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Hardship ahead

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 5:00pm in

According to a Sky News report, Conservative policies have (either purposely or inadvertently) arranged for the country to be subject to hardship ahead. Rishi Sunak said: I don’t think it’s fair to extend (furlough) indefinitely. It’s not fair to the people on it. We shouldn’t pretend there is, in every case, a job to go... Read more

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 12:26am in

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Demand for the Abolition of the House of Lords

This weekend, our murderous, clown Prime Minister Boris Johnson added more weight to the argument for the House of Lords. At the moment the membership of the upper house is something like 800+. It has more members than the supreme soviet, the governing assembly of assembly of China, which rules a country of well over a billion people. Contemporary discussions are about reducing the size of this bloated monster, many of whose members do zilch except turn up in the morning in order to collect their attendance before zipping off to what they really want to do. Since Blair, it’s become a byword for corruption and cronyism, as successive prime ministers have used it to reward their collaborators, allies and corporate donors. The Tories were outraged when Blair did this during his administration, but this didn’t stop David Cameron following suit, and now Boris Alexander DeFeffel Johnson. Johnson has appointed no less than 36 of his friends and collaborators. These include his brother, who appears to be there simply because he is Johnson’s sibling, Alexander Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and son of a KGB spy, who owns the Metro and the Independent,  which is a particular insult following the concerns about Russian political meddling and the Tories’ connections to Putin; the Blairite smear-merchants and intriguers, who conspired against Jeremy Corbyn to give the Tories an election victory, and Claire Fox.

Fox has managed to provoke outrage all on her own, simply because of her disgusting views on Northern Irish terrorism. Now a member of the Brexit Party, she was a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party which fully endorsed the IRA’s terrorism campaign and the Warrington bombing that killed two children. She has never apologised or retracted her views, although she says she no longer believes in the necessity of such tactics. But rewarding a woman, who has absolutely no problem with the political killing of children has left a nasty taste in very many people’s mouths. It shows very clearly the double standards Johnson and the Tories do have about real terrorist supporters. They tried smearing Corbyn as one, despite the fact that he was even-handed in his dealings with the various parties in northern Ireland and was a determined supporter of peace. Ulster Unionists have come forward to state that he also good relations with them and was most definitely not a supporter of terrorism. The Tories, however, have shown that they have absolutely no qualms about rewarding a real terrorist sympathiser. But even this isn’t enough for Johnson. He’s outraged and demanding an inquiry, because he was prevented from putting his corporate donors from the financial sector in the House of Lords.

Demands for reform or the abolition of the second chamber have been around for a very long time. I remember back c. 1987 that the Labour party was proposing ideas for its reform. And then under Blair there were suggestions that it be transformed into an elected senate like America’s. And way back in the first decades of the twentieth century there were demands for its abolition altogether. I’ve been reading Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s A Constitution of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, which was first published in the 1920s. It’s a fascinating book. The Webbs were staunch advocates of democracy but were fiercely critical of parliament and its ability to deal with the amount of legislation created by the expansion of the British state into industry and welfare provision, just as they were bitterly critical of its secrecy and capitalism. They proposed dividing parliament into two: a political and a social parliament. The political parliament would deal with the traditional 19th-century conceptions of the scope of parliament. This would be foreign relations, including with the Empire, the self-governing colonies and India, and law and order. The social parliament would deal with the economy, the nationalised industries and in general the whole of British culture and society, including the arts, literature and science. They make some very interesting, trenchant criticisms of existing political institutions, some of which will be very familiar to viewers of that great British TV comedy, Yes, Minister. And one of these is the House of Lords, which they state very clearly should be abolished because of its elitist, undemocratic character. They write

