Quotulatiousness

June 20, 2014

The Black Death, the peasants’ revolt, and … tax increases

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:47

Put yourself in the position of an advisor to the 10-year old King Richard II shortly after his coronation in 1377. You’ve just witnessed one of the greatest population disasters in European history — the Black Death — where one third of the people of all classes died. The crown is at war with France (the Hundred Years’ War), and there’s little or no money in the treasury. You could probably come up with better policy ideas in your sleep than what Richard’s advisors did:

Fixated with outright victory in the One Hundred Years War, started by his grandfather Edward III, Richard’s government introduced hugely unpopular poll taxes in 1377 and 1379. A further tax introduced in 1381 was to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Irrespective of wealth, the tax was fixed at a rate of 12 pence per person, meaning that it was a huge burden on the poor, but a minor inconvenience to the wealthy. In addition, rumours spread of widespread corruption in the government. The peasants were ripe for revolt.

Following the expulsion of a tax collector from the town Brentwood, 30 kilometres north-east of London, a band of rebels swept through Kent and Essex, swelling their numbers with volunteers as they went. They advanced upon London in a pincer movement from the south and east. The two leaders of the rebellion emerged as Wat Tyler, of whom little was previously known, and John Ball, a radical priest who had been broken out of prison by Kentish rebels, where he had been held for his beliefs in social equality and a fair distribution of wealth within the church. Indeed, as he preached to the crowd of thousands of rebels at Blackheath, then just outside London, he cried: ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men.’

Londoners willingly opened the gates of their city to the rebels who set about their task with fervour. They sacked Savoy Palace, the home of the key adviser to the now 14-year-old Richard. Guards in the Tower of London opened the gates to the rebels, who freed the inmates and executed Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Treasurer of England, who had been hiding inside. There were also several incidents of misplaced rage among the rebels, like when the crowd set their sights upon Flemish immigrants, many of whom were wealthy wool merchants, and murdered them in the streets.

Faced with a grave situation, the young king rode out to meet the rebel leaders at Blackheath. Their demands were an end to poll taxes, an immediate end to serfdom, the introduction of a more democratic form of government with local representation based on the Provisions of Oxford in 1258, and a fair distribution of wealth and power from the nobility. Richard initially gave into their demands as well as issuing pardons for all involved.

It got worse (for the peasants) after that brief high point…

June 19, 2014

Declined and spoiled ballots in the recent Ontario provincial election

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:08

A few Twitter updates from @308dotcom shows that the steady interest in my old post about declining your ballot was real:

April 27, 2014

Why the EU did not overtly support the Maidan protests

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:31

Ace sums it up nicely:

Why wasn’t the EU doing “more” to pressure Yanukovych, Putin’s choice for President?

Here’s the thing: Because the EU was thinking hard about the Ukraine and realistically about itself.

The EU didn’t want to force Yanukovych out of power, nor encourage the Maidan movement to force him out of power, because they knew that Russia would react as Russia has in fact reacted.

And the EU knew this about themselves: They were not prepared to do a damn thing about a Russian invasion.

So the EU made a cynical, self-serving decision to not encourage or support the Maidan movement, because they knew they would not be doing anything down the road to support the Maidan movement when the movement actually needed support.

This was an unpopular decision, and it makes them seem cowardly and weak… but it did have the benefit of comporting with reality.

The EU was clear-minded enough and had an honest enough appraisal of its interests and capabilities to make the honest, accurate assessment that they would do nothing in Putin but offer him diplomatic protests were he to invade Ukraine.

And the EU crafted its own policy response based on that accurate, honest appraisal of its own weakness and cowardice.

You can call them cowards, but you cannot call them self-deluded fools.

At least they understood themselves.

