Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

California Supreme Court Upholds Prop 8.

In news today from California, the California Supreme Court has ruled to uphold Proposition 8, therefore ensuring that same-sex marriage stays illegal in California until at least November 2010. The ruling came after a court battle that saw opponents of proposition 8 argue that the proposition was illegal as the measure revised the states equal protection clause of the constitution to such an extent that it should have been counted as revision to the constitution, which would have required legislation to be passed in the California State House of Representatives. The court made a 6-1 ruling arguing that it was not their duty to overrule the ‘will of the people’ in this situation. At the same time however, the court made a 7-0 ruling stating that all same-sex marriages completed during the time it was legal in California will stay legally married.

This ruling sets up an interesting battle in California for 2010. There is no doubt now that the gay rights movement will now take its campaign back to the ballot box in 2010 with a proposition to overrule Proposition 8. With the extremely close victory for Proposition 8 and what is considered to be a changing tide in the United States towards a more open mindedness about same-sex rights, this will set up an interesting battle and one that could see the gay rights movement have its first win at the ballot box.

In the long run this could be more beneficial for the gay rights movement. If they had won today there was a good chance that there would be a backlash within the community who saw this as ‘activist judges’ who were overruling the will of the people. However, if they manage to pull over enough people to claim a victory in 2010 it will be claimed to be proof that the tide is shifting in the United States towards a society more willing to accept same sex marriage. This could create a situation where politicians could begin to feel even more comfortable in supporting same-sex rights, therefore promoting further action in the future. 

Whilst this ruling will ensure that same-sex couples will continue to suffer now, this vote could have a silver lining that will see stronger action in the future.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future, Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

A Nuclear Free World Starts with An End to the Hypocrisy

News today that North Korea has tested a nuclear device just north of Pyongyang has sent shivers down the spine of many around the world. The test was confirmed earlier today as a nuclear test from the North Korean Government who stated that it was part of its ‘nuclear deterrent policy’. It was quickly condemned by leaders from around the world, with US President Barack Obama calling it a “blatant violation of international law”. 

Whilst this test is a scary reminder of what the North Korean Government can and may be willing to do in the future, it should also serve as a reminder of the great hypocrisies of the nuclear powers of the world. At the same time this test was completed and its condemnations occurred a total of 8 other countries (The US, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, Pakistan and India) continue to posses large stocks of nuclear weapons with none of these countries having formal plans for disarmament (even though Barack Obama has declared it to be a goal).

This post is not designed to condone North Korea’s nuclear test (under the guise of ‘if the US can have them, why can’t North Korea) and in fact I strongly condemn and hope the world does everything it can to stop this nuclear program in its tracks, but is rather here to argue that to stop further nuclear proliferation from nations such as North Korea we must see an end to the hypocrisy of the world’s nuclear powers and the beginning of nuclear disarmament by these powers. 

The logic behind the need for nuclear disarmament is simple. First, there is the obvious threat that nuclear powers pose to the world; a threat that is terrifying when one thinks about it. Nuclear weapons are without doubt the most awful inventions of human kind and an invention that the people of the world should be able to live without. Second to this however, is the mere fact that the continued ownership of nuclear weapons by the world’s nuclear powers creates a negative feedback, in which more states desire to own nuclear weapons. In other words if state A owns a nuclear weapon and state B, which does not own a nuclear  weapon perceives state A to be a threat, then state B is likely to attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon. When state B obtains this nuclear weapon, it is then likely that state A will boost its stocks to ‘out-muscle’ state B creating a continued cycle. On top of this, if state C perceives state B to be a threat it is likely that state C would desire to become a nuclear power and therefore create a new cycle. It is this sort of situation that originally saw the development of the vast nuclear stocks held by the then USSR and the United States and is seeing the creation of arms races in the Middle East (between Iran and Israel) and Southern Asia (between India and Pakistan) and in this situation the only way to end the nuclear cycle is for state A to act to disarm its nuclear weapons and therefore remove the original threat.

