Thursday, September 29, 2005

Suffolk wilder than Glasgow?

The schools are, according to this - from JEM (via Natalie Solent):
"My wife used to teach in one of the worst comprehensive schools in one of the worst sink estates (Drumchapel) in Glasgow.

Nowadays she teaches in a so-called specialist technical secondary school in rural Suffolk, not far from Cambridge.

Admittedly, she ceased teaching in Glasgow some twenty years ago when we moved here, but nevertheless she keeps in touch with her old teaching colleagues and so still has a pretty firm finger on the pulse of the educational situation up there as well as in East Anglia.

She is quite certain that discipline, quality of teaching, and educational outcome is far worse here than in Glasgow."
I know Drumchapel well. Bandit country for sure, although it has improved a fair bit in recent years. JEM would I think be impressed with how much educational lunacy has progressed in twenty years but in general, I don't doubt what she says is accurate - which is part of the point I was trying to make here: attributing the sub-Lord of the Flies situation in many of our schools to relative deprivation and/or the local culture is part of the rationalisation of failure which is endemic in our educational institutions.

I'm sure it's true that English schools - like the meals served in them apparently - are worse than in Scotland and it's a thought so depressing, I don't want to think about it too much. JEM goes on:
"Teachers in Scotland are on average more professional than in England. This is because in Scottish secondary schools only honours graduates can teach, and then only the subject they graduated in."
I'd like to agree with this rather ego-soothing description, but it's only partly true. It isn't the case that one has to have an Honours degree to teach here* and in general the academic qualification of teaching staff isn't taken nearly as seriously as it should be - but we don't have the absurd situation that exists in England where, for example, there are more than a few Chemistry teachers without even an A-level in the subject, never mind a degree.

It's probably unfair and possibly prejudiced of me to say so but if some of the characters I've seen in TV documentaries are even vaguely representative of English teachers, one of the problems that can't be helping the situation much is some of them seem a little - how to put it delicately? - lacking in firmness. Generally, I try and avoid the futile habit of shouting at TV programmes as if they can hear you - but I was unable to contain myself during this one about a school which unbelievably had been praised in an Ofsted inspection. One guy had a science class in which two girls were rampaging around the classroom chasing each other with one of them picking up equipment and throwing it around. In a science room...
"Now come along Cheryl, don't be silly - put that down", he says in this really limp voice, over and over again to no effect. (He had probably been taught how 'de-fuse' situations by being 'non-confrontational' in teacher-training college.)

"How about saying something like 'put that box down and get your delinquent ass out of my classroom'?", I'm screaming at the telly, "You have to tell them what to do - they have to be told what to do!"
Thing is, may well have not been entirely his fault; he was trained and works in a system that finds this simple truth about adolescents really rather unpleasant and they'd prefer not to talk about it, thank you very much.

*I should point out that having an Ordinary in Scotland means you did a three-year degree rather than four and doesn't necessarily mean you're a thicko, which I'm led to believe it does in England. Is that right?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Gordon Brown: will he be crap?

As Prime Minister, as everyone seems to have assumed he will be. There's good reason to think he'll be a massive disappointment, for reasons I'll attempt to explain in my cack-handed fashion - but this has nothing to do with coming from a Blairite position.

I'm by no means blind to his advantages: for one, Brown is clearly the intellectual superior between the two - and a historian to boot, always a good sign. Moreover, Dr. Brown has been sensible enough to eschew the academic title in politics - perhaps mindful of how much a gift this is for those responsible for coining the tabloids' headlines. Were he to become PM, he would be the most intellectually heavy-weight one since - oh, God knows who. Certainly more so than Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher and Major - to name just the ones from my lifetime.

Although much dismissed, I do also think he has a genuine interest in social justice and in this I do think there's more than a cigarette paper to put between him and Blair on this issue. Brown is genuinely more skeptical about market reforms in the public sector than Blair, who is a believer. Brown is more right on this.

And he was more right about the Euro than Blair as well.

He also opposed ID cards in Cabinet - arguing rightly that they're an expensive waste of time. One reason for preferring Brown to Blair that remains is that it's impossible to imagine him being more illiberal than Blair - plus I don't think we'd have to endure quite so much of all this low-grade management pish that Blair comes up with.

