Posts Tagged ‘Depression’

Private Eye on ‘Big Brother’ Surveillance Software

October 27, 2018

Private Eye has also published a couple of articles on the use of surveillance software to scan the internet compiling information for use by private corporations, medical authorities and the government. These present a serious threat to privacy, democracy and human freedom.

In their edition for 5th – 18th October 2018, the magazine carried the following story about how the Canadian government was using such software to collect information on cannabis users and those sympathetic to dope use. It ran

Someone, somewhere is always listening to you online. In Canada, that someone is set to be the government.

A recently published tender is seeking a technology partner to “examine Canadian social media sentiment toward Canabis legalization, with emphasis on public safety issues, such as driving after using cannabis”. In practice, this means that technology such as software and machine learning will beused to analyse social media posts to determine who thinks what about weed,, “the frequency with which the identified attitudes and behaviours are reported and the co-occurrence of different attitudes and behaviours.” And, “where able, the contractor must also explore the demographic (and other available) correlates of the attitudes and behaviours identified in the analyses.”

The Canadian government won’t say whether the data collected, and the social media profiles of those tracked, will be shared with law enforcers, but it’s fair to assume this is exactly what will happen in the future. (p. 16).

And in their issue for the previous fortnight, 21st September to 4th October 2018, they carried this story about how MIT had developed surveillance software to help medical professionals discover who, online, may suffer depression.

Researcher at MIT have been working on software that can be used to predict the likelihood that a person has, or is likely to suffer from, depression, based on machine analysis of answers to a battery of questions. The software was said to be 77 percent accurate in its predictions.

This has obvious practical applications in healthcare. As the paper notes, “To treat depressed individuals, they must first be diagnosed. To obtain a diagnosis, depressed individuals must actively reach out to mental health professionals. In reality, it can be difficult for the depressed to attain professional attention due to constraints of mobility, cost, and motivation. Passive automated monitoring of human communication may address these constraints and provide better screening for depression.”

As the tech website thenextweb.com observed, “passive automated monitoring of human communication” means, er, eavesdropping – meaning that a likely outcome of this software is a machine listening to your phone calls or reading your emails and using that data to decide whether or not you’re likely to be depressed, without you knowing it’s happening or possibly even knowing why, say, your insurance premiums have gone up or you didn’t get that promotion.

I’ve no problems with developing techniques to better diagnose depression and its treatment. But as the article says, this allows insurance companies and employers to snoop on people without their awareness or consent, and which may have serious harmful consequences for themselves or their careers.

It’s the stuff that Privacy International have been warning about since the mid-90s. And they also warn of the dangers of function creep. Once one part of the government starts using such techniques, others join in and the scope of the surveillance expands.

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Vox Political on the Insulting Appointment of Jackie Doyle-Price as ‘Suicide Prevention Minister’

October 11, 2018

Yesterday, Wednesday 10th October 2018, was World Mental Health Awareness Day. Mental health has become a major issue, with this country in particular seeing increasing rates of depression, particularly amongst school and university students, not to mention the poor, the disabled and the unemployed. According to yesterday’s I newspaper, 4,500 people take their lives every year, and a total of 6,213 people killed themselves last year in the UK and Eire. It’s the leading cause of death in blokes under 45. Guys in the UK are three times more likely to end it all than women, and in Eire the rate is four times.

With this such an issue, Tweezer decided to make a world first by appointing Jackie Doyle-Price as the world’s first Minister for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention. The I yesterday published this pic of Doyle-Price grinning into a camera.

According to the paper, her responsibilities will include ensuring that every local area has a plan to prevent unnecessary deaths. She is also going to be investigating how technology can be used to identify those most at risk.

It also quoted her as saying

“I understand how tragic, devastating and long-lasting the effect of suicide can be on families and communities. In my time as health minister I have met many people who have been bereaved by suicide and their stories of pain and loss will stay with me for a long time.

“It’s these people who need to be at the heart of what we do and I welcome this opportunity to work closely with them as well as experts, to oversee a cross-Government suicide prevention plan, making their sure their views are always heard.” (p.3).

Which are fine words, but from her voting record and previous attitude to the poor and desperate, it’s a pack of lies.

Mike posted an article today pointing out the critical role Tory policies towards the poor, such as cutting benefits, had contributed immensely to rise the suicide. He notes that the inquest into the death of Stephanie Bottrill, who was worried about the bedroom tax, found that the stress caused by the Tory government of the day resulted in her taking her own life.

His article then goes on to quote a piece about it from Nursing Notes, who stated that

“Statistics show that those with long-term physical or mental health issues are significantly more likely to be dependent on the state for assistance with housing and living costs.

“Social isolation, financial and health struggles are thought to be some of the leading risk factors for preventable suicide in the UK.”

It also quoted Vicki Nash, the head of policy and campaigns at the mental health charity, MIND, who said

“MIND found that half of people with mental health problems have thought about or attempted suicide as a result of social issues such as housing issues, finances, benefit support, and employment. We need a benefits system that is supportive – not one that drives people into poverty.”

Which is precisely what the Tory attitude to the welfare state and their wretched reforms don’t do. Thatcher wanted to destroy the welfare state completely, including the NHS. She was prevented from doing so, but she was determined to make getting benefits as hard, cruel and degrading as possible to deter people from going on it. It was one of the wretched ‘Victorian values’ she took over, the principle of ‘less eligibility’ underlying the poverty and degradation of the workhouse. And the Tories have gone on with the same attitude ever since, followed by Blair’s equally revolting New Labour.

