Radio 4 Review: Acts of Union and Disunion by Professor Linda Colley: Episode 14: Constitutions

LeftCentral Review 

Bickerstaff`s Boston Almanack 1789

We have the machinery of democracy, the structure and we have representative government but it was never a democracy and it never intended to be a democracy, it was founded by a small group of people who wanted independence from Englandthe motive was not democracy Howard Zinn  

Professor Linda Colley`s short talk on the British Constitution, allowed her to contrast constitutional developments in Britain; with that of the fledgling American Republic, then in the process of moving from Articles of Confederation towards a Federal government.  The `Constitution of the United States` is described by Colley as something; “widely viewed as sacred”, the sacrosanct words are then uttered by the anointed President Elect Obama.  Professor Colley then explains that the founding fathers were influenced by the British notion of a separation of powers; she doesn’t point out that the American version has teeth and while the founding fathers wanted a more democratic system than monarchical Britain, they didn’t aim for a genuinely democratic structure.  But rather designed a system of government that would allow power to rest in the hands of an elite group of rich men.  Her talk missed an opportunity to outline the real significance of Britain’s unwritten Constitution on the framers of the American Constitution.   Read more of this post

The economic consequences of Mr Greenspan

Nora Connolly 

Image © IMF Photograph/Stephen Jaffe

Dedicated to David Wright who is about to celebrate his 50th birthday.

Alan Greenspan the former chair of the Federal Reserve has just published a book an occasion that allows time for reflection. In his pomp he was known as Saint Alan and the economic consensus he helped shape, today appears unruffled and widespread. The austerity programme followed by the UK government recently commended by Greenspan, a supporter of George Osborne. One of the important ingredients for economic success according to Mr Greenspan (speaking several years ago) is the need for `growing worker insecurity which reduces pressure for compensation and decent working conditions` the UK government is following that piece of advice to the letter. Meanwhile in the USA wealth resides in the hands of a tiny fraction of the population a `section so small that the census doesn’t even pick it up…a tenth of a percent of the population`. This has political implications because power is held in limited hands and helps explain the ideological hinterland of Barack Obama, a centrist amid a right wing consensus. Unsurprisingly there has been no Obama New Deal. Given this situation, one need not wonder why adherence to the market continues unabated. Even though the crash of 2008 is considered worse than 1929, but in the 1930s a new consensus emerged, while today a conservative orthodoxy dominates.   Read more of this post

The Politics of Pressure in a global context

Image © Adam Weiz for SumOfUs.org

Legal Eagle

`We have to pick campaigns that are not too big and not too small. And the target of eight is large enough that as long as we vary our tactics from campaign to campaign we should be able to begin to see patterns about what`s working and what`s not. That’s the science strategy and as we learn more about how to change corporate behaviour we will be able to ratchet up the difficulty of our campaigns`. Taren Stinebricker-Kauffman  Read more of this post

The corporate campaign to produce a stupid nation

Nora Connolly

Image © Andrew Rusk

In 1925 the state of Tennessee passed an Act forbidding the teaching of evolutionary theory, the law was tested when John Scopes from Dayton was put on trial. Clarence Darrow defended Scopes against a prosecution team led by William Jennings Bryan. The trial put religion and first amendment rights under the legal microscope but there was also an economic subtext to this cause celebre, Bryan was after all, the man who made the remarkable Cross of Gold speech in 1896. Regarding the Scopes trial, Bryan got it wrong, though his position was not without merit. Darwinism had been misappropriated and incorrectly applied at the turn of the twentieth century and used to undermine the position of US workers. Social conservatives at the time justified economic inequality on the grounds that it was a natural consequence of the `survival of the fittest`. This clashed with Bryan`s democratic outlook, while wrong he challenged science for the noblest of humanitarian/economic reasons, he remembered the poor and the downtrodden whose grievances he powerfully articulated in 1896. Read more of this post

Dreams and Recurring Nightmares – 50 years after Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ Speech

Professor Gus John

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These famous words, the second sentence of the American Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, were the cornerstone of Dr Martin Luther King’s speech on 28 August 1963. That speech is rarely remembered in its entirety and consequently over time the last part which is most frequently quoted has come to represent a rallying cry for black and white integration rather than a ‘call to arms’ in the struggle for equal rights and justice.

