Category Archives: Politics

Musings on political and economic matters.

Was Albert Einstein antisemitic?

albert-einstein-1144965_640In 1948, the renowned scientist Albert Einstein co-authored an open letter to the New York Times expressing his concerns about the visit to America of Menachem Begin, leader of the Freedom Party in the newly-formed state of Israel. Earlier that year, Begin had been involved in the massacre of an Arab village which had shocked the world, including most in the Jewish community. In the letter, Einstein describes the Freedom Party as “a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.” Begin went on to become Prime Minister of Israel in 1977 and remained in power until 1981.

Things are different now, which is perhaps why the 10th example given in the Working Definition of Antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) sites “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” Einstein was not only a Jew but also a Zionist, although he resisted “the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power.” Nevertheless, if such a statement was to be made now, then the IHRA suggests it be branded antisemitic. Continue reading

Labour must refute charges of anti-Semitism

Misuse of anti-Semitism 2Is it anti-Semitic to accuse rich bankers of living off the backs of the poor? Or to condemn the Israeli government for its treatment of the Palestinians, or indeed the Lebanese? I don’t think so, and one reason I support the Labour Party is for its robust condemnation of these things. However it is anti-Semitic to suggest those bankers are necessarily Jewish, or that the activities of the Israeli government are necessarily endorsed by all Jews, and I find it disturbing that the Labour party seems unable to distance itself from such views.

There is a long history of anti-Semitism in British politics, both on the left and on the right, but it has no place in the modern world, and no relevance to the central message of Jeremy Corbyn’s new Labour Party. And yet, for some reason, Corbyn seems unwilling to shrug it off with any real conviction. Continue reading

Brexit madness (2)

You can learn an awful lot about Brexit from chlorinated chicken.

The term itself refers to the process of dipping fresh chicken carcasses into water containing chlorine dioxide just prior to packaging in an effort to kill off any potentially dangerous organisms such as E. coli or Salmonella that might be present. It is a process that is legal in the United States, but not permitted within the European Union where farmers are allowed to wash raw meat in precious little other than fresh water. For this reason it is not permissible to import fresh chicken from the US into the EU. Continue reading

Dealing with prostitution

Massage_Parlor_at_Night_Spa_La_Sirene

I have just read Catherine Bennett’s piece in the Guardian (If paying for sex is wrong in Haiti, why do we still tolerate it in the UK?) in which she uses the recent Oxfam scandal to berate those who call for the legalisation of prostitution in the UK, and in particular Amnesty International for what she calls its “pimps’ charter”. Catherine certainly has a way with words, but I do think that in the process she is simplifying and misrepresenting a range of carefully considered views on a highly complex subject.

Of course I agree with Catherine that coercion, extortion, drug addiction, rape and slavery are wrong, and that we should do what we can to prevent such crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice. However from that point on I suspect our views would differ in two important respects. Continue reading

Mourning the dead

What happened in Manchester on 22 May is of course a tragedy and an atrocity. However, as I take in the images of the dead children and their grieving relatives, the memorials, the news items, the interviews, the debate and the double-page spreads, I can’t help but think of those countless other children who have been killed in their schools and hospitals and homes by the bombs of the West and its allies in countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine. They too had hopes and dreams; they too have parents, friends, neighbours and relatives who grieve and feel anger and despair. I did not see their pictures, and I do not know their hopes and dreams, but are their lives worth any less than ours? Is their grief or their anger and despair any less valid than ours? Of course not, and if that is the appearance we give, then we should be ashamed.

Brexit madness (1)

BrexitWe should by now be well accustomed to the capacity of our politicians to spout endless bullshit, and of our news services to take such bullshit seriously. However seldom has that bullshit seemed more endless and pointless than in the current Brexit ‘debate’.

For example, as I write, so-called Brexiteers are crowing over the fact that the British economy seems to be booming, despite the woeful predictions of the Remoaners. This is to ignore the fact that we have a least two years to go before we do actually Brexit, and no idea of what that will actually involve, rendering any judgement at this stage utterly meaningless. Instead, what our economy is currently experiencing is the reaction of the world to the inevitable uncertainty that surrounds our decision to do so. Continue reading

Listening to the homeless

Photo by Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Photo by Albert Bridge (Creative Commons licence)

At around 11pm a few nights back I was walking through the centre of Bath when I encountered a woman and her dog sitting on a blanket next to a hat containing some small change. I did what I usually do when I encounter such people, which is acknowledge them and walk on, reminding myself that I can’t give money to every beggar I pass, and I do regularly donate to charities that work with the homeless.

