Politicians distrust the people, but trust each other

My second-tier research assistant TNA sends me a link to this story:

Greens co-deputy leader Scott Ludlam has announced he will quit politics today because he is a dual Australian-New Zealand citizen and was ineligible to have ever been elected under the Constitution.

Senator Ludlam said his dual citizenship was brought to his attention last week and it was something he should have checked when he first nominated for preselection in 2006.

He should have checked? Surely somebody else should have checked, no?

This is what I found so odd about the Birther thing with Obama. There are criteria in place for anyone wishing to run for President of the United States, but apparently there is no official body responsible for ensuring the criteria are met. From what I can tell, the setup relies on honesty and a sort of “well, everyone knows” approach. I would have thought Obama and everyone else would have had to demonstrate their eligibility to an electoral office of some sort, who would then confirm or reject the candidate. The situation where questions were raised over Obama’s eligibility, dismissed as racist by his supporters, then halfway through a term he releases a birth certificate which is immediately denounced by sections of the internet as being false is the sort of clusterfuck you’d see in Africa. Which is somewhat ironic, now I think about it.

You don’t need to be a “birther” – and I’m not – to think these questions could have been entirely avoided by having a competent vetting authority in place. It is politicians who pass the laws demanding ordinary citizens produce reams of documents: certified copies, utility bills, passports, etc. every time we are forced to interact with the state in any capacity. But for them? No vetting is required, it seems. Good old-fashioned trust and honesty will suffice, even if it means candidates forgetting they’re half-Kiwi.

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Ducking Responsibility

One of the most liberating things about living abroad is the self-satisfaction you get from knowing the chaos and idiocy you encounter is not of your doing. Be it gangsters running Russian towns, Indonesian maids flogged in Dubai, or Lagos international airport, none of these things can be blamed on me. Living abroad I am a tourist, a mere observer of things around me.

This wouldn’t be the case if I lived in the UK. One of the reasons I find the attitude of the British police so contemptible, why I detest the jumped-up British jobsworth in the hi-viz vest, and why I can’t stand the juvenile posturing of the BBC is because I cannot distance myself from them. These are products of my culture, they are people much like me, and it is difficult to  shrug my shoulders and say “nothing to do with me”. The same is true for Britain’s awful roads, the rise of the nanny-state, and the whining, over-entitled middle-classes. These things start to affect you personally, which doesn’t happen when abroad. There, you can just look on with bemusement and declare these foreigners slightly mad.

I left the UK in 2003, at the height of the New Labour years. I knew when David Davies failed to gain the Tory leadership and Iain Duncan Smith was a complete flop with the voters that I was completely out of step with the rest of Britain. Not that I thought IDS was much good, but I thought him infinitely better than Blair. I was ploughing a lonely furrow with that one. David Davies I thought was pretty good, and still do: he’s the only politician that makes the right noises regarding civil liberties, and for that alone he’d get my vote. But most people think him a deranged right-winger.

I’d not say that the state of British politics was the main reason I left the UK – adventure, better money, and house prices accounted for most of it – but it certainly made it easier knowing I was leaving a place where few agreed with me politically. Now it’s true that few agree with me politically in France either, but here it doesn’t matter: it’s not my problem, I’m a tourist. My French colleagues, however, are fully invested in the nation’s issues, unable to stop caring. Nigerians speak about little other than the state of their nation and where it’s headed. I saw the same in Russia where people took to heart intractable problems that have plagued the country for a century; it didn’t look good for one’s health. By contrast, I wake up not giving a damn.

I suppose in some ways I’ve sloped my shoulders, run away from the responsibility of participating in a modern society.

Well yeah, I have. So what?

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Fog in the Atlantic, America Isolated

From the BBC:

Leaders of 19 nations at the G20 summit in Germany have renewed their pledge to implement the Paris deal on climate change, despite the US pulling out.

Deadlock over the issue had held up the last day of talks in Hamburg but a final agreement was eventually reached.

It acknowledges President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement without undermining the commitment of other countries.

Okay.

In her closing news conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she still deplored Mr Trump’s position on the Paris accord but she was “gratified” the other 19 nations opposed its renegotiation.

