Smoko The Saviour Has Returned

For the past several weeks there have been dramatic and intense bushfires in Australia, especially in New South Wales. It has affected almost fourfive million hecatres, has destroyed approximately 2500 houses, has resulted in a (thankfully few) eleven deaths. The Prime Minister has only just announced that he'll be cutting his holiday in Hawaii short and returning to Australia to respond to the crisis and that he "deeply regrets" any offense caused by his absence, comparing it to taking an extra plumbing contract instead of picking up the kids. This is, of course, the same Scott Morrison, who brought a lump of coal into parliament, cradling his pet rock and earnestly declaring that we shouldn't be scared of it.

Morrison was here for what can now be considered the early days of Australi's 2019-2020 fire season. As the initial houses burned and fatalities occurred he offered "thoughts and prayers". Apparently with no minders checking his tweets and the expenditure on an empathy consultant not helping, he followed up a few days later with:

"Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for."

Strikes against the French pension reforms

From It was one of Emmanuel Macron's top items in his electoral manifesto back in 2017: France’s pensions system must be reformed. Obviously 'reformed' in the mouth of the former investment banker at Rothschild & Co. actually meant "fed to the private funds" and so, after a two-and-a-half-year wait, the government have finally revealed what they wanted to do with our pensions system, and the people have responded in protest. Demonstrations last week saw up to 1,5 million (CGT figures) in the streets protesting the plans, which apart from seeking a simpler system also seeks to reduce pension payments.

Now it must be said that France's pensions system is very complex. Whenever someone retires, they have to spend weeks if not months assembling all the paperwork needed for their pension. Depending on the branch they have worked in, on how many kids they've had, on whether they worked full-time or not, etc. etc. the French Pensions Agency will compute their yearly pension, which will then usually increase each year based on inflation. So that is the angle of attack the Macronists have chosen: "the system is too complex, let’s make it simpler!". Their solution? (a) collapsing the 40+ systems into a single-one and (b) making the new system a point-based one. Easy-peasy: when you retire, you have amassed a certain amount of points, and each point entitles you a given amount of euros per annum, to be established by the government.

The 2019 UK election - blame Corbyn

The United Kingdom is about to start voting in their general election, and while many thought this would be the Brexit election, it's actually turning out to be the Corbyn election. And so if by tomorrow the polls have been proven correct (not a certainty I'll admit, but we'll see) and the Conservatives are not only returned but with an increased majority, all blame and ire must focus on the Labour leader, and how he lost what should have been an unloseable contest [1]. In the four opinion polls conducted in December, Boris Johnson has an average -13% approval rating. In those same four polls Jeremy Corbyn has an average approval rating of -40%. (This, by the way, represents something of an improvement, in recent months this number has dipped as low as minus 60 [2].) Meanwhile Labour's policies are consistently popular with voters, and the country is weary of not only the Brexit they created, but also years of Tory cuts and austerity. So I ask, why is a government and prime minister that is so widely disliked about to be returned to office with an increased parliamentary majority? Because of one man, or rather more accurately, the politburo of his reactionary cretins who have taken over the Labour Party, and the foaming hordes of extremists who, by propping this rabble up, are handing the country over to the Conservatives for the foreseeable future, at least while People's Commissariat Corbyn remains in charge.

The United Kingdom is Falling Apart

This coming Thursday, December 12, the United Kingdom will go to an election. If the opinion polls are to be believed, it will result in another election win for the Tories, under the openly racist, bigoted, classist, and homophobic [1] leadership of Boris Johnson, although we are reminded that opinions polls were not very accurate [2] last time. Nevertheless, even with this caveat in place, it seems reasonable to grimly predict that Johnson and the Tories are most likely to be returned. Such as result will be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. The return of Johnson will witness an enrichment of a section of the national ruling (landlord and capitalist) class, greater austerity and less public services, greater authoritarianism, increasing pressure from the Celtic nations for leaving the Union, more protracted negotiations on Brexit with relative economic losses, and the transformation of the UK into a rump client-state of Trump's United States.

