Posts Tagged ‘Debt’

Roman Poet Martial on Malice, and the Tories’ Violation of Good Taste

October 21, 2018

I found this quotation on malice from the Roman poet and epigrammist, Martial, in an old copy of Focus magazine dating from the ’90s. The great Roman wit said

Man loves malice, but not against one-eyed men, nor the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud.

Well, that’s how things should be, amongst people of taste. Unfortunately, many people really aren’t that well-brought up. And this extends to the entire Tory party, who are full of hatred and malice against the unfortunate. Not just the poor and the unemployed, but also the disabled, including men with one eye. You can see that from their entire welfare policy of depriving benefits to those, who desperately need it, and the way it has forced people into misery, debt, starvation and death. And this is despite all their hypocritical crocodile tears about the poor and cant about ‘caring conservatism’. Heidi Allen, who ostentatiously wept about the suffering of one poor soul on benefit, has voted against reforming the Universal Credit that has caused so much of it. And David Cameron and his mate Iain Duncan Smith had a good cackle together in parliament when a Labour MP read out a piece from one of their constituents describing the depths of suffering she had been reduced to due to their wretched reforms.

The Tory cabinet is stuffed full of public school toffs, who like, Boris Johnson, have received a Classical education. Clearly they were asleep or skiving that day when they covered that epigram of Martial’s.

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RT: Corbyn Challenges Government Claim Austerity’s Over as ‘Great Big Con’

October 12, 2018

Tweezer at the Tory conference last week announced that austerity is over. However, as Mike reported over at Vox Political, this doesn’t mean that the government is going to reverse their policy of cutting benefits and services. From from it. Further cuts are on their way.

In this video from RT of Prime Minister’s Question Time, Jeremy Corbyn asks if Tweezer’s announcement isn’t ‘one great big con’.

He says

Eight years of painful austerity, poverty is up, homelessness and deaths on our streets is up, living standards down, public services slashed and a million elderly are not getting the care they need, wages have been eroded, and all the while, Mr. Speaker, all the while billions were found for tax giveaways for big corporations and the super rich. The Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister declared she is ending austerity but unless the budged halts the cuts, increases funding to public services, gives our public servants a decent pay rise then isn’t the claim that austerity’s over a great big Conservative con?

He’s absolutely right. And as Mike has also pointed out, we’ve heard these lies before. They were said a few years ago, when the Tories were also in trouble. It’s just another version of the tactic every Tory government makes when an election’s coming: they immediate claim they’re going to cut taxes, or do something else to make it seem that ordinary people will be less poor. Then, once they’ve been re-elected, all this is reversed and its back to taxing and cutting services for ordinary working people for the benefit of the rich.

As for austerity, when it comes to this government the word is a misnomer. Austerity is what our parents and grandparents went through in order to pay for the NHS. It meant rationing continued long after the end of the War, but it was ultimately worth it. The NHS has proved its worth millions of times over in the countless lives it has saved, as well as the ordinary process of saving limbs and organs and preventing and curing ordinary disease. And everybody has benefited from it.

This austerity, however, was brought about because the banks over the other side of the Atlantic crashed due to colossal mismanagement. Brown bailed them out in order to stop a global collapse of finance capitalism. All this was partly due not only to the banks themselves, but to the insistence of consequetive neoliberal governments from Reagan onwards, including Bill Clinton’s, that the banks should be regulated with a ‘light touch’. That meant repealing the legislation protecting the country and its investors from the antics that caused the crash. And Brown was fully behind the same policy over here, which resulted in the failure of the Bank of Scotland.

The austerity Cameron embarked upon is unnecessary, as Barry and Savile Kushner have shown in ther book, Who Needs the Cuts. If you invest in the economy so that it expands, tax receipts will increase as well. But the establishment in industry, politics and the media all heartily support cutting benefits and the welfare state. Those that dare to challenge this consensus, like poverty campaigners and trade unions, are ignored. If they appear on radio or TV, they will be shouted down.

And despite Cameron’s lie that ‘We’re all in it together’, it’s the poor that are most affected. People are being pushed further into poverty, spiralling debt and starvation. Nearly half a million people are now only able to keep body and soul together thanks to food banks. The Tories are going ahead with their privatisation of the NHS.

And while the poor are being forced further into misery and despair, Cameron, Tweezer and the rest are making the rich even richer through massive tax cuts.

Austerity is indeed a massive lie, and it’s high time the Tories – the party of liars – suffered for it at the polling station.

No, Tweezer! It’s Not Labour that’s Attacking Investment, but Tory Privatisation

January 20, 2018

More lies from Theresa May, the lying head of a mendacious, corrupt, odious party. Mike put up another piece earlier this week commenting on a foam-flecked rant by Tweezer against the Labour party. She began this tirade by claiming that Labour had turned its back on investment. This was presumably out of fear of Labour’s very popular policies about renationalising the Health Service, the electricity industry and the railways.

But Labour hasn’t turned its back on investment. Far from it. Labour has proposed an investment bank for Britain – something that is recognised by many economists as being badly needed. It was one of Neil Kinnock’s policies in 1987, before he lost the election and decided that becoming ‘Tory lite’ was the winning electoral strategy.

