strumpetocracy – A government formed of prostitutes
A letter to my MP:
Dear Mr Paice,
I write as one of your constituents.
I know there are different views about the role of government. I generally vote conservative because I see in your party the closest match to my own, which is of a government that holds the ring in which private citizens conduct their business. I feel the government should maintain law and order and national defence, uphold contracts and agreements and provide a safety net welfare state.
The recent coalition proposal that ISPs retain all electronic communications that pass through their networks is, quite simple, a proposal to abolish the private citizen entirely.
It is profoundly illiberal (in the original and correct sense) and extraordinary coming from a party that, in opposition, fought against the Labour Party’s more predictable addiction to general precautionary surveillance.
It seems to me proof that we are actually governed by a semi-hereditary class of authoritarian civil servants who ‘capture’ new administrations, whatever their best intentions might have been in opposition.
I hope you will vote against this measure.
Let me ease back into this, after a break of several months, with an easy one.
Norm asks: Why is one inequality different? The context is a piece contrasting the strides towards greater racial and gender equality in the USA with the widening economic stratification that has accompanied it.
Here’s the answer: one inequality is not different. Equality means ‘of opportunity’ – and this is precisely what is meant by greater racial and gender equality: equality of opportunity.
Differing economic outcomes are not a measure of equality. In fact, differing economic outcomes are an inevitable consequence of equality of opportunity.
The apparent paradox is no more than a conjuring trick with words. In the chalk corner we have equality. In the cheese corner we have redistribution of wealth. They aren’t the same thing at all and never will be, however much you try to redefine the meanings of words for the purpose of political rhetoric.
This is an interesting interview with Thomas Pogge (via Norm Geras). He is concerned about global inequality and, while I don’t instinctively agree with his (redistributive) remedies, reading the piece made me aware how much room for agreement there can be across apparent political divides if an instinctive rejection of the other’s view can be suppressed.
Take this, for example:
… dictatorial regimes often manage to keep themselves in power because they are recognized by foreigners as representing the state and its people, and therefore as entitled to sell the country’s natural resources and to borrow money in its people’s name. These privileges conferred by foreigners keep autocrats in power despite the fact that they were not elected and do not rule in the interest of the population.
If we offer a prize, so to speak, to anyone who manages to bring a country under his physical control – namely, that they can then sell the country’s resources and borrow in its name – then it’s not surprising that generals or guerrilla movements will want to compete for this prize. But that the prize is there is really not the fault of the insiders. It is the fault of the dominant states and of the system of international law they maintain. They create this disturbing fact that, if only you manage to bring a national territory under your physical control, then you will be recognized worldwide as its legitimate government: entitled to sell its people’s natural resources, to borrow and sign treaties in their name, and entitled also to import the weapons you need to keep yourself in power.
It goes much further than this, as the Arab Spring demonstrated. A policy of maintaining regional ‘stability’ led to large grants of money being made in ‘aid’ to tyrannical regimes. The scare quotes are because I don’t think the Middle East has been particularly stable and I don’t think aid is a very good word for the giving of financial support to tyrants.
… the massive corruption common in so many developing countries would be quite impossible if Western countries did not provide convenient opportunities to ship ill-gotten funds out of the country. It wouldn’t make much sense for a ruler to store in his basement large quantities of stolen cash in his own country’s currency. A corrupt ruler wants to be able to keep this money safe and to be able to spend it. And for this, he needs to convert it into a Western currency and store it in a bank abroad, where it can also earn investment returns and be bequeathed to his heirs. Global Financial Integrity estimates that less-developed countries have lost at least $342 billion per annum in this way during the 2000 to 2008 period.
The (right) libertarian-inclined writer P J O’Rourke commented that when politicians regulate commerce, the first things that get bought and sold are the politicians. Pogge puts it like this:
Our Supreme Court has even lifted this practice of buying legislation to the level of a constitutional principle by repeatedly protecting corporate spending for and against political candidates, as well as promises and threats of such spending to bribe and blackmail such candidates, by appeal to the free-speech clause of the First Amendment. I think that many citizens understand how our system works, or rather, fails to work, for structural reasons. But who has the capacity and the incentives to bring change? The banks and other corporations love the system because it allows them to buy legislation that serves their own interests even at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. Incumbent politicians love the system because it allows them to raise millions of dollars toward defending their seats. And the politicians, of course, get to appoint the judges who decide whether our constitutional protection of free speech also protects a bank’s purchase of legislation.
