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Erik Vance is an American scientific journalist who writes about sustainable markets for fish and seafood.

His assignments occasionally take him to northern Mexico, along the drug supply route to California.

Vance wrote for Slate about his encounter with Mexican fishermen who have no choice but to help drug cartels. The article is called ‘Cocaine Is Evil’, and he compared cocaine purchase to ‘donating to the Nazi Party’.

The hundreds of comments in response reveal that cocaine users were none too happy with the comparison. As is the fashion today, they clamoured for legalisation. I wonder. Too few dissenting voices pointed out that cocaine is equally illegal in Mexico. Also, one American who lives in a state where marijuana is legal said that everyone he knows still goes to their dealers — because the product is cheaper (no tax)!

Anyway, what Vance discovered in and around Sonora, Mexico, horrified him (emphases mine):

I remember one interview in particular in which a fisherman told us about his relative who occasionally ran drugs for the cartels in between seasons. In this area, it’s not blood in, blood out. Cartels have porous edges, where people drop in when they need the money and get out as fast as possible. And we are not talking about characters from Breaking Bad here—these are poor fishermen with no other choice. And mostly they hate it.

Fishermen are great mules because they know the waters and they don’t draw attention. And if you have to chuck your haul overboard to avoid the military, other fishermen can dive to retrieve it.

Vance says the fisherman said that his relative had a long, possibly stormy, journey to his destination. Once he arrived:

and he met the men who would take the cargo across the border, they put a bullet in his head and tossed him overboard to feed the fish he should have been catching. It’s cheaper to kill the mule than to pay him.

That story made Vance think about his upper middle class friends who think nothing of doing a line of coke or, when on the end of a credit card or house key, a pile of it, which is called a ‘bump':

It’s a marvel of the English language that something so horrible, so corrosive can have such a cute little name. I wonder what that fisherman would have said to that innocuous little word. “Glad I could help brighten the party,” maybe?

Not that the fisherman here are wholly innocent—many of them do meth and coke to stay awake on the water, and some have become addicted. But we all know who drives the drug trade. It’s us. At our hip little parties, our New Year’s Eve celebrations, our secret back rooms, and on the counters of people from well-off families who are destined for rehab.

He cites the number of drug-related deaths linked to coke:

Around 60,000 were executed as witches during 150 years at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. Mexico alone has seen perhaps twice that many deaths during its seven-year drug war. From 1990 to 2010, Colombia had some 450,000 homicides, overwhelmingly due to coke. Add all the rest of Latin America (counting all the military actions that were driven by efforts to control trafficking routes as much as by politics), the U.S. share (15,000 per year on the high side, counting all kinds of drugs and overdoses and such). Now add an estimate of all the uncounted murders and overdoses and track that carnage back to the 1960s when the modern drug war began. The number starts to be in the league of the atrocities of Nazi Germany or American slavery.  

He adds:

the magnitude and gruesomeness of the atrocities committed to acquire and maintain drug trade routes to the United States actually are comparable. Decapitations and burning people alive are just the start. Chainsaws, belt sanders, acid—these things are used very creatively by cartel torturers. They disembowel bloggers and sew faces to soccer balls. Children are forced to work as assassins, people are forced to rape strangers at gunpoint, and lines of victims are killed one at a time with a single hammer. Many of those people disappear into unmarked graves. If their bodies are ever found, they are described in the media with antiseptic words like “mutilated.”

He concludes:

So yes, I say that paying for coke is equivalent to donating to the Nazi party. The unspoken thing here is that the reason Americans aren’t more outraged or guilt-ridden is that the people dying are poor brown people—many of them in a tragic irony are classified as narcos so governments can claim it’s just gang-on-gang violence.    

So perhaps you can see why I sometimes feel a little silly covering the ocean fisheries crisis, telling people what’s not sustainable and why. It’s true, consumer choices are behind the ocean crisis. But you can eat sustainably every day of your life and give to charity every year, and it all gets wiped out with one line of coke ...

There’s no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine

Parents, pastors and youth leaders could help by discussing this hideous reality at home and in church groups for mature students.

I remember my adolescence and university days. Most of my friends and I discreetly experimented with illegal drugs coming from Latin America, some more than others. Today’s students are no different and, with all the calls for legalisation or decriminalisation, perhaps more inclined to do so.

I don’t know what the smuggling situation was 30-some years ago, but this is what today’s is like. Some might call this subjective morality, but if I’d heard this story and read this article (complete with a gruesome photo), it would have stayed in my mind: thanks, but no.

In the same edition of The Observer which featured articles about drugs on the dark net and the UK’s head of the drugs disruption unit, was a gem by Anonymous.

