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Archive for the ‘The Constant Unfolding of Events’ Category

Right now, in the afterglow of 2016, there are a few things I know to be true.

2016 was not the Worst Year Ever

  • To be sure, the ‘important’ celebrity deaths seem on a different level, especially as they now include stars who came to world attention in the broadcast media age. It’s very sad that Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (her Mother) died within hours. But please, it’s only a tragedy for their friends and family. It makes me sad for them, and a bit sad for me as I’ve loved their films, but it’s not life-changing or tragic or unbearable. Really, it’s not.
  • Brexit and Donald Trump have rattled my cage and dented my rose-tinted liberal view of the world, but they’re not massively unsurprising. With a smidgen of hindsight, it’s quite easy to see them as a natural progression of where we’ve been going in recent years, perhaps somewhat extreme, certainly upsetting for me, but actually almost inevitable.
  • Similarly, while stories and images from Syria have been uniformly depressing and the scale of destruction seems more catastrophic, how different are they from Chechnya, South Sudan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo and other conflicts of the last 25 years. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is  similarly the natural extension of what’s been building for a long time.

I’m done with thinking of The New Year as Something Transformative…

Just because the year changes on the calendar doesn’t mean I can swivel on a sixpence and turn things around. There are things I can control and things I can’t, things that actually affect me and stuff that simply bothers me. I’m trying to stop caring too much about celebrity deaths, or what Donald Trump has proclaimed about Vladimir Putin, or what kind of Brexit we apparently want today.

But I can’t shrug off or simply change my attitude about a whole shitpile of things that affect me directly and are at least partly beyond my control. I can’t pretend to even consider the sort of upbeat “let’s make 2017 AWESOME” posts that are just about everywhere. Because while I am privileged and lucky to be British, white, born to affluent parents (etc), and we had many fine experiences last year, I can’t hide that, overall, 2016 was bloody hard. And the things that made it hard aren’t going away anytime soon.

  • My Dad still has inoperable cancer and has been increasingly breathless, which unsurprisingly is taking its toll on Mum, so they need our support more than ever, emotionally and physically.
  • Christmas 2016 was the last that Rachel and I will celebrate in either of our childhood homes.
  • We’re still helping Hannah through a protracted process to get her the support she needs to make sense of herself, feel less anxious at school, and to give her a shot at achieving her undoubted potential in an education system that seems to be going back generations in its approach to testing and exams.

Believe in Better

I do believe that it will be all right in the end, but I can’t see the end right now. So please, try not to encourage me to make 2017 amazing or exciting. Please don’t tell me to ‘consume less/create more, frown less/smile more’.

If I’m lucky, stay focused and can stick to my intentions, I’m hopeful I can be enriched in 2017 by

  • moving house (while staying local)
  • helping my parents downsize into a smaller home
  • spending more time writing this than getting annoyed on Twitter
  • continuing my cycling evolution; ride more often (commuting), further (100 mile rides), in new places (Wales, Yorkshire, France?), and more with our children
  • (re)watching Mad Men
  • helping our children to thrive, laugh and be everything they can be
  • the love and support of Rachel, Hannah & Eleanor, as well as my family and friends

Wish me luck…

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I married my wife in a Catholic Church 17 years ago, where we both promised to raise our children as Catholics, and I’m sticking with that promise. I try to live by a lot of the teaching and messages in the Christian texts, even if I don’t accept the literal story or messenger. Last Sunday I attended Mass for the first time in a while, and listened to a reading from the Letter of St James (2: 14-18)…

How does it help, my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith bring salvation? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, “I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,” without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? In the same way, faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead.

Paris is worth a mass…

My thoughts immediately turned to politicians who claim that God inspires their every action. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hundreds of years ago the Protestant Duke of Bourbon, on becoming King Henri IV of France, found that it would significantly strengthen his position if he were a Catholic: so he converted to secure the support of Spain and the Catholic League.

