Posts Tagged ‘Illiteracy’

India’s Present – Britain’s Future under the Conservatives?

February 23, 2016

I’ve been reading John Kampfner’s book, Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty, which describes the process around the world in which nations are becoming more authoritarian, more dictatorial, as the rich and middle classes retreat from any kind of political involvement and simply concentrate on making money, blind to, or unconcerned with the political corruption, poor public services and glaring poverty and inequality around them.

One of the nations he discusses is India, where talks to a number of activists, journalists and radical politicians about this process of political stagnation. He describes the fury of the rich after the Mumbai terrorist atrocities in 2002 at the politicians’ failure to protect them, despite the fact that for many poorer Indians, political violence and its consequences are much more common. The country is considered safe, and compared with Pakistan, which is widely considered a failed state. Yet India has three times as many terrorist attacks as their neighbour to the West. He writes

The fury of wealthy Indians at the Mumbai bombings arose from the realisation that their pact had been broken. They had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with politicians and the state. They would finance political parties and line the pockets of their elected representatives. They would privately connive in corruption, while berating its existence in public. They would demand little from the state and receive little in return, except the right to avoid taxation. They would not have to rely on lamentable public services. Their air-conditioned 4X4s would glide over uneven roads; their diesel-fed generators would smooth over the cracks in the energy supply (in some cities power can go off for up to twelve hours at a time); their private tanks would ensure a constant supply of clean water. The elite had seceded from active politics and had been happy to do so. They never asked questions of the security forces when violence was meted out to the less fortunate. But what they did not expect, or take kindly to, was that their lives would be put at risk by incompetents at the Home Ministry, police departments, army or intelligence services. (p. 157)

This doesn’t quite describe the attitude of the Tories over here, as they are all too keen to exploit terrorism atrocities on the general public to extend the power of the coercive surveillance state. But in other aspects, it’s very true. There is corruption, and the rich are paying what are effectively legal bribes in the form of donations to the Tories and other parties. For all their professed concern over public services, the actual quality of service has declined as a result of privatisation and cuts. But they are unconcerned at this, because the sales of these public enterprises directly enriches them. Furthermore, they don’t use the same public services we do. I’ve got a feeling one of the Tories involved either in the rail network or bus services was caught making a disparaging remark about having to use them. He didn’t. He moved around the country in his chauffeur driven limo. And there may well be power outages. Private Eye has been forecasting that unless new power stations are built quickly, next year or at least a mere few years into the future, Britain will suffer blackouts and power cuts. And the rich over here, as in India, are completely indifferent to the grinding poverty outside their own small circle.

Remember: India and Developing Nations like it are the model held up for British workers to emulate by Priti Patel and the others behind Britannia Unchained. In order to compete with the Tiger economies, British workers should worker harder, for less pay and with fewer welfare benefits. Kampfner gives this description of the appalling plight of Indian’s masses:

In the twenty years of liberalisation, the poor, the 75 per cent of the population living on less than $2 a day, have lived a parallel existence. Their plight is as acute now as it’s ever been, inextricably twinned with malnourishment and illiteracy. The grinding routine of India’s downtrodden, and the humiliations they endure, has been documented in trenchant critiques by Pankaj Mishra, Arundhati Roy and others. Books and films have described the deals between the slumlords, the police and the politicians, the extortion and protections rackets, the beatings, the constant threats of relocation and demolition, the particularly misery the monsoons bring. Research academies provide a welter of statistics, charting levels of inequality. For all the economic growth, less than 1 per cent of the budget goes on public health. Child malnutrition levels remain higher than much of sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF studies have shown that more than half of all women and three-quarters of all children below the age of three in India are anaemic. The problem is not lack of information or transparency, but a lack of will.

Let’s see, growing starvation and malnutrition? Yep, that’s over here, due to cut welfare benefits and low wages, people are being driven to use food banks simply to survive.

Slum landlords and demolition. Well, there was Peter Rachman in the 1950s, and then Nicholas van Hoogstraten in the 1990s, who were two of the most notorious. The Tories housing policy is pushing housing beyond the reach of all but a dwindling number of the rich, and the poor are being pushed out of their homes as they’re bought up and gentrified. And people have been forced on to the streets by the bedroom tax.

Of course, the problems faced by contemporary India are far vaster than those in Britain. At the moment. But India, and nations like it, are the Tory model, regardless of what they spout about ‘One Nation’ Toryism and helping the poor. This is what we’ve got to look forward to for our country, if they remain in power.

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Voter Registration and the Campaign of Disenfranchisement and Intimidation against Working Class and Black Voters in Florida

February 1, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has written another excellent piece on how the Tories’ changes to the system of electoral registration has left many Labour supporters unable to vote. Which is precisely why they were introduced in the first place. Nevertheless, there is still enough time to register until three weeks before the elections.http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/01/electoral-registration-change-delivers-advantage-to-conservatives-lets-level-the-odds/ Hope Not Hate have also been running a campaign, in concert with the trade unions, to encourage everyone disenfranchised by the voting reforms to register: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/vrdrive/

Don’t be fooled. This was one done deliberately so that the young, the working class and ethnic minorities – the groups least likely to vote Tory, wouldn’t get the vote. The reforms are similarly to those introduced by the Republicans in America to exclude those groups. Again, the pretext was to stop voting fraud. But some of the Republicans were so blasé about the real reasons for the reforms, that they brazenly admitted it. One Republican congressman from the American Deep South actually stated, on American news, that they did it to attack the Democrats, the party in America that traditionally attracts these voters. The Young Turks did a piece on this about half a year ago, which I put up on this blog.

