Month: January 2013

Politics as a broader spectrum than Left vs Right

 

It’s probably fairly obvious, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, that I am (or at least was) confused as to where I sit politically. Although, I doubt this is unique to me. So if you’re reading this and confused yourself, then read on.
 
I feel that the political confusion problem arises from the incomplete political spectrum by which we are divided in NZ. You know, the Left-Right dichotomy. However, last night I was reading a post on The Standard and was directed to the Political Compass page.This compass approach addressed the social dimension of politics (distinguished by Authoritarianism vs Libertarianism) as well as the economic dimension (Left vs Right distinction). After answering the questionnaire, I was surprised at the result. Extremely surprised. Taken aback even. It placed me as a Left Libertarian (I know the test is not scientifically accurate, but it did have value in understanding the broader dimensions of politics). But knowing this, it helps me to understand why I am increasingly discontented with the supposed Left in NZ. I’ve always disliked the right, so don’t assume that my dislike for the left amounts to support for the right. It does not.
 
What is meant by Left and Right? I’m going to accept the view by the Political Compass that the Left-Right distinction explains the economic dimension i.e. Communism (left) and neo-liberalism (right). I’m not sure I agree with the distinction but will accept it (for the purpose of this post) because this is the view most people accept.
 
Left and Right in NZ is pretty much established as Labour (left) and National (right). In my view, this is flawed. Labour have not been a left wing party since the 1980’s when they allowed Roger Douglas to implement neo-liberalism into NZ’s policy making framework. However, despite this swing to the right by Labour (who have failed to move back to left) both Labour and National have anchored themselves as the forefront of NZ politics. Labour are effectively less right than National, but they are not Left. I found a diagram on the Political Compass site that analysed the NZ 2011 election and put the parties on their respective scales – it supports my assessment.
 
In my view, Labour and National work collaboratively to monopolise the political spectrum in NZ. They do so to legitimise the others claim to their respective economic dimensions (i.e. Left v Right). Notwithstanding the mud slung between these two parties, it is in fact in both their interests to ensure that minor parties do not attract any significant political influence, by way of public opinion.  To minimise any minor party traction, both Labour and National propagate myths of extremism to destroy the credibility and validity of minor party policy and thereby minimising any effective participation they might otherwise enjoy in government.
 
For instance, if Labour attack ACT (or some other such party on the right) it’s not because they think the vote will then swing their way (that would be ludicrous – a far right voter would never change their vote for a party proclaiming itself as leftist), rather it redirects the vote to the dominant National party securing National’s place on the right and vice versa. Arguably, the major parties create these myths for other reasons i.e. they do not wish either the left or right to be dominated by what they perceive as extremist threats to their own positions in government; but even if this is true, the strategy inevitably props up the other party’s voting base.
 
In terms of the social dimension the division on the Political Compass (see citation above) is between Authoritarian (i.e. Stalin, Hitler, Pinochet) and Libertarian. Interesting to note there has never been an extreme Libertarian in power – I suspect the reason for this is that power (the State) is incompatible with libertarianism. The interesting feature of the social dimension is how political parties are divided here. If you consider the diagram (linked above), the only libertarian party in NZ is the Green Party. It’s important to distinguish between the Left Libertarian (LL) and the Right Libertarian (RL). The LL is not committed to free market ideology instead (and in general) the LL “…holds that natural resources initially belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner…” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/libertarianism/#2). Obviously an oversimplification of the LL position as there are variations as in any ideology. The RL on the other hand would argue that the freer the market the freer the people – a capitalist based theory (instead of explaining this – which I would do a very poor job at, read anything from Life Behind the Iron Drape and you’ll soon get the picture).
 
I am not yet committed to Left Libertarianism, but the initial arguments are compelling. 
 
I didn’t intend to get on here and bag out Labour or National, my point was to raise the issue of the importance and relevance of minor parties. The majority of States around the globe are governed by Right wing Authoritarian governments. This includes NZ. Even if Labour wins the next election, there is no guarantee that they will slip back to the Left, and even if they do, there is no guarantee that they won’t move up the authoritarian scale. If we keep voting on a Labour vs National basis, then we will continue to experience the same problems in perpetuity. 
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Will the FSA ‘free’ Syria?

I’m not sure that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) strategy is going to work in favour of the Syrian people. I’ll canvas why below.

Initially, the FSA welcomed the assistance of Jabhat al-Nusra (a.k.a Al Qaeda) in their uprising against Syria’s Assad government and appear to have agreed to set aside any religious and ideological differences. With Syria being home to a diversity of religious and non-religious persons and Al Qaeda known to be a fundamentalist Islamist group characterised by many countries as a terrorist organisation, it was inevitable that eventually Al Qaeda would push their own agenda while Syria is unstable thereby creating an obstacle to freedom and democracy in Syria. Reading The Guardian, it appears this process has begun:

“But then they [al-Nusra] began to reveal themselves,” said a senior rebel commander in Aleppo. “The situation is now very clear. They don’t want what we want.”

Over the past six weeks a once co-operative arrangement between Aleppo’s regular Free Syrian Army units and al-Nusra has become one of barely disguised distrust.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/17/syria-crisis-alqaida-fighters-true-colours

So why did the FSA forge this relationship? If the FSA were seeking freedom and democracy from what they perceived as sectarian rule from Assad’s government, then cosying up to an extremist group seeking sectarian rule is counterintuitive. It negates the very reason for the revolution.

