Economics

It’s time the Treasury listened to the National Audit Office when it comes to government debt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 9:01pm in

Tags 

Economics

The National Audit Office published a review of UK debt last week. It was an incredibly important document, and I managed to miss it at first. Its relevance comes down to one key issue. It tells the truth. This is rare on this issue. By this I mean it reports the true level of UK government debt. This is its opening presentation of key facts:

This suggestion that the UK government’s debt is £1.3 trillion contrasts dramatically with the Treasury view of debt, which is reflected in this data, issued recently, and which is what the media usually report in their desire to suggest that the UK economy is being crushed by a government debt mountain that is apparently unsustainable and a burden on generations to come:

As will be noted, the Treasury say UK government debt was £1,610 billion in 2015/16 and the NAO suggest it was £1,261 billion.

It is now some years since I suggested that UK government debt data was mis-stated because of the impact of QE, which is the data that reconciles the above two positions. I said in 2012:

The reality is … that in any proper accounting system that produced a single set of accounts for the government that debt that was repurchased [by the Bank of England under the QE programme] would be considered to be cancelled. That’s because you can’t meaningfully owe yourself money, and yet that is precisely what is happening here. The Treasury owes the Bank of England money but as it in effect owns the Bank of England it therefore owes itself the money and as such the debt has simply been cancelled.

What the National Audit Office is now doing is recognising the truth of what I said back then. Or as I put it at that time ( and I have edited slightly):

QE hides an economic reality, which is that when all the mumbo jumbo is cleared away what is happening is that money is being printed under the QE programme to clear the government’s deficit and that much of the claimed increase in debt is not really being issued at all.

That is precisely what the NAO is now recognising. The UK is not nearly as much in debt as HM Treasury claims precisely because it cannot owe itself money.

That has ramifications. First, it means the whole debt paranoia is wrong. Debt is not rising at the level claimed by the government. This is apparent from this comparison:

This is even more apparent when expressed as a percentage of GDP:

Debt has grown, but by nothing like the amounts the government claims.

Secondly, this then means that the  focus can then move instead towards how to use debt more creatively to solve the issues that we as a country face. As organisations as diverse as the IMF, OECD, CBI and left wing think tanks all say, now is the time for infrastructure investment, especially when (as is the case at present) money is available to the government at negative interest rates.

We do not have a debt crisis.

We do not need austerity.

We do need social housing, new green infrastructure in every constituency of the UK, better local transport, investment in small and medium sized business that banks are not delivering and and end to PFI. All this is possible. And we are in no way constrained by debt from delivering any of these things.

Getting the rabbit into the neoclassical hat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 7:30am in

Tags 

Economics

In public, including in the training of economists, Neoclassical economics usually reads its models backwards. This gives the illusion that they show the behaviour of individual economic units determining sets of equilibrium values for markets and for whole economies. It hides the fact that these models have been constructed not by investigating the behaviour of […]

Is Peak Permian only 3 years away?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 7:01am in

Tags 

Economics

Apart from geological constraints, other factors that could affect Permian growth are increasing service costs and potentially persistently low oil prices.

Should We Reject the Natural Rate Hypothesis?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 5:22am in

Olivier Blanchard:

Should We Reject the Natural Rate Hypothesis?, by Olivier Blanchard, PIIE: Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman articulated the natural rate hypothesis. It was composed of two sub-hypotheses: First, the natural rate of unemployment is independent of monetary policy. Second, there is no long-run tradeoff between the deviation of unemployment from the natural rate and inflation. Both propositions have been challenged. Blanchard reviews the arguments and the macro and micro evidence against each and concludes that, in each case, the evidence is suggestive but not conclusive. Policymakers should keep the natural rate hypothesis as their null hypothesis but keep an open mind and put some weight on the alternatives. [paper]

Paul Krugman: Republican Class Warfare: The Next Generation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 5:22am in

"This isn’t just ordinary class warfare; it’s class warfare aimed at perpetuating inequality into the next generation.":

Republican Class Warfare: The Next Generation, by Paul Krugman: The other day, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, admitted to The New York Times that he “misspoke” when he declared that his party’s tax plan wouldn’t raise taxes on any middle-class families. But he misspoke when he said “misspoke”: The proper term is “lied.” ...

