Posts Tagged ‘Student Debt’

Paul McGann Makes Powerful Appeal to People to Register to Vote

May 17, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political has also reblogged a video by Paul McGann on behalf of the Labour Party, in which he appeals to people to register to vote if they have not done so yet. If they don’t, and therefore won’t be allowed to vote, then they will have no voice in how the country is governed, and over vitally important issues and causes like the NHS.

So please don’t lose your voice, and register.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/17/a-powerful-appeal-for-people-to-register-to-vote-from-paul-mcgann/

This is now more important than ever. The Tories, like their vile counterparts, the Republicans, in America, have changed the voter registration legislation in the hope that this will prevent more people from voting. These changes mean that many people, who believe they are registered to vote, may not be so in fact. If they come to the polling station, they will be turned away.

And I don’t doubt for a single minute that the Tories are hoping that enough of the British people will be apathetic or so fed up with politics, that they will stay away from the voting booths, and so allow them to win by default.

Republican politicians in America have let the cat out of the bag regarding their own electoral reforms, and openly admitted that it is to prevent supporters of the Democrat party, and especially the young, the poor, students and Blacks from voting. I’ve reblogged videos from The Young Turks and Secular Talk that have covered this.

These are the groups in America that vote Democrat, and young people and ethnic minorities are also the parts of the population which are more inclined to vote Labour over here.

And despite all their attempts to appear hip, anti-racist, and entirely cool with gays and the new attitudes to gender and sexuality, I don’t doubt that these are also the groups the Tories also fear and despise. They clearly have absolute contempt for students, as shown by the massive increase in student fees and levels of debt that occurred in the seven years we’ve been ruled by these scoundrels.

So please, if you have any doubt, take McGann’s advice. You really can’t afford not to.

Incidentally, looking at McGann in the video, it seemed to me that with the distinctive haircut, long, angular face and tweed jacked, he was channelling a certain Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm, 1984 and the Spanish Civil War memoire, Homage to Catalonia. Orwell was a convinced Socialist, who wrote a book looking forward to a revolution that would bring about a distinctively English form of Socialism in his book, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English. He was a bitter critic of Communism and totalitarianism, because he had witnessed the way the Communist party under Stalin had betrayed its left-wing allies and murdered their members during the Spanish Civil War. Orwell, like so many other idealistic young people across Europe and America, had personally fought in the War, joining a brigade affiliated to POUM, a non-Marxist Socialist party. He was also strongly impressed with the achievement of the Spanish Anarchists in creating a genuinely Socialist society, in which the workers and peasant owned and managed the farms and industry themselves, before they were defeated and massacred by Franco.

Back in Britain, Orwell worked as a journalist as well as a novelist. He was a convinced anti-imperialist through his experiences as a serviceman in Burma, then part of the British Empire. To understand the depths of hardship working people were experiencing during the Great Depression, he lived for a time as a tramp. This led to the book Down and Out in London and Paris, and The Road to Wigan Pier. This last was reprinted a few years ago because of its relevance to the poverty caused by the Tories through austerity. He also satirised British bourgeois culture and values in Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

As a political journalist, he argued that its writing should be as clear and lucid as possible. There have been criticisms of his remarks and recommendations about how it should be written, but his comments have been taken extremely seriously. His stature as one of this country’s foremost political writers is recognised in the fact that there is a literary award named after him, the Orwell Prize, for political writing.

So in the above video, you have a brilliant actor, Paul McGann, channelling one of the greatest political writers.

Brilliant! as they used to shout on the Fast Show.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In

April 2, 2017

London: Profile Books 2016

Bernie Sanders is the ‘democratic socialist’ senator for Vermont, who ran against Hillary Clinton last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. He didn’t get it. Although he had more grass roots support than Killary, he was cheated of the nomination through the intervention of the Democrat superdelegates, who massively favoured her. He is the man, who should now be occupying the White House, rather than the gurning orange lump of narcissistic Fascism now doing his best to drag the country back to before the Civil War. The polls show that Bernie could have beaten Trump. But he wasn’t elected, as Bernie’s far too radical for the corporate state created by the Republican and mainstream, Clintonite Dems.

How radical can be seen from this book. It’s part autobiography, part manifesto. In the first part, Sanders talks about his youth growing up in Brooklyn, how he first became interested and aware of politics as a student at Chicago University, his political career in Vermont, and his decision to run for as a presidential candidate. This part of the book also describes his campaigning, as he crisscrossed America holding rallies, talking at town hall and union meetings, appearing on TV and social media trying to get votes. A strong feature of the book is Bernie’s emphasis on his background as one of the country’s now threatened lower middle class. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who worked as paint salesman. He and his family lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, where conditions were cramped so that they often slept on couches. He freely admits that his parents were also relatively affluent and had more disposable income than others.

After having left uni, he began his political career in Vermont in 1971 when he joined and campaigned for the senate in the Liberty Union party, a small third party in the state. During the same period he also ran a small company producing educational films on the history of Vermont and other states in New England. Finding out that none of the college students he spoke to had ever heard of Eugene Victor Debs, he went and brought one out on the great American labour leader and socialist politician. On the advice of a friend and college professor, Richard Sugarman, Sanders ran for election as mayor of Burlington. He won, introducing a number of important welfare, educational and municipal reforms he called ‘socialism in one city’, a play on Stalin’s slogan of ‘Socialism in One Country’. He was strongly opposed by the Democrats. A few years afterwards, however, he was elected to Congress as an Independent, where, despite some resistance from the Democrats, he was finally admitted to the Democratic Caucus. In 2006 he ran for senator, contested the seat vacated by the Republican, Jim Jeffords, who had retired. By 2013 he was being urged by his supporters to campaign for the presidential nomination. To gauge for himself how much support he was likely to receive, Sanders went across America talking to ordinary folks across the country. After this convinced him that he had a chance, he began to campaign in earnest.

