Posts Tagged ‘Local Authorities’

Corbyn Warns that Fighting Against Corona Virus Will Be Harder Due to Tory Cuts

March 13, 2020

Yesterday the papers were falling over themselves to praise BoJob’s wretched budget to the rafters. It was the first populist budget since Maggie Thatcher! There would be more spending on the NHS to help it combat the corona virus. The Tories were now committed to spending more on the economy and the infrastructure. Boris was giving the public what they wanted. It was all A Very Good Thing indeed.

It seems it was only Jeremy Corbyn, who struck a more sober, realistic note. According to a piece in yesterday’s I, by Richard Wheeler and Sophie Morris, the former Labour leader warned that fighting back against the virus will be harder because of 10 years of cuts. The article ran

Jeremy Corbyn urged the Government to be straight with people about how the coronavirus response will be “much tougher” after 10 years of “deeply damaging” cuts.

The Labour leader welcomed Budget steps taken by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to head off the economic impact of the spread of Covid-18.

But the UK enters the crisis with its public services “on their knees” and with a “fundamentally weak” economy, Mr Corbyn added.

Replying to the Budget, the Opposition leader said: “The Chancellor shows not some but a lot of brass neck when he boasts that measures to deal with coronavirus are only possible because of his party’s management of the economy.

“Look outside – in the real world, we’re still living through the slowest economic recovery in a century. Our economy is fundamentally weak.”

He told the Commons: “The steps the Government has announced today to head off the economic impact of the coronavirus are obviously welcome, but I have some points I wish to raise.

“We have to be straight with people, it is going to be much tougher because of the last 10 years of deeply damaging and counterproductive cuts to all of our essential public services.”

He added the Budget “doesn’t come close” to delivering on the Government’s election promises to working-class communities.”

Bristol South Labour MP Karin Smyth on the Budget

I was at a meeting of the local Labour Party in south Bristol yesterday. Our MP, Karin Smyth was there to give her report to us all. And she was very scathing about the Budget and the Tory response to the coronavirus. She said first of all that the Tories should not be congratulated for doing something they’d destroyed. The money they promise to put back into the economy will not restore it to 2009/10 levels. And at the moment, it’s just headlines. The money has not been allocated and there is no infrastructure. She didn’t say it quite like this, but this is what is: guff. Empty, vapid guff and promises. She also said that it showed how far removed from the lives of ordinary people that they really didn’t understand how Statutory Sick Pay worked, or that people with the virus would have to go into work because otherwise, thanks to their cuts, they wouldn’t have any money.

Her comments on the state of the NHS and social care also bore out Corbyn’s comments. Before she became a local MP for Bristol, she was involved in the CCGs – the commissioning groups set up within the NHS by Tony Blair – in north Somerset and then in Bristol. She stated that Bristol was well placed to tackle the coronavirus, but this was only through the work of the local authority. The party’s LGBT officer stated that Bristol was also strongly placed to tackle the disease, as she worked in the virus labs. However, this was solely due to the local authority and NHS groups working to develop the machinery to deal with emergencies like the virus themselves. The Tories had destroyed the national machinery to deal with them with the introduction of Andrew Lansley’s pestilential Health and Social Care bill of 2012.

Tory NHS reforms and partial privatisation have damaged this country’s ability to respond to the coronavirus. 

I ended up talking about the coronavirus emergency with the taxi driver coming home. He too was mightily unimpressed with BoJob’s response. And he was furious at Johnson’s statement that people would die. Now I think Johnson meant it as a mere statement of fact, but the driver, and many others I’m sure, have taken it to mean that Johnson is completely indifferent to the deaths of the poor, the disabled and the elderly. Mike has commented to that effect. So has Zelo Street. And they’re right. Johnson’s government has repeatedly shown that they have no interested in preserving the lives of the vulnerable. Quite the opposite – they do seem to see the mass deaths they’ve inflicted through the work capability cuts and the benefit sanctions as ‘culling the herd’.  Which brings me back to another comment Smyth made – that the government’s welfare reforms means that the welfare safety no longer exists. And the effects will get worse towards the end of this government in 2024.

People are going to die because Johnson and the Tories hate the welfare state for keeping the poor and vulnerable alive and imposing taxes on the rich.

Why Is Branson’s Healthcare Company Massively Profitable, But Pays No Corporation Tax

January 28, 2020

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that Virgin Healthcare has won £2 billion worth of NHS and local authority contracts, but hasn’t paid any corporation tax. The company has claimed that it has racked up losses since it was founded in 2010. Mike said that it didn’t make sense for him for a company to win such contracts with the promise that it would fulfill them in budget and making a tidy profit for itself. He thought someone was being shortchanged, and if he was in a hospital run by Branson’s wretched firm, he’d work out who they were shortchanging in a very short order.

See:  https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/27/virgin-healthcare-has-won-2-billion-in-nhs-contracts-and-paid-no-tax-why/

The snippet from the Mirror article Mike’s report refers to quotes health campaigner Dr. John Lister, who called the company ‘parasitic’ for this. And his right. Branson is a parasite, who’s had his scolex in the guts of the British state and NHS for a very long time. He was chums with John Major’s government, and when that fell switched sides to supporting Blair. Among other services, Virgin Healthcare runs some of the polyclinics or health centres Blair set up.

