Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Yes We Can

Today, as they say, is the first day of the rest of our lives...
..and it seems to me a day for optimism and hope.

It's hard to know what a new face in the White House will bring - but it's not hard to believe it will be better than the eight years just gone.

Good Luck Barack!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Going for broke?

Having looked at the numbers on past performance I've been interested to see the current debate on which candidate has an economic plan to turn the US around - an item of not academic interest to most of us out in the global economy...

I found an interesting article at the Washington Post that looks at their plans and their ability to deliver.. it included this quote:
"Austan Goolsbee, who advises Democratic candidate Barack Obama, said McCain had consistently called for balancing the budget without explaining how he would do so." ...which given the numbers seems a pretty fair criticism.

In the 12 years under Democratic presidents since Jimmy Carter the American gross national debt rose by an average 5.3% per year for a compounded increase of 87%(!) ...but in eighteen years with Republican predidents it rose an average of 11.2% per annum - compounding to a huge 679% increase...

So I ask you.. just how likely is it the McCain is your man to get a grip on US finances???

Monday, 20 October 2008

Spending your inheritance...

The economy has been big news of late - and not least as a topic of debate in the USA in the run up to the election. So I thought I'd have a look at at how things really are and dug up some numbers on the American national debt.

I was interested to see how things fared under the different political parties over there and the results were a bit of a surprise. Common rhetoric says the Democrats are wont to raise taxes and spend more - and that it's the Republicans that aim to cut cost and give money back to the taxpayer. What I found was that yes... Federal spending tends to rise faster under the Democrats - but the clearest trend was that the national debt almost always rises faster under a Republican president.

But hej, isn't it the Senate and the House of Representatives that agree those things? Check it out...

So what does it show?? It measures the increase in gross federal debt as a proportion of the increase in GDP.. and covers the period from 1979 to 2007. As the economy grows what part of that growth is mortgaged to meet current spending? The numbers at the bottom show who has control of the two houses - +2 is both Republican, -2 is both Democrat - and each point is a year - red for a Republican president, blue for a Democrat. All but two of the Democrat years lie below a limit of debt increasing by half the rise in GDP.. and all but one of the Republican years lie above that same limit.

Surprisingly it doesn't matter who runs the parliament - under a red president the debt just keeps on rising... In effect Republican presidents are giving tax cuts funded not by growth but by borrowing. If you need the money can't you just go and borrow it for yourself!!

If you read this report from the US Government Accountability Office you can see that escalating debt interest combined with increasing welfare and pension costs for the ageing population means America is facing a huge funding crisis in the coming decades.

My conclusion? America can't afford another Republican in the White House...

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The American Dream?

I watched the last of the American Presidential Debates yesterday - not live you understand, but in replay. It was my first real chance to see the candidates presenting themselves...

It was shocked by the huge difference in how the candidates came across. McCain commented several times on Obama's rhetoric - but to my ears Obama stuck to lucidly explaining what he wanted to do and why it was important for America to do it.

McCain was the one I thought lacked substance, making fine claims and aiming at an emotional appeal - trying to demonise his opponent as a liberalist wanting to steal money from the people to waste on public programmes - spreading muck about Obamas links with terrorism - and painting himself as the champion of the American dream. He made more than one reference to Sarah Palins special understanding and interest in those poor families dealing with autistic children - which crudely put is trying to get sympathy votes out of her personal circumstances.

He also made a great play on his record of fighting against the establishment and vested interests - very laudable - but I was left with the impression that this meant would struggle to unite his own party under his leadership, never mind leading the nation.

At times he looked frail - and at times he reminded me of one of those wind up monkeys. Asked a specific question he'd reply with some stock sound bite he'd prepared beforehand - something completely off subject.

It was, to put not too fine a point on it, scary to think that this was someone that could end up sitting down to negotiate with leaders in China, Russia or Iran.

The sad part was that behind the guff it's clear that he actually has been active in pushing for what he sees as good for his country.. and not just toed the line.

Obama.... pretty much stuck to presenting his platform of policies and defending the flack launched from across the table... He was probably too kind.
McCains policies will put more money in the pockets of 30 million Americans - the other 270 million will be better off under the Democrats...

The American dream - means aspiring to be part of that rich clique of 30 million... and for that it seems that half the electorate are willing to ignore the fact that they are not part of that small minority that are taking the cream. The ironic part is that getting rich is about redistributing wealth to the small number that succeed. Does the personal avarice of the American dream really mean people don't want to see the rest of the population get a decent education and the security and reassurance of good health care?

