected to slash and burn.

The President must bear some of the blame for the rout, of course. He has neglected many of the groups who elected him, and he spent too much time and political capital early on getting the health care reforms enacted. Now he will have little chance of repealing DADT or DOMA, thus permanently alienating the lesbian and gay and transgender people who worked to get him elected. However, he can now run in 2012 on a platform of accusing the Congress of doing nothing. Passing the blame over to Congress will be his salvation. In addition, if Sarah Palin were to be nominated for the Presidency in 2012, it is unlikely that even middle-of-the-road Republicans will be enthused about voting for her. Like so many Tea Party associates, she is ignorant, intolerant, and a rabble-rouser. Were she to be elected, there would be a serious problem with the Government of the United States starting at the top, possibly even greater than the rot which set in during the Nixon Administration. At least Nixon was passably intelligent.

Every time there is an election in the United States I feel relieved that I am here in the United Kingdom, where the National Health Service is sacrosanct and revered by the vast majority of citizens. I would never want to move back to the US and can foresee no circumstances in which I would do it.

Finally, every time there is a landslide one way or another, pundits (I'm not a pundit) say that the (Republicans/Democrats) are washed up, and a permanent (Republican/Democratic) majority is now assured. Bushwah. It has not happened any time after the Nixon landslide of 1972, and it won't happen now. People do not habitually vote for one party or another any more, generally. They vote their pocketbooks and their ideology, and the party that seems to promise that the former will be heavier and the latter will be lighter gets their vote. When that doesn't happen, they vote for the other lot next time. The Democrats are not a spent force, and the Republicans are not cruising back to power. The Tea Party will implode and fracture before the next election (believe me, it'll happen). Some of those elected yesterday will turn out to be as corrupt as the last lot. The electorate will move toward the center-left, as it almost always does, and Obama will be re-elected.

As a yellow-dog Democrat (perhaps the last one standing…) I am of course annoyed that my party has lost control of the House. But the next elections are only two years away.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
A couple of years ago the News of the Screws…er…News of the World lost two reporters to jail when they were convicted of illegally hacking into the voicemail messages of various people, including senior members of the Royal Family. The then-editor, Andy Coulson, although he stated that he knew nothing of the hacking, took responsibility and resigned. Story over.

The story has been reignited recently as various political figures, including the recently-ennobled Lord Prescott (who was Deputy Prime Minister under Tony Blair), have asked the Metropolitan Police to confirm whether or not their mobile phones were similarly hacked. The Met has, so far, stalled in providing information to these people. The noble lord has now said that if he doesn't get a satisfactory answer he'll ask a judge to review the information.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a former reporter on the News of the World has stated that Andy Coulson actually encouraged him to illegally tap into people's voicemail messages.

You ask: Why is this convulsing the country right at the moment, when economic and political upheaval threatens the jobs and the life of our country? Because the Director of Communications for the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is one, er, Andy Coulson.

Downing Street is saying that Andy Coulson is "going nowhere"—a phrase that could be taken two ways, of course. I believe they mean that he will not be resigning. Unfortunately, this story is going to go on and on until, inevitably, Coulson is forced to resign under a cloud, whether anything is proven against him or not.

Interestingly, the New York Times, in the Magazine, printed a very long exposé of the entire affair. That article seems to highlight that Princes William and Harry, or their aides, or both, were victims of the voicemail hacks. This was the original story months ago here. The emphasis has now shifted to non-royal victims.

In not acting quickly to ensure that Coulson is cleared, Downing Street today, like Downing Street was in the case of Alistair Campbell, accused of "sexing up" the Iraq intelligence dossier leading up to the invasion in 2003, is making a terrible mistake for which they will pay dearly. That situation ended up with the suicide of one of the analysts involved in the dossier and a full public enquiry into the affair, with the inquest on the analyst due to be reopened shortly as well.

The first law of Public Relations is this: When the PR firm or PR Director becomes the story, sack them. There is enough circumstantial evidence to indicate that something was rotten in Wapping (where the HQ of News International, publisher of the News of the World, is based). David Cameron, if he knows what's good for him and for the Government, should bring Coulson in and remind him of the first law of PR and give him the choice of resigning or being sacked. Otherwise, Cameron will learn the same lesson that the Labour Government learned over the Iraq dossier: Nothing that the Labour Government later said about Iraq was believed because of Campbell's involvement. Campbell resigned after the 2005 election but was rumoured to have been brought in clandestinely by Gordon Brown to try to save the Labour Government in the election earlier this year.

So, Prime Minister, please remember the First Law of PR and ensure that Coulson is gone within the week. Otherwise, he'll be gone eventually and the Government will be weakened at a time when it needs its full strength to deal with the economic and social problems that beset Britain today.

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