Archive | June, 2005

Russia…is it dangerous?

27 Jun

With constant media attentions concentrating on the meteoric rise of China, are we forgetting another possible hot spot? The wounded behemoth that is the former Soviet Union remains politically unstable…

Russia has spent much of the last century politically isolated from the world we know; yet we feel we should judge it by our own standards. Less than 15 years ago Russia ended the most significant socio-political experiment ever undertaken, and now struggles to emerge in a world it does not recognise.

Less than a hundred years ago this divided nation butchered its own royal family and dislocated itself from its own history. Tired of near serfdom the subjects had revolted and demanded change. The world’s largest country, after a bloody civil war, had committed its people to communism.

The new Soviet State had many enemies both internally and abroad. An ongoing war in the West with Germany had to be resolved, and an Imperial Japan to the East. In order to be strong Russia would have to be united. Peace in the west brought an opportunity for enormous economic growth and with Stalin’s ambitious five years plans the nation rose from its agricultural roots and became an industrial powerhouse. Stalin even enlisted one of the world’s greatest capitalist’s Henry Ford, to help him adopt modern manufacturing techniques.

Russia experienced its Industrial Revolution within the last 80 years, and became a global superpower in less than 50 years. Thousands even millions perished during the transition. But thousands died during our civil war, during our Industrial revolution, and millions have starved during the potato famine in British ruled Ireland. Yet we hold our civilisation in such high regard, and look at Russia with disdain and scorn. There can be no excuse for the murderous purges of Stalin, but he was psychotic but to judge the whole communist experiment at “evil” is ignorant. There was great progress during this time economically, but also socially. Capitalist notions of supply and demand were redundant, so no Keynesian slack in the workforce could be tolerated as unemployment was outlawed. Internal travel was cheap allowing people to visit dispersed relatives. Medicine and healthcare was provided, as was accommodation and holidays.

For one second imagine organising a project of this size?

This is not some organic capitalist model, born out of feudal rule a la Britain, France and America. The Soviet project transformed a continental sized region of the world from monarchic rule and suppression to the successful Socialist Union of the post Stalin era. We can sit pretty in our cosseted Western existence knowing that our developed societies will protect us from the harshness of the world. But we enjoy this safety thanks to the millions who perished before us on the very land we call home.

Russia again faces such a transition. Embracing liberalised market policies it has seen its resources pillaged by Oligarchs, it has seen its once great health service creak and splutter, and it has been unable to protect its many citizens who have relied on the state to provide provisions. All in the name of capitalism.

Putin is wrestling with corruption and gangsterism and has resorted to authoritarian rule naming federal rulers himself. If the social fabric of this nation was unravelling we would be shouting from the roofs for authority and the rule of law. When Putin term is up who will provide Russia with the stability it needs? Putin inherited one of globes most unstable regions in the Caucuses, where religious and tribal hatred is rife. Again Putin has to deal with terrorism, murder, and war. And as we are now finding in Iraq a mix of tribal difference and religious fundamentalism can be a cocktail of disaster. But still we expect Putin to embrace democratic accountability and western values.

Many Russians do not want democratic representation over chaos; they desire stability, safety and leadership. They have seen inflation wipe out their savings, they have seen their cities become corrupt and dangerous, and watch as Russia becomes weak abroad. This explains the rise of nationalism in Russia and the lionisation of Stalin once again. They welcome the safety and collective strength of their past. Maybe Putin is not authoritarian and aggressive enough?

Russia remains dangerous but it is because of Putin’s strong rule that it has remained relatively stable to this day. Without Putin where would the Russian people be now?

I have visited Russia (Siberia) and the people I have met are proud to be Russian. They do not want to see their country raped by the hungry international corporations and they do not want to become a lapdog to America. Putin offers his people strength and stability. He knows that isolation would mean Russia collapsing so he remains committed to protecting its regional influence against American interference (see Kyrgyzstan where US agents funded and supported pro-US political movements). There remains significant anti-Russian sentiment within Washington (this is somewhat understandable) and the power and influence of Putin is undermined and as a result he is viewed as weak at home. What does the West hope to gain from this, Russia’s total collapse and the suffering of millions?