Mike has, in his articles, argued strongly that there is a deliberate policy of ‘chequebook euthansia’ behind the Tories’ welfare reforms. It seems as though they’re consciously and deliberately planned to drive the most vulnerable to suicide, so Cameron, Tweezer, IDS, Esther McDeath and the whole sordid lot can save more money, and give more tax cuts to the filthy, pointlessly rich. There’s a nasty strain of Social Darwinism in the Republican Party on the other side of the Atlantic, and it’s in the Tories over here as well. In the survival of the economic fittest, these parties see the rich and business leaders as the biologically superior. And the poor have only themselves to blame – it’s all due to their inferior constitutions. In the Social Darwinism of the 19th century, such people would always be with humanity. The only solution was to stop them breeding by denying them welfare support and sterilizing them. Or simply murdering them, as the Nazis did with their notorious Aktion T4.

And there can be little doubt that Tory policies are driving the poor and vulnerable to take their own lives. Despite repeated whines by the Conservatives that ‘correlation doesn’t indicate causation’, some of those, who have killed themselves left notes, which stated plainly that there were doing so because of the stress of benefit cuts and sanctions. Mike’s article states that 1/2 of all women claiming benefits have thought about killing themselves.

So how does Doyle-Price herself measure up in this? Well, abysmally, as it happens. She voted for raising the bedroom tax, voted against increasing benefits in line with inflation, voted against increasing benefits for the long-term sick and disabled, and voted 46 times in favour of cutting benefits. This was also in Mike’s article from Nursing Notes, who took it from They Work For You.

Worse. She added insult to grievous wounding by laughing about the subject. Yep, she’s also joked about suicide.

I’m not surprised about that either. The Tories have absolutely no sympathy for the suffering of the poor. They really do think it’s a jolly joke. Like when Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith were caught on TV laughing in parliament when one woman’s account of the troubles she’d had claiming benefit were read out. They had a good guffaw, like some Nazi version of the Chuckle Brothers.

Nor is the DWP sympathetic to those with suicidal thoughts. When one claimant said that they were depressed and thinking of suicide, one DWP clerk asked them why they hadn’t done it already.

Mike in his article quotes the reactions of a number of people to the news that Doyle-Price has been appointed to this post. Keith Ordinary Guy said it was like curing malaria with the plague. Matt Turner said it was a grotesque slap in the face to those struggling on. And Samuel Miller, a friend of Mike’s blog, who’s been campaigning for disabled students since attending McGill University in the 1970s, said that nothing angered him more than the government’s maltreatment of the sick and disabled.

He also posted this tweet:

“Was her appointment merely a sop to counter alarming headlines about the soaring rate of suicides and attempted suicides among sick and disabled claimants, mostly triggered by loss of benefits.”

Mike concludes his article with this:

Was it? I don’t think so.

I think it was a signal; they appointed the least appropriate person for the job because they think the deaths and attempted deaths of hundreds of thousands of people are nothing but a big joke. They really are that repulsive.

I don’t think there’s any contradiction between these two positions. Yes, it is a sop to counter the headlines about the soaring suicide rate. And yes, the Tories do find it all a joke, and so deliberately appointed the least appropriate person.

She’s there not because she has any real sympathy with the mentally ill, the depressed, the disabled and suicidal. She’s there purely to make sure the system carries on, while limiting any damage to the party that appointed her. She’s just a mouthpiece, who’s simply there to spout reassuring platitudes and assure the public that the Tories are taking this issue seriously. And all the while she’s going to laugh about it behind her back.

Get her out, get Tweezer out and the whole wretched lot of them OUT! Before they drive any more people to their deaths.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Tories Created A Hostile Environment for the Disabled

September 27, 2018

This is a very short video, of just over a minute, from Guardian News on YouTube. It’s a section from Corbyn’s speech at the Labour party conference in which he states plainly that the Tories have created a hostile environment for disabled people, and describes the anxiety and misery they are put through by the assessment tests, citing letters he has been sent. He said

For too many people, social security is become a system of institutionalized bullying and degradation. The Tories have created a hostile environment for disabled people. Hundreds of people from all over the country write to me about it every week. People like Richard, who says this,

‘My wife was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis twenty years ago. A few months ago we were told she needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payments. She had an assessment by somebody who was not medically trained. We’ve now been told that all her medical benefit would be stopped, and yes, I have tried to be her rock, but the stress and suffering I can see my wife going through, is so very cruel and I’ve had to be put myself on antidepressants.’

These are human consequences of a Tory government that puts tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of care for the disabled people of our society.

He ends his speech to massive applause.

He’s absolutely right, but it’s not just the Tories, who are to blame. The assessment system was brought in by New Labour on the advice of the private health insurance company, Unum. It was based on a series of papers by one of their pet scientists about the role of the mind in illness, which has now been discredited as utter bunkum. It was also based on other, discredited studies that assumed that most people on sickness or disability benefits were malingerers. At the same Blair, like the Tories, loudly proclaimed that working was good for the long-term ill and disabled, even when it was obviously making their conditions worse. Since then we’ve had scandal after scandal of the terminally ill and those, who are clearly too disabled to work, being found ‘fit for work’ and having their benefits stopped.

It’s now time to end this vicious, unscientific, degrading and cruel system. The Tories must be thrown out of power, and the Blairites from the Labour party. After all, there are still Blairite MPs who believe that conditions should be made harder for the unemployed so that Labour can win over Tory voters.

RT: Report Shows Benefit Sanctions Have Negative Effects on Claimants

May 28, 2018

Mike last week put up a piece about the report compiled by a number of British universities, which showed that the sanctions regime imposed by the DWP does absolutely no good at all, and in fact has negative consequences for claimants. It does not help them to find work, and in fact pushes them further into depression and mental illness.

