How many more?

I’m not naturally a fan of Piers Morgan (who is), but something clicked yesterday (don’t worry, I will get back to this original point). Admittedly I’d spent a very long time at work, (same lifeguard in two days was over half an hour late to relieve me from poolside, not a happy bunny) I was listening to the radio on the way home and I just happened to stumble upon the speech being delivered to a press conference by Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This was then followed by an NRA spokesperson being interviewed live on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Even now, over 24 hours after hearing these two men, I’m still struggling to comprehend and properly articulate a response to the sheer detachment from reality and supreme level of wheedling these two men committed. In case you missed either men, LaPierre advocated that US schools should be guarded by armed guards and that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,”. The latter blamed gun violence in the US on mental health issues and lack of proper treatment.

At this point I was seething in the car. Now, I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I have a pretty good idea of what the problems are. No Mr LaPierre, giving “good guys” gun to stop “bad guys” is not a good idea. You see Mr LaPierre, I’ve never had crack cocaine for breakfast, one because I never would, but mainly as I don’t keep it in the fridge. I’ve never been butchered by my slave’s in a bloody uprising, primarily by not keeping slaves. Because you know what Mr LaPierre, not having the means to commit crimes is a far better method to preventing gun homicides than simply believing everyone should arm themselves in the name of mutual deterrents.

I’m not advocating outright banning of guns in US right now, as like I said, I don’t have all the answers and there’s a chance there’d be a backlash against such a move. But when you live in a country where there’s no nation-wide policy on firearms this allows dangerous people to easily buy guns from other states without any background checks and then bring them into other neighboring states. The system also has no check for those “good guys” who you so uphold Mr LaPierre who may turn dangerous (and indeed they do, for whatever reason). It gives no account on a federal level for other members of a family who may own firearms (as what happened with the latest Connecticut shootings). And Mr LaPierre, you live in a country where there are roughly 300 millions guns or 89 firearms per 100 civilians and have an average death toll of around 10,000 gun homicides a year (roughly 3.2 deaths from guns per 100,000 people). This is in direct contrast to countries like here in the UK or in Japan, (countries you probably believe have “bad guys” running around unchecked) have roughly 6 and 0.6 guns per 100 civilians respectively yet have a mere 0.1 and <0.01 deaths by firearms per 100,000 people respectively.

I’m sick and tired of hearing such divorced ideas from reality that if you give people more guns there’ll be less gun crime. This is something that really struck me with Piers Morgan, I actually agreed with him on something:

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, but how many more people are going to have needlessly die before the likes of Mr LaPierre realise that having more guns to solve gun crime is an absurd idea?


firearms 3

For Jack Matthew’s benefit (and yes, Norway is included).

A much delayed Paul Ryan reaction.

Sorry for the long loooong hiatus we’ve had here at BULS. But hey, A-level results are in and we may as well set a tone and good impression for those students (and potential future BULS members) that will be joining the University of Birmingham in a month’s time.

So, with the US Presidential race entering it’s final stages Romney has finally played one of his last cards (so to speak), Congressman Paul Ryan. Well, daring dynamic or damp squib of a running mate? Well thankfully at least, the American public have so far opted for the latter with Ryan failing to provide any real boost to Romney’s campaign. Ryan may well give Romney a boost in the single Vice-Presidential debate given his reputation as a ‘numbers guy‘. Having Chaired the House Budget Committee in the House of Representative since January 2011 Ryan does have the potential to give Romney the detailed policy and authority he has so lacked up until now. However, Ryan, like Palin (though probably to a lesser extent) still has the potential to be the Republican nominee’s undoing….as can be seen here:

  1. Voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (A strong step in the right direction for equality in pay for women).
  2. Voted 59 times(!!) against abortion in Congress. (And yes, this is a bad thing as I’ve addressed previously).
  3. Voted to cut all Federal funding to the amazing organisation that is Planned Parenthood.

Now I accept these political stances, as disgusting as I may find them may not always quite enrage the American people, there are some ideas that Ryan believes that potentially could:

  1. Ryan’s budget proposals as a Chair of the House Budget Committee effectively sought the end of Medicare. (Turning it into an effective voucher system which is HUGELY unpopular amongst senior citizens…a high turnout demographic especially in the key swing state of Florida).
  2. His budget proposals would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs (over at least 10 years, but I could be wrong on that specific number).
  3. And at the same time cut taxes for the wealthiest in American society (an equally unpopular idea).

