Posts Tagged ‘Taxes’

The Continuing Scandal of the DWP Asking the Depressed Why They Haven’t Committed Suicide

March 18, 2017

Mike this week put up a piece reporting and commenting on the admission by Maximus that they do indeed ask depressed people questions about suicide as part of the Work Capability Assessment. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/11/dwp-contractor-admits-routinely-asking-sickness-benefit-claimants-dangerous-questions-about-suicide/There are several questions. The first questions simply ask them if they have had thoughts about suicide, and the frequency and severity of these thoughts. These are, in my view, reasonable questions. Or rather, it would be if it were part of a genuine medical examination as part of a real programme to make that person well again. Depression isn’t a case of being ‘a bit down’. It is, as the British medical scientist, writer and Humanist, Lewis Wolpert described it in the title of his book, ‘A Malignant Sadness’. Clearly, if someone does have thoughts about suicide, they are extremely unwell and desperately need help.

The other questions, however, is unwarranted and frankly dangerous. The depressed person is then asked

“And what is it that stops you from acting on the thoughts that you have?

“Can you think of any reason that you’re not doing that? Is it friends or family support?”

Now it should be clear to anyone with the most meagre level of intelligence that asking people, who are already mentally fragile and have admitted they think of doing themselves injury or actually killing themselves, why they haven’t done so is extremely dangerous. My guess is that the way it is phrased in particular makes the question seriously unethical, as it seems to assume that the depressed person is not seriously troubled by these thoughts unless he or she has tried to act them out.

I don’t know, but I can imagine that if a social scientist or medical professional doing research amongst the clinically depressed asked the question, they could be hauled up before their relevant bodies overseeing professional standards for ethics violations or misconduct. As part of their training, social scientists are told not to phrase questions in the form of ‘You’re not…are you?’ And the Hippocratic Oath, a form of which doctors were required to take until recently, contained the provision ‘And I shall do no harm.’ These questions seem close enough to the first question, at least in spirit, to make them also unethical, while violating that provision of the ancient doctor’s Oath in that they could seem to some to be suggesting that they should.

The Work Capability Test itself is a scientific travesty. It is based on spurious and scientifically invalid research supposedly linking recovery to illness to mental attitude. The whole wretched test was introduced by Blair and his coteries on the recommendation of the American insurance fraudster, Unum, in a conference in the first years of this century. It is based on the attitude, shared by the Blairites and the Tories, that nearly everyone claiming invalidity or sickness benefit is a malingerer, despite the fact that such fraud only counts for 0.7 per cent of such claims.

The question also shows the immense double standards about health that persists between us and our rulers. It’s assumed that asking a severely ill person why they haven’t harmed themselves or committed suicide is acceptable. But heaven help anyone, who asked the same question of a captain of industry or leading politician why they haven’t tried to commit suicide, and you can imagine the feeding frenzy from an outraged press.

For example, the Blairite contender for the Labour leadership and flagrant liar, Angela Eagle, was asked by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics about Tony Blair and whether the vile warmonger should face trial for leading Britain into an illegal war. Tellingly, she said no, as ‘Tony’s been through the wringer’. Thus showing that she cared more for the Dear Leader’s anguish than for the real horror he has inflicted on hundreds of thousands, of not millions of innocent people, who have been killed, tortured and forced out of their homes through the carnage he and that other malignant creature, George Dubya Bush, have created through their war. I don’t know what Neil’s response was, but can you imagine the outrage that would have resulted if Neil had said, ‘Well, he can’t be going through too much trouble, ’cause he’s still walking’.

Or if one of the other interviewers asked the same question of one of the Tories, like Theresa May, David Cameron, or the people directly responsible for the question: Ian Duncan Smith and Damian Green. There would have been fury directed at the ‘left-wing’ BBC. How dare they suggest that a minister of the realm isn’t doing his job if he hasn’t committed suicide for his failures! Or even the suggestion that they have failed in their job, which the Tories have, spectacularly.

But if it is acceptable to ask a gravely disturbed person why they haven’t acted out their desires to harm themselves, then by the same standard it should be acceptable to ask the same questions of anyone, including and particularly the ministers that have formulated that question.

Now I am not suggesting that Blair, May, Cameron, aIDS or Damian Green should be asked these questions, or otherwise be told to kill themselves, for precisely the same reason I don’t think anyone should be asked these questions. I am merely trying to point out the double standards involved here.

Now I imagine that if they were asked about this question, Damian Green or his predecessor, the Gentleman Ranker (and a right ranker he truly was) would say, in their inimitably patronising manner, that they are only trying to gauge the severity of the illness. This is rubbish. The whole test is structured so that the government can find some pretext to deny paying the ill person disability benefit on the grounds that they’re still somehow fit for work.

And Mike and many other bloggers and disability activists also see something much more sinister here. Many tens of thousands of people have committed suicide, or died in poverty and misery after being thrown off benefit, although the DWP continues to deny it. See Stilloaks website and the blog, ATOS Miracles, for further coverage of this and the biographies and individual cases of some of the victims. For Mike and people like Jeff Davies, one of the long term commenters on my blog this is evidence of a covert, secret genocide of the disabled. The government wants them dead, because that way they don’t have to pay out to support them. They can continue lowering the taxes of their rich donors.