Anonymous’s article is called ‘I like the way MDMA gives you a deep sense of connection to your friends’.

A better title would have been ‘Why I — and many others — take cocaine’.

Some of what he says is breathtaking and not in a good way (emphases mine):

I probably take class-A party drugs such as MDMA or cocaine once a fortnight, and have done since I was 16 (I’m 27 now). I like the way cocaine gives you a new lease of life, like a mushroom in Super Mario, to carry on with a night out. I like the way MDMA softens the edges of reality and gives you a deep sense of connection to your friends that you can never get when you meet them for dinner and they moan about their jobs. I like how when you’re coming down from a pill another person’s touch has a comforting, almost electric capacity. If you’re suffering from exhaustion, anxiety or stress, recreational drugs can give you a bit of a leg-up.

On the other hand:

Drugs can also be a total pain. Ecstasy can make you feel like you’re floating in a cloud, but just as often it’s an admin nightmare: you come up at different times from your friends; only half the people in a group remembered to get sorted and there’s endless hassle at a party trying to get more. Even when you’re having a great time, there’s a self-doubting internal monologue running through the whole process

There’s the key to the whole problem: self-doubt. Entirely normal for that age group, but why do so many young people evade the issue and instead get completely out of their box?

Anonymous doesn’t think the British public are honest and open enough about drugs. I suspect they are not, but Anonymous does go a bit too far in the opposite direction. And most of what he has to say hardly applies to everyone who’s ever fallen on the dark side of drugs.

He describes himself and his friends:

In my demographic – under 30, living in London, job in the creative industries, disposable income – almost everyone is a recreational drugs user.

Where I grew up in south London, it was pretty uncommon to find someone who didn’t at least smoke weed. The children of more middle-class parents were taking cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and mephedrone almost every weekend. These were not reprobates ruining their lives: they were intelligent, bright people who got three As at A-level and went to good universities ...

In some families drug use had less stigma than smoking.

At university, he enjoyed mephedrone — a legal drug no longer available:

Mephedrone was incredibly cheap – about a tenner a gram – and incredibly available. You could order it with next-day delivery to your university PO box. Mephedrone was a drugs phenomenon of which I have never seen the likes before or since. Everyone started doing it

On nights out during this time, everyone would be raging – making out with one another, dancing with total abandon. But the comedowns were immediate and severe, far worse than ecstasy. By 4am people would be lying on the floor sharing the most intimate and personal shames and secrets, as if the drug was somehow compelling them to be honest. Some people called it a truth serum. Friendships were forged in the hot irons of that emotional exposition, as were the most horrendous hangovers.

Mephedrone was banned within two years of it taking off. People talk a lot about one legal high being banned only for another to take its place, but the real legacy of mephedrone was to numb the stigma of harder drugs. By the time I left university, many of the drug abstainers who had tried mephedrone became relaxed about most illegal drugs, too.

This is part of the issue I have with legalising drugs. We do not know what the full effects of many of these compounds, natural or synthetic, will be in the long run. Therefore, there is no justification in being ‘relaxed’ about it.

Even in the short term, he concedes they inhibit normal functioning for the next few days, which is why he takes cocaine:

Ecstasy and mephedrone make it pretty hard to get much done in the days after taking them. You can’t regularly use them and be a successful, functioning adult, so they become a rarer treat once you leave student life. In their 20s most people are overworked: they have second jobs and work incredibly long hours. If they’re going to go out on a Friday night they need a pick-me-up. And that is why cocaine remains the young professional’s drug of choice.

He says:

I also appreciate that’s it’s easy to be blasé about drug use when you’re a well-adjusted middle-class white guy who has never been stopped by the police and has a distant non-social relationship with their drug dealer. For many people, drugs aren’t something they can dip in and out of and separate from their lives. People entangled in the economic and legal realities of drugs – dealers, those convicted of possession, addicts – don’t have the luxury of my relaxed attitude.

Wow, just wow! The arrogance!

A reader, fictionfanatic, replied in the comments below with his own, opposite, experience:

I found this article excruciatingly painful to read. Not because the article is poorly written, in fact, I found the author to be incredibly articulate, but because I have twice overdosed on class A drugs and am now five years in recovery from active addiction

In the early years of my using I had some wonderful experiences on drugs. I agree with a great deal that this writer has to say and I particularly support his argument that drugs should no longer be the ‘taboo’ subject that it is today.

However, there is one sticking point for me. The reference the writer made to drugs giving him the confidence, the laughs and the energy that he doesn’t believe he already possesses.