However, there would be people who would disagree with such an analysis and would bring up the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The MAD theory states that if two states hold nuclear weapons, neither would ever dare to deploy a weapon as they would be assured destruction by the weapons of their foe. It is this reasoning that it is theorised stopped the possibility of nuclear war between the US and USSR during the cold war. However, with the end of the Cold War this theory has become defunct. Why? Because with the end of the Cold War we saw an end to a struggle between two large nations that held nearly all of the world’s nuclear weapons and the opening of the nuclear stage to many more countries, some of whom do not have a threat posed to them by other nuclear powers. For example, if Israel determined to drop a nuclear weapon on Iran sometime in the future, which nation would dare to use a nuclear weapon against Israel (given that Iran has no proven nuclear capabilities just yet)? Unlike the US and the USSR in the Cold War, Israel does not have the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

The threat of nuclear weapons is still real and still extremely terrifying and it is about time that the world’s nuclear powers gave up on the hypocrisy and began to take action on disarming their nuclear weapons and ridding the world of human’s most atrocious invention. I congratulate Barack Obama for his call to begin action to start nuclear disarmament and hope it is followed with some serious concrete actions during his term as President. 

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , , | Leave a comment

European Elections 2009 – Sweden

I wrote this post for my friend Ben Raue’s blog the TallyRoom about the likely outcomes of the Swedish vote in the European Elections and decided to post it here so people can read. Ben is covering the entire continent on his blog and has some great discussions on there about the upcoming elections. 

Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, two years after its formal establishment with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Sweden votes as a single constituency using a modified ‘Sainte-Laguë method of the highest average’ voting system. This is a system based on party list voting that uses a divisor, somewhat similar to the d’Hondt method of voting. The system has a minimum requirement of a 4% vote for a party to gain a seat. In 2009 Sweden will elect 18 MEPs, a reduction from the 19 they sent in 2004.

The results of the 2004 election saw seats allocated to the following parties:

  • The Social Democratic Party: 5
  • The Moderate Party: 4
  • June List (A Eurosceptic Party): 3
  • Left Party: 2
  • Liberal Peoples Party: 2
  • The Centre Party: 1
  • The Greens: 1
  • The Christian Democrats: 1

Whilst the dominance of the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party (Sweden’s two largest parties) will likely continue in the 2009 elections it looks likely that the makeup of the minor parties in this election will change rather dramatically. Here is what current polling shows about the major parties in the 2009 election:

  • The Social Democratic Party: Even though they lost government in 2006, the Social Democrats continue to outpoll all parties in Sweden and look likely to do so again in 2009. Current polling has the party ranging between 29-35% of the vote, which would most likely give the party an extra MEP.
  • The Moderate: The current governing party in Sweden (in an alliance called ‘The Alliance for Sweden’ with the Centre Party, The Liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats) the Moderates are the largest right wing party in Sweden. They too look likely to increase their vote in 2009, but not to the same levels as the Social Democrats.
  • June List: The June List was created as a ‘Eurosceptic’ party, focused around opposition to the adoption of the Euro in Sweden. Although they gained 14% of the vote in 2004 their support has collapsed since and they will not win any seats in 2009.
  • The Left Party: The Left Party is Sweden’s largest Socialist Party, with a long history of collaboration with the Social Democrats and Greens in Swedish Government. Whilst the Party gained 12% of the vote in 2004 it looks likely this vote will collapse to about 6%, leaving the party with only one seat.
  • Liberal People’s Party: A member of the Alliance for Sweden the Liberal People’s Party (or the FolkPartiet) advocates social liberalism and a strong commitment to a mixed economy. The party is currently around 8%, which would give them the two seats that they currently hold.
  • The Centre Party: Describing itself as a ‘green social liberal party’, the Center party is Sweden’s rural party and is a member of the Alliance for Sweden (currently holding the Deputy Prime Minister position). The party looks likely to hold at around the 5-6% mark, giving them one seat.
  • The Greens: The Greens are gaining extra support in Sweden and look likely to add to their one EU seat in 2004 with the possibility of a second or even third (although unlikely seat)
  • The Christian Democrats: Sweden’s largest religious based party the Christian Democrats are a small force in Sweden, but will gain enough votes to win one seat in the EU Election
  • The Pirate Party: Sweden’s fastest growing party; the Pirate Party strives to change laws regarding copyright and patents. Whilst extremely small in 2004, the issue of piracy has gained a large amount of attention in recent years giving the party a large amount of media coverage and support, especially amongst young people. It seems almost certain that the party will gain at least one seat in the 2009 election and possibly two. 

