Out with FPTP

The recent Canadian election argues for Britain’s upcoming vote to replace the marginally-democratic First-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system. This long-overdue change would require protest and disruption as well as within-establishment work.

FPTP defenders argue that the old FPTP British electoral system “tends to produce a two-party system (see Duverger’s Law), which in turn tends to produce single-party governments, which don’t have to rely on support from other parties to pass legislation.” In our era, this is a disadvantage for everyone other than the conservative party faithful, as the next purported “advantage”, “FPTP encourages ‘broad-church’ centrist policies,” is not a law but is rather contingent upon class mobilization. Given the context of a capitalist playing field, FPTP only encouraged centrist policies in the mid-20th century era of strong working class mobilization (backed by a credible communist alternative threat)–a structural-political compromise. Strong capitalist class mobilization and weak working class mobilization on that same capitalist playing field is a double-whammy that results in increasingly more right wing governance, in which case FPTP produces extremism, rather than centrism. We can see this very clearly in contemporary Anglo-American electoral politics and governance.

An additional factor is also actually rather key in the evolution of electoral politics, esp. in the US: “FPTP forces parties to become coalitions in themselves, rather than forming coalitions with other parties later.” In effect, since parties are coalitions anyway, FPTP forces excessive amalgamation. This debilitates left-liberal coalitions particularly, as they contain an irreconcilable class-rift disadvantage that modern right-wing coalitions do not. Thus lib-left coalitions are less chronically illegible, frustrating, and alienating to voters and more effective when they are not forced to internalize their more fundamental contradictions within one party, but rather negotiate a coalition in government.

Greenwald on Foreign Policy Dogma

Let us quit this farce that US policy is independent of Israeli interests. It is not and has not been since prominent Jewish political actors (and I am not necessarily referring here to the professional politicians in the House and Senate) went neocon and began to work through the Republican Party, as well as the Democrats.

What a critical journalist needs to do is to accept and clearly articulate that in the American political realm, US foreign policy interests (and even many domestic interests) are not conceived as separate from Israeli interests. What we need to examine critically are: What are the contradictions this presents? That means we need to articulate: Where is Israeli policy headed? We cannot understand US foreign policy until we learn to talk publicly about what Israeli leaders want and intend.

Could there be a coalition of leftists in the US and the Middle East to oppose the foreign policy establishment with democratic demands?

Here is what is popularly known about the Iraeli-US-UK foreign policy dogma:

1) Displaced and dispossessed non-Jewish communities and countries must be continuously disrupted.
2) Israel must be stabilized and provided the financial and military support to be an affluent society–its citizens must enjoy strong market positions.
3) US oil must be provided the military to appropriate resources, such as oil, in the non-Israeli Middle East. (So that China and Europe cannot get or buy them without going through US and British capital.)
4) US, UK, and Israeli military industry must be provided sufficient public funding to profit strongly from their role in the appropriation of resources in the non-Israeli Middle East.
5) US and UK financial capital must be protected and given free reign, in order to maintain political strength in the US and support Israel.
6) The Saud family and other despots must rule Middle Eastern countries in a way that prevents state-building and social progress in the non-Israeli Middle East. That is, Enlightenment-informed policy and culture must be averted to maintain balkanization and disruptability.
7) In exchange for supporting elite absolute rule in foreign policy, American religious leaders and institutions must be given pork barrel contracts and funding to run vestigal domestic public social services and education. American voters/consumers/taxpayers are encouraged to justify this exchange with the lofty notion of hastening the Christian Armageddon. As well, public quiescence is assured in Israel-US-UK through the proliferation of security, military, communications, and intelligence jobs.
8) Israel-US-UK must justify repressing Middle Eastern resistance to the above policy with the “terrorism” rubric.
9) Oil dynasties will not see their sons (“terrorists”) killed in support of publicity campaigns.
10) As the extreme focus on the Middle East has allowed socialism to resurface in Latin America, the US counters state and society-building in Latin America with ideological denunciations and poorly-planned coups.

What we would like to know is: Given its un-negotiably undeomcratic operation, does this foreign policy dogma have any redeeming value at all for uninterested parties, like the general American public? What does this foreign policy do to democracy in the US, and the MIddle East? (How) does this foreign policy dogma strain the US economy or put non-elites in an uncompetitive position? *Why* do Isareli strategists and the Israeli-US-UK foreign policy establishment feel this policy is the necessary route? There are more questions.

Below I quote Glen Greenwald in bulk (though editing out a bit).

