BBC Interviews – What’s That Noise?

I was listening to George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer being interviewed on the radio yesterday morning, and, not for the first time I thought the BBC’s microphones must have been on the fritz.  There always seems to be a roared stream of obscenities drowning out the self serving platitudes spewing from his mouth.

Then I realised. Whenever I heard that malodorous, pompous, rich slime ball talking about austerity I can’t help it. I find myself shouting like some sort of nutter.

I can’t believe that we have to listen to this privileged millionaire  who has always happily protected his rich buddies while insisting that welfare and social support gets gutted.

Horrid, evil, slimy git.

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2013 Book Report 3 – Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How To Steal An Election In 9 Easy Steps – Greg Palast

I bought this book before the American elections of 2012, but have only just got around to reading it. I didn’t really worry about that, I’m not American, I don’t have a vote in that country, so I didn’t need to fight disenfranchisement.

Eventually getting around to reading it was a strange experience. The election had been and gone, and Obama had won, despite, if Palast’s book is to be believed a massive and complex conspiracy to steal the election.

In summary, this book takes over where ‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy’ leaves off. Bush was successfully gifted his presidency by a concerted effort to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote Democrat. Having engineered a machine for removing voters who are likely to vote for your competitor the Republicans had discovered a way of winning elections that didn’t rely on you persuading the majority to vote for you.

The difference since the earlier book is the change in law usually referred to as ‘Citizens United’ which allows essentially unlimited political spending by corporations. This has skewed the system enormously as detailed in this dense, but wonderfully readable book. Greg Palast has a wonderfully conversational style where you almost feel like you might be sitting in a bar with him as he expounds on his investigations.

One thing that is interesting, reading this book with the gift of hindsight is that it makes it clear why Karl Rove so famously refused to believe even Fox News when it called Ohio for Obama. It wasn’t self belief in terms of thinking Romney had the better message, it was self belief that all of his dirty tricks would deliver the election to Romney. The video of him ordering the Fox anchor to go and check with the statisticians is wonderful, if only because of the obvious butt-hurt that it is causing Rove!

A strongly positive point of this book is that Palast is quite clear firstly that this isn’t a Democrat v. Republican thing. Both parties have some history of blocking voters, but the Republicans have raised it to a whole new level. Palast clearly believes that the aim should be that all voters who are eligible and willing should be able to vote and have their vote counted. If this were to hand power to one side or the other then that would be acceptable in Palast’s view because democracy would have been served. I would guess that he sees Obama as the lesser of two evils, but also considers him to be in the same thrall of billionaire backers.

One point of order that I would make is really one of editing. Most of the chapters in the book are derived from articles in magazines like Rolling Stone and papers like the Guardian. Care has clearly been taken to make the book into a homogeneous whole, but there isn’t any real indication either at the start of the book, or throughout as to what the 9 steps are for stealing an election. At the end of the book the steps are named. I would like to have seen the steps named in some sort of introductory chapter and maybe grouping of chapters into sections that matched the steps. However, this is just because that sort of meta-structure for the book would have suited the way my mind likes to work.

To summarise, an excellent book, easy to read and digest. The tale that it told did less to stoke my ire than the Mark Thomas book Extreme Rambling as the story had, for the time being a positive outcome. Of course US citizens will need to continue to be vigilent to avoid mass disenfranchisement, but they will, for the time being, be far too worried about their right to shoot each other with impunity than with having their vote counted. I also loved the little comic book summary of the contents of the rest of the book. I skipped the cartoons on my way through the book, but then enjoyed them after finishing the text. Somehow it felt refreshing to skip through a summary of the books contents in an even easier to digest form. I think every serious book should have this kind of insert from now on.

The book I read was the paperback, but it is also available on Kindles. The Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1609804783

2013 Book Report 2 – Extreme Rambling – Mark Thomas

Another Tuesday, and I have reached the end of another book. Yeah for me. I read this book on my Kindle, the book is available here.

Mark Thomas is a stand up comedian who has also written a fine line of books on subjects ranging from the arms trade to Coca-Cola.  As a left wing comedian his stage shows are often a virtual diatribe, but delivered with, in my opinion warmth and humour. Of course, I tend to agree with his politics, so I enjoy the content.

This new book is an attempt to combine Mark’s love of that peculiarly British pastime, the Ramble, with an investigation into the impact of Israel’s ‘security barrier’.

Israel’s wall is, according to the Israeli government, purely about security. But Mark makes a strong (some would say irrefutable) case that the wall is actually more about crushing the idea of a Palestinian state by cutting off access to farm land, water and jobs.

Not for the first time while reading one of Mark’s books I felt a mixture of sadness and fury. Sadness at man’s inhumanity to man, and fury at the way that Israel has de-humanised and degraded the Palestinians while aided and abetted by America.

Mark Thomas manages to walk with activists from both sides who oppose the wall, he even meets activists who are open in their desire to crush the Palestinians. Understandably, given that his sympathies do not lie with the pro-wall, Palestinian hating activists, these people get short shrift. The fact that he talked to them at all must be considered a positive. I felt sullied just by reading the reports of the encounters, I think I would have felt moved to the verge of violence in a face to face meeting with them.

Having finished reading I decided to have a look at the Amazon comments on this book. I was interested to see that there were almost no votes in the ‘3 stars’ range, but lots in the 4 and 5 star categories  There were also large numbers in the 1 star. Reading the 1 star comments it was clear that these were comments that were made, not because of style, or, in most cases language or grammar. These were comments where the reader had disagreed with the political stance taken in the book. Fortunately such people are in the minority, with all the governments of the world, with the exception of America (and occasionally their smaller proxies) recognising both that the wall is illegal and a massive hindrance to any sort of long term peace. Unfortunately, with the USA bank-rolling this genocidal project it is unclear where the region will go from here.

I did find myself, rather simplistically, I admit, horrified at the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel. If any group of people should be wary of labels which allow you to dehumanise and degrade people, then surely it should be the Jewish peoples of the world. But seemingly, the politicians and extremists on the Israeli side willingly use this tactic to allow collective punishment of the Palestinians. And of course, at the end of the day they call upon their ancient book to justify their actions. Yet another reason to decry religion and the religious.

In summary, an excellent read, well paced and informative. On a Kindle the maps and pictures weren’t very clear, but I know from long experience that I never really keep map information in my head, so I tend to skip over such things, returning to the text instead.