The House of Lords, with its five hundred or so peers by inheritance, forty-four representatives of the peerages of Scotland and Ireland, a hundred and fifty newly created peers, twenty-six bishops, and half a dozen Law Lords, stands in a more critical position. No party in the State defends this institution; and every leading statesman proposes to either to end or to amend it. It is indeed an extreme case of misfit. Historically, the House of Lords is not a Second Chamber, charged with suspensory and revising functions, but an Estate of the Realm – or rather, by its inclusion of the bishops – two Estates of the Realm, just as much entitled as the Commons to express their own judgement on all matters of legislation, and to give or withhold their own assent to all measures of taxation. The trouble is that no one  in the kingdom is prepared to allow them these rights, and for ninety years at least the House of Lords has survived only on the assumption that, misfit as it palpably is, it nevertheless fulfils fairly well the quite different functions of a Second Chamber. Unfortunately, its members cannot wholly rid themselves of the feeling that they are not a Second Chamber, having only the duties of technical revision of what the House of Commons enacts, and of temporary suspension of any legislation that it too hastily adopts, but an Estate of the Realm, a coordinate legislative organ entitled to have an opinion of its own on the substance and the merits of any enactment of the House of Commons. The not inconsiderable section of peers and bishops which from time to time breaks out in this way, to the scandal of democrats, can of course claim to be historically and technically justified in thus acting as independent legislators, but constitutionally they are out of date; and each of their periodical outbursts, which occasionally cause serious public inconvenience, brings the nation nearer to their summary abolition. Perhaps of greater import than the periodical petulance of the House of Lords is its steady failure to act efficiently  as revising and suspensory Second Chamber. Its decisions are vitiated by its composition  it is the worst representative assembly ever created in that it contains absolutely no members of the manual working class; none of the great classes of shopkeepers, clerks and teachers; none of the half of all the citizens who are of the female sex; and practically none of religious nonconformity, or art, science or literature. Accordingly it cannot be relied on to revise or suspend, and scarcely even to criticise, anything brought forward by a Conservative Cabinet, whilst obstructing and often defeating everything proposed by Radical Cabinet.

Yet discontent with the House of Commons and its executive – the Cabinet – is to-day  a more active ferment than resentment at the House of Lords. The Upper Chamber may from time to time delay and obstruct; but it cannot make or unmake governments; and it cannot, in the long run, defy the House of Commons whenever that assembly is determined. To clear away this archaic structure will only make more manifest and indisputable the failure of the House of Commons to meet the present requirements. (Pp. 62-4).

When they come to their proposals for a thorough reform of the constitution, they write of the House of Lords

There is, of course, n the Socialist Commonwealth, no place for a House of Lords, which will simply cease to exist as a part of the legislature. Whether the little group of “Law Lords”, who are now made peers in order that they may form the Supreme Court of Appeal , should or should not continue, for this purely judicial purpose, to sit under the title, and with the archaic dignity of the House of Lords, does not seem material. (p.110)

I used to have some respect for the House of Lords because of the way they did try to keep Thatcher in check during her occupation of 10 Downing Street. They genuinely acted as a constitutional check and wasn’t impressed by the proposals for their reform. I simply didn’t see that it was necessary. When Blair was debating reforming the Upper House, the Tories bitterly attacked him as a new Cromwell, following the Lord Protector’s abolition of the House of Lords during the British Civil War. Of course, Blair did nothing of the sort, and partly reformed it, replacing some of the peers with his own nominees. Pretty much as Cromwell also packed parliament.

The arguments so far used against reforming the House of Lord are that it’s cheaper than an elected second chamber, and that there really isn’t much popular enthusiasm for the latter. Private Eye said that it would just be full of second-rate politicos traipsing about vainly trying to attract votes. That was over twenty years ago.

But now that the House of Lords is showing itself increasingly inefficient and expensive because of the sheer number of political has-beens, PM’s cronies and peers, who owe their seat only because of ancestral privilege, it seems to me that the arguments for its reform are now unanswerable.

Especially when the gift of appointing them is in the hands of such a corrupt premier as Boris Johnson.

‘Financial Times’ Review of Book on Real, Modern Slavery

This is another old clipping I’ve kept in my scrapbooks from the Financial Times, from May 29/30th 1999. It’s a review by their columnist, Ben Rogers, ‘Forced into human bondage’, of Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global  Economy. This is another book that the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol had in its library. It’s an excellent book, but obviously very, very grim reading in its truly harrowing accounts of the brutality meted out to real, enslaved people across the world. I’m posting the review here because, while Britain and America are re-evaluating the legacy of slavery following the Black Lives Matter protests, real slavery and its horrors still exist around the world and I am afraid that this is being overshadowed by the debates over historic European slavery.