There isn’t much room between those two positions. But then Pogge goes on:
… the lack of a realistic political reform path leads to apathy and the kind of mindless frustration that manifests itself in the Tea Party-style hatred of any and all government.
I haven’t studied the Tea Party movement in any detail but from what I’ve seen it is far from mindless. What it is, rather, is unsophisticated, blue collar, not always very well-informed, and sometimes inarticulate. But Pogge falls into the trap, I think, of regarding them, instinctively, as enemies because he imagines them in the trenches on the far side of No Man’s Land. In fact, to some extent – not all – they are his natural allies.
It’s a very long interview and I’ve made this point well enough, I hope, not to need to give further examples. What strikes me above all is that if, instead of fighting on the grounds of principles – egalitarianism, religious conservatism, libertarianism and so on – where we disagree, people tried to find common ground in what they can agree are serious problems and then examine reality to agree what pragmatic steps might alleviate these problems, then we’d be able to advance liberalism far more effectively. Today, there is no effective, organised Liberal movement. Liberal values are scattered across the political landscape and, because they are scattered, they have few means of effective expression. Between the gaps, the illiberal, the corrupt and the self-serving can advance and profit.
We can argue about whether we should redistribute more; I think not because we’ve done lots of that I don’t think it has worked either domestically or internationally. We can argue about whether we should be striving for greater domestic and international economic freedom, free markets, free trade – which I do think have worked in practice. But wouldn’t it be better to be arguing about those thing having solved the problems, identified above, about which there can be widespread liberal consensus?
I agree with Tim and Guido. Ian Puddick used twitter and various websites to publicise his wife’s affair with an insurance broker who subsequently lost his job, reportedly because of the stress Puddick caused him. Puddick is now facing charges of harassment.
Very many public figures and politicians are subjected to campaigns that step well beyond the realms of reasonable discourse but occasionally the campaigns are right. It would be dangerous to allow the powerful to silence this sort of criticism, so unfortunately the less powerful have to have the same lack of protection. After all, politicians should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us, and vice versa.
It’s easy to say this when you haven’t been the target of this sort of campaign. One of the good things about being the subject, myself, of an online campaign by Darius Guppy is that he gives me the opportunity to walk the walk when it comes to the subject of free expression.
Have you shown support for the Iranian Green Movement? Here’s a report from the Green Voice of Freedom:
During a press conference held last week, a journalist for the conservative Keyhan daily asked the prosecutor, “currently, certain people beyond our boarders have a tight-knit coordination with the sedition and spread lies about leading Iranian officials in the anti-revolutionary media everyday. Does not the judiciary system have a plan to indict them?”
“It is very obvious that Iranians who commit crimes oversees, or even those who are not Iranian nationals but act against Iran outside the country are subject to being pursued or followed,” warned E’jei.
Referring to certain reform figures who have been forced to flee the country following the 2009 presidential election, he continued: “currently, there are people outside the country who once had claims within Iran, but are now shamefully cooperating with the Americans and the British while acting against their own people; and this is a dark stain for them.”
According to the website of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), he added, “they must be pursued, and they will be punished should they return to Iran one day. And if they are outside the country, the prosecution must utilise international bodies to pursue them, something they are most certainly doing.”
It’s a phrase that gets bandied about a lot, people often meaning quite different things by it. Here’s a take:
Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. “These are all incorrect,” he wrote me. “The rule of law means that judges decide cases ‘without respect of persons,’ that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers.”
Now Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who has risen to prominence in the Egyptian revolution, has offered thanks and support to the Iranian Green revolutionaries:
I would tell Iranians to learn from the Egyptians, as we have learned from you guys, that at the end of the day with the power of people, we can do whatever we want to do. If we unite our goals, if we believe, then all our dreams can come true.