And for me it is somewhat ironic that the party that stands proud of that avaricious dream is the same party so warmly supported by all those evangelical Christians.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Ethics and the Olympian ideal?

I've not paid too much attention to the Olympics... or looked into the protests surrounding it - until now. I came across a piece at The Conscious Earth laying out the distasteful history of Chinese intervention in Tibet going back to the invasion in 1948. I have a great respect for the results of China's economic renaissance which has done much to reduce poverty in China ( and hence on a global scale). It's sadly clear that there is still a long way to go to in improving the state ethics there. Read the blog.... I've just copied here the final piece which is a quote from the Dalai Lama

"It is therefore part of our responsibility towards others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than when we found it. This is not quite such as difficult proposition as it might sound. For although there is a limit to what we as individuals can do, there is no limit to what a universal response might achieve. It is up to us as individuals to do what we can, however little that may be. Just because (our action) seems inconsequential, it does not mean that we should not do it."

Monday, 18 August 2008

News travels...

I read a blog item on Henrik Alexandersson's blog on the shifting boundaries of legislation in the surveillance state... with a link to a Swedish article about the latest proposals in the UK to give councils and other agencies access to stored information on your calls and internet access.

But that article was a citing an article at Times Online about the governments proposals for implementing the EU directive covering monitoring of telecoms usage. The comments to the article were full as you might expect with criticism of the heavy hand of Big Brother. ..but one in particular caught my eye...

"It clearly infringes on everyone's right to privacy. What will those control freaks devise next - a scheme by which everyone's mail will be opened and logged, or will they just demand that the populace is microchipped and fitted with tracking devices "to prevent crime"?

Paul C. Dickie, Stockport, UK"

Welcome to Sweden!

A bear with a sore head?

The Russian bear wants respect. It wants to be seen to be strong and powerful. Have you noticed?

Russia has a good deck to play with - an expanding economy and rich mineral resources - and a strong academic and scientific tradition. Lots of things going for it - but today it plays it's cards like a shoddy crook - or the schoolyard bully. It's led by politicians that don't trust their vision and abilities enough to put them to an honest vote - or to allow a free and open press - and it behaves internationally as if the whole world ran on the same principles that internal politics are based on - the same ones that earn Russia a placing of 143/179 in Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perception Index. It's hardly the stuff great nations are made of now is it???

And it's such a shame. Russia doesn't need to throw it's weight around to get respect. (Bullies don't earn respect... ..ask George Bush). Imagine if the Bear cleaned it's act up internally, stopped throwing it's weight around with the neighbours and committed to a peaceful collaboration with it's trading partners. With it's resources and geography it won't have to try too hard to succeed - and a secure and honest society free from crime and corruption would suck in investment from all parts of the globe.

Imagine a thriving vigorous Russia joining the EU. What a powerhouse it would be... What a nation to be proud of... a land of science and arts built on commerce - not corruption.

Brer Bear, please, do the world a favour. Be GREAT!! all the right ways.

Be a land that would make your grandfathers proud.

United in delusion

"A nation is a society united by delusions about its ancestry and by common hatred of its neighbors".
- William Ralph Inge

Nationalism.. with religion.. the scourge of the earth.

At a time when the Olympics are the source of so much national pride about sporting achievement we witness another contest - the worst fruits of nationalism. Patriots from Georgia, Russia and South Ossetia all ready to make life a misery for someone else to claim 'their' land... to 'enoble' their nation. It makes me sad.

And when the blood is spilt and a thousand new feuds begun.. what have they gained these patriots. Sow misery in your fields and what do you hope to reap?
Go home, shake hands with your neighbour and have done.

The earth is mute. She doesn't hear your claims...

Thursday, 7 August 2008

An inconvenient truth?

It is repeatedly used as an argument by those defending the FRA legislation that the FRA are only going to look at a small bit of the traffic - the bit that has to do with nasty evil terrorists... ignoring the fact that you can't find the bits you're interested in without looking through the rest.
(A good critique of the governments position as put in a letter to the Moderaterna membership is here... in Swedish)

It's hard to believe that they can't understand that looking through all international traffic constitues mass-surveillance - so you're left with the conclusion that they choose not to see it that way. A complicit deception.

In the comments to the post linked above I found this quote which I thought summed it all up rather well...

