Month: June 2015

Protected: Self pitying

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America Is Plagued With Social Illness

The United States of America commands the attention of the globe, the world’s largest superpower and a behemoth for embedded national pride. The US calls itself the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’, but whilst the United States has been busy monitoring other nation’s on-goings it’s forgotten to keep its own house in order.

The latest shooting in Charleston, North Carolina highlighted two major issues plaguing the United States; gun violence and racism. Starting with gun violence, citizens of the US are protected by the second amendment to possess firearms, it’s considered their second most important right. While the founding fathers were open to renegotiating the constitution as society progressed, many Americans want to keep the original document intact at the great cost of human safety.

All statistics show that gun control results in fewer violent gun crimes, the United States homicide rate is thirty times higher than other developed countries where there is significant control. Every year, around 10,000 Americans are killed by gunfire but yet the right to have a firearm is more important. In recent years, we’ve seen instances of people easily slaughtered by one mad man with a gun, sometimes even children, and the response is always the same; a spike in gun sales and tacit rhetoric from politicians. There have been over 150 school shootings in the United States since Dunblane led to the UK outlawing handguns in the late 1990s, in the same time there have only been two spree shootings in Britain of any kind.

The issue of racism is also depressingly prevalent across the pond. Anybody, purporting that this latest shooting had nothing to do with race is kidding themselves, black people in the United States are getting a disgustingly rough deal.  If recent occurrences in Charleston and Ferguson don’t perfectly illustrate the extent of the issue then perhaps these frightening facts will;

  • Black Americans only possess 2.8% of the nation’s wealth, despite making up 13% of the nation’s population.
  • The recession hit black Americans three times harder than white Americans.
  • Schools of 90% non-white students are $700+ underfunded per pupil.
  • White Americans use more drugs than black Americans but black people are arrested for drug possession three times as much.
  • Black men receive 19.5% longer prison sentences for similar crimes committed by white men.
  • Employers are 30% less likely to call a candidate back for an interview if their name sounds ‘African-American’.
  • 73% of white people are homeowners, compared to 44% of black people.
  • The gap between median income for white and black people has tripled in the US in the last 25 years.
  • Black people are shot and killed by police officers, almost twice as often as any other ethnic group.
  • 88% of black people believe there is anti-black discrimination in the US, 57% of white people agree.

This sort of social and institutional racism is disgusting. And unfortunately combined with the US’s ridiculous gun legislation, it contributed to the recent events in Charleston.

No change… Black inequality has grown even worse under Obama’s tenure

It might seem odd that a developed nation, the ‘land of the free’ and the ‘home of the brave’ could ever possess this sort of social illness in 2015 but it all comes back to attitude. The United States thrives off of patriotism and theism, these two doctrines are reinforced at every single step of the way and can lead to some very socially right thinking. The latter is not really an issue in the development of heinous gun laws and societal racism but the extreme patriotism of the United States’ citizens has been hindering them for years.

Star-spangled banners fly from every other building in the US, phrases like ‘God bless America’ are national slogans and all of this has led to an arrogant complacency. A widespread belief that the US has got its house in order and its role is to now monitor and fight the issues faced by nations elsewhere in the world. Founded from a genocide of the continent’s indigenous people, the nation founded an historic right to bear arms, which has never been contested because of the fabled status afforded to the founding fathers. Subsequently this law is protected by a widespread sense of national pride and the fear that any move against their inaugural legislation would be considered a form of treason.

This deep-running national arrogance has led to a slip away from the monumental Civil Rights movement and allowed the march towards equal rights for ethnic minorities to stall and actually regress. The United States may be a world superpower, it may be an economic powerhouse but it’s duty is not to be the world’s police or the globe’s surveillance but to protect its people from unrestrained gun violence spawning from archaic laws and institutional and societal racism that robs 13% of US citizens of the ‘American dream’ we hear so much about it. Nationalist rhetoric is all well and good but the US government needs to put its nation back at the heart of its decision-making. It says a lot that these problems are getting bigger and bigger even in the seventh year of the presidency of America’s first non-white leader.