March 19, 2014

Alex Marwood: “Fred Phelps might finally be teaching us a lesson”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

Alex Marwood contemplates the actual lessons to be drawn from the impending death of the head (former head?) of the flamboyantly repellant Westboro Baptist Church:

But here’s the thing that might indeed deserve celebrating: I think that, in his final hours, Fred Phelps might finally be teaching us a lesson. And it’s not the lesson that his spittle-bowed ranting, his family’s laughable adaptations of pop songs and psychotic banner-waving have been intended to teach us. For years now, I’ve looked at Westboro and wanted to ask them about their take on the Seven Deadly Sins. The old man and his numerous offspring seemed, you see, to base their style upon them. Wrath he had, in plenty — but Phelps also seem to be driven as much by envy (of the “fags” who were getting preferential enabling), a prideful self-belief only challenged by that of L Ron Hubbard, greed, as demonstrated in all those juicy court settlements from local councils who sought to limit his ‘freedom of speech’ and, well, frankly, quite a bit of sloth, sitting about in his compound sending the grandkids out to demonstrate. As to gluttony and lust — well, no one really knows what went on behind the walls of that compound when Louis Theroux wasn’t filming, but the guy has 13 kids and a bit of a paunch, which suggests a degree of busyness, to say the least. And here he is, at the end of his life, alone, unmourned and, as many people believe, anyway, probably going to hell.

So thank you, Fred. You’ve taught us how not to live our lives. Actually, I would hazard that, if anything, Fred’s career has done gay rights a favour. For every sad-act who got themselves sucked in by them, there will be thousands upon thousands who will have thought “well, if that’s the face of the moral Right, I’m out,” and gone and shaken hands with their local homosexuals. In a land where the values of Christianity often seem to have been warped by the twin evils of psychopathically Right-wing Right-wingers and greed-fuelled fraudsters, Phelps picked up the ball, glued spikes on it and kicked it into the faces of small children and then sued them for getting in the way. He will have done more to turn people away from his brand of God than even Morris Cerullo. So thanks, Fred! If any of the kids are looking for an example of a Christian life, we now have a perfect example to show them, and say “the opposite of that, basically”. Well played, and flights of something sing thee to thy rest!

February 25, 2014

A contrarian speaks out on Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:43

Brendan O’Neill isn’t comfortable with the widespread media descriptions of Ukraine’s change of government and calls it regime change instead:

Even in this era of rampant political spin and platitudes, where George Orwell’s claim that political language is used and abused to ‘make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’ has never been truer, the commentary on Ukraine stands out for its dishonesty. Western observers tell us there has been a revolution in that benighted nation. They claim revolutionaries have overthrown a dictator. They say the people of Ukraine have risen up and deposed their despot, and are now ‘experiencing the intense emotions expressed so eloquently by Thomas Paine in 1776 [in his writings on the American War of Independence]’. It is hard to remember the last time political language was so thoroughly used to obfuscate reality, to impose inappropriate historical narratives on to a messy modern-day event. For what we have in Ukraine is not revolution, but regime change, set in motion far more by the machinations of Western politicians than by the stone-throwing of Ukrainians.

Orwell was right – too much political writing is less about clarifying real-world events than it is a collection of pre-existing phrases ‘tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse’. So it has been in relation to Ukraine, where the words selected by Western observers tell us more about them and their prejudices than they do about events in Kiev. So the word ‘meddling’ is used to describe Vladimir Putin’s interventions in Ukraine, but never to describe Angela Merkel’s or John Kerry’s cultivation of the oppositional forces – that is ‘mediation’. Ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich is now widely referred to as a ‘dictator’, confirming how exhausted and meaningless that word has become through overuse: unlike serious dictators like Gaddafi or Assad, Yanukovich won a free and fair election, in March 2010. As for the word ‘revolution’ – that has been knackered by misuse for decades, but its deployment in Ukraine takes its bastardisation to a new low: there has of course been no replacement of one social order by another in Ukraine, or even the instalment of a people’s government; instead various long-established parties in parliament, some of which are deeply unpopular among certain constituencies in Ukraine, are forming an interim government. Revolutionary? Hardly.

The Western debate and coverage of Ukraine has cast a massive political fog over events there. It may not have quite made ‘murder seem respectable’, but it has certainly made externally generated regime change seem revolutionary, and the Western-assisted anti-democratic removal of an elected leader seem like an act of people’s democracy. It has exposed a severe dearth of independent critical thinking among the Western commentariat. Even those on the right who are normally passionately anti-EU are now lining up like lemmings behind Brussels’ dishonest moral narrative about being a mere observer to a glorious revolution in the East. And even those on the left who condemned regime change in Iraq or Libya are buying the idea that Ukraine has undergone a revolution of Paineite proportions, with the Observer giddily declaring that Ukraine is currently experiencing ‘an intoxicating sense of liberation from an old guard’. Across the political spectrum, narratives about Ukraine that don’t add up, and which are being promoted by people normally seen as untrustworthy, are being accepted as good coin – among both a right excited by the prospect of a return of the neat Cold War-era divide between good West and bad East, and a left so desperate for evidence of revolutionary behaviour in the twenty-first century that it will lap up even staid, grey, distinctly unrevolutionary Brussels’ claims about a revolution being afoot in Ukraine.

