Now here was an interesting idea

Referendums are becoming a risk to human rights – here’s how the EU’s single market could solve this

The basic idea here is that government by referendum is essentially an abandonment of the responsibilities of government, namely to protect all members of the community. Referendums happen when either (a) a government can’t get the agreement of its own members for a course of action, or (b) when it wants to absolve itself of all responsibility for the consequences of a dubious course of action.

A referendum is basically an instant opinion poll of a voting population about some issue of consequence at that moment in time. It’s not a measured consideration of the pros and cons, it’s a snap poll.

Vulnerable to this are minorities whose rights are put up for a referendum vote. Most common in Europe recently are rights for gay marriage. Some have succeeded, most have failed. Gay people have been offered up for crucifixion at the hands of religious bigots by a simple, popular vote, which depends not on reason, but on the whim of the moment.

The article makes this point:

Making an opinion poll a mandate for government policy, especially where that policy relates to human rights, is an abrogation of government responsibility. If it turns out not to have been in the interests of the country, who’s to blame? The government or an opinion poll?

There are also strong arguments that referenda are merely an expression of majoritarianism, devoid of checks and balances. In the recent Brexit referendum, 37 per cent of the electorate voted to leave the EU. The rest either voted remain or didn’t vote. It’s hard to fathom in what way the outcome of that referendum represents the public will when 63 per cent did not vote to leave the EU. Could the death penalty be restored on 37 per cent of the vote? Or the recriminalisation of abortion or homosexuality?

The problem with referendums – certainly without extensive safeguards – is that they can use the veneer of democracy to undermine a democratic society. Referendums and human rights do not mix.

I am very much concerned about the consequences of referenda on gay people. We have much to lose. If a referendum can confirm our rights this year, can another referendum deny them the next, according to the whim of whatever majority rules at the time? Gay folk are a minority and can never become a majority. So we should stay vulnerable to majority whim?

We see the same argument with Brexit. The first referendum narrowly voted to leave. Of the electorate, they were a minority of 37%. The rest either voted to stay, or didn’t bother to vote, suggesting they were content with the status quo, or at least not so upset they wanted to change it. Yet the Brextremists barge on, confident in the support of the British public which they do not have.

Was that referendum result legitimate? Should a second referendum be given to allow the electorate to change its mind?

I think it should. I think the first referendum was a very bad idea, and David Cameron rightly resigned when he lost it. He should never have had it. But since he did, we deserve a rethink. And a chance to change our minds. If the voters are so bloody minded as to reject relationships with Europe, let then have their forthright say. If they want to reconsider, likewise.

And after, let’s reconsider how we use referendums. Should they pass by simple majority? Should one be sufficient, or should it be followed up by a second one in the event of a narrow majority in the first?

You can get anyone to vote any other person’s rights away on a whim given enough stress and provocation. There should be a cooling off period of several years between them, if we use them at all.

But why the hell can government not do its job?

An Independent view of the gay cake

The Supreme Court got it wrong – refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding should count as discrimination

I’m not sure The Independent got it right here. It’s one thing to force a governmental or corporate entity into complying with equal rights legislation, it’s a bit different forcing a mom and pop operation to tuck away their prejudices, grit their teeth and do what makes them seethe.

Yes, the bakers were unquestionably discriminating against a gay couple. I discriminate against bigots and wouldn’t give them them the time of day. Let alone a cake. At bottom, as individuals, if we do not have the right to discriminate against those who do not share our values, to chose who we associate with, buy from or sell to, we become prisoners of the state imposing those values.

Suppose I were a gay cafe owner, and a bunch of obnoxious Christians wanted to come in and badmouth gays while ordering coffee. Should I not be within my rights to kick their sorry arses out?

I think we are dealing with a matter of scale. Large scale discrimination is bad, small scale is regrettable, but if you bring down the majesty of the law against it, it restricts our individual freedoms.

What the fuck???

Il Duce of the West Wing likes to fantasise

Trump derided for hanging gaudy painting of himself with past presidents in White House

Donald Trump has made a striking addition to the White House’s art collection – a painting of himself hanging out with Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Abraham Lincoln.

And Eisenhower, Roosevelt, both Bushes, Ford. I must admit, I originally mistook the depiction of Eisenhower to be Jimmy Carter, till I realised no Democratic presidents were included.

I doubt any past Democratic president would want to give Trump the time of day, but I suspect few of the Republicans would, either. Maybe Nixon would recognise a fellow conspirator, an appropriate companion to Trump in a portrait, but the rest of this GOP gaggle, while many did some bad things, weren’t odious human beings, and most would gag at the thought of being included in this… god what is the appropriate word? Travesty? Pastiche? Den of thieves?

Unlike the present incumbent, a monument to Narcissism, whom history will judge badly. The most unbelievable thing about Trump in that portrait is the grin. Unless that’s what he looks like when he cheats someone. I see him more like this:

The thunderous noise you hear is not a hurricane or tsunami. It’s past GOP presidents spinning in their graves, if they’re in ’em, or having a conniption fit if they still aren’t.