At the beginning of his campaign for the nomination, Sanders was very much the outsider, getting 15 per cent of the votes polled to Clinton’s 60 per cent. Then he started winning, climbing up the ladder as he took something like seven out of eight states in a row. The corporatist wing of the Democrats did everything they could to block his rise, culminating in the theft of the nomination through the intervention of the superdelegates.

Sanders is a champion of the underdog. He garnered much support by going to communities, speaking to the poor and excluded, often in very underprivileged neighbourhoods where the police and security guards were worried about his safety. He spoke in a poor, multiracial community in New York’s South Bronx, and to poor Whites in rural Mississippi. The latter were a part of the American demographic that the Democrats traditionally believed were impossible to win. Sanders states that actually speaking to them convinced him that they were way more liberal than the political class actually believe. During a talk to a group of local trade unionists, Sanders asked why people in such a poor area voted Republican against their interests. This was one of a number of counties in the state, that was so poor that they didn’t even have a doctor. The union leader told him: racism. The Republicans played on Whites’ hatred of Blacks, to divide and rule the state’s working people.

Sanders makes very clear his admiration for trade unions and their members, and how frequently they know far better than the politicians what is not only good for their members, but also good for the industry, their customers, and their country. He praises the nurses’ unions, who have endorsed his campaign and backed his demand for a Medicaid for all. He similarly praises the workers and professionals maintaining America’s infrastructure. This is massively decaying. 25 per cent of American bridges are, according to surveyors, functionally obsolete. Towns all over America, like Flint in Michigan, have had their water poisoned by negligent water companies. The electricity grid is also unspeakably poor. It’s ranked 35th worst in the world, behind that of Barbados. Yep! If you want to go to a country with a better electricity network, then go to that poor Caribbean country.

He describes how the poor in today’s America pay more for less. Drug prices are kept artificially high by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, so that many poor Americans can’t afford them. In one of the early chapter, he describes leading a group of women from Vermont over the Canadian border, so that they could buy prescription drugs cheaper. These same companies, like the rest of the big corporations, do everything they can to avoid paying tax. In some cases, these big corporations pay absolutely none. This is because of the corruption of American politics by donations from big business. As a result, the country’s politicians don’t represent the ordinary voters. They represent big business. He makes it clear he respects Hillary Clinton, but ran against her because you can’t combine representing ordinary people with taking money from the corporate rich. And at the heart of this corruption is the Koch brothers, oil magnates with a personal wealth of $82 billion and a corporate wealth of $115. They are not, explains Bernie, small government conservatives, but right-wing extremists. Their goal is to dismantle taxation completely, along with Medicaid and what little the country has of a welfare state. All so that the 1 per cent, who own as much as the poorest 90 per cent of the American population, can get even richer.

Sanders goes further to describe the massive inequalities that are now dividing American society, including the racism and sexism that ensures that women, Blacks and Latinos are paid less than White men. The notorious drug laws that have ensured that more Blacks are jailed for marijuana and other drugs than Whites. The crippling debt that faces more and more Americans. 48 million Americans are in poverty. 24 million have no health insurance. Many of these are people, who are in work, and frequently working their rear ends off just to make ends meet. He describes talking to a charity worker, who purchases just out of date food to give to the local food bank. According to the young man he spoke to, 90 per cent of the people using the bank are working Americans, whose jobs pay so little that they literally can’t afford to eat. In this section of the book he quotes a letter from a woman, who states that she and her husband are work 2 and 3 jobs each, but still can’t make a living. As a result, the young can’t afford to buy their houses, or go to university. He contrasts this with the situation in the 1950s. It wasn’t utopia, and there was still massive inequalities in wealth according to race and gender. But the economy was expanding, more people had the prospect of good, well-paying jobs, owning their own homes, and sending their children to college. This America is disappearing. Fast.

Sanders has given his support to women’s groups, and is a very staunch anti-racism campaigner. Amongst those who backed his campaign were Harry Belafonte and Dr. Cornel West, among other Afro-American intellectuals, performers and politicians. He also received the support of a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Seth MacFarlane and Danny DeVito. And comic book fans everywhere with genuinely progressive values will be delighted to here that his campaign manager ran a comic book store in Vermont. Presumably this guy is completely different from the owner of the Android’s Dungeon in The Simpsons. Sanders talks about his support for the Civil Rights movement, and Selma march, paying due tribute to its heroes and heroines, including Dr. Martin Luther King. He’s also a keen supporter of Black Lives Matter, the Black movement to stop cops getting away with the murder of Black people. As part of his campaign against racism, he also actively supports the campaign against the demonization of Muslims and rising tide of Islamophobia in America. When he was asked whether he would support this by a Muslim American, Sanders replied that he would, as his own father’s family were Jewish refugees from Poland.

Sanders is also strongly opposed to the current wars in the Middle East. He was not in favour of Gulf War 1 in the 1990s, and has attacked the invasion of Iraq under Bush for destabilising the country and region, and causing massive carnage. But he was no supporter of Saddam Hussein, and is also a staunch supporter of veterans, adding his political clout to their campaigns to stop the government cutting their benefits. He points out that the blame for these wars lie with the politicos, not the soldiers who had fight.