Mike wondered if Branson’s firm was able to dodge paying tax through creative accounting. And he’s right about this, as well. The Canary’s Emily Apple also wrote a piece about this story. She also quoted the Mirror’s article, which reported that Branson’s firm had a turnover of £248.8 million last year, making a cool profit of £503,000. But this was wiped out by losses elsewhere in the group, so that Beardie’s firm didn’t have to pay cough up £96,000 in corporation tax. Oh yes, and you won’t be surprised to learn that its registered in the Virgin Islands, where Branson has his home. A notorious tax haven.

Dr Lister (any relation to the man who discovered antiseptic?) called Virgin Healthcare parasitic because, fragmenting services and poaching NHS-trained staff and undermining nearby NHS trusts, and not paying corporation tax, it only took from the state and added nothing of value.

Branson’s firm was criticised by former leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, and Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer. Prem Sikka tweeted that this wasn’t the only company Beardie owned that was trying to get more state money. So was the airline Flybe, which Beardie has a 30 per cent stake in. However, it can’t offer collateral as billionaire investors already hold charges over many of its assets. He summed this up as the wealthy elite continuing to pick everyone else’s pockets.

Devutopia also remarked that Branson’s firm wasn’t the only one profiting from the NHS. Linking to a story published last year by the Mirror, that noted 10 connections between them and the NHS, he stated that the Tories had also been using the health service as their cash cow. He wondered when the Beeb and Sky were going to notice this.

Apple concluded:

Between these deals and whatever deals Johnson ends up concocting with Donald Trump, our NHS needs us more than ever. It’s already being sold off piece by piece with parasites like Branson feeding on every bit he can get his sticky fingers into. We need to wake up. This is happening now. And if we don’t act now, it’ll be too late, and what’s left of our NHS will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

See: https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2020/01/27/richard-branson-didnt-need-a-trade-deal-to-royally-screw-over-the-nhs/

Absolutely. The NHS needs protecting from parasites like Branson and the Tories. We need to wake up, and take action – NOW!

From 25 years Ago #2: Tory Welsh Minister Suppresses Report on Poverty in Wales

January 26, 2020

Here’s another very revealing piece from the same Private Eye issue, 16 June 1995, that reported that John Birt had been seen in the company of Tory MPs touring the west Highlands of Scotland. The piece ‘For Richards or poorer’ in the ‘footnotes’ section of the satirical magazine described how the-then junior Welsh Minister for John Major’s Tory government, Rod Richard, had suppressed an official report into conditions in Wales because it showed that 30 per cent of the people in the rural parts of the principality were living in poverty. The article ran

When civil servants in Wales heard that a survey on English rural life was being carried out by a team headed by Professor Paul Cloke of University College, Lampeter, Wales, they decided to ask the professor is he would do a similar job for rural Wales.

The professor obliged. He and his team sent out 1,000 questionnaires with exactly the same questions they had sent to 3,000 people in England. The answers were analyzed and the report compiled in exactly the same way. The three sponsoring bodies – the Welsh Office, the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales – worked closely with Cloke’s team, and when the report was produced last year the Welsh office indicated that it would soon be published by the government, as the English report had been.

They reckoned without Rod “The Rod” Richards MP, the eccentric junior Welsh minister who learned his politics in the intelligence services. Richard was outraged when he read the report’s very mild conclusion that 30 per cent of the people of rural Wales are living in poverty.

The report wasn’t published and the Welsh office politely says: “We weren’t happy with the research.” Officials there are embarrassed by the truth – that Rod Richards regarded the whole exercise as communist propaganda.

The Tories have been suppressing official government reports revealing the poverty they’ve caused for a very long time. And this is having lethal consequences, as Mike has shown when he tried to get them to release the figures for the number of disabled people, who died having been declared fit for work. They stonewalled, appealed against his Freedom of Information Act request, and when they finally did release the figures, they were not quite those Mike had requested.

And they’re still withholding information. Or refusing to collect it. In a piece today, Mike talks about the statement by Tory Employment Minister Mims Davies that no impact assessments had been made into the effect of benefit sanctions on claimants. This is despite studies by Salford City Council, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute and statements by charity officers, like Manzoor Ali, the director of Barakah Food Aid, that benefit sanctions are devastating and leaving claimants suicidal.

Ministers STILL won’t assess impact of benefit sanctions – in case it PROVES a link to suicide?

Their economic and welfare policies are creating mass poverty and driving people to suicide. But their only response is to continue lying and suppressing the truth.

Private Eye: Government Plan to Draft Army as Local Government Officials in Event Brexit Crisis

September 6, 2019

There’s a very worrying story right at the beginning of this fortnight’s Private Eye. It’s page 7, where the actual text of the magazine starts right after the first few pages of advertising. Titled ‘Privates on Parade’, it reveals that Project Yellowhammer, the secret government plan for dealing with mass shortages caused by Brexit, also includes provisions for drafting the army in as local government officials. The reason they’ll be needed there is because there aren’t enough civil servants in the national administration to deal with the crisis, and if it happens, they’re going to have to draft in local government officials. The article runs

The government has spent the past fortnight trying to play down the leaked Operation Yellowhammer document about preparations for a “no deal” Brexit. Ministers initially pretended it was an old plan; when it emerged that the document was dated August 2019, they claimed preparations had alread moved on since then.

