Friday, 3 May 2013

Oh, Had I a Golden Thread - Pete Seeger

Happy Birthday to Pete Seeger; an inspiration to generations of optimists. Thanks for the music.

Oh, had I a golden Thread
And needle so fine
I've weave a magic strand
Of rainbow design
Of rainbow design.

In it I'd weave the bravery
Of women giving birth,
In it I would weave the innocence
Of children over all the earth,
Children of all earth.

Far over the waters
I'd reach my magic band
Through foreign cities,
To every single land,
To every land.

Show my brothers and sisters
My rainbow design,
Bind up this sorry world
With hand and heart and mind,
Hand and heart and mind.

Far over the waters
I'd reach my magic band
To every human being
So they would understand,
So they'd understand.

Words and music by Pete Seeger (1958)
(c) 1959 by Stormking Music Inc.

Ideology, Tolstoy and Billy Bragg.

They were moved by fear or vanity, they rejoiced or were indignant, they argued and supposed that they knew what they were doing and did it of their own free will, whereas they were the involuntary tools of history, working out a process concealed to them but intelligible to us. Such is the inevitable lot of men of action, and the higher they stand in the social hierarchy the less free they are.” (Tolstoy, L. War and Peace, Penguin Classics, pp811).

Tolstoy’s description of the Russian and French Generals in 1812 could just as easily be used to depict many political events over the last 3 centuries. Following the Russian victory the claims by the Generals that they had lured Napoleon into Russia in order that his armies would perish in the harsh winter took precedence over historical fact (they had tried at every opportunity to prevent Napoleon entering Russian territory; it was Napoleons hubris that led him deeper into Russia where his superior army was defeated by cold). Almost two centuries later Reaganomics ‘rescued’ the US economy from high inflation and interest rates and secured economic prosperity.
Reagan came to power promising to reduce the burden of government on the people of America "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." Reagan embraced the theory of "supply side economics," which postulated that tax cuts encouraged economic expansion which in turn increased the government's revenue at a lower tax rate. He was also an advocate of reducing restrictions on business and increasing defense spending.
Reagan ended power with the USA in its 6th year of economic prosperity. The economic gains, however, came at a cost of a record annual deficit and a ballooning national debt. The budget deficit was exacerbated by a trade deficit. Americans continued to buy more foreign-made goods than they were selling. Reagan, however adhered to his free trade stance, and signed an agreement to that effect with Canada. He also signed, reluctantly, trade legislation designed to open foreign markets to U.S. goods.
After he had left office Reagan reflected on his time as president saying "I believe the same things I believed when I came to Washington, and I think those beliefs have been vindicated by the success of the policies to which we hold fast."
The belief in free trade that meant that the US economy is now dependant on imports from China; the belief in low taxes that led to fiscal deficits and national debt; the belief in small government that led to massive expansion of military power; the belief in democracy and freedom that was expressed in support for pro-US dictators and the imposition of proxy governments in Haiti, the Philippines and across the Middle-East.
Economic prosperity occurred in the USA during the 1980s in spite of Reagan, not because of him. Furthermore this prosperity was not shared by all. 30% of the black population lived below the poverty line; a situation that has given rise to further social problems.

Ideology is a dangerous thing, especially when you don’t or can’t understand the ramifications of all that you do in the name of it. Reagan believed that his economic policy saved the USA. It may have contributed to the rich getting richer but the nation grew poorer (OK GDP grew, but not as fast as the national debt and wages of regular people stagnated). Similarly IDS believes that by cutting welfare people will be driven back into work. Osborne believes that he can reduce taxes, reduce the fiscal deficit and increase standards in healthcare and education.
I can’t agree with Tolstoy when he speaks about an inevitable course of history (a process dictated by whom?). However I do concur that the higher up the social hierarchy an individual is, the more likely they are to be bound by social convention to maintain the status quo. If we all work together to build the foundations of a better future for our children; if we seek to further the interests of the common man (and woman) then surely we can succeed where vested interests fail? The careerist politicians do not hold all the answers; they all too often are blinded by their ideology; taking historical fact and molding it to meet their own interests and needs. People need to stake their claim in their own governance. Or the rich will carry on getting richer and the rest of us will return to serfdom.


When one voice rules the nation
Just because they're top of the pile
Doesn't mean their vision is the clearest
The voices of the people
Are falling on deaf ears
Our politicians all become careerists

They must declare their interests
But not their company cars
Is there more to a seat in parliament
Than sitting on your arse
And the best of all this bad bunch
Is shouting to be heard
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

Outside the patient millions
Who put them into power
Expect a little more back for their taxes
Like school books, beds in hospitals
And peace in our bloody time
All they get is old men grinding axes

Who've built their private fortunes
On the things they can rely
The courts, the secret handshake
The Stock Exchange and the old school tie
For God and Queen and Country
All things they justify
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

God bless the civil service
The nations saving grace
While we expect democracy
They're laughing in our face
And although our cries get louder
The laughter gets louder still
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

Above the sound of ideologies,
Above the sound of ideologies,
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Do the Chimes of Freedom flash for the refugees of Syria?

 The Civil War in Syria is more than a proxy-conflict between acolytes of Russia, China and the USA. It is a story of human suffering beyond imagination;
“Look. This. My son has shrapnel in his face, he can’t breathe through his nose and he cannot hear any more. He needs an operation. But we are living this nightmare. Help us. For God’s sake please help us.” (World Vision blog)

The Zataari camp on the Jordanian border is struggling with the humanitarian response required to care for the number of the refugees. There are officially 160,000 people living here making it the largest refugee camp in the world and the fifth biggest city in Jordan. 

This camp is located in a desert; consequently there are huge difficulties in supplying water and hygienic toilet facilities. The standard ratio for lavatories in a humanitarian crisis camp is 1:20. The current ratio for lavatories in Zataari is 1:100. This is not just a question of comfort; water-borne disease is the single biggest threat to life in these situations.

The humanitarian response has even more difficulties within the Syrian borders; neither the government nor the rebels recognise the role of an independent charity offering aid.
“Because it’s a polarised crisis, everyone considers that if you are not with them you are against them. So everybody might consider you their enemy if they have that in mind.” (Syrian Red Crescent)

The politics of the Syrian crisis are every bit as complicated as the humanitarian challenge. The UN is a political organisation as well as a humanitarian one; as a consequence the aid response is hampered by the paralysis of the Security Council.

“With new refugee arrivals outpacing the capacity of the United Nations to receive and register them, a vulnerable family can wait three months before they start getting official help.” CAFOD blog

The people suffering in this region are the victims of a bloody war between rival political factions. They are ordinary human beings in need of help; they are teachers, accountants, shopkeepers and cleaners. They are mothers, fathers and children fleeing from violence and death towards hunger and misery.

3 million Syrian people have fled their homes. They need food, shelter & medical care. Text DEC to 70000 to donate £5 or DONATE via

Chimes of Freedom (Bob Dylan)
Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
In the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden while the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsaked
Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly at stake
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An’ the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for-granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed
An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting
Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones
Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting
Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale
An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music