Still believe Ryan will be a game changer for Romney? Well I sincerely hope not, but you never know when it comes to the often intellectual backwardness of American politics.


FYI: for those wondering why I’m still ‘blogging’ here, why you might think, “Didn’t Max graduate last July…isn’t he no longer a student.” Well yes and no. I did graduate last July but I will be returning to the University of Birmingham (and BULS) this September to train as a Primary School Teacher, so will ‘Ramsay’s F Word’ will see one last final year out of it.

Santorum Pulls Out

A belated comment from me, because I’ve overdone it on caffeine and can’t sleep. If you hadn’t already heard, Rick Santorum, latest incarnation of the US extreme-right, has suspended his presidential campaign. This is slightly earlier than I had expected; as a political geek and election junkie I’m disappointed. There were so many contestable primaries still to go, with most of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states due on the 24th of this month. Shame on the anti-choice candidate for aborting his campaign and not carrying it to full term!

As far as I can make out, Santorum has two positive qualities. 1) He’s seemingly quite fond of a drink before noon, and 2) he wears those lovely sleeveless jerseys (great for keeping your core body snug while letting your arms and armpits breath!) I liked having an “underdog” candidate in the race, and I was sympathetic to his plight of being massively outspent by the Romney campaign.

Copyright from left: Jim Wilson/The New York Times; Josh Haner/The New York Times; Jim Wilson/The New York Times; Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Not too hot, not too cold. By far his most sensible policy decision.

Then again, I loathe nearly everything that Rick Santorum stands for. There’s far too much for one post, so I shall focus on two prominent issues. Firstly the man is a bigot. He is a homophobic bigot. You cannot justify homophobia, not in the 21st Century, not in a civilised society. Dressing it up as a feigned defence of the “traditional family” cuts no ice; its like saying you don’t want any black kids in your white children’s class because you’re afraid they’ll learn bad habits. You assume there’s a threat and use that to justify your pre-existing bigotry. This should not just be an LGBT concern – if you’re capable of hating one group solely because of something intrinsic to their being, you can just as easily hate another. As a socialist and a social liberal I find it abhorrent.

Before I was a socialist I was already a scientist. Santorum’s second negative trait is his preference for non-evidence based policy. Here is a man who prefers to substitute his own reality. It is not enough to say that he is anti-science; he is anti-fact. From a genuine objectivist point of view, he is anti-reality. Call it creationism or call it intelligent design, it’s still bullshit. Then there’s the Dutch euthanasia epidemic which doesn’t really exist, except in Rick’s head. An oblate spheroidal 4.54 billion year-old Earth? Just a “liberal” media conspiracy. Probably.

Ultimately I suppose I should be glad he’s gone. Unfortunately there was his speech after Wisconsin last week, where analogies were made to the Republican nomination races in ’76 and ’80. Pick the moderate (Ford, ’76) and lose, pick the conservative (Reagan, ’80) and win was the message. Santorum sees this as his ’76, and he’s now positioning himself as nominee heir-designate for 2016. Be afraid. 2016 would be a much better year for him than 2012 could have been. Romney, near certain nominee, faces an incumbent President with decent approval ratings and an improving economy. The precedents aren’t good. But assuming Obama’s re-election, by 2016 the party political pendulum will be swinging the other way. Apart from 1988 the last time a party retained control of the White House into a third term with a non-incumbent candidate was 1928. Santorum will grow more electable not less, especially if a second “moderate” Republican loses to Obama.

On the other hand, as recently six months ago people were still speculating about Palin 2012. Hopefully Santorum will disappear into obscurity. Either way, the 2012 race just became much less interesting, with the next election results worth staying up for being the Big One itself in November.

Don’t assume from any of this that I like Romney. To me he represents an equally insidious hatred, though in a much more subtle flavour. His evil is a delicately refined one, and the more dangerous for it. I’ll deal with him later.

What’s happening across the Ocean?

Great news y’all (may as well get in the spirit of this post) America has seen its fifth consecutive month of falling unemployment; down by 8.5% to 8.3% with 243,000 jobs being created. Coupled with growth figures from last week showing a rise of 2.8% in GDP in the final quarter of 2011 (1% higher growth on the previous quarter) it’s becoming increasingly apparent that America’s strategy of economic stimulus is comparatively buoyant when next to Europe’s strategy of austerity. Yes, unemployment levels are higher than here in the UK (for now at least), but that’s primarily because of the USA’s private sector economy focus (when compared to our economy at least) and some of the weakest employment protection laws in the world.