MSM Don’t Kill People, Stigma Does

Recent reports have revealed that intake of new blood donors in Britain is down by a massive 40%. While news outlets speculate that a year’s deferral for people with new tattoos and piercings is to blame, I’d contest that a bigger reason for the shortfall is the yearly ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men (MSM). There are two reasons why this archaic law is so detrimental; firstly, it can cost people their lives. By snubbing donations by MSM, we are simply sanctioning people to death. Just one single donation can be administered to as many as three people; a quarter of people will need a blood transfusion in their life time, making the demand for blood transfusions around 16 million in the UK alone. However, confronted with that demand, our government still thinks it’s sound policy to rule out an estimated five and a half million donors solely based on their non-heterosexual activity. The rather vapid rationalisation for not taking blood from MSM is that there is a higher risk of them carrying HIV or the Hepatitis B virus, as a matter of fact, the NHS revealed in 2012 that 4.7% of MSM’s are HIV-positive, but does that statistic really matter? There is surely no issue in accepting blood from MSM if they don’t carry HIV or any other harmful virus, meaning a blanket ban is unfair and damaging to all parties. So why is it that we deny up to five and a half million people the right to donate blood and save lives on the 1 in 20 chance that their blood might carry HIV or Hepatitis B virus, especially when it is actively tested for before donation anyway?

Hard-hitting… An ad-campaign against the MSM blood ban

That same NHS report also revealed that 3.7% of British people of Black African descent carried HIV. There would rightly be uproar if there was a blood donation ban on Black Africans on the 1 in 25 chance they too carry HIV or Hepatitis B. It’s stereotyping and it’s immoral. Another recent report on the continent shows that heterosexual women and lesbian women were experiencing the greatest rise in HIV contraction but yet again there is no imposition on either of those demographics. The truth of the matter is that this law is not in place to protect the health of those requiring a blood transfusion, but is in place on the back of an uncorrected stigma from thirty years ago. While it is fact that HIV is harmful, that Hepatitis B is incurable, and both are more likely to be carried by MSM, statistics show that more than 95% of MSM do not carry either virus and could help recover the shortfall in blood donations. This law proves, despite the right’s best protestations that the crusade for LGBT+ equality didn’t end last year when the Tories begrudgingly allowed the Lib Dems to pass marriage equality. It’s not only that this law is an unnecessary hindrance to saving lives; it’s also an infringement on the rights of LGBT+ people to give blood. In fact, perhaps the most confusing part of this legislation is its apparent assumption that men who sleep with women never have sex casually and if they do, always do so safely – yet there are more heterosexuals with HIV in the UK than there are non-heterosexuals. The law correctly reflects that MSM are higher risk than most demographics but also incorrectly assumes that those who partake in heterosexual activity are no risk – so surely it should either be deferral for all or open donations for all?

Ally… Prospective Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has pledged to place the ban at the heart of his tenure in opposition

The pressure needs to be dialled up until we reach a cross-party consensus to lift this ban and start to champion equality and more importantly save lives. The Labour party have finally joined the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in support of scrapping this law and the Tories’ heads are slowly being turned too. Those passionate about equality and health need to start pushing this issue higher in the political agenda, making it clear that lives count for more than stereotypes. We all want an NHS that puts our health at the heart of its decision making but we’re currently abiding by legislation where, for example, a 7-year-old girl would be refused a life-saving blood donation from her uncle because he had sex with his male partner of twenty years a few weeks ago and despite knowing his negative status. Does that seem right to you? It’s fairly clear that the one year deferral on blood donations for MSM is nonsensical; it is rupturing equality and literally killing more people than this law was enforced to protect. This ruling is largely based on an out-of-date stigma that has never been legislatively amended, we cannot, especially in a time of falling rates of blood donation and an under pressure health service, continue to champion this eugenic discrimination – stigma is never a reason to gamble with people’s lives. Apparently, to put a twist on an old adage, blood is thicker than water but it’s not thicker than homophobia.   Join the fight against the MSM blood ban. Join the Liberal Democrats and Freedom to Donate 

The Other Side of Electoral Reform

Following what has been called the most disproportionate election result in UK history, there is no surprise much of the subsequent discourse has been about voting reform. However, while many debate the pros and cons of Single Transferable Vote, Additional Members Systems and Proportional Representation, there are other electorally jaundiced practices damaging our democracy less directly.