Especially (but not exclusively) in the US, being a God-faring Christian seems a hygiene factor to be an electable politician. The TV screens are full of mostly rich white men invoking God and Jesus at every opportunity. But their so-called Christian attitude seems largely unrelated to what I remember from the preaching of Jesus Christ: no compassion for women, even those who have been raped, who might want or need an abortion, no “Good Samaritan” attitudes to people living in poverty, ample protection and rewards for the rich at the expense of the vulnerable.

Setting the agenda

This week, the UK press has truly shown itself (as if any further proof were needed) to be ‘holier than thou’ bullies rather than enquirers after the truth. Jeremy Corbyn was elected by a massive majority to be leader of the UK Labour Party, surprising almost everyone with the scale of his democratic triumph, yet it seems that almost noone in the press (even the left-leaning Guardian) likes him, which has led to some shameful ad hominem attacks that don’t even get close to being worthy of the name ‘journalism’.

He’s faced criticism for wearing a jacket that didn’t match his trousers. He was pilloried for appointing a Shadow Cabinet in which no women held the so-called ‘Top 4’ posts, ignoring the fact that more than half of his total team are women. Currently just 1/3 of David Cameron’s Cabinet are women, and the last two Labour Prime Ministers (Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) ended their tenures in Downing Street with barely 1/4 women among their Ministers of State.

Surely it’s not about the bike…

Nothing seems too trivial or too tenuous to slip in a jibe, even if you’re the (sic) respectable broadsheet The Times of London. Mr Corbyn likes to ride a bicycle to get around his Inner London constituency. But because he’s left-of-centre, it’s now apparently acceptable to refer to his “Chairman Mao-style bicycle”… but look! David Cameron rides one that’s quite similar.

Chairman Mao Bicycle Jeremy Corbyn David Cameron

If that’s the Chairman Mao, is Dave riding the Pinochet?

Sing Up!

But that was Tuesday… Wednesday’s front pages were dominated by the scandal, the national shame that at a service to honour the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Mr Corbyn did not sing the National Anthem. I’m prepared to concede that this is a PR mistake and lack of foresight, and even an error of judgement. But is it really more important than the facts that in the last 48 hours the UK Parliament has debated and passed two bills which both seem to target the hard-working people the Tory Party so vocally championed during this year’s General Election?

Don’t blame me…

The latest Trade Union Bill will require unions to give at least 2 weeks’ notice of an intended strike, allow employers to use agency staff to replace striking workers and require picketing strikers to give their name, address and email address to police. The tone of Government presentation of this bill would have an outsider believe that the country is held to ransom by Trade Unions. In fact, the days lost each year to strike action over the last 5 years has averaged around 650,000. This might seem a lot, until you understand  that it is 95% lower than when the country really was held to ransom during the 1970s and early 1980s.

During this same period there’s reams of evidence demonstrating how the top 1% or 10% receive a far higher proportion of incomes. The banks who caused the credit crunch have been bailed out to the tune of billions and austerity measures have frozen pay for public sector workers and ushered in an increasingly new normal of zero-hours contracts. I Reckon we are still being held to ransom, but it sure ain’t the unions that are the problem now.

Work to live…

Just a few months ago The Conservative Manifesto trumpeted that

We offer a good life for those willing to try — because we are the party of working people. The next five years are about turning  the good news in our economy into a good life for you and your family.

Except the new tax credits bill that was debated and passed yesterday will cut supplementary benefits for low income or part-time earners, by as much as £1,000 per year, and could affect 3 million of these precious hard-working families.

When is a refugee more than just a scrounging immigrant? When he sells papers…

Jeremy Corbyn’s suits have made the plight of the Syrian, Libyan and Sudanese refugees suddenly “so last week”. Then the media and politicians were brow-beaten or guilt-tripped by grass-roots groups into taking any kind of action. From scathing indifference or outright hostility, they suddenly discovered a streak of compassionate, all encapsulated in one horrific picture of a dead toddler washed up on a beach. Now they’re wondering why Corbyn wears brown and not a nice midnight blue.