But the ramifications of the plans are extraordinary. To fill the thousands of extra civil service posts required the government has arranged for a rather unorthodox shuffle: if/when a “no deal” Brexit happens, thousands of local government officials are to be reallocated to Whitehall departments to fortify Sir Humphrey.

Who will run town and county halls in their absence? This is where matters become surreal. The army – including territorial volunteers – are being issued with instructions to take over local government posts, in a civilian capacity, in the event of “no deal”.

One officer, who admitted he was uncomfortable at the optics of all this, observed to the Eye that this involved putting soldiers in charge even when they lacked basic literacy and numeracy. Quite how they would get on in calculating council tax, or providing adult social care and children’s services, remains to be seen…

There are several remarks to be made about all this. The first is that it shows how stupid and destructive successive Conservative administrations have been in their determination to slim down the civil service. This has now reached the point where there are too few of them to run the country effectively in the event of a national crisis, like a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The second is the massive implications this has for democracy in this country. I would imagine that one reason the unnamed officer felt uncomfortable about the ‘optics’ of the army moving into local government is that it looks very much like the beginnings of a military coup. And events don’t have to go much further before it really would amount to a military take-over of civilian government. I think that Operation Yellowhammer also provides for emergency legislation to deal with possible civil unrest in the event of shortages of food, medicines and other essential services. After a wave of rioting up and down the country the government could declare a state of emergency, draft in the army and put in force martial law.

Given Boris’ personal authoritarianism, as shown in his prorogation of parliament, I can imagine that he may even wish to dispense with parliamentary supervision in such an emergency. With the very loud support of the Tory press, he dissolves parliament again, which will only be recalled in after the restoration of order. And it probably isn’t so far-fetched to see some of the Tory right and British press demanding the arrest of left-wing subversives. If the unions call a strike, I imagine they’d be delighted. They could go back to Maggie’s tactic of posing as the nation’s champion against the bullying of the union barons. Further legislation would be passed or invoked to break up the strikes, ban trade unions and arrest trade unionists. At the same time, allegations of Communist connections and sympathies would be used to justify the arrest and detention of left-wing activists and trade unionists as threats to national security. This might be going too far, but I could also imagine the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the right-wing Zionists of organisations like Herut handing over lists of names of ‘the wrong sort of Jews’ in order to make sure Jewish critics of Israel and Conservatism were also arrested and detained. Because after all, they’re a threat to Israel, one of the West’s major outposts in the Middle East.

I’m not saying this will happen, only that it could. Back in 1975 the Conservative party and parts of the press, including the Times and the Mirror, were also pressing for a coup to overthrow Harold Wilson’s Labour government. Because industrial unrest had got out of hand, and he was supposed to be a KGB spy. See Francis Wheen’s book on paranoia in the ’70s, Strange Days Indeed. It’s also described in Ken Livingstone’s 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, in which the-then mayor of London discusses how there were plans to round up left-wing activists, MPs and journalists, and have them sent to concentration camps on one of the Scottish islands.

The plan to draft soldiers in to local government also reminds me of the very strong position of the armed forces in the economies in many developing countries. In Pakistan, for example, the army also runs businesses, like cement factories. I’ve heard that the same is true of Egypt. The military is deeply entwined with large sectors of industry. Now Johnson and co.’s plan only involves drafting the military in to deal with a shortage of civil servants. But Zelo Street posted a piece recently showing that the government was also considering buying up the surplus food produced by our farmers if they could not export to the continent, and asked whether they would also provide financial support to the British car industry, another part of the economy that’s under threat. If the government decides that they, too, will have to be given over to army management or staffing, then Johnson and the Tories will really have turned this country into a third world nation. He’ll have a created a real military dictatorship, like those that have afflicted Pakistan and other nations. And they will be cheered on in this destruction by the right-wing press, like the Times, the Mail and the Scum. Lurking behind this threat of a coup, is the danger of a return of real Nazism from Social Darwinists like Toby Young and Dominic Cummings, who fear that giving education and welfare support to the poor and disabled is a threat to our racial stock and the proper running of our society by the upper classes. You can see them demanding legislation once again to sterilise the disabled and those on benefits.

The Tories and the right-wing media, including the Beeb, are now a real threat to democracy, whatever Boris and the Polecat now say about holding elections. We have to get them out, even if that means that Corbyn and the rest of the opposition have to bide their time for the moment. The future of our country and its people really is at stake.

 

 

Regenerating the High Street through National Workshops

January 7, 2019

Last week Tweezer announced her plan to revitalize Britain’s failing high streets. Many of our shops are closing as customers and retailers move onto the internet. City centres are being hit hard as shop fronts are left vacant, inviting further vandalism, and further economic decline as shoppers are put off by empty stores and smashed shop windows. In America, it’s been forecast that half of the country’s malls are due to close in the next few years. Tweezer announced that she was going to try reverse this trend in Britain by allocating government money to local authorities, for which they would have to bid.