The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge, has pointed out that privatisation doesn’t work. Most of the British privatised industries were snapped up by foreign companies. And these companies, as he points out, aren’t interested in investing. We are there competitors. They are interested in acquiring our industries purely to make a profit for their countries, not ours. Mike pointed this out in his blog piece on the matter, stating that 10 of the 25 railway companies were owned by foreign interests, many of them nationalised. So nationalised industry is all right, according to Tweezer, so long as we don’t have it.

The same point is made by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in their book, Breadline Britain: the Rise of Mass Poverty (Oneworld 2015). They write

The privatisation, from the 1980s, of the former publicly owned utilities is another example of the extractive process at work, and one that hs brought a huge bonanza for corporate and financial executives at the expense of staff, taxpayers and consumers. Seventy-two state-own enterprises we4re sold between 1983 and 1991 alone, with the political promise that the public-to-private transfer would raise efficiency, productivity and investment in the to the benefit of all. Yet such gains have proved elusive. With most of those who landed shares on privatisation selling up swiftly, the promised shareholding democracy failed to materialise. In the most comprehensive study of the British privatisation process, the Italian academic Massimo Florio, in his book The Great Divistiture, has concluded that privatisation failed to boost efficiency and has led to a ‘substantial regressive effect on the distribution of incomes and wealth in the United Kingdom’. Despite delivering little in the way of unproved performance, privatisation has brought great hikes in managerial pay, profits and shareholder returns paid for by staff lay-offs, the erosion of pay and security, taxpayer losses and higher prices.
(P. 195).

They then go on to discuss how privatisation has led to rising prices, especially in the electricity and water industries.

In most instances, privatisation has led to steady rises in bills, such as for energy and water. Electricity prices are estimated to be between ten and twenty per cent higher than they would have been without privatisation, contributing to the rise in fuel poverty of several years. Between 2002 and 2011, energy and water bills rose forty-five and twenty-one percent respectively in real terms, while median incomes stagnated and those of the poorest tenth fell by eleven percent. The winners have been largely a mix of executives and wealth investors, whole most of the costs – in job security, pay among the least well-skilled, and rising utility bills – have been borne by the poorest half of the population. ‘In this sense, privatisation was an integral part of a series of policies that created a social rift unequalled anywhere else in Europe’, Florio concluded.
(pp. 156-7)

They then go on to discuss the particular instance of the water industry.

Ten of the twenty-three privatised local and region water companies are now foreign owned with a further eight bought by private equity groups. In 2007 Thames Water was taken over by a private consortium of investors, mostly from overseas. Since then, as revealed in a study by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, the consortium has engineered the company’s finances to ensure that dividends to investors have exceeded net profits paid for by borrowing, a practice now common across the industry. By offsetting interest charges on the loan, the company will pay no corporation tax for the next five to six years. As the academics concluded: ‘A mound of leveraged debt has been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills.’
(P. 157).

They also point out that Britain’s pro-privatisation policy is in market contrast to that of other nations in the EU and America.

It is a similar story across other privatised sectors from the railways to care homes. The fixation with private ownership tis also now increasingly out of step with other countries, which have been unwinding their own privatisation programmes in response to the way the utilities have been exploited for private gain. Eighty-six cities – throughout the US and across Europe – have taken water back into a form of public ownership.
(Pp. 157-8)

Even in America, where foreign investors are not allowed to take over utility companies, privatisation has not brought greater investment into these companies, and particularly the electricity industry, as the American author of Zombie Economics points out.

Lansley and Mack then go on to discuss the noxious case of the Private Equity Firms, which bought up care homes as a nice little investment. Their debt manipulation shenanigans caused many of these to collapse.

So when Tweezer went off on her rant against Labour the other day, this is what she was really defending: the exploitation of British consumers and taxpayers by foreign investors; management and shareholders boosting their pay and dividends by raising prices, and squeezing their workers as much as possible, while dodging tax.

Privatisation isn’t working. Let’s go back to Atlee and nationalise the utilities. And kick out Theresa, the Tories and their lies.

American Tsarism

December 15, 2017

Going though YouTube the other day, I found a clip, whose title quoted a political analyst, radical or politicians, as saying that the American political elite now regards its own, ordinary citizens as a foreign country. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but I will have to check the video out. But looking at the title of what the leader of the Conservative branch of the Polish nationalist movement said about the Russian Empire. He described how the tsars and the autocracy exploited and oppressed ordinary Russians, stating baldly that ‘they treat their people as a foreign, conquered nation’. Which just about describes tsarist rule, with its secret police, anti-union, anti-socialist legislation, the way it ground the peasants and the nascent working class into the ground for the benefit of big business and the country’s industrialisation. The system of internal passports, which were introduced to keep the peasants on the land, and paying compensation to their masters for the freedom they had gained under Tsar Alexander, and to continue working for them for free, doing feudal labour service: the robot, as it was known in Czech. It’s no accident that this is the word, meaning ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, that Karel Capek introduced into the English and other languages as the term for an artificial human in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots.