Note: This article is posted at Spiked Plus, which is normally a pay site. They’ve made the site available to non-subscribers for a limited time to mark their second anniversary. If you’re reading this post at a later date, the link to the whole article may not work unless you’re a member.

February 24, 2014

Euromaidan’s pseudo-medieval technological battle with Berkut

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

Robert Beckhusen on the throwback to the Middle Ages in the fighting between the Euromaidan protestors and the paramilitary Berkut police:

But to understand why the protests succeeded in toppling Yanukovych, it’s worth taking a glance at its strategies and military-style tactics. The protesters not only built a broad and inclusive coalition, but innovated where it mattered most: on the streets.

Really, it turned medieval.

Protesters shot fireworks with makeshift launchers. In combination with throwing stones and using slingshots, they overwhelmed disoriented Berkut special forces units, who were pelted with flying objects as fireworks exploded around them.

Protesters wore military helmets and carried makeshift — or captured — shields. Wooden boards were used to protect their lower legs from shrapnel the police taped to exploding stun grenades.

Among the array of homemade weapons, some were perhaps a little too ambitious. A crude trebuchet — a type of medieval catapult which uses a counterweight to fling objects — was overrun and dismantled.

To shield themselves from the onslaught, the police special forces units known as Berkut adopted distinct tetsudo formations. This packed shield formation was used by the Roman Empire, developed to shield infantry units from arrows. The first line holds its shields forward, with each preceding line holding their shields towards the sky.

The problem with this tactic? It makes you much slower.

February 22, 2014

Venezuela’s crisis

Filed under: Americas, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:10

With all the attention being on Ukraine’s political upheaval, there’s another political crisis happening in South America:

How is Venezuela doing? Well, tens of thousands of protesters are in the streets, the army’s been sent to crush revolt, an opposition leader has been arrested and supporters of the government just shot dead a former beauty queen. It’s going to hell in a handcart, that’s how it’s doing.

After Hugo Chavez died he was replaced by Nicolas Maduro, a man of considerably less talent who bears a striking resemblance to an obese Burt Reynolds. A Venezuelan friend explains that Chavez’s titanic personality held his revolution together, reconciling its various contradictions with his charismatic nationalism. By contrast, “Maduro has let the worst people take over” — surrendering authority to radical mobs and corrupt officials in a bid to keep them all on side. The result? Bad economic management, inflation at 56 per cent, rising unemployment, food shortages, shocking levels of crime and an increasing reliance on government control of the press.

The Left always insisted under Chavez that some meddling in the media was necessary because it was otherwise controlled by dark, foreign forces (read: people who disagreed with Chavez). But Maduro is now threatening to expel CNN, which is about the fairest and most balanced news source on the planet. CNN’s crime was to report on the recent protests that have engulfed the capital. And good for CNN. Coverage on what’s happening in Venezuela has been eclipsed by events in Ukraine, so for those who don’t know here’s what’s happening on the ground.

  • On February 12, the opposition held a massive rally that resulted in bloodshed. Three people were killed, including two opposition protesters and one pro-government activist. The National Guard was dispatched to prevent further rallies.
  • Violence quickly spread out across the country. Some 3,000 troops were sent to pacify the city of San Cristobal, where the government also cut off transport links and the internet.
  • Opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was forced to hand himself over to the National Guard on charges of inciting violence.
  • The President blamed America for starting the conflict and has expelled US officials.
  • Local TV stations have gone into lockdown and simply aren’t reporting the fighting. Venezuelans are relying on social media, which includes some false reporting. The opposition lack a single national TV outlet to be heard on.

Ukrainian President flees coup

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:09

The situation in Ukraine just got more fluid, as President Yanukovych is said to have fled from Kiev and the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament announced a vote to remove him from the presidency. James Marson, Alan Cullison and Alexander Kolyandr report for the Wall Street Journal:

Government authority appeared to melt away Saturday, leaving protesters in control of the capital’s center. President Viktor Yanukovych left the capital for a city in the country’s Russian-speaking east and vowed to remain in power.