I’m suspicious of this scheme, partly because of the way it’s being managed. In my experience, the Conservatives’ policy of forcing local authorities to bid for needed funding is simply another way of stopping some places from getting the money they need under the guise of business practice or democracy or however they want to present it. It’s the same way Thatcher would always delay the date when she’d give local authorities they funding they needed for the next year. It’s a way of disguising the fact that they’re making cuts, or simply not giving the money that’s really needed.

As for how local authorities could regenerate their town centres, I wonder if it could be done through a form of the national workshops suggested by the 19th century French socialist, Louis Blanc. During the Revolution of 1848, Blanc proposed a scheme to provide jobs for France’s unemployed by setting up a series of state-owned workshops. These would be run as co-operatives. The workers would share the profits, a certain proportion of which would be set aside to purchase other businesses. This would eventually lead to the socialization of French industry.

Needless to say, the scheme failed through official hostility. The scheme was adopted, by the state undermined it through giving the unemployed on it pointless and demeaning jobs to do. Like digging ditches for no particular reason. It thus petered out as unemployed workers did their best to avoid the scheme. There’s a kind of parallel there to the way the Conservatives and New Labour tried to stop people going on Jobseeker’s Allowance by making it as degrading and unpleasant as possible, and by the workfare industry. This last provides absolutely no benefit whatsoever to workers on it, but gives cheap labour to the firms participating in the scheme, like the big supermarkets.

The national workshops, on the other hand, were at least intended to provide work and empower France’s working people.

In his Fabian Essay, ‘The Transition to Social Democracy’, George Bernard Shaw suggested that Britain could painlessly become a truly socialized economy and society through the gradual extension of municipalization. Town councils would gradually take over more and more parts of the local economy and industry. He pointed to the way the local authorities were already providing lighting, hospitals and other services.

I therefore wonder if it would be better to try to create new businesses in Britain’s town centres by renting the empty shops to groups of workers to run them as cooperatives. They’d share the profits, part of which would be put aside to buy up more businesses, which would also be turned into co-ops.
Already local businesses in many cities have benefited by some radical socialist ideas. In this case, it’s the local currencies, which are based on the number of hours of labour required to produce an article or provide a service, an idea that goes all the way back to anarchist thinkers like Proudhon and Lysander Spooner in the 19th century. These schemes serve to put money back into the local community and businesses.

I realise that this is actually extremely utopian. Local governments are perfectly willing to provide some funding to local co-ops, if they provide an important service. I’ve heard that in Bristol there’s a co-op in Stokes Croft that has been funded by the council because it employs former convicts and drug addicts. However, you can imagine the Tories’ sheer rage, and that of private business and the right-wing press, if a local council tried to put a system of locally owned co-operatives into practice. It would be attacked as ‘loony left’ madness and a threat to proper, privately owned business and jobs.

But it could be what is needed, if only partly, to regenerate our streets: by creating businesses that create jobs and genuinely empower their workers and provide services uniquely tailored to their communities.

Archaeology Confronts Neoliberalism

March 5, 2017

I got the latest catalogue of books on archaeology and history from Oxbow Books, an Oxford based bookseller and publisher, which specialises in them, a few days ago. Among the books listed was one critical of neoliberalism, and which explored the possibilities of challenging it from within the profession. The book’s entitled Archaeology and Neoliberalism. It’s edited by Pablo Aparicio Resco, and will be published by JAS Arquelogia. The blurb for it in the catalogue states

The effects of neoliberalism as ideology can be seen in every corner of the planet, worsening inequalities and empowering markets over people. How is this affecting archaeology? Can archaeology transcend it? This volume delves into the context of archaeological practice within the neoliberal world and the opportunities and challenges of activism from the profession.

This isn’t an issue I really know anything about. However, I’m not surprised that many archaeologists are concerned about the damage neoliberalism is doing to archaeology. 15 years ago, when I was doing my Masters at UWE, one of the essay questions set was ‘Why do some Historians see heritage as a dirty word?’ Part of the answer to that question was that some historians strongly criticised the heritage industry for its commodification of the past into something to be bought, sold and consumed. They placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. Rather than being an object of value or investigation for its own sake, Thatcherite free market ideology saw it very much in terms of its monetary value. They contrasted this with the old Conservative ethos, which saw culture as something that was above its simple cash value.

Social critics were also concerned about the way Thatcherism was destroying Britain’s real industries, and replacing them with theme parks, in which they were recreated, in a sanitised version that was calculated not to present too many difficult questions and represented the Tory view of history. One example of this was a theme park representing a mining village. It was on the site of a real mining village, whose mine had been closed down. However, other pieces of mining equipment and related buildings and structures, which were never in that particularly village, were put there from other mining towns and villages elsewhere. It thus showed what an imaginary mining village was like, rather than the real mining community that had actually existed. It was also a dead heritage attraction, a museum, instead of a living community based around a still thriving industry.