The UK Government and press are alike in behaving like St James’ examples of a man with loudly-proclaimed faith, but no good deeds. They preach about making “right” choices to the people who do not have such luxuries of choice. They judge poorly those who don’t fit their simplistic paradigm, By doing so, I Reckon they demean us all.

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So, that’s two elections in a row that I’ve been left disappointed. Except this time it was much more surprising. The opinion polls were unanimous; it was neck-and-neck between the Labour & Conservative parties. Until it wasn’t. Or maybe the Labour voters just turned out in areas where they didn’t change the outcomes. Or maybe their campaign was flawed from the start with a leader who isn’t even the most statesmanlike in his own family.

Anyway, it was pretty depressing for a bleeding-heart liberal like me this morning. A Tory Government (technically a coalition) took over in 2010 promising we’re all in it together, but in reality passed swathes of swingeing cuts that hit the disabled, the single parents, the young and the poor disproportionately. Meanwhile the rich seemed protected under the guise of incentives while those receiving benefits were stigmatised. If you weren’t hard-working,  you were a shirker or a skiver.

Yet after 5 years they increased their share of the vote, command an overall majority in Parliament, and despite receiving only 37% of a 66% turnout, can most likely act as they please in setting legislation for the next 5 years.

But, as a colleague suggested to me this morning, “we live in a First World country… we’re not starving, we’re not under military law…” So I’ve been trying to keep things in perspective, and look forward with optimism. And I recall this piece I read yesterday by Simon Ricketts, which I Reckon is beautifully written. I can’t speak for anyone else’s voting intentions, or what shapes their thinking. But this is what shaped mine, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Here’s the thing I’ve never quite got. When I vote, I don’t vote for me.

I don’t vote for what tax cut, what pension benefit, what fuel price freeze, what VAT adjustment will benefit me.

I never have.

When parties promise me things, I can’t help thinking they are pointing at the wrong person.

I’m not rich – in accepted UK terms. But I’m not poor.

I’d love a bit more money. I’d love to be able to pay my rent without first checking that I can. It would be great to be able to pay for a restaurant bill without freezing momentarily when my card goes in the machine,

But generally, I can eat. I can survive, I can feed and clothe my cat. (Shut up).

Thousands and thousands can’t.

I never vote for me. I only ever vote for those who don’t.

I vote for those who never watch Newsnight, who have never heard of the IFS, interest rates, annuity funds, oil prices, deficits, retail price indicators.

I vote for people who need help. People who are much too busy feeding their kids to worry about what colour tie that man is wearing, what clever line that person has rebuffed, what apparent howler that person has been caught on video saying.

It seems simple to me. Vote for the people less fortunate than you. In every situation.

Vote for the people who aren’t looking up. Vote for those who are looking down.

The alternative seems so absurd: “Vote for the person who will enrich me in tiny ways for a little bit, and make sure the other person gets less.”

When my time is up, I can’t imagine happily thinking “I wish I’d grabbed a little bit more for myself.”

But I would be happy to think: “I tried to do something. For people who have less.”

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There is to be a General Election in the UK in 5 weeks’ time, and it could be the most complicated vote and aftermath in a long time, something that makes my misplaced optimism of 2010 look even more naïve.

It seems likely that no one party will command a majority of seats, just like in 2010. But since 2010 there have been two significant shifts in the electoral landscape, namely the (in my mind, more-than-slightly depressing) rise of UKIP and the astonishing surge away from Labour towards the SNP in Scotland. Add those to the grim slow-death of the Liberal Democrats since their unholy deal with David Cameron’s minority Conservative Government, and you have a mess, where even broadly ideological coalitions will struggle to govern.

UK election 2015 power share forecasts

See? Simples..!