In this clip from RT, presenter Bill Dod talks to Steve Topple of the Canary, here credited as a political commenter. Topple states that the report, which was compiled over five years from countless individual cases, just shows what disability rights activists and organisations like DPAC, and political commenters like himself have known all along.

The programme quotes the DWP, which states that 70 per cent of claimants said that the regime helped them to find work, and that sanctions were only meted out in a small minority of cases and the DWP tailored its help to individual cases. Topple states that the Department’s response, that 70 per cent of claimants say that it helped them find work, is meaningless because they were looking for work anyway.

Dod then challenges him with the question of whether some people, who can work, do find life on benefits more attractive than getting a job. Topple despatches this myth by quoting the real figures for benefit fraud, which is something like 1.6 per cent.

Topple then goes on to attack the sanctions’ systems origins with New Labour. It was Tony Blair, who introduced it in 2007, with disastrous effects on the disabled. Instead of being given the care to which they were entitled when the NHS was set up, disabled people were now redefined as ‘fit for work’, even when they weren’t. Topple makes the point that the sanctions system now divides people into two groups. They’re either fit for work, and so supposed to be out looking for a job, or unfit and marginalised. He points out that there have been five reports already condemning Britain’s sanction system – four from the UN, one from the EU, and that what is needed is a thorough report into the DWP. Topple clearly has his facts at his fingertips, as he says very clearly after dismissing the DWP’s rebuttals point by point that he could go on for hours.

In fact, it’s possible to attack and refute all of the DWP’s statement about benefit sanctions. Sanctions are not imposed on a small minority of cases. They’ve been imposed on a large number, apparently for no reason other than that the Jobcentres have targets to meet of the number of claimants they are supposed to throw off benefits. And they have been imposed for the most trivial reasons. As for help being tailored to meet the needs of individual claimants, it’s true that sometimes there are schemes that are available for some claimants in some circumstances, but I’ve seen no evidence that the DWP does this with all, or even the majority of claimants. And the statement that it is reasonable for the Department to impose certain conditions on claimants for the receipt of their benefits is just more self-serving nonsense. It doesn’t, for example, say anything about the way some sick and disabled people have been thrown off benefits for missing interviews, when they have had extremely good reasons: like they were ill in hospital, for example.

Mike in his post about the report wondered why the government carried on with the sanctions system, when it didn’t work. The answer’s fairly obvious. The Tories, and New Labour, hate the poor and the ill. New Labour’s policy was based on the assumption that many people claiming disability benefit were simply malingerers, courtesy of a series of quack studies supported by Unum or one of the other American private health insurers. And the Tories and the Tory press hate the unemployed, the poor and the disabled because they see them as a drain on the money that the rich should be allowed to keep for themselves, rather than taken in taxes to support them. And they also know that it’s a very good tactic for them to divide the working class by getting those in work, but feeling the pinch from low wages and job insecurity, to hate those out of work by demonising them as malingerers and idle fraudsters. It distracts people from attacking the true source of the poverty and insecurity – the rich, corporate elite and their programme of low wages, zero hours contracts and increasing freedom to lay off whomever they choose, for whatever reason.

No, the sanctions system doesn’t work. But it expresses the right-wing, Thatcherite hatred of the poor and sick, and is a useful tool for maintaining a divided, cowed workforce, and generating the entirely misplaced anger from those deceived by the system, which keeps the Tories in government.

Florence on the Sanctions System and its Architect, Yvette Cooper

May 4, 2018

A few days ago I posted up a piece about the death of Jody Whiting, another victim of the sanctions system. Whiting had been sanctioned because she missed a jobcentre interview. In fact, she was in hospital at the time, being treated for a cyst on the brain. In despair at having no money to support herself and her children, she went into a local wood and hanged herself. She joined hundreds of others, who have died of starvation or taken their own lives.

Florence, one of the great commenters on this blog, posted these observations on how the system contravenes UN human rights legislation, and is scathing about its architect, the Blairite Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

Under the UN Treaty on Human Rights it is illegal to use starvation as a punishment, I understand. Yet this is exactly what the sanctions are designed to do – it is stated in the DWP Handbook which state that sanctions will produce physical and mental “discomfort”.

(And while Yvette Cooper is being lauded for her “Windrush” success by the RW journalists and PLP (ignoring Diane Abbot, David Lammy and the others who have done all the work – racist much?) she was the one who designed the DWP system much as it is today, persecuting the people who need the Social Security safety net. Yes, the Tories have made it worse, but she gifted them this system of assessments and sanctions. Yet even after the UN report on the abuse of human rights by the DWP, she made election promises to be “harder than” IDS on the ‘scroungers and frauds’. I hope that she is not proposed again as a contender for the Labour Leadership, she is unfit on that very simple, human test.)

The sanction system has gone far beyond physical and mental discomfort, and is responsible for real suffering and death. Medical doctors and psychiatrists have reported how it has pushed patients into depression and anxiety, and made those, who already suffer from it worse. Much worse.

As for the media ignoring the attacks on the Windrush deportations by Diane Abbott, David Lammy and others to concentrate on Yvette Cooper, this does show racial bias. The right-wing media hate Diane Abbott and do everything they can to attack and humiliate her, because she is left-wing and passionately anti-racist. David Lammy, I believe, was one of those responsible for Operation Black Vote in the 1990s. This was to encourage more Black people to vote in elections, so their issues would be taken more seriously by politicians and there would be more BAME people elected to parliament. Which is certainly enough to bring down the rage of the Sun and the Mail. And I can remember how racist the right-wing press were in the 1980s, and their attacks on the Black MPs then elected to parliament, like Diane Abbott.