I am not for one minute aiming to diminish the significance of our broken First Past The Post voting arrangement, I am a strong opponent of that system but I think people forget that electoral reform is a much bigger picture than just our methods of voting. Issues of particular note are the effect of biased media and party donations.

Media bias is always a contentious issue when it comes to presenting a case for reform because a lot of it isn’t quantifiable. While we’ve heard protestations from Nigel Farage that there is a pro-left agenda within the BBC, we have also seen claims that the BBC is actually promoting UKIP by giving their dealings uneven coverage. For example, UKIP have actually appeared on the BBC more times per MP than any other party in the country. However, as the main television and radio broadcasters are bound by law to be as objective as possible and commercial radio stations, though successful, don’t tend to cover politics, I’m going to make my point via the UK’s newspapers.

Influence... The swing from GE2015 election results for each newspaper's readership

Influence… The swing from GE2015 election results for each newspaper’s readership

This week YouGov released a ‘mega poll’ in which they detailed how readers of certain newspapers voted, and unsurprisingly, in all but one, there was a positive swing towards that paper’s endorsement. If we were to presume that a month’s readership is a newspaper’s regular following then we can accrue that newspapers have the potential to directly influence twenty million votes every election. Obviously that number is over zealous due to the assumption that readers are completely passive and that readers are swayed by a paper’s politics rather than choose the paper that most agrees with their already held views.

Regardless, this research is just an inference to the type of effect a biased media can have. Just think the infamous News UK mogul Rupert Murdoch is able to spread his political allegiances to 25 million people every single month, a tenth of which swing against public trend to his favoured parties according to YouGov – that doesn’t seem democratic to me.

In fact, the two main parties on either side of the spectrum, Labour and the Conservatives are the two biggest benefactors from the subjectivity of news platforms with both potentially winning two million voters per monthly readership from endorsements and slanted writing. Meanwhile the three other major parties without any partisan newspapers; the Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP suffer potential losses of 500,000 and 100,000 for the latter pair.  I am the first to admit these numbers are sketchy and imprecise, but they are a major indicator in to the effect biased storytelling can have on the electorate. My issue is not that newspapers have an opinion but more that the opinions are largely in line with Labour and the Conservatives. Media plurality in terms of printed news is largely a myth in this country, it isn’t right that 78% of the main newspapers in this country back either the Tories or Labour when only 44% of the electorate vote for them.

Potential... An extreme view of what an absolute newspaper influence would have on the electorate monthly

Potential… An extreme view of what an absolute newspaper influence would have on the electorate monthly

Of course, it is still arguable that the two main parties are as successful as they are purely because they are the most popular but it is too possible that years of indoctrination through a pious media has led to a distorted landscape. It’s hard to ascertain the genuine political leanings of the UK electorate without insulting their engagement in the issues –which is certainly something I don’t wish to do. However, we can safely say that there is a case to be made for the bigger parties having unfair advantages over smaller ones.

This brings me on to party donations and party spending. Having delved in to the Electoral Commission’s recent financial records I found some staggering results. For example, in the build up to the 2015 general election the Conservatives received 796 (seven hundred and ninety six times) more than Plaid Cyrmu in donations. In fact, the Tories were well ahead of all but one party, receiving £15.4m. Labour were the closest contenders for most fiscally supported party with £11.6m, the Lib Dems received £3m whereas UKIP and the Greens accepted £1m and £720,000 respectively. The two civic national parties of Scotland and Wales, the SNP and Plaid Cymru received £1.1m and £19,000. Expectedly, the magnitude of these donations has largely matched the parties’ spending power from elections and referendums of recent times.

PartyDonations

Give generously… record of donations received by each party in the first quarter of 2015

Hey big spender!... Party spending for every election and referendum from June 2001 to May 2014

Hey big spender!… Party spending for every election and referendum from June 2001 to May 2014

As a Liberal it is wrong to argue for the encroachment on a person’s autonomic economic right to donate to a cause of their choosing but the problem is not with the process of donation but the magnitude of donations. The gap between contributions received by the five smaller parties and Labour and the Conservatives is not down to an amplified popularity but a superior financial authority. Both parties have profited from cosy associations to trade unions in Labour’s case and big businesses in the Tories’.  This has led in some instances to regular six and seven digit donations – sums that add up and leave the other parties unable to compete. As a result the two main parties can plough more money in to their campaigns and make sure their message is proclaimed louder than any other, furthering the aims of their friends at the top of newspapers, unions and businesses. Even as a Liberal Democrat, I accept we were always going to take a bit of a battering in May but with an average spending ratio in the South West of 1:5 against the Tories, is it any wonder we were categorically slaughtered?