This is how it’s beginning to look to very many of us, whether we’re disabled or fit. The presenters of the Channel 4 comedy review show, The Last Leg, even said so themselves. There should be mass outrage about these questions and the test itself. That there isn’t is a major disgrace in itself.

Lobster: Maggie Thatcher Regretted Cutting Taxes

January 19, 2017

I found this extremely interesting snippet in Robin Ramsay’s ‘News from the Bridge’ section in the latest issue of the parapolitics magazine, Lobster, for Summer 2017. According to Frank Field, shortly after she retired, someone asked her what she most regretted. The Iron Lady answered that it was cutting taxes. She said she believed that it would result in a more giving society. This had not materialised.

He writes

I watch our politicians and, even though I know that as politicians they’re interested in power first and the truth second (or fifth, or not at all15), and have been conditioned to listen to polls and focus groups for their professed views, I find myself unable to suppress the thought: I wonder what they are really thinking? Take Margaret Thatcher: what did she really think she was doing when she fronted the creation of the grossly unequal society we now have? Frank Field MP gave us a striking insight into her thinking recently. Just after
she retired she was asked, ‘“What was your greatest disappointment in
government?” Back shot Mrs T: “I cut taxes because I thought we would get a giving society. And we haven’t.”

If we take this seriously, she apparently thought charitable giving would replace some of the state’s functions. This is consistent with the anti-state prejudices of the group with which she was allied in the 1970s – Keith Joseph, Alfred Sherman, the Institute for Economic Affairs et al. Another interpretation would be that, having decided to cut taxes to win elections, she rationalised the reduction in state spending with the thought. ‘Oh, well, people will give more to charity.’ Either way, it shows that Mrs T had no understanding of the
society in which she lived and the great tide of possessive individualism17 she was encouraging. But we knew that already, I guess.

See the section ‘Oh, Really?’ at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster73/lob73-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

Assuming that this is genuine, and not Thatcher trying to make herself look genuinely caring and self-aware when the opposite was the case, this undermines somewhat the central myth of Thatcherism. The Tories have consistently attacked the welfare state on the grounds that it discourages private charity. I remember Thatcher and the Tory press prating on about how the retreat of welfare provision would strengthen private charity, as private individuals and charities stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the state. Reagan and the Republicans spouted the same nonsense over the other side of the Pond, followed by Bill Clinton. There’s footage of the former governor of Arkansas telling one Conservative group that ‘we know that there isn’t a government programme for every need or social problem’ or words to that effect, before going on to praise the effectiveness of private charity in tackling poverty and deprivation. And it’s true that American religious Conservatives are personally more generous than secular liberals. But the left has pointed out that private charity is inadequate for tackling poverty, unemployment, and issues like disability and poor health. You need state provision.

Now it seems, despite all the rubbish talked about Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ or May’s ‘shared society’, all this Thatcherite talk about private charity was rubbish, and known to be so by the woman who uttered it, after she tried it and it didn’t work. This has to be an embarrassment to a party for whom Maggie can do no wrong, and which is still preaching her discredited bilge nearly forty years after she came to power.

Get May and the Tories out now! Before they can wreck the NHS still further.

Brian Stableford and David Langford on Automation, Unemployment and Retraining in the 21st Century

January 5, 2017

Over the past year there have been a number of warnings that within the next three decades, 2/3 of all jobs could vanish due to mechanization. The science fiction writers Brian Stableford and David Langford also cover this projected crisis in their fictitious history of the thousand years from the beginning of this century to the end of the 29th, The Third Millennium (London: Paladin Grafton Books 1988). They predict that governments and society will find a solution to this in life-long learning and direction of the unemployment into the construction industry for a massive programme of public works.

They write

Massive Unemployment in the West
By the year 2000 automation was having such a significant effect on manufacturing that unskilled and semi-skilled workers were being made redundant in large numbers. Less skilled holders of ‘white-collar jobs’ were also being displaced by information technology. There seemed no immediate prospect of redeploying these workers, and their increasing numbers were a source of embarrassment to many Western governments. In the Soviet countries, where employment was guaranteed, jobs were found, but it was becoming all too obvious that many of these were unnecessary. The communist countries had other problems too. The political power to redeploy labour easily was there, and the educational system was better equipped than in the West for practical training, but there were no economic incentives to motivate the workers.

In the West the real problem was p0artly economic and partly educational. Allowing market forces to govern patterns of employment was inefficient. It was not that there was no work – there were chronic housing problems in most of the affected nations, and the need for urban renewal was desperate. Unfortunately, there was no institutional apparatus to divert unused labour to these socially desirable but essentially unprofitable tasks. To pay workers to do such jobs, instead of doling out a pittance to compensate them for not having jobs, would have required massive and politically unacceptable increases in taxation. The educational part of the problem was the absence of effective retraining to allow people to switch easily from one semi-skilled task to another, thus allowing the movement of labour into the new areas of employment.