What is beginning to emerge is that Europe’s (and more specifically, the UK’s) austerity programmes are not working. If you make too harsh a cuts to the public sector you’ll also damage the private sector as numerous contracts are arranged between the two sectors. That’s right, they’re intertwined, you attack one part too harshly it will have a knock on effect on the other.

It is hugely unlikely Cameron, Clegg and Osborne will take notice of Obama’s successes. But at least the American people hopefully will this November.


Another despairing moment for the American right

Michele Bachmann speaks during the GOP debate

You’d think after eight years of George W. Bush as President you would have thought the Republican party would ensure its front-runners for the 2012 Presidential bid would at the very least appear to seem to know what they are talking about. But sadly, they got Michelle Bachmann instead. Now I thought the American right (specifically the Tea Party wing) had lost most of its credibility (primarily) in regards to modern science when one of its darlings, Sarah Palin, said this:

Now, yes you may well be reeling laughter/pity for the Palin. But this has turned out to be nothing when compared to the Tea Party’s newer rising darling, Michelle Bachmann. This is the woman who wishes to close down the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regards homosexuality as a “disorder” and a “sexual difunction” and wishes to repeal all health care system legislation.

What she done now? You may ask. Well she, like Palin has delved into the realm of scientific ignorance. Bachmann claimed that the HPV vaccine, which is a well-proven preventer of cervical cancer, causes “mental retardation” in children. Yup, you heard right, “mental retardation” in children.

Now I’m not even going to go in to the long long list of scientists and scientific institutions that lined up to show how ridiculous Bachmann’s comments are. But I will provide her with two specific facts:

  • HPV, Human Papilloma Virus, or more commonly: genital warts is the most common STD worldwide and is the 2nd largest cause of female cancer (CDC).
  • Investigations by the AMA, CDC, WHO, and other major health organizations have cleared the vaccine as safe. Of 23 million administered dosages, 772 (that’s .003%) reported serious effects.
Please Tea Party, grow up!


Danger, Danger – High Voltage 

Yesterday a young man in his prime died needlessly following an incident with the police where a Taser gun was allegedly used by officers. The case has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It would be premature for me to claim that police had been unreasonable in this case or to cast aspersions on Dale Burns, however the case has led to calls for a rethink over the use of Tasers by Amnesty International, and I echo their sentiments.

This is not the first time someone has died suspiciously not long after being subject to a Taser ‘shock’, yet still this and the previous government have both ordered their wider usage to please the ‘hang-em-and-flog-em’ brigade – no doubt they will be used more extensively as a method of crowd control following the riots. If police leaders can question politicians’ orders to use water cannon and rubber bullets where needed, citing Britain’s century-and-a-half long tradition of unarmed community policing, then why have they not criticised the authorisation of these brutal weapons? Anyone who has seen a video clip on Youtube where someone has volunteered to receive the shock treatment will tell you that it does not look pleasant.

Police officers are only human beings who can overreact like ordinary citizens, and in many public order situations can fear for their lives. However these weapons have not only been used against armed assailants but also when carrying out routine arrests on the most unthreatening of suspects, and in the US it has even been reported that sick and bored police have been ‘testing out’ their device on farm animals to pass the time. These weapons are lethal and do not discriminate between those bent on harming others and innocent bystanders caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; they do not ask questions. There are millions of people walking along Britain’s streets with heart problems – what if one of these went on a legitimate peaceful protest which turned violent and were Tasered trying to restore calm or quickly leave the scene?

Since the tragic cases of John Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, the tuition fees protests and following the riots of this month, police are in an unenviable position where they don’t know whether they are being too harsh or too soft in the heat of the moment. Despite this, however, the monstrous Taser should have no place on our streets.

US update

Well the GOP has seen the very first primary to secure its nomination for President in 2012. And it seems to be developing in to a three horse race between Rick Perry, the Texas governor who recently organised a prayer rally to stem America’s decline (instead of helping America by simply getting on with his job as governor and fixing the problems himself). Mitt Romney the former Governor and second choice candidate to McCain in 2008. And Michelle Bachmann the Representative who wants a Federal Ban on Gay Marriages, the phasing out of social security and Medicare, supports the teaching of creationism in schools in science lessons and refused to compromise an inch during the debt ceiling rise fiasco (this in turn played a large part in America’s credit downgrade).