Bernie also takes worker ownership very seriously. Among the policies that he recommends for saving and expanding the American middle class are strengthening workers’ cooperatives and allowing workers to purchase their companies. One of the measures he states he will introduce will be to establish a bank to lend funds to American workers so that they can buy their own companies. He also wants to end the ‘too big to fail’ attitude to the big banks and start regulating them again. And as part of his campaign to strengthen and expand American democracy, he is a very harsh critic of the various laws the Republicans have introduced in states across America to stop Blacks, Latinos, the poor and students from voting. He also asks why it is that European countries can afford free medical care, but America can’t. And why Germany can provide college education free to its students, while Americans are faced with a mountain of debt.

Sanders is a genuine American radical in the tradition of Eugene Debs. It’s no wonder that the rich and the powerful now trying to pull the country back into the colonial era, when it was ruled by coterie of rich White men. He states that his country is now an oligarchy, and even a ‘banana republic’. He’s right, and right about the ways these issues can and should be tackled.

The Republicans have also tried to deter people from voting for him based on his apparent lack of interest in religion. They couldn’t attack him for being Jewish – although with those monsters Spencer and Gorka in the White House, I don’t know how long that will hold – so insinuated that he was an atheist. Well perhaps. But Sanders does have religious supporters. His friend and support Richard Sugarman is an Hasidic Jew and Sanders himself several times states how impressed he is with Pope Francis’ support for the global poor. He also made it clear in a speech he gave to the very Conservative Liberty University that he was impressed with the good in all religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, whatever. So he’s secular, but not anti-religious. Just anti-bigotry, and the way the right is trying to use religion to divide America.

It’s also remarkable that Sanders was the focus of a popular phenomenon far beyond his own campaign team. He states in the book that he wanted to control the campaign, and not have a SuperPAC telling people what he didn’t or didn’t believe. But he also found that up and down America, people at the grassroots were organising independently of his campaign team to support him. Unlike the astroturf fake populist campaign the Republicans and Libertarians have set up, Bernie’s genuinely popular with a growing number of American working people.

America desperately needs him. And so do we in Britain. The predatory, parasitical capitalism at the heart of American society has also been exported over here by the Conservatives. Just like the Americans need Bernie, we need Corbyn. And we need the two together, because if Bernie can do anything to stop the current political degeneration in America, it will also help stop the process over here.

Incidentally, Bernie has a personal connection with Britain. His brother is a member of the Green party in Oxfordshire, and campaigns against the privatisation of the NHS. Sanders also has a strong interest in protecting the environment and promoting renewable energy.

I also recommend this book to aspiring young politicos because of the chapters in which he talks about running a campaign, funded by your own supporters, not corporate backers, and what you need to do when running about the country. Like making sure you can get there in time and aren’t double-booked. It’s good advice, and although the latter seems obvious, he talks about a number of incidents in which he disastrously failed to follow it.

Sanders talks about the way people are being turned off politics in America, thanks to the massive corporate corruption. This also reaches into corporate media. Sanders also has a few ideas how they can be reformed. He himself was the subject of a media blackout, as the TV and news companies definitely did not want to cover him, and very much favoured Killary. Hopefully Bernie’s book will reach more of the alienated folk now being excluded from American politics, and show them that there is someone actively fighting for them. And so encourage them to get involved for themselves.

Theresa May Attacks Slavery, but Happy with Other Forms Exploitation

July 31, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up an article commenting on the hypocrisy behind Theresa May launching her anti-slavery campaign.

Slavery is indeed a terrible crime against humanity, and down the centuries slaves have been treated with more or less appalling brutality. But Mike points out that there are also exploitative employers, who force wages down and torture their workers psychologically. He has seen it, and wonders if his readers also have. But this, apparently, is perfectly fine with May.

As is student debt, which according to a report released today by the Intergenerational Foundation will wipe out any ‘graduate premiums for most professions’. In other words, getting a degree will keep you poor, and won’t do you any good. But May still keeps telling us that higher education leads to greater employability and pay.

He then discusses how the National Living Wage is no such thing, and you can’t survive on benefits, because the benefits system is biased against giving them out.

All fine by May. As is the form of slavery embodied in workfare. The government has spent four years trying to keep the names of the firms and charities involved in this absolutely secret, because they were well aware that the British public wouldn’t stand it. But that form of exploitation is fine by May.

Mike states that he fully believes slavery should be wiped out in Britain, but states that May’s campaign against it shows up the hypocrisy in the Tory party, which is quite prepared to tolerate and promote other forms of exploitation.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/heres-why-mays-campaign-against-slavery-is-a-contradiction/

This contradiction between attacking slavery and tolerating, or even participating, in ‘wage slavery’ and the exploitation of paid employees, was one of the criticisms made against many of the Abolitionists in both Britain and America, like William Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s critics made the point that it was hypocritical of him to attack Black slavery for its cruel exploitation of other human beings, when he himself exploited the ‘factory slaves’ toiling for him. The same point was made by the defenders of slavery in the southern states of the US against northern abolitionists, as they pointed out the appalling conditions for the workers in the northern factories. This isn’t an argument for tolerating slavery. It is an argument for ending the exploitation of nominally free workers. It’s why the British Anti-Slavery Society also published pamphlets attacking what it considered to be exploitative labour conditions in Britain, such as the employment of children beyond a certain maximum number of hours.