In order for reform on a massive scale and the re-gearing of a giant economy the country cannot possibly hope to embrace the democratic freedoms that developed and stable nations enjoy. This will come eventually but for the benefit of global permanence we need to support, engage, and endorse Vladimir Putin, because the alternative is far more unsettling….

Big Day….

19 Jun

There are two reasons why today is a big day; firstly it’s my first father’s day which my 5 week old baby boy and I celebrate together for the first time. The second reason is the one-day international today in Bristol as England takes on an Australian side, which for the first time in years appears mortal.

Last weeks inaugural Twenty20 match – where England roundly thumped the visitors – was written off as a fluke, and laughed off by Aussie captain Ricky Ponting. This was followed by a crushing one-day defeat at the hands of lowly Somerset, and finally capped by yesterday’s thriller at The Oval where test crickets’ whipping boys Bangladesh hit the Australian attack all over the ground.

What is clear is that these games were not test matches where the all round superiority of the players from down-under would have shone through. An informed friend commented last night that regardless of the result, Bangladesh could face the Aussies a hundred times at test match level and not record a single win. Over a 4 or 5 day test, class will prevail and the opportunity of the second innings means that such surprise results are rare.

Sadly for England the Ashes will be contested over a series of 5 difficult and tense tests, and Australia will look to dominate from the off. But the question is now being asked is whether the Aussies are rocking? Is this the inevitable demise of this team? With McGrath and Warne aging, is the Australian attack now blunted? Lee remains one of the fasted bowlers in the world but he’s expensive and lacks the precision of McGrath and Gillespie. Hayden, Ponting, Martyn, and Gilchrist is the best batting line up in the world bar none, but they have failed to show this certainty this summer.

England and crucially Vaughn must stick in and turn the knife. Being magnanimous is all well and good but the Aussies have never offered us such respect. We know noble sportsmanship has gotten us nowhere, as Botham has shown in the past only rattling the Aussies and by playing up your successes will you have the psychological edge.

So lets take this chance to further humiliate this visiting colossus and lets start by sharpening our knives….

To clarify

17 Jun

I feel that I may have given the implication that the current woes of British workers is down to some inherent laziness. This is not the crux of the argument. I am not blaming the British personally, just the system that has produced an expectation within the workplace that is unrealistic. I’m sorry but if you work in manufacturing you are competing directly with Far-Eastern people who will work longer and harder for less.

So the expectation of excellent working conditions and a good wage are sadly unrealistic, hence the collapse of Western European and American manufacturing in the face of outsourcing.

I worked in a factory and would be frustrated by lack of incentive to work. People in this country have it very good if you consider the global community as a whole. It is impossible to appreciate economics as a whole without being relative. We are competing with cheaper more streamlined economies and only by closing markets – which would shatter investment and exports – can we ever avoid this reality.

Anyone who reads my posts will know my political standpoint. I am very left-wing and I believe passionately about pooling our common resources, but sadly this is not our political reality.

I apologise if I may have been misconstrued as criticising British workers personally; I assure you this is not my standpoint. They have proven historically they are hard working and innovative in the right economic climate.

I want good pay. British people deserve good pay, good conditions, and ample holidays. But this is not realistic if we expect to compete directly the Far-East.

The Labour government does provide various schemes that enrich the standards of working families (tax credits, child support) but these are disincentives that curb competition in the labour market, and are at a cost to the economy in general. This is not vast amounts of money, but they are a cost that their economic contribution does not warrant in this time of globalisation. This is the problem; there is not the value in general manufacturing for it to be a viable economic choice for a modern economy.

Where this leaves the working classes of this country is not clear…..

But that is not the question.

Migrants taking all our jobs?

17 Jun

I must admit I’m getting a little bemused by the whole argument that migrants are coming over and taking jobs off British people, and the persistence of some to link immigration and the deterioration in the UK manufacturing base.