Ingsoc, by the way, is a reference to the totalitarian party running Oceania, in George Orwell’s “1984”. Seems a long way in the past now, but past is but prologue to the future. Orwell may have been mistaken about time and location, but he made a lot of sense.

From Google, a short precis:

In the book 1984, an astonishing dystopian classic, the English Socialist Party(Ingsoc in NewSpeak) has three sacred principles:
  • Newspeak. Newspeak is the official language of all party members, as the purpose is to eliminate all thoughtcrime.

  • Doublethink. …

  • The mutability of the past.

Newspeak doesn’t really apply to Trump. He can barely express himself in oldspeak. He uses English like a foreign language because he can’t think coherently.

But the other two… now that’s a different kettle of fish. Doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your head, and fervently believe that both are true. Or simple denial of inconvenient facts. That is Trump all over. For example, his belief that he won a huge victory in the 2016 election, despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Or that his inaugural crowd in the Mall was the biggest ever, despite photos showing it to be smaller than Obama’s.

As for the mutability of the past, this is Trump’s favourite. It means he can lie about anything that happened in the past, deny it ever happened, and miraculously, because of his powers as Trump, president or whatever, the past changes! What was becomes fake, what is Trump’s fantasy becomes the new Truth.

The man is a monster, and he is perfectly capable of devouring the US if Americans don’t stand up to him. I’m not optimistic. The entire Republican party has caved in to Trump. There is not a single sitting member with any honour or integrity. So it’s up to Democrats to bring this would-be tyrant down. To do that, they need votes.

It’s going to be a tense three weeks.

A wise president who knows he is ignorant…

… surrounds himself with knowledgeable staff to inform his decision making.

Not Trump.

Donald Trump suggests he does not know if climate change is manmade, saying: ‘It’ll change back again’

But then, he’s both unwise, and pig-ignorant, and arrogantly self-confident that anything he doesn’t believe to be a fact, whenever it suits him to, is either fake news or not worth knowing. And he surrounds himself by like minded henchmen whose sole purpose is to say yes to him, whatever stumbles out of that vacant mind.

“It’ll change back again”, says the twirp, and as he’s Trump, anything he chooses not to accept as a fact is by definition fake. Contrariwise, anything he accepts as a fact must be true, no matter contradicted by reality it is.

The man’s a cross between a huckster and and a mobster. That’s why he admires Russian, Chinese and North Korean strongmen. It’s what he would ideally like to be, were it not for that pesky US democracy due process and rule of law. To be fair, democracy and rule of law in the US might not survive his regime. If he wins the midterms in three weeks, kiss U democracy goodbye.

In two minds

Bakers in gay cake case urge other Christians to ‘take their stand’

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that it is not discrimination for a self-reportedly Christian baker to refuse to bake and decorate a cake with the words “Support Gay Marriage” on it. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that refuses to legalise marriage between two gay people. In contrast, the Republic of Ireland approved gay marriage in a referendum in 2015. And although the Irish in the South have been known to be more Catholic than the pope, they are certainly more progressive than their Protestant neighbours to the North.

The Supreme Court argued that the bakers weren’t discriminating against the person who ordered the cake, they were exercising their free speech right in refusing to be forced to mouth something they did not believe in. They had the right to refuse to “say” something they could never mean. But were they being forced to mouth anything?

They would have been decorating the cake in the privacy of their bakery. They weren’t making a forced public announcement of their support for gay marriage when in fact they don’t support it.

Consider the implications. Does this now mean that if a printer objects to the message of a book, pamphlet or leaflet, they can refuse to print it? Probably. After all, publishers refuse to print lots of stuff by would-be authors, and that’s never been flagged as discrimination. Just editorial judgement.

Suppose we reverse the discrimination. If an atheist baker refused to bake and decorate a cake with a Christian cross on it, wouldn’t that be regarded as a bit odd? In fact, something like this actually happened. The photographic agency hired to take pictures of the Christian owners of this bakery after their Supreme Court victory in the “gay cake” casehas refused to hand over the images, saying the company was “standing up against discrimination”. They refunded the fee instead. Was that ok?

I think it’s impossible and unreasonable to stamp out every incident and expression of discrimination and bigotry. Every individual will have his or her own pride and prejudices, and there should be some wiggle room within the law for them to say what they think, or refuse to say what they don’t agree with.

So honestly, as a gay person, I am not vastly concerned if some high street baker won’t bake me a gay cake. There are plenty of other bakers. But the baker who discriminates against me shouldn’t be surprised to get some push-back. I certainly wouldn’t dream of giving them my business again, or buying so much as a crumb of their produce, and I’d tell everyone I know about it so they could do the same.