Rogers begins his review with the subtitled ‘Slavery today may be illegal, but it is still rife’. The review then goes on

It is tempting to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Its legacy lives on, disfiguring relations between Black and Whites everywhere, but surely the practice itself has gone?

This sober, well-researched, pioneering study shows that this, alas, is far from the case. Bales, an American social scientist who teaches in London at the Roehampton Institute, is careful to distinguish slavery from other forms of exploitation: the Pakistani child labourer, the Burmese agricultural worker, although paid a subsistence wage, are not necessarily slaves. Nevertheless, he argues that there are still, on a conservative estimate, perhaps 27m slaves in the world today – a population greater than that of Canada.

Most are located in the Indian subcontinent where they work as bonded labourers, but they exist in almost every country in the world. Paris harbours as many as 3,000 household slaves, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states many more. In the Dominican Republic, enslaved Haitians harvest the sugar that we eat. In Brazil, child prostitutes are forced to service the miners of the metals we use.

Of course, modern slavery is different from the old variety practised in ancient Athens or the American South. But in certain respects, Bales persuasively argues, the new variety is worse. In the traditional version, slave holders owned their slaves, who were almost always of a different race or religion from their masters; slaves were relatively expensive “capital” goods and usually kept up for life. Nowadays legal ownership is outlawed in every country of the world (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”), so modern slavery is disguised and “ownership” is replaced by manipulative debt bondage or fictive long-term “contracts”. Modern slaves tend to be taken from the same ethnic group as their holders and, because they are cheap, they are often used for only months or a few years before being discarded. Another difference is the size of the profit slaves produce. Agricultural bonded labourers in India generate not 5 per cent, as did slaves in the American South, but over 50 per cent profit per year for the slave holder; a Thai brothel owner can make 800 per cent on a new teenage girl.

To illustrate the nature of the new slavery, Bales has travelled around the world to investigate five cases in detail (often at some risk to himself): that of an enslaved prostitute in Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand; a water carrier in Mauritania; charcoal burners in the camps in Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil; brickmakers in the Punjab, Pakistan; and bonded agricultural labourers in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cases varied in significant ways. Ironically the one that most resembles old-style slavery – that of the water carrier from Mauritania – proves perhaps to be the least vicious. Slavery in Mauritania represents a lightly disguised continuation of a centuries-old practice; there slaves are kept for life and many slave families have been working for the same masters for generations. The cruellest example, by contrast, is provided by “Siri” the Thai prostitute, who was sold into slavery by her parents aged 14. Her debts to her owners are manipulate to ensure that she will continue to work until she is too tired or ill to be profitable.

Despite the differences, however, two continuities run through all the cases Bales so  graphically describes. In every case the worker is tricked or forced into bondage; in every case he or she is provided with the barest means of subsistence and sometimes not even that. In the charcoal camps of Brazil the men are often denied medication and left to die – on the principle that it is cheaper to acquire a new worker than repair an old one.

The western world has been slow to recognise the problem of the new slavery – in part because it is carefully disguised. The slave holders hide it from their government, governments hide it from the international community. The result is that, unlike, say, torture or censorship, slavery has yet to become a major human rights issue. The main international organisation dedicated to the abolition of slavery, Anti-Slavery International, has only 6,000 members. And without grass roots pressure, the World Bank, IMF and national governments are not inclined to show much concern.

“What country,” as Bales asks, “has been sanctioned by the UN for slavery? Where are the UN inspection teams charged with searching out slave labour? Who speaks for the slaves in the International Court of Justice? Governments and business are more likely to suffer international penalties today for counterfeiting a Michael Jackson CD than for using slaves.”

Modern slaves face the same conditions as the poor of the third world – they are the victims of industrialisation, population explosion and government corruption. Where labour is abundant, wages low, bribery rife, workers often face a stark choice between enslavement and starvation. Slavery, however, calls for its own particular solutions. Bales shows how strict enforcement of existing laws combined with programmes aimed at enabling slaves to set up on their own, have had some effect in diminishing debt bondage in northern India – although, as he reminds us, unless steps are taken slavery is set to grow.

Incredibly, Bales’ study is about the first to explore slavery in its modern international guise. The picture it offers remains patchy, given the limited resources at Bales’ disposal. He makes much of the west’s role in aiding and abetting slavery, yet most of the cases he studies belongs to local economies. This remains, however, a convincing and moving book. One can only hope that it will draw some attention to the terrible phenomenon it describes.