The media has also been constantly promoting and supporting the Blairites against Corbyn and the real Labour moderates. It’s because the Blairites are all Thatcherites, and share their hatred of nationalisation, workers’ rights and the welfare state. A little while ago when the Blairites looked like they were facing the threat of deselection, the Torygraphy/Mail journo, Simon Heffer wrote a piece claiming that they were ‘thoroughly decent people’ being bullied and undermined by the evil Fascist Trotskyite Marxists of Momentum. I’ve no doubt they’d like to promote her as the British version of Hillary Clinton, just as they were supporting all the female candidates against Corbyn in the Labour leadership elections. If one of them was elected head of the party, it would be a success for women. Despite the policies they stand for – more austerity, low pay, privatisation, including that of the NHS, and outsourcing harming women the most.

Cooper’s statement that a Labour government would be even harder than the Tories on the unemployed showed just how out of touch she was with the realities of life on the breadline. It also showed that whatever they were, the Blairites aren’t ‘thoroughly decent people’. They did everything they could to smear and undermine Corbyn and his supporters. Heffer and the right were claiming that Momentum is some kind of far left entryist group, and compared them to Militant when that group was intriguing against the right-wing members of the Labour party when Kinnock was leader. But Momentum represents traditional Labour politics and voters. The real intriguers, who have constantly been trying to rig everything in their favour, are the Blairites.

Cooper isn’t solely responsible for the sanctions system. As Jo, another of the great commenters on this blog said, the Tories didn’t need to pick it up. But they did, and massively expanded it. So there is now something like a quarter of million people, who can only get their food from food banks because of the deliberate poverty the Tories have inflicted through the system.

Cooper and the Blairites are a disgrace. They should either back the real Labour activists and supporters standing behind Corbyn, or else they should resign and go to a right-wing party, that better reflects their political beliefs.

Esther McVie and the Rape Clause: Adding Lies and Insults to Traumatic Assault

April 20, 2018

I really can’t let this go without comment. In one of the history books I’ve got here at home, there’s an observation that you can tell how civilised a culture is by how high the status of women is. I think it’s in part of the book discussing the ancient Egyptians, where the status of women was very high for the ancient world. If that’s the case, then Esther McVile and the Tories are dragging us back into real barbarism.

McVile was before the Scots parliament this week to give her testimony regarding child benefit, and the infamous ‘rape clause’. You can only receive child benefit for two children, but it is available for rape victims, provided they can show that their third child was conceived through rape. This in itself is immensely controversial, and Ruth Davidson, the head of the Tories in Scotland, briefly earned herself the soubriquet ‘Rape Clause Ruth’ after she got up on her hind legs to justify the rape clause. That was repulsive enough. Now the Tories have gone even lower and got Esther McVie to try to defend the indefensible.

And what did the Wicked Witch of the Wirral say? That the rape clause offered victims the chance to talk about their assault, and offered them ‘double support’.

It does no such thing. Everything about the modern Job Centre interview is design to humiliate, bully and degrade the prospective claimant. It’s all part of Thatcher’s sacred Victorian values. She followed the ‘less eligibility’ ideology of the workhouse, in which claiming benefits was to be made so harsh and degrading that only the very desperate would willingly go on them.

As for the psychological harm rape does, I know very little about it. But I do know that it leaves victims traumatised and mentally scarred. They may irrationally blame themselves, and definitely do not want to relive the experience over and over again. I can remember watching a documentary on Channel 4 about new advances in neuroscience and mental health, which included a piece about doctors in Canada, who were treating a French Canadian lady. This poor woman was still massively depressed and anxious a year or more after her assault. And it goes without saying that there are any number of rape victims like her. They don’t like talking about their experience, and they feel so deeply ashamed that in general they really don’t want other people knowing about it.

And the DWP is not known for its sensitivity. Like when its wretched servants ask depressives why they haven’t committed suicide yet. No depressed person should be asked this question. And no rape victim should be required to describe the event for an unsympathetic bureaucrat, whose only concern is to find some excuse to sanction their benefits.

One of the many great commenters on Mike’s blog, Aunty1960, posted this about their experience of the way the DWP handles rape claims.

I have witness statements on my After Atos feedback survey from rape and child sex survivors who say they have to recount their ordeal up to ten times every time they are called for an assessment as they have to again go through it with GP social worker, psychiartrist, DWP physiotherapist counsellor etc etc in order to get each bit of paper and supportive documentary evidence.

The assessors are not understanding or supportive and can ask really inappropriate and insensitive questions.

One witness statement says that all the work that has been done over the years has been totally undone because of having to go through the assessments and retell it and relive it everytime. No closure and respect for PTSD triggers, just keep opening the wound over and over again.

Some very inappropriate comments by assessor on women and their sexuality and sexual experiences. Even outright disapproval of a woman being a lesbian and inappropriate comments.

A lot of work undone and lost. and that includes physical ailments where interventions have been completely undone and undermined.

I cannot stand most people most of the time and professionals about sexual abuse and social discrimination and prejudice, Same ideas still there. This just reinforce and compounds it 100 times more.

But McVile’s statement is designed to play to that part of the Tory-voting public, who are fortunate never to have stepped into a jobcentre, at least, not recently. The people, who are prepared to take the Tories comments about their welfare reforms at face value, and swallow all the lies about how they’re not cutting benefits, their simply refocusing them to help people better. The lies that workfare isn’t about giving cheap, subsidised forced labour to big business, including the supermarkets, but about helping people into work by giving them new skills and other such specious rubbish. Quite apart from the morons that believes the lies put out by the Scum, the Heil and the Depress that all benefit claimants are really scroungers, no matter how severe their disability. ‘Cause these papers says so, and they saw that character in a wheelchair running about in Little Britain. Oh yes, and single mothers only have babies to claim the child and other benefits.You can read off the standard Tory attitudes of the people, who will believes McVile’s monstrous, platitudinous lies, almost like ticking boxes in a list.

