Posts Tagged ‘Ken Surin’

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.

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Poll Shows 58 Per Cent of Russians Would Like Communism to Come Back

November 25, 2017

This is another great little video from Jason Unruhe of Maoist Rebel News. I’ve already made my opinion about Mao and Stalin very clear: they were mass murdering monsters, who made their countries great through the deaths of millions of their own countrymen. 30 million + soviet citizens died in Stalin’s purges and gulags. 60 million died of famine and in re-education camps during Mao’s wretched ‘Cultural Revolution’.

Nevertheless, these totalitarian states gave their people some benefits. And it shows in the nostalgia many people across the former eastern bloc feel for the old system. According to a poll by RT, 58 per cent of Russians said they would like the Soviet Union to return. 14 per cent stated it was quite feasible at the moment. Forty-four per cent said it was unfeasible, but desirable. 31 per cent said that they would not be happy even if events took such a turn. And 10 per cent could not give a simple answer to the question.

Unruhe then goes into the reasons why so many Russians want the USSR back. He points out that the majority of Russians are not Communists, do not identify with the Communist party and are not members of it. He says it was because there were better jobs, with better pay, far more stability, better vacation times and a higher standard of living. They also had a better infrastructure, which collapsed along with the USSR. He points out that we’ve all seen the images of abandoned, decaying areas which have had their funding withdrawn due to the collapse of Communism. They had a military that the world feared and that the Americans were terrified was going to destroy them all. They also couldn’t be bullied, and they were capable of retaliating in huge ways. Sanctions couldn’t hurt them, and couldn’t destroy their financial system. The Soviet people had a country they could be proud of, and although Putin is pushing Russian independence, he can’t do it nearly to the extent that the old Soviet Union could. And so it actually means something when people, who aren’t Communists, say they’re in favour of its return.

There’s a quote from one of the old Labour thinkers, to the effect that everyone, who believes in human rights must hate the USSR. But everyone, who genuinely has Socialism in his core also admires it.

As I understand it, They old Soviet system was massively sclerotic, with colossal overmanning in industry and enterprises. For example, you couldn’t simply pick up what you wanted at the shops. You had to queue to be served, then pick out what you wanted, and then wait for it to be served to you, and to pay for it. I’ve read of people in architect’s office spending their days transferring figures from one column to another, in what was supposed to be a good job that some people had been working towards for years. Utterly soul destroying.

But at the same time, the state was expected to provide full employment. And it did it, albeit at the expense of quality work. And I’ve no doubt that the pay was better, that people did have better holidays, organised through the trade unions and state leisure organisations. You could go and take a vacation down at one of the spa resorts on the Black Sea.

And everything he says about the Soviet Union’s industrial and military power is also correct. In the 1950s under Khrushchev, the Soviet Union made such rapid advances that the Americans were terrified that they would win, and overtake capitalism as the affluent, consumer society. Didn’t happen, but it would have been brilliant if it had.

And Unruhe is also correct when he says that the Russians were no threat to Europe or the West. They weren’t. After the initial expansion, the apparatchiks and nomenclature in the Communist party were content with simply holding the system together and feathering their own nests with Western goods they brought back from their diplomatic travels abroad.

As for the Russians not being Communists, I can remember being told by Ken Surin at College, who is now a writer for Counterpunch, that there were more Communists in America than the USSR. Having said that, Soviet citizens grew up in an explicitly political environment, where they were indoctrinated with atheism and the ideal of the Communist regime. Some of that is going to sink in, even if they are otherwise alienated from the Communist party.

But the introduction of capitalism under Yeltsin destroyed Communism, and dam’ near destroyed Russia. The economy went into meltdown, so that instead of paying their workers wages, factories paid them in kind. In one firm making sewing machines, they gave their workers those machines.

And the economic meltdown directly affected people’s health. Russia didn’t have a welfare state as such. There was no unemployment benefit, as you didn’t need one. Unless you were a subversive ‘parasite’ and an enemy of the system, the state found you work. But there was a free, state medical service, with more doctors than America. In practice, how well you were treated depended on your ‘blat’ – your clout, leverage, whatever. It was a very corrupt system. But this melted down along with the economy, and doctors started going private. Just as they’re continuing to do under Putin.

As a result, illness rates shot up. In Lukashenko’s Beloruss, which retained the Communist system, people remained as healthy – or unhealthy – as they were before Communism collapsed in the USSR.

And none of this was done for the Russians’ benefit. Oh, Yeltsin hoped that capitalism would improve things in Russia, but it was all financed, once again, by Clinton and the Americans, who poured tens of millions into political advertising.