And some of the recent developments in workforce conditions worry me, as they are extremely close to real slavery. Mike mentions student debt. In America, Obama passed legislation stating that graduates cannot even declare themselves bankrupt to clear themselves of it. These debts may reach something like £30-40,000 and above. I’ve even seen it suggested that the total student debt for a medical student may reach £70,000, putting a career as a doctor or surgeon beyond most people’s ability to pay. But if they cannot clear the debt as they would others, then it becomes a particularly heavy, persistent burden. It only needs for another US president, guided no doubt by a donor in the financial sector, to declare that the debt should be made hereditary so they can recoup their investment, and you have debt slavery, exactly as it exists in India, Pakistan and other parts of the world.

Disgusting.

And then there’s the welfare to work industry. Standing in his Precariat Charter also devotes pages to attacking this form of exploitation. And this is also trembling on the edge of real slavery. Under existing legislation, a sanctioned individual may be forced to work, even though they are receiving no benefits. This is surely slavery.

The exploitative nature of workfare is tied to a very proprietorial attitude by the upper classes towards the unemployed. The Tories and other advocates of similar reforms have the attitude that because the unemployed and other recipients of benefits are being supported by the state, they have certain obligations to the state beyond ordinary citizens, a notion that has extended into a form of ownership. Thus we have the imposition of the bedroom tax, levied on a fictitious ‘spare room subsidy’ that does not exist. One of the madder peers declared that the unemployed should have to publish accounts of their expenditure, like public departments and MPs. And the whole notion of workfare is that the unemployed are getting something for nothing, and so should be forced to do something for the pittance they are receiving.

Ultimately, all these attitudes derive from the sense of feudal superiority instilled in the Tories as members of the upper classes, and which causes them to persist in seeing the rest of us as their serfs, who owe deference and toil to them as our social superiors. Workfare can even be seen as a contemporary form of corvee, the system of labour obligations to a serf’s lord that existed in feudalism. The feudal landlord in this case, is Sainsbury’s or whichever of the various firms and charities have chosen to participate in the scheme.

May’s right to attack slavery. But it’s long past high time that these other forms of exploitation, and the attitude of class snobbery and entitlement behind them, were removed as well.

Pro-Corbin Article in Today’s Counterpunch

June 30, 2016

The American left-wing magazine, Counterpunch, has an important article by Thomas Barker urging people outside the Labour party to support Corbyn in his desperate battle with the Blairites. Barker describes how 172 MPs have come out against him, including Ed Miliband, all claiming that he is ‘unelectable’, despite having the biggest mandate of the party leaders. He states very clearly that their opposition to Corbyn is based on his desire to bring back real Socialism into the party, and make the Left a renewed force in British politics, through supporting the nationalisation of the railways, free education, a better minimum wage and so on. He states that Corbyn also has limited support from the constituency parties, and so urges those outside the party to show their support.

He begins

Since last Thursday’s EU referendum, some 172 right wing Labour MPs have put their name to a vote of no confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn. They claim that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’, despite winning the biggest mandate of any party leader in British history.

Even leaders proven to be ‘unelectable’, such as Ed Miliband, are now calling for Corbyn to resign.

In reality, these Blairite MPs are opposed to Corbyn’s program of a £10 an hour living wage, mass council house building, free education, and nationalisation of the railways.

It is hardly surprising that right wing MPs have come out against Corbyn, but what is most galling is the attempt by small groups of Labour members, including MPs and councillors, to enclose the debate within the confines of the party.

This is a huge mistake.

The implications of the ongoing leadership struggle are much bigger than one party. This is a struggle to reconstitute the left as a mass force. The idea that you need to be part of Labour to have an opinion on this is exactly the kind of exclusionary nonsense that needs to be avoided if Corbyn is to succeed.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/06/30/saving-labour-from-blairism-the-dangers-of-confining-the-debate-to-existing-members/

Go and read it.

People are indeed showing their support for Corbyn. Mike has linked to an internet petition asking him not to resign, and on Tuesday evening there was demonstration in his support on College Green in Bristol

And the Blairites, as a political faction, are vile. Tony Blair was a neoliberal Tory and a Thatcherite. One of the first things he did when he got into No. 10 was invited her round. She described New Labour as her greatest achievement. Well, she did make it very clear she wanted to destroy Socialism.

Blair continued the disastrous PFI, which has seen this country saddled with massive, off-the-accounts debt for shoddy workmanship in public utilities. He also continued and expanded Thatcher’s privatisation of the NHS. This was a conscious policy. He wanted to introduce an insurance-driven system like America, but didn’t want to lose an election by telling the voters. See Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ NHS-SOS. It was Blair that also called in ATOS to conduct the fitness-for-work tests that have so far seen 500 or see people die of starvation and misery, and a further 290,000 suffer varying degrees of harm to their mental health. And it was Blair, who began the transform of our publicly funded schools into privately run academies.

Quite apart from Bliar, Mandelson and Broon introducing tuition fees.

This has all reduced the British people to poverty. It’s provided the basis for Cameron’s policies, which have continued them. As a result of 30 odd years of Thatcherism, our children will have worse schooling, the working and lower middle class will be saddled with immense debt if they go to Uni, and we are being charged for the health service, to the profit of private medical firms like BUPA, Circle Health, and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Care.