Not the Scots, however. The day after McVile uttered this bilge, they organised a demonstration against her. Bravo! and maximum respect! McVie is truly vile, along with the rest of the squad running the DWP – Damian Green and his predecessor, Ian Duncan Smith. All of them should be cleaned out and charged with crimes against humanity for their role in manipulating the benefits system to cause the victims of their sanctions to starve to death or commit suicide.

Unfortunately, they’re likely to be rewarded instead. Rape Clause Ruth was in today’s papers because Time magazine has named her one of the 20 most influential women, or at least, influential women in Scotland. Which is enough to have millions of Scots voting SNP because of Nicola Sturgeon. Although I’d rather see named as more influential than Davidson the actress, who played Mary Hen, Rab. C. Nesbit’s long-suffering wife.

Apart from being offensive in itself, McVile’s stupid comments are dangerous because they try to justify a system that is causing people harm. And her words themselves are likely to upset victims of sexual assault and their families. One of the things I’ve learned from being made redundant along with others is that it isn’t just an official action that hurts. It’s also the dull platitudes management offer to try and make it more palatable. I used to be a civil servant years ago, and one day a whole group of us were called in individually to be told we were going to be made redundant. One young lad left in tears. Talking to him afterwards, he told me that it wasn’t the redundancy itself, but the nonsense the manager came out with about the possibility of getting jobs elsewhere in offices in the area. The lad knew that there was no hope of that. The redundancy stung, and what made it all the worse was the smooth assurances made by someone from outside the office to make it all seem better. McVie’s comments are like that, but much worse because of the horrific nature of the crime to which these women have been subjected.

McVie deserves her nickname. She really is vile, and so are the rest of her corrupt and mendacious crew. Get them out, and Labour in!

Change.Org Petition to Have Boris Johnson Step Down as Foreign Secretary

November 7, 2017

There is now a petition on Change.Org for Boris Johnson to step down as Foreign Secretary because of his colossal, glaring ineptitude. The most recent example saw a women of dual British-Iranian nationality visiting friends for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year holiday, being arrested and threatened with imprisonment.

The explanation for the petition runs as follows

Boris Johnson has hit the headlines again for yet another gaffe.

Only this time in his muddle he said that British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran to train journalists last year when she was imprisoned at Evin Prison. Her family and workplace say this is wrong, that she is not a journalist, but was visiting family on holiday.

Because of Boris’ mistake, Nazanin’s time in prison could be doubled by Iranian officials. She is there for allegedly plotting to topple the government in Tehran, although official charges were never made public. Nazanin suffers depression from being separated from her husband and three year old daughter. I’ve heard first-hand of the physical and psychological torture as one of my own family members served a term there. Evin is Iran’s main holding place for political prisoners.

Our government should be working day and night get Nazanin back home to her family.

As a British citizen, I want to make sure we have a Foreign Secretary that supports us. Instead we have someone who is unfit for the job. Because he lobs grenades at sensitive situations. He lacks attention to detail. And in doing so, is a threat to British people and damaging overseas relations. That’s why I’m calling for Boris to step down from his role as Foreign Secretary.

This is not the only mistake Boris has made. Just last month he made jokes about clearing away dead bodies in Libya to turn Sirte into the next Dubai. And in the past, he ran a magazine which accused Liverpool fans of ‘wallowing in it’ after the Hillsborough disaster.

Boris must apologise, Boris must repair the damage he has done to Nazanin and her case but most importantly Boris must go.

I’ve signed it, as I’m heartily sick of his incompetence embarrassing us as a nation. And I’m sick and angry that an innocent woman, who has already suffered five years in Evin prison, has been interrogated and threatened with further imprisonment by the Iranian authorities, thanks to Boris shooting his mouth off.

Iran is a fascinating country with a rich, ancient culture. But it is a repressive theocracy with an intense suspicion of Britain and the West dating from the days of British imperialism, our ownership of its oil industry, and support for the Shah’s brutal autocracy. In the 1990s there was a thaw in diplomatic relations between our two countries, and there have been significant cultural exchanges since. For example, the YBAs a few years ago hosted a show in Iran, and the British Museum leant the Iranians the Cyrus Cylinder, which dates from the period of the Persian Empire and records the conquests of the emperor Cyrus the Great. One of these was the conquest of Babylonia and the Holy Land.

Yet relations are still very delicate. Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe isn’t the only one, whose safety could be placed in jeopardy by this buffoon saying the wrong thing. The Iranians have in the past arrested other British travellers in Iran on suspicion of spying, and our diplomatic people have had to work hard getting them out.

And it’s not just Iran. There are many other similar societies, where British imperialism and its memory are very sensitive subjects. It’s all too easy to imagine something similar happening elsewhere due to Boris talking uninformed nonsense.

Johnson has refused to apologise for this dangerous mistake, preferring to place the blame on the Iranian authorities. I completely agree that they should not have acted as they did. But considering the nature of the Iranian regime, which is pretty well notorious, it is very incumbent on Boris to make sure that he avoids giving unnecessary offence, or a pretext for the Iranian authorities to act in this fashion.