And French President Emmanuel Macron also remained hopeful of persuading Mr Trump to change his mind, saying: “I never despair of convincing him because I think it’s my duty.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make when dealing with Trump is thinking it is all about him. This is understandable given Trump thinks everything is about him and so did his predecessor. But even Trump would probably acknowledge that on this issue, and several others, he is simply representing the interests of the people who elected him. That is his job after all, but Merkel, Macron, and the rest don’t seem to understand this: they talk of changing Trump’s mind as if he’s decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement just for the fun of it, instead of it being something he was specifically elected to do. I genuinely doubt they realise that the commitments they’re demanding must first be approved by the senate. The way Macron has kicked off his presidential career, he probably thinks everyone at the G20 can do anything they like, as if they’re medieval kings.

Of course, this is the problem with politicians today, they think they’re leaders of the people rather than mere representatives (a distinction which the Samizdata commenters weighed in on recently). I don’t recall anyone specifically asking the British or French electorates whether they wanted to sign up to this crap, the ruling elites simply agreed among each other that it would happen, and took silence from the masses as consent. Of course, this was only possible because the costs of the agreement are hidden and fall mainly on the United States anyway: as the world’s biggest producer of goods and services, an effective tax on economic activity will hit them the hardest. It’s easy to bully citizens into signing up to something if you hide or lie about the costs, just look at the Olympics. And it’s easier to get people to take a hit if somebody else is getting fucked over twice as hard.

With the USA being the elephant in the room without whose cooperation the whole exercise is pointless, politicians should have spent time and effort finding a solution Americans could accept. Instead, as with the Kyoto Protocol a generation earlier, they didn’t bother and now talk of America being isolated. This is the equivalent of Spanish football clubs forming a league without Real Madrid and Barcelona and claiming the two giants clubs are isolated. Or it’s like world cricket trying to pass reforms without the Indians on board, the folly of which took the blazered idiots in English cricket a long time to learn.

Of course, I think this was quite deliberate. These agreements are set up precisely so the USA will reject them, giving everyone else an excuse to drag their feet or explain why none of these expensive policies has made any difference. And if they do sign up, the Americans hobble their economy and hand over piles of cash. It’s a win-win except for Americans, which is why they keep rejecting it. Little wonder Trump cleared off early and got his daughter to take over.

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Politics, Technology, and Electric Cars

I suppose this is what passes for leadership these days:

France is set to ban the sale of any car that uses petrol or diesel fuel by 2040, in what the ecology minister called a “revolution”.

Nicolas Hulot announced the planned ban on fossil fuel vehicles as part of a renewed commitment to the Paris climate deal.

He said France planned to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Hybrid cars make up about 3.5% of the French market, with pure electric vehicles accounting for just 1.2%.

Firstly, a policy that will only come into force years after the government has left office should be ignored as a matter of course: it’s posturing, nothing more. It’s akin to the schoolkid who boasts he can do a double back-flip but not today, and tomorrow is a Saturday.

Secondly, the announcement implies that everything is on course for electric cars to eventually replace petrol or diesel cars, and all that’s needed is a government push to fund the infrastructure and overcome the inertia. Indeed, that’s what most people seem to think, that electric cars are inevitable and the only thing standing in the way of a wholesale switchover is the mindset of the public, hence the government should intervene to forcibly change it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are several massive hurdles to be overcome before electric cars will become widespread.

1. Where is the electricity going to come from? Charging a few thousand cars is one thing, millions is something else. Whatever energy is currently being expended by burning petrol will have to be generated as electricity, minus any efficiency gains. The current grid is woefully undersized to meet such a demand, probably by an order of magnitude when you consider peak loadings. We could build lots of nuclear plants, but the people who want electric cars don’t like them. Wind is never, ever going to generate much useful power and dependence on solar power requires a step-change in technology which I think will come, but we’re not there yet. Will we be there in 2040? I don’t know, and nor does anyone. Otherwise, we’ll have to build more gas-driven power stations. Will this be better or worse for the environment than the internal combustion engine? Nobody knows.

2. As I wrote here, the problem with electric cars is not so much their range but the charging times. Nobody is going to want to sit around for more than ten minutes waiting for their car to charge unless it’s overnight or while at work, but that seriously restricts the car’s use to regular, short journeys. To overcome this we need a step-change in battery or energy storage technology which isn’t even on the horizon yet. So that’s two technological step-changes we need by 2040.