This link is simply not there. As someone who was a manager in manufacturing for four years I can state categorically that immigration contributes far more to the survival of British manufacturing than to its demise.

The closeted myopic view of many in this country is that it’s all the fault of Johnny foreigner, never some shortcoming of the indigenous populous. What rubbish.

Oh here we go you cry….”You’re a self-loather”. No I am merely objective enough to realise that we have contributed to our own demise and are subject to uncontrollable global trends. This country lost most of its manufacturing backbone through years of poor management skills and too powerful unions. The Americans, Japanese, and yes even the French could be often heard joking about British production management, and their lack of sophistication and commercial awareness. The emergence of professional development and organisations such as the Institute of Operation and Production Management has begun to improve aptitude among the countries many managers.

There is also the cliché of working in a factory, that leads many of our best and brightest to steer clear of manufacturing, leading to a critical shortage of skill and talent. Many of the managers that run facilities have no formal training in efficient production management or cost control. Many British companies have been found out and have subsequently gone bust.

Many cite the Labour government and its poor record within manufacturing, this is admittedly poor, but to claim that it’s all Labour or the ‘liberals’ fault is absolute nonsense.

The reality is far more international and historical….

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the balance of power tipped to America, and its many corporations could now spread across the globe more freely. This also coincided with huge reform in the Indian political system leading to a new stability, liberalised markets, and pro-globalisation policies. Coincidence struck again as Deng Xiaoping’s reforms finally came to fruition succeeding in “opening-up” China. China has become a manufacturing giant (80% of Wal-Marts manufactured goods are produced in China), swallowing up oil and steel and record rates, causing a rise in commodity prices therefore increasing the relevance of labour costs.

The other major factor has been the pioneering of the Internet and the ability to connect truly global supply-chains instantaneously. Sales order processing now seamlessly interfaces with remote – cheaply run – production facilities. Armed with a satellite tracked logistics backbone companies now enjoy a small flat world. Corporations exploit increasingly open markets to maximise productivity and reduce unit costs. Manufacturing jobs are not being lost to immigrants in this country but lost entirely oversees.

The influx of immigrants – in reality – do many of the jobs the British people do not want to do, pampered as they are with ever greater state provided provisions and unrealistic expectations. Why work in a factory when the minimum wage means that it’s just as worthwhile to sell shoes in a nice smart shop? Why work in a hot kitchen when you can earn just as much as a receptionist? In my experience I have seen wages spiral in production factories, as the minimum wage has reduced the available workforce prepared to work in a factory. The option of last resort is imported agency, which are even more expensive, but do turn up and do the work. That’s right in reality foreign agency workers (as the majority of Polish, Portuguese, and others are) actually work out more expensive than the average British worker. I know I have conducted the work-studies (however the fact that the turnover is generally lower with contracted agency, means the costs eventually become lower as businesses are not constantly advertising, recruiting, and training).

As I stated the provisions and working standards of this country, allied with an increasing unproductive and transient workforce, have pushed up costs and lowed competitiveness further. No wonder businesses outsource so much of their production.

America and Europe have both suffered significantly from the shift, and both regions have experienced a retraction in their manufacturing base. The past decade Europe and America have diversified to concentrate on the service sector and added value markets, this has been reasonably successful but growth is now slowing.

So the worker rights, the scandalous corporate salaries, and the social benefits we enjoy are contributing to our collective demise. We are yesterday’s men. We’re expensive, pampered, and inflexible.

Is this all Labour’s fault? Is this the fault of economic migrants?

No. It’s the reality of this borderless flat world. And any suggestion otherwise is simplistic opportunistic xenophobia.

Mac Power

16 Jun

I have recently changed from a Windows based NEC 15” laptop to an Apple 12” iBook, so I am getting used to the Apple OSX Tiger operating system and I have to say I’m very impressed.