Add to this he's someone those of us from the West of Scotland immediately recognise and feel more comfortable with: the background in old Labour; paid his dues fighting the Tories and the Nationalists; morally other words, a miserable Calvinist like so many of us.

But I think it's a mistake to think he will revive the Labour Party and be a blinding success as a Prime Minister, for the following reasons:

  • The first point is the most trivial: while I might recognise him as someone I understand, the rest of the country may not. Scotland only represents around 10% of the population of the UK and the West an even smaller proportion. His appeal, in other words, is by no means universal.

  • He's a grumpy sod. This no doubt related to the above and of no fault of his own I'm sure - but it ain't good for diplomacy or for keeping the various factions in the Labour Party happy. (Or at least keeping their animus at a tolerable level, if we want to to justice to the reality.)

  • He is the intellectual architect of New Labour. Leaving aside the question of what you think about that, anyone that imagines Brown is fundamentally less pro-American or pro-market than Blair is deluding themselves and the actual reality of his position would eventually alienate the left of the Labour Party. One has to face the fact that this constituency are fundamentally unhappy with the exercise of power and it's politically pointless trying to make them happy; it's against their nature.

  • If the way that he has conducted the Exchequer is anything to go by, there is absolutely no reason to think that this government's centralising of power and its politicisation of the civil service would not continue under a Brown Premiership.

  • His political skills are too inconsistent. On occasion, he's been brilliant. Granting the Bank of England - regardless of what you think about its implications economically - was a stroke of political genius the significance of which has never, in my view, been properly acknowledged. This is the first Labour government in history never to have been derailed by a Sterling crisis. That's due in no small part to the fact that Dr. Brown knows his history. But often he has been inept. Remember the 75 pence a week dividend to pensioners? Remember how he caved-in to the fuel protesters? But above all, remember his really quite absurd behaviour in government. People look for a difference between Brown and Blair - skipping over the obvious point that what they fundamentally disagree about is who should be Prime Minister. Now, on this issue I really think Brown has been petulant and really quite pathetic. And you can be quite sure he would in reality be entirely unsympathetic to anyone behaving in the way he has in his administration.

But he'll probably be PM nonetheless. For what's the alternative? He has no equals in the Labour Party and he'll benefit from a Tory party with an on-going identity crisis. Which leaves the Liberals who like the left of the Labour Party, do not seriously aspire to hold power - which is just as well because it isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

Or if you want to become the political equivalent of the Jehovah's Witnesses, there's always the Respect coalition - or the SSP in Scotland. They'll come to power around the time you finish that novel you've been meaning to write...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

McCarthyism today

Where I would agree with Natasha Walter is that no organisation should be legally proscribed for espousing views that are morally and politically repugnant.

Where I could not agree with her is in her misty-eyed comparison with the present day apologists for fascist death-squads with those in Europe and the United States who believed the Soviet model represented the best hope for socialism during the 1930s.

Which is not to say that these people, with the benefit of historical hindsight, come off particularly well. Has she forgotten the way in which the Webbs and and Bernard Shaws and all the other darlings of the literary left were either too stupid or ignorant to acknowledge Stalin's crimes? Aren't we forgetting that Orwell was in a minority when he saw through him immediately and denounced him?

And in other ways, hers is a rather one-sided account of the tendency to make common cause with totalitarian movements in the 1930s. Too many forget, for example, that prior to its utter discreditation when the gates of Auschwitz were opened, how popular eugenic ideas - and specifically anti-semitism - were in Britain during the thirties. Consider the background: for all the fears, no Western European state has ever fallen to a communist takeover - but two did fall in this dark phase of European history to revolutionary movements of the revolutionary right. The present day Islamicist represents this phenomenon, rather than Bolshevism, for a number of reasons:

  • While all three hate the present, idealise the ancient past, and look for its recreation in the wake of a revolutionary upheaval - Marx's ahistorical "hunter-gatherer" society was one where human emancipation and liberty were imagined: fascism and Islamism idealise really existing societies that were warlike, hierarchal, brutal.

  • Even in its most idealistic, furious, hellish and bestial phase during War Communism, the Bolshevik revolution always had as a cornerstone of its ideology a belief in the emancipation of women. In contrast, fascism and Islamism have as an essential component the view that God or Nature has given women a servile role.