3. Nobody has really looked at the environmental and economic costs of tens of millions of electric cars. The batteries are big, heavy, and expensive and contain nasty substances. They don’t last long, so how will they be disposed of? How much will they cost to replace? What effect will this have on the used value of the car? Electric cars require nickel, copper, and cobalt. Where do we get this from? Where are the mines? All these issues can be solved but only once the real costs and externalities are known and compared with the situation today. Right now nobody has a clue, but governments have picked a winner anyway. That rarely works out well. In their efforts to improve the quality of air in western cities, politicians might well be make the environment in the developing world worse, especially around the mines. Also, the upgrade of infrastructure to handle mass car charging is enormous. Thousands of miles of new copper cabling will have to be installed, but at what cost – both in cash and environmental terms? Apparently this is something governments think they can do – the same governments that can’t manage to install proper cladding on apartment blocks.

Some humility wouldn’t go amiss, would it? Slim chance of seeing any, though:

Mr Hulot, a veteran environmental campaigner, was appointed by new French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Macron has openly criticised US environmental policy, urging Donald Trump to “make our planet great again”.

I don’t know if today’s politicians are so thick they believe the bullshit they come out with, or they’re simply adept at saying whatever their core voters want to hear. What amuses me is so many people think this immature posturing is leadership, and cheer it loudly.

Norway, which is the leader in the use of electric cars in Europe, wants to move to electric-only vehicles by 2025, as does the Netherlands. Both Germany and India have proposed similar measures with a target of 2030.

None of this will happen. The idiots who proposed it will either start lying about what they promised, or they’ll be turfed out of office.

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Faith in Secular Societies

For someone who is secular, agnostic if pushed, I don’t go in for the wholesale bashing of religion. I don’t much like religions’ political manifestations, as we see with Islam these days, and I also don’t like many religious organisations and the compulsions they impose. But the overall concept I don’t have a problem with, especially if practiced at the personal level.

For whatever reason, every society in existence has worshipped something or other, and this has been the case for millennia. There is something about the human condition which makes belief in higher beings very attractive, and it’s probably better just to accept this rather than argue logic with a few billion people who disagree. In my opinion, challenging somebody on their religious beliefs is like challenging them on their music tastes: it is purely subjective, and people differ. I have no idea why people like jazz – to me it sounds like a truck loaded with saucepans having a bad accident outside a pet shop which is on fire – but it’s extremely popular and it would be stupid to ignore that. Likewise, religion is undoubtedly popular even if I don’t really get it.

My guess is religions’ primary appeal is in dealing with mortality and providing an explanation for things beyond human control, particularly those they didn’t understand (or still don’t). At various points religions evolved into a method of organising society and controlling people, but that appealed more to the would-be leaders than the followers. On that basis, I understand why people are religious. I wrote here about the spirituality of farmers, which is perfectly understandable when your entire livelihood is in the hands of the Gods, so to speak.

Although there are plenty of individuals who don’t believe, I’m not sure there are any genuinely secular societies. One of the things I have observed over the years is that some of the most fundamentalist believers claim to be atheist, and societies that call themselves secular sign up to faith-based worship with as much enthusiasm as anyone. It is true that they might not adhere to the tenants of an organised religion as we know it, but it is nonetheless faith-based worship.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the rise of liberal politics, particularly those related to climate change, happened at the same time traditional religions were in decline in the countries concerned and the Soviet Union was no longer around. The Soviets used to claim they were secular, but their entire system was as much a religion as any, complete with sacred texts, sermons, symbols of worship, saints, martyrs, high priests, apostates, indoctrination, compulsion, punishment of non-believers, and ideas of morality, with the whole lot held together by the blind faith and belief of the masses that this was how they should live. For many people who turned their backs on traditional religion, Socialism provided a ready alternative. And then it all came to a crashing halt.

Only people need to believe. If tomorrow somebody demonstrated that the entire basis of Christianity or Islam was false, we wouldn’t suddenly find ourselves inundated with atheists: they’d simply find something else to worship, a task that would be complete by this time next week. Religion is astonishingly resilient and ubiquitous precisely because so many people want and need it.