The Guardian reports (in article cited above) that the relationship appears to have formed because of the sophisticated weaponry and military support that Al Qaeda militants were able to provide in the early days. FSA leaders are now claiming that they will fight Al Qaeda once Assad is overthrown (see article cited above). But if Al Qaeda were more sophisticated in the beginning, how is it exactly that the FSA think they will overcome the likely opposition of Al Qaeda militants if Assad’s regime is overthrown? And what benefit is there for the people of Syria, if the internal conflict remains after the fall of Assad?

I suppose, if Assad is overthrown then the FSA may have at their disposal the weaponry of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), but many of these rebels are not trained soldiers and the calibre of weaponry (e.g. chemical weapons) would be catastrophic to all Syrian’s if used to counter Al Qaeda resistance. Alternatively, what happens if Al Qaeda secure the SAA weaponry for themselves?  This is a concern of the FSA (see article cited above).

Assad has called for negotiations with the FSA to form a new government. The FSA have repeatedly refused to negotiate with Assad and have affirmed that they will only negotiate after Assad resigns. On that note, if the FSA won’t negotiate with Assad, who do they expect to negotiate with? Assad was elected as President by the Syrian people, although it is questionable whether the electoral system is democratic. According to many, its a complete farce, while others claim it’s a fair system.  Irrespective, if the FSA refuse to negotiate with an elected President, they effectively refuse to acknowledge a significant proportion of Syrian citizens (who do support Assad and his regime) and their right to be represented in any negotiations going forward. Otherwise its simply one tyranny replacing another.

It is worth noting at this point, that while many Syrian’s deem Assad’s regime as a totalitarian dictatorship, there is a significant proportion who support his government. However, there are also those who are against the FSA but do not by default support Assad, and those who are against Assad but do not necessarily support the FSA.

For perspectives against the FSA:

Syrian Girl Partisan – http://www.youtube.com/user/SyrianGirlpartisan

Syrian Perspective – http://syrianperspective.blogspot.com

For perspectives against Assad:

Syrian Revolution Digest – http://www.syrianrevolutiondigest.com/

Farid Ghadry: Thoughts on Syrian Politics and Islam – http://ghadry.com/

There are also a couple of documentaries from the FSA perspective and the SAA perspective: 

People & Power: Syria – Songs of defiance 


The Syrian Diary

Connected Capitalism?

In the first week of 2013 I decided to begin the year by reading a book that promotes capitalism. Why? Because my goal this year is to read outside my comfort zone. 

The book of choice:  Neville Isdell & David Beasley “Inside Coca Cola: A CEO’s Life Story of Building the World’s Most Popular Brand” (2011, St Martins Press, New York).

Why this book? Well, last year my sister and I argued about the benefits and problems of capitalism which in itself is not unusual because we both agree to disagree about most things political especially when it comes to money and society. Anyhow, we were discussing how we had quite polar opposite views and ended up in a slightly heated discussion about Coca Cola (Coke).

Prior to this particular discussion I had watched a documentary on the depletion of water tables in rural India that the local communities blamed on the production of Coke in their area. However, my sister had just read the book cited above. She insisted I read the book before bagging Coke. I was at her house just a few days ago, saw the book in a pile and took it as my holiday reading. Its at least an interesting perspective. 


In this book, Isdell (former CEO of Coca Cola) argues that there was no proof that Coke created the depletion of the water tables in India and that the report he’d read indicated that depletion was the result of overuse by farmers in these areas and that the water tables have continued to decline at the same rate since Coke has withdrawn from the area. What Isdell does not say is – who funded the report, how were the water tables measured before and after Coke operated in the region, how was water use by farmers measured, what was the amount of water required to sustain the Coke plant to name a few questions. 

Given he states he has an explicit bias to Coke, I am still not willing to take his word for it. 

Additionally, he promotes Coke as a moral corporate citizen. Whatever that means. In his mind, it appears to mean that certain percentage of Coke’s profits are redistributed to the communities within which Coke operates. I was amused to see him argue (and to be fair, he argued well, even if I do disagree), that spending $25 million building a Coke bottling factory in Afghanistan was more beneficial to the community than building a Hospital.  His reasons were simply that the Coke bottling plant would provide 350 jobs which meant the government could collect employee and company taxes to build and sustain their own Hospital and employees could afford to pay for medical treatment. So his argument is that 350 employees would sustain the building and operation costs of a Hospital in Afghanistan so that they could then pay to use the services they have already subsidised through their taxes? Oh, right. 

Moreover, introducing an unnecessary product into a destabilised country claiming some moral victory when this was simply for profitability and acquisition of majority market share in Afghanistan is not responsible. What about the waste caused by the production of coke (including the plastics in which the drinks are sold), the extraction of resources to develop the technology used to make the product saleable, the lack of health benefits to a country that is suffering…I could go on. 

But Isdell claims that this is necessary to alleviate poverty. No. Building Coke bottling operations in developing countries is not in the best interest of the community, no matter which way you view it. It creates more problems than it solves. It uses precious water resources in these countries to make an inferior product and then charges those communities for the consumption of the inferior product even though the superior product – water, is or at least ought to be freely available. 

Isdell calls this ‘connected capitalism’ – the partnership between corporations, NGO’s and governments who work together to create profits in order to resolve poverty. There already exists terms for this kind of partnership – ‘Crony Capitalism’ and ‘Fascism’. Business and government should never be in partnership with each other since history tells us it leads to bribery, corruption and the implementation of the Police state as corporations force governments to enact laws that protect their business interests. It creates class divisions and ensures that poverty always remains to legitimise corporate profit making.