  • Whatever else it might have been, communism had a belief in the brotherhood of man at its core; fascism and Islamism do not. Moreover, within the narrowed community of the global uma, the notion of confessional solidarity has been honoured more in the breech than in the observance. For all the people they've killed, one should never forget that Al-Qaeda and their imitators, as the record shows, prefer to kill their co-religionists more than anyone else.

What communism, fascism and Islamism do have in common is, as Ms. Walker says, a belief in the perfectibility of human society.

Problem is, this is not the view taken by traditional Islam, which holds that no society can be perfect, given that it's composed of humans beings who are morally frail in a variety of ways.

This it shares with Judasim and Augustinian forms of Christianity.

Here at least they are surely right?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Blogging advice

Found this piece of advice posted at Norm's about blog traffic:
"Over 80% of the daily traffic to almost every blog is generated by people going directly to the main URL of a blog without any prompting from a link, blogroll or web search. If you want to build an audience for your blog, you are going to have to get them to come in through the front door on a regular basis."
I should say this is Chris Bowers' advice and not Norm's. Dunno about other people's but this certainly isn't the case with mine: according to the old sitemeter, were it not for kind people linking my blog and individual posts, I reckon I'd have about two readers a week - which brings me to the latest blogroll update:
Natalie Solent - new to me, but obviously not to others, given the amount of hits her kind linking of one of my posts generated. (Thanks also to Laban.)

I'm also adding this: following an initial misunderstanding, there's now an outbreak of love and peace - although not too much; you can't trust a hippy, after all.

And, um, I'll put this back after this conversation (silliness on my part; apologies to all readers who imagined this is a blog written by a mature adult).
Next task: a proper tidy-up of links, putting them in aphabetical order and all that - but the very idea suddenly makes me feel tired...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Scottish education system officially pants

You no longer have to take my word for it: here's some detail on how the drop out rate is higher in Scottish universities than in the rest of the UK - despite having no top-up fees. (Free-marketeers: I just know you're going to tell me that part of the reason is because of having no top-up fees.) Also our system is conspicuously failing to include those from poorer backgrounds.

Big part of the reason is this - conformation, as if it were needed, that the culture of compulsory euphemism harms those very pupils that it's supposed to benefit...

McConnell acts over asylum raids

This refers to the recent dawn raids in Glasgow where Kosovan asylum seekers were taken away in handcuffs. The shock news is McConnell has rightly taken issue with the Home Office over this:
"The first minister has taken a stand against the "heavy-handed" removal of failed asylum seekers from Scotland.
Jack McConnell has instructed Scottish Executive colleagues to lobby the Home Office for a new agreement on handling families facing deportation.

There was outcry when a Kosovan family were taken from their home in Glasgow earlier this month in a dawn raid.

The Home Office defended the removal policy and said it would consider the executive's concerns.

The children's commissioner had accused the state of "terrorising children" and "a clear breach of human rights".

Now the first minister has decided to confront the Home Office on its tactics."
The rest is here. While I'm a unionist, I would have to frankly admit that this is one area that is an argument for independence - or at least for further powers to be devolved to Holyrood because up here we simply don't have the same concerns as those living in the South of England. It is to the credit of all the nationalist parties - the SNP, the SSP and the Greens - that they have consistently opposed the Westminster-led harsh treatment of asylum seekers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bishops want to apologise for Iraq war

From the Times:
"BISHOPS of the Church of England want all Britain's Christian leaders to get together in public to say sorry for the war in Iraq and its aftermath.