Overall it seems like the situation in Sweden will see an increase in the vote for the two major parties, giving them 10-11 of Sweden’s 19 MEPs, the elimination of the June List and a rise in support for the Greens and the Pirate Party, continuing the left majority status in the Swedish delegation.

May 23, 2009 Posted by | Monitering the Left | Leave a comment

Is Fremantle a Sign of Things to Come?

On Saturday the 16th of May the Australian Greens made history by winning their first lower house seat in any state or territory parliament (after winning the federal seat of Cunningham in 2002) and by winning the primary vote in an election for the first time ever. The Greens won the seat of Fremantle by outpolling the Labor Party by a 45-38% margin on primary votes and won the seat by 54-46% after preferences were distributed, sending Adele Carles into the Western Australian legislative assembly. With this victory under their belt the Greens are now turning their focus onto federal lower house seats, arguing that if the current trend continues federal seats such as Melbourne, Sydney, Grayndler and Fremantle will soon fall into Green hands. This is being followed by a number of analysts and political commentators who are now questioning whether the Greens have the ability to permanently break up the two party system in Australia.

Third parties in Australia have a history of falling. The Democrats, arguably the most influential third party in Australia’s history, collapsed dramatically in the last two federal elections raising serious questions about whether the two party system will ever be broken in Australia. Whilst theories around why the Democrats collapsed as they did are still debated, there is no doubt that their collapsed has raised serious questions about the ability of a third party to survive in the Australian system. However, the continued growth of the Greens since Bob Brown was first elected in 1996 and the extremely strong showings of the party since the 2007 election, in which they recorded over 1 million votes, are placing the Greens in a position to break down the two party system in Australia. Whilst many may be sceptical of the ability of the Greens or any other party to break down this systems the Greens are in an extremely unique position with many positive aspects that favour the possibilities of them to do so.    

There are five key factors behind why I believe the Greens will continue to grow in the future:

  1. Having a Strong Base: Unlike the Democrats who had no real natural base (being focused on those who were dissatisfied with the major parties), the Greens have a strong base, not only with the environmental movement but with the left as a whole. Whilst the Greens obviously began as a party based around the environment movement, a mix of hard work by Greens MPs on other issues as well as the general rightward shift in Australian politics (see below) has allowed the Greens to take the mantle of the only true ‘left’ party in the country. This gives the Greens a very strong base that continues to grow as the party continues to convince those in the left that they are not just about the environment. This ensures that as long as the Greens stat true to their ideals that they will have a continued base of support that will ensure continued parliamentary representation.  
  2. The Continued Rightward Trend of the ALP: Second to this, the Greens are also benefiting from the continued rightward shift of the ALP. There is no doubt that the ALP is upsetting many of those on the left who have traditionally voted for them as they continue to pursue or refuse to reverse many of the right wing policies introduced by the Liberal Party. The Greens are benefiting from this as they are being seen as the only real ‘left’ wing alternative. Whilst some may claim that this is just a sign of a ‘protest vote’ against the ALP that will eventually collapse,  it seems very unlikely that the ALP will return to its left wing beginnings any time soon, meaning that this ‘protest vote’ is likely to continue to solidify.
  3. A Desire to Govern: Unlike the Democrats, who biggest focus was on ‘keeping the bastards honest’, the Greens have a focus on creating a party that is strong enough to govern, not just to be in the balance of power. This is important as it puts the Greens in a position where they are seen to be more proactive in their role in parliament rather than being reactive to the major parties. This proactive nature of the party tends to create greater support within the public over the reactive nature that occurs when one is focused on balance of power situations.
  4. Having a Large and Extremely Democratic Membership: Somewhat unlike the Democrats, the Greens have a very large and democratic membership. The parties’ membership currently sits around 10,000 and is growing. This is important as it provides the party both a strong contingent to work and campaign for the party, as well as a large number of people who can be trained and recruited to run for office.
  5. Having Strong Roots in Local Government: In all states across Australia the Greens have strong roots and have campaigned hard for local government positions and hold many of these positions, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. Fighting for these positions has been a very important tactical move by the Greens for two reasons. Firstly, it has provided much needed training for Greens members in governance, which provides great opportunities for such members to advance to state and federal government. A large number of candidates in past elections have come from the local level and I suspect this trend will continue in the future. Secondly, having members in local councils provide members of the public a real and local experience with Greens politicians. This is important as it allows the scepticism some have of the Greens to be dashed when they see the real benefits provided by having Greens in Government.  