With hindsight, it is easy to see the pattern of changes that had to occur in both systems, and it may seem ridiculous that it was not obvious what had to be done. In fact, it probably was obvious to many, and the patterns of change were directed by common sense, but there was much superstitious resistance to the evolution of the economic system away from the capitalist and communist extremes.

Lifelong education
The educational reforms were easier to implement in the West than the economic reforms (though even education tended to be dominated by tradition, and was certainly not without its superstitions). it became accepted in the course of the early twenty-first century the adaptability of labour was a priority. It was simply not sufficient for an individual to learn a skill while still at school, or during an apprenticeship, and then to expect his skill to remain in demand throughout his lifetime. By the year 2010, the idea that a man or woman ought to have a single ‘educational phase’ early in life was becoming obsolete in the developed nations, and educational institutions were being adapted to provide for people of all ages, who would visit and use them continually or periodically, by choice as well as by necessity. By 2050 there was an almost universally accepted opinion in the West that ‘an education’ was something that extended over an entire lifetime. The old familiar cliché ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ was now beginning to take on a musty air, like something in Chaucerian English, approaching its near-incomprehensibility to the average citizen of today.

Enforced growth of the public sector
Despite the robotization of many manufacturing processes, the demand for manual labour did not decline markedly during the twenty-first century. To some extent, displaced factory-workers were shifted into various kinds of building work in the private sector. But it was the expansion of public sector construction and maintenance that kept the demand high. There were, of course, special opportunities created by the building of the information networks, and much manual work as a result of flooding, but there was a more fundamental reason for the state’s increased need for manual workers. As society became more highly technological, depending on an ever-increasing range of complicated artefacts, more and more work had to be put into reconstructing and repairing the artificial environment. Because maintenance work, unlike most manufacturing processes, is occasional and idiosyncratic rather than ceaseless and repetitive, it cannot – even to this day – be whole turned over to machines. Machinery is vital to such work, but so are human agents. Governments employed more and more people to do centrally organized work, and collected the taxes they needed to do it.

There were no such redeployment prospects for the redundant white-collar workers. As their jobs disappeared, they had to undertake more radical retraining, and it was mostly these workers who moved into such new jobs as were being created by the spread of the information networks. Their skills had to be ‘upgraded’, but the same was true of the manual labourers, who had a least to become more versatile. The working population as a whole needed to be better educated, if only in the sense of being always able to learn new skills. Relative few individuals lacked the capacity for this kind of education, and the vast majority adapted readily enough. (pp. 98-100)

I’m not sure how realistic the solutions Stableford and Langford propose are. Looking back, some of the book’s predictions now seem rather dated. For example, the book takes it for granted that the Communist bloc would continue to exist, whereas it collapsed in eastern Europe very swiftly in the years following the book’s publication.

I also think the idea of lifelong learning has similarly been abandoned. It was very popular in the late 1980s and the 1990s, when higher education was expanding rapidly. But there has certainly been a reaction against the massive expansion of university education to the extent that half of the population are now expect to acquire degrees. Critics of the expansion of graduate education have pointed out that it has not brought the greater innovation and prosperity that was expected of it, and has served instead to take jobs away from those without an academic background as graduates are forced instead to take unskilled jobs.

I also think that it’s highly debatable whether the expansion of the construction industry on public works would compensate for the jobs lost through further mechanisation. Even if the government were to accept the necessity of raising taxes to finance such ‘make work’ programmes. My guess is that they’d simply carry on with the ‘workfare’ policy of forcing the unemployed to work on such projects as were strictly necessary in return for their unemployment benefit.

As for the various retraining programmes, some schemes like this have been tried already. For example, back in the 1990s some councils ran programmes, which gave free computer training to the unemployed. But I can see any further retraining schemes launched in the future being strictly limit in scope, and largely cosmetic. The point of such programmes would be to give the impression that the government was tackling the problem, whereas in fact the government would be only too eager for the situation to carry on as it is and keep labour cheap and cowed through massive unemployment.

I also don’t believe that the jobs created by the expansion of information technology will also be adequate to solve the problems. To be fair, the next paragraph from the passage above states that these solutions were only partly successful.

Of course, this situation could all change over the next three decades. But I can see no real solutions to the increasingly desperate problem of unemployment unless neoliberalism is completely discarded along with the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairite Labour, which support it.

Chip Shops and Pubs Offering Meals to the Homeless at Christmas

December 24, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece commenting on the decision by two brothers in Brum, Hamid and Asef Faqiri, who own the Classic Fish Bar, to open on Christmas Day between 13.00 and 16.00 to give free turkey dinners to the elderly and the homeless. They state that they want to help those in need and make the community happy. One of the brothers, Asef, remarked that he had seen a lot of homeless people, and always wanted to help.

While Mike welcomed the twos generosity, he also pointed out the obvious danger. That by doing something to help the poor, this would be used by the Tories to justify the government doing nothing. They’d try to argue that this is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ at work, where private charity picks up the slack from government.

Mike makes the argument instead that we pay our taxes on the understanding that the government does everything in its power to make sure that citizens aren’t homeless and starving.