Why is that important and what is its relevance for Britain? Read more of this post

The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti

Nora Connolly 

On this day in 1927 Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed, their final hours spent writing letters to loved ones. They were apparently remarkably calm, this the final dreadful stage in a seven year legal battle. In the very early hours of that terrible morning another man was executed with them, though his composure not as pronounced. He was Celestino Madeiros and while he was executed for an unrelated matter he had admitted to his involvement in the armed robbery and murder for which Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted. Madeiros had given compelling evidence which totally absolved both men but still failed to save them from the electric chair.   Read more of this post

The North Star

Nora Connolly 

Image © Flickr: Mural on the Solidarity Wall

To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy licence; your national greatness swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy, a thin veil to cover up crimes to which would disgrace a nation of savages…Frederick Douglass 5th July 1852

The 50th anniversary of Dr King`s iconic speech, is a good time to reflect on the significance of the Civil Rights Movement both within but also outside the USA. In 1967 for example, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed in an attempt to address the manifest discrimination the Catholic population experienced in areas such as housing, jobs and in the gerrymandering of the political system. The Irish Civil Rights Movement clearly attempted to emulate the USA campaign but it appears a symbiotic relationship existed between the Irish and US civil rights experience long before Dr King emerged to lead the civil rights movement.   Read more of this post

Fifty years of dreaming…

Nora Connolly

Image © Gregory F. Maxwell

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, made in the shadow of the Lincoln memorial, a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr King eloquently demanded freedom, a clarion call transmitted around the world; he reminded his audience that successive governments had defaulted on a promissory note. King made clear his commitment to the democratic process whilst rejecting the tranquilising drug of gradualism assuring his audience that the bank of justice was not bankrupt. Dr King made several I have dream speech`s in 1963, his Detroit version recorded by Motown. But the statement on August 28 is unique, the most memorable lines “were completely extemporaneous” the language precise the sentiment soaring. As Manning Marable points out the speech was more than a “rhetorical achievement: it was a challenge to white America to break with its racist past, and to embrace a multiracial future”.  Read more of this post

Dreaming of One Nation – Labour, multiculturalism and race

Image © Alexander Kachkaev

Robin Richardson

Review of The British Dream: successes and failures of post-war immigration by David Goodhart, Atlantic Books 2013, 381 pp, £20

David Goodhart hopes there will be a Labour government, or a Labour-led coalition, from 2015 onwards. He himself belongs, he says, to the ‘political tribe of north London liberals’ and is ‘a journalist of leftish sympathies’. His subject-matter in this book is immigration policy, and the extent to which Britain can be a multicultural One Nation. It is possible to imagine Britain, he mentions, ‘little by little becoming a less civil, ever more unequal and ethnically divided country – as harsh and violent as the United States’. In such a Britain the welfare state will have largely withered away, for white British people will be increasingly unwilling to pay taxes to support people who belong to (one of Goodhart’s favourite (phrases) ‘visible minorities’. He sees his book as a wake-up call to prevent such a dystopia. Read more of this post

The trouble with billionaires (book review) by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Left Central Book Review 

Image© Andy Mitchel

I am indebted to the British Welfare state; the very one that Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, the safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major`s government, was there to break the fall…J.K. Rowling… Cited in `the trouble with billionaires`

This book is a fusion of rigorous academic analysis and sharp, witty journalism. The humour a necessary antidote, given the unconscionable economic detail outlined. Facts linked to the rapacious appetite of the super elite, gorging on tax avoidance. Aided and abetted by supine legislators in the UK and USA. Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks explain how the political right, adroitly undermined the post-war consensus of Beveridge and Keynes in the UK, the same result achieved in the USA with the gradual destruction of the New Deal consensus. Criticism articulated by Frederick Von Hayek who feared that benevolent government intervention would lead us down the road to serfdom. A ridiculous idea, predicated on the notion that social security; full employment, legal aid, economic growth and an NHS somehow reduced liberty. As this book points out, when Hayek required assistance from the social security system, he was not shy about utilising its collective provisions. It is indeed a strange sort of serfdom, which provides a hospital bed for the sick, a bizarre understanding of liberty that disregards the need of a safety net, when boom turns to inevitable bust. All those tens of thousands of post-war Higher Education students benefitting from free education in the UK or through the GI Bill in the States – hardly resemble serfs. But their counterparts today do; a bizarre twist on the Hayek model. The exchange of correspondence between Hayek and Charles Koch outlined in the text, makes for illuminating revisionist reading. Read more of this post

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