Now this is where I am glad to live in a country where the likes of Gideon Osborne, David Cameron and even Tony Blair are considered right wing, each of which have nothing on the GOP Presidential hopefuls. Don’t get me wrong, this will be an interesting race, each of the front runners have their own unique strengths. Bachmann is the darling of the Tea Party and can easily whip up widespread Republican grass-root support, Romney is seasoned campaigner after running for the Republican nomination in 2008 and Perry has enormous experience as Texas governor.

Bachmann’s win in Iowa was certainly far from solid, most of the voters in the straw poll were relatively undecided as Perry’s recent arrival will mean Bachmann and Perry will battle it out for the Tea Party and right of the Republican party while Romney takes the relatively moderates.

The GOP would be wise to choose Romney as their candidate for President, as the least Tea Party like front runner he is the one truly capable of capturing the all important swing moderate voters. But with the rise of Bachmann, Palin and Beck amongst the American right, that outcome doesn’t seem certain, which is comforting news for Obama.


All things economic

Sorry for the lack of blogging in the past couple of weeks, I myself have been working almost full-time with a work-placement on the side. Anyway, I’d like to focus on two of the biggest economic updates in a news dominated by the ongoing phone hacking scandal. The up coming growth figures for Tuesday and the situation over the debt talks in the USA.

First off, who needs a plan B, right? Judging by what is being said by the likes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) this stubbornness is not quite paying off. The GDP growth figures are mainly regarded as the be and end all test for a government’s economic credibility. To meet budget forecasts for growth this year the UK will need 0.8% of that well needed boost. What the NIESR is predicting the Office for National Statistics to actually say is that the UK has grown by a mere 0.1% with some City forecasts predicting a contraction.

Now don’t get me wrong, here in BULS we are capable of recognising that the Chancellor (Gideon) can not control every aspect of the economy. The rise in oil and food prices and the growing concern over the Eurozone crisis aren’t the greatest assets ever. In fact, the idea of austerity does have the vague potential to work, as seen in Canada in the 90s and in the UK in the 80s. But these are totally dependant upon favourable economic circumstances in neighbouring nations such as Europe and the USA. Sadly though, we currently don’t have those circumstances. We don’t have secure and confident markets in Europe and the USA and this is something Gideon totally fails to grasp. Cutting spending to reduce the deficit is all very well but once again, it’s pointless without growth to fuel this deficit reduction and with average pay rising at 2.3% and inflation at 4.2% (thank you VAT hike) this recovery is still far from certain.

Turning our attention over across the Atlantic it seems Federal government has seen a roadblock to progress because of dogged stubbornness with Republican House Speaker John Boehner walking out on a crucial debt talks with Senate leaders and the White House. Now anyone who’s studied the US governmental and political structure will always recognise that it is a system based upon compromise. With an increasingly ideologically driven Republican based House of Representatives, Obama has had to make drastic compromises in the name of reaching a deal for the good of America.

The President has already pledged to double his cuts particularly in the area of medicare which many supporters (such as myself) are completely aghast at, with $650bn of extra cuts pledged recently. Either way, this is a man who will attempt to build the bridge with his conservative law-makers. Sadly, it takes two to build a bridge and this is not what we are seeing from the Republican end of the river who refuse to raise any taxes (I thought they were rather keen on deficit reduction?). The Republicans have increasingly gone down the road of stubbornness in the past few years, but now it’s time to walk the walk as well as talk the talk as they put aside ideological differences. Sadly, given the ever increasing grip of the Tea Party, I doubt this much needed maturity will happen any time soon.


The civil rights movement of our time

Just a quick blog this morning, another will be done on the pension reforms, hopefully, this evening. But anyway, I’m sure you’re probably aware of New York legalising same-sex marriages. Now this is nothing less than a triumph against the forces of bigotry, especially since this had to be pushed through a Republican state Senate but also New York is the third largest American state, so you can tell this was a big target set by the gay rights movements.

You only have to look at what was being spouted out by anti-equality campaigners such as National Organisation for Marriage (NOM) to see that what they were saying was nothing less than vile. While NOM has been veiling its true views behind a smokescreen of claims about the “Government redefinition of marriage”. At the very least, their grass-roots have portrayed the movements true views upon the lines of the usual “it’s wrong and an affront to the family” and simply spouting religious lines and hatred. It’s the sad truth that the NOM is primarily made up Roman Catholics and Christian Evangelicals both of whom spout such vile and hate. And it’s always the case that the establishment, particularly the establishment of bigotry which stands in the way of true justice and equality, throughout history. And this is what is happening in the USA today.