However this time, having walked on a few yards, I stopped and returned. I had just come from a party where I had been talking to some extremely wealthy people, and I am not exactly hard up myself. Life works out nicely for some of us and not so well for others, but when all’s said and done, we’re in it together. I dropped a couple of pounds into her hat and apologised for my rudeness. No, she said, Don’t apologise – it’s nice to just get a smile. And so I listened to her story. Continue reading

Is Waterstones selling Kindle ebooks?

Anyone who has wandered into a Waterstones bookstore recently will have noticed a display of Amazon Kindle ebook readers, apparently for sale at the same prices as those displayed on the Amazon Web site itself. More recently you would also have noticed prominent signs encouraging you to connect your Kindle to the free in-store WiFi, from which you could presumably buy any book you fancy directly from Amazon. So why is Waterstones doing this?

James Daunt, MD of Waterstones, announced a deal with Amazon back in May 2012, but was reticent to discuss the “commercial details of the partnership.” Howevere his response to the accusation that he had signed the company’s death warrant was: “Do I look like a total moron? Because what you’re describing is the behaviour of a total moron.” (BBC News)

So there is definitely more to the arrangement than meets the eye. What I have heard from private inquiries is that a substantial chunk of the proceeds of a purchase made from a Kindle through the in-store WiFi go to Waterstones, rather than Amazon. In return Waterstones makes no profit on the devices themselves, which is why they match Amazon prices.

Waterstones press office still refused to disclose details of the deal when I spoke to them this morning, but they did not deny this was the case, and indeed confirmed they had heard the rumour before. If it is the case then I assume the details are being kept quiet to prevent unrest from competitors. There will also be technical changes that need to be tested. However such a deal would allow traditional bookstores to participate in the ebook boom, which can only be a good thing.

Will robots kill the market economy?

Photo by Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias of the Shadow Robot Company via Wikimedia Commons.

I recently attended the Master Investor conference, held at the Business Design Centre in Islington. One of the speakers was the highly successful investor Jim Mellon who gave a succinct summary of world markets as they stand today. But what particularly caught my attention were his remarks towards the end of his speech, when he touched upon the effects that robotics will have upon the modern world.

This is apparently to be the subject of his next book, and he did make it clear that he had yet to map out all the implications. However his central argument is that the increasing use of robots in factories (particularly in developing countries), and the imminent arrival of more intelligent machines that can – for example – drive cars, will inevitably lead to unemployment at levels far beyond those we are experiencing in the current recession. As Mellon pointed out, when £25,000 will buy a robot that doesn’t need sleep or holidays, never makes a mistake and will never draw a pension, why continue spending similar amounts every year to employ a human being who does and will? Continue reading

The privatisation of the NHS

Free Online PicturesNow that the government’s plans for the privatisation of the NHS have become clear, I thought I should pen a quick guide to help the modern entrepreneur take advantage of the opportunities arising:

  1. This is essentially a scheme that allows you to divert large quantities of taxpayers money into your own pocket through the dividends, bonuses and executive pension opportunities open to you and your fellow board members. Remember to contact your tax advisor for information on the many tax avoidance schemes that you might be able to use.
  2. It will of course be necessary to pay yourself a salary high enough to ensure that you aren’t tempted to transfer your services elsewhere.
  3. Don’t worry if things go belly-up as the government is not about to let an NHS service provider go bankrupt. Instead they are likely to hand over even more public funds in an effort to keep your company afloat, which of course you can continue to divert into dividends, bonuses and executive pension schemes.
  4. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the service you actually deliver. Even if things get so bad that some of your employees are prosecuted and end up in jail, it is highly unlikely that you will be held to account.

And of course, if it does all go wrong, or the derision of the press becomes too uncomfortable, you can always retire to the tax haven where you’ve deposited your well-earned takings.