Monthly Archives: July 2013

Balcombe Fights the Power

Despite a broad sense of support for environmental causes, and having a solid faith that human activity has a dramatic impact on the world (incessantly affronted by denialists), today I think is the first time I’ve been motivated to write about it. News out of Balcombe, a village in the leafy county of West Sussex, is of concern, as oil and gas exploration firm Cuadrilla Resources have been given the go ahead to operate on the community’s doorstep. The local folk have motivated themselves, however, and their protest began yesterday by successfully blocking access to the site.

This case rings familiar with a great many confrontations between residents, local government and business, and there are a variety of interpretations. For the people it’s an emotional issue, their homes are faced with the prospect of significant and uninvited change and it can be easy to sympathise. The term ‘nimbyism’ technically applies in every case but isn’t inherently negative, with many legitimate grievances being easy to spot, including in my opinion the case of Balcombe. It would be worthwhile though, to first highlight the standard opposing arguments.

For the most part they are economic and apply right up and down the scale. Energy security and the cost of fuelling a nation is the imminent, if not already present, critical issue for the entire globe. Exploiting domestic resources is absolutely the most preferable option in political, financial and logistical terms. The national effect is lower fuel costs for the consumer, and given recent spiralling rises in the expense of driving a vehicle or heating a home this is hard to ignore. Even the specific local community would ostensibly benefit from increased revenue to public services and possibly even direct compensation for the price of industrial operations.

It’s easy to see why Balcombe is now forming another chapter in the never ending story, as two legitimate and thoroughly incompatible positions meet head on. Rural communities have every right to defend the sanctity of their homes, and whatever the economic upsides, they have to be respected. And it seems that despite a proactive and engaged effort by the Balcombe community to seek adequate protections, Cuadrilla Resources were still contracted to begin a heavy industrial process that is still actually enveloped in controversy. Fracking has recently been the environmental hot topic, with detractors arguing that it is insufficiently studied and probably worse for the environment than other extraction methods. See Josh Fox’s Gasland series.

This is no petty gripe. While the first phase of Cuadrilla’s work would be limited to exploratory measures, there is surely no doubt that if resources are found in profitable abundance the project would expand. Protest against this is essential and it’s admirable to see a healthy presence in West Sussex, as Balcombe risks becoming one of the early lost battles in an impending boom. Recent reports indicate that the UK has significant potential for fracking operations and we can fairly anticipate many more incidents like this. Current pushers of the energy agenda in government seem to be lost at sea in advancing the original coalition mandate to be ‘green’.

There is a concerning narrative developing in Westminster that just because renewable methods are less productive than burning stuff, to use the scientific phrase, they are a waste of time and we must instead plough ahead with completely exhausting every drop and scrap of fossil fuel before we have a serious look elsewhere. To paraphrase one protester from Balcombe, this is painfully short-sighted, and speaking for myself, due to the actual availability of clean energy options, smacks more than a little of entrenched industrial and economic interests.

I’m not completely partisan. I think it would be an interesting experiment to offer Balcombe an alternate green energy plan and see if they accept it. The thrust of their protest, and my primary reason for supporting it, is the environmental concern and effect of heavy industry on the community. It might seem arbitrary to plonk a wind farm there instead, but would certainly help vindicate the idea that this isn’t a question of snobbery and is genuinely about changing the future landscape with regards to energy. We should be watching Balcombe with interest.

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Reluctantly, The Royal Birth

Regarding the newborn… yes, that newborn. From a current affairs or writer’s perspective this a strange one, as I have absolutely zero sense of bearing on it. Am I a cynic, joining the generic ranks of people scoffing and stating the obvious that whatever its privilege, this is just another mouth for an overpopulated planet? Probably not, it seems unnecessarily mean, or at least, taking too proactive a position on it. I’m certainly not a “gusher”, one who would stand outside the hospital to weep real time manic tears of natal joy and then go on to call this the greatest day in my individual life. All I know is that it happened. At least I think it did. Vague suspicion lingers that this might be another moon landing type affair, designed to pick up the nation’s spirits, and more is the pity that the US get space exploration and we get to coo over a wee tyke who by default is doomed to have little genuine functionality or personal freedom in the name of a fading cultural institution, which by the time he is grown we might not even like anymore.