Iranians plan to demonstrate on February 14th in support of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. After initially hailing the Egyptian democracy movement as an “Islamic” movement, Khameini has gone quiet. In fact, as Potkin says in an email, this “means egg on the faces of the Islamic Republic, STW coalition and Press TV who wanted to claim Egypt’s protests as their own”.
It is also direct contradiction of the contemptible line many on the right have been pedalling, that Muslims need to be governed by authoritarian sadists in order to protect Western interests. As Ross put it, “Egypt shouldn’t be allowed democracy because it will be bad for Israel whom we must support as it is the only democracy in the Middle East.”
That’s scarcely a parody. Here’s Peter Hitchens, flaunting his moral compass:
Even if you don’t like Israel I doubt very much if you want a new Middle East War. And the current Egyptian regime has prevented war in a highly sensitive part of the world for three decades. And Egypt, though less pivotal than it used to be, is a decisive voice in the Arab world. If it abandoned its peace with Israel, and aligned itself with Hamas in Gaza, I think many of us would find out very quickly how important Egypt’s future was to our stability and prosperity.
Here’s one of the tweets that is echoing round Tahrir Square this morning, retweeted hundreds of times by those scary, fanatical Egyptians:
TheThomason Damn girl, you’ve got a Mubarak. (an ass that won’t quit)
People just like us wanting freedom, just like us. Unlike us, they have to risk torture, rape, mutilation and death in their struggles for freedom.
This is as dramatic and significant as the fall of communism in 1989. Like that, it won’t be easy or even – there are still authoritarian regimes in Belarus and, of course, Russia. Saudi Arabia is the best analogue for Russia, the bloated, venomous spider in the middle of a web of fascist organisation and funding that stretches from Algeria to Afghanistan, from Dearborn to Den Hague. Saudi money would, if necessary, replace American aid, Mubarak knows and this strengthens his obstinacy. Tyrants know they could follow Tunisian fugitive Ben Ali into the refuge Saudi Arabia has offered tyrants and monsters from Idi Amin on.
Tunisia fell easily and with little bloodshed. Egypt stands on a brink, either of freedom or massacre. I think it will be freedom, but it’s impossible to rule out a last vicious swing of the old torturer’s claw.
But Iran is a different matter. There will be bloodshed. There will be torture. Success there will come at a terrible price. A terrible price has already been paid by the women and men of the Green Movement.
But come it will.
It’s still breaking, but looks like Mubarak is stepping down. An Egyptian army commander, General Hassan al-Roueini,told demonstrators in Tahrir Square: “All your demands will be met today.”
Meanwhile, a study by the Washington Institute reports:
This is not an Islamic uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood is approved by just 15 percent of Egyptians — and its leaders get barely 1 percent of the vote in a presidential straw poll. Asked to pick national priorities, only 12 percent of Egyptians choose sharia (Islamic law) over Egypt’s regional leadership, democracy, or economic development. And, when asked to explain the uprising, the issues of economic conditions, corruption, and unemployment (around 30 percent each) far outpace the concern that “the regime is not Islamic enough” (only 7 percent).
Surprisingly, when asked two different ways about the peace treaty with Israel, more support it (37 percent) than oppose it (27 percent) — although around a third say they “don’t know” or refuse to answer this question. Only 18 percent of Egyptians approve either Hamas or Iran. And a mere 5 percent say the uprising occurred because their government is “too pro-Israel.”…
As for Egyptian views of America, a narrow plurality (36 percent vs. 27 percent) say Egypt should have good relations with the United States. And only a small minority (8 percent) say the current uprising is against a “too pro-American” regime. Nevertheless, half or more of the Egyptian public disapprove of how Washington has handled this crisis so far, saying that they do not trust the United States at all.
While between one and two million people* demonstrate in Cairo, and hundreds of thousands in other Egyptian cities, Egyptian State Television has its finger on the pulse of the moment. From the Al Jazeera live blog:
5:40pm Egyptian state television, in the last hour, has aired the following segments:
1) An interview with the new prime minister to talk about the makeup and priorities of the new government.
2) A walkaround with Mahmoud Wagdy, the new interior minister, in the New Cairo neighborhood, where he promoted a new initiative, “Police Serving the People”.
* The Guardian reckons one million, Al Jazeera two.