We’re back to Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ – the rich, and everyone else, who don’t live near each other, don’t have anything in common and who may as well be foreign countries. It’s in the Tory intellectual’s Coningsby, I understand. Disraeli didn’t really have an answer to the problem, except to preach class reconciliation and argue that the two could cooperate in building an empire. Well, imperialism’s technically out of favour, except for right-wing pundits like Niall Ferguson, so it has to be cloaked in terms of ‘humanitarian aid’. Alexander the Great was doing the same thing 2,500 years ago. When he imposed tribute on the conquered nations, like the Egyptians and Persians, it wasn’t called ‘tribute’. It was called ‘contributions to the army of liberation’. Because he’d liberated them from their tyrannical overlords, y’see. The Mongols did the same. Before taking a town or territory, they’d send out propaganda, posing as a force of liberators come to save the populace from the tyrants and despots, who were ruling them.

What a joke. Someone asked Genghis Khan what he though ‘happiness’ was. He’s supposed to have replied that it was massacring the enemy, plundering his property, burning his land, and outraging his women. If you’ve ever seen the 1980s film version of Conan the Barbarian, it’s the speech given by Conan when he’s shown in a cage growing up. I think the film was written by John Milius, who was responsible for Dirty Harry ‘and other acts of testosterone’ as Starburst put it.

And it also describes exactly how the elite here regard our working and lower-middle classes. We’re crushed with taxes, more of us are working in jobs that don’t pay, or forced into something close to serfdom through massive debt and workfare contracts. The last oblige people to give their labour free to immensely profitable firms like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. And at the same time, the elite have been active in social cleansing – pricing the traditional inhabitants of working class, and often multicultural areas, out of their homes. These are now gentrified, and become the exclusive enclaves of the rich. Homes that should have people in them are bought up by foreigners as an investment and left empty in ‘land-banking’. And you remember the scandal of the ‘poor doors’ in London, right? This was when an apartment block was designed with two doors, one of the rich, and one for us hoi polloi, so the rich didn’t have to mix with horned handed sons and daughters of toil.

I got the impression that for all his Toryism, Disraeli was a genuine reformer. He did extend the vote to the upper working class – the aristocracy of Labour, as it was described by Marx, creating the ‘villa Toryism’ that was to continue into the Twentieth Century and our own. But all the Tories have done since is mouth platitudes and banalities about how ‘one nation’ they are. Ever since John Major. David Cameron, a true-blue blooded toff, who was invited by the Palace to take a job there, claimed to be a ‘one nation Tory’. Yup, this was when he was introducing all the vile, wretched reforms that have reduced this country’s great, proud people, Black, brown, White and all shades in-between – to grinding poverty, with a fury specially reserved for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled. These last have been killed by his welfare reforms. Look at the posts I’ve put up about it, reblogging material from Stilloaks, Another Angry Voice, the Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper, Johnny Void, et al.

But that’s how the super-rich seem to see us: as moochers, taxing them to indulge ourselves. It was Ayn Rand’s attitude, shown in Atlas Shrugs. And it’s how the upper classes see us, especially the Libertarians infecting the Republican and Conservative parties, whose eyes were aglow with the joys of the unrestrained free market and the delights of South American death squads and the monsters that governed them. Walking atrocities against the human condition like General Pinochet, the Contras, Noriega. All the thugs, monsters and torturers, who raped and butchered their people, while Reagan slavered over them as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And you know what? An increasing number of progressives are taking a hard look at the Fathers of the American nation. Patricians to a man, who definitely had no intention of the freeing the slaves, or giving the vote to the ladies. and who explicitly wrote that they were concerned to protect property from the indigent masses. Outright imperialists, who took land from Mexico, and explicitly wrote that they looked forward to the whole of South America falling into the hands of ‘our people’. If you need a reason why many South Americans hate America with a passion, start with that one. It’s the reason behind the creation of ‘Arielismo’. This is the literary and political movement, which started in Argentina in the 19th century, which uses the figure of Caliban in Shakespeare’s the Tempest to criticise and attack European and North American colonialism, with the peoples of the South as the Caliban-esque colonised. It was formed by Argentinian literary intellectuals as a reaction to America’s wars against Mexico and annexation of Mexican territory, and their attempts to conquer Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

That’s how South America responded to colonisation from the North and West. And colonialism – as troublesome ‘natives’ to be kept under control, is very much how the elite see ordinary Brits and Americans, regardless of whether they’re White, Black, Asian or members of the First Nations.

But you can only fool people for so long, before the truth becomes blindingly obvious. You can only print so many lies, broadcast so many news reports telling lies and twisted half-truths, before conditions become so terrible ordinary people start questioning what a corrupt, mendacious media are telling them. The constant scare stories about Muslims, foreign immigration, Black crime and violence; the demonization of the poor and people on benefit. The constant claim that if working people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’ to use Gordon Brown’s phrase. Because they don’t work hard enough, have too many children, or spend all their money on luxuries like computers – actually in the information age a necessity – or computer games, X-Boxes and the like.

You can only do that before the workers you’ve legislated against joining unions start setting up workers’ and peasants’ councils – soviets. Before the peasants rise up and start burning down all those manor houses, whose denizens we are expected to follow lovingly in shows like Downton Abbey. Which was written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory speechwriter.

Before ordinary people say, in the words of ’80s Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister, ‘We ain’t goin’ to take it’.

Before decent, respectable middle class people of conscience and integrity decide that the establish is irremediably corrupt, and there’s absolutely no point defending it any longer.