 These five factors put the Greens in a very good position to break down the two party system in Australia and continue to grow as a party in local, state and federal parliaments. The Greens are surging and unless major unforeseen circumstances occur in the future it seems very unlikely that this surge will end any time soon, leaving the party in a position to create real influence in all levels of parliament and grow to become the most influential third party Australia has seen.

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Democracy and the State, Monitering the Left | , , , , , | 14 Comments

Christ to Run for Florida – Takes it Out of the Picture

It was announced today that Charlie Christ, the Governor of Florida, will be running for the open Senate seat in 2010. This announcement brings with it many consequences and opens up some interesting races to watch in 2010.

Firstly, through announcing that he is running, Christ has essentially ensured that the Republicans will hold onto the Senate seat vacated by Martinez. Christ is extremely popular among people from all across the spectrum in Florida and unless the Democrats can pull something magical out of the hat I doubt they could win this seat.

Second, I believe this announcement could increase speculation of the possibility of Christ making a bid for President; not in 2012, but possibly in 2016. In running for the Senate Christ is providing himself many more opportunities to reach a more national audience and therefore increase his popularity across the country. This, with an experience as a Governor gives Christ great credentials to win a Presidential race.

Last, this announcement will now make the Florida Governor race extremely interesting to watch. Given the continued dominance of the Democrats in the Senate and the unlikely impact of the Florida Senate seat in 2010 one could argue that the Florida Gubernatorial race will have much more impact than the Senate race in 2010. This means that it is very likely that we will see a competitive race for this position and one that the Democrats could win. Likely candidates are already being spoken about in the media with a race that was generally considered to be a no contest (when Christ was still in it) now wide open. It will definitely be one to watch and one the Democrats could pick up.

May 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Same-Sex Marriage Bill Signed in Maine

In more same sex marriage news, a new same sex marriage bill has been signed in Maine today, making it the fifth state to legalise same-sex marriage (following Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont).

This comes as the anti-rights organisation, ‘the National Organisation for Marriage’ has attempted to step up its campaign with this add. The add is using new anti-rights star ‘Miss California’,  who has risen to fame after she was criticised by a Miss USA for her anti gay stance. Again, there is so much wrong with this add that it is just hard to start talking about it. So, instead of doing so I am going to let David Shuster from MSNBC do it for me in this great interview of a member of the National Organisation for Marriage. It really shows how ridiculous this organisation is how steeped in lies and misinformation their campaign is.

Lastly, one needs to look at this clip from Rachel Maddow, who on top of pointing out lies, bigotry and misinformation points out the stupidity of the organisation. This one is for those who want a laugh!

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Human Rights | , , , | Leave a comment

Will A Double Dissolution Make a Better Climate Deal?

With the Australian Government yesterday announcing a range of changes to its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, including delaying the scheme for one year, setting a fixed price (a bargain of $10) for each tonne of carbon for the first year and increasing the possible reductions target to 25% if there is a strong deal in Copenhagen, the questions now on everybody’s lips are (a) will the Senate pass the legislation and (b) if not will the Government use this issue to force a double dissolution?