Wednesday August 8, 2007 12:50 EST
The foreign policy community
Glen Greenwald

America is plagued by a self-anointed, highly influential, and insular so-called Foreign Policy Community which spans both political parties. They consider themselves Extremely Serious and have a whole litany of decades-old orthodoxies which one must embrace lest one be declared irresponsible, naive and unserious. Most of these orthodoxies are ossified 50-year-old relics from the Cold War, and the rest are designed to place off limits from debate the question of whether the U.S. should continue to act as an imperial force, ruling the world with its superior military power.

Most of the recent “controversies” involving Barack Obama’s foreign policy statements — including his oh-so-shocking statement that it would not make moral or political sense to use tactical nuclear weapons to bomb isolated terrorist camps as well as his willingness to attack Al Qaeda elements inside Pakistan if the Musharraf government refuses (as they did for some time) — were not “controversial” among the Establishment on the merits. They were “controversial” (and “naive” and “irresponsible”) because they breached the protocols and orthodoxies imposed by the Foreign Policy Community governing how we are allowed to talk about these issues.

This was vividly illustrated by the sharpest exchange from last night’s debate, where both Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd excoriated Obama for his comments on Pakistan, not on the ground that Obama’s statements were wrong on the merits (i.e, not that we should avoid military action inside Pakistan under those circumstances), but instead on the ground that he committed the sin of actually discussing with the American people what our foreign policy would be.

The Foreign Policy Community is more secretive than the Fight Club. They believe that all foreign policy should be formulated only by our secret “scholar”-geniuses in the think tanks and institutes comprising the Foreign Policy Community and that the American people should not and need not know anything about any of it short of the most meaningless platitudes. They are the Guardians of Seriousness. “Serious” really means the extent to which one adheres to their rules and pays homage to their decrees.

It is hard to overstate how self-important and impressed with itself is the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community. When I was attempting this week through a series of e-mail exchanges to convince a reluctant Michael O’Hanlon to agree to an interview with me about his field trip to Iraq, he explained his reluctance this way: “I have gone light on what people say about your work. I have not slammed you the way various people have told me you’ve slammed me. I have simply said that people tell me you go after scholars very very hard.”

People in the Foreign Policy Community refer to themselves and each other as “scholars,” and they have a long list of Byzantine rules with which one must comply in order to be permitted to participate in our country’s foreign policy discussions.

Over the past couple of days, there has been a continuation of the ongoing dispute between Matt Yglesias and Michael Rubin, a “Resident Scholar” at the American Enterprise Institute. The lastest dispute concerned an attack by Rubin on journalist Mark Leon Goldberg over an article Goldberg wrote a couple of years ago about an AEI event. Over at National Review’s Corner, Rubin attempted to explain why this petty dispute was, in fact, so important:

“The point, Matthew, is not how many years ago the incident was: Everyone in the policy community assesses which journalists regardless of ideology are honest and accurate and which perhaps take too many liberties, if only so we know who is serious or honest enough to talk to regardless of ‘what their politics may be.'” (Please remember to read this extremely narrowly as “what end of the Republocrat network they get their bread buttered on.”)

The Foreign Policy Community — our establishment “scholars” — were almost unanimously supportive of George Bush’s invasion, worked themselves into a lather over Saddam’s WMDs and mushroom clouds over U.S. cities, stayed silent in the face of obvious Bush abuses and excesses, embraced the most manipulative and fictitious neoconservative doctrines, and they still continuously issue all sorts of theoretical constructs to justify America’s increasingly militaristic and imperial role.

There is no real dispute within it about the most fundamental foreign policy questions we face (which is why the “liberal” Brookings Institutional “scholars” are so pro-war and work so cooperatively with the neoconservative AEI). And they not only have a monopoly over deciding who is Serious and who is not, but also in declaring which issues are off-limits from real debate. The foreign policy disasters of the last six years, at least, are their doing.

As Powers points out, the Foreign Policy Community has proven itself to be reckless, irresponsible and deeply unserious. These “scholars” have lost the right to judge anyone or to declare anyone else unserious. It is long past time to aggressively challenge their most precious orthodoxies.

There are few issues more vitally important than destroying the supremacy and monopoly of our Foreign Policy Community and forcing a re-examination of our most fundamental assumptions about America’s role in the world. To the extent that Obama’s campaign will continue to challenge not only the establishment’s orthodoxies by the Establishment itself (and whether he will remains to be seen), that can only produce vitally needed outcomes.

See Greenwald in Salon.com for the following update: Where was the Foreign Policy Community — our establishment “scholars” — when all of this was happening?

Greenwald’s critique of the Foreign Policy Cabal’s “seriousness” discourse:

Let us also take note of the bizarre fact that the Rules of Seriousness seem to allow someone to run around talking about attacking, invading, and bombing everyone except for the people who actually attacked us on 9/11. All the Serious People cheered on the invasion of Iraq and talk openly about attacking and bombing Iran and Syria. None of those countries, of course, had anything to do with 9/11, but no matter. The Serious People are free to speak as openly and explicitly as possible about new wars with those nations.