Enough’s enough. It’s time the Blairites were thrown out of the party, and treated with the contempt they deserve by the working people of this country, whom they’ve spurned. It was after all one of the Blairite MPs, who stated that Labour would be even harder on jobseekers than the Tories. All to curry favour with the corporate, tax-dodging fat cats and media barons like Murdoch, Dacre, Desmond and the weirdo Barclay Twins.

And so I say: I support Corbyn.

The Young Turks on Trump Being Sued by Students at his Fraudulent University

February 29, 2016

Trump isn’t just a racist Nazi – he’s a scam artist too. In this piece from the Young Turks, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian discuss how Trump is being sued by Tarla Makaeff and the New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, for ripping off prospective students, who enrolled at his ‘university’. In 2005, Trump announced he was opening the ‘Trump University’ to teach students how to be successful Real Estate salesmen and women. Tarla Makaeff, one of those, who enrolled, and Attorney General Schneiderman, are suing Trump because the university was not accredited, did not issue degrees, and in fact only saddled the students with $60,000 worth of debt that they couldn’t afford for classes that didn’t materialise. In fact, all they got was a seminar in a ballroom. Schneiderman is launching a $40 million lawsuit on the students’ behalf. As for staff at the seminar, they were instructed to do all they could to get students to sign up for further seminars, costing $1,495. There were three booths ranged round the exits, so that if the prospective students left, they’d be button-holed by these spivs. Trump himself did not appear, despite promises that he would. Trump later dropped the title of ‘University’ as he realised this was actually illegal, considering it wasn’t. The scam, however, went on. Kasparian also asks whether it’s sensible to take business advice from a man, who went bust four times.

Kasparian is furious, as it reminds her of the inflated and frequently fraudulent claims of the for-profit colleges. Uygur points out that even they aren’t as bad as this, which is just pure fraud. As for any of Trump’s admirers, who will actually look up to him and boast about how he’s conned people, they should realise that he’s doing exactly the same in the election with his promises. He’s a scam artist, and they’re his next mark.

The Young Turks on Fox News Attacking Obama’s Plan for Free Community College Tuition

February 24, 2016

This is another example of a policy by the Democrats that should be taken up over here. And of the right-wing rage that would accompany it if it ever was. The clip comes from a year ago (2015) and shows Steve Doocy and the rest of Fox and Friends getting very annoyed with Obama. That in itself is no surprise. What is interesting is the reason this time round. Obama had the sheer audacity to state that he was going to make federal funds available to pay for two years’ tuition at community colleges. The federal authorities would pay for three-quarters’ of the tuition fees for those two years, and the individual state would be required to pay the rest. This would mean, according to one of the pundits on the TYT panel, that Americans would save on $15,000 tuition fees each year for those two years.

Doocy on Fox and Friends can’t stand it. He states that he’s only just finished paying off his college fees, and doesn’t see why anyone else should get the chance of a free higher education. The Fox panel also shout that if you’ve just got a baby now, you’re not just going to pay for their education, but someone else’s as well. Students shouldn’t have the right to a free education, because nothing is free.

The Turks’ panel of John Iadarola, Dave Rubin, Jimmy Dore and R.J. Eskow give that attitude very short-shrift. They point out that the estimated $60 billion it’s supposedly going to cost is actually the total amount the American state spends on education. They also point out that investing in education is the way Finland actually boosted its economy by educating its people. They also make the point that the money is better spent on education, which will also ultimately benefit everyone in the areas the students in which the students are studying, than just simply giving it to millionaires in the form of tax cuts.

As for the line that present-day students shouldn’t have it, because it didn’t exist way back when, Iadarola states that this is a profoundly un-American attitude. He states that when American introduced Social Security, nobody argued against it’s introduction because, hey, their aunt had to scrimp and save and go without, so why should others have it easy. Or they came to America as indentured servants or slaves, so why should indentured servitude or slavery be ended. People generally want things to be better for the next generation than they are now, not the same or worse. And in the case of education, they certainly don’t agree that something that important, where primary and secondary education are free, should also be made more expensive to stop people taking it up.

As for Steve Doocy, they point out that he’s 58 years old, and attended one of the better American universities. He’d therefore still have to pay his tuition fees if this came in, because he did not go to Community College. Their producer also makes the point that Doocy was at College in the 1970s, so there’s no way he has only just paid off his student debt. And they also argue that the average student debt is so large, $20-30,000, that the only way students can afford to pay it off is for the luck 0.1% to become Fox News presenters.

I’ve reblogged this because British students are now in the same position since Bliar’s government introduced tuition fees, and the Lib-Dem-Tory Coalition hiked them up massively. In the case of Bliar, he was a member of the British-American Project, a Reaganite initiative for schooling the next generation of British politicians. He and the other leaders of New Labour were impressed with Reaganite American attitudes and policies. In the case of Cameron and Clegg, they’re Thatcherite toffs, who resent the working classes getting above themselves and having opportunities which they feel should rightly belong solely to the well-heeled. And it is a Thatcherite policy. I can remember it being discussed when the Iron Lady was doing her best to destroy everything decent in British political culture. Mind you, there were certain figures in the Labour party even then, who supported it, like David Cox, the Labour MP for Hartcliffe in Bristol.

It’s slightly ironic that as British politics has moved to the right with New Labour, so parts of the Democrats have moved to the Left. This particular policy is rather more left-wing, for example, than the current policy in Britain.