This is why I believe gay rights is the USA’s civil rights movement of our time. But this is a massive step in the right direction and who knows, at this rate Martin Luther King’s dream may come true one day.


About time we looked across the Atlantic

So we have the first line up of candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination. Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Johnson, Karger, Martin, McMillan, Paul, Pawlenty, Romney, Santorum and Sharkey (yes that is the official line up, but some of the candidates are ahem, professional wrestlers). And the one thing you can notice about the line-up is that the Republicans have in fact lurched to the right (thank you Tea Party). As much as here on BULS we are no fans of the Conservative party, we are hugely glad that the right in this country has nothing on the USA Republican/Tea Party right.

Now Bachmann is presented as a competent version of Palin, but then you remember she’s increasingly becoming a darling of the Tea Party, which automatically negates that theory. What’s her answer to aid the economy? Close down the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She regarded homosexuals in 2004 as “It’s a very sad life. It’s part of Satan, I think, to say that this is gay. It’s anything but gay.”, a “disorder” and a “sexual dysfunction”. She wishes to repeal all healthcare legislation, she has called for investigations into fellow congressional politicians to see if they are “anti-American” and she has accused Obama of wanting to set up youth indoctrination camps for teenagers. Wow, she makes Gideon Osborne look like a hard-left socialist. On a personal note, I endorse Bachmann for the Republican nomination, simply because Obama could not possibly lose if she is nominated.

Briefly skipping onto the other candidates we have Herman Cain who said he would not be comfortable with a Muslim in his Cabinet and Rick Santorum who thinks the best solution to providing jobs to 14 million unemployed Americans is to repeal healthcare and drill for oil. It’s also good to note that the current front-runner for the nomination, Mitt Romney, ran against McCain for the Republican nomination back in 2008 and lost while McCain ran for the Republican nomination against Bush in 2000 and lost. So logically, the current front-runner for the Republican nomination is a third choice equivalent of George W. Bush Jr.

God help the Republican party in the next few years.


Hope endures

It was never going to win, but an attempt to repeal Obama’s healthcare reforms passed last year have been squandered in the Senate. This has to be Obama’s pivotal piece of legislation, whatever its flaws it represented a true change in the American Health Care system which over the past few decades its cost has spiral out of control with Insurance companies dictating more and more over who is granted such care. Despite all their attacks that this would sap any resources the Federal Reserves might have left, it is important to note that prior to the legislation, America was spending twice as much on Healthcare as a percentage of GDP than we do, any move towards a system more like the NHS, theoretically at least, is going to be cheaper.

I do hope one day Republicans will look back and have the humility to accept their dogged attempts to prevent around 40 million Americans receiving proper healthcare was nothing less than disgraceful.


Doesn’t it seem that everything happens when you’re away

Sorry on behalf on all of the bulsonline team for the lack of activity lately. The end of term shenanigans have kept us all busy these past few weeks and I personally have been away in Edinburgh for the past few days.

Anyway, first thing on my blogging list to write about is, yes you guessed it, the Cable incident. In some ways, like potentially many Lib Dem grass-root members, I’m quite glad that Cable is fighting his own corner for the Lib Dems (it sure is a better alternative to the other option). In some respects, I can sympathise with Cable. Like I said on the whole Mervyn King incident via the wikileaks, people often let slip their own personal view points, we are human after all. However, that is where my sympathy stops. A Business Secretary has to rule on each case on the facts and evidence, you can’t go in with a pre-existing views. This applies to every case, despite the idea that “declaring war on Mr Murdoch” is something I very strongly sympathise with. It is a direct breach of the ministerial code and should result in nothing less than resignation. This is where the double standards come in.

I’ve always been rather sceptical about the Coalition claiming to “come together in the national interest” (naturally). But, it certainly seems in this one case that what happened was that DC’s decision not to sack Cable was in the Coalition’s interest rather than “the nation’s interest”. It’s blatantly clear, if this had been a Tory Minister, they would have been left out to dry long ago. What is also interesting is that Cable described the Coalition as “Maoist”, given that he believed they were trying to push through too many radical changes at once, many of which he disagreed with. Which neatly leads onto the next event I missed.