No points for second place…

I’ve railed before about how my vote has failed to count in 5 out of 6 previous General Elections. In fact, if I’m being all Russell Brand about this, it probably didn’t really matter in the other one either, as the winning party won a massive majority anyway.

When I’ve voted for a ‘losing’ candidate, he (and it has always been a man) has always gained between 29% – 36% of the votes. That’s certainly a long way from winning, but it’s not insignificant. In all of these constituencies and elections, the winning party has barely won an overall majority, and at least a quarter of the electorate (usually more than 1/3) didn’t vote.

The Electoral Reform Group have long campaigned against this system, where so-called safe seats make up almost 60% of the entire House of Commons. But asking MPs and parties who rely on this for most of their power and influence is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Really… Brian May?

And so, in the midst of this confusion and godawful 24/7 reporting that I won’t even go into (remember: just 5 more weeks…), I may have found a most unlikely new political beacon.

Dr Brian May, astronomer, badger-lover, and one of my musical heroes since I was about 8 years old, has launched a new political website and grass-roots campaign. In all honesty, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of his different concerns, but he’s speaking from the heart, and putting some of his money where his mouth is.

I like quite a bit of it, I recognise and connect with its optimism and desire for something better.  I admire its activism. Most of all, he’s (nearly) convinced me that there is a potential to shake the ‘safe seat’ system, even just a little bit.

In all of the safe seats where I’ve voted over the past 28 years, at least 28% of the electorate didn’t vote, which was (usually considerably) more than the entrenched majority at the polls. It’s often the case that people don’t vote because, like me, they’re depressed / annoyed / apathetic at the whole process; either because they knew it wouldn’t affect the result (either as a winner or loser). Well, I Reckon that the more people think and act like that, the more it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My Cotswolds constituency has elected a Conservative (or equivalent) candidate since its creation in 1918. At the last election the sitting MP won a majority of around 20,000 votes. But more than 24,000 people didn’t turn out. Now I don’t think for a moment that those people would all vote the same way, but I’d wager they could make things a bit closer.

Make it count. Make them count you.

I shall be voting for Paul Hodgkinson on 7th May. I’m no fan of the path taken by his party since the last election, but I’m even less of a fan of the Conservatives, and the Labour Party have seen fit to abdicate responsibility for our constituency by selecting a candidate who has never lived in the constituency (and it seems has barely visited it until recently). It’s as if they can’t be bothered, and seems either complacent or patronising at best. I hope and trust that the Labour candidate is a good man, but why should I vote for him on purely party-political lines?

I Reckon we should all vote. Vote tactically if you want to, spoil your ballot if you want to. But the only sure way to ensure your vote even begins to matter, even starts to count just a little bit, is to actually make your vote be counted, by turning up on 7th May and making some kind of mark. It might not change the result – in fact, it probably won’t. But I Reckon our inactivity breeds complacency and apathy among our politicians, and we deserve better.

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…and I cry.

Last weekend marked the 4th anniversary of my blog. This is also my 200th post, and I’m fast approaching 150,000 words of Reckons. I had hoped to write positive piece about blogging, the things I like writing about, the things that have happened and shaped my recent writing. But in all honesty that’s not coming easily. I had hoped to write it at the start of this week, but it wouldn’t come, I just couldn’t find it in me to write it. There’s a lot of stuff that’s getting me down at the moment, that sits heavily upon me and within me. I think I just need to get it out here, so I can move on and be positive.

