Friday, July 08, 2005

Vladimir Putin & Russia

This is not on topic for either of my current research areas, but interesting nonetheless. The Guradian have a long article on state control of Russian resources and media, and the power President Putin wields. I think Russia and the ex-USSR might form a good topic for future research - there's certainly plenty of material there to examine.

The article seems to summarise the situation there pretty well. This quote is one that stands out: "There is no democracy in Russia," says Khakamada: "There is only a virtual matrix of democratic space created by the Kremlin's political department. It copies reality. If there is a democratic opposition to the Kremlin, the Kremlin automatically creates a different one loyal to the Kremlin."

Khakamada was one of Putin's opponents in the last presidential election. I'm finding the fact that she's using an American film as the metaphor for the Kremlin's control fascinating, too.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Issues to Examine

I've now decided on two issues I want to take as my first learning projects. Both are fairly important issues on a global scale, and have definite relevance in Ireland. The first is the issue of agricultural subsidies, the second immigration. I'm not sure that's quite the concept I want to address in the second issue, but it's the label used for it at the national level.

Agricultural subsidies have been brought up by the African Union in the material they intend to put to the G8 summit in Gleneagles. They say that subsidies in the US are damaging their export capabilities, and that they want them to be dropped. The US President has said that he'll drop the subsidies if the EU will do the same. This is not expected to happen. New Zealand is repeatedly mentioned in this context, as they dropped all agricultural subsidies a number of years ago, and farming is apparently thriving there now. Anecdotally, almost all farmers in Ireland recieve some level of subsidy.

The questions I initially want to ask to get a complete picture of this issue are: How are agricultural subsidies in the US and the EU awarded? How were they awarded in New Zealand? What are they meant to achieve? Do they currently achieve the aims they set out for? What effects do these subsidies have on the African Union's exports? What effect would dropping the subsidies in the US and the EU have, first in those places, and then worldwide? Is there an ecological effect of the subsidies?

The second issue, immigration, is one that's important in Ireland and the UK now. Ireland recently passed, by an overwhelming majority, an amendment to the Constitution that essentially moved the right to citizenship from those born on Irish soil (including the North) to those whose parents were Irish citizens. This was purportedly to prevent the situation whereby immigrants arrive from other places in the world, quickly have children (possibly arriving while pregnant) and then claim a right to stay as their child is an Irish citizen. In the UK, there are political parties such as the UK Independence Party and the British National Party whose platform is very much concerned with "the immigrant problem".

The questions I intend to look for answers to are: Why do people immigrate? What effect do they have on the places they immigrate to? What effect do they have on the places they emigrate from? What are the arguments used by natives of the destination countries against immigration? What restrictions are currently in place with regard to immigration? What are the aims of these restrictions? Do they achieve the aims they set out with?

I have no doubt that other questions will arise as I look into these ones. The first two that come to mind are: How does it come about that one government figure (the US president) can say that he will drop subsidies across a nation the size of the United States? Assuming that he did say it, and not "subsidies will be dropped", or "every attempt will be made to drop subsidies", or the like. Second, with the immigration laws that currently exist, what is the position of illegal immigrants in Ireland, the UK, the US (where illegal Mexican immigrants seem to be a large group, and Cubans significant) and France (where the group called the sans-papiers are notable)? I'll try to decide as I proceed if these questions are revelant or not.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I'm trying very hard to keep my attitude neutral as I learn. When the material you're learning from is all slanted one way or another, and can't be measured in any way, this is difficult. I have very definite leanings to the left anyway, and I'm not really inclined to shift that, and that makes for more problems. I try to read the right-wing material with an open mind, but I keep seeing problems with it.

Primarily, the problems I'm seeing are to do with marketing. I work as a web developer, so I've had a fair bit of experience with edits and re-edits of material until they say one thing and convey quite another. The problems are that the right has too much marketing going on, and it sets off my alarm bells immediately. The left has too little, and so leaves its arguments flawed. Now, I'm more in favour of the left approach of presenting all the facts, not just the ones that suit, but the right simply won't do that, it seems. This leaves me trying to get the facts from the left - where they're slanted.

Then there's the issue of current affairs versus history. There's no understanding current politics without delving into history - at least as far back as World War II. That's an era of history I have no other interest in, though, and besides, there's so damn much of it. You need to understand things like the American New Deal before you can examine the current economic shape of the US, and then the economic state of the US has effects right across the world, not just because of the amount of trading, but also because of things like the World Bank and the IMF. The Marshall Plan affects the current shape of Europe. But I don't want to take time out from the current events to understand all of those, because by the time I do, things will have moved on again. I want to understand it all now.

What I'm considering doing is picking a few current events - probably not massive ones, like the war in Iraq or the G8 summit, but smaller ones - and reading up as much as I can on their current states. Then I can look into the history of those issues, while keeping an eye on progress in real time. Once I have all of that, I can come to an actual informed opinion. When I've practiced this technique a bit more, I can then turn to the major events, whatever they may be by then, and work them through in the same way. And hopefully, I'll be able to set aside my own biases and decipher the spin on the material I'm reading, in order to arrive at an informed state.

Once I get to that, I can let the biases back, see how they stand up in the cold light of reason, and decide where I really stand, and what I can do.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

England & America

Now let's see about England and America. I'm guessing that what I know about these is considerably less than about Ireland.