The bishops say that the Government is not likely to show remorse so the churches should. They want to organise a major gathering with senior figures from the Muslim community to make a 'public act of repentance'".
How sweet - apologising for something they didn't even do, those lovely Christians. The precedents for this?
"The bishops cite as precedents the official statements by the Vatican expressing sorrow for the Christian persecution of the Jewish people throughout the ages, the repentance by the Anglican Church in Japan for its complicity in Japanese aggression during the Second World War and the regret expressed by leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa for their theological and political backing of apartheid."
Forget the Japan thing (not that it's insignificant) and just focus on 1 and 3. Have you ever? Words fail me - they really do...
"The bishops cite a 'long litany' of errors in the West's handling of Iraq, including its past support for Saddam Hussein, its willingness to sell him weapons and the suffering caused to the Iraqi people by sanctions."
Yes, supporting Saddam Hussein was a Bad Idea - largely due to the fact that he was a megalomaniac sadist that was an enemy to his population and to his neighbours. Sanctions were supposed to contain him, which they did. But it was the people who suffered, whilst the regime survived with contemptuous ease. That's why I supported regime change. Morality consists of the existence of real alternatives, bish - so out with it, what was yours?

There's various other pieces of drivel - all couched in the language of "understanding", which could bring a tear to a glass eye:
"The bishops plead for understanding of Iran's nuclear ambitions. 'The public and political rhetoric that Iran is a rogue regime, an outpost of tyranny, is as fallacious as the Iranian description of the US as the Great Satan.'"
Since the USA - unless you believe in the existence of Satan (and lots of other little Satans, presumably) - can't be "the Great Satan", the comparison is of course completely ridiculous. Someone tell Bish that it is not fallacious to describe Iran as an "outpost of tyranny".

Bish goes on:
"They go on to condemn the Western style of democracy...describing it as 'deeply flawed'"
Now here we're on to some agreement: one of the major flaws in ours that immediately springs to mind is the existence of an established church, with the accompanying presence of unelected bishops warming seats in the House of Lords...

Monday, September 19, 2005

More tales from the trenches

Here's how an overpaid bureaucrat-educationalist might describe the situation in the average Glasgow school: "Some of our youngsters are a little 'lively' and it can be a 'challenge' to keep them 'on task' (these idiots often actually say these things and do that pathetic indication of quotation marks with their fingers). This is often due to their sometimes 'inappropriate' behaviour towards teachers, with whom they are occasionally 'over-familiar'".

Actually, the above is far too comprehensible, but you get the idea...

The reality: on Friday one of my new comrades - we'll call him Fred - was assaulted for the heinous crime of ejecting a pupil, who was disrupting the learning of others, from the room. His 'line-manager' (i.e. the head of department) said, "Outrageous behaviour, Fred. Don't worry, we'll make sure this is dealt with thoroughly".

Except he didn't: he said to Fred at the end of the period, "Now, here's where you went wrong..."

Fred interrupts and says, "Here's where you're going to go wrong - if you try and finish that sentence. I've been assaulted and I don't care how you do it, I want it dealt with. And while you're at it, write me up a reference and it better be a good one..." (You'll sense Fred is a tad pissed-off at this point.)

Later that day, DHT (we'll call him Archie) comes to talk to Fred.

"So, I trust that you've come to tell me that (pupil x) is being put out?"

"Well, it's not as simple as that - y'see, pupil x has made a Complaint".

"He's made a Complaint?", says Fred - "About what, exactly?"

"He says you called him a wank in the corridor".

"Was this supposed to have happened after he assaulted me?"

"Erm, yes..."

"Don't you see what's going on here?"

"Well, did you?"

"Please tell me you're fucking joking?"

The question is re-asked and Fred is put in the position of having to say, "Of course I didn't". He then agrees to participate in the meeting that is to be set up to investigate the "incident" (the alleged swearing as much as the assault) but not before he tells Archie that if he can't get some assurance that something will be done, he's popping out to the cop shop at lunchtime to report the incident.

Now, I can't verify the detail of every sentence and chain of events - but something like this happened. And something like this happens all the time in Scotland's schools. Nothing gets done about it. I blame the teachers myself: my colleagues aren't nearly angry enough about this sort of shit.

Our glorious Executive (the bureaucracy formerly known as the Scottish Office) has never quite managed to get the balance between the availability of trained teachers and the number of posts quite right. For instance, there are a number of unfilled vacancies including in my own council at the moment. Yet there are 30 000 trained teachers in Scotland currently not working in teaching.

Funny that...