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Joseph Goebbels.

What was that about the FRA-law being needed to protect against external threats to the state?

Monday, 4 August 2008

Thou shalt not kill?

A man will die unless you choose to defer his lethal sentence...
If you choose not to defer the sentence you choose to kill him.

And yet you did choose not to defer the sentence.
You deliberately chose to kill him.

Yes, You have the power to kill..
..but not the moral right.

Especially not for you George...

A devout Christian?

Sunday, 27 July 2008

As a last resort?

The FRA are reading your mail. Use bottle post!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Death by a thousand cuts?

“The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away,
for expedients, and by parts”.
Edmund Burke, 1777

Or as Benjamin Franklin put it...

"Any society that would give up a little liberty
to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

Clean flour in the bag… A Miller’s tale?

A phrase you see a lot in the debate here on state surveillance is ‘jag har rent mjöl i påsen’. I have clean flour in my bag… so please go ahead and keep watch on everything I say. It’s a phrase and an argument that makes me want to scream NOooooooo!!!! every time I hear it.

The corollary to the argument is ‘If you’re against this law, what have you got to hide?’. It’s an argument I find extremely offensive. Privacy is a recognized right. I don’t need to defend why I want privacy, it is for those wanting to remove that right to demonstrate that that is justified.

What I find most offensive with this argument is the arrogant and selfish supposition that says that because surveillance is acceptable to me in my life as it is here and now today it must be acceptable to all other people regardless of their views and circumstances. Together with this is the equally offensive nationalist assumption that if we can protect the communication and rights of swedish people then it doesn’t matter what we do to others.

One of the misconceptions that often underpins this blind faith in the system is that surveillance is looking for people committing crimes. It isn’t. The FRA is looking out for external threats to Sweden - which mostly has nothing to do with illegal activity. Agitating against government legislation for instance is quite legal but (certainly in some other parts of the world) could see you classed as an enemy of the state. So if you’ve not done anything wrong and it’s not illegal why are you being monitored? And why are they monitoring you if they are not going to actively use that information?

The other thing that people don’t seem to understand is that it’s not you that decides what ‘clean’ means. Is your life organic wholemeal, or plain bleached white? Are you gluten free??? Which one fits (or more to the point doesn’t fit) the political agenda of the day???

And remember, in an environment where Sweden is trading or selling intelligence to other powers, it’s not Sweden’s nice likeable trustworthy politicians that are deciding what clean is either…

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Feeling threatened?

The FRA want (and at the moment will get) new powers to carry out surveillance on all cable traffic crossing Swedens borders - so we may wonder what is the threat that needs these new powers?

Changes in the law will mean that the scope of FRA activity changes from "external military threats" to just "external threats".. a not insignificant change. So what is Sweden afraid of? (bearing in mind that 'national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country' are the only possible justifications to support a massive violation of the right to privacy given by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.)

Sweden is clearly a high profile target for terrorists.
err. NOT!

Sweden is placed 97 out of 160 on a global terrorism index. Since the infamous 9/11 attack there has been precisely noll fatalities in Sweden from terrorism (casualties in the Bali bombing excluded).
And.. which you might have missed.. terrorism globally is on the decline.
Don't take my word for it - read this well researched report by the Human Security Brief - an organisation part funded by the Swedish government.
So the Swedish government are legislating for increased powers at a time when the real threat is declining... Does that make sense?

Military threat?
What real military threat exists then that threaten the security of the Swedish state?
Sweden has troops deployed on peace keeping duties in Afghanistan for instance - but troops in foreign places aren't the Swedish state and it's hard to see that any attack on troops in Afghanistan could constitute a threat to Sweden - sad as it would be for soldiers relatives if somone died.
What might you consider a proportional threat to justify surveillance of the communications of everyone in the country? If it's not a threat of war or invasion for me it doesn't make the grade... But come on guys - there hasn't been an invading foreign army in Sweden for two hundred years! (...unless you count that unfortunate incident in 1940). Are you really worried about that?

Yes, we know (because Ingvar told us, the scalliwag) that the FRA has helped keep the peace when you've had a tiff while playing chicken with the russians... but that was radio signal monitoring.. and your cable surveillance really isn't going to help there is it?

So, if terrorism is declining, and the real threat to national security isn't at a level to justify mass surveillance. What is left? Can it be a coincidence that you want to broaden your outlook a bit? Political and economic threats... think of all the analysts you can employ stirring that pot....

