Tuesday, 21 December 2010

This week's political viewing: 20th-26th December 2010

This week's political viewing has a theme: challenging beliefs. I am often chastised by my peers for changing my views on a fairly regular basis; I think the old quote "The more you know, the less you understand" are the truest words ever spoken. My most recent process of re-evaluating my views began with reading about the Cuban dictator Batista, and having watched some films recently which further challenge my views, I'm now floating once again in a big ocean of confusion and conflicting ideas. So watch these videos and join me on my little raft in the big, cold, lonely ocean.

The Corporation
Cover of
This film - on Youtube in an annoying 23 separate parts and interspersed with various pleas to donate some money - opens with reference to a very strange US Supreme Court ruling in ye olde times, in which a corporation was deemed to be  a person, and therefore was afforded the same rights as real citizens of the USA. The film reminds us that - in spite of the picture we are sometimes painted by people like Tea partiers - corporations were heavily regulated by states in days gone by. Their charters were given for certain periods of time and to perform certain functions deemed to be for the good of the public. Once these functions were met, the charter would be revoked and the corporation would disband.

However, corporate lawyers argued that such actions infringed upon the rights of corporations - which now considered people - had fundamental constitutional rights.

Throughout the film, our hopes of a capitalist economy being beneficial and benevolent are challenged, providing striking evidence of the selfish, damaging, self-interest of corporations in the USA. Contributions from such people as Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Milton Friedman, as well as numerous former top brass in business, add weight and personal views to the content of the film. It also provides further evidence for my own ongoing self-indulgent little research project for regarding the evils of the USA and why it can be blamed for just about everything, by providing further examples of the USA propping up foreign dictators provided they were good for the American economy.

Even when cutting through the obvious bias and the intention of the film to make us dislike corporations, it's clear that the content of the film cannot be completely dismissed by even the most pro-marketeers. It provides strong evidence and arguments to show the damaging impact that unrestrained capitalism can have, highlighting that the pursuit of ever-increasing profits is not always compatible with the moral values most of us would take for granted. Most shocking is that fact that, for the first time, corporations have been allowed to patent life, paving the way for a truly corporate-dominated world in which everything, from water to creatures created or discovered  in a lab, are owned and used for profit.

Watch The Corporation >

Sicko


I've been a little bit of an anti NHS tirade recently. Partly because I'm just fed up of waiting for so long for treatment. I stopped counting how many months I have been waiting for treatment, and how many phone calls I had to make to get some progress, and how many conflicting things I had been told. I convinced myself that if we had a private system of healthcare, things would be better. The private system would need my custom; if they didn't keep me content, I could take my custom elsewhere.

Sicko makes it clear that this isn't always the case. It is in the interest of health insurance companies to avoid covering treatment on technicalities, because it won't cost them money. Whilst I suspect that the US model works for many people, those for whom it does not work provide striking evidence of how depending upon money American healthcare can be.

Our NHS has plenty of problems, but its key strength is guaranteed care without the worry of payment or whether insurance covers the treatment or medicine. The UK needs to be looking to France and Italy, though. These countries have some of the best healthcare in the world - we need to see what they're doing right and adopt the strengths of their systems.

And yes, being the soppy fop that I am, parts of the story of the 9/11 heroes brought tears to my eyes.

As I know you're incredibly interested in updates on my medical progress, I had a phone call shortly before I published this article and am finally going to start treatment in January. The nice chap on the phone made up for all my waiting.