A month or so ago, BBC 4 broadcast a great series on Russian history, Empire of the Tsars, present by Lucy Worsley. In the third and last edition, she described the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. She described how Vera Zasulich, one of the 19th century revolutionaries, tried to blow away the governor of St. Petersburg. She was caught and tried. And the jury acquitted her. Not because they didn’t believe she hadn’t tried to murder the governor of St. Petersburg, but because in their view it wasn’t a crime. Zasulich was one of the early Russian Marxists, who turned from peasant anarchism to the new, industrial working classes identified by Marx as the agents of radical social and economic change.

And so before the Revolution finally broke out, the social contract between ruler and ruled, tsarist autocracy and parts of the middle class, had broken down.

I’m not preaching revolution. It tends to lead to nothing but senseless bloodshed and the rise of tyrannies that can be even worse than the regimes they overthrow. Like Stalin, who was as brutal as any of the tsars, and in many cases much more so. But the elites are preparing for civil unrest in the next couple of decades. Policing in America is due to become more militarised, and you can see the same attitude here. After all, Boris Johnson had to have his three water cannons, which are actually illegal in Britain and so a colossal waste of public money.

Don’t let Britain get to that point. Vote Corbyn, and kick May and her gang of profiteers, aristos and exploiters out. Before they kill any more people.

Ken Surin on How Privatisation Wrecked New Zealand’s Electricity Grid

December 14, 2017

Today’s Counterpunch has a very interesting piece by Ken Surin giving his selective impressions of New Zealand. Throughout the article he calls the country by its Maori name, Aotearoa, and part of the article is about the poverty and marginalisation that is particularly experienced by New Zealand’s indigenous people and Pacific Islanders. He begins the article with his reminiscences of on-pitch violence by the county police and county farmers’ teams when he played university rugby back in the ’60s. This has a tenuous connection to the rest of the article as two of his team mates came from the country. He then goes on to discuss the effects of neoliberalism on New Zealand. Reading his article, I got the impression that New Zealand did not suffer as much as other nations from the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, wage restraint, welfare cuts and rampant deregulation. But at the same time, he argues that it hasn’t done as much as it could either to stop and reverse it.

From this side of the Pacific, one of the most interesting pieces of the article is his description of the way privatisation wrecked the New Zealand electricity network when it was introduced, leading to a power outage, or outages, lasting five weeks.

Aucklanders of a certain age remember the Great Power Outage, symptomatic of their country’s dalliance with neoliberalism, that lasted for 5 weeks from late February 1998.

New Zealand’s electric industry had been deregulated, and the company running Auckland’s grid, Mercury Energy, had been formed in 1992. Mercury promptly downsized its workforce from 1,411 to 600, and skimped on cable maintenance to boost profits. At the time of the Great Power Outage, Mercury Energy was also busy trying to take over another electric utility, again to enhance revenues.

One of several assessments of the handling of the Outage by Mercury Energy and the city’s administration described their response, somewhat charitably, as “ad hoc”. They predicated their responses throughout the crisis on best-case scenarios, and were flummoxed when none materialized.

Practical preparation for worst-case scenarios costs money— duh! – and thus erodes profit margins.

Auckland’s electricity was/is supplied by 4 poorly maintained mega-cables (there have been five serious outages since the 1998 crisis), which failed in quick succession.

Traffic lights stopped working, ventilation systems broke down in the southern hemisphere summer, people were trapped for hours in elevators, food rotted in supermarkets, hospitals had to cancel operations, emergency services were put under extreme pressure, workers had to hike up 20 floors in high-rise buildings to get to their offices, and giant generators had to be flown in from Australia to tide the city over while the mega-cables were repaired over the course of the 5 weeks.

Harsh jokes were made about Auckland’s Third World electricity grid. One example: what did Aucklanders use before candles and oil lamps? Answer: electricity.

The mayor, whose city was becoming a laughing stock, and whose competence was questioned as the crisis dragged on, lost his bid for reelection soon afterwards, while Mercury’s CEO died of a heart attack at his desk.

Neoliberalism can be death-dealing, even for its beneficiaries and overseers.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/14/selective-impressions-of-the-new-zealand-aotearoa-conjuncture/

And other economists have pointed out that neoliberalism has been no more successful elsewhere. The American author of Zombie Economics, a Harvard economist, has pointed out that privatisation has not brought in the investment the electricity industry has needed, and resulted in worse performance than when they were state owned.

The Tories and corporate apologists for private industry like to go on about how terrible the British nationalised industries were in trying to put people off voting for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, who have promised to renationalise electricity and the railway network. A few days ago the I newspaper in their selection of quotes from elsewhere in the press had a paragraph from the Spectator’s Karren Bradey banging on about this, before stating that Corbyn was a ‘Communist’ who was hanging on to an outmoded theory because of ‘weird beliefs’. Which I would say is, with the exception of the term ‘Communist’, a fair description of most Conservatives and other cultists for the free market. They are indeed continuing to support a grotty, failed ideology long past its sell-by date for their own weird reasons. This is an effective rebuttal to their claims.