Update: Difficult to believe but the situation becomes even more absurd. The offender hasn't been excluded but simply shifted from one section to another. The reason? Fred has been informed that this is because the allegation concerning the swearing cannot be disproved since there were no witnesses! Fred said to his head of department, "So that means I can give you a slap and get away with it if I claimed you swore at me afterwards?" Fred, as you can imagine, is at the spitting blood stage. The union said to ask the management how they can possibly justify such inaction on such a ludicrous basis and to get back to them with the response. That should be, um, interesting...

German election

With Frau Merkel's Christian Democrats winning a tiny minority, it seems the German's have had the worst possible kind of result: one where people have to sit down and scratch their heads, trying to work out what it means.

There's more from Third Avenue on the possible colours that may be found in the various coalitions.

I know it's desparately unfashionable but it's this sort of thing that leads me to argue the case for PR is not proven: for all the talk of PR being "more democratic", whatever coalition emerges, it'll be a compromise that the electorate did not vote for.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Blunkett faces new exam claims

This has to do with the allegations that David Blunkett put pressure on civil servants and was behind the sacking of an employee who alerted the Observer that Blunkett had intevened in the interests of his son whose grades stood to be at risk in the wake of the 1998 exam grading fiasco.

Now I wouldn't want to prejudge these allegations without more information, but I think any Blunkett defenders might want to rule out the "no New Labour minister - and especially not David Blunkett - would ever dream of bullying civil servants to further their own personal and political gain", line of defence.

Where's the outrage?

As asked here. It's a very good question, although I couldn't agree with all of the responses.

There's a response here that's good - although if I could add: I'm saving my outrage for the day that expressing a viewpoint actually becomes a crime - but the government's proposed bill that would outlaw "glorifying terrorism" is so fantastically illiberal that surely even our normally docile legislature will shoot it down in flames?

Entirely typical of this government: cover there own past failures to enforce already existing legislation by pretending that what is required is endless new legislation.

It's not that Blair doesn't believe in democracy; sometimes I think he believes in it too much. While democracy and liberty have historically and philosphically complimented each other for the most part, they are two different things: the latter does not necessarily flow from the former; and it is the latter that I suspect Blair doesn't believe in at all - not even a little bit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Flat taxes and simplicity

There's been a fair amount of good stuff on this in the press and on various blogs, a number of which are rounded up here and also here.

The flat rate tax system, kindly explained to me by this gentleman in his comments box, is one where a single rate of tax is charged on everything - income, corporations and goods at the point of sale. Experimented with in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, the idea appears to be catching (although notably with a lot of people who don't seem to have won many elections recently).

Personally, I do not think a left-wing case can be made for this, as Jarndyce argues in this piece. I don't understand why this essentially (if my memory of university serves me - and I confess it often goes AWOL on these occasions) monetarist idea has become the new chic. It reminds me a of the big shoulder pad/leg-warming craze of the same decade: struck a lot of people around me as a good idea at the time; didn't buy it then and I really think people now should confess it was all a bit embarassing...

Seriously, I think in particular the virtue of it's simplicity is overrated. I'm not indifferent to this when it comes to the administration of a government's tax/benefits policy. In a previous incarnation, I was an indifferently trained and radically underpaid welfare rights officer. When we got queries about pensions, it used to make my head hurt and I often had to go and lie down for a while, such is the tortuous complexity of our system.

If you imagine that the Iron Lady heroically scythed through a jungle of red tape astride her white stallion, liberating the huddled masses of the virtuously thrifty middle income earners from the lumbering leviathan of the state-system, I've got some dispiriting news: it was largely due to her changes, and the way they interface and overlap with the pre-existing state insurance-based system, that were largely responsible for the confusion. Very difficult to measure confusion and put a precise figure on how much one head hurts - but I reckon a conservative estimate would put it at around five times more confusing, and that's very confusing. (I'm using the length of time I had to lie down as a rough guide here. If you've come to this site looking for a statistically rigorous analysis of the issue, I'm afraid you've been misdirected.)

What she unquestionably did make much simpler and easier to administrate (and explain) was the benefits system, excluding pensions. It's not that removing some of the absurdly complex web of varying criteria for recipient to claim obscure benefits for incontinent household pets and the like wasn't welcome from an administrative point of view - but I don't think it did anything to advance social justice at all. On the contrary, the system became more parsimonious and had a couple of build-in mechanisms that permitted claimants to receive less money than the government by it's own definition deemed sufficient to sustain a decent minimum living threshold. Moreover, any supposed dividend resulting from less bureaucrats has been conspicuous by its absence.