I’ve already made my own low opinion of Lenin abundantly clear: but he was right in his pamphlet Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Russia, and other less developed nations like it, were held back by global capitalism. They were then. And it’s the same goal now, except that as Killary can’t have her way she’s starting a new Cold War.

Well, millions of Russians want their country back.
And they’re not alone. You can find roughly the same percentage all over the former Communist bloc. The former Soviet satellites hate the Russians, particularly in Poland. But they had a better standard of living, work, and a system that had larger ideals. They were told that they were the progressive vanguard leading humanity to a brighter, better future. Racism was there, but it was frowned on. Women were treated as second-class citizens, but at the same time the state and Marxist ideology was also concerned with their liberation and getting them into masculine jobs.

And some of the old Communist countries weren’t that far behind the West. I’ve read that if you tweaked the stats a little, then economically the old East Germany was about equal, or just behind, the north of England. Which isn’t an advert for Communism, but even less of one for Thatcherite capitalism.

In short there’s a saying going round eastern Europe: ‘Everything the Communists told us about Communism was a lie. Everything they told us about capitalism was true.’

Capitalism isn’t working. And the peoples of eastern Europe know this. It isn’t working here either, but we’re too blinded by the mass media, and the illusions of past imperial greatness, to realise it.

Weak and Wobbly Theresa May’s Contradictory and Crap Housing Policy

May 15, 2017

The leak last Thursday of the Labour party manifesto, with its promise to nationalise the railways and parts of the energy network, clearly has rattled the Tory party. Mike over at Vox Political remarked that leak was probably intended to discredit these policies, but instead they have proved massively popular.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/11/labours-manifesto-approved-unanimously-by-nec-and-shadow-cabinet-after-leaked-version-wins-huge-public-support/

I’m not surprised. The Tory party, of course, started shrieking that this would drag us all back to the 1970s – actually not a bad thing, as Mike has also pointed out, considering that the gulf between rich and poor was at its lowest during that decade. The Torygraph also went berserk, and plastered all over the front page of its Friday edition a headline claiming that Labour MPs were ‘disowning’ it. I don’t know how true this was. It could be the Blairites trying their best to undermine their own party again, in order to shore up virtuous neoliberalism. Or it could be just more rumour and scaremongering put out, as usual, by the rag and its owners, the weirdo Barclay twins. The Telegraph has been in the forefront of the newspapers attacking Corbyn since he was elected to the Labour leadership. So many of its stories are just scaremongering or, at best, the fevered imaginings of a frightened capitalist class, that you can’t really believe anything the newspaper actually writes about the Labour party or its leader. Ken Surin, in an article for Counterpunch, quoted statistics by media analysts that said that only 11 per cent of reports about the party presented the facts accurately.

But the fact that the railways do need to be renationalised was ironically shown again that day, as a train I wanted to catch was delayed by 15 minutes. Because a train had broken down. The British taxpayer now pays far more subsidies to the private rail companies for a worse train service than in the 1970s. So once again, we’re back to showing that rather than being a decade of uniform disaster and imminent social collapse, it was better in some ways than the present.

So May has decided to unveil a few radical policies of her own. In order to counter Labour’s promise to build a million new homes, half of which will be social housing, in the next five years, May has announced that her government will boost the number of social housing being built, and included a special right to buy clause. Which sounds good, until you realise that they’re not going to release any more money for it.

Without that extra money, the promise is meaningless.
It’s more Tory lies.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/14/theresa-may-has-actually-announced-a-policy-and-its-rubbish/

The Tory party has absolutely no intention of building any more social housing. Mike has put up in his article a table of the Tories’ abysmal record on housing. These include a 43 per cent increase in homelessness, a 166 per cent jump in the number of people sleeping rough, private rents have gone up by over £1,700 since 2010, and the cost of owning a home for first-time buyers has risen by £65,000. But this won’t worry the Tory party, as 1/3 of them are private landlords. And I distinctly remember Johnny Void posting a number of articles about they sought to profit by the dearth of housing in London.

And this is quite apart from the fact that the Tory press, such as the Daily Mail, is aimed very much at the kind of people, who buy to rent, and endlessly applauds high house prices even though they make homes unaffordable to an increasing number of people in 21st century England. Of course they see such prices as a good thing, as it means even greater profits for them.

So they won’t want to undermine the housing bubble they’ve created, and cause prices to fall by building any more.

But they can’t be seen to be doing that, with Corbyn and Labour hot on this issue.

So they’ve concocted this rubbish, self-contradictory policy, hoping that people will be deceived by the meaningless promise. They hope people will remember the first part, and forget that without any more money, it won’t happen.