He concludes:

We don’t make that argument often enough and, in the Season of Goodwill, it might be more appropriate than ever to point out that very little goodwill is coming from Westminster.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/22/free-christmas-fish-and-chips-for-the-homeless-gives-tories-a-chance-to-justify-their-apathy/

I think there are a number of places doing this up and down the country. I heard that some of the Asian restaurants and take-aways in Cheltenham will also be doing the same, as will the Market Inn pub in Glastonbury, according to today’s Western Daily Press.

I completely share Mike’s views on this issue. What these places and the people who run them are doing is very commendable, but it runs into the trap of appearing to validate the Tories’ cuts and dismantlement of the welfare state. Maggie Thatcher began her attack on it back in the 1980s with the deliberate goal of reducing the tax burden and forcing people back on to private charity to support them. She believed it would strengthen religion, and particularly the churches, if people had to come to them for aid, rather than the state. Hence the eagerness of the Salvation Army to acquire government contracts for dealing with poverty, as well as the desire of so many of the corporate management types now running very many charities likewise to do so, while at the same time demanding that the government enact even more stringent policies against the poor, the unemployed and the homeless. For the grim details, go to Johnny Void’s blog and look up his entries on these issues.

It’s a nasty, cynical attitude to bringing people back to religion, and it many Christians believe it runs contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Gospels. In the last of the series of Advent talks held at our local church on Thursday, the minister made precisely this point. Not that this would have had any effect on Maggie. When she gave a talk to the ruling body of the Church of Scotland back in the 1980s, expounding her view that people who didn’t work, shouldn’t get something for nothing, the guid ministers and layfolk greeted what she said with frowns and silence. It was obvious that they were very unimpressed. But it didn’t stop Maggie cutting welfare provision left and right.

So I heartily endorse Mike’s point. It needs to be repeated over and again, until someone in Westminster either gets the point, or is unable to drown it out and stop others from hearing it. If you want to see the drawbacks of this attitude, look at America. Americans are extremely generous in charitable giving. But there is a massive problem with extreme poverty in America, and one that is growing thanks to Reagan and corporatist Democrats like Obama and Killary. Private charity cannot adequately tackle poverty, no matter what Thatcher, Cameron, May and Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green want us to believe. And this message needs to be hammered home, until the public very obviously turns away from the Tories and their lies.

American Politico Tulsi Gabbard Wants the US to Stop Arming Terrorists

December 18, 2016

This is another very interesting piece from The Jimmy Dore Show. In this video, Dore discusses the demand by Democrat politician Tulsi Gabbard, that the US stop providing arms and military support to the terrorists who oppose it. Dore reminds his audience that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 were all Saudis, and that the Saudis are funding Islamist terrorists, like ISIS, in Syria to overthrow President Assad. The Americans are also in Syria trying to overthrow Assad, and we are supporting the Saudis. ‘So,’ he asks rhetorically, ‘are fighting with ISIS now?’

The answer is obviously ‘Yes’. And Congresswoman Gabbard wants to stop it. She’s the representative for a constituency in Hawaii, and has proposed the ‘Stop Arming Terrorist Act’ to halt arms sales by America to its enemies. In her speech to Congress, Gabbard states that it is illegal for US citizens to aid their country’s enemies. But this is precisely what the American state itself is doing. The legislation she proposes to stop this would prevent the US government from using taxpayers’ money to provide funding, weapons, training and intelligence services to Islamist organisations such as the Levant Front, Fursan al-Ha, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and countries that are providing support, whether direct or indirect, to these terrorists.

She states that this would prevent the US from funding terrorists in the same way that Congress passed the Boland Amendment in the 1980s to prevent America from funding the CIA-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Dore states that this was why Oliver North was sent to jail, because he was caught violating that amendment. The US government was also allowing the Contra rebels to export cocaine to the US as part of their war against the Sandinistas. Dore makes the point that Gabbard’s proposed legislation means the US cannot provide funds to Saudi Arabia, as that country funds Islamist terrorism. This, Dore states, is why it won’t pass.

The decision on which groups and individuals are to be considered terrorists would be made by the Director of National Intelligence, who would determine which people and organisations are linked or co-operating with al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or ISIS. He or she would also be responsible for deciding which countries were providing assistance to those terrorist groups. The list would have to be updated every six months in consultation with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Director of National Intelligence would also be required to brief congress on their decisions.

Dore also reminds his viewers that the reason why America is backing Saudi Arabia, an oppressive theocracy, rather than supporting democracy in the Middle East is because of the oil industry. Mossadeq, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, wanted to export democracy. But he nationalised the oil industry, and so was overthrown by the Americans. Because democracy in the Middle East was too close to Communism. Hence the preference for anti-democratic theocracies like Saudi Arabia. They also won’t tell you the truth about why America’s in Syria. They’re not there to spread democracy, but for the fossil fuel.

Dore thinks that the legislation will not get through, as Paul Ryan – presumably the Speaker of the House, will not bring it to a vote. As for spreading democracy, they don’t even have it in America. Dore’s team notes that Hillary Clinton got 2 1/2 million votes more than Donald Trump, but did not win the election. Dore follows this up with the statistic that in 40 per cent of American elections, the presidency went to the loser. He and his team end by joking that they wish somebody would invade them – like Canada – and spread democracy.