But Barack Obama speaks of the possibility of attacking the actual individuals who attacked us on 9/11 if we know where they are and Pakistan leaves them be, and suddenly, he is a terribly Unserious and Naive and Irresponsible person for suggesting such a thing. Apparently, it is very Serious to ponder new wars on a whole list of countries and groups provided they had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

One would be equally remiss if failing to note that people like Mike Rubin, who reside in the belly of the neocon beast, who wanted to turn Iraq over to Ahmad Chalabi, and who devotes his life to fueling the flames for a new war with Iran, still thinks he is in a position to designate who is “serious” and who is not, and his friends at Brookings Institution, who hosted AEI’s Fred Kagan when it was time to unveil his Surge Plan, would undoubtedly agree. In the Foreign Policy Community, arguing in favor of new wars never removes one from the Realm of Seriousness provided — as the Obama “controversy” proves — the new war targets have nothing to do with any actual attacks on our country.

the men who ended democracy: in Britain

For a review of democracy’s death in England, read:


“The End Of Habeas Corpus In Great Britain”
Jean-Claude Paye
The Monthly Review, November 2005, V 57 No 6.

The British Parliament adopted a new antiterrorist law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, on March 11, 2005. By doing so, Parliament made it possible for the government to carry out the long-standing project of expanding the emergency provisions to which foreigners are subjected within the context of the war on terrorism to cover the whole population, including citizens. This change is important because it calls into question the notion of habeas corpus. The law attacks the formal separation of powers by giving to the secretary of state for home affairs judicial prerogatives. Further, it reduces the rights of the defense practically to nothing. It also establishes the primacy of suspicion over fact, since measures restricting liberties, potentially leading to house arrest, could be imposed on individuals not for what they have done, but according to what the home secretary thinks they could have done or could do. Thus, this law deliberately turns its back on the rule of law and establishes a new form of political regime.

Marx voted top thinker

Higgins, Charlotte. “Marx voted top thinker.” The Guardian, Thursday, July 14, 2005.

In a shock result, Karl Marx has been voted the greatest ever philosopher following a poll by Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 show In Our Time.

In the public’s poll, which assessed 20 philosophers, Marx, author of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, got 27.93% of the 30,000 votes. In second place came David Hume with 12.67%, followed by Ludwig Wittgenstein with 6.8%. Plato trailed in fifth place and Socrates at eighth.

Battle cry

What do sweatshop workers in Bangladesh have in common with the people who work in your local supermarket? More than you might think, writes George Galloway, Respect MP.

Battle cry for radical change

by George Galloway

The only way to make poverty history is to make the G8 history. I don’t mean simply the annual jamboree for the leaders of the world’s richest and most powerful states. I mean the whole nexus of exploitation and privilege that the G8 and its attendant institutions represent.

They are a gigantic siphon sucking up vast quantities of wealth from the poor — whether they live in the poorest countries or in the G8 states themselves. The G8 is not the solution — it is the problem.

Some of the most dangerous men in the world are in Gleneagles Hotel this week. They are responsible not only for the renewed and terrifying drive to war that characterises the start of the 21st century. They also preside over a system that is itself the biggest killer in the world.

Why does a child in Africa die every three seconds of preventable causes? Why did the tsunami last Christmas devastate so much of south and south east Asia? Because the people there are poor. There is no other reason.

And why are they poor? It’s because a tiny number of people standing at the head of the multinational corporations that bestraddle the globe are obscenely rich.

Not enough

We assembled in Edinburgh, London and many other places at the weekend to make poverty history. But it’s not enough.

You can’t get slim by eating low fat chocolate — it has to be part of a calorie controlled diet.

You can’t make poverty history by writing off some of the debt of some of the countries in Africa and pretending you have made up for centuries of exploitation and injustice.

Most countries in Africa are not included in even the limited debt reduction plan. Those that are included are being told they will have to privatise, deregulate and turn further towards the neo-liberal policies that are impoverishing them if they are to qualify.

Most of the world’s poor don’t live in Africa. They’ve been scandalously disregarded this week.

More than half the world lives on less than $2 a day. Cows in western Europe are subsidised by $2.40 a day. Add to that the cost of feeding the cow, and it comes to $6.40 a day. It’s a similar picture in the US.

Tony Blair and George Bush are pushing for free trade because they know that it favours the already wealthy. Forcing people in the poorest countries to open up to the world market means accelerating the conveyor belt that transfers wealth into the hands of the multinational corporations.

