Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’

Short Book on William Morris

March 3, 2018

One of the programmes on the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of British Socialism Present by Anne McElvoy was, naturally, on William Morris, the great British artist, writer – he translated a number of Icelandic sagas, and is regarded as one of the founder of modern genre Fantasy – and social activist and revolutionary Socialist, William Morris.

If you don’t have the time or patience for a full scale biography of Morris, but want to know a bit more about him, I can recommend Peter Stansky’s William Morris (Oxford: OUP 1983). It was published as part of OUP’s ‘Past Masters’ series of short biographies of the great figures of the past, like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Darwin, and so on. It’s only 96 pages, including index. The chapters are as follows:

1. Youth
2. Oxford
3. Red House and the Firm
4. Poetry and Early Politics
5 The 1880s
6 Last Years

There’s also a section for further reading. The blurb for it on the back cover runs

William Morris was one of the great figures of the Victorian age; an artist and craftsman and a successful writer of romances. He was also an ardent socialist and leader of the labour movement. His concern for the place of art in society, and his analysis of that society’s discontent, place Morris as a thinker in the company of Marx and Ruskin. Peter Stansky presents, in the context of his age, and in all his engaging multiplicity, the life and personality of a man whom a contemporary perceptively described as ‘The Earthly Paradox’.

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The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills

July 16, 2016

Body Economic Pic

By David Stuckler, MPH, PhD, and Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD (New York: Basic Books 2013)

This is another book I picked up in the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street the other day. Written by two American health researchers, it examines the way economic recessions and austerity affect people’s health from the Great Recession of the 1930s, the Fall of Communism, Greece and Iceland, and today’s recession, which began with the banking collapse in 2008. The authors are medical researchers, whose own experience of poverty and ill health has led them to examine its effect on entire societies. They conclude that while recessions often lead to high – frequently devastatingly high outbreaks of disease and mortality, what is really crucial is the state’s handling of them. In countries which have a strong welfare state, and are determined to invest into getting their citizens back into work, such as Denmark in the 1990s, public health may actually improve. And as public health improves, the economy begins to pick up. In countries where the opposite is true – where the state just cuts, and is intent on dismantling the welfare infrastructure, like Greece and Cameron’s (and May’s) Britain, the result is higher disease and mortality.

As well as giving the impersonal stats, they also illustrate the damaging effects of austerity on public health through personal case studies. These include ‘Olivia’, a little girl, who suffered terrible burns when her unemployed father tried to burn their house down in a drunken rage, and an elderly Greek man, Dimitris Christoulas. Unable to see any way out of his poverty, he publicly shot himself outside the Greek parliament building.

One of the victims of austerity mentioned in the very first pages of the book is Brian McArdle, a severely disabled man, who was nevertheless declared ‘fit for work by ATOS. Basu and Stuckler write

‘”I will never forgive them,” wrote thirteen-year-old Kieran McArdle to the Daily Record, a national newspaper based in Glasgow. “I won’t be able to come to terms with my dad’s death until I get justice for him.”

Kieran’s father, fifty-seven-year-old Brian, had worked as a security guard in Lanarkshire, near Glasgow. The day after Christmas 2011, Brian had a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his left side, blind in one eye, and unable to speak. He could no longer continue working to support his family, so he signed up for disability income from the British government.

That government, in the hands of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron since the 2010 elections, would prove no friend to the McArdles. Cameron claimed that hundreds of thousands of Britons were cheating the government’s disability system. The Department for Work and Pensions begged to differ. It estimated that less than 1 percent of disability benefit funds went to people who were not genuinely disabled.

Still, Cameron proceeded to cut billions of pounds from welfare benefits including support for the disabled. To try to meet Cameron’s targets, the Department for Work and Pensions hired Atos, a private French “systems integration” firm. Atos billed the government £400 million to carry out medical evaluations of people receiving disability benefits.

Kieran’s father was scheduled for an appointment to complete Atos’ battery of “fitness for work” tests. He was nervous. Since his stroke, he had trouble walking, and was worried about how his motorized wheelchair would get up the stairs to his appointment, as he had learned that about a quarter of Atos’s disability evaluations took place in buildings that were not wheelchair accessible. “Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go,” said Kieran. “He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man.”

Brian did manage to reach Atos’s evaluation site, and after the evaluation, made his way home. A few weeks later, his family received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions. The family’s Employment and Support Allowance benefits were being stopped. Atos had found Brian “fit for work”. The next day he collapsed and died.

It was hard for us, as public health researchers, to understand the government’s position. The Department for Work and Pensions, after all, considered cheating a relative minor issue. The total sum of disability fraud for “conditions of entitlement” was £2 million, far less than the contract to hire Atos, and the department estimated that greater harm resulted from the accidental underpayment of £70 million each year. But the government’s fiscal ideology had created the impetus for radical cuts. (Pp. 3-4).

