The Democrats did better in the US mid-terms than was widely reported at the time

November 17th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

It is almost two weeks since the mid-term elections were held in the United States and we still do not have the full results. The day after the elections, it was widely reported that the Democrats had underperformed compared to expectations but, over the following days, the true picture emerged of more victories for the Dems than was apparent at first.

Americans who follow the news might appreciate this, but people outside the US could well have missed the evolving picture.

As the “Guardian” newspaper put it in this piece:

“As the returns poured in on the night of last week’s midterm elections, a narrative swiftly began to take shape: although Democrats succeeded in retaking the House of Representatives from Republican control, the vaunted “blue wave” had failed to materialize.

But just over a week later, the assessment has evolved just as rapidly amid a series of gains by Democrats in contests that on election night were too close to call. Democrats have now picked up 34 seats in the House – a tally that may inch closer to 40 with a number of results still outstanding.

On Tuesday, the party was given another reason to rejoice when Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat in 30 years. Sinema’s hard-fought victory over her Republican opponent, Martha McSally, not only flipped a reliably red seat blue, but also countered the notion that Democrats had taken a beating in the Senate.”

So why did the media at first fail to appreciate the strength of the Democrat performance?

As this posting on the Make Me Aware blog explains:

“Part of the reason was that the first results happened to come from areas where the Republicans had done better than average – Florida, Indiana and Kentucky. The areas where Democrats had done best reported their votes later, either because their voting hours were longer or because like Arizona and California they were in western time zones. This distorted the way the results were reported overnight.

Another reason for bad reporting is lack of understanding of the complexity of American electoral law and vote-counting. In some states many Democratic-voting groups (particularly young people) prefer to vote by mail quite late in the election, while Republicans turn out more in early voting and on the day (these patterns also vary between states).”

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The British Government has made “a political choice” to increase poverty

November 17th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world, but:

  • About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty and 1.5 million are destitute, being unable to afford basic essentials.
  • Child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

Who says so?

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who has just ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK.

He concludes his report:

“The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.”

You can read the full report here.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (1)

Who signed the 1918 Armistice Agreement for Germany and what happened to him?

November 16th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

We have just commemorated the centenary of the ending of the First World War. We all know that, following an Armistice Agreement signed in a railway carriage in rural France, hostilities ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

But, until watching a BBC2 documentary entitled “WW1: The Final Hours”, I had not realised that the agreement was signed on behalf of Germany not by a military figure – as was the case for France and Britain – but by a civilian politician. His name was Matthias Erzberger. So, what happened to him? Wikipedia explains:

“The denunciations of the conservative and national liberal press went beyond the ordinary limits of party polemics: the Tägliche Rundschau observed, in allusion to Erzberger’s personal appearance, “he may be as round as a bullet, but he is not bullet-proof.” The climax of these attacks was that Erzberger was murdered on 26 August 1921 in Bad Griesbach, a spa in the Black Forest (Baden) while he was out for a walk.

Due to his signing the armistice of 1918, Erzberger was regarded as a traitor by many on the political right. Manfred von Killinger, a leading member of the Germanenorden, masterminded his killing by recruiting two members of the ultra-nationalist death squad Organisation Consul: Heinrich Tillessen and Heinrich Schulz. Both were former Navy officers and members of the disbanded Marinebrigade Ehrhardt.

Erzberger’s assassins were later smuggled into Hungary and were prosecuted only after World War II.”

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A review of the novel “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez

November 14th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Márquez was born in Colombia in 1927 and died in 2014. This work – perhaps his most famous – was published in 1967 and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. I finally read the work after visiting Colombia and reading his later novel “Love In The Time Of Cholera”.

It is not that easy a read and I know friends who have started it but not finished it. It is over 400 pages of long chapters with no titles and long paragraphs that often cover several pages. Also it is a densely-plotted novel with minimal dialogue and a good many characters, many of whom have the same or similar names.

But it is beautifully written with captivating imagery and deploys the magic realism style favoured by a number of Latin American authors.

As the title suggests, the timescale is an unusually long one. In fact, it is the story of the men and women – all of them unconventional if not actually mad – in seven generations of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo in an unnamed South America country that is clearly the author’s own Colombia.