He also describes how the introduction of neoliberalism into New Zealand wrecked the economy, and created more poverty while cutting taxes for the rich:

The New Zealand economy duly tanked– shrinking by 1% between 1985 and 1992, while productivity stagnated at below 1% between 1984 and 1993, and inflation remained at around 9% a year. Foreign debt quadrupled, and the country’s credit rating was downgraded twice. Taxes were cut for top earners (from 66% to 33%), while benefits were reduced by up to 30% for the poorest families. The number of poor grew by around 35% between 1989 and 1992.

This is exactly what we’ve experienced in this country during these seven years of Tory rule. And New Zealand and Britain aren’t going to be the only nations who’ve suffered these effects. They’re general, right across the globe. Neoliberalism is responsible for these problems. Except if you’re Theresa May and the Tories, who’ll bleat constantly about how all it’s all due to the last, ‘high-spending’ Labour government.

Rubbish. Neoliberalism is an utter and complete failure. It’s promoted by the Tories as it makes the rich even richer while keeping the rest of us poor and desperate. It’s time it was ended and a proper Labour government under Corbyn was elected.

Owen Jones Talks to Rebecca Long-Bailey: Neoliberalism Has Fallen Apart

October 23, 2017

In this video, Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment, talks to Rebecca Long-Bailey, one of the people responsible for the Labour manifesto and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn. He states that she has been pretty central to the whole Corbyn project. And he particularly likes her because she’s a ‘scamp’ from Manchester like him.

He begins by stating that Clement Attlee established the post-War consensus of a strong welfare state, state intervention in industry and labour and trade union rights. This fell apart under Margaret Thatcher. He asks her if Thatcher’s neoliberalism is now falling apart in its turn.

She replies very positively that it definitely is, and that more orthodox economists are stating that we need a Keynsian approach to the economy. She says that when they began promoting Keynsianism, they were attacked as very much out of touch. Now the Financial Times and another major economic journal has come out and supported state interventionism. The FT even said that we need to renationalise water. This left her absolutely speechless with surprise when she read it, as it was a Labour idea.

She was the Shadow Minister in charge of business and industrial strategy. Jones notes that the hostile press would immediately attack Labour’s policies as destructive and compare them to Venezuela. He asks how she responds to that. She replies with a very clear answer: ‘Rubbish’. She points out that, under neoliberalism, Britain has become one of the least productive nations in the developed world. Indeed, productivity is at its lowest for 20 years. And thanks to wage restraint, wages are also lower than they were before the Crash of 2008.

She states we need an investment bank for England to encourage investment, as private industry won’t invest unless government does so. She also states that we need to reform industry so that it represents everyone involved in a firm, including workers and stakeholders. When Jones asks her what she considers socialism to be, she simply responds ‘Fairness’, and talks about giving employees rights at work, protecting their jobs. She also makes it clear that she believes it is very important to show people that voting Labour will make a difference to their lives. She wants to show people in the north that Labour will tackle homelessness, not just by building more homes, but by building more social housing, so that people, who can’t afford a house will get one. It will be a radical transformation of society, just like it was in the 1940s.

She also talks about how difficult it is being an MP. As a Member of Parliament, you just want to talk about your policies and the issues, but you have to be aware that every time you give an interview, the media are trying to lead you into a trap by getting you to say the wrong thing, or criticise a Labour colleague.

Long-Bailey clearly has a deep grasp not only of the abstract economic issues involved, but also of the personal dimension as people are driven in debt, misery and despair through neoliberalism’s destruction of the British economy for the enrichment of the small number of extremely rich and privileged. And she is inspired by the same ideas as those of Clement Attlee and the great labour politicians, who forged the post-War consensus and gave Britain it’s longest period of economic growth, as well as expanding opportunities for ordinary working women and men.

And it can only be brilliant that the FT, that great pillar of financial capitalism, has come on board to support a return to Keynsianism.

As for the pet Thatcherite policies of Monetarism and neoliberalism, Robin Ramsay has spoken of Monetarism that when he studied economics in the late 60s and ’70s, it was considered such as a nutty idea that his professors didn’t bother to argue against it. He has suggested that it’s possible the Tories, who embraced it also knew it to be a load of rubbish. But they adopted it because it provided an ideological justification for what they wanted to do anyway: privatise industry and smash the organised working class.

Now Thatcherite neoliberalism is falling apart very obviously, and the elite are panicking. Hence the non-story about Clive Lewis and his supposed ‘misogyny’, which is a complete non-story. It’s being used by the Tories to try to distract people from their continuing failures over Brexit, the privatisation of the health and education services. And, of course, the sheer mass of seething misogyny and racism in their own party.

William Blum on Socialism vs. Capitalism

September 19, 2017

William Blum, the long-time fierce critic of American and western imperialism, has come back to writing his Anti-Empire Report after a period of illness. He’s an older man of 84, and due to kidney failure has been placed on dialysis for the rest of his life. This has left him, as it does others with the same condition, drained of energy, and he says he finds writing the report difficult. Nevertheless, his mind and his dissection of the ruthless, amoral and predatory nature of western capitalism and corporate greed is as acute as ever.

There’s a section in the Anti-Empire Report, where he discusses the advantages of socialism versus capitalism. He notes that there were two studies carried out under George Dubya to see if private corporations were better than federal agencies. And the federal agencies won by a huge margin every time. He writes

Twice in recent times the federal government in Washington has undertaken major studies of many thousands of federal jobs to determine whether they could be done more efficiently by private contractors. On one occasion the federal employees won more than 80% of the time; on the other occasion 91%. Both studies took place under the George W. Bush administration, which was hoping for different results. 1 The American people have to be reminded of what they once knew but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want BIG government, or SMALL government; they don’t want MORE government, or LESS government; they want government ON THEIR SIDE.