Although this was written 21 years ago, I’ve no doubt that it’s still acutely relevant and the situation has got worse. Since then there have been a series of scandals involving the enslavement of migrant workers in Britain and eastern European women trafficked into sex slavery. And, as the book Falling Off the Edge, shows very clearly, poverty around the world and the consequent exploitation of the poor has got much worse due to neoliberalism and globalisation. One of the programmes due to be shown on the Beeb – but I can’t remember whether it’s on TV or radio – is an examination of global terrorism. One of the groups looked at are Maoist terrorists in India. They’re a horrifically violent outfit, but they’re the result, according to Falling Off the Edge, of the horrific poverty and exploitation foisted upon the agricultural workers of central India.

And then there’s the increasing poverty and mounting debts of the British poor, thanks to Thatcherite welfare cuts, wage freezes and the replacement of loans for welfare payments and services. I wonder how long before this morphs into something very much like debt bondage over here.

19 Years Ago Private Eye Revealed New Labour Plans to Privatise NHS and Education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 4:07am in

One of the good aspects of Private Eye that has kept me reading it – just about – is the way it has covered the deep and pernicious connections between the political parties and big business. And in their issue for 15th-28 June 2001, right at the beginning of Blair’s second term in government, the Eye revealed his plans to privatise the NHS and the education system in the article ‘How the New Government Will Work’. This ran

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are in two minds: should they privatise the entire delivery of public services or just some of it? To help them decide they are consulting the best minds money can buy.

For a start, Downing Street has a report from the Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research. It recommends that private firms deliver health and education on the widest possible scale. The report, a final paper from IPPR’s “Commission on Public Private Partnerships”, claims that “the crucial ingredient that the private sector possesses and the public sector needs is management.”

The report was paid for by the Serco “institute”, a front for the firm which privately runs a slew of Britain’s prisons and immigration detention centres, including the grim “Doncatraz” Doncaster gaol. Serco failed to win the air traffic control privatisation precisely because of worries about its management.

The report was also supported by Nomura, Japanese bank with a big interest in private finance initiative-style (PFI) deals: Nomura’s management of army housing under PFI has been lamentable. KPMG chipped in to support the report as well. It is not a disinterested party either. KPMG advised on 29 hospital PFI schemes, and many other deals outside health.

The giant accountant’s role in these hospital sell-offs has only come under indepdent scrutiny once: at Dartford and Gravesham hospital. The national audit office (NAO) found that, despite KPMG’s “healthcare” advice, the new hospital probably made no financial saving but did cut beds drastically. KPMG’s own fees were originally tendered at £152,000. It finally billed the NHS for £960,000. For good measure, the Norwich Union, which also put millions in PFI, invested in the IPPR report too.

Martin Taylor, chancellor Brown’s friend who used to run Barclays Bank, acted as “commissioner” in drawing up the IPPR’s advice. He is perfectly suited to the job: as an adviser to Goldman Sachs he is in the pay of a multinational bank which wants to make a profit out of Britain’s poor. Goldman Sachs is involved in PFI: it originally funded the PFI buy-out of all Britain’s dole offices.

As the “honorary secretary” of the Bilderberg group, Taylor is also involved in the secretive corporate schmoozing of big name politicians (he signed up for Bilderberg originally alongside Peter Mandelson). And when he ran Barclays, he showed his “secret ingredient” was disastrous management. Under his stewardship the bank lost £250m gambling in Russian financial markets, and had to stump up £300m to bail out the absurd American “hedge fund”, Long Term Capital Markets.

Eventually Taylor was ousted by a boardroom battle in November 1998 before he could cause more damage. Now he’s decided to help the public sector.

The treasury meanwhile wants to take a second look at IPPR’s prediction about the efficiency of privatisation. In particular chancellor Brown wants to test the idea that the private sector gets greater productivity out of employers through “reskilling”, “efficient shift systems and better motivation” – rather than low pay, poor conditions, long hours and casualisation.

To test the theory he will commission a study by the Office of Government Commerce. This office in turn also has a private manager: Peter Gershon, Britain’s highest paid civil servant on £180,000 a year, plus performance benefits and a three-year contract.