Márquez is a master storyteller with tale after tale. In this strange world, we have one character who fights 32 civil wars, while another lives for a century and a half, and many retreat into worlds closed by space or silence. The town suffers from insomnia sickness and then has five years of constant rain followed by 10 years of no rain.

There are flying carpets, lots of ghosts, and obsessive efforts to translate mysterious manuscripts. There is a lot of solitude and plenty of sex and many deaths – and ultimately nothing at all.

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It’s World Kindness Day – so try to be kind today … and always

November 13th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

World Kindness Day is observed internationally on 13 November each year. It was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of nations’ kindness NGOs. It is observed in many countries including Britain.

It is very easy to be cynical about such events, but the world really needs more kindness and sometimes as individuals we need a nudge or reminder to carry out small acts of kindness that can make a difference to the lives of others.

So think what you can do today and try each day to carry out at least one act of kindness.

You can find out more about how the day is being marked in the UK here.

To coincide with World Kindness Day, the Carnegie UK Trust publishes data from the first ever quantitative survey of experiences of kindness in communities and public services. The Ipsos MORI research, which is based on a survey of over 5,000 people conducted on behalf of theTrust, is part of a new report, Quantifying kindness, public engagement and place.

The report presents a reassuring picture about kindness in communities, but also reveals significant variation between the experiences in different jurisdictions and among different social groups.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Social policy | Comments (0)

Without a fair tax on tech, it could be the end of the state as we know it

November 12th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This is the title of an interesting article by John Harris in today’s “Guardian” newspaper.

He highlights two connected questions:

“The first is obvious: what do we do about the corporations that are driving huge social and economic change, but have so far proved reluctant to pay anything approaching their fair share of tax? From that follows the second, even graver conundrum: if things stay as they are, what could happen to just about everything that depends on government funding?”

He points out:

“According to analysis by the financial services company Standard and Poor’s, between 2007 and 2015 the average effective rate of tax paid in the US by the country’s 500 highest-valued firms was put at 27%. By contrast, over the same period, Apple paid 17% of its US profits in tax, Alphabet (Google’s parent) paid 16%, Amazon paid 13%, and Facebook paid just 3.8 %. In 2017, Amazon’s US profits were more than $5.6bn, yet it paid almost no federal income taxes, partly thanks to “excess stock-based compensation deductions””

.His solution?

“The beginnings of an answer might lie in what economists call a unitary tax. In this model, firms would be obliged to give the tax authorities of any country in which they operate both a set of accounts for their global activities and information about their physical assets, workforce, sales and profits for the territory in question. Tax would then be decided using a formula based on these factors. Some state taxes in the US work on a comparable basis, and the European commission has made supportive noises about the concept.”

You can read the John Harris column here.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)

A review of the new female heist movie “Widows”

November 10th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

It is so good to see more leading roles for women in mainstream films, even in a genre like the heist movie where men have traditionally dominated.

It is only a few months ago that we had “Ocean’s Eight” where all the gang members were female and now with “Widows” again we have an all-female team, but this time the characters – as well as being fewer – are deeper (and mostly of colour) and the action is grittier. In fact, this is a remake of a British work – the television drama by Lynda La Plante – and the director and co-writer is the British Steve McQueen, but the action is relocated from London in 2002 to Chicago in 2008.

It is an impressive cast with African-American Viola Davis (a really strong performance), Latin American Michelle Rodriguez, black British Cynthia Erivo and Polish/Australian Elizabeth Debicki playing the gang members and some well-known actors – Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall – taking smaller male roles.

Following an exciting opening sequence in which an all-male gang is explosively wiped out, there are some tough action scenes, some clever twists and plenty of social observations which altogether make this a most satisfying work.

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What actually happened in the US mid-term elections?

November 9th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Three weeks ago, I attended a lecture at London’s City Literary Institute to discuss what was at stage in the United States mid-term elections of 6 November and this week there was a follow-up lecture to examine the actual results. Both lectures were given by the college principal Mark Malcolmson.

Not all the results are in and there will need to be further detailed analysis, but the broad contours are clear.

As expected, the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives where all 435 seats were up for election. They needed to gain 23 seats and have made a net gain 27, picking up 29 Republican seats but losing two of their own. In the popular vote, the Democrats beat the Republicans by about seven percentage points. So, not a ‘blue wave’ but a solid result.