The photographic agency admitted its action was tit for tat. Well, that’s the only way bigots will learn that there are consequences for discriminating recklessly against people their religion teaches them to hate. I think the Supreme Court was being realistic in supporting their right to refuse business, and I can see how piping icing in the words “Support Gay Marriage” would grate on their bible-thumping nerves, but the corollary is we have a right to withhold our patronage of their business, because of how they treat us.

They have a right to their opinion. And we have a right to react to it appropriately, by expressing criticism and boycotting their business.

And over to the insanity on the other side of the Atlantic…

…where Republicans are poised to prove they either approve of the sexual molestation of women, or do not think it matters for presidents or Supreme Court appointees. Either way, they show no respect for women, or the judiciary that will be expected to sit in judgement on cases of sexual molestation.

I despair of Republican female senators, as they betray their own sex for politics. Brett Kavanaugh is a serial molester, a liar who perjured himself in front of the Senate, a temperamental and angry bigot, and that is what Trump and his cronies want on the Supreme Court.

You can shortly say goodbye to women’s and gay rights in the US. Racial minorities my soon find themselves losing what civil rights progress has been achieved. Kavanaugh is a right-wing pro-Christianist. He may not actually believe in their self-righteous evangelical and extremist religion, I don’t know, but he knows he was chosen to vote to enable the far-right agenda of restricting liberties and enforcing religious beliefs.

So why should it matter to us in our relatively progressive United-for-the-moment-Kingdom?

Simply because the US is, or was, an important democratic ally, a member of NATO, and supporter of freedom and democracy. At least in some countries, if not in others. Ok, the US was never perfect and neither was Britain. Both committed gross atrocities, for example in Iraq. What was important was they had ideals about human rights and freedoms, even if they did not always live up to them consistently. Having an ideal, and failing even on many occasions, is far better than discarding those ideals from the start.

So, no more ideals about religious, social and political liberty, not with this Republican misgovernment. No more freedom of reproductive choice for women. They are stepping backwards as fast as they can. They are no longer a reliable ally sharing certain democratic ideals, believing in human rights. If the US becomes increasingly hostile to women’s and gay rights, increasingly supportive of racial discrimination, and promotes religious discrimination against anyone who isn’t a rightwing evangelical Christian, this doesn’t help us maintain sanity here. It destabilises the liberal consensus that has governed the West in recent years, and opens a door to fascist and nationalistic fanaticism.

They say history repeats itself, but that is only true if we allow it, and right now, the GOP in the US, and the Tories in the UK, are heading in that direction without a care in the world. Sod ’em.

Catastrophe, calamity and Conservatives

What’s the difference? Who knows? Just different words for an ongoing disaster. There is no good solution to Brexit in the short or medium term. Whichever way it goes down, it’s going to hurt. Oh, in the very long run, there will be domestic recovery, at least for some. The downside is that Europe and our allies will be weakened and destabilised, which is music to Putin’s ears. The only country that gains from Brexit is Russia.

The only way to avoid the ill-advised consequences of an operation like UKectomy is to avoid it altogether, and that is precisely the course the Tories are determined to avoid.  Among the likely consequences is the break-up of the UK itself, which will go down as May’s contribution to British history. And it’s not just Northern Ireland that might get separated, it’s Scotland as well.

It was after all, the English and Welsh who voted to take us out of Europe and precipitate the current disaster. Northern Ireland voted to stay in by 55.8:44.2 (the Unionists voted with the English), as did Scotland by a strong 62:38 majority to remain. It makes jettisoning England and Wales a more attractive proposition than it has been in the past, as one cannot trust the judgement of those voters, who put the Tory government in office in the first place.

As it is, where I sit in Scotland, the SNP are the majority party, and the behaviours of both Tories and Labour nationally make then unpalatable as repositories of a responsible vote. Which leaves the SNP as the Lib-Dems are pretty flaky to. So to take that to its logical conclusion, perhaps May has ushered in the time for Scottish independence from an England and Wales that cannot bring themselves to vote responsibly.

I have never until this year seriously considered voting for independence. I have believed in a United Kingdom. It was a leader in the rescue of Europe from fascism and communism, and its membership of the EU strengthened that organisation. Now the Tories, and their English, Welsh and Ulster Unionist supporters are foolishly hell-bent on disrupting it. In doing so, the UK becomes irrelevant.

So I begin to think, let’s leave the UK to the Little Englanders. Then we can apply for re-entry into Europe. Unless, of course, sanity somehow prevails in the end, they hold a second referendum, and Remain wins.

A Tory Yahoo

Image result for jeremy hunt

This is Jeremy Hunt, Her Majesty’s Foreign Secretary. He proved his worth to Her Majesty’s government and the Tory party,  by choosing, at the Conference of Yahoos this week, to compare membership of the EU to occupation by the USSR.

Apparently it went down well locally, with lots of howls, grunting and hairy arm-waving at the conference, but aside from Tory knucklewalkers, it puzzled a lot of folk, who realise that the USSR and the EU are not mirror institutions.