There were also concerns about the way heritage was being repackaged to present a right-wing, nationalistic view of history. For example, the Colonial Williamsburg museum in America was originally set up to present a view of America as a land of technological progress, as the simple tools and implements used by the early pioneers had been succeeded by ever more elaborate and efficient machines. They also pointed to the way extreme right-wing pressure groups and organisations, like the Heritage Foundation, had also been strongly involved in shaping the official, Reaganite version of American ‘heritage’. And similar movements had occurred elsewhere in the world, including France, Spain and the Caribbean. In Spain the concern to preserve and celebrate the country’s many different autonomous regions, from Catalonia, the Basque country, Castille, Aragon and Granada, meant that the view of the country’s history taught in schools differed greatly according to where you were.

Archaeology’s a different subject than history, and it’s methodology and philosophy is slightly different. History is based on written texts, while archaeology is based on material remains, although it also uses written evidence to some extent. History tends to be about individuals, while archaeology is more about societies. Nevertheless, as they are both about the investigation of the human past, they also overlap in many areas and I would imagine that some of the above issues are still highly relevant in the archaeological context.

There’s also an additional problem in that over the past few decades, the Thatcherite decision to make universities more business orientated has resulted in the formation of several different private archaeological companies, which all compete against each other. I’ve heard from older archaeologists that as a result, the archaeological work being done today is less thorough and of poorer quality than when digs were conducted by local authorities.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure that the editor and contributors to this book are right about neoliberalism damaging archaeology and the necessity of archaeologists campaigning against it and its effects on their subject. By its very nature, the past needs to be investigated on its own terms, and there can be multiple viewpoints all legitimately drawn from the same piece of evidence. And especially in the case of historical archaeology, which in the American context means the investigation of the impact of European colonisation from the 15th century onwards, there are strongly emotive and controversial issues of invasion, capitalism, imperialism, the enslavement of Black Africans and the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For historians and archaeologists of slavery, for example, there’s a strong debate about the role this played in the formation of European capitalism and the industrial revolution. Such issues cannot and should not be censored or ignored in order to produce a nice, conservative interpretation of the past that won’t offend the Conservative or Republican parties and their paymasters in multinational industry, or challenge their cosy conception that the free market is always right, even when it falsifies the misery and injustice of the past and creates real poverty today.

Economist Declares America ‘Not Full Democracy’

February 3, 2017

In this video, TYT Politic’s Jeff Waldorf discusses a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which states that America is no longer a ‘full democracy’. The magazine annual scores countries around the world according to a system of five categories. These are electoral pluralism and democracy, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. Nations are ranked according to a descending scale from full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid democracy and authoritarian. To be considered a full democracy, a country must have a score of 8.00 and over. America has slipped from 8.05 to 7.98, making it a ‘flawed democracy’ along with France, Italy and Japan for the first time in its history.

Waldorf argues that although it’s tempting to blame this on Donald Trump, he’s only been present for about a week, and the decline in American democracy has been going on for much longer. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. He argues that the real cause is the influence of the rich and powerful in politics. He notes that other studies have concluded, in his words, that America ‘is an oligarchy with elections’. He makes the point that not all rich people are necessarily bad, and that many support the same policies he supports, such as LGBT equality. However, the system works so that the rich are able to buy adverts promoting their policies at the expense of those that favour working and middle class people. A study has found that legislation benefiting these groups, rather than the corporate donor elite, is only passed 18 per cent of the time. Pro-LGBT legislation was passed members of the elite as well as the majority of ordinary Americans supported it. However, when the corporate rich are hostile to particular legislation, like the minimum wage, there is far more difficulty getting it passed. Most Americans, including half of the Republican party, believe the minimum wage should be higher. However, the corporate rich are largely opposed to this, as it will damage profits. And so in certain areas, it is actually illegal for the state authorities to pass legislation raising the minimum wage.

Waldorf also mentions the various countries that the report states comprise each particular category of its democratic index. North Korea, unsurprisingly, is an authoritarian regime, along with Syria. Morocco is one of the ‘hybrid’ regimes. The most democratic country, however, is Norway, followed by the other Scandinavian countries and Ireland. Britain is ranked the 16th most democratic country.

Waldorf notes that America is not alone in its slide towards authoritarianism. The report states that half of the 167 countries surveyed have seen a decline in the quality of their democracy. Waldorf states that this is due to neoliberalism. As more services are privatised, it sets up a vicious cycle which sees more right-wing politicians elected, who privatise more services in order to stop government from working.

Waldorf also suggests a number of ways in which American political culture and democracy could be restored. These include getting the money out of politics, more political parties, restoring section 5 of the voting rights act, making registration to vote compulsory and making voting easier. He also recommends ending the corporate nature of the media, where anchors sitting in a studio earn $20 million a year for reading the news, but have absolutely nothing in common with their lower or middle class viewers, and do not represent their interests.

This study and its analysis by the TYT’s man exactly describes the crisis in American democracy and its causes. A study a few years ago by, I think, Harvard political scientists concluded that America was an elected oligarchy, in which both parties served the corporate elite rather than the common man and woman. He’s also right about the way many ordinary people are alienated from political life, because the policies embraced by their elected representatives actively hurt them in favour of the corporate elite. The Harvard study noted that approval ratings of Congress really only polled a maximum of 25 per cent, and very often much less, down to the low teens, because Americans justifiably felt their politicians were ignoring them.