England has almost a three-party system. Labour, the Conservative Party, and Liberal Democrats are the three parties, but the LDs are yet to fully become a power. Most of the elections come down to competitions between the other two. Parties like the UK Independence Party are far-right, and very much minority. At present, the Labour government is behaving in a manner much more like the Conservatives, especially with regard to foreign policy, under the leadership of Tony Blair.

The US definitely has only a two-party system - while there are some minor parties and independents, they're almost completely insignificant. The two parties are the Democrats (centrist), and the Republicans (right-wing). At present the Republican party is in control. The system in the US affords a great deal of power to the winner of the presidential elections - more so than in any other country in the West, as far as I know. The current president is George Bush. It's an understatement to say I'm not keen on Bush. Quite apart from any of his actual policies, he makes far too many decisions based on his own opinion and religious beliefs to be considered good.

What I Think I Know

So, if I'm going to educate myself, perhaps I should start by setting down what I already know. In terms of politics, this shouldn't take long. I know some about Irish politics, some about British politics, and some about American politics. I'm talking here about the governmental structures in each of these countries, and the groups involved in those structures. Some of what I write here could well be wrong - if I find that it is, I'll try to correct it in future posts. I'm making no checks as I write here on google or any other site, so if I make blatant mistakes, they're all my own fault. I'll deal in this post with Irish politics.

Irish politics is a small field. Most of the major debates in recent years have involved movements away from the rules of the Catholic church, and the rights of immigrants and citizens. Scandals have been concerned for the most part with money, in the areas of embezzlement and bribery.

There are four major parties in Ireland: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats, and Labour. Minor parties include the Green Party, Sinn Fein, and the Socialist Workers' Party.

Fianna Fail are currently in government (possibly with the aid and/or coalition of the PDs - I'm uncertain of this, as detailed below). FF are, at least in Irish terms, conservative, with most of their voters being elderly, comfortably-off, or both. Their major policies center around things staying largely the same, attracting foreign (particularly American) investment, and not being Fine Gael. FF is headed by Bertie Ahern, commonly referred to as the Teflon Taoiseach, since nothing anyone says about him, true or not, seems to stick. He is most notable in my mind for referring to large protest marches as "support for the government position", or words to
that effect.

Fine Gael are the second-largest party at the moment. They're almost solely defined by not being Fianna Fail, and can't always even make a stand on that - when there were protests against the war in Iraq, and American planes landing in Shannon, Fine Gael were notably absent from the protests, with the rather feeble excuse that they had an annual meeting the same day as the largest march. I think Fine Gael might be headed by Enda Kenny. They're currently in opposition, of course.

The Progressive Democrats are a "break-away" part of Fianna Fail, and seem to provide nothing more than an opportunity for those not comfortable being identified with the original party to march in step regardless. The PDs' policies are almost invariably the same as those of FF. I think they may be in coalition with FF at the moment, but the only way it's evident is that the PDs occasionally threaten to break the coalition if they don't get their way on a particular issue.

Labour are Ireland's only credible left-wing party. Despite voting for them, for the most part, in the last election, I can bring to mind remarkably little about them, and can't name any leaders of the party. Labour stand mostly for the rights of the people, the protection of trade unions, and, of course, opposition to Fianna Fail. I've rarely, if ever, disagreed with anything a Labour representative had to say.

The Green Party are a rather poor shadow of their European counterparts. While they claim to be concerned mostly with environmental matters, their actual conduct seems to belie this. Much as I'd like to vote for them, the amount of wavering they do pushes me away from them regularly.

Sinn Fein are an anachronism in Irish politics, concerned almost solely with Northern Ireland. They're widely seen as the political arm of the IRA, a terrorist group which is now falling in on itself more than anything else. Sinn Fein are the only party on my "never, ever vote for these" list.

The Socialist Workers Party seems to be composed of young, hyper-idealistic Marxists and idiots who like to protest, in equal part. They're notable for little more than opposing everything any government do, and also for having almost no actual political power. Nonetheless, they endure, and since their use of a term to refer to themselves that no real socialists would use provoked my current examination of politics, I suppose they have some uses.


Hi, I'm Drew, and I'm just discovering that, as global politics go, I'm pretty clueless. This was brought home to me by my assuming that the anti-globalisation movement, as represented to me for the most part by the local Irish Socialist Workers Party, were a crowd of idiots.

Two misconceptions have since become clear to me. First, the SWP have little to do with the global citizens movement, and second, "anti-globablisation movement" is a label applied by the media. There's a lot of clue available in the movement.

So I'm setting in to explore global politics as best I can, and come to whatever conclusions I can make stand up. I'm starting by reading Susan George's Another World is Possible if..., and will be proceeding through other texts as I get my hands on them, both left and right-wing. I suspect there's not much centrist material out there at present; politics from my initial point of view appears extremely polarised.

I'm probably starting from a fairly left-wing position - in ideal terms, I'd prefer that there were no governments, and that people were smart enough to make their own rational decisions. Confronted with the native stupidity of humanity, I think I'll have to regretfully lay practical anarchism to one side. I'm also interested in environmental questions, and am a practicing pagan. I'm interested in hearing from everyone, though - my political stance is much less firm that I'd like it to be, and I'm persistent in wanting to form my own opinions.

Over time, as I inform myself better, I except those opinions to solidify, and for this blog to move from exploration to commentary, and possibly even on into activism in areas I then find important. I'm looking forward to the trip.