We’re still waiting for detailed analysis of the Senate bill, but the House bill doesn’t just raise taxes on many middle-class families: It selectively raises taxes on families with children. In fact, half — half! — of families with children will see a tax hike once the bill is fully phased in.

Suppose that a child from a working-class family decides ... to attend college, probably taking out a loan to help pay tuition. Well, guess what: Under the House bill, that interest would no longer be deductible, substantially raising the cost of college.

What if you’re working your way through school and your employer contributes toward your education expenses? The House bill would make that contribution taxable income.

What if your parent is a university employee, and you get reduced tuition as a result? That tuition break becomes taxable income. So would tuition breaks for graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants.

So what we’re looking at here are a variety of measures that will close off opportunities for children who weren’t clever enough to choose wealthy parents.

Meanwhile, funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers more than eight million children, expired a month and a half ago — and so far, Republicans have made no serious effort to restore it. This is surely the shape of things to come: If tax cuts pass, and the deficit explodes, the G.O.P. will suddenly decide that deficits matter again and will demand cuts in social programs, many of which benefit lower-income children.

So this isn’t just ordinary class warfare; it’s class warfare aimed at perpetuating inequality into the next generation. Taken together, the elements of both the House and the Senate bills amount to a more or less systematic attempt to lavish benefits on the children of the ultra-wealthy while making it harder for less fortunate young people to achieve upward social mobility.

Or to put it differently, the tax legislation Republicans are trying to ram through Congress with indecent haste, without hearings or time for any kind of serious study, looks an awful lot like an attempt not simply to reinforce plutocracy, but to entrench a hereditary plutocracy.

Giddens: We are suffering from ‘cosmopolitan overload’ and a huge task lies before us – to create responsible capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 1:37am in

by Labinot Kunushevci*

From the editor: The following interview with a distinguished British sociologist and political thinker Lord Anthony Giddens is interesting from various perspectives. The interview is part of the forthcoming book by Labinot Kunushevci featuring his conversations with renowned social scientists. The emphases here are mine.