I’ve also reblogged this because I’ve also heard the refrain directed against certain policies over this side of the Atlantic, that people shouldn’t have particular benefits, ’cause ‘we never had it in our day.’ And the reply should be the same: it’s not an argument, as people should want to make things better, as The Young Turks have said about education above.

Vox Political: Tory Lack of Investment in Mental Health Costing £105 Billion a Year

February 15, 2016

Mike has put up a piece about a report by Paul Farmer for the mental health charity, Mind, which argues that the Tories’ refusal to invest in mental health is costing the British economy £105 billion a year. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/15/tories-failure-to-invest-in-mental-health-costs-economy-105-billion-a-year-says-report/.
The piece also states that Cameron is due to make a statement about his government’s policies towards mental health this Wednesday.

I am not surprised about the amount of damage neglect of the country’s mental wellbeing is doing to the economy. I have, however, no illusions that David Cameron wants to do anything about it. He will want to be seen as doing something about it, and so will probably make noises about how he and the government take this issue very serious, but any action taken will ultimately only be trivial and cosmetic.

It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the country’s losing so much money because of this issue. Sick people can’t work, or can’t work as well as those enjoying good health. And very many people are being left very sick indeed by the government’s policies. If they’re threatened with losing their jobs, and their homes, or being unable to pay their bills because their jobs don’t pay, or they don’t get enough welfare benefit – if they’ve luck enough not to be sanctioned – and they’re saddled with a massive debt from their student days that they can’t pay off, then they’re going to be scared and depressed. And the Tory employment policies are deliberately designed to make people scared and depressed. It’s all to make us work harder, you see. It’s psychological carrot and stick, but without the carrot and the stick very much used.

Mike himself has reblogged endless pieces from welfare and disability campaigners like Kitty S. Jones and the mental health specialists themselves, blogs like SPIJoe, about how the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression due to the government’s welfare-to-work programme has skyrocketed. The latest statistics are that there 290,000 people suffering because of poor mental health due to the quack assessments carried out by Atos and now Maximus. And 590 people have died of either neglect or suicide due to being sanctioned. That no doubt includes people, who could have contributed to the economy, if they’d been properly supported. But they weren’t. They were thrown of sickness and disability, and left to fend for themselves. They couldn’t, and so they died. Just as prescribed by the wretched Social Darwinism that seems to guide the policies of these monsters in government.

The government’s big idea of helping people back into work is to tell them to pull themselves together, and put them through workfare. As cheap labour for big corporations that don’t need it, like Tesco. Now with the genuinely depressed and anxious, it isn’t the case that they don’t want to work. It’s that they can’t. I know from personal experience. There gets to be a point when you really can’t go into work. And it isn’t just a case of not feeling bothered or up to it either. You feel ashamed because you can’t work. And putting you back into work, before you’re ready, won’t help.

But that’s ignored, or simply doesn’t register with the New Labour and Conservative supporters of this vile and destructive welfare policy.

I’m reblogging Mike’s article now because it ties in with several programmes about depression and mental health issues this week. And 9 O’clock tonight on BBC 1 there is The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive Revisited with Stephen Fry. This is the sequel to a documentary he made, The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, ten years ago. Fry’s bipolar himself, and in the original documentary he spoke to other sufferers, including Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss and one of the very great stars of British pop in the ’90s, Robbie Williams. Fry was on the One Show on Friday talking about the show. He mentioned there was a much greater awareness of the problem. He described talking about it before pupils at the most elite and famous public school in the country, and saw his young audience nodding in agreement when he talked about self-harm. He stated that this was astonishing, as when he was at school no-one had heard of it.

Presumably Fry means Eton, and I’m not particularly surprised to find that some of the pupils were all too aware of what he was talking about. The entire regime at public school seems designed to turn the young scions of the ruling classes either into complete bastards, or absolute mental wrecks. I can remember reading accounts in the Sunday Express when I was at school, where ex-private schoolboys stated that they had been left emotionally numb and scarred by their experiences. And the former schoolgirls had similarly had an horrific time. When former pupil described how the girls at her school were perpetually in tears. So much for happy schooldays and jolly hockey sticks.

This Wednesday, at 10.45 pm, the BBC is screening a documentary, Life After Suicide. The blurb for this runs

The leading cause of death in men below 50 is suicide, yet people still seem reluctant to talk about the grim reality. Angela Samata, whose partner Mark took his own life 11 years ago, meets others who have suffered a similar loss. Those she meets include Downton Abbey actor David Robb, who talks about the death of his actress wife Briony McRoberts in 2013; a Somerset farmer and his five young daughters; and a Norfolk woman who is living with the suicides of both her husband and her son. Showing as part of BBC1’s mental health season.

And at a quarter to midnight the following evening, on Thursday, there’s the rapper Professor Green: Suicide and Me. The Radio Time’s blurb for this goes

This deeply personal, affecting film created a nationwide stir when it was first aired on BBC3 last autumn. “Crying’s all I’ve bloody done, making this documentary.” remarks Stephen Manderson, aka rapper Professor Green, describing the emotions that frequently overwhelm him as he tries to better understand why his father committed suicide.

His conclusion is simple: men need to talk about their emotions.

That helps a lot. One of the reasons why women are apparently less likely to commit suicide is because women have more friends, to whom they can confide and share their troubles. But in the case of general depression and anxiety, much can be done to prevent this simply by easing the immense economic and social pressures on people, pressures that have been made much worse through the government’s austerity campaign, as well as making sure there’s better understanding and treatment available for mental illness.