It was always unlikely that the Democrats would take the Senate, where a third (35) of seats was being contested, because they already held a large majority of the seats at stake (26). In fact, the Republicans have picked up at least two more seats, improving their previously very small majority. But they only polled 33 million votes in those races against the Democrats’ 45 million.

There were elections for 36 state governors. The Democrats took Kansas, New Mexico, Michigan, Nevada, Illinois and (particularly satisfying) Wisconsin, but failed in Florida and Georgia (where they had terrific, but black, candidates).

There were votes on all sorts of propositions too. In Florida, they voted to restore the right to vote to felons which will increase the electorate by 1.4 million. In Colorado, they voted to abolish slavery (honest).

Turnout was exceptionally high for mid-term elections. It was around 47% which is some 10 percentage points up on the norm.

Americans like to think of their political system as a beacon of democracy, but gerrymandering and voter suppression substantially distort results and a Senate where every state has two seats considerably favours the Republicans.

To conclude: the major development is the Democrats taking the House of Representatives which means that they can block Trump’s legislation and instigate enquiries into his affairs. This is the famed system of  ‘checks and balances’ playing its vital role. The excitement continues …

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This could be my last conference speech

November 7th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I’ve been speaking in public for around 55 years, but this week I might just have made my last conference speech. The occasion was a London event organised by the consultancy Independ and the publication “The Water Report”.

The title of the event was “Defining the social contract: essential public services, private business and better outcomes for society”. I gave a Powerpoint presentation with the title “What do customers want of providers of their essential services?” in my capacity as Chair of the Essential Services Access Network (ESAN).

I first starting public speaking at secondary school when we had both class and school debates and I was School Captain and spoke at the Speech Day. At university, I won the Freshers’ Debating Competition, competed in the “Observer” Mace Debating Competition, and served a year as full-time President of the Students’ Union addressing many student gatherings.

In the 1970s, when I was at my most politically active, I spoke at lots of Labour Party branch and constituency meetings and fought two two General Elections as a Labour candidate which involved many more public speeches.

In my 24 years as a trade union official, I addressed many branch meetings and conferences and lectured a lot at the union’s educational college. Since taking early retirement from the union and becoming a consumer advocate, I have continued to address meetings and conferences.

But I am now 70, my portfolio career is coming to an end, and this week’s speech might be my last such performance.

What have I learned with all this public speaking? I have produced two sets of advice on my website as follows:

Posted in Consumer matters, My life & thoughts | Comments (0)

A review of the new political film “Peterloo”

November 5th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

On 16 August 1819 in St Peter’s Field in central Manchester, around 60,000 pro-democracy reformers gathered in a peaceful protest that turned savage when it was attacked by armed cavalry, resulting in 18 deaths and over 600 injured. Until recently, the only public commemoration of this historic event was a plaque on the wall of what used to be the Free Trade Hall and is now the city’s Radisson Hotel. Most people have never heard of this event which was quickly called Peterloo.

However, I have always been aware of it because I grew up in Manchester until I was 23; I spoke as School Captain at my school’s Speech Day in the Free Trade Hall; and I studied in the Central Library in what is now St Peter’s Square.

Now a new film, called simply “Peterloo”, both written and directed by Mike Leigh – together with bicentenary events next summer – will highlight this neglected piece of working class history. Leigh has crafted his work with great attention to historical accuracy and period detail and he brings home very powerfully the grinding poverty and perpetual hunger of the working class folk of Manchester and the surrounding Lancashire mill towns.

The story is filled with a large group of well-cast personages, most notably Maxine Peake as Nellie, mother of a young, traumatised soldier back from Waterloo, and Rory Kinnear as Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, the eloquent speaker at the rally calling for parliamentary representation more than a decade before the Great Reform Act of 1832.

This is an immensely worthy work that reflects my own politics, but my experience of viewing it at the cinema – even on the opening weekend, it was screened in a small theatre in front of a small audience – suggests that it is not going to pull in the punters.

The reasons are clear. There are too many characters giving too many polemical speeches; too many of the characters – especially the politicians and the justices – are in fact caricatures; and, at two and a half hours, the whole thing is just too long and too pedestrian. This is such a pity because the history lesson is a vital one and the final massacre scene is stunning.

If you’re interested in films with a political message, you’ll find some suggestions here.

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