The problem with the notion that the flat tax would simplify things is that it is simply wrong. The complexity of the above mentioned pensions mangle, for instance, had (has) nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that income tax or corporation tax is paid at different rates and everything to do with the number of different agencies that interact over the provision of welfare. There is not the least doubt that both Thatcher and Major, and now Blair, have greatly added to this problem.

Furthermore, a flat tax would not even render neutral what is already a regressive tax regime in this country. Jarndyce is right to say, "our tax system might be tagged 'progressive', but it is in name only" - although one could add both that those who describe it thus are simply misinformed, and that to think a flat tax would rectify this is wrong. The regressive nature of our tax system is due not to the existence af varying rates of income tax but to the balance of the government's fiscal take between those taxes that are instrinsically regressive - namely, those levied on consumption - and those which can be progressive, like income and corporation tax.

If the current balance was left in place and a flat tax were to be introduced, the overall effect would be to make it even more regressive. It would clobber the poor and middle income families in Britain. The only conceivable way they could end up with more post-tax income would be if the total government take of the national income were cut quite deeply. What to do with all that extra money? I'd get some health insurance if I were you - assuming you can afford it, that is.

This of course is the agenda here - and please don't fall for the rather flimsy leftish justification that a flat tax, because of its simplicity, would result in rich capitalists being unable to exploit loopholes in the system. Multi-nationals can avoid tax largely because of their ability to move their funds and production elsewhere if necessary. To the extent they're likely to favour a country with a flat tax, I'd suggest this would have nothing to do with the simplicity of the tax regime; only that they expect to pay less under it. This would be the cause behind any reduction in tax-avoidance: the taxes are no longer worth avoiding.

Moreover, while it would be nonsense to deny that varying tax rates can and are exploited, it does not follow that therefore these variances should be abolished. One such variance exploited by unscrupulous employers, for example, is the point around which it goes from zero to 10%. Is it being suggested that this should be resolved by ensuring the first pound that any worker earns is taxed at the full rate? It's like the benefits system argument: I never quite understood how people justified the idea that an entire welfare system should be dismantled simply because some people have learned how to defraud it.

If the flat tax was to be consistently applied, it would mean a radical reduction in the price of alcohol and tobacco. Splendid for me certainly but I'm getting to the fogeyish stage where I worry about the nation's youth following my sorry example. At present, the average 15 year old has to struggle along with the odd ten-pack of Mayfair cigarettes (rank - taste like the manufacturers fill them with old socks and stuff) and a couple of those sugar-alcohol fusions that glow like radiation. Post- flat tax, they'll be puffing their way through Havanas and swilling Chivas Regal on a daily basis (more likely, they'd just buy more Mayfair and buckie).

And if there are to be exceptions - on what basis? Wouldn't that just complicate things?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

Light posting due to excruciating professional experience...

You know that way if you come back from a holiday, or start a new job, or anything you might be apprehensive about professionally, and you worry but ameliorate this by telling yourself that it can't possibly be as bad as you think it's going to be?

Nine times out of ten this would be the right attitude to take, in my experience.

But this is one of those one in ten moments.

I haven't been so tired since my son was first born.

For those who don't know, that's tired - soul-tired...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The New Orleans disaster

Absolutely horrified and astonished like everyone else. Of course people have been quick to blame Bush - and to the extent that the executive response has been painfully slow and woefully inadequate, which it certainly seems to have been - this is entirely justified.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume another president would have necessarily been able to perform better - a mistake because excessive partisan thinking leads one to ignore the inherent weaknesses that the American republic has when confronted with organisational challenges that require a strong central government response.

Most Europeans fail to grasp how decentralised this United States of America actually is. The powers retained by the states - perhaps most dramatically demonstrated in the exercise of political power in the arena of life and death - far exceed anything experienced in even the most federalist of European states. These have historically been jealously guarded and have been the source of much friction through history and particularly since the 1930s.