So with Soviet-style socialism discredited, non-religious people had to find something else to believe in, and that was liberal politics. Have you noticed how the religious right tend to see politics as part of life, and not life in its entirety? Whereas much of the left see politics as the start, middle, and end of absolutely everything. Most of the right wingers I know can rub along well enough with those who think differently, because ultimately it doesn’t matter that much to them: family, friends, and work comes first. But even supposedly moderate lefties tend to impose political purity tests on anyone they come into contact with, restricting friends, colleagues, and even family members to those who agree with them, and shunning those who don’t. Take a look at the Corbynistas, or the anti-Trump brigades in the US: no dissent or disagreement of any kind is tolerated, and results in excommunication and abuse. It might not be religion as such, but it is a very good approximation of one.

I mentioned climate change because this seems to be the aspect of modern politics in supposedly secular countries which most closely resembles a religion. Once again, we have the sacred texts, the high priests, the apostates, punishment of unbelievers, calls for sacrifices, and indoctrination all wrapped up in a great moral crusade stretching beyond our lifetimes that secures the blind faith of the followers. It makes me laugh when I hear atheists refer to “Science!” when talking about climate change: these people are no more able to challenge the pronouncements of the scientists, whose words have been filtered through the media and politicians, than a medieval peasant was able to challenge the high priests’ interpretations of sacred texts. They are as much wedded to faith as their devout ancestors, but they don’t realise it.

I find modern politics, particularly in the west where Christianity is in decline, is a lot easier to understand if you consider it simply as an alternative to traditional religion. All the elements are there, and the behaviours are wholly expected. None of this ought to be surprising, and I am sure I’m not the first to notice it.

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Why do Blairites hate Corbyn so much?

I confess, I’m at a complete loss to understand why so many of the middle-aged middle classes are aghast at the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, his grip on the Labour party, and the support he receives from the younger generation.

Let us not forget that an awful lot of people now squealing about Corbyn turned out in their droves to vote for Tony Blair. Indeed, some of them still wipe away a tear when they remember those days, and wish another just like him would return. “Oh, but Blair was different!” I hear you say. Was he? Perhaps. But I remember New Labour being all about style over substance, the trashing of institutions and traditions, broken promises, the ballooning of the state in both in size and scope, thousands of petty criminal offences added to the statute books, endless tinkering, meddling and busy-bodying with little purpose and no regard for the side-effects, and an overall dumbing down of politics to the level of reality television.

Note that I didn’t mention the Iraq War: this would account for most of Blair’s unpopularity among the left, otherwise they’d be calling for him to replace Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Nothing in his approach to domestic matters met with the opposition he faced over Iraq, and even today this issue dominates his (poor) reputation. Personally, I’d rather give him a pass over thrashing Saddam Hussein and his army and hang him for everything else, but that’s just me: on domestic matters, most of the middle-aged middle classes think he did a fine job.

Perhaps Tony Blair and chums were better than Jeremy Corbyn and his lot, but one very much prepared the ground for the other. True, we had Cameron in the middle but he did nothing to undo the damage and plenty to make it permanent. It was New Labour’s policies that allowed hard leftists seeped in identity politics and cultural Marxism to infiltrate and take over swathes of the media, education system, councils, charitable sector, and other institutions which now form the basis of Corbyn’s support. How anyone who worshipped at the altar of New Labour can now complain about Corbyn’s insincere opportunism and lack of principles is beyond me: Blair practically wrote the book on it.

You often hear New Labour purists whine that Corbyn is incompatible with the party’s traditions and values, as if their hero Blair didn’t make himself just that to win office – which included abandoning the British working class. Then again, these are people who think Trump is too stupid to understand how the US government works but adored a man who casually abolished the 1,000 year old position of Lord Chancellor without having a clue what the effects would be. In their sorrow many Blairites are looking across the channel to find a new Messiah to deify: France’s Emmanuel Macron. On that subject:

It is a long-standing tradition that the president will be interviewed by the press during the day, but it seems Mr Macron has other ideas.

Le Monde quotes the source as saying that the president did not “baulk” at speaking to the media.

However, “his ‘complex thought process’ lends itself badly to the game of question-and-answer with journalists”, the paper notes.

It is not clear exactly on which subjects Mr Macron felt his thoughts might bamboozle journalists.