I don’t know whether Mr McArdle was one of those, whose deaths has been commemorated by Stilloaks on his blog, or whether his case was one of those which Cameron and aIDS laughed at when they were read out in parliament. But is notable that such cases are coming to the attention of health researchers and medical doctors, and are a cause of serious academic and medical concern.

Stilloaks, Mike, DPAC, the Angry Yorkshireman and very many other disability activists have covered individual cases, and the way the ‘fitness for work’ tests have been fiddled by Atos and now their successors, Maximus, in order to provide the pretext for throwing the vulnerable off benefits. Mike’s called it ‘Chequebook Genocide’. Jeff3, one of the great long-term commenters on this blog, refers to it as the Tories’ Aktion T4 – the Nazi’s extermination of the disabled during the Third Reich. There have been about 490 cases in which people have died of starvation, neglect and despair thanks to be thrown off welfare. And according to mental health profession, about 290,000 or so people have seen their mental health deteriorate – sometimes very severely – due to the stress of these tests.

Books like this show how counterproductive such austerity policies are, as well as their purely destructive effects on human life. But this will not be heeded by the Tories, nor by the baying, right-wing rabble who blindly follow them. They want to grind the poor even further into the dirt, to create an impoverished, desperate working class willing to take on any kind of work, no matter how low-paid, not-paid – think of all the unpaid ‘internships’ – and degrading. All so they cut taxes and give more power to the rich, the bankers, big business and particularly the hedge funds and vulture capitalists.

And so the many are killed, all for the privileged few represented by Theresa May.

Secular Talk on Alex Jones’ ‘Libs Are Demonic Villains Who Want Blood’

March 4, 2016

This is yet another piece from Secular Talk, and I’m reblogging it because it answers some of the accusations the American far right throw at anything even vaguely liberal or left-wing, as well as showing just how peculiar their opposition to Obamacare is.

Kyle Kulinski is here commenting and taking apart an interview on Alex Jones’ Infowars programme with a right-wing documentary film maker, Joel Gilbert, who has produced a movie, No Such Thing as Utopia, attacking the left and its economic and social doctrines. Jones and his guest accuse liberal policies of devastating the economy and deliberately attacking the family, leaving millions of families without fathers. Deprived of paternal guidance, the boys from these broken homes turn to crime. It was liberal policies, of course, that has left Detroit the wrecked, dying city it now is. They claim that liberals are all secret Marxists intent on a entering and corrupting mainstream political parties, like the Democrats. And then Alex Jones goes off on a mocking sneer about how liberals are like ‘gangster-type felons’, extremely bloodthirsty wanting to inflict a genocide, but in public affect a simpering attitude of ‘But I’m so Liberal!’

As for Obama, they claim that his intentions were ‘never good’, and that he only intended to cut the deficit in half.

It’s rubbish, of course. Kulinski challenges them to name one Marxist policy the Democrats have. There isn’t one. They are, in his view, centrist corporatists. As for the devastation of Detroit, that’s often been claimed by the right to be due to ‘socialist’ policies and the trade unions. The simple fact is that it was wrecked by NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The corrupt, corporatist system destroyed middle class, factory jobs that kept people employed. This meant that all the jobs were exported abroad. It wouldn’t have matter, who the people of Detroit would have voted for – Democrat, Republican, Fascist, Centrist, Communist. And the economy’s going to remain like that until another industry comes into to revive Detroit.

He also tears into the Republican accusation that Obamacare is a Marxist policy. In no way is it. This may surprise you – it certainly did me – but it was first suggested by – wait for it! – Richard Nixon. It was also supported by Bob Dole. Newt Gingrich supported it during the Clinton administration. Even the far right, all-American Heritage Foundation made notes on it.

Obama himself has honoured his promise to halve the deficit. Bush left the country with a staggering debt of $1.4 trillion. Under Obama, it’s gone down to $480 – $460 billion. As for Obama’s supposedly evil intentions, Kulinski states that it’s ridiculous, but the stance is also shared by people on the left. Everyone rationalises that what they’re doing is good for the country.George Bush, with whose policies Kulinski radically disagrees, thought he was doing his best for the country. Even Joseph Stalin rationalised his monstrous crimes against the Soviet people and the countries he conquered in this way.

And if you want to point to Detroit as an example of what liberalism does, how about Mississippi as an example of the effects of Conservatism. It is the poorest, most obese state in America, with the lowest levels of education and the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. He also adduces the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. They have the best middle classes in the world, best standards of health care, best social safety nets and they’re people all self-report that they are the happiest. And they’re incredibly liberal.