Well, that’s me done on this issue. As Dr Frazier Crane used to say, ‘Wishing you good mental health’.

Meme: Reforming Ideas for the American ‘Next Deal’

February 10, 2016

This is another American political meme I found over at the Tumblr site, 1000 Natural Shocks (Over 18s only). I don’t know who the American Reformers are, but looking at the points on their meme, I’d say that they were similar to the Bernie Sanders’ radical Left of the Democrats, and wished to transform their country’s political system into something like that of Europe’s.

American Next Deal

It’s clearly American, but there are some points which would definitely benefit our politics over here. For example:

* Ending gerrymandering
* Strengthening trade unions
* Dealing with student debt
* Ending lobbying (And not the pathetic deception Cameron pulled, which actually ended democratic access and strengthened the professional, corporate lobbyists)
* Raising the minimum wage.
* Shifting the tax burden fairly so that the rich pay their proper whack
* A proper commitment to the NHS: Reverse and end privatisation.
* Ending privately run prisons.
* Actually strengthening the welfare state, so that the sick, the disabled and the unemployed are genuinely supported.
* Make a secure commitment to genuine human rights. Retain membership of the EU and its human rights legislation. David Cameron wants to replace these with a far weaker version that would not give British citizens anywhere near the same level of protection.
* Make a genuine commitment to real environmental protection, including against flooding, rather than the derisory token gestures of Cameron’s cabinet.
* 50 per cent renewable energy over here sounds pretty good as well.
* Increased spending on infrastructure.
* Genuine, proper support for small businesses. Make sure the big boys pay their smaller contractors on time. This is driving many to the wall. The Tories have been putting it off since Major’s day. It’s time this ended.

American College Professor Quits After Legislature Allows Guns on Campus

October 16, 2015

It’s a cliché that America has a gun culture, and that the American right is absolutely determined to protect gun ownership and will go to extreme lengths to do so. This piece from The Young Turks shows how absurd the right’s determination to allow American citizens to carry firearms has become. A professor of economics at Texas University has decided to spend part of next year teaching in Australia, as he fears for his safety. The Texas legislature has just passed a law allowing people to carry concealed guns on university campuses. The lecturer, Daniel Hamermesh, teaches microeconomics and is afraid that under this law, a disgruntled student could shoot him with a gun he had legally brought to class.

I realise that after the recent horrendous school shootings in America, some people believe that students should have the right to carry guns for their self-defence. Universities are places of learning and culture. They are the very last places people should take firearms. It might be thought that Mamermesh’s reaction to the law is somewhat exaggerated in itself, but I think it’s quite reasonable. Over here in Britain there are a terrible number of assaults every year on school teachers by angry pupils or their parents. I haven’t heard of any university lecturers being assaulted, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some were. There’s the same pressure at Uni to get good grades, and this has increased with the massive increase in tuition fees. Like their fellows on this side of the pond, many American students are trapped in ‘generation rent’ because the expense of their university education and the immense debts they have accrued mean that they will never be able to afford to buy their own home. Some academics have also commented on the sense of entitlement of some of their students, and the ill grace and bitter resentment they feel when their expectations of a good mark are not fulfilled. Going back to the 1980s, there was a case where one doctoral student blew away his rival with a gun after the rival student won a particularly prestigious scientific award for which they had both been competing. So, I don’t think it at all unreasonable that the professor should feel worried for his safety. And even if the students don’t decide to take a pot shot at a particularly annoying lecturer, there’s always the danger of accidents. I realise that the NRA stress that guns aren’t toys and urge gun owners to treat them responsibly, but not everybody has that mentality. People have been injured or killed messing around with firearms, and unfortunately there have been a number of scandals already at some universities from the drunken antics of some of the boys in university fraternities. So, rather than the new law making campus more secure and safer, it’s made it a much more dangerous place.

Here’s the video about it by The Young Turks.

I know that this is very much an American issue, but Piers Morgan aside, there are people over here in the Conservatives, who share the Republicans’ love of guns and would want Brits also to have the same right to bear arms. The legal ability to carry guns also carries with it the dangers of death or severe injury through deliberate malice, stupidity or simply sheer bad luck. The threat of gun violence is simply too high a price to pay. Especially in a place of learning, which should be preparing young men and women for their lives, rather than endangering them.

Graduate Underemployment Today and in 19th Century Germany

March 19, 2014

Graduate Jobs diagram

Diagram of the various sectors of the economy employing graduates. The vast majority are ‘jobs graduates end up doing’.

Taken from ‘Graduates Aren’t What They Used To Be’ at http://www.workcomms.com/graduates/whitepapers/graduates/.

Yesterday’s I newspaper carried an article about the massive underemployment of educated workers, including graduates. These were workers performing jobs for which they were too highly qualified. In some parts of the North, the article stated, the number of skilled and educated workers in lower skilled jobs was around 50 per cent.

I am not remotely surprised. There has been a massive expansion in further and higher education from 1980s onwards. During Tony Blair’s administration, approving Fleet Street columnists like Polly Toynbee saw this as a major positive step. Britain was not only going to be better educated, but this would provide the skilled, intellectual workforce of tomorrow to fuel British industry. Computer skills in particular were in great demand, and there was much optimistic talk about the immense value of the knowledge economy. All this was, of course, just before the Dot.com bubble exploded, thus following in the long line of massively over-hyped investments schemes like the South Sea bubble and John Law’s Louisiana scheme. The only difference with that those was that instead of the being in some remote part of the Earth, the property being developed was in cyberspace.