As an addict I became painfully aware of what drugs had taken away from me when I got clean …

Various drugs do indeed boost confidence, increase energy levels and lighten the mood, however, if a person requires a chemical to do this then even the most casual user is denying themselves the opportunity to have fun, gain confidence and increase energy levels without the use of a drug. I learnt this when I fell threw the doors of a rehab and realised the overly confident, work hard/play hard exhibitionist had disappeared with the class A’s and I was left to rebuild the anxious, self-conscious, shattered shell of a human being that had relied for too many years on drugs to help me be somebody I was not.

Five years later I am now naturally confident and I laugh more than I ever did. I still go out all night sometimes, but I don’t have to pay for it with two days in bed or ‘suicide Tuesdays’.

drugs don’t add to our life experience, they merely mask what isn’t naturally there.

And, one final point… I have never, ever, ever met anyone that is better company when they are on coke. Not once!

I agree. I remember a few acquaintances from the 1980s who took coke. They just were not very nice to be around. They were abrupt, picked arguments and became aggressive. Everything was all about them. Cocaine is not a ‘nice’ drug.

Speaking of the 1980s, I remember reading a lengthy first-person magazine article at that time about a guy from New York who was absolutely broken through cocaine use.

At first, he had it all: great job, superb salary, stunning girlfriend and a beautiful flat. He and his girlfriend eventually started spending more and more on coke because their highs were no longer as long-lasting.

The ending was chilling. He and his girlfriend started having violent arguments. She left him and went into rehab. He stayed behind in the flat. He was having trouble making his mortgage payments. His boss was on the verge of firing him.

The last two days he spent in the flat involved his crawling around on hands and knees sniffing his carpet for any remaining coke dust that might be there. Finally, a friend of his stopped by. The addict fell into his friend’s arms crying like a baby.

By then, he had no job. He hadn’t a penny left. He’d lost the woman he loved.

He had allowed cocaine to destroy him and a beautiful life.

He came out the other side and wrote the article post-rehab. He said he would never be able to recapture what he once had. He was working a rather low-paid job in another industry. But, he said, at least he was clean after a few years of rehab and therapy. He wanted to stay that way but was worried about what the future would hold.

He hoped his story would serve as a warning against drug use, especially cocaine.

No good can come of drugs, particularly this one.

Regardless of whether one smokes tobacco, it is instructive to read of the effects smoking bans have on the leisure industry.

The Pub Curmudgeon has a tally of the numbers of pubs which have closed since July 1, 2007, the date England’s smoking ban came into effect. As I write, the number of defunct pubs now totals 14,192.

Now there are those who do not go to pubs, however, when one thinks how one piece of legislation could cripple such an inherent part of English life and culture, it beggars belief. Think of all the jobs lost through this draconian law.

To be sure, there are other factors, and the Pub Curmudgeon explores these — such as drink drive laws as well as large pub companies’ arrangements with their tenants — but, there is no question that the smoking ban is killing our pubs.

The Pub Curmudgeon says (emphases mine):

This is not a beer blog. It’s a view of life from the saloon bar, not entirely about the saloon bar – which of course is a metaphorical place as well as a physical one. It is as much about political correctness and the erosion of lifestyle freedom as it is about pubs and beer. And, while I enjoy cask beer, I don’t assume that it is the only alcoholic beverage worth consuming.

I’m a non-smoker, but not an antismoker. I believe the owners of private property should be entitled to choose whether or not smoking is permitted on their premises. If any supporter of pubs still thinks the smoking ban was a remotely good idea, just look around at all the pubs that have closed since 1 July 2007. The smoking ban is what prompted the creation of this blog back then and, while it touches on many other topics, it remains essentially its core theme. However, there remains much to be enjoyed and celebrated in pubs despite the effects of the ban.

I condemn drunken driving, but there is no evidence that driving after consuming a small quantity of alcohol is dangerous, and the campaign to discourage driving even within the British legal limit has been a major cause of the decline of the pub trade in recent years. Reducing the current legal limit – a proposal fortunately rejected by the Coalition government – would lead to the closure of thousands more pubs and would not necessarily save a single life. In my view, this is at least as much a threat to pubs as the smoking ban.

When Labour MPs discussed the smoking ban on news programmes, many cited how well local, then afterwards, statewide bans worked in California. Hmm. Not many Britons would compare our climate to California’s.

However, the California comparison seems to have been used in the US as well. Yet, whereas it’s relatively easy to spend time outdoors on a bar or restaurant terrace there for a smoke, the rest of the United States has a variable climate depending on where one lives. This makes the California comparison particularly disingenuous.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis has a few articles on the impact of smoking bans by state or region, including their effect on casino revenue.