It would be erroneous, discourteous and pretty much puerile to take a reductionist approach that insists media bias and economic imbalance has corrupted the backbone of the electorate. After all, we all draw our own conclusions. Of course, solving the issue of a predisposed media that contaminates news for political gain is a tough subject, I don’t believe in too much intervention in the market as a liberal but I do believe in a fair vote and a just campaign as a democrat. While this issue is less easily resolved, I am in ardent support of a party donation cap, we cannot allow big money to change the way our country is governed. In a true liberal democracy, all sides can present their case on an equal footing and the electorate can choose which of those is most appealing. It’s not just voting that needs to change in Britain. The electoral process of this country is like an apple, the FPTP system is the bruising to the skin but disproportionate spending and loaded media statements show  that this apple is rotten to the core.

There’s No ‘U’ or ‘K’ in Pride: But There is an ‘I’ and a ‘P’

If you follow me on Twitter or keep abreast of my blog posts, and I appreciate how finite a number of people that is, you will know that there aren’t many issues I write about without a strong conviction one way or the other, but UKIP’s banning from marching in the London LGBT+ Pride parade next month really does have my loyalties divided. Again, if you are familiar with me, and yes, I’m aware how increasingly boastful and haughty I’m sounding, you’ll know that I’m gay and I’m a Liberal. UKIP announced their plans to participate in their inaugural pride event and were subsequently overrun with backlash from outraged members of the LGBT+ community. As a gay man planning to attend London Pride this year, which is coincidentally my first Pride event too, I can ardently declare I don’t want to share the occasion with the UK Independence Party. I have long been a vocal critic of UKIP and virtually everything they stand for, and I certainly share no affinity with them on LGBT+ rights or any social policy at all.

Gay UKIP MEP David Coburn

But do I think they should be banned from London Pride? No, I don’t and this is where I put my Liberal hat on. Like I have already said, I abhor UKIP, I often find it difficult to express my disdain for the party and its ideology in operative terms but I also acknowledge that there is, as unfortunate as it may be, a big demand for them currently – and that too has stretched in to the LGBT+ community. I believe in free speech and freedom to voice one’s political views, I don’t think the LGBT+ wing of UKIP is likely to promote hate speech at Pride, although I appreciate their appearance would have antagonised many, including myself. But we must remember there’s a lovely little thing that follows the LGBT acronym and that’s a tiny ‘+’. That ‘+’ in my mind is wonderful; it stands for the inclusion of everyone, even those who don’t identify as LGBT. This is the sort of accepting, all-encompassing attitude that makes Pride events across the globe so efficacious. So not only is it illiberal to restrain UKIP with an outright injunction, it’s also against the spirit of Pride events. Additionally, it does beg the question where do we draw the line? I could contend that the Tories and Labour aren’t exactly friends of the LGBT+ community either but that’s a conversation for another time.

I’m very conscious that I seem to be endorsing the union of the LGBT+ community and UKIP – but I’m not. I’m stood defiantly alongside the noisy cross-section of Pride patrons who simply cannot understand how an LGBT+ person can marry their sexuality with Farage’s punitive, prejudiced, separatist politics – pun definitely intended. This is a party that opposed same-sex marriage because it didn’t ‘animate the daily discourse’ of heterosexuals, contains party members who have among other things blamed homosexuality for mass flooding, intimated that gay men and women are more likely to be paedophiles, called those who support same-sex marriage ‘nazis’ and is a party that contains an LGBT+ wing that referred to those who clash with their inclusion in the Pride parade as the ‘gay mafia’, which is homophobic rhetoric in my book.