Apologies, but this compendium of hassles has come from deep inside. I need to express them, but can’t face writing about them in more detail. I have tried, but it leaves me feeling frustrated, impotent and often angry. And that’s no place to be when in reality I have so much to be thankful for; like the delicious supper I’ve just enjoyed in rare evening sunshine on our patio.

falling down michael douglas

No, not quite here, yet…

Thanks for reading my blog. The occasional feedback and comments I get help keep me writing. I’m often touched by who reads my Reckons and how they respond. Consider this an exception to my usual rules of trying not to moan on too much. Thanks for bearing with me while I try and shake off some demons that sometimes drive me to despair.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as consistently and depressingly disappointed in my adult life as I have been with the current UK Government. It’s one thing for my initial naive hopes for the Coalition to vanish into thin air, quite another for apparently well-educated people to show such a lack of imagination, such stubborn resistance to even acknowledge the possible benefits of expert advice from outside their closest advisors, and such a misguided opinion that There Is No Alternative. At least when the late Margaret Thatcher claimed that, we all knew that she had some guiding ideology, some deeply-set principles. There don’t appear to be any in this administration, short of supporting their own narrow class interests.

The poor are repeatedly demonised and scapegoated. Big Sticks are held over the most vulnerable as benefits are capped, cut or withdrawn completely. All this in the name of weeding out the shirkers. So divorced families are penalised for keeping spare bedrooms so their children can sleep comfortably as they shuttle between households. Anyone who doesn’t work full-time is implied not to be ‘doing the right thing’, not ‘trying to get on’.

Meanwhile, as the poor face cuts and falling living standards, the rich are given tax cuts and incentives to stop them from fleeing the country. The Government seems willing and able to clamp down on fraudsters who are poor or rioters who stole bottles of water, but utterly impotent faced with corporate tax avoiders or indeed those with enough money to support a failing country.

The Leveson enquiry seems to have achieved nothing. The nation was outraged as tales of phone hacking and deeply disturbing relationships between so-called journalists and elements of the police were uncovered. Amorality doesn’t quite do it justice. And all those months of enquiry, millions of pounds and politicians’ promises to implement recommendations have evaporated under the self-interests of the media moguls. I’ve noticed nothing tangible in the behaviour of the press on a day-to-day basis. Churnalism is still rife, and innocents are still paraded in public as suspects with little or no recourse later. Speculation is reported as fact.

I’ve long been frustrated with the way politicians from all parties seem to use Education as a football for points-scoring; in a way they would never dream of with other professions, they openly attack teachers’ credibility, undermining them before parents and children, desecrating morale and achieving very little that’s positive. They crow about achievements when exams passes rise, then criticise the same reports as evidence of dumbing-down and not preparing young people for work. This in itself undermines the children who have just sat the interminable rounds of tests. Cameron promised less testing at the last election, but Michael Gove has introduced more rigid formulae at an earlier age.

Michael Gove cartoon Stephen Collins

More brilliant work by Stephen Collins can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/the-stephen-collins-cartoon

It seems to me that Michael Gove doesn’t like the current cohort of UK children. They don’t read enough Middlemarch. They don’t, like, talk proper, like what he used to 40 years ago. He seems to want to beat the innate creativity and imagination out of them with tests, grammar and a one-size-fits-all approach that flies in the face of empirical evidence and even plain common sense.

You know what, there’s more; mostly the US Gun Lobby and the recent response of the UK media, the  so-called patriots of the right and others to the brutal slaying of a soldier on the streets of Woolwich in London – another relentless and soul-sapping example of finding enemies aronud every corner. Just when Cameron’s Conservative Party were threatening to tear themselves apart over Equal Marriage legislation and Europe, a common foe emerged in the form of a deluded, radicalised killer wielding a bloody cleaver. And the loutish thugs of the EDL make swivel-eyed loons look almost sane and certainly nearly civilised.

But I’ve grown weary of this even as I’ve written it. The birdsong from the beech trees that overlook our back garden is an ambient source of calm. The evening sunlight is still glowing in the vivid green of the beech leaves, and although the temperature is beginning to drop, it’s still warmer than it has been for months. I have a week off ahead of me, visiting family and then camping with friends on the Dorset coast. I can’t wait.