LK:
 How would you describe the importance of sociology, and what is the role of sociologists in the social emancipation, especially in the ‘century of changes’ we are living in? Do you think sociology should function as part of the positivist paradigm, or should it be more reflexive in relation to history and social reality?
Giddens: The prime task of sociology is to reflect upon the origins and consequences of the rise of modern industrial civilisation and its spread across the world. As such its main focus is upon the past two or three centuries, but of course there has to be a comparative perspective: hence the overlap of sociology with anthropology is quite strong. Positivism is a non-starter so far as sociology is concerned, since its relationship with its subject matter – human behaviour – is inherently reflexive. Sociological ideas, if they are at all interesting, become incorporated into the world they seek to describe and to some extent restructure that world.
LK: What would you say about the media, the development and sophistication of technology in this era of Globalization? Is Globalization bringing us more opportunities or more risks, and what is the type of society we are going to create in the future in an already globalized world?
Giddens: Globalization – the interdependence of societies across the world – is a key feature of Modernity. Over the past three hundred years, globalisation has been driven by two main influences – the economic (and military) expansion of the West; and the intensifying of communication. The two processes are closely related. The rise of printing from the eighteenth century onwards made possible the emergence of the modern state, and facilitated the development of far flung-empires. The rise of electronic communication massively accelerated these processes, but eventually meant they became more genuinely global – not so centred in the West. The coming of the digital age has intensified processes of globalisation and driven them deeply into our personal lives too.
LK: In your opinion, what are the structural and cultural changes brought by globalism in the modern era, especially to the transitional societies of the Post-Socialist bloc and Balkan region?
Giddens: The result is a world in flux, without parallels in previous ages. Digital communication is often empowering and emancipatory – it is likely to transform medicine, for example. However it has also helped to produce a volatile and uncertain future, and has helped accentuate existing ideological divisions rather than dissolve them. It is difficult to live in a world of intense, everyday cosmopolitanism. We are suffering from ‘cosmopolitan overload’ – there are powerful counter-trends, a return to sectional ideologies and divisions at the same time as the world becomes more intrinsically cosmopolitan. Thus we see a return of nationalism in many places and a questioning of cosmopolitan values, including the emergence of religious fundamentalism. These forces can be combined in seemingly bizarre ways. Islamic State, for example, is a sort of mediaeval theocracy, but makes use of cutting-edge digital technology to promote its aims. It is hostile to modernity, but deeply embedded in it.
LK: The world we are living in is facing many challenges, one of them is the global migration of population from East to West and from South to North. How would you explain migrations, the main challenges faced by countries affected by it, and what are the challenges of migrants themselves?
Giddens: Hence there is a sense in which we are all migrants now, whether or not we move physically from one part of the world to another. Via digital technology, most of us are in touch on an everyday basis with a diversity of cultures and opinions. Distance is no longer any barrier to instantaneous communication, driven by a vast expansion in computer power. The first smart phone was only marketed about ten years ago. Today there are 2.5 billion smart phones in the world and double that number of mobile phones as a whole. The smart phone in your pocket has more computing power than even a super-computer of fifteen years ago. Physical migration takes many different forms, but normally has a global component. To take an example, about 2 million Philippinos are living and working in other countries around the world. The large majority are women and children. They use digital means to support global families – networks of spouses and other relatives stretching around the world. Of course, many migrants from poorer countries are not so sophisticated and are fleeing oppression, such as the many thousands now trying to cross from Latin America into the US, or those fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East. Real tragedies are unfolding here on an everyday basis.
LK: Knowing the global challenges and risks: nuclear weapons, inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, the increasing extremism, the climate change, etc., which one, in your opinion, is threatening the global peace the most? Is there any balance between the opportunities offered by the Modernity in one side and the real threats on the other?
Giddens: We live in a world that has moved ‘off the edge of history’ at the same time as it remains deeply embedded in it. By this I mean that today we face risks that no other civilisation has to deal with – such as climate change, the massive growth in world population, or the existence of nuclear weapons. Some of these risks are existential: they are threats to the very continuity of the industrial order as it spreads across the face of the earth. We cannot say which are the ‘most threatening’, since the true level of risk is by definition unknown. There is no past time series to go on as there are with more traditional risks.
At the same time we have opportunities, as collective humanity, that go massively beyond what was available in previous ages, not just for material advancement but for the spiritual enrichment of our lives. I call this a ‘high opportunity, high risk society’ – in which it is almost impossible in advance to know what the relation between these two factors will turn out to be. This problematic relationship is today an elemental part of the human condition. This is not a post-modern world in the sense in which that term is usually used – to refer to the dissolution of reason and of potentially universal values. Rather, a battle is being fought almost everywhere between such values and sectional divisions of various sorts.