Hmm. I elicited an audible screech of horror from my grandmother last night when I explained that I neither dislike the monarchy or support them in any notable sense. I think I’m truly neutral, and this perhaps is the most controversial of positions to take on the monarchy and all familial developments therein. If you ever get stuck between the growls of a feuding monarchist and a republican, you would certainly know. If being a British subject doesn’t require you to love Queen Elizabeth and brood, it apparently requires you to take at least some strident position on the matter. But really, truly, I am oblivious. It feels stingy not to extend some sort of congratulations out to the lucky couple, much good it would do them, but… ugh, screw it. SCREW IT! Congratulations Kate and William. It does me no harm to impart that benevolent thought, other than the marginal sense of tawdriness from pretending for a fleeting moment that doing so has somehow made me a part of this. Now back to the real news.

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Westminster’s Out for Summer

Ladies and gentleman, just a little update in order to speak of what’s to come. As summer passes over and Westminster goes quiet for a spell, there is analyses abound on the fates of the parties. The momentum shifts have been astonishing in the last several months, with the Tories on the verge of total breakdown as recent as springtime. The pendulum swings however, and all talk is now of how Labour can reassert their own message after a number of hugely positive turns for the government. Honestly, who needs TV when the political theatre is this rampant.

Where have UKIP gone? Have a few pints with Marina Hyde resolved Nigel Farage’s image dispute with his party? Unlikely, and although I’ve written off UKIP’s serious electoral prospects they remain a curious force of potential that will loom to some degree for the next two years. Those Liberal Democrats have managed to sooth the death rattle back into chronic respiratory issues territory, although one suspects the next chill will finish them. The Tories have had quite enough of coalition and off the back of ICM figures will be plotting bigger and better outcomes then they had previously.

And Labour… oh, Labour. You crippled lamb, wounded so, limping in the dark and piteously seeking a shred of light to guide you home. Only this Labour set up could have failed to emphatically capitalise on the opportunities of the past 6 months, and for every mutiny that Cameron survives and for every economic bullet that Osborne dodges, Miliband and Balls are further revealed to be hopeless. That the Conservatives control the narrative is almost implausible, but sure enough they do. More on this coming shortly.

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America Braces Itself

All is bleak! Except for the UK weather, which for a change is flipping brilliant. But beyond the most limited of worldly observations however, things are pretty bleak. Refer to the previous article’s opening list for a brief and non-comprehensive overview of all that. Shining through the murk of so much conflict and global moral scandal is but one beacon of hope. A figure of politics that in 2008 took the world by storm, but has yet to live up to expectations, has announced the possibility of the most enticing spectacle of recent years.

That’s right folks, Sarah Palin is considering a run for the Senate. Her gradual side-lining by the Fox News organisation probably prompted this entirely disengenious ambition, as I think the jury has been long out on the true potential and suitability of this whirlwind of vapidity. Departing her position as Governor of Alaska mid-term wasn’t even the first major indictment of the calibre of the USA’s premier “mama grizzly” intellectual catastrophe, as paying any amount of attention to the 2008 elections would have informed you.

Whether it were the infamous Katy Couric interview, in which Palin couldn’t offer a single item from her likely non-existent reading list, news media or otherwise, the apparently necessary jotting of the most banal notes on her hand for rallies or even the simply infuriating nature of her folksy brand of general idiocy, it’s safe to say we weren’t prepared. If the race between McCain and Obama had been close prior to VP selection, it was from McCain’s utterly suicidal decision to nominate Palin that we could be certain that Obama had it in the bag.