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I got disillusioned with the UK Coalition Government pretty quickly after it was elected. My vain hopes that the Liberal Democrats could actually hold some sway over the Conservatives vanished long ago, which is why I can Reckon with a high level of confidence that the calamitous budget and economic forecasts presented this week are all George Osborne’s responsibility; not the Lib Dems, not Gordon Brown, not the world economy. Gideon has apparently been in charge of the UK economy for nearly 3 years.

I Reckon he must be desperate to stay in his post, despite the brickbats and criticism from virtually every corner after this week’s lacklustre budget, because for one thing he’s never worked outside of the Conservative Party in his entire adult life, and for another thing, by all sane measures and criteria, he should never be able to get a real job in the private sector he so brazenly idolises.

Here are a few reasons why not…

Performance

Osborne seems to want doctors, teachers and all public servants be judged on their measurable results. A coruscating article by Mehdi Hasan lays George’s results out in the open. It also wins points for the best title I’ve seen in a while. Along with the rest of the neo-Con Right Wing, Osborne often likens running the economy to the same principles of running a household or a company. But it’s not just George’s results that would see him sidelined out of any halfway decent company.

osborne uk growth compared to previous decades

So… quite a bit worse than even the 1980s

Inability to forecast

Companies and markets like certainty, they like to hit targets. A key trait of many successful businesses is the ability to manage expectations. Osborne has patently failed to even get close to his forecasts.

uk growth deficit forecast performance 2010-2013

If you can’t forecast, the business can’t plan and perform…

I’m prepared to give him one year’s grace, that the world economy was even worse than expected after the Government took charge, but the ongoing performance is so weak, and so far away from his previous forecasts that in most plcs the shareholders would have taken action long ago. But in the marvellous UK system of democracy, that ability to take action seems more limited to us mere voters. Osborne is as hard to remove as the mythical ‘coasting’ teachers, school governors and other public servants he and his colleagues decry at every opportunity.

No Plan B

The US comedian Stephen Colbert assaulted George W Bush’s Presidency at the White House Press Corps Dinner in 2006 with a series of astonishingly barbed and brilliant gags, none more so than this one…

The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady…You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.

George Osborne has convinced himself that his way is the only way, in the face of so much evidence from around the world. Any company showing the results he’s delivered would be crying out for a new approach, anything to get things moving again. But there’s nothing.  The paucity of thinking, of anything that even resembles creativity, is disheartening to the point of being downright upsetting. The British economy deserves better.

Not Learning from Mistakes

One of the very few “positive” actions in the Budget this week was an announcement to try to stimulate growth through the housing market. Having failed to deliver the export-led economy he previously promised, Osborne is throwing money at house buyers. But this is the same man who last year declared

This country borrowed its way into trouble. Now we’re going to earn our way out…

Has he forgotten that the current recessions were largely caused by banks lending too much money to people who couldn’t afford to keep up the payments for over-priced properties. And yet here he is promising money to subsidise banks to lend money where they wouldn’t otherwise. In short, people who can’t afford houses will be lent additional money to be able to afford them. So now it seems even the Government is getting into sub-prime lending, but at least 7 years after it stopped being a good idea. The economicshelp blog lays out with brilliant simplicity and simple brilliance why this is a bad idea. Houses are still too expensive.

UK house prices against income

Good luck keeping this job, George. You don’t deserve it, and we don’t deserve you.

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Last week I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast that featured extracts from a 2011 book by economist Robert H Frank. He uses examples from Darwinian evolution to highlight contradictions in our natural world, where individual interests and group interests are not always aligned, and draws parallels with our modern political economy.

Right! Now that I’ve got your attention…!?! ;^)

He cites Darwin’s examinations of bull elks. Their genetic imperative, like many other animals, is to take multiple female mates to maximise the chance of their genes being passed onto future generations. Bull elks compete aggressively for mates with their antlers as primary weapons. Typically, bigger antlers will make an individual elk more successful in these fights, meaning he can mate with more females. And so elks will tend to evolve with larger (and larger) antlers. But although this development works in the interests of the individual elks, does it really act in the interests of the group, the species? Larger antlers are heavier, more cumbersome, making it harder for the elk to manoeuvre in dense forest and escape predators.