Tiger is so much more elegant and logical than Windows. Most of us have grown up with Windows but the change is relatively simple and the use of a third party mouse enables the second button option that is desperately necessary.

So if anyone out there is considering the switch…go for it!

Bushbashing

13 Jun

I posted the Bush II piece below on a political website and received all sorts of criticism from the usual right-wing brigade. One even had the gall to claim that by criticising Bush’s economic record I was against medical aid for pensioners!

Seriously.

Obviously I outlined the futility of his argument, that allying increased government spending with tax cuts was financially irresponsible, and more like economic suicide than good governance!

Is Bush deliberately increasing the costs of Medicare so it becomes insolvent? We all know that the Republicans have always looked to dismantle the social safety nets that help America?s poor.

The so called Trojan Horse?.
political website

George Bush II – George the Inept

12 Jun

Is the American people are now beginning to realise the long reign of George W. Bush will be remembered by its expensive and misguided foreign policy and nonexistent progress at home.

As the polls suggest, the American public have opened their eyes and can now see the damage this administration has done not only to America’s image and standing but also to its infrastructure and security.

In a recent Post-ABC News survey 52% of those questioned said that the war in Iraq is not contributing to America’s security. 49% said that they disapproved of Bush’s handling of the war on terror. Bush’s strongest electoral asset now lies in tatters only 6 months after the election.

Bush’s overall approval stands at 50%. In another Pew poll the approval stands at 52%. Is the tide turning? Is Bush destroying any chance of his Republican successor securing office?

As support sours towards the Republicans the record of the 43rd American President is increasingly under the scope. In the Post today David Broader quoted a conversation with former speaker Newt Gingrich that outlined such insecurities explaining that there are “a lot of parallels between the restiveness of European voters, and what I feel when I’m on the road.” Could American voters revolt against the status quo a la the French and Dutch?

Of course the Whitehouse remains oblivious to criticism or reality, deflecting criticisms towards media outlets such as Newsweek. Spokesperson Scott McClellan who – while a report on the military’s handling of the Koran was being suppressed – had the Nixonian impudence to blame the magazine for the rioting in Afghanistan, something both Gen. Richard Myers and Hamid Karzai refuted. Much like in the time of Nixon’s press bruiser Charles W Colson, the media is to be controlled, suppressed, and intimidated. Press passes have become political tools to punish and ostracise non-compliant journalists, however should one play the game the Whitehouse proved any fraud can just walk into the most exclusive briefing in the world.

The court of Bush accepts no dissenters.

Foreign Policy

President Bush has proved unusually internationalist for a Republican, he has had a great deal of work to do. Unfinished business in Iraq (an open wound from the Bush’41 tenure) was to be completed, and nothing was going to stand in his way. In an unholy alliance with the Puppet Master Dick Cheney and the Warmonger Donald Rumsfeld, Bush moved quickly to build the case for war. As the Downing Street memo now proves there was a premeditated plan to invade, with or without UN authority.

One and a half thousand US servicemen have returned home dead, draped in the Stars and Stripes, a scene too symbolic to be filmed. Thousands more try and rebuild shattered lives with multiple injuries and lost limbs. Countless civilians have also perished following the invasion and the country has remained in a state of high alert. Years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein the occupation forces are unable to even secure the road between Baghdad and the airport. But the War is going well according to the Whitehouse and the compliant Right wing media machine; the truth diluted as it vanishes before our eyes.

As Bush and his gang tear apart and clumsily rebuild the shattered country other pressing issues are allowed to fester. An avoidable crisis in North Korea has allowed hardliners to gain control, and they have used their announced nuclear capabilities to emasculate American influence on the peninsular. Bush likes to encourage China to take a lead on the issue ignoring the historical divisions between the two countries. The two-way talks the Koreans demand are rejected for the continued policy of inaction.

Again with meaningless rhetoric the administration has enflamed anti-US sentiment in Iran. Just as women are beginning to challenge their imposed subservience, and students look to build confidence in their decent; the US has come to the aid of Clerical leadership, providing a common enemy for which to rally support against. Such examples of ill thought policy are de rigueur with this pro-war neocon agenda.