One may justly ask: How did such an unholy mess come about? Can it be prevented? What can be done if and when there is a return of a Johnson government? In exploring these questions, there are two major subjects. Firstly, is the relationship between economic austerity and Brexit, secondly, the relationship between democracy and informed public opinion. It must also be remembered that this election is being called under unusual circumstances. only two and a half years after the previous general election in June 2017. Following the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, elections are supposed to take place every five years, with the exception of a vote of no-confidence in the government, or if a resolution is supported by at least a two-thirds majority of the House. Following several failures of the former Prime Minister, Teresa May, to pass an Brexit agreement (January 15, February 14, March 12, March 29), leading to her resignation in July, and replacement with Johnson. Johnson, to give credit to a certain political cunning, has turned around the Conservative Party's fortunes by taking up votes that were leaking to the Brexit Party, and the latter has engaged in a tactical choice of noting running in Conservative-held seats.

Fighting for an Education in Idlib

Interview by Joanne Roberts with Teacher from Idlib - Muhmmad Abonassr
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the first thing to suffer was the children's education as schools were common targets of both Bashar Al Assad and Vladimir Putin. For eight long years now the children have had to deal with death, violence, poverty, displacement and war. Sadly, education had to be put on the back burner as these children moved from place to place to escape airstrikes.

Hidden among this turmoil there is a special group of people who have taken it upon themselves to educate the most vulnerable for the future despite the war. Today, we will speak with 28 year old Syrian Muhmmad Abonassr on why he chose to become a teacher in Idlib and what obstacles he faces on a daily basis.

Social Democracy From 1884 to the 21st Century

For historical reasons, modern social democrats are sometimes called democratic socialists. However, social democrats today generally do not advocate socialism proper. When you look at the Nordic Model of social democracy or at the ideas of people like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, their actual position is far more centrist than leftist and also much closer to neoliberalism than to true socialism. Nevertheless, in order to understand modern social democracy, it is important to understand the role that socialism played in its historical development.

Social democracy traces its roots back to the General German Workers’ Association, founded by Ferdinand Lassalle, and the International Workingmen’s Association, with which Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Louis Auguste Blanqui, Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, and their respective followers were associated. The term social democracy became popular with the rise of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany, founded in 1869. “Social democracy” was originally a catch-all term for a broad range of socialist ideologies and movements, but Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels convinced the Social Democratic Workers’ Party to embrace Marxism as its official ideology and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party joined the International Workingmen’s Association.

Neoliberalism: From 1938 to the 21st Century

Variance Within the Liberal Tradition

Liberalism is a broad tradition that encompasses many different ideas. There are two reasons that liberalism encompasses such a wide variety of ideas. The first is that classical liberalism was always somewhat vague on the definition of liberty. The second is that different liberals have had different philosophical and epistemological frameworks.
There has essentially always been two traditions within liberalism. Hayek notes that “the ancestors of modern liberalism” fall into two camps, distinguishing between British liberalism (Anglican) and French liberalism (Gallican). Hayek sees this divide as being rooted in the divide between empiricism and rationalism. The British empiricist takes a more evolutionary approach to liberalism, recognizing that social institutions are the result of human action rather than human design. The French rationalist tradition seeks to base social institutions on social contract and deliberative rationality. The French tradition imagines it can design a better society, whereas the British tradition recognizes that society is the product of evolution. Thus, the British liberal tradition is more conservative, while the French liberal tradition is more radical. (Cf. Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, Chapter 4)
Isaiah Berlin observes two different concepts of liberty within liberalism, distinguishing between negative liberty and positive liberty. This can be seen as the difference between “the freedom from” and “the freedom to.” An individual may be free from external coercion insofar as no one is physically forcing them to act against their own will, but they may not be free to act upon their own will to the extent that their choices are limited by factors out of their control. (Cf. Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty) Suppose that we are on a desert island and I am hoarding all the food and water. I tell you to do such-and-such or else I will not share the food and water with you. You are free in the negative sense, but not in the positive sense — you are free from active interference in your actions, but are not actually free to disobey me. If you do disobey me, I have leverage over you that allows me to effectively annihilate you without actively engaging in violence against you. The British tradition has tended to emphasize the importance of non-interference (negative liberty), whereas the French tradition has tended to emphasize a more robust conception of liberty (positive liberty). Empiricist liberals within the English tradition tend to see minimal government as the most important thing, since government interference tends to become the primary affront to liberty within civilized society. They recognize that government is necessary to secure liberty. Law and order protects people from arbitrary interference by other individuals, yet government interference remains a permanent danger. Rationalist liberals within the French tradition, however, tend to see robust and participatory democracy as essential to preserving liberty, as positive liberty entails being in control to some extent. Liberty is ensured by the democratic process more so than by limiting the size and scope of government.