Bull Elks antlers

I understand from some reviews that Professor Frank’s exploration of Darwin’s work is less-than-complete, but it still poses interesting challenges. How does Natural Selection cope with this inconsistency between self-interest and the interests of the wider group? In the context of the real economy, he challenges us to consider “how much is enough?”. When does the acquisition of personal wealth become detrimental to the society?

After listening to that thorny podcast, I switched to another transAtlantic favourite, This American Life, and the episode Take the money and run…for office, which only made me think that Professor Frank is right. It would seem that American democracy has evolved to favour the candidates or parties or interest groups who can raise the most money for campaigning their message, which is almost certainly going to work in their own interests. But does it really operate in the interests of the people, in the interests of democracy?

The US and its allies have waged wars in recent decades to promote democracy against tyrannical, despotic regimes, spreading freedom and democracy around the globe. But apparently the day-to-day, week-to-week practicalities of US democracy are not primarily about understanding the voice of the people, of listening to the entire constituency of citizens to perform the will of the electorate. Instead, what drives congressmen and senators is…

a gnawing relentless voracious need for cash.

Walt Minnick was a conservative Democrat congressman, who claimed that from the very day he was elected

I needed to raise $10-15,000 a day

…every day of the year. TAL reports that congressmen can spend 2-3 hours every day sat in offices managed by the Democratic and Republican Parties, making calls to raise political campaign funds. While they’re apparently on taxpayers’ time, they spend hours every day of every week begging for cash for their own campaigns. Walt Minnick jokes in all seriousness

…the best thing about being an ex-congressmen is my friends now return my phonecalls.

But not all congressmen are created equal. Congressional committee chairmen and members have a pecking order. The House Administration and Judiciary committees are definitely not on the ‘A’ List, whereas Financial Services, Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means committees are very interesting to all sorts of people. Just being on these plum committees can bring in up to $200,000 more than the average, according to research from the Sunlight Foundation. Chairmen of the ‘A’ List committees can bring in more than $1m. But this blessing is also a curse. The Party leadership know this, and they set targets for fundraising so those with privileged positions can help subsidise others. And God help you if you’re not meeting your targets.

This all reminded me of Glengarry Glen Ross, the salesmen taken to task by Alec Baldwin, waving the dream of “the Glengarry leads”…

First Prize is a Cadillac Eldorado… 2nd prize is a set of steak knives… 3rd prize is you’re fired.

Worse still is the more recent evolution of Super-PACs. Political Action Committees (PACs) have long been the central repositories for financial donations. But a Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case ruled that ‘Super-PACs’ need not identify themselves as the sponsors of political activities. These anonymous conglomerates can take unlimited amounts of donations from companies, individuals, or unions.

Super-PACs raise tens of millions of dollars, but “just” a few hundred thousand dollars can change the course of a close-fought congressional election. And they can do this without declaring who donated the money. According to critics of the Supreme Court ruling, the 2010 midterm congressional elections were the most expensive and least transparent in history.

All this means US politicians are spending more and more time raising money, simply to have a ‘rainy day’ war chest that they might use to respond to intervention from a Super-PAC. Individuals, companies and unions can use their wealth to further their own causes, to get access to law-makers and to influence democratic elections. But where does that leave the rest of us…?

Is this the real state of American democracy? The most advanced state of evolution in our human political systems? Where the politicians spend a sizeable amount of their time attending fundraisers, begging for donations from individuals and lobbyists, where money can buy access to politicians, where organised money can create political campaigns without disclosing their motives or even their identity, where elected politicians live in fear for their jobs if they can’t raise enough money for advertising.

Really?

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