A president elected on woolly policies with scant detail decides the plebs are too thick to appreciate his brilliance; little wonder Blair’s disciples adore him. It is why they hate Corbyn so much that remains a mystery to me.

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Fresh Outta Lagos

In late 2010 I took the opportunity to go to the MTV Africa music awards which were being held in the same Lagos hotel I was living in at the time. Afterwards I made the following remark:

Clearly everyone who was anyone in Lagos’ media industry was attending this event, and they’d all donned their most fashionable clothes for the occasion…this was an event of some importance to the kool kats of Lagos.  At 7,000 Naira ($46) per ticket for the standing area, and 15,000 Naira for the seats, those in attendance were drawn from the lucky few of the city’s 15m (or whatever) inhabitants.  The minimum wage in Nigeria is 18,000 Naira per month.

The highlight of the night was a chap called Chuck D, former front man of Public Enemy, who came on to perform.  Unfortunately, he is 50 and looked like somebody’s dad.  But he turned out a reasonable performance which made sense to seemingly everyone but me right up to and including where he urged everyone in the place to “fight the power”.  There is something highly ironic about an American rapper urging a concert crowd made up entirely of Nigeria’s wealthy elite to fight the power.

I was reminded of this when I heard that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – who is worth three million quid – addressed the crowd at Glastonbury, tickets for which cost £238 plus a £5 booking fee. In his speech, Corbyn said (emphasis mine):

Is it right that so many people in our country have no home to live in and only a street to sleep on? Is it right that so many people are frightened of where they live at the moment having seen the horrors of what happened at Grenfell Tower? Is it right that so many people live in such poverty in a society surrounded by such riches?

I want to see a world where there is real opportunity for everybody in our society. That means sharing the wealth out in every part of our country, and looking to global policies that actually share the wealth, not glory in the levels of justice and inequality, where the rich seem to get inexorably richer and the vast majority continually lose out. The desperately poor live on the margins of society which is basically known as the fourth world. Surely we can, as intelligent human beings, do things differently and do things better. And when we’re here today in Glastonbury, we’re doing things differently, we’re doing things better and we’re seeing that inspiration.

The Glastonbury crowd responded to these words with rapturous applause, same as the Nigerian elites did when Chuck D told them to stick it to the man.

I suppose Nigeria and the UK are not the only countries where the wealthy and privileged get together and pretend they’re on the side of the downtrodden masses, but I am nevertheless surprised at how universal such delusions are. At least the Nigerians laid on cheap beer.

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American v British Left

This is a good paragraph from the Zman on the differences between the American and British political Left:

The quest for spiritual egalitarianism in America is a very different thing than the material egalitarianism of Europe. A Jeremy Corbyn has to kit himself out in the garb of the working man in order to be authentically Left. In America, a rich white woman like Elizabeth Warren can lecture us about the poor, from the steps of her mansion, as she is decked out in a designer outfit. The reason is she cares more for the spiritual well-being of the poor than their material condition. She fears the poor are being excluded.

It’s true that the Left in the UK have to conceal their wealth while weeping crocodile tears for the poor, whereas in the US they don’t even bother. France is a curious mix of the two, where multi-millionaire socialists express concerns about material inequality in society.

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Tucker Carlson

Via ZMan I came across this speech by Fox presenter Tucker Carlson which he gave to the International Association of Fire Fighters a few months ago. The first ten minutes are well worth your time, and he makes several points that I’ve made on this here blog over the last year or so.

I like Tucker Carlson, both his political views and presentation style. He is refreshingly honest about the sort of people who inhabit Washington DC and he freely admits that he is very much one of them. His career seems to be soaring – he took over the prime 8pm slot when Bill O’Reilly got the boot – and I hope that, when the ruling classes eventually turn on him and start looking for dirt, they can’t find anything.

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Blaircron

It’s no wonder the Blairites love Macron:

President Emmanuel Macron’s government wants to end a 14-month ‘state of emergency’ in France, but at the same time integrate several of its exceptional anti-terrorism powers into common law, alarming judges and civil liberty groups.

Warrant-less property searches and house arrests, two controversial measures currently used by French security officials under special state of emergency powers, could become ordinary policing practices under a new bill being sponsored by the country’s new government.

This is right out of Blair’s authoritarian, snooping, meddling handbook. If he starts going on about military action in Syria, look out.

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