LK: What makes you think that we are not living in the post-modern era, but we are still living the high Modernity?
Giddens: Our personal and even intimate lives are being transformed by the changes running through world society. Here I would stick with the main themes of my book Modernity and Self-Identity, although some of the processes I described there have become further radicalised. In a world of almost infinite sources of possible information the self becomes a reflexive project. All of us have to develop a narrative of self – a story line that holds our lives together, against the backdrop of a world in flux. Tradition and custom are no longer there to do the job: they themselves are invented and reinvented. As Modernity advances not just identity but the body becomes shaped by these forces, in complicated and contradictory ways. Thus obesity today is becoming a global phenomenon, with massive implications for health. About a billion people across the world today are radically overweight, not only in the prosperous countries, but in many developing economies too. At the same time roughly the same number are undernourished, suffering from malnutrition or even at risk of starvation. And among the most affluent, the cultivation of the body takes a completely opposite form – people devote many hours to fitness and exercise training, often to the point of obsession.
LK: What changes has Modernity brought with the development of expertise and the stimulation to trust on them? How much does this contribute in creating a ‘technocracy’, which ‘devours’ the spontaneity, freedom, equality etc., which in the same time serve as fundamentals of modernity?
Giddens: ‘Technocracy’ does not seem to me the main barrier to our chances of successfully mastering the bundle of opportunities and risks we have created in modern civilisation. Rather, the influences I have described still operate in a world driven in some large part by the exigencies of market capitalism, now itself radically globalised and penetrated by the digital revolution. Almost all money has now become electronic, for example, and can be transmitted instantaneously across the world in a way that was never possible before. The world economic order is driven in fundamental ways by the actions of consumers on the one hand and the global companies – including financial ones – on the other. Most of these processes do not pass through the democratic systems of states, even the most powerful. This is one reason for the stresses and strains of politics today. Everyone can see that national politicians lack the power to significantly influence some of the major forces influencing our lives. To get elected, they must make promises that they simply cannot deliver upon. Huge inequalities, especially at the very top, have arisen, but it is very hard to contest them, given that capital can be moved around the world so fluidly. Much of the revenue that lies in tax havens has no productive role. Only if they can learn to co-operate collectively will states be able effectively to master these forces. It is an open question how far such collaboration is possible.
LK: Do you continue to embrace the “Third Way Politics”, and is it still current to this day? In this context, how would you explain the world economic crisis? On what premises should we have mechanisms and systems that would help to overcome the challenges of the generation of economic growth? 
Giddens: The global financial crisis – still far from having been fully resolved – reflects many of the features of world society discussed above, even including the gender dimension, given the role that ‘charged masculinity’ played in the aggressive behaviour of those playing the world money markets. However, there is a further key factor: the role of neoclassical economic theory. No other academic discipline has ever had such a world historical role before. It has driven the world economy and its radical subjection to unfettered market mechanisms. This observation brings us to general issues of a political nature. There is still a key role for the ‘third way’, understood as an overall political orientation and applied beyond the limits of nation-states. A huge task lies before us – to create a form of responsible capitalism, in which wealth creation is reconciled with social needs, including environmental ones.
LK: To conclude, what about the state of European Union these days and its relations with Balkan countries?
Giddens: The EU, as we all know, is passing through a particularly troubled phase of its evolution. Only about a decade ago, the EU – and its currency, the euro – were widely seen as success stories. Today it floats in a sea of troubles. The euro has not been properly stabilised and its very continuity remains at risk. Trust in the EU among its citizens has fallen, precipitously in some member-states. Populist parties are on the rise almost everywhere. To the east the situation in the Ukraine poses huge risks, at the outer edge even the risk of nuclear conflict. Chaos in Libya and some other states in the Middle East and North Africa poses major risks on the EU’s southern flank. Migrants are flooding across the Mediterranean desperate to find a new life. In spite – and partly because – of these problems, the EU remains an essential to the stability and further development of the European sub-continent. In my book Turbulent and Mighty Continent: What Future for Europe? I try to show why this is so. Only with the further progress of the EU can the problems of the Balkan countries potentially be resolved.
—————————-
Labinot Kunushevci (labinotkunushevci@gmail.com) was born in the Republic of Kosova. He holds a Master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Prishtina and his main field of study is sociology of communications. As part of his project on the intersection of international and national sociology, he conducted interviews with prominent sociologists around the world. Three of them – with George Ritzer, Patricia Hill Collins, and Ibrahim Berisha – were recently published in Global Dialogue – The Magazine of International Sociological Association. 