He was formerly chief operating officer at British Aerospace. But far from being expert in efficiency, BAe is best at massive cost overruns, project failures and non-competitive tendering. The managers in charge of the Tornado, Bowman Radio and Type 45 destroyer programmes – all plagued with late delivery and technical problems – reported directly to Gershon.

Since then, Serco have become notorious for their massive inefficiency and the inhuman conditions at the prisons and detention centres they run. One of the most notorious of the latter was Yarl’s Wood, which was so atrocious the asylum seekers rioted. And I don’t think that was only one either. I also remember the outrage that the government’s sale of the army barracks to Nomura caused.

Goldman Sachs and Lehmann’s Bank caused the 2008 world banking crash, ushering over two decades of cuts and austerity, which has made conditions for the poor even more worse. For those who are managing to survive the low pay, monstrous levels of debt, and the almost non-existent welfare state. This has forced millions of people onto food banks to keep body and soul together, and hundreds of thousands are suffering from starvation, or ‘food poverty’ as the media now delicately put it. And I forget what the death toll from this is, it’s so high.

As for low pay, poor conditions and job insecurity – that all increased under Gordon Brown, and has increased even more so under the Tories, as it all keeps the working woman and man down, cowed and fearful, in her and his place.

And the Bilderbergers will be familiar to anyone interested in conspiracy theories. They were some of the ‘Secret Rulers of the World’ covered by Jon Ronson in his documentary series on Channel 4 of the same name.

I dare say some of the names involved in the privatisation agenda has changed, but you can bet it’s all going to come in with Starmer, despite his retention of Corbyn’s election manifesto. ‘Cause that was popular. Now it looks like he’ll undermine it by starting to ignore it.

And we’re back to Blairite misery, despair, poverty and starvation again. Except for the multinationals and their utterly talentless managers. It all looks pretty good for them.

From 1996: Downsizing Guru Realises It Doesn’t Work

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 8:55pm in

Remember the downsizing craze of the 1980s and 1990s, when Thatcherite economists all demanded that big firms should slim down through mass lay-offs and sackings? Firms were overstaffed, and it was all flab that needed to be cut out to make them ‘lean and mean’ in the marketplace.

Looking back through my scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, I found this article by the Daily Mail’s industrial correspondent, David Norris, ‘Guru of the job cutters admits downsizing has its down side’ in that paper’s edition for Monday, May 13, 1996. The article runs

‘An international economic guru who advocated massive job-shedding to make big business lean and fit has admitted he got it all wrong.

American Stephen S. Roach coined the word ‘downsizing’ in the early Eighties to sum up his philosophy that ruthless workforce pruning was needed to boost profits and productivity.

It was seized on around the world – not least in Britain, where hundreds of thousands of full-time jobs have disappeared over the last ten years.

His astonishing turnaround is certain to provoke more outrage against ‘fat-cat’ bosses, who have often used huge payroll savings to justify big salary rises for themselves.

‘Downsizing’ became a boardroom buzzword, with directors proudly telling shareholders that they were able to  pay higher dividends through redundancy-related cost-savings. The slick  term was more acceptable than talking of throwing people out of work.

Middle England has been worst hit, with thousands of white-collar jobs axed. High street banks have between them got rid of 90,000 staff since 1989. Downsizing has created a climate of insecurity which many blame for the still sluggish economic recovery. And the Government has lost millions of pounds in tax from workers axed from previously labour-intensive industries.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Roach, chief economist at the investment bank Morgan Stanley on Wall Street, announced his conversion in a memo to his firm’s clients.

He confessed he had now concluded that relentless cost-cutting was bad for business. ‘If you compete by building, you have a future. If you compete by cutting, you don’t’,’ the contrite guru said.

‘For years I have extolled the virtues of America’s productivity-led recovery. While I think it’s safe to say that such a scenario has become the new mantra for U.S. businesses in the 1990s, I must confess that I’m now having second thoughts.”

And he warned of a worker backlash ‘not on the shopfloor, but in the polling booths’.

That forecast was echoed by TUC boss John Monks yesterday.

He said: ‘Downsizing has done more than any other single business strategy to create the deep insecurity felt in Britain.