He also states that the juries’ still out on whether socialist countries are more successful than capitalist, as no socialist country has fallen through its own failures. Instead they’ve been subverted and overthrown by the US.

I think he’s wrong about this. The Communist bloc couldn’t provide its people with the same standard of living as the capitalist west, and the state ownership of agriculture was a real obstacle to food production. The bulk of the Soviet Union’s food was produced on private plots. Similarly, Anton Dubcek and the leaders of the Prague Spring, who wanted to reform and democratize Communism, not overthrow it, believed that Czechoslovakia’s industrial development was held back through the rigid structure of Soviet-style central planning.

However, he still has a point, in that very many left and left-leaning regimes have been overthrown by America, particularly in South America, but also across much of the rest of the world, as they were perceived to be a threat to American political and corporate interests. And for the peoples of these nations, it’s questionable how successful capitalism is. For example, in the 1950s the Americans overthrew the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz after he dared to nationalize the banana plantations, many of which were own by the American corporation, United Fruit. Benz was a democratic socialist – not a Communist, as was claimed by the American secret state – who nationalized the plantations in order to give some dignity and a decent standard of living to the agricultural workers on them. The government that overthrew Benz was a brutal Fascist dictatorship, which imposed conditions very close to feudal serfdom on the plantation labourers.

Which leads to a more general point about the emergence of capitalism, imperialism and the exploitation of the developing world. Marxists have argued that capitalism had partly arisen due to western imperialism. It was the riches looted from their conquered overseas territories that allowed western capitalism to emerge and develop. Again this is a matter of considerable debate, as some historians have argued that the slave trade and plantation slavery only added an extra 5 per cent to the British economy during the period these existed in the British empire, from the mid-17th century to 1840. More recently, historians have argued that it was the compensation given to the slaveowners at emancipation, that allowed capitalism to develop. In the case of the large slaveholders, this compensation was the equivalent of tens of millions of pounds today. At the time the plantation system was in crisis, and many of the plantation owners were heavily in debt. The slaveholders used the money given to them by the British government – £20 million, a colossal sum then-to invest in British industry, thus boosting its development.

This system has continued today through what the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal termed ‘neocolonialism’. This is the international trading system which the former imperial masters imposed on their colonies after the end of imperialism proper following the Second World War. High tariffs and other barriers were imposed to stop these countries developing their own manufacturing industries, which could produced finished goods that would compete with those of Europe and the west. Instead, the former subject nations were forced through a series of trade agreements to limit themselves to primary industries – mining and agriculture – which would provide western and European industry with the raw materials it needed. As a global system, it’s therefore highly debatable how successful capitalism is in providing for people’s needs, when the relative success of the capitalist west has depended on the immiseration and exploitation of countless millions in the developed world.

And in the developed west itself, capitalism is failing. In the 19th century Marx pointed to the repeated crises and economic slumps that the system created, and predicted that one of these would be so severe that it would destroy capitalism completely. He was wrong. Capitalism did not collapse, and there was a long period of prosperity and growth from the late 19th century onwards.

But terrible, grinding poverty still existed in Britain and the rest of the developed world, even if conditions were slowly improving. And the long period of prosperity and growth after the Second World War was partly due to the foundation of the welfare state, Keynsian economic policies in which the government invested in the economy in order to stimulate it, and a system of state economic planning copied from the French.

Now that Thatcherite governments have rolled back the frontiers of the state, we’ve seen the re-emergence of extreme poverty in Britain. An increasing number of Brits are now homeless. 700,000 odd are forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together, as they can’t afford food. Millions more are faced with the choice between eating and paying the bills. In the school holiday just passed, three million children went hungry. And some historians are predicting that the refusal of the governments that came after the great crash of 2008 to impose controls on the financial sector means that we are heading for the final collapse of capitalism. They argue that the industrial and financial elite in Europe know it’s coming, are just trying to loot as much money as possible before it finally arrives.

The great, free trade capitalism lauded by Thatcher, Reagan and the neoliberal regimes after them has failed to benefit the majority of people in Britain and the rest of the world. But as the rich 1 per cent have benefited immensely, they are still promoting neoliberal, free trade policies and imposing low wages and exploitative working conditions on the rest of the population, all the while telling us that we’re richer and generally more prosperous than ever before.

Back to Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, he also has a few quotes from the American comedian Dick Gregory, who passed away this year. These include the following acute observations

“The way Americans seem to think today, about the only way to end hunger in America would be for Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to go on national TV and say we are falling behind the Russians in feeding folks.”

“What we’re doing in Vietnam is using the black man to kill the yellow man so the white man can keep the land he took from the red man.”