In this post I am going to briefly have a look at these two questions, making the conclusion that a double dissolution is very possible and am then going to have a look at what I think a double dissolution may do to the climate legislation in the future and my hopes for a stronger deal. Firstly however, I would like to state that I write this piece under the belief that there are serious problems with the Governments CPRS. Whether it be the extremely low target (only 5% committed), the very low initial price of carbon (which makes reducing carbon emissions very difficult) or the fact that permits will be given out for free (which experience from Europe has shown creates huge problems with the eventual pricing of carbon and therefore the reduction efforts) this scheme is fundamentally flawed and in my opinion requires a complete revamp. However, this post is not about that, but is about how I see the scheme may progress in the future and the possibilities that are available to make this scheme stronger.

Where to from here?

The basic lay of the land for the CPRS looks somewhat like this. In an upcoming sitting session (probably around midyear) the ALP look likely to introduce the legislation behind the CPRS into Parliament. The legislation will easily pass the House of Representatives, but looks almost certain to fail in the Senate. The problems here are that the Greens are pushing for a much stronger and more aggressive scheme, the Coalition is still looking to weaken it and the two independents are both opposing it (I think they both want the scheme weakened). In a nut shell, apart from the ALP there is no one who supports the scheme, meaning it is in big trouble.  

The only way I perceive that it could pass in the next sitting session would be if the ALP managed to cut a deal with the Liberals (as to cut a deal with the minor parties would mean dealing with people who both want a stronger scheme and people who want a weaker scheme, creating inherent problems). However, I cannot see this happening. This is because both the ALP and the Liberal Party have become extremely stubborn on this issue since it was introduced in December, meaning a back down now by either would be perceived as a sign of weakness.

A Double Dissolution Then?

It seems logical therefore to state that this legislation will fail in the Senate and with this comes the possibility of a double dissolution. I agree with Bob Brown in saying that I think the Rudd Government would be quite happy to use this legislation as a double dissolution trigger for the following reasons:

  • They know that the wider community wants at least some form of action on climate change, even with the global financial crisis.
  • They know that the Liberal Party still have a very unformulated and unpopular policy on climate change, which would make it very difficult for them to fight an election on the issue.
  • They would be more than happy to create a situation where it can push out the two independents from having any role in the future Senate.

However, with these positives comes the strong evidence (as shown with WA, NT and QLD in the pass year) that the voting public tend not to like early elections and are more than happy to punish a Government for going to the polls early, an issue that may push the ALP away from going to a double dissolution.

 What Would this Mean for the Legislation?

The good thing about the possibility of a double dissolution is that the most likely outcome it will bring will be the possibility of a stronger CPRS. The reasons for this are pretty simple. Firstly, if a double dissolution occurs I do not see any possibility of a Coalition victory (given their still extremely low polling all around the country), giving the ALP the mandate to continue to push the legislation. Second, are the important changes this will bring to the Senate. As predicted by Ben Raue, the likely results of a double dissolution would be the Greens taking full control of the balance of power of the Senate (with 8-9) seats, allowing them to create a majority with the ALP.  For the CPRS this creates three possibilities:

  1. The Government presents the legislation again in its current form and the Liberal Party accepts it based on the idea of it being the mandate of the ALP to pass it as it is.
  2. The Government presents the legislation again, but the Liberals stay determined to vote against it, forcing the Government to cut a deal with the Greens.
  3. Deciding that they want to see the Coalition continue to vote against any climate action the Government cuts an early deal with the Greens to strengthen the deal and introduces new legislation that the Coalition opposes.

Although this still provides the opportunity for the current legislation to be passed as is, this option at least gives a greater opportunity for a stronger CPRS, something that I think is almost impossible in the current Senate. However, this does not only have to come with a double dissolution. Most predictions will tell you that they same sort of shape for the Senate will occur even if it is just a regular half Senate vote, meaning that this sort of situation could also occur if the Government decides against using the CPRS as a double dissolution trigger.  

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Derivative Markets: An Explanation

Finally, someone has provided an explanation of derivative markets that is somewhat understandable (I guess the fact that it has taken this long shows how ridiculous derivative markets are). It is amazing how ridiculous this is – I hope you all enjoy!