In 2009, the St Louis Fed noted that Illinois was the only state at that time which extended the smoking ban to casinos. ‘No Ifs, Ands or Butts: Illinois Casinos Lost Revenue after Smoking Banned’ states:

In the first year after the smoking ban took effect, revenue at Illinois casinos fell sharply from the previous year.4 As shown in the figure, the decline in revenue stands in sharp contrast both to the growth of recent years and to the performance of casinos in nearby states.

The Illinois Casino Gaming Association, they say, disputes that and says the economic downturn was responsible.

I’m not a huge casino fan, but I do have empathy for people who may have lost their jobs there during that time. Casinos have gift shops and restaurants, too. They also generate a lot of tax, some of which gets put back into schools and communities.

The Fed’s chart shows that Illinois — in contrast to Indiana, Iowa and Missouri — experienced a huge drop in revenue in 2008:

Using our estimates of revenue losses and declining attendance at each of the casinos in Illinois, we find that the tax loss was more than $200 million in 2008. For the local communities, the total loss in tax revenue amounted to over $12 million.

The economic effects of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act—specifically with regard to casino revenue and government tax receipts—represent only part of the act’s overall impact. In a full analysis, these costs need to be considered alongside other costs and benefits, including the public health benefits of the legislation. But as policymakers in Illinois and elsewhere ponder the implications of the Illinois smoking ban, the impact on revenue, attendance and taxes should not be ignored.

It’s quite easy for people who live downstate to go to St Louis. Those in the Chicago area can spend an hour or less travelling to Indiana. Iowa is a stone’s throw away for many in western Illinois.

However, back to the California comparison. Another St Louis Fed article from 2008, ‘Clearing the Haze? New Evidence of the Economic Impact of Smoking Bans’ tells us:

A previous article in The Regional Economist (“Peering Through the Haze,” July 2005) described some early evidence on the economic impact of smoke-free laws and suggested that the findings were far from conclusive.1

As more communities have adopted smoke-free laws and more data have been gathered, economists have discovered new, significant findings. As an earlier article suggested, economic costs often focus on specific business categories—those that smokers tend to frequent.

They cite research saying that bar employment has gone down between 4 and 16 per cent. Restaurants have experienced less of a decline, however, it depends on where they are located and whether the majority of their clientele are smokers.

However, the real issue is climate:

Restaurants in warm climates fared better than those in cooler climates. The authors suggest that the reason for this might be that restaurants in warmer climates can more easily provide outdoor seating where smoking is not prohibited … Restaurants that suffered the dual curse of being in regions with colder climates and a high prevalence of smokers suffered statistically significant employment losses, on average.

California, therefore, cannot be used as a template for everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere.

The article features an item about the effects of the smoking ban on restaurants in Columbia, Missouri. It says, in part:

Since January 2007, all bars and restaurants in Columbia, Mo., have been required to be smoke-free. Only some sections of outdoor patios are exempt from the requirement.

Some local businesses have continued to oppose the Columbia Clean Air Ordinance, circulating petitions to repeal the law by ballot initiative. According to local press reports, owners of at least four establishments have cited the smoking ban as a factor in their decision to close their doors in 2007.

Recent data from the city of Columbia show a distinct decline in sales tax receipts at bars and restaurants. After rising at an average rate of 6.8 percent from 2002 through 2006, tax revenue declined at an annual rate of 1.3 percent over the first seven months of 2007. (See graph.) Although the data are still preliminary, initial analysis suggests a 5 percent decline in overall sales revenue at Columbia dining establishments since the implementation of the smoking ban. This estimate takes into account past trends, seasonal fluctuations in the data and an overall slowdown in sales tax revenue in Columbia. 6

Of course, as is true everywhere else, the answer is outdoor patio space:

One owner was quoted as saying, “You have to have a patio to survive.”7 The expenses associated with these renovations may help buffer the sales revenue of these establishments, but they also represent profit losses that are above and beyond the measured sales declines.

Two things are certainly true of smoking bans: they harm business and create unemployment.

Smoking bans appear to be all about health.

However, when we allow state, local or federal government to dictate to private businesses and property owners what we can and cannot do in these premises, we are on a slippery slope that will affect more of us than just the smoking population.

Sean Turner, writing for New Visions Commentary — the National Leadership Network of Conservative African Americans — says we should be concerned about this downward trajectory.

In ‘Property Rights Going Up In Smoke’, he explains (emphases mine):

The attempt by federal, state and local governments and with various anti-smoking organizations to modify our behavior is bad enough.  I believe there is a greater issue relating to smoking bans, however, with which we must concern ourselves.  This concern is the threat to property rights.