In a television interview Saturday afternoon in Kharkiv, Mr. Yanukovych denounced the events in Kiev as a “coup d’etat” that he blamed on “bandits.”

“I have no plans to leave the country and I have no plans to resign. I am the legally elected president and all the international intermediaries I’ve talked to (over the last few days) have given me guarantees of security. We’ll see how those are fulfulled,” Mr. Yanukovych told a small TV station in Kharkiv.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko earlier had called on parliament to vote to oust Mr. Yanukovych and announce presidential elections in May, as police withdrew from the center of the capital Saturday.

Ukraine opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was expected to be released from prison within hours, according to a spokeswoman for the opposition.

Ukraine is divided politically and linguistically on almost the same line:

Ukraine language map

The BBC reports that new elections have been called for May 25:

Ukrainian MPs have voted to oust President Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on 25 May.

Mr Yanukovych’s spokeswoman said he did not accept the decision.

Earlier on Saturday, protesters walked unchallenged into the president’s office and residential compounds.

Also on Saturday afternoon, prominent opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she was being held under prison guard.

A BBC correspondent saw Tymoshenko driven away in a car after leaving the hospital.

MPs had voted to pave the way for her release on Friday. She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power.

Her supporters have always maintained this was simply Mr Yanukovych taking out his most prominent opponent, and her release has always been a key demand of the protest movement.

February 19, 2014

Euromaidan versus Berkut – it’s not a game

Filed under: Europe, Government, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:34

The situation in Ukraine is not getting the public attention it deserves in the West, and Zenon Evans provides a quick summary of the extent of the protests and government repression:

Violence between Ukraine’s opposition (known as Euromaidan) and the government’s SWAT-style police force (Berkut), has boiled over today. Fires are raging across protesters’ tent-towns and police stations in what is being described as “open warfare.” Estimates indicate that over 20 people are dead and over 1,000 are injured. The BBC reports that officers are using rubber bullets and stun grenades, while The Daily Beast says machine guns are their weapon of choice. Protesters are armed with an array of weapons, from bricks and molotov cocktails to firearms of their own.

Parliamentary member Lesya Orobets writes:

    The war is here. A real fierce war. It is impossible to grasp this emotionally, although the mind is working precisely and quickly quite apart from emotions. We are being exterminated because of our desire to have dignity and decide our lives independently. This simply makes no sense. My fellow Ukrainians are being killed by the creatures that not only resemble us biologically, but also carry Ukrainian passports.

Russian news website Slon.ru explains that mayhem was sparked because police blocked opposition members and their representatives from entering Ukraine’s parliamentary building, where they planned on introducing constitutional reforms to limit the authority of President Yanukovych, who has been consolidating power.

For more background, Joey DeVilla has assembled a primer on Euromaidan at his blog:

Ukraine language map

I continue to be surprised with how many people I keep running into who don’t know what’s going on in Ukraine right now. For those of you who haven’t been following the news or who’d like to know more, this article’s for you!

For the most basic introduction, check out the above video by the Washington Post, Ukraine’s crisis explained in 2 minutes. It starts with a question that you might be asking: What is Ukraine? (If you live in the Bloor West Village area of Toronto, you have no excuse for not knowing about Ukraine.)

February 11, 2014

Michael Geist on what Canadians can do about mass surveillance

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:21

A post at Michael Geist’s website advises Canadians about their options to protest the government’s role in internet surveillance:

… we know that U.S. law provides fewer protections to personal information of non-U.S. citizens, suggesting that Canadian data residing in cloud-based servers in the U.S. are particularly vulnerable. Meanwhile, the Canadian legal rules remain largely shrouded in secrecy, with officials maintaining that programs fall within the law despite the obvious privacy interests in metadata and statutory restrictions on domestic surveillance.

[...]

Today is the day that Canadians can send a message that this official is wrong. The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance is a global effort to galvanize people around the world to speak out against ubiquitous surveillance. Canadians can learn more here, but the key ask is to contact your Member of Parliament. If you are concerned with widespread surveillance in Canada, take a couple of moments to send an email or letter (no stamp required) to your MP and let them know how you feel (alternatively, you can fill out the form at this site). In addition, you can sign onto a global petition supported by hundreds of groups around the world.