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. In order to increase
sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers – most of whom are
unemployed alcoholics – to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of
the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers
loans).

Word gets around about Heidi’s drink now pay later marketing strategy
and as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi’s
bar and soon she has the largest s ale volume for any bar in Detroit.

By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands,
Heidi gets no resistance when she substantially increases her prices
for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Her sales volume
increases massively.

A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes these
customer debts as valuable future assets and increases Heidi’s
borrowing limit.

He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the
alcoholics as collateral. At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert
traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and
PUKIEBONDS. These securities are then traded on security markets
worldwide.

Naive investors don’t really understand the securities being sold to
them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed
alcoholics. Nevertheless, their prices continuously climb, and the
securities become the top-selling items for some of the nation’s
leading brokerage houses.

One day, although the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager
at the bank (subsequently fired due to his negativity), decides that
the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the
drinkers at Heidi’s bar.

Heidi demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed
they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Therefore, Heidi cannot
fulfil her loan obligations and claims bankruptcy. DRINKBOND and
ALKIBOND drop in price by 90%. PUKIEBOND performs better, stabilizing
in price after dropping by 80 %. The decreased bond asset value
destroys the banks liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans.

The suppliers of Heidi’s bar, having granted her generous payment
20extensions and having invested in the securities are faced with
writing off her debt and losing over 80% on her bonds. Her wine
supplier claims bankruptcy, her beer supplier is taken over by a
competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 50
workers.

The bank and brokerage houses are saved by the Government following
dramatic round-the-clock negotiations by leaders from both political
parties. The funds required for this bailout are obtained by a tax
levied on employed middle-class non-drinkers.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Political Economy | | 2 Comments

Could We All Be A Terrorist?

I was once told a story about a lecturer at the ANU who I considered to be one of the best. The lecturer had a number of students walk out of her class in protest because she dared to suggest that if put under similar circumstances any person could be pushed the a level where they participate in acts of terror. In doing so the lecturer challenged the idea that there is something fundamentally different about people who participate in terrorism that could and would not be replicated in other people. The students walked out because they couldn’t see that there could be any discussion around providing a reason for terrorism and simply that it is due to something fundamentally more ‘evil’ about terrorists and it is this evilness that has made them participate in these horrible acts. Essentially, they were ‘othering’ the terrorists; something that is not an unusual or somewhat surprising reaction.

What do I mean by othering?

Simply stated, ‘othering’ is the creation of a mindset where one puts them as fundamentally and inherently different to an ‘other’. These differences are generally considered to be something that are natural, rather than being something that may be due to circumstance and provide no logical reasons for differences (it is therefore important to note the difference between those who acknowledge differences between people and those who ‘other’ people). Othering normally occurs with severe negative connotations (as this generally occurs in negative situations and one generally sees themselves as better than others) and therefore is an extremely dangerous political tool. Othering occurs as a way to provide reasons to negative activities that are based wholly around the nature of a person and not through any logical discussions of the situations that may lead to someone to participate in particular actions. This is extremely dangerous because:

  1. It breeds nationalistic racism: By discussing the ‘evilness’ of the Muslim terrorist or the ‘evilness’ of the Somali pirate we add seriously to the problem of racism. The idea of ‘othering’ is that it discusses fundamental differences between one group of people and another. As this othering usually occurs in a racial context (i.e. Muslims, Somalis, Africans) and with extremely negative connotations the use of othering adds severely to racism in the contemporary world.
  2. It doesn’t help the problem: The second issue with this is that it simply doesn’t help the problem at all. Whilst discussing the use of the ‘other’ may be good politically it does absolutely nothing to help solve the problems that are leading people to participate in such actions as terrorism. This is simply not useful in any way as just leads to the continuation of the activities, which in the end causes more harm.