And when all else fails, the Republicans will go back to more traditional methods of crookedly securing an election win: abuse and intimidation of the voters at the election booths. They did this way back in Florida, in the election that narrowly secured Dubya his first term in the White House. Everyone remembers the presidential election in that state for the controversy over the way the voting machines worked, and how the various marks punched into the ballot papers were interpreted. All the fuss about ‘pregnant’ and ‘hanging’ chads. What wasn’t reported was the way working class, and particularly Black voters, were wrongfully harassed and thrown out of the voting booths after being told, again wrongly, that they had no right to vote. Jeffrey Sinclair wrote an entire chapter on the scandal, What You Didn’t Read About the Black Vote in Florida’, in the book he and Alexander Cockburn wrote about the current dire state of politics and political journalism in America, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate.

Among the incidents they uncovered was a case where a man, who was taking his family to vote in his car, was stopped by the cops and told that he couldn’t take that many people down to the voting booth without a chauffeur’s licence. he was forced to go home. By the time he got to vote, it was too late.

Another man was refused entry to polling station on the grounds that he ineligible to vote, as he was a convict. Again, another lie.

And there was a massive campaign against Black and Hispanic voters, where tens of thousands were turned away before they could exercise their democratic rights at the polls. Details of this vile debacle were gather by the NAACP – National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in a five hour hearing. Election workers demanded to see the IDs of Blacks coming to vote, but made no such demands of Whites. Haitians coming to vote were told that they need to forms of identification. Police roadblocks were set up around the Black neighbourhoods in Tallahassee. The cops also sought to intimidate Blacks coming to vote by asking them if they were criminals. Some polls were moved without notice from their official positions, and the polls closed early in Black neighbourhoods. A number of Black college students were sent away after being told that they couldn’t vote, even though they had registered in the summer. Many others were also given the excuse that they couldn’t vote, because they weren’t on the rolls. They later found out that they were. Stacey Powers, the news director of a local radio station in Tampa Bay, and a former policewoman, said that while visiting a number of local polling stations on the day she saw Blacks being refused entrance to the polls on the grounds that their names weren’t on the lists. When she informed them that they had the right to vote, as long as they signed an affidavit, she herself was thrown out. Charles Weaver, the publisher of a local newspaper in Fort Myers, the Community Voice, said he saw poll watchers threatening voters by saying that they knew where they worked, and were going to get them fired. In one of area, Duval County, which has a functional illiteracy rate of 47 per cent, those asking for help with their ballots were insulted by the election workers as ‘dumb’ and ‘retarded’. About 2,000 recent Haitian immigrants were prevented from voting because of the complexity of ballot papers and the fact that there no interpreters made available, who spoke their native Creole French. In other areas, which did have translators and interpreters, these were told not to talk to speak to them. If they did, they were thrown out. Other Haitians were threatened with deportation.

And when these stunts didn’t work, there was always deliberately obstructive bureaucracy. One woman and her husband, who had moved to Florida from NYC, did not receive their elections cards, despite having registered in time and making repeated enquiries. After being repeated stonewalled, the woman left the offices of the registration authorities, unable to vote.

Across Florida, more than 187,000 votes were declared invalid. Over half of these were from Blacks. 12,000 people were denied the right to vote, on the ground they were former criminals. Nearly all of them were Black, and nearly all of them were no such thing. 8,000 of these maligned people did manage to re-register, but 4,000 didn’t bother. The list of supposed ex-cons was compiled Database Technologies, a subsidiary of ChoicePoint. This company has also been under investigation for misusing information taken from state computers. Its CEO, Rick Bozar, made a donation of $100,000 to the Republican National Convention.

Adding insult to injury for all this was the complete indifference of the election authorities and the Democrats, who would have benefited from the disqualified votes. The Justice Department did not do anything to investigate the charges, despite the fact that the Attorney General is charged with enforcing the Voting Rights Act. And Jesse Jackson was told by his bosses in the party to stop mentioning the issue after he’d complained about it for two days.

St. Clair compares the whole charade to the demonstration election held in the South and Central American US client states, when they were under the control of US-backed Fascist dictators. These used to hold ‘demonstration elections’ to show that they were democracies. Just before the elections took place, the death squads swooped to arrest or kill any potential troublemakers. After the opposition and the poor were duly cowed, the election took place, the ruling Nazis re-elected, and western observers went back to report how everything was normal, peaceful and democratic there under the benign rule of El Colonel or whoever. It wasn’t quite that bad in Florida, but nevertheless, the Republicans and their official collaborators used fraud and intimidation to get back in.

It’d be tempting, but wrong, to see this as simply something that could only happen in America. The problem is the Tories have taken so much of their policies and campaign strategies from America, that I’m afraid there’s a real danger that they’ll start importing their dirty tricks as well. They have, after all, taken on their campaign to disenfranchise British Blacks, other ethnic minorities and the poor through copying the Republican registration reforms. I would not like to put it past any of them not to try something like this. Remember Stalin’s line: It’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes.

Make sure you’re registered to vote, and be very careful to make sure there are no dirty tricks in your area. And if there are, inform the proper authorities and every available civil rights and, if you’re Black or Asian, anti-racist organisations. They may not try a stunt like this at the election, but they should be ruthlessly exposed if they do. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.