I’m also heartily sick of Johnson trying to present himself as some kind of loveable buffoon, who means well despite everything he says and does. He isn’t. He’s a scheming intriguer, who’s fiercely ambitious. He obviously feels that as an Old Etonian he is entitled to a seat, if not the highest seat, in British government. And I’m fed up with his attitude that he can go one and do whatever he likes, regardless of the consequence for this nation, and the ordinary people, he puts in danger.

If you want to sign it yourself, it’s at

https://www.change.org/p/boris-step-down-as-foreign-secretary?j=178294&sfmc_sub=269081008&l=32_HTML&u=33184044&mid=7259809&jb=3072&utm_medium=email&utm_source=aa_sign&utm_campaign=178294&sfmc_tk=qsSqDg4%2f%2bpD798KvauUzwd3ZfiuUegHU43mVbCYO0kKXOxvG9SYpXypwHbII5UEv&j=178294&sfmc_sub=269081008&l=32_HTML&u=33184044&mid=7259809&jb=3072

RT Report: 90 People a Month Dying After Being Found Fit for Work

August 14, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political blogged about this issue last week. In this piece from RT, the presenter interviews journalist Steve Topple over the official figures that 90 people a month are dying after being found fit for work under the Work Capability Test. In one instance, a man, Lawrence Bond, collapsed and died of a heart attack right outside the jobcentre. He had been found fit for work, despite having an underlying heart problem. Topple also goes further, and cites other, highly disturbing figures that show the immense harm the tests are doing to disabled people. Oxford University found that 590 people had taken their own lives due to them. The tests are also linked to 270,000 cases of mental illness, and the prescription of 800,000 drugs for people suffering from the stress of these tests.

Topple and the present also discuss how the tests were introduced by New Labour back in 2008 as a way of redefining disability. Topple states that we do need to cut the welfare bill, but the tests are a blunt instrument that harms the disabled.

Topple also makes the point that the tests themselves are uneconomical. They’re more expensive to administer than whatever savings are produced from them. Mike and the other disability bloggers and activists have pointed out that this isn’t about saving money. It’s about penalizing and harassing the poor and disabled, simply for being poor and disabled. It is part of the principle of less eligibility, the ideology behind the workhouse, which Maggie Thatcher so enthusiastically embraced as one of her vile ‘Victorian values’.

They also make short work of another scandal – the DWP’s refusal to hand over the precise figures on the pretext that this would damage ‘commercial confidentiality’. The document being requested is Maximus’ – the company that has been administering the tests since 2015 – own internal report into the results of their tests across regions. Topple states that in refusing to publish the report, the DWP is acting directly against the orders of the Information Commissioner, who has demanded that the figures be published.

The claim of commercial confidentiality is a nonsense anyway. If a company is performing the work of a government department, then it should be open to public scrutiny in the same way a government department is. If you want to argue philology here, the Latin phrase for ‘state’ was ‘res publica’, the ‘public thing’, which became our word, ‘republic’. By implication, if a company is therefore working as part of the res publica, it should be open to inspection by the public, as free citizens.

Of course, this is all deeply abhorrent to the DWP and its heads, Iain Duncan Smith and now Damian Green. These two and their underlings and fellow ministers have been determined to cull as many of the disabled as possible in what Mike has called ‘chequebook euthanasia’, while hiding the figures from the general public. Mike has said many times on his book about the immense struggle he has had getting the true figures from the DWP, who refused, stonewalled, and challenged his requests for them. Just as they did to other disability bloggers and activists.

To see the names and biographies of some of the people, who have been killed by this vile policy, go to Mike’s blog, as well Stilloaks, Johnny Void and Another Angry Voice, and see DPAC’s website for their criticisms and campaigns against the DWP.

As for the Department itself, I fully concur with Mike: it should be broken up, and the worst offenders in it, those determined to make the lives of claimants as miserable as possible, should be sacked with no chance of a golden handshake. Frankly, if there was an real justice, Smith, Green and the Wicked Witch of the Wirral, Esther McVie, should be behind bars on a charge of corporate manslaughter.

The Tory, Privatise Enterprise Cure for Stressed Teachers: Electrostimulate their Brains!

July 3, 2017

Everything about this says Bad Science, as in the book by Ben Goldacre. And ‘bad’ in every definition of the word. Not only wrong scientifically, but also morally. But it’s what you get all too often with the Tories in charge.

Mike over at Vox Political has today posted up a piece commenting on a story in today’s Torygraph, hyping the use of an electronic device, the Alpha-Stim, which Leigh Academies Trust are offering to their staff at seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a special educational needs school in Kent to treat the symptoms of stress amongst their staff. The Torygraph says that the device is the size of a mobile phone, and works by sending micro-pulses of electricity to the brain to stimulate the production of alpha waves. This supposedly helps relieve anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. The Trust is offering it along with other therapies. The extract Mike includes in his piece quotes one Peter Caunt of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, who says ‘We know this type of therapy works’ before going on to say that the question is whether it is cost-effective.

Mike compares it to the shock treatment used on very disturbed people, which works by burning out part of their frontal lobes. He states that he personally knows people, who’ve had it done, and they have not been the same afterwards.
He asks why the schools management company isn’t trying to solve the problem by making teachers’ lives less stressful.

He wonders if the real reason is that the company’s bosses want to turn their staff into compliant little teaching zombies, who won’t complain, because they’ve had their conscience burned out of them along with the stress.

He also makes the point that the Trust used to be headed by Frank Green, who was appointed to a two-year stint as schools commissioner by Michael Gove. This shows the strong connection between the company and the Tory party.