Apart from taping Cable’s views on the Coalition, the Daily Telegraph also recorded Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Business Minister Ed Davey and Pensions Minister Steve Webb doubts over the Coalition’s claim to “fairness”. They criticised Child Tax Credit reforms and the Trebling of fees. Now rather than criticising the Lib Dems as a whole for supporting these measures, we should be working to encourage not only Lib Dem MPs, but party members and voters to think again about the Coalition and whether it is truly taking the right direction (although with the latter part, little needs to be done there). This is why I welcome Ed Miliband’s move to start calling the Coalition a “Conservative-led Coalition”. Also, I welcome (more or less) the reduction party membership fees for Young Labour members (15-27…ish) from the already ridiculously low £1 to 1p(!!). I know if Labour wants to increase membership amongst the younger generations sound policies are far more important, but you can’t say it wont help a bit.

Finally, on a completely different note. Yet even more genuine change has come to America. The old “don’t ask don’t tell” policy on banning gay people in the armed forces in the USA has finally, been repealed! Now some may say this won’t be good for the army as it’ll stir up homophobia, but if it is stirred up because of this at least it’s tackling homophobia. Consequently, because of this logic, not repealing this ban would have meant homophobia culture would have gone unchecked and unchallenged in the US armed forces.

Overall though, a rather good few days….shame I missed it all.


The Special Relationship

The BP oil spill was a massive PR disaster for Britain, not least in the hearts and minds of ordinary America.ns. The latest Wikileaks report that Mervyn King described the ConDems as economically “out of their depth” makes us look more like the embarrassing friend or silly little brother than a special partner.

But all is not lost. Tory europhobia likely chimes in quite nicely with a USA that routinely censures EU trade protectionism, and as we know from transatlantic politics the Tories can present themselves as having quite a lot in common with both parties, as they are right-wing but as a rule a lot more moderate and civilised than many Republicans, and by and large approve of Obama’s health reforms.

And what with La Roux storming the charts, Russel Brand marrying showbiz royalty and Vernon Kay, Cat Deeley; Len Goodman, Piers Morgan and maybe even Cheryl Cole presenting primetime shows we might be gradually getting to the stage where, as the guardian puts it, our accent is no longer just for aristocrats and villians.

So where do we stand now? Will the special relationship take us as far as Iran? How will it affect our relationship with Europe? And come 2012 will Palin and Cameron egg each other on to even bigger cuts?


Midterm Elections

Some questions for BULS, since I can’t ask y’all in the flesh…

Was the Rally to Restore Sanity a waste of time when people should have been spending their time campaigning on actual issues such as the conflict in Afghanistan?

Can the Tea Party movement be separated from misogyny and islamophobia?

Is the Tea Party movement grass roots in any credible way?

What will happen to the economy if the Democrats lose control of the House?

Is the Guardian perpetrating a witchhunt against O´Donnell?

To what extent has “I`m just like you” come to mean “I`m ignorant, naive and gullible” and “common sense” come to mean “the literal word of the Bible” in middle America?

Which pose a greater threat to the US – Christian extremists or Muslim extremists?

And finally…

How much will Obama have to compromise following the shift in power?


Modern bullying, homophobia and self-esteem among the young

Tyler Clementi – the victim of murder? Involuntary manslaughter? His own low self esteem, thin skin and inability to take a joke? Gravity?

Livestreamed by his room mate from a hidden camera, Tyler was exposed on the internet having sex with another man. His subsequent suicide, declared in his final facebook status, is a tragedy for him, for his family and for our generation. The media is labelling this as just another instance of cyber bullying, but the perpetrator could get several years in prison.

So what’s the problem here? The easy access to publicity that makes total humiliation simple? The latent homophobia that made it an even better scoop for his room mate? Or original low self esteem and a feeling of isolation that affects so many freshers and other young people? Our generation needs to prove that we’re better than this.


It`s all relative

Yesterday evening an unknown man was buzzed into our building, entered our apartment through the door we often leave open and offered my flatmate money for sex. After a clear refusal in Turkish, English and Spanish, a violent struggle and threats to call the police he eventually went home, and we were left feeling terrified and dirty.  

The consensus about the event among my Turkish friends is as follows: that it is known in the neighbourhood that our apartment is occupied by young foreign women, who are probably not Muslim and definitely without the support of a large family bent on avenging insults to its women. Our brothers, fathers and uncles are far away, and we probably act like the American women in gossip magazines anyway, so will welcome advances. And if we don`t like it we can go back to where we came from.