In the Afghanistan conflict, which proved, a swift and comprehensive victory (with multinational support and UN recognition) there has been a breakdown in the fragile peace following highly suspect elections and reports of the torturing of detainees. There has also been a significant increase in the exportation of opium, although in fairness the British contingent was supposedly responsible for the post-war opium control. Just as Myanmar is looking too kill off its heroin trade the Afghan’s are happy to fill the gap in demand.

However we must remember that the Afghan conflict was an effort to find and capture Osama Bin Laden. Osama continues to enjoy a secretive if highly symbolic freedom.

A positive and effective response to the Tsunami disaster aside, there has been little to recommend from half a decade of Bush and Cheney.

At home

Few American citizens would be able to describe Compassionate Conservatism, the foundation for the Bush victory in 2000, as so little has been evident. Teachers unions continue to criticise the counter productive No Child Left Behind initiative, where nonsensical targets continue to suppress progress and development.

Bush’s early Medicare reform was sold to congress on odious figures and appears completely unsustainable, just the sort of neocon Trojan horse that now threatens Roosevelt’s social legacies. Fiscal revenue will continue to flow into the pockets of the healthcare companies who so inflated the Bush election purse. Bush did not stop there; he campaigned last year on tort reform, which threatens to limit the liability healthcare corporations owe their customers (the US people). Spiralling health care insurance costs were to blame however Bush refuses to debate the possibility of sourcing vastly cheaper drugs from Canada and Europe. Why? To prevent terrorists tampering with the medication. It’s an Orwellian nightmare.

Bush this year – bathing in his victory – went on tour to sell Social Security reform to the masses. Again if you follow the money it leads to investment firms and their hungry eyes, Wall Street cannot wait too devour this socialist hangover. Again newspeak is used too bamboozle and convince the American public into selling its future to the men in suits who know what’s best.

Staged rallies are arranged where Bush talks of crisis and impending doom, never allowing dissenters, the president talks of choice and ownership. Now with the American public rejecting the proposal 2 to 1, Bush is forced to justify the initiative using figures something he has been unable to do. The Whitehouse response of course is to cry foul and claim the Democrat’s are spoilers, unsupportive of an empathetic democratically elected president.

The proposed Clean Air policy has led to increased carbons in the atmosphere and a failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The US people’s response? To go beyond the protocol taking the matters into their own hands using local democracy to challenge pollution at source city by city, proving how out of step Bush has become with his own electorate.

Homeland security remains a sticking point with current account deficit at unsustainable levels and his regressive tax cuts to be financed, there is little left to secure the nations ports and boarders, immigrants and possible terrorists flood into the country. America is no safer.

And what of the economy? Ford and General Motors’ stock is declared junk and American manufacturing has suffered its worse period for decades. The Chinese support the treasury with an endless supply off bond purchases creating a legacy of debt that future generation will have too reconcile. Bush will be safely retired to his Austin ranch in time to miss the debts being called in. Only the stuttering early
performance of the Euro has stopped the dollar from loosing its privileged position as the global default currency. This is deeply symbolic and creates vast wealth for US government as it enjoys the benefits from all US Dollar exchanges.

With the American economy suffering slowdown the companies associated with the Bush and Cheney families have enjoyed something of a blue patch. Halliburton has made a fortune from the Iraq invasion charging literally millions of dollars for work valued in the thousands. Cheques are never questioned only authorised, the American taxpayer will pick up the tab.

The Carlyle Group who helpfully employs Papa Bush have also seen numerous defence contracts signed. In the case of their subsidiary United Defense they have even seen a policy change where a cumbersome and slow military vehicles life is extended to ensure a healthy corporate flotation. Nothing is too much to ask young George.

So what now for the American people? Well first they have 3 more years of Bush filling his coffers and squandering his opportunity. Then maybe America can evaluate this inept and corrupt administration and rejoin the global community and live up to its responsibilities.