anthony giddens

***
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Poland on fire: voices from the provinces

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/11/2017 - 11:29pm in

There is a
growing atmosphere of hatred in which anyone who opposes the current government
is labeled the ‘worst sort’, or even ‘Soviet murderers’.

lead The place in Warsaw where Piotr Szczęsny set himself on fire. Wikicommons/ Mateusz Opasiński. Some rights reserved.Thursday October,
19 at 16.30: An ordinary day, an ordinary man stands on the steps of the Warsaw
Palace of Culture and Science. He is reading something through a megaphone to
inattentive passers by. Just another protesting voice in the Polish capital.
Except, once finished, this 54 year old man, who would become known for some
time simply as Piotr S., then sets himself ablaze, performing an act of
self-immolation to the sound of a song by ‘Chłopcy Placu Broni’ coming from a
tape-recorder.

‘Freedom. I
love and understand freedom. I don’t know how to give it up…’ On the ground lie
strewn the pieces of paper from which he had been reading – a manifesto
outlining 15 points of protest against the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).
Ten days later, on October 29, he dies in hospital. It begins to sink in that this
was a decisive, considered and dramatic political act. Where at first the media
and politicians stay largely silent, following his death they now rush to
assess his sanity, his past and his intentions.

All this he
foresaw. He openly admitted that he struggled with depression for eight years –
but this was nothing to do with that, though he knew politicians would try to
make it so. Depression does not equal derangement. So how should he be
understood?

                                                        *   *
  *

Piotr Szczęsny,
as his full name was revealed to be post-mortem, chemist, former youth
Solidarity activist, and management trainer for NGOs, had on that grey ordinary
day travelled up to Warsaw from his home in Niepołomic, a small town near
Krakow in the South of Poland. 130km west, in a small town called Rybnik in
Upper Silesia, a group of active citizens, known as the Silesian Pearls
have for the last year been mobilizing local protest in order to try to hold
back what they see as the ruling party’s authoritarian agenda. They were stunned
by this event. ‘Poland is on fire’ reads one of their slogans. They did not
think the metaphor would become personified. Yet Jola Jackiewicz, 57,
co-founder of the Silesian Pearls, tells me she was less surprised, more deeply
saddened; she had anticipated tragedy sooner or later. Outside of Warsaw, daily
reality is too often treated as peripheral and insignificant. But it’s here
where the tense effects of nationalist, hardline rhetoric can be felt most
keenly. Piotr was far from a ‘provincial’ man – in the condescending,
stereotypical sense – but maybe the environment in which he lived also played a
part in making him feel isolated or perhaps suffocated. Outside of Warsaw, daily reality is too
often treated as peripheral and insignificant. But it’s here where the tense
effects of nationalist, hardline rhetoric can be felt most keenly.

Small towns
and villages, like Rybnik and its environs, are the most difficult places to be
active in, says Jola. People know one another and there is often stronger social pressure from the Catholic Church, which is known even to galvanize support for the ruling party with its pro-family, anti-abortion, anti-Muslim rhetoric. If you have opposing views to the government your job can now even be at stake if you voice them too loudly. While PiS’s popularity is not limited to
small towns and villages – far from it – support for the government is strong
here, explains Łukasz Kohut, 35-year-old Silesian Pearls member, because in the
provinces people have felt marginalized for years. ‘Now there is a government
that speaks plainly, supports people financially through social programmes, and
feeds deep inner phobias while promising to protect us. The worst thing is how
state media has become a tool for party political propaganda. Hearing their
slogans repeated in daily conversations is frightening.’  

Protests that have occurred in Rybnik, co-organised by Silesian Pearls and other pro-democracy groups. This is of a rally in defence of the Judiciary. Photo by Lukasz Kohut, quoted above. All rights reserved. For Jola, the
hardest part is how deeply divided people have become, even family and friends.
There is a growing atmosphere of hatred in which anyone who opposes the current
government is labeled the ‘worst sort’, or even ‘Soviet murderers’. Open and
fair debate is impossible where public discourse has stooped so low. Silesian
Pearls aims to change that by providing means for dialogue, political
conversation and citizen education, something Jola feels has been neglected for
too long. In order to love freedom you must understand what it means.  

‘Now there is a government that speaks
plainly, supports people financially through social programmes, and feeds deep
inner phobias while promising to protect us.’

Jola is of
the same generation as Piotr. Like him, she feels an unsettling sense of deja
vu. She lived through the days of the Polish People’s Republic, the closed-in
world, the dictatorial rule, she knows, like Piotr, what not having freedom
feels like.

While she
could never conceive of such a choice of protest, she empathizes fully with his
sense of despair, his helplessness, particularly after this Saturday’s
fascist-led Polish Independence Day march attracting 60,000 people to Warsaw,
which Piotr did not live to witness. ‘Traditional methods like going out on the
streets or petitions don’t seem to be working. But we can’t just sit back and
watch. People like us who have been there before, we can see the threats, the
signs, the steady movements towards dictatorial rule, now creeping fascism –
and it’s not just happening in Poland. It can happen bit by bit, while we are
asleep, until it is too late. There is a very fine line we are approaching.
That’s what he wanted to alert us to.’ 

Wake up! It's not too late yet!

Piotr’s
15-point list of grievances is measured and articulate. It could have been
written by the Opposition or by the stronghold of protestors, like the Silesian
Pearls, who align themselves with his urgent perspective, drawing attention to
the government’s increasing restrictions on civil liberties, attacks on the
Constitutional Tribunal, attempts to politicise the judiciary, breaking of the
Consitution, marginalisation of Poland on the international arena, destruction
of the Bialowieza Forest, the rise of xenophobia, the political use of hateful
language, discrimination of minorities, and the propagandisation of state
television and radio.