It seemed like a joke at the time. Or rather a gift of the divinely comedic sort, that McCain picked her. A former sports journalist turned politician in a state that, courtesy of oil revenues, practically doesn’t need governing, we all laughed as she tried to promote foreign policy credentials based on Alaska being geographically close to Russia. After the Republican defeat at the election, and despite being able to consign that defeat almost exclusively to the fact that Palin was entirely unworthy of serious office, it was a case of bracing ourselves for a stellar trajectory.

Palin was successful in one metric and that was appealing to the socially conservative Republican base that McCain wasn’t exactly thrilling with his history of maverick, non-conformist positions. She whipped that backwoods gaggle up into a proper little fuss and their enthusiasm was possibly only stoked by the horrors of seeing an African American in the White House. The ocular dollar signs lit up and away she went, ditching her elected office in favour of the most rankly distasteful and commercialised book tour that ever was.

Fox News were at the time on the look out for any and every mouthpiece for arch-conservative diatribe they could find and it was no surprise when she took up a segment with that organisation of actual deception and misinformation. Gleefully she took to every opportunity to lambaste the incumbent administration. It was only fortunate that other firebrand anti-Obama orators had started to go overboard, with Glenn Beck notably becoming quite seriously unstable in his attacks, that the commercial window started closing on the Palin’s and Hannity’s of this world.

Now consider that fact, while I state that this isn’t just a hate piece against Palin and I am actually pleased to see her considering a return to real politics. Did you happen to watch the 2012 Republican primaries? It was a veritable freak show in political terms, a litany of the worst that the right wing of America had to offer, as dumbass after numbskull after halfwit competed for the affections of those that Palin had so enraptured from 2008 onwards. Between Romney, Bachman, Gingrich, Cain, Perry and Santorum was a stunning deficit of brainpower.

The Republicans are very slowly getting to grips with the idea that they cannot be the party of ‘stupid’, as Bobby Jindall so aptly put it before being internally eviscerated back into supporting stupid as the party theme. Right now they really truly are, and while you would think that is fine, it really isn’t. Because the stupid inside the Republican party is carrying and legitimatising a whole other lot of stupid in the country, which feeds back into the party in repetitive cycle that is in no light terms making the USA fundamentally politically weak.

So, as Fox News taking on one too many drooling Neanderthals to spin total rubbish leads to a significant step back, we could hope for a similar process in the political wing of US conservatism should Palin actually take a shot at the Senate. You can guarantee publicity, and with Palin I daresay ‘negative’ is a prerequisite attachment. With such publicity should come a further turning of the wheel away from these demagogue nightmares. There is talent within the Republican party, but it’s being hijacked.

Boehner, Cantor, the (thankfully) outgoing Bachmann… they and their company are a danger to US politics. Intractable, unthinking, unwilling, they operate in government with a bizarrely self-held mandate to ruin government in any form but their own. Fortunately they have neither tact nor scruples and their cynicism is coming home to roost. Bring it on Palin. Help America put this sad little chapter to bed.

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A Little Sigh for Egypt

What a depressingly uneventful time it has been. Honestly, what’s the point in comment when the only worthy happenings are… well, the death of the private citizen worldwide, the ultimate proof of the US clandestine behemoth, US-Russian relations taking a nose dive, US-Ecuadoran relations taking a nose dive, Brazil nearly turning itself upside down, Egypt going through a second revolution in as many years, Syria plummeting further into despair, Europe wringing their hands over Syria, Europe wringing their hands over the ever limp economy, Britain remaining in political limbo and the nascent resurgence of fascism, all the other things that I can’t list without exhausting the comic intention of this list and all capped off with half of the world varyingly burning, melting or drowning.