Good Tariffs vs. Bad Tariffs

As a general rule, I am a supporter of free trade. Tariffs are a hindrance to free trade and always negatively impact both the countries against which the tariffs are imposed and the countries that impose the tariffs. I am not, however, necessarily opposed to tariffs in principle. A tariff, like most other taxes, can be either good or bad. If a tariff is used as a protectionist measure in order to bring back outsourced jobs, then the tariff is almost always going to be bad. If the tariff is imposed in order to induce a foreign country to change some aspect of its policy, then it can actually be a good tax. The key to creating a good tariff is making it a temporary measure that will soon be eliminated in order to restore free trade.

China has effectively been imposing tariffs on other countries by way of a VAT which they allow domestic producers to avoid paying, which is a violation of the spirit of the current trade agreement. As a member of the World Trade Organization, the United States should get a most-favored-nation rate. However, China frequently uses a value-added tax (VAT) as a means of imposing a higher rate. By imposing a VAT and failing to enforce it for domestic producers, China effectively turns their VAT into a tariff on imports. So, China technically launched the first attack in the trade war. But trade wars are tricky things and require skill in handling. If the United States were to impose tariffs and demand that China stop allowing their VAT to function as a tariff, that would be an acceptable policy in my estimation.

Moral Hazard and Geoengineering

Let's talk a bit about moral hazard. Moral hazard is when people engage in risky behavior because the incentive to avoid that behavior is borne by someone else. The classic example is a person who recklessly drives a rental car on the grounds that it's only a rental. If they crash the car, it's the rental company that will have to pay to replace it.

Moral hazard often comes up in discussions of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The theory here goes that, if power companies can capture their CO2 emissions, they won't have any incentive to stop using fossil fuels. This is a problem, because fossil fuels have a lot of other issues (like the story that broke a few days ago about how decomposing oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is mimicking a crab sex hormone, drawing in thousands of lonely crabs and poisoning them.)

The Realpolitik of International Peace

I have long been opposed to American militaristic interventionism and the warfare state. We have good reason to fear the military-industrial complex and oppose the interests of defense contractors when their vested interest conflicts with the wellbeing of our society as a whole. This is why presidential candidates like Ron Paul and Tulsi Gabbard have always excited me. It’s refreshing to hear a staunch critic of the warfare state on the presidential debate stage. However, I’m not quite satisfied with the foreign policy of such populist figures. My politics is hard to classify, being an odd blend of Hayekian libertarianism, Pettitian republicanism, Rawlsian liberalism, Burkean conservatism, Giddensian social democracy, and several varieties of neoliberalism. A core component of my though is realism, and I’ve especially been influenced by the notion of realpolitik.

Classical Realpolitik

History, of course, has given realpolitik a bad name and this is somewhat rightfully so. Many of the people who advocated realpolitik were pushing terrible policies. However, the bad actors in the history of realpolitik were guilty of distorting the noble principles behind the idea itself. When Ludwig von Rochau coined the term realpolitik, he was engaging in political realism in an “attempt at answering the conundrum of how to achieve liberal enlightened goals in a world that does not follow liberal enlightened rules.”(Wikipedia) Realpolitik, in the classical sense, goes hand-in-hand with liberalism and republicanism in politics. It is a political realism that advocates democracy, liberty, and peace in international relations, while being cognizant of the fact that foreign nations don’t always share our liberal-republican values and often act upon selfish, violent, and authoritarian impulses. Realpolitik also involves a recognition that the relationships between nations are anarchical in the negative sense — there is no strong global governance to make various countries cooperate and play fairly on a democratic basis. It recognizes the reality of the existence of totalitarian anti-democratic regimes, terrorist groups, and megalomaniacal dictators. It is not realistic for liberal democracies to stand by and watch as fascist dictators send their armies to invade neighboring countries and commit genocide; for this aggression will likely not stop at the edge of their neighbor’s territory.


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