I am, however, surprised at Britain having a relatively high rating, even if we are only the 16th most democratic country according to the survey. Successive governments since Thatcher have followed America in legislating for the benefit of rich corporations. John Major’s administration was notorious for its corporate sleaze, while Blair did everything he could to increase the dominance of leaders of industry over the machinery of government, appointing managing directors like David Sainsbury to important government posts.

I also take issue with Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn being described as ‘populists’. Populism usually denotes right-wing demagogues, who offer their followers a false democracy, pretending to represent working class interests while at the same time standing for a range of policies, including racism, which harm their working class followers. The examples are Trump and the Republicans in the US, and the Tories and UKIP over here. Corbyn and Sanders aren’t populists, because they genuinely represent the working and lower middle classes hurt by neoliberalism. They also aren’t at all racist. In fact, both are quite definitely anti-racism and discrimination, despite the smears of the Israel lobby. What they do represent is a threat to the corporate domination of the established left-wing parties, such as the Clintonite Democrats in America and the Blairites in the Labour party over here. And thus Sanders and Corbyn are smeared as ‘populists’ by the neoliberal elite determined to misrepresent itself as occupying the moderate centre ground, when they are as responsible as the right-wing parties for establishing the power of the major corporations at the expense of the electorate.

On both sides of the Atlantic, people need to wake up to the decline in the quality of democracy caused by neoliberalism and corporate power, and fight back. We need to curb corporate donations and the appointment of managing directors to political office, so that our governments represent us, not big business.

Oil Police Building Razor Wire Around Native Burial Ground for DAPL Pipeline

November 26, 2016

The dispossession for the indigenous people in North Dakota, and the brutalisation of the water protectors and protesters from Americans of all ethnic groups for the profit of big oil continues. In this short video from The Young Turks, their reporter Jordan Cheriton shows how militarised police are building a razor wire fence around a Native burial ground, so that the local indigenous people cannot visit or pray at the graves of their ancestors. There was an attempt by the NODAPL protestors to reach the island earlier in canoes, but they were beaten off by the police. The abandoned canoes were left on the island’s shore, where they are shown being hauled away and broken up by the rozzers.

Cheriton intervenes one of the water protectors, Mr Akicita Tokahe, who is a former US army veteran. Mr Tokahe was one of the US squaddies sent to Panama. He describes how the saw the local people there regard him and his army buddies with a mixture of fear and joy in their eyes. Now, he says, he’s experiencing what it’s like to be on the other side of an armed force.

The video ends with a young woman’s voice chanting a song about not giving up the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This is just one disgraceful episode in a long line of instances of police brutality, official injustice, greed and intimidation. It shows the overwhelming power of the oil industry in America, the way they’ve been able to ride roughshod over laws and treaties protecting indigenous land, and the absolute contempt they have for the Native people of America.

The pipeline was due to go through, or past, the town of Bismarck. However, as this would have posed a threat to the water quality of White, suburban community, the people complained and the decision was made to send it straight through the land of the Sioux people. And this is very much treaty land. Cheriton, or one of the others from The Turks, talked to a Black protestor, who had worked as one of the environmental teams researching and presenting evidence on whether oil pipelines could be legally constructed in particular areas. America has legislation, which should prevent oil, or other potentially dangerous or polluting engineering projects, being situated in poor, Black or otherwise disadvantages neighbourhoods. The oil company deliberately falsified evidence to claim wrongly that the land through which the pipeline was going to be laid was not Native American. They did so by counting only the indigenous Americans resident on Federal land, ignoring the greater amount of reservation land which the pipeline will run through. And as Cheriton points out here, the oil company shouldn’t be on that small island either. It belongs to the American military, and by law the only people allowed on that land should be the US armed forces.

So far, we’ve seen instances where the cops have done their best to prevent peaceful protests and prayers at the state capital. They’ve used mace against the protestors, physically attacked them, including with dogs. Indigenous protectors, including women, have been hauled off to be kept in dog kennels. They have been shot with rubber bullets, and the other day a White young woman, Sophia Wilansky, had her lower arm blow off when one of these goons shot her directly with a stun grenade. This is illegal, but they did it anyway and are now lying about it. The protestors have made it very clear that they’re putting this in the perspective of the long-term dispossession of the Native people of America by Whites. I don’t think you can fairly argue against this. A desire for the wealth of natural resources and agricultural land was behind the continuing seizure of Indian land and relocation of the Amerindians themselves during the 19th century. Despite the fact that this land is protected by the Fort Laramie treaty of 1863, if I’m not mistaken, the whole affair shows that the authorities are still willing to violate treaties and seize indigenous land, just as their 19th century predecessors did, when it suits them.

There is indeed a real danger that the pipeline will foul the area’s drinking water and damage its ecology. One of the statistics cited is that there already been 300 odd oil spills across America, which aren’t reported. And the authorities in America seem to have absolutely no interest in protecting the water quality of their citizens. The people of Flint, Michigan, have had their drinking water poisoned with lead by the local water company, but so far little, if any, action seems to have been taken to clean up the mess and punish those responsible. Communities have also seen their water contaminated by fracking, again with the absolute complicity of the local politicos.