The device should, apparently, be used for 20 minutes each, but some teaching staff are using it twice or three times. So Mike asks the obvious question of what kind of teachers they’re like afterwards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/the-tory-cure-for-stressed-teachers-is-electrocute-their-brains/

Everything about this is highly dubious. It looks very much like something straight out of the accounts of bad, if not pathological science, from the pages of Ben Goldacre, Martin Gardner and others. Ben Goldacre, you may remember, wrote a book, Bad Science, about this kind of nonsense a few years ago. the Sceptic, Martin Gardner also attacked bad and pernicious science a few decades ago in his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This looks like a prime example of it, to go with other, earlier pseudo-sciences like eugenics, lobotomies, Lysenkoism, Nazi ‘race science’ and monkey glands.

As for electro-convulsive therapy, it was devised by a German Jewish doctor, who fled Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy. Deciding that it could be an effective method of treating the mentally ill, he started by testing it on tramps he and the authorities rounded up off the street. Adam Parfrey published an essay on it, ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’, in one of his books on the extremes of belief in 1990s America, Apocalypse Culture or Cult Rapture. That essay made it very clear just how nasty it was.

It’s still used, but proper medical professionals only resort to it in the case of severely disturbed people, where there really isn’t much choice.

And everything known about the brain should say that tinkering with it, unless you know exactly what you’re doing, is an appallingly bad idea. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Modern neuroscience has succeeded in identifying which parts of the brain produces which mental function, but even so, there is a vast amount we don’t know. Raymond Tallis, who is a Humanist and former neurologist and neurosurgeon, wrote a book, Aping Mankind, with the aim to show that much human thought and mind couldn’t be reduced to neurological functions. He stated clearly that he wanted to show that thinking was ‘as mysterious as walking on water’. Given the vast complexity of the brain, and its vulnerability, it really is stupid and dangerous to mess around with it in this manner.

Remember a few years ago, when many doctors started to worry about possible brain damage caused by putting mobile phones next to your ear? They were afraid of the health risks posed by putting what is a microwave source next to your brain when talking on the phone.

It also reminds me of the ‘feedback cult’ of the ’70s. This also noted the connection between alpha waves and mood. It therefore encouraged people to hook themselves up to special monitors, which registered their alpha waves, and then learn how to control them and so altered their mood, all for supposedly beneficial purposes. That was also debunked some time ago.

The alpha-stim also sounds to be me like something that escaped from the Human Potential labs in the ’60s and ’70s. The Human Potential movement was one of those weird movements based on psychology that emerged in the 1960s, promising to bring people fulfilment and happiness through their programme of therapies. It still survives in various forms, and developed strong links with corporate capitalism, to the point where its detractors have called it a corporate mind control cult.

Adam Curtis devoted a programme to it in his documentary about the legacy of Freudianism, The Century of the Self, over a decade ago now. And what the programme revealed about it was truly chilling. The movement and its doctors managed to convince the medical profession to let them try to treat a selection of patients suffering from schizophrenia. The treatment consisted of dosing these poor souls up to the gills with LSD, and then attaching electrodes to electrify their brains. And all the while they were taught to repeat to themselves, ‘I am comfortable in myself’.

They interviewed one poor young woman, who’d been a victim of this nonsense. The treatment was a horrible, ghastly failure. It was perhaps a mercy that the woman said that she couldn’t remember much about it now, except that sometimes she had it done several times a day. It was this kind of appalling medical experimentation that the producers of Classic Star Trek took solid aim at in the episode ‘Dagger of the Mind’.

As for this latest rubbish, it also reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, when Doctor Bashir is called on treat Garak, the station’s Kardassian tailor and spy. Garak, like many other Kardassian secret agents, had a device implanted in his brain to stimulate his pleasure centres, so he could get through being tortured. Garak, however, has become so miserable that he started using it recreationally, and so has become addicted. Bashir has no choice but to find out what he can about the device, and try to remove it from his friend.

Which all sounds dangerously close to what’s going on here, with the exception that it’s teachers being treated with it, not alien spies.

I am really not at all surprised that it’s the Tories, or a company that’s associated with them, that’s peddling this nonsense. The Tories just love pseudoscience. I’ve reblogged stuff from Kitty S. Jones and other disability bloggers about the model of sickness devised by Unum and their pet psychiatrists at Cardiff University to have people thrown off benefit and declared fit for work, has been roundly debunked by other medical professionals.

And a little while ago, Private Eye in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column took a pot shot at a Tory-controlled council in Kent or that part of the world, where the local authority had cut council services, but was funnelling tens of thousands of pounds to a company headed by one of its female members, which specialised in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming or some other kind of dodgy therapy to offer spurious treatment to council staff.

Which, again, sounds very much like what’s going on here.

And then there was the case of the Leaderene herself, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was into Ayur Veda, a system of alternative therapies brought to the world by one of the dodgy Indian gurus, who rocked up here in the 1960s. Thatcher treated herself to baths, where along with the water there was a weak electric current. Obviously, she thought it would do her some good. I’m quite sure there were many others, who wish the voltage had been somewhat stronger.

This looks to me very much like a potentially harmful pseudoscience. As for Caunt’s statement that ‘we know it works’, that’s what Tory spokespeople have said about work improving people’s mental health, and other mental professionals, not to mention normal, ordinary people without a financial or ideological stake in it, pointing out that it’s rubbish. And I’ve no doubt it’s the same here.

This is just bad science, which is being hyped by company that obviously finds it cheaper to have their staff trying to make themselves less miserable by running electricity through their brains, than actually trying to do something more positive and concrete to improve conditions for them.

Pretty much like British society as a whole, where instead of offering real guidance and support to the unemployed, their harangued and demeaned by Jobcentre Staff through stupid, nonsensical models of unemployment and disability supported as government policy.