‘I, an
ordinary, grey man just like you, call upon you all - do not wait any longer!’,
his letter to the Polish people reads. ‘I love freedom above all. That's why I
decided to perform this act of self-immolation, and I hope that my death will
shake the conscience of many people, that society will wake up and that you
will not wait until the politicians will do it for you - because they will not!
Wake up! It's not too late yet!’

Are things
really so desperate as to come to this? Łukasz thinks they are and they aren’t.
‘It’s not yet that moment where there is violence on the street, but it could
happen. Especially given Saturday’s march. What Piotr S. did is to highlight
that there is a moment to say no – and this is it. I can completely relate to
his sense of political depression, but I hope his action will spur us on
towards regaining a Poland that is European, democratic, and open to the world
through the next elections. The fear is of course that that won’t happen, but
we must fight.’

Another protest photo taken in Rybnik by Lukasz Kohut, this time of a women's rights march against the anti-abortion law. All rights reserved.

What Piotr S.
did is to highlight that there is a moment to say no – and this is it.

Renowned
Polish film director, Agnieszka Holland, in a strong rebuke to the pejorative
or absent media and political comment on Piotr S’s action, wrote in OKO.Press that ‘Fire destroys, but it
also illuminates. Like anger.’ Jola, too, sees hope in his brave if awful
message. ‘Fire also cleans – it prepares the ground for something new. While things
may look dark, there are still many lights burning – us, people, citizens.’

Country or region: 

Poland

EU

Topics: 

Civil society

Conflict

Culture

Democracy and government

Economics

Equality

International politics

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Poland on fire: voices from the provinces

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/11/2017 - 11:29pm in

There is a
growing atmosphere of hatred in which anyone who opposes the current government
is labeled the ‘worst sort’, or even ‘Soviet murderers’.

lead The place in Warsaw where Piotr Szczęsny set himself on fire. Wikicommons/ Mateusz Opasiński. Some rights reserved.Thursday October,
19 at 16.30: An ordinary day, an ordinary man stands on the steps of the Warsaw
Palace of Culture and Science. He is reading something through a megaphone to
inattentive passers by. Just another protesting voice in the Polish capital.
Except, once finished, this 54 year old man, who would become known for some
time simply as Piotr S., then sets himself ablaze, performing an act of
self-immolation to the sound of a song by ‘Chłopcy Placu Broni’ coming from a
tape-recorder.

‘Freedom. I
love and understand freedom. I don’t know how to give it up…’ On the ground lie
strewn the pieces of paper from which he had been reading – a manifesto
outlining 15 points of protest against the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).
Ten days later, on October 29, he dies in hospital. It begins to sink in that this
was a decisive, considered and dramatic political act. Where at first the media
and politicians stay largely silent, following his death they now rush to
assess his sanity, his past and his intentions.

All this he
foresaw. He openly admitted that he struggled with depression for eight years –
but this was nothing to do with that, though he knew politicians would try to
make it so. Depression does not equal derangement. So how should he be
understood?

                                                        *   *
  *

Piotr Szczęsny,
as his full name was revealed to be post-mortem, chemist, former youth
Solidarity activist, and management trainer for NGOs, had on that grey ordinary
day travelled up to Warsaw from his home in Niepołomic, a small town near
Krakow in the South of Poland. 130km west, in a small town called Rybnik in
Upper Silesia, a group of active citizens, known as the Silesian Pearls
have for the last year been mobilizing local protest in order to try to hold
back what they see as the ruling party’s authoritarian agenda. They were stunned
by this event. ‘Poland is on fire’ reads one of their slogans. They did not
think the metaphor would become personified. Yet Jola Jackiewicz, 57,
co-founder of the Silesian Pearls, tells me she was less surprised, more deeply
saddened; she had anticipated tragedy sooner or later. Outside of Warsaw, daily
reality is too often treated as peripheral and insignificant. But it’s here
where the tense effects of nationalist, hardline rhetoric can be felt most
keenly. Piotr was far from a ‘provincial’ man – in the condescending,
stereotypical sense – but maybe the environment in which he lived also played a
part in making him feel isolated or perhaps suffocated. Outside of Warsaw, daily reality is too
often treated as peripheral and insignificant. But it’s here where the tense
effects of nationalist, hardline rhetoric can be felt most keenly.