A property right is the exclusive authority to determine how a resource is used – whether it’s a car, house, business or any other resource of which one is the owner.  Additionally, private property rights confer an exclusive right to the services of the resource – as well as the right to delegate, sell or rent any portion of the rights by exchange or gift based on mutually agreeable terms.  Conversely, public property is property controlled by the state (government) or a community.

While most would agree with these definitions, many seem to suffer a severe logical disconnect when leaving their homes (i.e., private property) and enter into a restaurant, retail store or other places of business that they do not own (i.e., someone else’s private property). 

Though a business exists to provide a product or service to potential consumers, it should be allowed to do so under the terms of those who own it and not those of the state, or some third party using the state as a tool of coercion.  These terms include the environment in which those products or services are offered.  If the terms are agreeable to both the business owner and potential consumer, a transaction occurs and both parties walk away having benefited.

Just as one lacks the unfettered right to enter into another’s home – much less restrict smoking in it – one also lacks the right to enter into another’s business.  One is given access to the business by the owner who hopes to conduct a transaction, not cede control of the business.

Contrary to popular belief, one does not have the unfettered right to dictate the usage [of] another’s property – whether it be a house or place of business – particularly when one has the ability and choice to avoid that place, and its real or perceived ill-effects.

Few argue the ill-effects of smoking tobacco, as the CDC other organizations continuously point them out.  As someone who believes in the principles of liberty, I find it deplorable when anti-smoking policies are applied to private property and violate the U.S. Constitution.  Not only does this violate the fundamental principal of property rights, but it is also anathema to the concept of a free society.

In the UK, the smoking ban prohibits smoking tobacco in a company vehicle. That is not a decision individual companies make; it is the law. In time, this may be extended to people in their own vehicles where children are passengers.

Wouldn’t it have been better to let companies, pubs, clubs and other privately-owned establishments to decide whether to allow tobacco smoking in or on their property, be it grounds, vehicles or a building?

Incidentally, the Palace of Westminster still has a bar where smoking is allowed. Our politicians are exempt from a law they passed for the rest of us, the people whom they are supposed to serve.

Yesterday’s post discussed supposedly new powers to block extremism in Britain. The problem is that they a) concern freedom of speech and b) do not appear to be too different to what is already in place — ineffectual for real extremists.

Now on to the United States.

How many of my American readers knew that the First Amendment suffered the risk of being altered last month? Thankfully, Republican senators came to the rescue.

It’s been difficult finding media links to this vote held in September 2014. Apparently, the First Amendment is unimportant to left-leaning journalists and their editors.

On the face of it, Senator Edward Markey’s (D-Massachusetts) bill would have restricted wealthy Republican Party backers to supposedly influence elections. The Washington Times explains:

This battle over the First Amendment traces back to a 1970s-era Supreme Court decision that ruled campaign money is equivalent to political speech.

In 2010, the Supreme Court built on that ruling in the Citizens United decision, holding that labor unions and corporations can spend their own money on ads expressing their political views — though they are still prohibited from giving directly to candidates.

Democrats argue that those decisions have imbued corporations with rights the founders intended to belong only to individuals. They say allowing corporations to advocate for positions could end up swaying voters and swinging elections.

Red Mass Group succinctly stated what this would have meant in reality (emphases mine):

S.J. 19 was seen as a response to the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United.  It would make all political speech subject to the regulatory powers of the state.  SNL skits? [A]s Ted Cruz showed, those could be illegal under this amendment.

It seems in many quarters of the US, that is already the case. No centrist or conservative wants to discuss politics there; it’s too fraught with leftists who will take offence that someone actually dares utter disapproval of their statist ideas.

Red Mass Group makes this point:

The fact that just about every Democratic Senator signed on as a cosponsor of this legislation should scare every single American.

Ed Markey should be ashamed.

He should be, but, then, anyone acquainted with Massachusetts politics over the past 30+ years knows what Markey is like. How he keeps getting re-elected is beyond me.

Arizona Central columnist Doug McEachern thinks that this is only the beginning of restricted rights of free speech in America:

the idea is out there now. More important, the frame of mind is out there: The belief that the views of others are so pernicious, so wicked, so Nixonian, that stopping them is more important than free speech itself.

Something so fundamental should have been on every news outlet — online, paper, television. Yet, do a search yourselves and see how hard it is to find anyone other than bloggers discussing it.