I’ve written about the need for changes here and many others — including Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier, Kent Roach, Wesley Wark, Ron Diebert, David Fraser, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian and Avner Levin, Craig Forcese, and Lisa Austin — have highlighted other potential changes. There are no shortage of ideas for reform. What we need now are Canadians to speak out to demand an open review and reform of Canadian surveillance law and policy.

January 22, 2014

Thai protests trigger state of emergency declaration

Filed under: Asia, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:52

BBC News on the Thai government’s attempts to deal with the ongoing protests:

The Thai government has imposed a 60-day state of emergency in the capital, Bangkok, and the surrounding provinces, from Wednesday, to cope with unrest.

The decree gives the government wide-ranging powers to deal with disorder.

Anti-government protesters have been blocking parts of the capital to try to force PM Yingluck Shinawatra to resign.

They accuse the government of being run by exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, the brother of the current prime minister.

Ms Yingluck has refused to resign and has called an election on 2 February to pacify the protesters.

The state of emergency was announced after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and comes after a spate of attacks with explosives and firearms on the anti-government protesters blockading central Bangkok for which the government and the protesters blame each other.

On Sunday, 28 people were injured when grenades were thrown at one of several protest sites set up at major road sections in the city.

“The cabinet decided to invoke the emergency decree to take care of the situation and to enforce the law,” Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

The emergency decree gives the government power to censor the media, ban public gatherings and detain suspects without charge.

George Talusan, a friend and former co-worker of mine was on vacation in Thailand recently and posted some brilliant photos to his Facebook feed. I’ve asked his permission to include a few of them here:

IMG_1983.jpg
A protester stops his motorcycle and holds up a handmade sign near Lumpini Park (Jan 13)

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PDRC protesters wave flags at Victory Monument (Jan 14)

IMG_1035.jpg
Suthep Thaugsuban delivers a speech at Asok BTS (Jan 15)

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PDRC protesters are offered water during a sit-in at Royal Thai Police HQ (Jan 15)

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PDRC security guard poses outside Royal Thai Police HQ which had been vandalized after a sit-in (Jan 19)

January 13, 2014

The GMO debate – “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”

Filed under: Environment, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:22

Nathanael Johnson says he has taken more abuse over his articles on genetically modified organisms than anything else in his writing career. And he says he learned something from his research: that it actually doesn’t matter at all.

It’s a little awkward to admit this, after devoting so much time to this project, but I think Beth was right. The most astonishing thing about the vicious public brawl over GMOs is that the stakes are so low.

I know that to those embroiled in the controversy this will seem preposterous. Let me try to explain.

Let’s start off with a thought experiment: Imagine two alternate futures, one in which genetically modified food has been utterly banned, and another in which all resistance to genetic engineering has ceased. In other words, imagine what would happen if either side “won” the debate.

In the GMO-free future, farming still looks pretty much the same. Without insect-resistant crops, farmers spray more broad-spectrum insecticides, which do some collateral damage to surrounding food webs. Without herbicide-resistant crops, farmers spray less glyphosate, which slows the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds and perhaps leads to healthier soil biota. Farmers also till their fields more often, which kills soil biota, and releases a lot more greenhouse gases. The banning of GMOs hasn’t led to a transformation of agriculture because GM seed was never a linchpin supporting the conventional food system: Farmers could always do fine without it. Eaters no longer worry about the small potential threat of GMO health hazards, but they are subject to new risks: GMOs were neither the first, nor have they been the last, agricultural innovation, and each of these technologies comes with its own potential hazards. Plant scientists will have increased their use of mutagenesis and epigenetic manipulation, perhaps. We no longer have biotech patents, but we still have traditional seed-breeding patents. Life goes on.

In the other alternate future, where the pro-GMO side wins, we see less insecticide, more herbicide, and less tillage. In this world, with regulations lifted, a surge of small business and garage-biotechnologists got to work on creative solutions for the problems of agriculture. Perhaps these tinkerers would come up with some fresh ideas to usher out the era of petroleum-dependent food. But the odds are low, I think, that any of their inventions would prove transformative. Genetic engineering is just one tool in the tinkerer’s belt. Newer tools are already available, and scientists continue to make breakthroughs with traditional breeding. So in this future, a few more genetically engineered plants and animals get their chance to compete. Some make the world a little better, while others cause unexpected problems. But the science has moved beyond basic genetic engineering, and most of the risks and benefits of progress are coming from other technologies. Life goes on.