Small towns
and villages, like Rybnik and its environs, are the most difficult places to be
active in, says Jola. People know one another and there is often stronger social pressure from the Catholic Church, which is known even to galvanize support for the ruling party with its pro-family, anti-abortion, anti-Muslim rhetoric. If you have opposing views to the government your job can now even be at stake if you voice them too loudly. While PiS’s popularity is not limited to
small towns and villages – far from it – support for the government is strong
here, explains Łukasz Kohut, 35-year-old Silesian Pearls member, because in the
provinces people have felt marginalized for years. ‘Now there is a government
that speaks plainly, supports people financially through social programmes, and
feeds deep inner phobias while promising to protect us. The worst thing is how
state media has become a tool for party political propaganda. Hearing their
slogans repeated in daily conversations is frightening.’  

Protests that have occurred in Rybnik, co-organised by Silesian Pearls and other pro-democracy groups. This is of a rally in defence of the Judiciary. Photo by Lukasz Kohut, quoted above. All rights reserved. For Jola, the
hardest part is how deeply divided people have become, even family and friends.
There is a growing atmosphere of hatred in which anyone who opposes the current
government is labeled the ‘worst sort’, or even ‘Soviet murderers’. Open and
fair debate is impossible where public discourse has stooped so low. Silesian
Pearls aims to change that by providing means for dialogue, political
conversation and citizen education, something Jola feels has been neglected for
too long. In order to love freedom you must understand what it means.  

‘Now there is a government that speaks
plainly, supports people financially through social programmes, and feeds deep
inner phobias while promising to protect us.’

Jola is of
the same generation as Piotr. Like him, she feels an unsettling sense of deja
vu. She lived through the days of the Polish People’s Republic, the closed-in
world, the dictatorial rule, she knows, like Piotr, what not having freedom
feels like.

While she
could never conceive of such a choice of protest, she empathizes fully with his
sense of despair, his helplessness, particularly after this Saturday’s
fascist-led Polish Independence Day march attracting 60,000 people to Warsaw,
which Piotr did not live to witness. ‘Traditional methods like going out on the
streets or petitions don’t seem to be working. But we can’t just sit back and
watch. People like us who have been there before, we can see the threats, the
signs, the steady movements towards dictatorial rule, now creeping fascism –
and it’s not just happening in Poland. It can happen bit by bit, while we are
asleep, until it is too late. There is a very fine line we are approaching.
That’s what he wanted to alert us to.’ 

Wake up! It's not too late yet!

Piotr’s
15-point list of grievances is measured and articulate. It could have been
written by the Opposition or by the stronghold of protestors, like the Silesian
Pearls, who align themselves with his urgent perspective, drawing attention to
the government’s increasing restrictions on civil liberties, attacks on the
Constitutional Tribunal, attempts to politicise the judiciary, breaking of the
Consitution, marginalisation of Poland on the international arena, destruction
of the Bialowieza Forest, the rise of xenophobia, the political use of hateful
language, discrimination of minorities, and the propagandisation of state
television and radio.

‘I, an
ordinary, grey man just like you, call upon you all - do not wait any longer!’,
his letter to the Polish people reads. ‘I love freedom above all. That's why I
decided to perform this act of self-immolation, and I hope that my death will
shake the conscience of many people, that society will wake up and that you
will not wait until the politicians will do it for you - because they will not!
Wake up! It's not too late yet!’

Are things
really so desperate as to come to this? Łukasz thinks they are and they aren’t.
‘It’s not yet that moment where there is violence on the street, but it could
happen. Especially given Saturday’s march. What Piotr S. did is to highlight
that there is a moment to say no – and this is it. I can completely relate to
his sense of political depression, but I hope his action will spur us on
towards regaining a Poland that is European, democratic, and open to the world
through the next elections. The fear is of course that that won’t happen, but
we must fight.’