What does this mean in real human terms? I went to Bangladesh this year and visited a sweatshop. There were hundreds of workers, mainly girls of 15 and 16, sleeping in quadruple bunk beds in the sweatshop compound.

They work from 6am to 7pm, six days a week, for 60p a day. Most of them do not leave the compound.

Tesco jeans

What were they making? Tesco jeans. They made hundreds of pairs every day for Tesco, which made £2,000 million profit last year selling things that other people make.

How are their profits that huge? Through the exploitation of workers in Britain, the exploitation of suppliers at the lowest margin and the exploitation of workers abroad, like in the sweatshops in Bangladesh.

Poverty at home and poverty abroad are connected — there is no separation. The hard pressed worker in a Tesco supermarket or depot, deprived of the basic right to sick pay, may not be on the edge of starvation — but they share a common bond with the girl in the sweatshop in Bangladesh.

Did Tesco behave illegally? No. What they are doing is their duty — to maximise profits for shareholders. They are behaving like upstanding capitalists.

In fact, shoring up their power means turning to far more direct methods of killing people.

War and capitalism are interlinked. We are unlucky to live under two of the worst leaders in the world — the messianic, fundamentalist Tony Blair… and George Bush.

But that isn’t the reason for war. War comes from capitalism.

There are five Arabian Gulf countries containing vast amounts of oil, which is very important to the US. It has 4 percent of the world’s population but consumes 25 percent of its energy.

Puppet presidents

That oil is too valuable to be left to Johnny Foreigner. Puppet presidents and corrupt kings might fall to leaders who would kick the US out, oppose Israel and use their money to develop their own countries.

They might also stop buying the West’s arms. In September the arms dealers will be coming to an arms fair in east London.

They’ll sell weapons to dictators who in future our government might oppose, and send British soldiers to fight and die against weapons sold by British arms companies and paid for by the British taxpayer under the export credit guarantee department.

In the old days you had plain, naked imperialism. We went in and took everything we could carry.

In Africa we took people too, in holds of ships to become slaves. Then there came a time when the colonies said, “We want to become independent and free.” Now we are returning to the colonies we were driven out of.

The most significant of these is Iraq. We cannot go on like this. We have to change course, not only abroad, but also at home. For the same disastrous policies are being inflicted on people here in Britain.

It is possible

Take something as fundamental as housing. Constituents are coming to my surgery in Tower Hamlets every week with appalling problems of overcrowding, unfit conditions and endless waiting lists.

The neo-liberal answer from the government and local council is to privatise what is left of the council housing stock. The ineluctable result will be tenants made more insecure and more exploited as they are put at the mercy of private companies.

That will make it easier for millionaires in the City and Canary Wharf to get their hands on the land and housing, completing a process of social cleansing of the East End.

What’s modern about that? What’s Labour about that? This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Within a few years this country built a vast number of council houses to make good the destruction of the Blitz and end the slum conditions of the 1930s.

Now, with the country much richer, why isn’t it possible to have just such a building programme today?

Of course it’s possible. Just as it’s possible to have a minimum wage set at the European decency threshold.

To accomplish any of this we need two things. The very fact that the issue of world poverty has been put on the agenda of the G8 summit meeting at all is testimony to the tremendous movement to oppose corporate globalisation and war we have built over the last six years.

Unaccountable figures

There are those who want to derail this movement, to blunt its radical edge, take it off the streets and transform it into a handful of unaccountable figures seeking crumbs from the rich and powerful on behalf of the mass of suffering people in the world.

That way lies disaster. No good has ever come of supplicating the likes of Bush and Blair. Progress has only ever come through the mass of people struggling for it.

Confronted with just such pressures to demobilise at the critical moment of the black civil rights movement in the 1960s, Martin Luther King said the key thing was “to keep the movement moving”. We should heed those words today.

The second thing people are crying out for in Britain is political representatives who are of the movement and who seek to crack the neo-liberal consensus of the main parties.

I’ve just been part of an immensely successful speaking tour organised by the Respect party. We held some of the biggest political meetings for many years in towns, cities and at union conferences.

At each there was tremendous enthusiasm for what Respect has to say. The rallies helped breathe life into dozens of local campaigns and the G8 mobilisation.

They were also a significant step forward towards our goal of mounting a major challenge at next May’s council elections.

In shaking up the cosy political consensus at the general election, Respect has added to the sense of revolt in Britain.

We have drawn together pensioner activists, students, immigrant communities, trade unionists, anti-debt campaigners, anti-war activists —people who have been shut out of official politics.

We are a work in progress and we are a vehicle for radical change. The most pressing problem we have is that we are not big enough. You can do something about that.