In all of this there seems to have been little thought to how these graduates were going to be employed afterwards, nor how they were supposed to create the expected new jobs. It seems to have been simply assumed that the clerical, managerial or entrepreneurial sectors of industry would expand to take them on.

This simply did not occur, so that instead, educated, often highly educated people were forced to find work for which they were overqualified, simply to put food on the table. The SF novelist, Spider Robinson, in the foreword to his collection of short stories, Callaghan’s Crazy Crosstime Bar, describes how the only job he could get after leaving Uni was as a nightwatchman at a building site ‘Looking at a hole in the ground to make sure nobody stole it’. Other graduates have found themselves flipping burgers. Not only are these jobs wasting their talents, but the entry of graduates into them has put additional employment pressure on low qualified workers, for whom this is only type of job they can do.

The German Socialist leader Karl Kautsky remarked on a similar process occurring in late 19th century Germany. He remarked on the way the industrialisation of the country from feudalism to capitalism had encouraged the expansion of higher education. However, the new generation of graduates found that the expansion of education had deprived them of their privileged status, and they became white-collar workers, members of the working class. Kautsky wrote

Clearly the capitalist mode of production requires a massive intelligentsia. The educational facilities of the feudal state were incapable of catering for that need. Thus the bourgeois regime has always been in favour of improving and expanding not only elementary but also higher education. This was supposed to promote not only the development of production, but also to lessen class conflict; given that higher education was a way of gaining access to the professional world, it seemed self-0evident that the universal expansion of higher education would integrate the proletariat into the bourgeoisie.

But the bourgeois standard of life only becomes a necessary correlate of higher education when the latter is a privilege. When it becomes universal, far from integrating the proletariat into the bourgeoisie, it degrades him to a ‘white-collar worker’, to a proletarian. That too is one of the manifestations of the immiseration of the mass of people.

He then proceeds to describe how the intelligentsia of his day tried to block the entry into higher education of underprivileged groups, like women, Jews and the working class.

The strongest opposition to the education of women is expressed by university professors and students, and by the leading scientists. It is they who exclude the Jewish intelligentsia from all competition for position in the professional world, and who go to great lengths to make higher education more expensive and hence inaccessible to the poor.

Karl Kautsky, ‘The Revisionist Controversy’ in Patrick Goode, Karl Kautsky: Selected Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 20.

The situation in Britain today is almost completely the opposite. There are now more women at university than men, and there are a number of campaigns to encourage women to take up traditionally male-dominated subjects, like engineering and science. Furthermore, most universities are extremely keen to encourage enrolment by members of ethnic or religious minorities. Furthermore, when student fees were introduced, the universities were worried that it would lead to education becoming the preserve of a privileged few. University administrators, in my experience, have also welcomed the greater opportunity of people from less privileged groups to go to university.

However, the massive expansion of tuition fees by the Tories and their Tory Democrat allies certainly seems to indicate that they see higher education as something that should remain the exclusive privilege of the upper and upper middle classes. Unable to oppose openly the idea that university education should be open to more than just a narrow elite, it appears that Cameron and Clegg, both blue-blooded aristos, are trying to price it out of the reach of the working and lower middle classes.

They also seem to see students as a further reservoir of debt slaves. With student debt now going up to 27,000 or more, I did read recently of the Coalition plan to sell their debts to private industry. Where once upon a time education was free, now it seems that not only is it extremely expensive, but students themselves are seen as a lucrative investment by the insurance industry.

In Germany graduate and university discontent led eventually to strong support for the Nazi party in the last years of the Weimar period and the years of the Nazi seizure of power. In Britain very few graduates have any sympathy for the Fascist radical Right, and racism and militant anti-feminism would not be welcome. Instead there is growing graduate poverty and discontent, as former students join their less-skilled fellows in poorly paid, unrewarding jobs, with the additional worries about paying off their student debt. Their needs should also be addressed by the politicos along with the rest of the working population. Unfortunately, as Tony Benn remarked about Maggie’s prime ministry,

Despite the fact that we have been told that this is an entrepreneurial society, Britain has an utter contempt for skill. If one talks to people who dig coal and drive trains, or to doctors, nurses, dentists or toolmakers, one discovers that no one in Britain is interested in them. The whole of the so-called entrepreneurial society is focused on the City news that we get in every bulletin which tells us what has happened to £ sterling to three decimal points against the basket of European currencies. Skill is what built this country’s strength, but it has been treated with contempt.

There is an immense reservoir of talent, which is vastly underused in this country. For all the talk about expanding the knowledge economy, promoting science and creating a workforce with the skills needed by industry, there is little interest in actually using such a skilled workforce, and the Tory attitude seems to regard them merely as a suitably remunerative investment for the insurance industry. This has to change. We should be creating a nation, which can and does employ such people, or develop schemes by which they themselves can create the industries for which they have skills. I cannot see this happening under a government that sees no value in education beyond its monetary value, and indeed even views it as a threat when in the hands of anyone outside the privileged ranks of the aristocratic few.

I’ve taken the words of the speech from Another Angry Voice’s post, Tony Benn and Neoliberal Orthodoxy. This article, and other quotations from the speech, is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/tony-benn-and-neoliberal-orthodoxy.html.

Alternatively, a video of the speech can also be seen at Guy Debord’s Cat’s post ‘There’s only One Tony Benn’, which is at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/theres-only-one-tony-benn/.