Two comments on Behind the Black are instructive:

Peter F: Did this REALLY happen? I didn’t see it on the news … 

Edward: … Where are the pro-conservative, pro-Republican articles, essays, or even the discussions on conservative radio over this proposed anti-American amendment? There has been no public debate, now it is all over, and only the Democrats got any traction on this issue — that the Republicans are evil for opposing campaign reform

The Democratic base is already in favor of shutting up any opposition to Democrat policies, beliefs, or tyrannical takeovers, and they have no problem in exercising shut-uppery, even if it goes against everything that America has stood for for most of a quarter millennium …  

… students across the country are so bold about shutting down conservative speech that they make sure that other prominent conservatives who are likewise invited to speak on campuses are *disinvited*. They see nothing wrong with disinvitating conservatives after an invitation has been accepted, because it is more important to shut them up than it is to be civil

Centrists should also be concerned about where all this will lead.

Libertarians are already be on top of the situation. Reason.com has this to say:

Americans’ right to free speech should not be proportionate to their political power. This is why it’s vital to stop senators from imposing capricious limits on Americans.

It is true that 16 states and the District of Columbia, along with more than 500 cities and towns, have passed resolutions calling on Congress to reinstitute restriction on free speech. Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans support the abolishment of super PACs. So it’s important to remember that one of the many reasons the Founding Fathers offered us the Constitution was to offer a bulwark against “democracy.” Senators may have an unhealthy obsession with the democratic process, and Supreme Court justices are on the bench for life for that very reason.

On Monday, Democrats offered an amendment to repeal the First Amendment in an attempt to protect their own political power. Whiny senators—most of them patrons to corporate power and special interests—engaged in one of the most cynical abuses of their power in recent memory. Those who treat Americans as if they were hapless proles unable to withstand the power of a television commercial are the ones who fear speech. That’s not what the American republic is all about.

So true.

In fact, the more one reads about it — in the little content that there is — the more it seems the debate will rage on.

American men and women have fought wars in order to preserve essential liberties enshrined into law by the country’s Founding Fathers.

One supposes that, now, with the Democratic hegemony in place, such liberties will have to go. Not enough legislators seem to care about people who battled — and died — for universal ideals of liberty.

Keeping track of three countries’ politics — Britain’s, France’s and the United States’ — leads me to conclude that we have the politicians we deserve.

The UK

Britons are dissatisfied with the fallout after last week’s Scottish independence referendum. Scots are now unsure whether they will get devo-max. Elsewhere in the UK, many people of all political persuasions say some form of the Coalition’s pledged devolution or federal government must be established for England. But we wonder whether our notional leaders are being economical with the truth once again?

Our Labour Party’s annual conference is taking place this week in Manchester. Former Labour Party and union official Dan Hodges (who is also Glenda Jackson’s son) asks whether Ed Miliband is ‘really fit to lead our nation?’ He explains why not (emphases mine):

Miliband’s conference speeches have tended to be a reflection of his broader leadership: tactical successes, but strategic failures. On each occasion he has arrived at his party’s annual gathering under pressure. And he has departed on a high, sometimes even managing to set the political agenda for a month or two. But then the conference sugar-high has worn off, and the agenda has moved on. The big strategic questions – on leadership, the economy, Labour’s political direction – are left unanswered.

Fellow Briton and Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley says we need better political leaders:

Dare I say it, but I suspect that policy is being made up on the hoof! And that’s a particularly troubling prospect when we’re talking about the constitution of the country – the thing that frames decision-making and defines the nation state. Put it this way, do you really, really think that our current political leaders are the calibre of men capable of reframing the way our democracy works? Does Ed Miliband, with his little constitutional convention, strike you as the Benjamin Franklin of his era? Or David Cameron as its Robert Peel, bringing fresh powers to the shivering masses? Nick Clegg at least seems aware of his total irrelevance. The man who failed to pass even the most lukewarm variety of proportional representation knows that he ain’t no Lloyd George.

He concludes:

If we had strong leadership capable of building consensus and delivering results, do you think we’d be having what promises to be a long, boring, confused conversation about constitutional reform? If parts of Glasgow weren’t so depressed and blighted by poverty and socialist incompetence, do you think they’d have voted to leave the UK? If immigration was under control and the EU slimmed-down, do you think Ukip would exist? Oh for a politician who simply says what he/she wants to do and delivers it. The future of our great Union would rarely be called into question again.

It would be hard to disagree with either his or Hodges’s perspectives.

When was the last time we had a statesman? Like them or not, it was during the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Today’s politicians aren’t even close to that. On a superficial level, you can see that just by looking at them. They look and act like middling executives or local government officials. And why is every government matter so complicated? Because they make it so. We elect people who are supposed to be the best in the country at what they do and all we get is disingenuous waffle.