I haven't formed a judgment over where responsibility for the mismanagement of relief to New Orleans because there's just too much information at present but this paragraph from a Guardian piece didn't surprise me at all:
"At the heart of the failure seems to be a breakdown in the relationship between national and local agencies. The authorities in the Louisiana state capital are increasingly at loggerheads with federal disaster relief officials over what to do with the thousands of people still trapped in New Orleans."
At some level, I think it'll be found, is that the federal response was so dismal because the federal government is so accustomed to a role of relative inactivity when it comes to the whole business of mobilising resources efficiently in cooperation with the states.

When you consider that it was known that thousands of extra people would need transport during the predictable and welcome coming of the Olympics to the United States - and then when you remember what a shambles it was, perhaps the present incompetence won't seem so surprising. I know unfavourable comparisons have been made to the San Francisco earthquake and so forth but but leaving aside the questionable memory of prior internal relief efforts as a blinding success, one shouldn't overlook the fact that the federal government doesn't act swiftly and efficiently as a rule because it is not designed to do so.

And it shouldn't have taken a disaster like this for the misty-eyed view of state rights to evaporate. Liberals hailed this in the recent Shapiro case because "states rights" had in this instance been a bulwark against a pro-life agenda - forgetting, perhaps, that "states rights" have been used to resist the abolition of slavery and desegregation, and were used, in some cases effectively, against FDR's expansion of welfare and the national recovery programme. The other fact that needs to be faced is that the case for the federal government taking nothing to do with welfare is every bit as strong as the one that disallowed this born-again president using his executive power from intervening in a right to life case.

The way both liberals and conservatives in America bend the constitution to fit their own agenda is often as comic as their teetotal evangelicals trying to persuade people that the primitive church shared their abstemious attitude to alcohol. Instead of pretending the constitution says what it doesn't, liberals in particular should speak more plainly and simply argue for the changes they believe are required to bring it up to date. More constructive than deluding themselves that all America's problems stem from the fact their guy's not in power, I'd have thought...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Francis Fukuyama on Iraq

On the cover of today's Guardian, an article by the above author is advertised with the question, "Will Iraq be America's undoing?" (Can't provide a link, sorry - but if anyone can, I'll add it).

This section was curious:
"...the president, by the time of his second inaugral address, justif(ied) the war in exclusively neo-conservative terms: that is, as part of an idealistic policy of political transformation of the broader Middle East".
Curious because the Guardian reader is left in no doubt that this was a Bad Thing, which would never have happened if only people had taken his advice - which rather begs the question of how his name came to be at the bottom of this statement from the PNAC.

There's been plenty of examples of people backtracking in various ways from what they claimed was a stance made on principle, but this is ridiculous.

I'm sure Fukuyama didn't choose the strapline because his article doesn't actually address the advertised question. I'm not big on political soothsaying, but if I were, I wouldn't in any event consult Mr. Fukuyama because, to be perfectly candid, he sucks at it.

Who do the Tories have for today?

Because Ken Clarke is yesterday's man. I like the breezy manner, the cigars, the jazz, let's have another pint and to hell with the waistline as much as most people seem to. But his Heathite managerialism, his Kissinger-lite realpolitik and his Euro-enthusiasm are so 1970s, darling - and while the derailing of the integration train has relieved the pressure on Clarke on this third point, I personally don't think his failure to see the shortcomings and weaknesses of this project should be overlooked. I combine this with a wee bugbear I have about the way that Tory politicians' failures are immediately overlooked by some so-called "progressives" if they are pro-European.

David Cameron, on the other hand, is too young. I was getting depressed at the thought of a Tory leader that was actually younger than me, but he's proved himself to be just too damn young, I'm happy to say. Take this comment, for instance: "I know this is how young people feel because this is how I feel."(Emphasis added). Embarrassing, I think you'll agree - you're 38, David, 38! - yet indicative of his relative youth because he's not yet of an age to realise that most people - and especially not the yoof - are very impressed when politicians (like teachers) attempt to ingratiate themselves to people by pretending to be like them, when it's blindingly obvious to everyone that they are not.

Mature leadership requires the realisation that the understanding is, by the nature of the exercise, limited and that there needs to come a time when one has to take responsibility for trying to make oneself understood. But this presupposes that one has a philosophy, a political outlook with policies that one wants to get across. So what are they, boys? What are you for?

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