History…UKIP’s homophobic comments are not rare

I don’t think we should tell UKIP they can’t take part. I think those LGBT+ people who take the unthinkable choice to back UKIP should attend Pride in London 2015 but do so independently. Whilst, I don’t want to formally bar their party politics from the event I do implore them to see sense. Due to the nature of UKIP’s policies for LGBT+ people, or complete lack of if we’re talking about the 2015 manifesto, their appearance is only going to create a feeling of division and antagonism and that is simply not an atmosphere we need to stoke at Pride. So here is where I come out, another intended pun, UKIP should not be at any LGBT+ Pride event, not by force but because LGBT+ people shouldn’t subscribe to their views in the first place, and if they do so, they should have the good grace to not provoke those who are insulted by the party’s derisory deficiency of support for our community.

It’s Really Not That Difficult, Call Her Caitlyn!

Caitlyn Jenner bravely revealed her true self to the world this week, with a stunning feature in Vanity Fair magazine. Whilst it’s reasonable to say that her public unveiling has been met with deafening support shown by accruing millions of Twitter followers on the back of three tweets. However, it was also depressingly yet predictably met with ludicrous condemnations.

Since her ‘coming out’ this week, Jenner has frequently been misgendered in the news and on social media. Fox News mockingly covered her story, repeatedly referring to Jenner by her previous identity, ‘Bruce’, and as a ‘he’. The BBC’s Radio Four has too come under fire after one presenter labelled her a ‘he/she’ – disgustingly inappropriate language from a bygone era. Even former child star Drake Bell has dissented that he will still be referring to Jenner as ‘Bruce’ in some bizarrely desperate act of defiance. And to be honest, the only real question I can muster to all of these people who take issue with Jenner’s transition is why? Why does this trouble you?

I am a fiercely proud liberal, and wishing to preside over the choices a person makes with their own body and life in general is to me a preposterous injustice. It really makes no difference to anybody else what gender Caitlyn Jenner wishes to lead her life as. It seems that people forget that gender is intangible; it’s a human creation, a concept made by man. While sex exists, gender is an entirely different spectrum that isn’t determined by genitalia. Ultimately, her livelihood is no business of ours, nor should it be. Who on earth are we to tell anyone not to make themselves look on the outside how they have always felt on the inside due to the inconvenience it may cause us by forcing us to switch a few pronouns?

Brave… Caitlyn Jenner in Vanity Fair

 

Then there are those who have accused Jenner of concocting her gender identity struggle for publicity, which is in my mind a cynical and obscene comment that undermines the struggle faced by many transgender people all around the world.

On top of all of this has come the presumably well-intentioned offence caused by cisgender women who have intimated a sense of shock or grief that Jenner looks better than they do. Notably popstar Demi Lovato tweeted that Jenner now has better boobs than her, and, in the same aforementioned Fox News segment, one anchor was met with disapproval from her co-host for praising Jenner’s appearance and then exclaimed “what? He’s hot!” – Not only deliberately misgendering her but also reinforcing the stereotype that transgender people are unattractive or shouldn’t be. I don’t want to be too hard on those girls and guys, who have made similar comments, but undermining her womanhood in such a way is a hindrance to the movement for equal rights and respect for transgender people which is already lagging so desperately far behind.

Transphobic… Drake Bell’s now deleted tweet

 

The only criticism of this story I can get on board with is that Jenner isn’t necessarily a deity of the transgender community for her ‘coming out’, I have no issue with her personally but it’s fair to argue that she isn’t necessarily a ‘hero’. But make no mistake; her story is courageous, enlightening and needed. We won’t see how many young transgender people are touched by this story and inspired to live their lives as their true selves just off the back of this one woman. That is an invaluable legacy her fame will leave behind.

If anything, the lasting example to take from this story is the need for society to reach out to the transgender community and let them know it’s okay for them to be themselves. It’s easy for us cisgender people to judge something we don’t understand – but it’s just as easy to empathise and show compassion to a struggle that causes so much sadness to so many people who haven’t done anything wrong. It’s time we told the transgender people of the world that it’s okay for them to simply be who they are. If you haven’t worked it out yet, gender identity is an internal journey, it’s not something that necessarily reflects physically on the outside and we need to abolish that myth and start to save the lives of those who feel they were born in to the wrong sex.

There really is only one thing to be irritated about Caitlyn Jenner’s story. It’s not the fact she was born with male genitalia, or the fact she might be the latest on a long list of Kardashian publicity stunts. It’s the fact she decided to break the ‘K’ tradition that will irk my OCD for years to come.