Dore and his team are absolutely right. Saudi Arabia is backed by the US and its allies following a pact made in the 1920s, in which Saudi Arabia would allow American and the rest to exploit their oil reserves, in return for which they would defend the country militarily. Which means that America is giving aid and succour to the country, whose government collaborated with the 9/11 terrorists, of whom 17 of the 19 involved in the plot were Saudis.

I think Dore’s right, and doubt very much that this bill will pass. But even if it’s many years too late, at least somebody in America in authority has woken up to the fact that America is funding its enemies, people responsible for appalling atrocities like the Contras in Nicaragua. There’s not even a remote chance of that happening in Britain. Since its foundation in the 1980s, Robin Ramsey’s Lobster has been arguing that British intelligence is far out of control. It smeared Harold Wilson as a Communist, and ran assassination squads in Northern Ireland. The Blair government were remarkably uninterested in the problem of reining it in, or even in reading the files the agencies compiled on them personally when they were student radicals. Indeed, they wanted to carry on Major’s expansion of the surveillance state, just as May is doing now.

In fact this legislation would be just as unwelcome over this side of the pond, as Cameron and May have been giving material aid to the same terrorist groups, for exactly the same reason, and our government and corrupt corporate media, including the BBC, has also been falsely claiming that they’re freedom fighters. And the Tories have been just as keen to sell the Saudis weapons, with David Cameron waxing lyrical the other year at all the ‘wonderful kit’ being produced at a weapons factory up North.

It Was Not Corbyn, But the Tories and Blairites, Who Are to Blame for Brexit

June 25, 2016

After the disastrous vote of 52 per cent of the British people to leave the EU on Friday, the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites automatically turned to blaming Jeremy Corbyn. One stupid Tory MP on the breakfast news on BBC 1 on Friday declared that it was all Labour’s fault. She announced that the people voting to leave were all working class Labour voters. This ignores the fact that the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and the rest of the gutter pack, were all Tories, and that the most vociferously sections of the British political establishment critical of the EU was the Eurosceptic extreme Right of the Tory party. But having lost the vote, and seen her party deeply divided on the issue, this lady clearly couldn’t stand the fault that it was all her fault.

Predictably, Tim Farron, the head of the Lib Dems, followed suit, blaming it all on Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, you see, had not campaigned hard enough for us to stay in, and so it was all somehow due to him. He was then joined by two Labour MPs, Margaret Hodge and someone Coffey. They immediately demanded a ‘no confidence’ vote in Corbyn. Now I think that Corbyn has been a Eurosceptic, and in fairness I don’t think he put his heart into personally campaigning for Europe. But I’m not sure how much difference it would have made if he had. And it all seems to me that the decision to leave was taken very much in spite of Labour as a deliberate act of opposition, and not because of a simple lack of effort by the Labour leadership.

The authors of the book on UKIP, Revolt on the Right, which is an academic study of the party, point out that the majority of the party’s grassroots supporters are older Labour voters, who are socially very conservative – against immigration and gay rights, and so on. These are the very people that Bliar, Broon and New Labour abandoned. Blair and his cronies fully embraced Thatcherism, including its hatred and contempt of working class organisations. One of the first things Blair did in the 1990s was threaten to cut ties with the trade unions if they didn’t back one of his ‘modernising’ measures. He then further cut down workers’ rights and the power of the unions as a way of currying favour with the right-wing press and the middle class, swing voters New Labour wanted to appeal to. In the last years of Blair’s period in office and Broon’s occupancy of No. 10, the party passed further measures to make it easier to sack employees, all in the name of encouraging mobility in the labour market, or some other vile piece of economists’ jargon to make people losing job security sound positive.

At the same time, New Labour was, like Clinton’s New Democrats, also committed to internationalism and the movement of labour between nations. Behind some of the idealistic verbiage behind this, about encouraging peaceful relations between nations, hands across the water, diversity and so on, there was a harsher, economic motive. Immigrants were and are easier to exploit than indigenous, settled workers, and profits made from them could be used to support the welfare measures for the rest of the population without raising taxes. Though Blair and his successors were also extremely keen to cut down on these as well.

Now Blair’s New Labour effectively ignored the working class as a whole, but it did put genuine efforts into raising the performance and opportunities for women and ethnic minorities, in schools, at work and in politics. And it was the White working class that felt particularly snubbed. A few years ago, you may recall, the Beeb broadcast a short season of films about race relations in Britain. One of them showed the face of a stereotypical working class man, which was gradually scribbled over with black until at last nothing was visible. A gruff male voice then asked whether the White working class had been written out politically. I think it was a very controversial trailer, but it’s actually a good question. Many White working class voters felt that New Labour was ignoring them, and when the time came they transferred their support to UKIP.