For more, see https://williamblum.org/aer/read/150

Counterpunch: Bernie Sanders Outlines His Plans for ‘Medicare for All’

September 14, 2017

Today’s Counterpunch has a piece by the radical, progressive Democratic politician, Bernie Sanders, reblogged from the New York Times. In it, Sanders discusses the outrageous scandal that 28 million Americans have no medical coverage, despite the fact that their country spends more on healthcare than almost any other nation. He points out that this is because the insurance-based healthcare system is designed not to give Americans access to decent healthcare, but to enrich the companies’ executives and shareholders. He describes how many Americans cannot afford healthcare, and are forced to cut down on the drugs they need, simply because they cannot pay for them. He argues that the experience of Canada, and the Medicare programme brought fifty years ago, both show that single-payer healthcare is cheap, popular and effective.

He states that he intends to introduce a bill for Medicare for All into Congress next Wednesday, and outlines how he envisages an initial four year transition period from the current American system. He also makes it plain that there will be concerted opposition to his proposal.

His piece begins

This is a pivotal moment in American history. Do we, as a nation, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee comprehensive health care to every person as a human right? Or do we maintain a system that is enormously expensive, wasteful and bureaucratic, and is designed to maximize profits for big insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, Wall Street and medical equipment suppliers?

We remain the only major country on earth that allows chief executives and stockholders in the health care industry to get incredibly rich, while tens of millions of people suffer because they can’t get the health care they need. This is not what the United States should be about.

All over this country, I have heard from Americans who have shared heartbreaking stories about our dysfunctional system. Doctors have told me about patients who died because they put off their medical visits until it was too late. These were people who had no insurance or could not afford out-of-pocket costs imposed by their insurance plans.

I have heard from older people who have been forced to split their pills in half because they couldn’t pay the outrageously high price of prescription drugs. Oncologists have told me about cancer patients who have been unable to acquire lifesaving treatments because they could not afford them. This should not be happening in the world’s wealthiest country.

Americans should not hesitate about going to the doctor because they do not have enough money. They should not worry that a hospital stay will bankrupt them or leave them deeply in debt. They should be able to go to the doctor they want, not just one in a particular network. They should not have to spend huge amounts of time filling out complicated forms and arguing with insurance companies as to whether or not they have the coverage they expected.

Even though 28 million Americans remain uninsured and even more are underinsured, we spend far more per capita on health care than any other industrialized nation. In 2015, the United States spent almost $10,000 per person for health care; the Canadians, Germans, French and British spent less than half of that, while guaranteeing health care to everyone. Further, these countries have higher life expectancy rates and lower infant mortality rates than we do.

Please go to the Counterpunch site and read the whole article. It’s at:
https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/14/why-we-need-medicare-for-all/

The state and state-funded healthcare systems of the European countries have contributed immensely to their people’s health and wellbeing, ever since Bismarck introduced it in Germany in 1875 in an attempt to steal working class votes away from the socialist SDP.

And it’s driving the Reaganites and Thatcherites of the corporate sector up the wall, because it denies them so much of the juicy profits that comes from the insurance-driven sector. That’s why the Tories over here have been privatizing the NHS piecemeal by stealth ever since the days of Maggie Thatcher. It’s why the corporate bosses of the big healthcare firms, like the fraudster Unum, came over here at the beginning of New Labour’s tenure in office to lobby Blair to privatize the NHS.

And it’s part of the reason the Blairites, Tories and Lib Dems, and their paymasters in big business and lackeys in the media, including the Beeb, fear and hate Jeremy Corbyn, as the Republicans and the corporatist Democrats around Hillary Clinton despise Bernie Sanders in the US.

Any civilized country has to demand proper medicine for its people, regardless of the demands of the corporatists to keep it the expensive privilege of the affluent. So, go Bernie! And may Corbyn also win in his fight to renationalize the NHS.

NHS Doctors Now Required to Ask Patients to Use Private Health Insurance

September 7, 2016

I’ve been putting off looking at some of the NHS stories Mike’s posted up over at Vox Political, on the grounds that the Tory and New Labour privatisation of the Health Service makes me both extremely depressed and absolutely boiling mad. But the issue’s far too important to leave alone.

Today Mike posted up a little snippet from The Canary, which reported that NHS chiefs are now asking doctors to politely ask their patients if they have private health insurance. If they answer ‘yes’, the doctor is supposed to gently remind them to use it. The Canary states that this signals the end of the NHS, and universal free healthcare.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/06/theres-a-question-doctors-are-now-being-urged-to-ask-patients-and-it-signals-the-end-of-the-nhs-the-canary/

Absolutely, and it’s what over three decades of right-wing administrations have wanted going all the way back to Maggie Thatcher. Despite her protestations in her autobiography, she really was considering privatising the NHS. She discussed it with the cabinet and Douglas Hurd, nearly provoking a rebellion. This wasn’t because her cabinet believed in the NHS. They just saw the writing on the wall and knew that if she went ahead, that would be the end of the Tory party at the next election. She also decided against it after she sent her private secretary, Patrick Jenkin, to the States. He came back and told her precisely how dreadful the American system was.

Nevertheless, she still stated that she wanted a greater role for private medicine, and enacted policies designed to encourage people to take out private health insurance. She wanted 25 per cent of the population to have it, and was disappointed when very few in actual fact did so. Amongst the newspapers pushing this policy was the Express, which published a long piece raving about how those with such insurance should have tax cuts in its Sunday edition.