The point is that even if you win, the payoff is relatively small in the broad scheme of things. Really, why do so many people care?

January 11, 2014

February 11th 2014 is The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:49

It may be only a token gesture, but mark 11 February on your calendar:

DEAR USERS OF THE INTERNET,

In January 2012 we defeated the SOPA and PIPA censorship legislation with the largest Internet protest in history. A year ago this month one of that movement’s leaders, Aaron Swartz, tragically passed away.

Today we face a different threat, one that undermines the Internet, and the notion that any of us live in a genuinely free society: mass surveillance.

If Aaron were alive, he’d be on the front lines, fighting against a world in which governments observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action.

Now, on the eve of the anniversary of Aaron’s passing, and in celebration of the win against SOPA and PIPA that he helped make possible, we are announcing a day of protest against mass surveillance, to take place this February 11th.

[...]

Anti-surveillance banner preview

We’re creating embeddable banners and widgets that you’ll be able to add to your site to encourage visitors to participate in the day of action. The photo above is just a draft — the final design is yet to come.

December 24, 2013

Brendan O’Neill on how to become a cause célèbre

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:25

It may sound rather cynical, but it does seem to capture the essential elements:

Yesterday, as the world cheered the release of two members of the punk band Pussy Riot from prison in Russia, 450 members of the Muslim Brotherhood went on hunger strike in jails in Egypt. These political prisoners, whose ‘crimes’ include supporting deposed President Mohamed Morsi and taking part in protests calling for his reinstatement, have received rather less global sympathy than Pussy Riot. Even when, last month, 14 women and seven girls were sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in Egypt for taking part in an unauthorised pro-Morsi protest, still there was little global outrage. The women and girls (whose punishment has since been reduced to a one-year suspended sentence) were not emblazoned on trendy Westerners’ t-shirts; Madonna didn’t demand their release; Amnesty didn’t pump vast amounts of its resources into calling for their sentences to be squashed, as it has done with Pussy Riot, who have been its main campaigning priority over the past year.

So what does it take for political prisoners to become a cause célèbre among influential Westerners? How can political prisoners overseas win the attention and flattery of human-rights groups, celebs and the concerned commentariat? Here’s an invaluable guide for any locked-up man or woman of conscience who craves the support of human-rights activists.

December 10, 2013

The pundits are “mad as hell” and hope we’re ready to man the barricades for them

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:03

Jim Geraghty notes the common theme among anguished pundits both left and right:

One problem with the “this is intolerable, and we need an uprising!” cry is that we’ve already had at least two “uprisings” at the ballot box in recent years: The Obama wave of 2008 and the Tea Party wave of 2010. But their remedies for the “intolerable” condition are contradictory — one envisions a much greater role for government in Americans’ daily lives, while the other concludes government’s growing role exacerbates the problems instead of solving it.

Ironically, the two sides agree in their denunciation of crony capitalism, but what they usually mean is that they’re opposed to the other guy’s crony capitalism. Obama voted for TARP and then exploited its discontent, shrugged at the taxpayers getting stuck for the bill of Solyndra and other green energy boondoggles, then did his part to help walking conflict of interest Terry McAuliffe become governor of Virginia. The flip side of the coin too many Republicans are all too comfortable with their own versions of crony capitalism — loans and loan guarantees subsidize U.S. exporters, state economic development boards, and Bob McDonnell’s cozy financial arrangements with donors, among other examples. While crony capitalism isn’t really a driving force behind our national sense of diminishing economic opportunities, it certainly doesn’t help anyone except the cronies, and enhances the sense that wealth is built through cheating and secret deals, not hard work or innovation.

(Notice that this expression of economic discontent is so generic that everybody’s got a grievance, and nobody thinks they’re the beneficiaries. This is how you get multimillionaire rapper/mogul Jay-Z selling Occupy Wall Street-themed t-shirts, or the CEO of bailed-out insurance giant AIG explicitly comparing the treatment of his company to lynchings in the South, or the number of members of Congress who have complained about their $174,000 per year salary.)

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