Other things I find difficult to adjust to in İstanbul are the poor record on women`s liberation, the high birthrates, the tradition of the hostess never sitting down during a meal but continuing to serve throughout, the constant and indiscriminate leering by men of all ages and the incredible statistic that only 10% of Turkish women are in employment.   

It all makes the Ed/Yvette leadership issue look very, very trivial.


Before we miss the sparkly bandwagon…

Stephanie Meyer`s Twilight Saga, heaven knows, gets its fair bit of exposure. Precisely because of this I want to give it some space on our own venerable blog. The amount of impressionable people worldwide hopelessly in love with its characters or  ideas make it worth taking seriously.

The “twilight is sexist” debate can be argued convincingly from either side. While Bella replaces her absent mother in exclusively performing traditionally female chores for her father, suffers from a lack of professional ambition in terms of a career outside the home, is perpetually in need of rescuing and puts up with an emotionally abusive boyfriend who also supervises her every move 24/7, bruises her during sex and prevents her from seeing her friends; there is plenty of objectification of the male characters to counterbalance it, from lingering descriptions of male beauty in the books to many many minutes dedicated to the sight of muscly topless men in the films. By the fourth book Bella is strong enough to stand up for herself, and becomes a protector instead of a victim, albeit mainly in the role of a wife and mother. Also the author, screenplay writer and director are all women, the audience is predominantly female and there is some attempt at a reversal of the Adam and Eve story in terms of who is tempting whom into sexual maturity.

So much for gender.

What I`m concerned with is the heteronormativity of it all.

In the world of Twilight borderline inter-species sexuality, necrophilia, paedophilia and sado-masochism are allowable and more or less practised. Nothing is off limits but the same sex. Werewolves undergo a process of “imprinting” when they find their soulmate, and whenever it is discussed the subject is represented as “he” and the object as “she”. Vampires never seem to bite a human of the same gender, and following in the footsteps of Buffy there is a certain devotion developed towards to the one who changed you. There is no exploration of sexual identity, all the characters are introduced in ready-made boy-girl pairings, in fact there is no possibility, in this world of societal outcasts, counter-culture and misunderstood teenagers, of any LGBT experience.


Genuine Change has come to America.

Pro-reform protestors in the US Capitol in Washington, 21 March 2010

 Well it’s taken some time but finally, the end is now in sight. The House of Representatives narrowly passed the Healthcare reform bill last night meaning the President should sign the bill by Tuesday. President Obama has delivered on his campaign promise, Change HAS come to America.

Whatever your view on the actual contents of the bill you have to give it to Obama, given the system of governance (with separation of powers), the sheer dogmatic (and often wholly ignorant) opposition from the American right and the fact that so many of his Democrat predecessors have failed (Roosevelt, Clinton, etc) shows how successful Obama has been in the given context. This presents the biggest reform to American healthcare since the introduction of Medicare in the mid-1960s. Personally, I think (not that I’m anyway biased at all, lol) think his proposals are brilliant as this will now extend cover to 32 million Americans, that’s a phenomenal number and I hope the Republicans will have the dignity to apologize one day for denying full health care to around 40 million Americans!

Yes we can and yes we did!


It’s for your own good…

 A recent article written by Political scientist Dr David Runciman on the BBC really got me thinking. Why do so many Americans oppose such motions (such as the current health-care reform bill) that will in fact improve the well being of their lives? One of the many reasons this may be so is as Oli pointed out, “strangely irrational fear of – “socialism”…well, that’s the Cold War for you.”. However, while this is certainly evident, it can’t be applied to all Americans. In Texas where 1/3 of the population are without health insurance and a 1/5 of children are without it also, still 87% oppose the reforms. But, national polls show that the number who think the reforms go too far while nearly matching it are those who say it doesn’t go far enough.

Another idea pointed out by Dr David Runciman, is that its stories rather than facts that means the right wins out. He uses the example of one the Presidential debates during the 2000 election between Bush and Gore with saying, 

Gore: “Under the governor’s plan, if you kept the same fee for service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18% and 47%, and that is the study of the Congressional plan that he’s modelled his proposal on by the Medicare actuaries.” but then Bush intellectually (as ever) replied with, “Look, this is a man who has great numbers. He talks about numbers. I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the internet, but he invented the calculator. It’s fuzzy math. It’s trying to scare people in the voting booth.” (not that this was a hint of things to come or anything) but Bush won the Debate.