There’s a lesson for us over here. The same companies that are fouling the American environment are keen to start fracking over here, and local authorities and the Tory party are all too eager to let them do it. So we can also expect communities harmed by poisoned drinking water, what the politicos take the bucks handed to them by fossil fuel companies completely indifferent to the suffering and damage they’ve caused.

As an archaeologist, I’m also left astonished and disgusted by the desecration of the tribe’s burial grounds. The respectful treatment of human remains excavated through engineering works, archaeological investigation or preserved in museums is a serious issue. It naturally arouses concern by people that their dead ancestors should be treated with dignity. And the issue is particularly strong, when the remains are those of peoples that have suffered from persecution. For example, a few years ago human remains were uncovered during building work for a new supermarket in one of the northern English towns. It was established that these were Jewish burials, including some of the victims of one of the terrible pogroms unleashed against them during the Middle Ages. Their excavation and removal to another site was, obviously, a delicate matter involving careful negotiation between the authorities, developers, archaeologists and the Jewish community.

Similarly, I was told by a Canadian archaeologist friend that the American archaeologists conducting an investigation of Native burials had to participate and observe certain ritual requirements, including being anointed with buffalo grease, while conducting the excavation. And rightly so, as they were on indigenous territory, interfering with their ancestors’ burials and remains, and so it was only correct that they should have to observe indigenous customs governing the sanctity of the dead.

And you can probably think of other, more prosaic examples of similar concern in White communities, when the dead there have been disturbed due to redevelopment. Yet the police and the oil company there have shown no such sensitivity to the feelings of the local people, or respect for their dead.

This is an absolute disgrace. And I’m very sure we can expect the same callous attitudes and casual brutality over here in Blighty when fracking starts.

The Young Turks on 7 Million Teens Turning to Crime and Prostitution because of Starvation

September 20, 2016

This is truly an outrage. In this video from The Young Turks, they report on an academic study which shows that 7 million teenagers in America are turning to crime, prostitution and selling drugs to get money for food. The report cites one of the study’s authors, Popkin, who says that what they found surprising wasn’t that kids were doing it – it’s been done on a smaller scale for a very long time – but the sheer scale of the problem. When the researchers inquired why these children didn’t use the state welfare system instead, like the SNAP and food stamp programmes, they were told by their young informants that they were too ashamed. The Turks’ anchors are naturally angry at this, pointing out what a disgusting scandal that 7 million children should be forced to become prostitutes or starve in the richest country in the world.

I’ve reblogged a number of videos about American politics in the past where they’ve had direct relevance to similar political situations here in Blighty. This is another of these. The Tories’ ‘welfare reforms’ – their euphemism for cutting benefits and letting people starve – is copied very much from America, although attacks on the welfare state have always been part of Tory policy. Maggie Thatcher, John Major and the rest took their view, hawked by the Tory press, that there were large pockets of intergenerational poverty in Britain, where some families had never had a job for three generations, from the Republicans in America. It was rubbish over there, and it’s rubbish over here. But that hasn’t stopped it being repeated by Iain Duncan-Smith, the former Minister for Killing the Disabled.

About a year ago I found a pamphlet put out by Duncan-Smith’s wretched Centre for Social Justice – a complete oxymoron coming from the Tories – arguing for welfare cuts based precisely on this stupid, spurious view of poverty. It raved about how changes to welfare legislation in America had wiped millions off the welfare budget.

At the same time, the Tories have been very impressed by the Victorian doctrine of ‘less eligibility’. As many bloggers have stated, including Another Angry Voice, Johnny Void and myself, this was the Victorian principle behind the workhouse. The idea was that you make conditions as harsh and humiliating as possible so that people don’t go to the state for aid. There are even quotes from Thatcher herself talking about how she admired the Victorians for it. It’s why, despite the Tories keenness to show the staff at the Jobcentre as helpful, with smiling, grateful claimants, the opposite is true: you are frequently treated with grave discourtesy and contempt by staff, who are themselves treated like dirty by their superiors. All with the deliberate intention of making the whole experience of signing on as unpleasant as possible.

And that’s the result. 7 million children are forced to steal, peddle drugs, or sell their bodies to get enough to keep body and soul together.

There are 4.7 million people in ‘food poverty’ in this country. Hundreds of thousands are being kept from starvation by food banks. Stilloaks in his blog, Johnny Void, Tom Pride, and so many, many others, including Vox Political, have put up the figures of the number of disabled people, who have starved to death through benefit cuts. It was something like 590 last time I checked. It’s probably many, many more now. And if you go to Stilloak’s blog, you can see the names and biographies of those, who have died. Be warned: it’s a harrowing read. It’s why Mike has referred to this policy by the Tories as ‘chequebook genocide’.

And it’s a cert the same thing is happening over here.

I can remember back in the 1980s, when Thatcher was throwing everyone out of work, the media woke up to the existence of rent boys. I don’t think they could really do anything else, as a number of MPs, mostly Tories, had been caught using them, like Harvey Proctor. I can remember reading an article on them at the time, which said that the majority were actually heterosexual. They were doing it to make money to buy consumer goods. Quite apart from the poor kids, who have been forced into it by the monsters running the care homes and social services in corrupt local authorities, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a spike in it now, of teenage boys forced into it along with their sisters for exactly the same reasons – to buy enough food.