Another protest photo taken in Rybnik by Lukasz Kohut, this time of a women's rights march against the anti-abortion law. All rights reserved.

What Piotr S.
did is to highlight that there is a moment to say no – and this is it.

Renowned
Polish film director, Agnieszka Holland, in a strong rebuke to the pejorative
or absent media and political comment on Piotr S’s action, wrote in OKO.Press that ‘Fire destroys, but it
also illuminates. Like anger.’ Jola, too, sees hope in his brave if awful
message. ‘Fire also cleans – it prepares the ground for something new. While things
may look dark, there are still many lights burning – us, people, citizens.’

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Poland

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Topics: 

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Conflict

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Democracy and government

Economics

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Rights: 

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Chris Hedges: RT Target Because Gives Platform to Anti-Imperialist, Anti-Capitalist Critics

Yesterday, RT America was forced to register as a foreign agent under FARA, the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act, a piece of legislation that dates from the 1930s, and which was set up to regulate foreign lobbyists and propaganda outlets.

The move has been condemned by Alexandra Ellerbeck, the North American co-ordinator of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

Compelling RT to register under FARA is a bad idea. This is a shift in how the law has been applied in recent decades, so we have little information about how its reporting requirements might affect individual journalists. We’re uncomfortable with governments deciding what constitutes journalism or propaganda.

The presenter then interviews Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and dissident, Chris Hedges, the presenter of RT America’s On Contact. Hedges states that the head of American national intelligence said that RT was a threat, not because it broadcast Russian propaganda, but because it gave a platform to anti-imperial, anti-capitalist voices, and covered issues and movements that the country’s elites would rather not be covered, such as the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, and fracking.

As for the question whether Americans should have a choice in their media, Hedges states that it would be true, if America had a functioning media which actually did its job and covered dissent. But it doesn’t. The media has been taken over by corporate interests, including the most retrograde of those in the form of the Koch brothers.

He also points out that this move is a major threat to press and political freedom generally. The elites, which he describes as kleptocrats, are resorting to censorship because they now realise that they have no arguments to support neoliberalism. They are desperate to suppress the reporting of the growing inequality, which has produced such an uprising in both the Democrat and Republican parties. And so they are trying to suppress the reporting of the growing poverty in America as foreign propaganda, and claim that the increasing dissent and discontent is due to foreign interference.

This is going on at the same time that Google and other internet companies have developed algorithms to take searchers away from left-wing and dissenting news sites.

He notes that the organisations that are charged with protecting the freedom of the press have largely ignored this issue and have not objected to RT America’s registration under FARA. But he warns that this will only be the beginning of a greater assault on press and media freedom.

Once the elites have finished suppressing marginal, alternative media and journalists that they have pushed to the sidelines, such as himself, they will move on to the mainstream media.

This isn’t just about RT America. The British government and Theresa May has also started baying about how Russia is interfering in British politics. Here the main issue seems to be Brexit at the moment. May seems to be trying to use the Russians as a scapegoat for her own failure to secure any kind of deal with the EU.

Other alternative news programmes, that have nothing to do with Russia, are also being hit by Google’s algorithms. These are shows like The Young Turks, the David Pakman Show, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, and Democracy Now! And left-wing British bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political have also suffered problems with some of their material mysteriously vanishing from Facebook, or people finding it difficult to log on. One of the commenters to this site posted that she had had difficulty getting on to Mike’s page in response to an article I put up about how I found it impossible to get onto Mike’s site on Saturday, when he wrote a reply demolishing the claims of a Tory councillor that Journalists’ reporting of the immense harm done by the government’s policies to the disabled was ‘inflammatory nonsense’.

John Kampfner wrote a book about ten years or so ago, Freedom for Sale, about how governments all over the world, including Blair’s, were cracking down on freedom of speech. He considered it part of a deal they had made with their peoples. They would give them prosperity, but the other side of the bargain was that they would not tolerate any criticism. Now, ten or so years later, that bargain has gone. These governments are not bringing prosperity. Quite the opposite. Poverty has expanded massively under the Tories. But they are continuing to clamp down on freedom of speech and the press.

All in the name of protecting us from the Russians. Or terrorists like ISIS. Or anyone else they can use as a handy pretext for regulating and narrowing media freedom even more.

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