Don’t let them fool you.
Vote Labour for a decent housing solution on June 8th.

Ken Surin’s List of Theresa ‘Goody-Two Shoes’ May’s Lies and Attacks on the Poor and the Welfare State

May 9, 2017

More from a contributor to Counterpunch, though this time it isn’t about the lies, smears and bullying of the Israel lobby.

Ken Surin is a British academic, who now lives and teaches in America. He’s written a list of articles attacking Theresa May for her lies, U-turns and her attacks on the poor, working people and the welfare state. And her plans to sell off whatever remains of the NHS to private American healthcare companies as part of a Brexit deal.

He calls her ‘Goody-Two Shoes’, because that’s how May described herself: she says she was a ‘goody-two shoes’ in school.

Her first U-turn affected him personally. He lost his right to vote in 2002 when Blair decided that Brits who had been away for more than 15 years shouldn’t have the right to vote in British elections. May then declared that if she got in, she’d repeal it. Now that she’s in power, she hasn’t. She’s a liar. But then, what do you expect from the Tories?

He also states that he’s not surprised the Tories have got a 17 point lead over Labour. They’ve been undermined by the antics of the Blairites, the Zionist lobby’s maligning him as a anti-Semite, because he’s a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the loss of northern working class voters to UKIP, and, most significantly, the massive right-wing bias of the media.

A study by the LSE showed that on average, only 11 per cent of newspaper articles accurately reflected Labour policies. And in the case of the Daily Heil and Express, that ratio falls to zero.

He states that May is simply an opportunist, as shown by the way she voted Remain in the Brexit referendum, but to stay in power has turned her party into ‘UKIP-lite’.

And then he gives the following list of some her lies and U-turns.

The Tories were fined £70,000 last month by the Electoral Commission for failing to declare more than £275,000 in election-spending in the 2015 election. A dozen police forces have passed files relating to these expenses to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CPS had intended to decide by the end of May if there were to be prosecutions for these violations, but an election in 2017 would probably take the wind out of attempts to prosecute 20 Tory MPs (or thereabouts) for their fraudulent activity in the 2015 election– “that’s history now”, many are likely to say.

If May called an early election for this reason, it would only demonstrate the flexibility of her principles.

May’s most recent budget dissolved into chaos when an increase in national insurance for the self-employed broke a 2015 election manifesto pledge. The ensuing public outcry panicked May and her colleagues into a U-turn, and the proposed increase was rescinded.

Since 2010 the Tories have promised to increase spending on the National Health Service every year, and that funding for schools would increase per student. In its report card after the most recent budget, The Independent said:

The public sector has been another loser. The NHS, which was in the black in 2010, faced a £1.85 billion deficit in 2016, the largest deficit in its history. As a result, waiting times are up, and the NHS is facing, what the British Red Cross have described as a ‘humanitarian crisis.’ Conditions in the NHS have led to an exodus of doctors. A third of Accident and Emergency doctors left the UK to work abroad between 2010 and 2015. There is a similar pattern in education, where 10,000 teachers left the profession in Cameron’s first term. In both sectors, real terms cuts in spending has increased workloads to a point where many professionals are no longer willing to continue.

Running down public services has hit some groups much harder than others. Austerity has hit women’s incomes twice as hard as men’s. Cuts to lone parent benefits since 2010, for example, have fallen disproportionality on women, for the simple reason that women make up 90 per cent of lone parents. At the same time, as women tend to be low earners they have benefited far less from tax cuts than men.

This is followed by a list of motions she has voted for, in which she has consistently supported the rich, and attacked the poor.

As home secretary, May introduced laws forcing internet service providers to help the UK’s spy agencies hack into computers.

Despite moving her party to the right so it can campaign as UKIP lite, May’s record on immigration when she was home secretary prior to becoming prime minister would certainly not please UKIP voters. May vowed to cut net immigration down to the “tens of thousands”, only to have it increase to a record high of 330,000.

May voted for the notorious “bedroom tax”, which reduced housing benefit for social-housing tenants deemed to have unoccupied bedrooms.

She voted against raising welfare benefits so they remained in line with inflation.

She voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work because of illness or disability.

She voted for making local councils reduce the amount spent on helping those in financial need pay their council taxes.

She voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits.

She voted against smoking bans and the hunting ban.

She voted for increasing the rate of the highly regressive Value Added Tax (VAT)

She voted against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000.

She voted against a banker’s bonus tax.

While she voted for the bedroom tax to be imposed on people in social housing, May voted against the mansion tax, i.e. the annual tax on the value of expensive homes.

She voted for more restrictions on trade union activity.