Many of the ‘Leave’ voters undoubtedly were working class, but they weren’t necessarily Labour voters. In the case of UKIP, they’re largely former Labour voters. If they’re not Eurosceptic Tories. When I met our local Labour MP, Karin Smith and the local councillor for my part of Bristol last year, I expressed my dismay at finding that people in the neighbouring ward had voted for a Kipper as one of their councillors. It shocked me, as I didn’t think this part of Bristol was particularly racist. They told me that from talking to the people there, they found that what moved them to vote UKIP was economic fears, not racism. Again, this is a fair point. Mike over at Vox Political had a running argument on his blog with a Kipper who insisted, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that UKIP was ‘left-wing’. He appears to have done so solely because of Farage’s tactics of lumping the opponents altogether as ‘LibLabCon’. Liberals, Labour and the Tories are all raging Neoliberals with a fanatical worship of Maggie Thatcher, or at least that’s how they appeared. UKIP claimed to be different, even though it was more Neoliberal, pro-privatisation and fanatical in its adoration of Thatcher than the others.

Aside from the grotty xenophobia and racism of the ‘leave’ camp, the vote to leave was a sharp retort against Neoliberalism and its supporters across the political spectrum. And in the Labour party, this means Blairites like Hodge and Coffey. It does not mean Corbyn.

Shirley William on Demands for Cutting Tax and the Myth of the Social Security Scrounger

May 26, 2016

SWilliams Book Pic

Yesterday I put up a couple of pieces from Shirley Williams’ book, Politics Is For People, in which she attacks the free market ideology of Milton Friedman, and notes how bureaucracy actually grew under the Tories, despite their declared concern for cutting it in the name of efficiency.

The former Labour MP and founder of the SDP also has a few critical observations of the various campaigns to cut taxes, and the myth that people on social security/ jobseeker’s allowance/unemployment benefit/the dole are scroungers.

She writes

A second line of attack, clearly closely related to the reaction against ‘big government’, is on the high public expenditure necessitated by the welfare state. The taxpayers’ revolt began in France with the Poujadist party, wand was later taken up in Denmark, where Per Glijstrup’s anti-tax party had a remarkable, if brief, period of success. it was an element in the 1976 defeat of the Swedish socialist government, and then reached its high-water mark in the triumphant passage of California’s Proposition 13 in 1978. Proposition 13 tied local property taxes to their 1976/7 level, and imposed a 1 per cent maximum on the annual increase, effectively halving the property tax yield. But as the effects of Proposition 13 have been felt on education and other publicly financed services, public enthusiasm for tax cutting has waned. An attempt to pass a similar proposal, known as Jarvis Two, to halve California’s state taxes was heavily defeated in June 1980. The recent history of anti-tax movements is one of dramatic advances which are not then sustained.

One particular form the attack on high public expenditure takes, one that is popular and easy to get across in electoral terms, is the allegation that many people are living off the welfare state who could perfectly well survive on their own. Popular newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic give a lot of space to individual cases – and there always are some – of people proclaiming how they have milked the social security system of thousands of dollars or thousands of pounds. Everybody has heard of somebody who can’t be bothered to get a job, or who stays at home living on welfare because his wage in a job would be little more than his welfare cheque. The ‘poverty trap’ – incomes-related benefits which are lost or reduced as the breadwinner’s income rises – provides a rationale for ‘scrounging’. It really is true that some heads of large families may be better off not working.

Yet the evidence for large-scale ‘scrounging’ is thin; most people much prefer a job to enforced leisure. Nor is the popular hostility against scroungers a by-product of the welfare state. It has a much older history. Ricardo himself inveighed against the Speenhamland system, under which wages were subsidized by the parish if they fell below a minimum level which was linked to the price of bread. ‘The principle of gravitation is not more certain than the tendency of such laws to change wealth and vigour into misery and weakness’, Richardo wrote in On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). It might be Professor Milton Friedman speaking. At the end of the eighteenth century, the indefatigable Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham turned his mind to the rehabilitation of convicts, many of them indigent people without work. He proposed to establish a panopticon, a sort of multi-industry establishment, which he described, chillingly, as ‘a mill to grind rogues honest, and idle men industrious’. Similar wishes are still expressed on the floor of Congress or the House of Commons by ardent Conservatives; only the language alters. (Pp. 30-1).

Williams here is exactly right. Mike over at Vox Political, the Angry Yorkshireman and many other bloggers have noted that Thatcher and the Conservatives have consciously adopted the Victorian principle of ‘least eligibility’ in their welfare reforms in order to make living on benefit as humiliating and degrading as possible for those on it, such as the disabled and the unemployed. The incident Mike reported on his blog on Tuesday, in which a woman with dementia was insulted by a member of the DWP, when she failed to answer a security question due to her disability, is an extreme example of this attitude. This just shows how long the Left have known about the extremely illiberal attitude to poverty at the very heart of Thatcherism and its explicit Victorian antecedents.

As for the Poujadists, they were a petit-bourgeois, anti-Socialist, anti-trade union party founded in the 1950s. Poujade was a French shopkeeper, who launched a campaign encouraging shopkeepers not to serve striking workers. One of the books I read a few years ago on Fascism included them as one of the forms it took in the post-War period. And Michael Heseltine was less than impressed with them, and used them as an insult in his spat with the Leaderene when she was goose-stepping around Downing Street. He called her a ‘Poujadist’, which accurately reflects her socio-economic background as the grocer’s daughter, and her petty hostility to the organised working class. It was a reference lost on the gentlemen of the press, however, who thought he meant she was a ‘putschist’. Well, that too, when it comes to petty Fascism.