A million times "no!"

You are of course familiar with the UNs Universal Declaration of Human Rights.. but just as a quick reminder, amongst other things it says…

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world….

Article 12.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 30.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

The proposed “FRA law” in Sweden will mean all traffic in cables crossing the border will be copied and then monitored electronically. Traffic matching specific filter parameters will be inspected by FRA staff. Copying and electronically monitoring all traffic are both surely arbitrary interferences in privacy and correspondence?

In Sweden monitoring of an individuals communications is permissible only following a court decision proving evidence of criminal activity. Ingvar Åkesson, FRA’s director, in a reply to a newspaper article by a member of parliament suggests that automatically monitoring all my traffic without first proving the need before a court is OK, because they are not involved in looking for criminal activity (it is only surveillance) and they are going to do it to everyone - and anyway Swedes don't need to worry because they're mainly interested in looking at foreigners.

I’m sorry, but infringing my right to privacy without grounds is not acceptable.. and doing it simultaneously to millions of others does not make it more acceptable. Nor does the fact that you don’t catch anything in your filters worth investigating make it acceptable to monitor me just on the off-chance. That you choose to do this to foreigners over whom you have no legal jurisdiction cannot make it better - that's the kind of thinking that leads to Guantanamo...

Bearing in mind that this law will affect millions of people that don’t live in Sweden and are not Swedish I would just like to stress that last part.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”

Ingvar Åkesson.. that includes you!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Greener greens?

I read in the paper yesterday that Konsum (one of the main Swedish food chains) has reported a 49% rise in sales of ecological produce during the last five months - now around 6.5% of total food sales.
It seems to be a virtuous spiral because the choice of ecological goods on offer seems better every week. In fact the sad part of the report is that increasing sales are leading to increased imports to meet demand...
A nice touch as a customer is the way the bill highlights the green items you bought and gives you a sub-total.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Manifesto - Low impact living for the common man.

Low impact living is a choice, a series of choices.. fundamental choiices about the lifestyle you lead...

So begin at the beginning.
•  Look at where you need to be - to be near to work family and friends - and move there.
•  If you can't move then change the rest to be near where you live. (a tough one that)
•  Live in a house that's as small as you need.
•  See that it's well insulated and cheap to heat.
•  Live with someone! The more the merrier!
•  Choose a flat, not a semi-and a semi, not a detached.
•  No flying!
•  Sell the car and walk, cycle or use public transport..
•  If you have to have a car where you live - go back to the start of the list... You're not trying.
•  Consider car pools, car hire or taxi for when you really must have wheels... (Or ask your less enlightened friends!)
•  But choose an eco-friendly car...
•  Throw out the bathtub and fit a shower with a lo-flow head.
•  Shower with a friend ;-) (not obligatory, but fun)
•  Eat less meat less often (.and choose game not farmed, and avoid beef & lamb)
•  ..or better - eat no meat
•  Buy food that is locally grown and in season
....or grow your own.
•  Pass by all that eco-produce shipped from far off places...
•  If you're going to cheat choose Fair Trade..
•  Buy renewable electricity - it costs more which encourages you to use less ;-)
•  Use less electricity. There's not enough renewable to go round
•  Buy a sweater (use it, and turn the heating down)
•  Learn to cook with the microwave as much as possible
•  Stop buying things you don't need.
•  Don't throw away things that can be re-used. (Re-use is better than recycling)
•  Sell or give away your unwanted re-usables so someone else doesn't need to buy new.
•  Mend and renew.
•  When you buy new, reward craftsmanship. You're buying less so you can afford it.
•  Remember that no flying applies to what you buy too...
•  ...even from eBay.
•  Have no children, or if you have children, have no more.
•  Lobby hard....

It's more or less in priority order.. except that the last two should be up at the top. Each child you bring into the world has a lifetimes impact on the environment.. ..And so do do their children... And theirs...

..And big organisations have much bigger impact on the environment than you do. Lobby your local schools, councils, transport operator and businesses on for instance:
•  Policy and targets for switching to greener cars, reducing flights and using public transport for business travel
•  purchasing policies to buy more locally manufactured materials
•  Better public transport - more frequent, to more places, and driven by 'green' fuels.
•  Using renewable electricity and reducing waste.
•  Providing vegetarian options in canteens and for school meals - and having a policy for using less environmentally damaging meat. Less beef, more chicken. (That should save them money too..)
•  Point out to shop owners when they're not using low energy lighting. (another money saver)
•  Ask for local seasonal produce wherever you can't get it. And less packaging please!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Wise words

There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.
- Abraham Lincoln
... or from an episode of Star Trek?