Watch Sicko >

Capitalism: A Love Story

Even though I am generally pro free-markets I've always found it odd that, in the most rich, developed, and sophisticated countries in the world, we have people living on the streets,  people in abject poverty, and most of the population earning tiny amounts of money in comparison to their employers. Despite there being real-terms consistent growth in the economy almost every year (recessions being the obvious exception), more and more wealth has become concentrated in the hands of the few, leading even the Financial Times to question a the absurd pay gaps between workers and their employers. Michael Moore presents this anti-capitalist film, which - as you would expect - presents a negative view of the economic system. Evidence Moore provides for the damaging effect of capitalism including people being thrown out of their houses for being unable to make their payments. Conversely, it also provides some examples of the status quo being challenged with success, including a bread factory which all of its employees are paid on the amount of time they work, not their status in the company. This led to assembly-line workers being paid an average of $65,000, much higher than the usual payment for such work. Polemic Michael Moore has helped me to understand more those out protesting. There is understandable sense of everyone suffering as result of what was predominantly the actions of banks and ineffectual regulation by Government, predominantly in the USA. I can understand the sense of injustice of a minority having so much wealth - and in the USA specifically - power. I'm not waving a red flag; I don't see socialism as being an appealing system, but there seems to be a strong case for much greater control of the free markets and more social assistance for the workers who are so often overlooked and taken for granted. Watch Capitalism: A Love Story > The Oil Factor The USA has a strong tradition of opposing evil dictators. It also has a strong history of supporting evil dicators. It all depends upon whether they're pro-American or anti-American, pro-capitalist or anti-capitalist. If a dictator is good for the USA's economy, they can continue to exist without opposition, they may even be propped up with support from the superpower, either overtly or covertly - whatever suits the US of A. Whilst the US likes to present itself as a benevolent hawk in foreign policy, a more truthful metaphor would be a vulture. Selfish, powerful, dangerous. For years, the USA propped up and became powerful in Cuba whilst the dictatorial regime of Batista was in control. When he was replaced by Castro - a dictator no more evil than the previous (I would argue in many ways a more tolerable dictator to live under than his predecessor) - suddenly the USA decided it cared about human rights and freedom, and that this evil dictator needed to be removed. What the USA really cared about was its ability to trade with and power over Cuba. It didn't care about the oppression of the people - it cared about its economy and its elite. It did not care about Castro's treatment of the Cuban people, but the fact that him being in charge would be bad for the American economy and American influence, as well as making it look weak because it had permitted a country on its doorstep to do something other than fall at the feet of the United States and clean its boots. Every US intervention in the affairs of other states in history is self-serving, at least to some extent. They locked Europe into being US allies for the benefit of control and continuing trade. In Chile, they poured money in to attempt to prevent Allende winning a democratic election, and the CIA tried to convince military chiefs to launch a coup. The US then had no qualms with supporting Pinochet, who seized power through a coup. He was anti-communist and good for American trade - that was all that mattered. So what made us believe that US intervention in Iraq had noble intentions? This film puts forward the view that, aside from the usual practice of wanting a pro-American leader who is good for trade, the USA also had its eye on valuable oil resources in Iraq. One of my favourite little bits is the below quote from Lt Col. Karen Kwiatkowski:
"We're not too worried about dictators as long as they're on our side and do what we tell them. Democracy is not the reason we went in there [Iraq]. The main reason is geo-strategic regional dominance, which is the one that relates to energy supplies. Another reason for this invasion, occupation, at the time that we did it, had to do with the pressure to lift sanctions. There was huge pressure building to lift sanctions on Iraq. Had sanctions been lifted or partially lifted, Iraq could have been filled with European, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, all kinds of folks - no Americans or British folk - but we and the UK had been bombing Iraq for 12 years. Had sanctions been lifted with Saddham Hussein still in charge, we would have gotten no contracts and no opportunities to invest in Iraq."
The view that oil played a role is backed up by Iraq having the second-largest amount of oil reserves in the world, and the trends of US oil production and importation: Production reached its peak in the early 70s, and has since collapsed to 1950s levels. Meanwhile, demand is continuing to grow, meaning greater dependence upon countries in the middle east. I think all American intervention comes back to a simple selfish pursuit of trade, or at very least it plays a key role in decisions to take action. The Iraq invasion seems to have been no exception, and the Oil Factor is just one interpretation of how the USA managed to put its own self interest into practice through its foreign policy. Watch the Oil Factor > 
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America has some wonderful internal politics and freedom-loving people which we could always learn from, but it does seem that its interventionist foreign policy leaves much to be desired. I believe there is hope in Obama's presidency for a more desirably foreign policy, but time will tell.
And after all that America-centric waffle, here's something a little lighter and far more British: 

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