Unfortunately, there is no one in the House of Commons truly fit to be a party leader or, sadly, even an MP. Not one of the 600-odd is impressive, world-stage material, even the handful I don’t mind listening to.

The US

I haven’t followed US politics in such great detail lately, but I was somewhat surprised to see former Republican Senator Bob Dole, age 91, appear on stage at a political rally in Kansas at the weekend.

During his time, Bob Dole was considered a middling politician by those outside of his native Kansas. Today, he looks statesmanline, even if he is now confined to a wheelchair. Many Americans today would agree, judging from the comments following the article I read.

How times have changed.

Once again, it’s hard to come up with a single senator or congressman who is impressive. The same goes for the past few presidents, which takes us back to Reagan.

And, just as in the UK, the same old people keep getting re-elected term after term. Why? Can’t the Democrats and Republicans find better candidates? It seems they’re all on the gravy train together in one massive, comfortable ‘combine’ (machine politics).

France

RMC’s talking point on Monday’s current affairs shows revolved around the fact that 8m people watched former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s television interview Sunday night on France2 where he announced his re-entry into politics.

The hosts asked their panellists and listeners whether Sarkozy had changed, whether he was still electable after his campaign financing scandal and so on. And if the UMP (his party) don’t choose him again, what other UMP parliamentarians would fit the bill? Oh my, was that an unanswerable question! No one in the UMP is impressive.

It’s gobsmacking that the French are coming full circle to seeing Sarkozy as being able to save the country once again. It was only in 2012 when they turned their backs on him in disgust for François Hollande (PS, Parti Socialiste) who now has the lowest popularity ratings of any French president in history. I saw that coming as soon as he was elected.

Last week, some in the PS mooted putting forward disgraced but still highly esteemed Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the picture as a possible presidential candidate in 2017. One of RMC’s hosts said, ‘It sounds weird, but, after all, he is one of the world’s best economists!’

How low must we sink as a people before we start putting our thinking caps on and getting some morally decent and plain-speaking politicians who present a clear, concise plan and follow through with it?

Where are our leaders? Where are our statesmen?

Maybe our societies are just too decadent and perhaps we are too apathetic to deserve better?

To judge from popular home pages (e.g. Yahoo), it seems all most of us care about are celebrities, reality television and sports. It’s getting harder and harder to find national news on some of these home pages.

I read one rationale for this shift which was that people just cannot be bothered with reading the news.

If so, we Westerners are in more trouble than we realise.

On Thursday, July 31, 2014, Meriam Ibrahim and her family arrived in New Hampshire to begin a new life.

My last post on this lady concerned her exodus from Sudan to Rome to meet Pope Francis. She, her husband Daniel Wani and their two children spent a week in and around the city, meeting other Christians and sightseeing. That week helped to provide a degree of normality for the family. Their Italian hosts and sponsors — diplomats, senior politicians, charity workers and journalists — ensured the family were well looked after.

Of the week in Italy, Ibrahim said via journalist Antonella Napoli:

We have been very happy here. We have felt like a real family.

From Rome, the family flew to Philadelphia. There, Mayor Michael Nutter met with them privately. He lauded Ibrahim as a ‘world freedom fighter’ and ‘courageous, grace-filled woman’. Nutter has provisionally invited her to appear publicly with the Pope should the pontiff appear in Philadelphia next year.

The final destination that day was Manchester, New Hampshire, where Wani’s brother and extended family live. Manchester is home to 500 Sudanese, a number of whom attend the Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church. Although Wani is a Catholic, it would appear that the Christian community bonds are strong in Manchester. The Revd Joel Kruggel, pastor of  the city’s Bethany Covenant Church, said that his congregation will work with the Sudanese to welcome and help accustom the family to their new life in the United States.

Wani is relieved to return home to his family in Manchester. He and his family fled during his childhood when civil war in Sudan made life untenable there. He became a US citizen but returned to South Sudan as an adult.

Wani married Ibrahim in 2011; together, they started a profitable business. Relatives from Ibrahim’s father’s side found out about the couple’s success. According to a Daily Mail report, a half-brother and half-sister whom she barely knew then brought charges of apostasy against this lifelong Ethiopian Orthodox lady in the hopes that they would be given the business if she were imprisoned. And there began Ibrahim’s nightmare which lasted nearly a year.

Now the couple have a chance to start a new business in a new country with the support of the Wani family and new American friends.

It’s a marvellous good news story and an incredibly happy ending. So many people from Sudan, Italy and the United States worked tirelessly to make a distant dream a distinct reality.

My thanks to reader Lleweton for keeping me apprised of the situation by sending me links to online articles — greatly appreciated!

May I wish all my American readers — wherever they are in the world today — a happy, fun and safe Fourth of July.