Take truth where you find it....

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Ten green bottles?

And if one green bottle should accidentally fall?
Imagine that each of us throws away a plastic bottle once a week...

Here in Sweden that would be around 9 million bottles a week, or 450 million bottles a year. In the USA it's a little over 300million a week ... or in a year around 15 billion bottles. Which is interesting as in 2006 Americans threw away around 22 billion plastic bottles...

You do only throw away one bottle every week don't you????

While you're imagining where all those bottles went to, some food for thought...
In the US around 30% of plastic bottles, and 45% of soda and beer cans got recycled in 2006. Hurrah!!!

...while here in Sweden over 80% of bottles and 85% of cans (a total of 1.4 billion - three a week each) were recycled

That there's such a difference could be because Sweden runs a mandatory deposit scheme for most bottles and cans. When you buy you pay a little extra and you only get it back when you take the empties back.

I don't buy a lot of bottled drinks and I have to say it's a pain storing things to take back to the shop - particularly cans as they have to remain round to go through the machine that reads the bar code - but you have to admit it seems to work. :-)

The bit I particularly like about the system is the 'biståndsknappen'. When you've stood in the shop and stuffed all your bottles through the hole in the wall you get a receipt you can redeem at the till.. or, if you press the button, it all goes to charity.

Drastic Plastic

I recently discovered an interesting blog called Life Less Plastic.. which is all about trying to cut out plastics from our daily life. While I have no plans to try to be completely plastics free, I wholeheartedly believe in cutting down unnecessary use of plastics and it prompted me to be more aware of the plastic that crops up in my daily life...

So, for the record, I have recently bought...

  • A new bit for my drill - hung on a thick plastic label
  • A new (Ikea) roller blind packed in a plastic tube
  • Screws and rawlplugs - in plastic bags
  • Linseed oil for my table - in a plastic bottle
  • A screwdriver - with a plastic handle.
  • olives in plastic pots
  • bread in plastic bags
  • plastic wrapped cake
  • and even croissants - in a paper bag.. (with a plastic window)

..and my recycling waste regularly includes:

  • plastic pourers from fruit juice cartons
  • soft drinks bottles
  • disposable razors
  • & yoghurt cartons

and occasionally - ice cream pots & wine box pourers.

You know the sort of stuff...

So? What about it?

Well... I will

  • be more observant in the future and make packaging part of my buying choice...
  • when I buy things in plastic packagingI'll choose packaging I'm likely to re-use. Resealable boxes for my dry goods for instance.
  • Make sure that plastics go for recycling (they do already)
  • Look out for an alternative shaving solution
  • Look for a farm produce outlet locally
  • Shop at the food hall where things are not pre-packaged.
  • Keep using the (plastic) things I've got.

But... Plastics are an important class of materials and get used all over - in cars, aircraft, electrical goods and medical equipment.. and a myriad other places. Plastics can do things that other materials have a hard time matching.. and are mostly based on chemicals derived from oil. By comparison to making plastics, burning oil (petrol) for fuel is just short sighted profligacy. So, if you're thinking of cutting back on using plastics to 'save the environment' make sure you have your priorities right.

Which means I'm going to keep walking round the corner to the shop and choosing the best they have to offer.. unless I find something better in cycling distance (whch is tricky right now).

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

You take the high road...

.. and I'll take the low road.

My life and my beliefs and values don't always seem to go hand in hand, which is a pity really because living life according to your principles seems to be fundamental to a harmonious life. I keep thinking that maybe it's something I should do something about.

I have other blogs that talk about things that go on in my life. This blog is for the why, and for the things that otherwise might find their way into a letter.. (which you probably would never see) - on thoughts, motives, beliefs and values - with probably quite a lot of waffle in between.

One of the main themes will be green living.. sustainable living. Call it what you will - and inevitably some commentary on how the rest of humanity organises it's life. Writing helps me think.

Just why am I putting my thoughts down in print? I was wondering that myself, but reasons are tricky things. When I find one, like the skins on an onion, I just find another one behind. But let's pick just one...

"If a tree falls in a forest and no-one hears it, does it make a sound?"