Using the ‘other’ as a political tool

However, even with such problems the use of the ‘other’ as a political tool is still extremely prevalent in today’s society. Whether discussing terrorists from the Middle East or pirates from Somalia it is still extremely common to see politicians, political commentators and members of the public still discuss these issues without any talk about why people participate in such actions and what the background is behind these problems. This occurs as the discussion of the other in this way allows for the continuation of nationalistic ideals, which continue to ensure the strength of the modern state. This argument requires quite a bit more discussion and will require me to write another post on nationalism later on, but I will just take one look at how discussing the other enhances nationalism.

One only needs to look at the Presidency of George W. Bush to see how discussing the other enhances nationalistic ideals.  After the attacks of the 11th of September 2001, ‘othering’ those who participating in terrorism became one the trademarks of the Bush Presidency. Whether discussing the ‘axis of evil’ or talking about Bin Laden Bush was very good at drawing a distinction between the ‘evil’ terrorists and the ‘good’ Americans. In doing so he therefore stoked the flames of American nationalism through promoting The United States as better than other nations around the world. Unfortunately for the large Islamic population in the country Bush’s promotion of The United States came at the expense of the Islamic people who continue to suffer from serious racism due to the way Bush ‘othered’ terrorists.

If you want to see more examples all you need to look at is the way John Howard ‘othered’ asylum seekers and especially those in the ‘Children Overboard’ scandal as a way to enhance support for him as a Prime Minister. Othering is now also a common factor in the discussion of Somali Pirates, where we are completely ignoring the reasons people enter into piracy and simply assuming that it is just because they are ‘evil’ or ‘bad’.  

How should we change this?

There is only one way to defeat the problems that come with this and that is to turn the discussion about problems such as terrorism and piracy away from the discussion of the inherently evil other and onto a discussion about what causes such problems. Actions never occur without reason and unless we accept and discuss that fact we are never going to be able to solve the problems that lead to actions like terrorism. For example, there is quite clear evidence that the majority of piracy of the coast of Somalia occurs due to severe pollution in the waters that has destroyed fish stocks and therefore people’s livelihoods. Most of this pollution has occurred due to the dumping of a range of pollutants from ships in the waters. In this situation it is not too difficult to make a jump as to why you might start to see piracy in this region. If we therefore began a discussion around why so much pollution occurs in this area, who is responsible for it and how it can be stopped we would have a much better chance and ending the practice in the future than if we were to just talk about piracy as an action that occurs due a natural ‘evilness’ of those who participate in it.

The question then must be asked; doesn’t this just allow for the justification of bad acts? There is definitely something to this; if we discuss these issues in a way that provides logical reasons for why negative actions occur it could be seen to be justifying why people did them and therefore ‘normalising’ particular crimes to a certain extent. However, I seriously do not believe that this is a major problem. I do so with the understanding that our justice system should have two main goals: (1) to reduce crime and (2) to ‘rehabilitate’ those who have participated in crimes so they can become active members in society once again (more on this in another blog). I believe that as long as we continue to describe those who participate in such crimes as ‘inherently different’ to us and refuse to acknowledge the reasons behind their crimes than we will never achieve these two goals. If ‘normalising’ a crime to a certain extent is a consequence of this than I am happy to live with that.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Security, War and Violence | , , , | Leave a comment

Further Advances for Gay Marriage in the United States

The issue of gay marriage seems to be one that I keep coming back to recently, but again there have been further advances in the United States. Last week the Senates of New Hampshire and Maine (both relatively small states in New England) both passed legislation legalising gay marriage. For both states it looks likely that the lower houses will pass similar legislation soon ensuring that gay marriage becomes law. 

In my opinion the United States is now reaching what Josh Marshall describes as a tipping point regarding the issue of gay marriage and will soon see many more states adopt similar legislation. Whilst only four states currently have legalised gay marriage (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa) it now looks certain that Maine and New Hampshire will join that list soon and legislation has also been introduced and backed by Governors in New Jersey and New York (which is important as both states are large). Adding to this the fact that for the first time the number of people polled who support gay marriage has surpassed the number of people opposed and I think we are seeing a major shift in the US. This shift is the outcome of years of hard work by the gay rights community and whilst I suspect that we will see an increased campaign by the anti rights community I think we will see many more advances for equality in quick succession in the coming year.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Monitering the Left | | 1 Comment