Williams in her book has many good ideas. It was too bad that she and the rest of her cronies were more interested in splitting away to form the SDP and attacking Labour than squaring up to the Tories.

Naz Shah, the Anti-Semitism Allegations, and ‘Apartheid Israel’

May 3, 2016

Mike’s put up another worthwhile post over at Vox Political, pointing out that the graphic that got Naz Shah into trouble with accusations of anti-Semitism, was not in fact anything of the sort. It came from a global civil rights site, Redress, and reblogged by Norman Finkelstein. Redress posted it up as a joke, satirising Israeli attempts to have the Palestinians displaced to the other Arab states. Mike records his email conversation with the prof, who pointed out that while people in America are crazy when it comes to Israel, they haven’t lost their sense of humour. He also points out that Bernie Sanders, one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential election, is Jewish and had enormous support amongst Arab-Muslims in the Land of the Free. He also wondered what had happened to us in Britain and why we were allowing Labour hacks and the Israel lobby to persecute her, a Muslim Labour MP.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/03/this-revelation-could-throw-the-whole-anti-semitism-row-into-reverse/

It’s a good point. And I wonder to what extent the ‘British sense of humour’ is a myth, when politics in Britain is becoming increasingly angry, and when so much British history is full of anger and violence. The creation of the British Empire, and the use of extreme force to maintain it, such as against the Mao-Mao in Kenya, is a case in point.

Now I have the impression that Naz Shah posted the graphic as part of a piece on ‘Apartheid Israel’, which included a quotation about the treatment of Blacks in America from that well-known apologist for racial supremacy, Dr Martin Luther King. Now on this, Madam Shah has a point. Life is made very difficult for the Palestinians in Israel through a system of pass laws and physical barriers that simply don’t exist for Jewish Israelis. William Dalrymple describes this system of discrimination in his book, In Xanadu: A Quest (London: Flamingo 1990). This is a travel book about how he attempted to travel from Israel to China and thence Mongolia, following the route used by the great 13th century Venetian explorer, Marco Polo during a summer holiday while at Oxford. In it, he describes a conversation he had drinking tea with an Arab tailor in Acre, who told him about the difficulties he faced as an Arab in Israel.

As we left the Khan al-Afranj we were invited into the shop of an Arab terzi (tailor). There we drank cay and talked about the problems of the Arabs in Acre; then as now, better integrated than most places. Ibn Jubayr remarked on this in the twelfth century while Hamoudi, who exhibited all the vices of the West in one body, is evidence of it today. The terzi was a tall man, unshaven, shambolic and friendly. But when I asked him about his relations with the Jews he was surprisingly eloquent.

‘We live in peace in Acre,’ he said. ‘He the Jew and the Arab are friends. On Saturday nights the Jews come here, play cards, smoke and drink coffee. The people want peace. Only the government does not.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We live here under an undeclared apartheid. It is just like South Africa. For the Jews there is democracy. They have freedom of speech, they can vote for whichever government they like, can go where they like and talk to whom they like. For us it is different. We are here on sufferance. We are called into police stations, if we are heard talking about politics. We are never sure we will get justice in court: if we have a plea against a Jew, then probably we will not. We are not allowed to join the army in case we turn sides. Because of this we cannot get any good jobs; for these you need security clearance. Most of us end up washing dishes or working as manual labourers; if you are luck you can become a garbage collector.’

He laughed and sent a boy off to go and get some more tea.

‘You see this shop? It belonged to my father before 1948, yet now I have to pay rent to the town council for it. If I was a Jew I would be given it, free. The taxes for us are very high. Many of the young – they are very angry. If this was their government they would not mind. But they do not want to pay the tax which will buy the tank which will kill their brother Arabs. It also means we cannot compete with the Jewish shopkeepers. They do not pay rents for their property so they can sell everything cheaper than us. The Israeli government does nothing for our people.’

‘What do you think will happen?’ asked Laura.

‘How do I know? Some Arabs say: this is Palestine we must kick the Jews out. Also there are many Jews who call us dogs, animals. They say: we must clear the land of the Arabs. Both are wrong. We are both human. We both need to live. We must live together.’

The boy turned and handed round the cups. It was mint tea. When he was ready the terzi continued:

‘Every morning I think that there could be peace. When I open the shop up in the morning Jews will drink coffee with me. Sometimes if I have a problem with my telephone, my Jewish friend will say: use mine. Many of them are such lovely people. If only we could live in peace with them and there were no fighting, no killing.’ (pp. 24-5).

The comparison with apartheid South Africa and the segregated US south is particularly close, as in the 1970s Israel became allied with White South Africa. They also collaborated with the US in sending military aid to the South American Fascist states and their death squads.

I also understand that Madam Shah has the support of her local synagogue. Generally speaking, people, regardless of their racial or religious origins, don’t usually give their support to their bitter enemies. Also, when she retweeted the graphic was therefore making a perfectly reasonable point about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. She should not be falsely accused of anti-Semitism simply because of her views on this issue.