This year, I cannot help but think of Ann Coulter’s recent musings on football — soccer — particularly as the 2014 World Cup plays on as I write.  This woman has a new future as a female PJ O’Rourke. She is certainly funnier, although unlike O’Rourke, unintentionally.

Another lady with a similar name, Anna, has listed a few important but little-known American anniversaries which occur on July 4. These concern the history of peoples as far apart as Wisconsin and the Phillipines — along with others.

Enjoy!

Adlai E Stevenson II (Wikipedia)Before sharing his concise quote, it’s worth giving readers a potted history of Adlai Stevenson II.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson II was born in 1900 in Los Angeles, California, although he was raised in Illinois and educated on the East Coast. The Stevensons were prominent Democrats. His grandfather, Adlai Ewing Stevenson I, served as vice president in Grover Cleveland’s administration. Adlai II’s father, Lewis, served as Illinois Secretary of State between 1914 and 1917.

Stevenson practised law and held advisory positions in Franklin D Roosevelt’s administration. After the Second World War he served as an American delegate to the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations. He was elected Governor of Illinois in 1949 and served a four-year term.

He was known for his intelligence, humility, integrity and oratory. Stevenson was one of a handful of men who entered politics because he genuinely wanted to serve his fellow citizens and improve their lives. He had loyal supporters both among the general public and in the Democratic Party.

In 1952, Stevenson ran as the Democratic candidate for President. My mother voted for him, which is how I came to hear the name in my childhood. However, Stevenson had his detractors in the media and the Republican Party. Some perceived his different way of thinking as being too remote. Voters couldn’t connect with it. Columnist Joe Alsop called Stevenson an ‘egghead’ for his physical and intellectual traits. His television appearances did not show him in his best light. He was also critical of the McCarthy hearings. As a result, Republican Dwight D Eisenhower won the election handily and went on to win re-election in 1956.

Although Jack and Bobby Kennedy had no time for Stevenson, they felt obliged to give him the ambassadorship of the United States to the United Nations in 1960. As the Vietnam War escalated, Stevenson hoped a diplomatic resolution could be achieved via the UN. (It seems he was an idealist and really believed that the UN was a force for good.) Stevenson died in 1965 during a walk through Grosvenor Square in London.

Now for Stevenson’s quote (H/T The Heidelblog‘s Heideltweets). It perfectly illustrates the way he thought about life:

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.

How true. And, using this quote as a criterion, how many of us can say that our respective societies are free? Not many.

In closing, it’s also worth mentioning Stevenson’s religious beliefs. He was a Unitarian but also felt comfortable with Presbyterianism, his grandfather’s denomination. The Revd Richard Graebel, pastor of the Presbyterian church in Springfield, Illinois, which Stevenson occasionally attended, said:

… Stevenson’s Unitarian rearing had imbued him with the means of translating religious and ethical values into civic issues.

A historian remarked of Stevenson that:

religion never disappeared entirely from his public messages – it was indeed part of his appeal.

If only we had more politicians like Stevenson nowadays.

My thanks to reader and writer Lleweton who sent me news that Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag — held in a Sudanese prison for so-called apostasy from Islam — is now a free woman.

Legislators from the Republican Party in the United States have managed to persuade Sudan’s courts to liberate this young wife, mother and successful entrepreneur from prison. Ibrahim — despite her Muslim-sounding name — was deserted at a young age by her Islamic father and raised as Ethiopian Orthodox by her Christian mother. At no time was she a Muslim.

When I last wrote on the case on June 17, Oklahoma’s Republican US senator Jim Inhofe led 20 of his peers in asking Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat, to grant her and her family asylum in the United States.

Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is also a Christian and has been an American citizen since 2005.

The Associated Press reports that Congressman Chris Smith would like to see Mariam, Daniel and their two children living in safety in the United States.

The Independent (UK) has a recent photo of an emaciated Ibrahim. With God’s mercy, may she be restored to her former health and beauty.

The Christian Post (CP) reports that Sudan’s appeals court threw the case out for insufficient evidence. Sudan’s state news agency Suna confirms the decision.

The CP adds that Republican Congressmen Trent Franks (Arizona) and Frank Wolf (Virginia) have written as follows:

We request that the U.S. State Department, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, review granting Mrs. Ibrahim Significant Public Benefit Parole, asylum, or refugee status, as appropriate. In short, we urge that every legal means necessary be exhausted to ensure that she and her young children are provided safe haven.

I wholeheartedly agree, particularly as Wani is a longstanding American citizen.

God has heard the prayers of His faithful from around the world and has seen that justice be done.

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