Thomas Frank, the author of the best-selling book What’s The Matter with Kansas and he argues that, “You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining. It’s like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy.” the “elitism” being the ‘snobbish’ democrats.

It is a pity that such a large group of the American people believe such trash and so easily, despite the US being a country founded upon tolerance.


My fellow Americans…

Barack Obama delivers speech

Last night saw President Obama give his first State of the Union speech to Congress. His main emphasis was upon tackling the unemployment figures which have now reached around 10% (at least 2.5% higher than here in the UK), but, three sentences some up to me personally Obama’s first year in Office and the condition of the financial crisis worldwide, “If we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.”.

 One area that certainly caught my attention was that of Obama saying “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”. It is such a shame that a law discriminative has been able to stay in force in country that is prided on its tolerance and now progressivism will hopefully win through against conservative dogma.


An Early Christmas Present for Obama

This Morning saw the US senate gather to pass the all important bill which will mean healthcare for as many as 30 million Americans. It has been baffling for all but the most right-wing of English people how a country as civilised and wealthy as the US can happily demand that its people hold valid car insurance while failing to do the same for people’s healthcare.

Here in the UK it is generally seen as a given that if you get sick you’ll have someone to look after you, in the form of the NHS. If you break your leg you will not have to pay for the medical costs. Not so in the US of course, their love of the free market and innate fear of anything left has meant that despite attempts by several presidents to change the way Americans are treated regarding their healthcare, a system in which healthcare insurance is optional has remained until now.

The bill focuses on two general areas. On the one hand it supports individuals. The bill expands the government-run program to provide insurance to the poor and mandates insurance companies to offer patients insurance whatever their medical history. It also improves subsidies for those who cannot get insurance through their employer.

And on the other it places restrictions on companies. They will no longer be able to drop customers arbitrarily. Similarly for those who have conditions that are long-term, such as diabetics, the bill creates a high-risk group which will have focused support to enable them to have a healthcare plan. Finally it stops companies dropping customers who are made redundant.

What the bill means is that those 30 million people will be legally obliged to perches insurance from a private company. It does not seem to solve a problem but merely adds an extra layer to an existing one. People do not have insurance because they cannot afford it; the fact of the matter is that many Americans are feeling the brunt of the recession, just as we are across the Atlantic. 15 million Americans, about three per cent, are out of work, and millions more are on the minimum wage $7.25, about £4.50. Even when you include the government subsidies it still seems rich for politicians to ask people to part with more cash. Better surely to cut the middle man, as many democrats wanted, and produce as system which did not include private companies. What this bill does then is to make the healthcare system in the US more privatised not less, the arguments that it will provide support for millions don’t seem to add up if those who it is trying to support cannot afford the premiums.

Joshua Lindsey-Turner, Editor of BULS Social Resources

Merry Christmas from all of us at BULS….and Obama’s healthcare reform bill

An image from the Number 10 Christmas card for 2009

Well first of all, congratultions to President Obama on having his bill on reforming the healthcare system in the US being approved in the Senate (60-39), all thats needed now is the two houses of Congress to reconcile their seperate bills, this is a true victory for progress.

Anyway, I personally wont be able to blog at all until the 28th (Christmas day, obviously and then away 26th-27th). So on behalf of the BULS, to anyone out there, Merry Christmas!

US health care reform update

Last night Senators voted in favour (60-40) on legislation that will extend healthcare to 31 million Americans. This is quite simply nothing less than a triumph, as after months of radical conservative protest groups claiming there would be “death boards” for the elderly (not to mention Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, accusing the NHS of being a “60 year mistake”, who are we to judge), notable progress has been brought to America.

Yes, there is going to be a final vote on Christmas eve and then the Senate’s bill has to be reconciled with the House of Representatives equivalent, but I’m convinced those votes can be won. So finally, in America, progressiveness (if that’s how you spell it) is begining to win over conservative special interest dogma.


Obsessed with Class?

It’s an old stereotype that I have come across multiple times while here but are the British obsessed (or are everybody else for thinking it) with class?

from a Simon Hoggart article recently:

“A wise American reporter based in London once told me that every British news story is, deep down, about class. Every American story, he said, is about race. There’s enough truth in that to be worth considering. Look at Madeleine McCann (middle-class parents, so they can’t be at fault), Shannon Matthews (working-class family, dodgy) or David Cameron (a toff – need I say more?).”

Agree or not? Any other stories spring to mind?