As I pick up the ball again my immediate instinct is throw it away for fear of a nervous breakdown. The actual event that brought me back to the keyboard was Egypt and the ousting of beleaguered Islamist Mohammed Morsi. Many months ago I wrote rather too optimistically about the prospects of his regime as squared up against the incredibly tenacious democratic opposition of the time. Safe to say their tenacity only increased but the truth is, the chemistry of this whole scenario hasn’t changed a jot. The military remain as the true power brokers in Egypt. If the opposition groups in Cairo are patting themselves on the back today it should only really be for creating an intractable situation that pushed the army to act again, and luckily for the opposition, as it was two years ago, in their favour.

In my defence, there was nothing inevitable about any of this. Morsi could have fully championed the egalitarian hopes of his people, but instead chose the route of an unpalatable hybrid of theo-autocracy cut with minimal democratic recognition. You could say on the other hand that the people of Egypt could have just laid down and taken it for the benefit of not engaging in conflict, but that would rather be the wrong mindset. I was initially critical of the very aggressive tone that the NSF and people like El Baradei were taking against the new regime, storming and occupying the presidential palace amidst a broader narrative of disobedience, instilling an immediate siege mentality in both factions. But these were necessary measures to make the extraordinarily pertinent point that Egyptians wouldn’t meekly and immediately slip back into subservience to a government that served them in no true fashion.

I will not, on the other hand, describe the current situation as ideal to any extent. The military has repeatedly overstepped a crucial line and remains obscenely audacious in its attempts to manage the nation. From a domestic perspective I could not really think of any realistic circumstance in which I would appreciate our army staging a coup against the democratically elected government. The fear, uncertainty and anger such an event would elicit would be profound to say the least, even for those who would politically gain from it. Nevermind for those who would abjectly oppose it. And make no mistake, Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist agenda have a strong, and now more than a little miffed, support base. Morsi was of course democratically elected in a process that I don’t believe was rigged, so not only have the army undercut democracy in principle, they have undercut a legitimately elected office.

You do have to stack Morsi’s untenable vision and implementation against that fact, but all in all, the atmosphere in Egypt still strikes me as desperately uncomfortable. We now have an interim leader, Adly Mansour, the Constitutional Court’s leading judge, who has stepped up with the mandate to rid Egypt of the culture of overly powerful and revered leaders. It is marginally encouraging that the military were quick to install this man over the option of a prolonged stint of martial law, but a great many questions linger. Presumably the country will now gear itself up for another round of elections, to be held at the soonest time, but what happens if the Muslim Brotherhood achieve more democratic success?

The chances of that outcome would seem diminished after the failures of the past two years, but as said there is strong contingent of ardent supporters who don’t at all object to a politically Islamic Egypt. Their resurgence is a possibility, given the strength of organisation the Brotherhood showed in the run up to the original elections. Would the opposition riot again, causing a further sense of the futility of democracy in that country as it produces only tyrants that the technical minority can’t abide? What recourse do the disenfranchised Islamists now have? Should the NSF or those representative of it win the election, would it be right for the MB to cause upheaval in the name of enforcing their ideals? Has Egypt, or Egypt’s army, in fact made the first official value judgement that in governance Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy?

A mildly contradictory notion. Democracy is little more than a numbers game and if Islamism has the numbers, then it is in all senses definitely democratic. In my opinion what we are seeing, for better or worse, is the infiltration of the Western liberal notion of enshrined equality taking precedence over the desires of the majority. It is the centralisation of the theme of egalitarianism, and we’ll just have to see if it sticks or if the divisions in Egyptian society are more marked that the apparent unilateral nature of Morsi’s ousting suggest. I know one thing however, and that is that I am absolutely done with making predictions when it comes to the Middle-East.

I’ll stick to the home front in that regard, and speaking of which, there’s more to come. Before I viciously round upon our lamentable gaggle of politicians I’d like to get at least one more article out on foreign affairs. Once I get down the path of ridiculing the likes of Miliband or Balls or Osborne or whoever, I find it very, very hard to retreat.

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