Trump Gains of SuperTuesday, More Americans Want to Move to Canada

March 5, 2016

Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski gets very gloomy and despondent here about the probably ascent to the White House of Donald Trump, and what it means for America. And he states that this could possibly be The End. And hundreds, if not thousands of Americans feel the same way too. According to The Hill, when the results came in late on SuperTuesday night showing Trump’s gains, the hashtage #How Can I Move to Canada? went up by 350%.

Kulinski is not surprised. He states that the only thing you can take away from Trump’s contradictory speeches and stance on issues right across the spectrum is that he’s a massive authoritarian. He’ll argue for a particular policy one moment, and then move to the complete opposite the next. On the Middle East, he’ll say that we need to go into Syria, and attack not just the terrorists, but also their families. The next moment he’ll also argue that America needs to leave well enough alone, and leave it to Putin. The same with industry. He has said that if he gets into office, he’ll prevent the corporations from leaving America, so that the Land of the Free still has a reasonable level of employment. The next moment he’ll state that America needs to keep wages low, with the result that people are still poor and starving even if they are working hard at a full time job. His stance on health care is the same. At one point he’ll state that America needs a single-payer healthcare system so that no-one dies in the street. The next moment he claims that more capitalism is what’s needed to give Americans affordable medicine. He’d remove the restriction on people from one state buying their medical insurance from another. This is a Republican far right policy that wouldn’t solve anything, because all the insurance companies would move immediately to the state with lowest taxes, and then collude in fixing the prices.

The one thing that does stand out, is that Trump wouldn’t tolerate any resistance. He’s extremely authoritarian, with no regard for checks and balances. And as Kulinski himself says, you shouldn’t put someone like that in power. Ever. He’s a dangerous precedent if elected. Kulinski himself says he also feels attracted to Canada. They have a ‘perfectly lovely government under Justin Trudeaux’, and an excellent health care system. If Trump gets into power, he might end up in a political prison somewhere, especially if the Tousled Tyrant finds a video he made of him a little while ago. It’s a joke, but you wonder how much truth there is in it. He’d rather have someone like Romney win. At least with Romney you could hold your nose, and wait till the end of their term. With Trump it could very well be The End of America. But he says he’ll stick it out. He and his audience were there for the Bush years, and so he’ll stay and stick out Trump.

Secular Talk on Marco Rubio’s Claim that the Republicans ‘Are Not the Party of the Rich’

February 21, 2016

It seems that Marco Rubio, one of the Republican presidential candidates, has taken a leaf out of the Conservatives’ book from over here in Blighty. He gave a speech claiming that the idea that the Republicans were the party of the rich, and the Democrats were the party of the middle class and workers was ‘the biggest lie’. This is pretty much the line the Tories are peddling over this side of the Atlantic. Cameron has been loudly yelling that the Conservatives are now the true party of aspiring working people. So in the interests of attacking Conservatives on both sides of the Pond, here’s what Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski says about Rubio’s claim.

He points out that their claim to be the party of the poor is based on their campaign for tax cuts. The idea is that once people start earning, they’ll keep more of what they earn through the cuts in taxes the Republicans have given them. Except when the Republicans talk about tax cuts, they don’t mean for the poor. Kulinski points out that Obama cut taxes for 90 per cent of Americans and raised taxes on the rich. By contrast, McCain cut taxes, but only for the rich.

He also points out that the idea that a flat rate tax is a fair tax is also a myth, as in effect it actually raises taxes for the poor. Once you do the numbers, it’s always a regressive tax, according to economists. For example, if the Republicans say that they’re going to replace taxes with a flat rate of 15% for everyone, it sounds fair. However, in practice it’s a rise in taxes for everyone with an income under $50,000. It’s another tax cut to the rich.

Furthermore, the Democrats are more likely to spend money on safety net programmes, which benefit the poor and middle class, like Medicare, Medicaid, social security and so on. The Republicans, by contrast, don’t really want to spend money on any of that, except when it’s bailing out their corporate donors. Then the Republican attitude that capitalism is virtuous because it punishes the bad and rewards the good goes out the window. The banks wrecked themselves and trashed the economy, and the Republicans couldn’t rush in fast enough to give them money, because they paid for their campaigns.

This is all true, and applies pretty much to the Tories and Labour over here. The Tories are all about cutting welfare spending. These are welfare programmes that actually help the poor, and the working and middle classes. Not the rich. Under the Tories, the tax burden for the poor has actually risen as tax cuts have benefited the rich. And the Tories over here also like to talk about flat rate taxes. Remember when they were loudly hailing the ‘Community Charge’ – Maggie’s poll tax as ‘democratic’, because everyone paid the same? It was a flat rate, and so in effect raised taxes for working people. Some of the Tories were naturally enthusiastic about it, because it meant they paid the same tax for their mansions as ordinary people in their semi-detached and terraced homes.

And as for the ‘aspiration’ the Tories are making much of, social mobility has stopped. It was pretty much stagnant under Bliar and New Labour, and Clinton in America. It’s completely stopped now. All due to Neoliberal economic policies.

So Rubio, the Republicans and Cameron’s Conservatives are all wrong. They are the party of the rich, and the Democrats and Labour are the party of the poor and middle class. Don’t be taken in by the propaganda that it’s otherwise.