Reagan and Thatcher have led us down a social, political and economic dead end. It is neoliberalism that is the threat to western civilisation, not liberalism, socialism or Islam. It is Reagan’s and Thatcher’s policies that are seeing millions of people in debt and grinding poverty. The time’s long, long past when their heirs in both the parties of the Right and nominal Left should have been kicked out long ago.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 2

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Poor Staff Conditions

Both New Labour and the Tories have regurgitated endless amounts of Thatcherite verbiage about ‘choice’, when hyping their schemes to take education out of the control of local authorities. In fact, parents and teacher frequently have little choice over how academies are run. The funding agreement gives the power to make decisions regarding school management to the sponsor. These agreements get rid of all but a token representative from the parents and school staff on the school governors’ board. The staff governor may not even be a member of the teaching staff. They are free to set their own pay, terms and conditions, and are outside the regulations governing the conduct of teachers. New Labour was early faced with public opposition when they announced that teacher employed in academies would not have to belong to the compulsory professional body that makes sure teachers are actually fit to teach children. Blair and his team boasted that this was all part of the freedom academies enjoyed from the regulations binding conventional schools. Somebody pointed out that if this regulation was unnecessary, then surely it should also be repealed for ordinary schools. And if it wasn’t, then the regulation should be enforced in academies. At that point, New Labour decided that the regulation did apply, and backed down.
Several of the academy chains, including one run by 3Es, won’t recognise trade unions. These have massive staff turnover, including headmasters. Some of these are hired for truly eye-watering sums. One head, who formerly ran the King Solomon Jewish school, was taken on by an academy for £120,000. This chap eventually left as his experience running a faith school did not prepare him for the problems of coping with a mainstream school, whose children were taken from a variety of ethnic and faith backgrounds.

Refusal to Take Difficult Pupils

Conditions for pupils may not improve either, especially for children with behaviour problems. Academies have tried to keep up their appearance of improving standards frequently by excluding some of the most difficult children, who may find their school career, and their entire lives, wrecked as a result. One school managed to excluded 246 or so of its student population of 700-odd. Beckett provides a couple of cases showing what happened to some of the unlucky children, who were expelled. Except that, technically they may not be. They can exclude someone in a particular manner, so that it’s not technically an exclusion. And if it’s not technically an exclusion, then the Local Education Authority does have the statutory responsibility to find another school for them. This happened to a lad, ‘Jack’ – not his real name – who was excluded, and effectively confined to home for five months. The lad suffered from depression anyway, which was made worse. His mother reported that he then spent all his time in his room, not coming out even for his meals. Another boy, who was excluded, also found that no-one else was prepared to take him on. He ended up not doing his GCSEs. He did manage to get a vocational qualification at a local college, but as this is not an academic qualification, he will suffer at finding a job, and be unable to get into university.

And it isn’t exactly fun and games for the teachers, either. They’re frequently only hired on six month contracts, just in case they start getting a bit too settled and too powerful. One woman was assaulted by a boy in her class. He was not expelled, and the woman understandable felt anxious about going back to work. So she took a little bit more time off. Only to find that, as she was on a six-month contract, she was not paid for the extra time.

No Choice for Parents and Local Authorities

And parents and local authorities have also been penalised if they refused to get in-line and ‘on message’ with the Blairite diktats. Local authorities are expected to consider building academies when trying to renovate and improve schools in their areas, and the onus is always on changing to an academy. If a local authority refuses the government’s command to turn their school into one, the government responded with a scorched earth policy. No further money would be forthcoming for that area’s schools.

And Blair was both doctrinaire and personally vindictive towards those schools that refused to bend, or stubbornly remained ‘good’ in Ofsted reports. Documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that Islington Green School, which Blair was desperate to close, were actually rated good by the school inspectors, despite Chris Woodhead, the-then head of Ofsted, declaring that it was failing. There then followed a long campaign to have the school closed and transformed into an academy. Quite why is unknown, but Beckett speculates personal spite on the Warmonger’s part. The Blairs lived in its catchment area, but they sent their children over the other side of London to be educated at the London Oratory. The press seized on this, and the Dear Leader was embarrassed. So it looks like the school was failed for political reasons, to make it seem less like Blair wasn’t sending his children to it purely for reasons of personal snobbery.

In other areas, parents were subject to full set of New Labour spin and vilification if they put up protests against plans to close their schools and turn them into academies. One man, who was part of a campaign to save his local school, came under personal attack in the subsequent court case to save the school from closure. He was a member of the Socialist Party, what used to be the Militant Tendency, when it was part of the Labour party. And so New Labour seized on that, and claimed that he was only opposing the academy plan because of his political opinions. Not true, but that was how the local New Labour party spun it. Their Labour MP also sent out a very carefully worded letter to her constituents, that asked them to tick two boxes. One said that they were in favour of raising school standards involving a transfer to academy status. The other box said that they were not in favour of raising standards through academy status. Or something like that. It was carefully phrased to make it sound like the only way to improve standards was through changing to an academy. If you weren’t behind it, you weren’t in favour of improving school standards. It was the New Labour educational variety of the old leading question, ‘Do you still beat your wife?’