May voted against restricting the provision of services to private patients by the NHS.

She voted for raising England’s undergraduate tuition fees to £9,000 per year.

She has always voted for academy (i.e. private) schools.

While all the above has been transpiring, a massive upwards transfer of wealth from lower-tiered income earners to the top has been occurring. According to the Social Market Foundation, in the UK:

… the average wealth of the best-off one-fifth of families rose by 64 per cent between 2005 and 2012-13.

However, the SMF found the poorest 20 per cent are less financially secure than they were in 2005, with their net wealth falling by 57 per cent and levels of debt and use of overdrafts increasing. Homeowners have raced ahead of people in rented accommodation….

The Equality Trust, citing 2014 data from the Office for National Statistics, said the majority of the UK population (66%) hold no positive financial assets at all, while the remaining 34% hold £9trillion in such assets.

He also cites a report that May wishes to sell off the NHS by the Independent.

The Independent has just reported that May, who is desperate for trade deals to replace those made under the auspices of the EU, which will of course no longer exist after Brexit, is willing, as part of a deal with Trump, to sell-off the NHS to those most villainous of business enterprises, the American “healthcare” corporations.

Surin states that ‘this is class war by another name’, a sentiment expressed by Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class.

Surin says about May herself

Going solely by the immense distance between what she professes in public and how she votes, Theresa May is an absolutely bare-faced phony. Her voting record, displayed above, confirms her fundamental and vital support for Tory austerity policy.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/08/with-theresa-goody-two-shoes-may-what-you-see-on-tv-wont-be-what-you-get/

Don’t be deceived by the media and the Tories. May will kill off the welfare state and the NHS, just as Margaret Thatcher wanted and the Tories and Blairites have been conspiring to do over the past forty years.

Vote Labour, and vote for Corbyn.

Counterpart’s Ken Surin on the Arguments against South African and Israeli Apartheid

January 11, 2017

On Monday Counterpunch published an article by Ken Surin, one of its regular contributors, about a meeting of the Modern Language Association he attended in Philadelphia. This debated two resolutions, one for, the other against, the BDS movement. Surin discusses in his article the similarity between Israeli apartheid and that of South Africa. He was himself active in anti-apartheid politics as a student in the late 1960s and ’70s, and shows how the same arguments against sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa are still being trotted out today to defend Israel, and how the arguments for sanctions against South Africa still apply to Israel today.

The article as a whole deserves to be read. But there is one passage which is particularly interesting, where he makes the counterarguments against the attempts by South Africa and Israel to deflect criticism by pointing to other countries, which are equally guilty of human rights violations, but are much less criticised. He writes

The “Why pick on Israel, when there is also North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and so forth?” plaint was also heard at this conference, and for me this resonated very closely with the similar complaint made by South African apartheid sympathizers: “Why pick on South Africa? What about those African cruel dictators– Mobutu, Idi Amin, the “Emperor” Bokassa—who treat their people as excrement?”.

The answer to this objection is fourfold:

1/ No African despot ever pretended to uphold “western values” (whatever these may be) in the way Israel does, and white South Africa did, at least symbolically.

2/ If the African tyrants were asked whether they respected “democracy”, their deep resounding laughter would have answered this question. Israel on the other hand….

3/ Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, nearly all of which is used to subjugate the Palestinians. If the US turned off this tap, Israel would probably soon be motivated to mend some of its ways. So would Saudi Arabia, effectively an Israeli/US proxy in the Arab world along with Egypt. No such tap exists where North Korea is concerned. The simple lesson is that we fight battles where we can be effective.

4/ The logic of this argument is faulty. Consider the following analogy:

You own a house and the land it’s on. Some people come to your house, citing some holy book if it suits them, and they take it over by force of arms, perhaps invoking the holy book. You are told that from now on you must live in the tiny tool shed at the back of the property.

You protest, saying “but this is my house and land!”. “Tough”, they say, “from now on this is ours”.

The law (as international law does for the Palestinians), however, allows you to use all legal means, including justifiable force, to resist them and get them to end their seizure of your house and land.

As you are about to do this, someone comes along and says at the Philadelphia MLA conference: “No, you can’t take measures to get them to leave. In this town, there are several other houses that have been taken over by lawbreakers, who also tortured their owners, kidnapped their children, and so on. So, you can’t evict the illegal occupiers of your own house, until you go out and protest against these other illegalities, initiate boycotts of their perpetrators, and so on”.

The appropriate response: “If the law is on my side, I can resist the home invaders, so you can go *@#$ yourself”.

The complete article can be read at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/09/resolutions-advocating-a-boycott-of-israel/