‘I hope this will herald a re-think in Britain’s boardrooms. Long-term success comes from steady investment and skilled, motivated staff.”

Around 38 per cent of Britain’s workforce – nearly ten million people – are now not in full-time permanent jobs. They are either in part-time or temporary work, or self-employed.

The main full-time job creation thrust has come from small firms, employing 20 staff or fewer. They have taken on 2.5 million extra workers in ten years.

Big retail chains have also taken on more workers. Tesco recently announced it was recruiting 4,500 to pack bags and generally assist shoppers. Last month it revealed record profits.

Late payment is still a problem for 45 percent of small and medium businesses.

The average time taken to be paid has risen from 52.8 days in 1994 to 53.2 this year, according to a survey by the Confederation of British Industry and accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand.’

Ha-Joon Chang describes in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, how downsizing has literally driven firms bankrupt. They cut back their staff and plant so much in order to boost management pay and shareholder dividends beyond the point where they were economically viable. He argues that the most durable firms tend to be those where the state also has a stake in the firm, and so in maintaining it, or where the workers are also strongly involved in its management. Chang’s not anti-capitalist, but he states that shareholders are fickle – the moment they think a firm is no longer as profitable as another company, or is in trouble, they’ll sell their shares and go elsewhere.

Despite this attack on downsizing’s credibility and the loss of government revenue it has created, job insecurity has increased massively to the point where it is normal. Blair and Gordon Brown are as responsible for this as the Tories, as they accepted the neoliberal, Thatcherite dogma that the labour market had to be fluid and flexible. Which means that firms should find it easy to lay off staff and their should always be a supply of cheap workers waiting to be taken on.

Thatcherism has been a disaster. This clipping from a quarter of a century ago shows one of its central doctrines was recognised as such by the man who invented it even them. But it’s kept the rich richer, and the poor poorer, and so despite articles like this, it’s still being pushed.

And the result is a Britain of despair and poverty where working families, never mind the unemployed and disabled, are dying of starvation or forced to use food banks.

 

Proof From 2006 of How Out Touch Graun Hacks Were Even Then

I found this fine quote from the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee in the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ section of Private Eye, 20th January – 2 February 2006. It’s an rosily optimistic paragraph in which she raves about how much better everything is now. She said

Let’s get one thing clear. This is the golden age – so far. There has never been a better time to be alive in Britain than today, no generation more blessed, never such opportunity for so many. And things are getting better all the time, horizons widening, education spreading, everyone living longer, healthier, safer lives. Unimaginable luxuries are now standard – mobile phones sending pictures everywhere, accessing the universe on the internet and iPods with all the world’s music in your ear.

This obviously has aged terribly. Toybee was writing during the glow of the Blair administration, and was obviously fatally impressed with how his ‘centrism’ – by which he meant Thatcherism – was going to improve the country. She couldn’t be expected to have predicted the banker’s crash two years later, nor the austerity which has created mass poverty after the return of the Tories. But there were signs that all was not fine and dandy, even then.

At roughly the same time she was spouting this, Blair and Mandelson were introducing tuition fees, which has burdened Britain’s students with mountains of debt they can’t shake off. They were much lower than they are now, £3,000 per year as opposed to the £9,000 or over. But this was harming students and it was harming universities, as courses which relied on expensive technical equipment, like archaeology with its geophysics technology, suddenly found they had to make savings.

Blair also introduced the wretched ‘fitness for work’ tests, taken over at the advice of American health insurance fraudsters Unum, who had also been advising Peter Lilley. It was also under Blair that food banks were introduced. This was limited to illegal immigrants, who were denied welfare benefits due to their status. But under the Tories it has been massively expanded.

Blair was also a busy bee continuing the Tories piecemeal privatisation of the NHS. Again, his administration, like that of the Tories, was stuffed with advisors and senior staff from private healthcare companies. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted to reduce the NHS to a kitemark on services provided by the private sector. And in industry generally, privatisation and deregulation was in order, with private sector advisors, including company CEOs given important positions on the regulatory bodies. George Monbiot describes this highly pernicious influence in his book Captive State.