Guardian Documentary on Disability Rights Caravan in Bolivia

May 6, 2017

This video by the Guardian was recommended by one of the many great commenters on this blog. It’s a 30-minute long film about a caravan of disabled people and their carers in Bolivia. The protesters were marching to claim the £70 a month pension disabled people have been promised by Evo Morales government. The blurb for the video runs

People with disabilities are among the most discriminated against in Bolivia. Fed up with being ignored, a group of them march across the Andes to the seat of the government in La Paz, asking to speak to President Evo Morales. They are met with riot police, barricades, teargas and water cannon

Headed by determined leaders, including Rose Mery, Marcelo, Feliza and Miguel, the protesters camp on the streets a block away from the main plaza near the government palace. For the first time in Bolivia’s history, police erect 3m-high barricades, station tanks and hundreds of riot officers to stop the protesters in wheelchairs from entering the plaza.

Violent confrontations flare up between police and the protesters, with officers using pepper spray and water cannon. The government refuses to discuss their request for a pension of $70 a month and the protesters suspend themselves from the city’s bridges in their wheelchairs.

After following the protesters on the march, film-makers Violeta Ayala, Dan Fallshaw and Fernando Barbosa gain intimate access to their camp, including up-close scenes of regular violent reactions from the police. The film-makers and other journalists are also threatened. For three months the activists with disabilities attempt to speak to the president but face criticism from the state’s official news outlets.

As public pressure grows, can Rose Mery and her fellow protesters win their fight?

There’s also links to a piece, which followed up what happened afterwards, and to where people can share their experiences of being a disability campaigner.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2017/may/05/fighting-for-a-pension-disability-rights-protesters-in-bolivia-face-barricades

This is a deeply moving video. Many of the protesters are in wheelchairs. It states that they spent 30 days in Cochabamba protesting, then 35 days on the road to tackle the government in La Paz. Their sojourn in the country’s capital lasted at least another ten days.

They wanted to entire Murillo Plaza, but find when they get there that the way is blocked by riot police in full body armour, with shields and tear gas. In subsequent confrontations, the rozzers use water cannon on them. The protesters try several times to break through the security cordon. When this fails, they settled down in tents and shelters. At one stage they are so desperate that a woman in a wheelchair, Rose Mery, has herself hoisted into the air from a bridge.

A government spokesman appears on television to denounce them, claiming that they are trying to destabilise the government. One of the men protesting states very clearly that they aren’t politicians. If they were, he says, they’d be better politicians than those in power.

Eventually they managed to get a meeting with the employment minister, who flatly refuses to discuss the pension. The protesters are naturally disgusted. As a reaction to this, they cover themselves with rubbish, chanting that ‘Evo! Evo! Evo treats us as rubbish!’ Later, they strip down to their underpants. Then one night a car smashes through a group of 12 of the protesters, injuring eight and killing two. One of the victims is an eight-year old girl, whose mother is killed and the child herself put into a coma.

Two of the leaders, Marcelo and Feliz, are forced to leave the camp in fear of their lives. Another man, Miguel, is hospitalised with urinary problems.

The protesters are deeply cynical about the lies spread by the government. They are not impressed with the claim that they have access to free healthcare. One of the speakers also chillingly describes how his sister tried to find a doctor to ‘put him out of his misery’. It’s the kind of forced euthanasia that was adopted as state policy in Nazi Germany.

The group includes people of both European and indigenous heritage. Bolivia is a Roman Catholic country, and one of the protesters carries a cross.

Although conditions are clearly much harsher in Bolivia as a developing nation, many disabled people and their carers and friends will recognise similar attitudes. Our government is similarly killing disabled people through denying them the benefits they are owed through the very stringent and fraudulent attitude of the assessors and others setting the Work Capability Tests. Under these, seriously ill people, including those in comas, have been unfairly and ludicrously judged ‘fit for work’. Mike also described in his blog how one disabled person, an amputee, was asked by the DWP when she expected her limbs to grow back. This attitude also extends to people, whose health problems don’t show, like those suffering depression and anxiety. Their condition has been made much worse by the stress of these tests. And just as outrageously, people with depression, who have confessed to thoughts of suicide, have been asked why they haven’t done it.

The Bolivian protesters state they feel powerless against a government that has the media and police on its side.

The feeling is shared by many disabled people and their carers in Britain. The Beeb and the other TV stations have frequently not covered demos here against austerity. And thanks to the government’s campaign of lies, stigmatising all disabled people as fraudsters, hate crime against the disabled has risen by a monstrous 413 per cent.

And just as the Bolivian politicos hide themselves away from protesters, so have the idiots and tyrants running the DWP. Remember Ian Duncan Smith? He repeatedly refused to give evidence before the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee investigating benefit deaths. When he finally did attend, he turned up surrounded with armed police. Just in case he was going to be attacked by all the disabled people on the public balcony.

Other examples of aIDS’ military-style courage, sorry, craven cowardice includes him leaving Tory meetings early so he won’t have to meet any protesters, and hiding in hotel laundry bins.

Bolivia is a poor country, but I don’t think it will be long before the working people of this country are forced into a similar level of poverty. The Tory authors of the book, Britannia Unchained, argued that British working people should also put up with lower wages, poorer working conditions, longer hours and greater job insecurity, in order to compete with the peoples of the Developing World. Who are similarly being made poorer and more desperate by their politicos, following the same neoliberal tosh. Meanwhile, the capitalist class – the financiers and proprietors – get richer.

All over the world working people, the poor and the disabled, are being attacked, demonised and maltreated by their government. We need to stand in solidarity with them, wherever they are, for a better world for all of us.