The privatisation of the NHS continued with the Tories’ introduction of the PFI and the expansion of the scheme and break up the NHS by Tony Blair’s New Labour. Hospitals have been taken out of the bureaucratic structure of the NHS and encouraged to become self-financing. They’ve also been handed over to private management, and the clinics and walk-in centres set up by New Labour were also intended to be privately managed. Well over half of all operations are now carried out by private healthcare firms. The Care Commissioning Groups, which were introduced with loud noises about giving doctors the power to run their own practices are able to commission private healthcare firms to contract for services, and can themselves raise money through private finance. This was taken over by the Tories, and has been expanded even further. At the last parliament, I reposted a meme that showed just how many Tory and Lib Dem MPs had connections to private healthcare firms hoping to profit from the demise of the NHS. It was a lot – about or over 100, if I recall correctly. The Angry Yorkshireman and Mike have also reported comments by Jeremy Hunt, the current health minister, and other Tories attacking the NHS. Hunt, or one of them, has described it as ‘an abomination’. My guess is that this anger probably comes from the Tory hatred of having to pay for public services, which they almost personally resent as the state forcing them to pay for someone’s else’s benefit. I also believe they despise it because it’s a state-run service, and so excludes them for profiting. It’s why Peter Lilley introduced the Private Finance Initiative all those decades ago when John Major was in power: he wanted to find a way to open up the NHS to private investment.

And now New Labour and the Tories are moving another step closer to the final privatisation of the health service. This is being done through a manufactured financial crisis. Blair and Brown did much damage to the NHS, but when they left office it was in budget and did not need further reform. That has changed, due not least to Jeremy Hunt. Even now, Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis in their book, NHS-SOS state that the problem isn’t that the NHS is underfunded – it’s that NHS funds are being squandered and misdirected due to the introduction of private enterprise into the service. The bureaucracy in these firms and their shareholders profit, while soaking up money that would otherwise go to providing services.

The privatisation of the NHS is a national scandal. There are activist groups pledged to defending it, like the NHS Action Party and doctors’ groups and organisations. These and their on-line addresses can be found in Davis’ and Tallis’ book.

At one time the assaults on the NHS would have resulted in a wave of strikes, public protests and demonstrations. But the Tories have all but destroyed the unions, and cowed the public with a mixture of massive debt and job insecurity. And it’s going to get worse when Brexit takes effect.

Don’t let the mass media deceive you with the pro-Tory, pro-New Labour bias. When you read the papers attacking Jeremy Corbyn and praising Theresa May, just like the Beeb does on TV with Laura Kuenssberg, remember that these are the policies Smith in the Labour party, and his backers Benn et al, and the Tories stand for. Corbyn has said that he wants to renationalise the NHS, and that’s too much for the Tories and Blairite corporatists. These people should be thrown out of power as quickly as possible, before more people die or are harmed by their greed and mendacity.

The Young Turks: Republican Voter States Rather Vote for Sanders than Trump

March 6, 2016

This is a very interesting interview. In this clip from The Young Turks, Jordan Chariton talks to Roy Williams, a life-long Republican voter, who voted for Ben Carson in the Republican primaries in his home state of South Carolina. Mr Williams is an engineer, a contractor for the government’s energy saving programme. A committed Christian, he’s also a deacon at his local church. Williams states that he voted for Ben Carson, the Black neurosurgeon, because he had the best policies. Williams is in favour of extremely limited federal government. The states should be virtually autonomous, and the federal government only responsible for defence and facilitating trade between them.

When asked about Carson’s controversial comments, such as his remark that a Muslim should not be president of the US, Williams stated he supported this. He did not believe that a Muslim should be president of the US, but not because he was a Muslim. He objected to a Muslim president because of the status of women under Sharia law, where they are not allowed to do anything without their husband’s permission.

Williams was, however, certainly no fan of Donald Trump. He described Trump as ‘brash’, and feared his outspokenness would mean that he wouldn’t be able to last his four-year term without plunging America into a war, probably with Russia. He also objected to Trump because Trump would not work within the American system. Chariton also asked him about Trump’s bigoted policies, and asked him if he felt, as so many others did, that Trump was just throwing ‘red meat’ to the Republican base, but had no intention of honouring it. Williams said he didn’t think that was the case. So, if he was faced with Trump, he’d rather vote for Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that Sanders was a Socialist and so stood for everything he opposed. He’d prefer to vote for Sanders rather than Trump because Sanders, at least, would work within the system.

He was very definite that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton. As a former military contractor, he was very much aware of the government rules regarding security. Clinton had broken these by receiving secret emails. He stated that if she wasn’t who she was, she’d be in jail for these by now. When Chariton pointed out that so did Bush and Condoleeza Rice, then Williams accepted that they too, should be in jail.

Williams stated that the Republican party he grew up with now no longer existed, to his regret. Chariton asked him who his favourite Republican president was. He responded with ‘Ronald Reagan’. Chariton pointed out that Reagan wasn’t a believer in limited government. He massively increased the debt and raised taxes. Williams seemed at a loss when this was point out. He did, however, say he liked Jimmy Carter. Why? Carter was also an engineer, and in Williams’ own experience in the energy business, he felt that if America had followed his policy on energy, America wouldn’t be chasing after it abroad in the Middle East. Chariton asked him if he felt the country was moving leftward after Obama. he said ‘yes, to my dismay’.