It was also under Blair that the Tories harsh ideology towards benefit claimants generally continued. The process of claiming benefit was to be made so humiliating in order to deliberately deter people from signing on. And it worked. I personally know people, who didn’t sign on despite the fact that they were jobless, because of the degradation they experience in the Jobcentre.

As for the endless opportunities she saw, Adam Curtis provided ample evidence in one of his documentaries – I think it was All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace – that thanks to Blair’s embrace of tick box questionnaires and general social policies, social mobility had actually stopped.

Things weren’t getting better for ordinary people. And ordinary people knew it, that’s why they started leaving the Labour party in droves. The Labour vote actually went down under Blair’s leadership. He still won over the Tories, because people despised them even more. But in terms of popularity, he was much less popular than Corbyn, although the latter’s was destroyed at the last election by the massive press smear campaign. Of which the Guardian was an enthusiastic participant.

But I dare say everything was looking grand for highly paid media types like Toynbee, living in the metropolitan bubble. And her views expressed above show how it is that the Guardian is full of right-wing Thatchers backing Starmer’s purges, all in the name of continuing the Thatcherite project introduced by Blair.

She raves about Blair’s reign as a golden age. But as the writers of the Roman empire knew, the golden age gave way to that iron and rust. Just as it has done in England, due partly to Blair.

Toynbee and the rest of the Guardian were out of touch even then, and their views have become even more divergent from reality. The rag’s in crisis. And as I wrote the other day, I have no sympathy.

If You Support Black Lives Matter, Condemn China’s Genocide of the Uighurs

In case you’ve missed the news over the last couple of days, relations between China and Britain are strained due to mainland China’s insistence in suppressing democracy in Hong Kong, and the genocide of Uighur people of Xinjiang. Their only crime is to be a separate people, whose native language is related to Turkish and their traditional religion is Islam. Xinjiang is a region rich in natural resources, such as coal and iron. According to the Financial Times back in the 1990s, it was always a border region with a high degree of independence, if not actually a separate state, under the Chinese Empire. Then came the Chinese revolution and the mass influx of majority Han Chinese to exploit and develop these resources for the benefit of China. The Uighurs were and are becoming a minority in their own region. The result was increasing demands for separatism.

The War on Terror

The Chinese started to crack down on these demands in the early parts of this century, spuriously claiming they were part of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’. For nearly two decades now newspapers and news reports have been telling anyone who will listen about how far this persecution has moved into full on genocide. The Uighurs are formally forbidden from speaking their own language and practising their traditional culture. Their homes are monitored. If they break these laws, they are interned and brutalised in concentration camps. The I reported last week that the regime had engaged in the mass sterilization of Uighur women.

The UN Law on Genocide

This is real Nazism. I believe the UN resolution against genocide also includes forcible attempts to deprive a people of their culture and heritage. As for the sterilisation, this was the Nazi policy towards recidivist criminals, the insane and chronic alcoholics, who were also interned in camps. This preceded the extermination of the disabled, Jews and Gypsies by gassing, the disabled as part of the Aktion T4 programme. The Chinese haven’t moved on to that. Yet.

China’s Uighur Policy and European Extermination of Indigenous Peoples

These policies are also extremely similar to those the European powers adopted to the indigenous peoples of their expanding empires. It began with the extermination of the Amerindian peoples of the Caribbean and the dispossession of the indigenous peoples of the New World. In America and Canada indigenous Americans were placed in boarding schools to deprive them of their own culture in order to mould them into modern American and Canadian citizens. There is also bitterness and controversy surrounding the Spanish missions in the American west, which did the same in order to convert them to Christianity. Many of the children and people thus incarcerated died of starvation, brutal maltreatment and disease. Over in the Pacific, there was the genocide of the Aboriginal peoples and the scandal of the lost generation, in which mixed race children were removed from their Aboriginal families and placed with Whites. And again, indigenous children were also placed in boarding schools to stop them speaking their complex native languages and deprive them of their culture. All in the name of progress.

During the Mao Mao rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s, tens of thousands of innocent Black Kenyans were killed, imprisoned, tortured and mutilated in what has been described by a book of that name as ‘Africa’s Secret Gulags’. Aaron Bastani said in his piece attacking David Starkey’s views on race and the Empire with Michael Walker, posted on YouTube, that the White colonists were also considering and demanding their outright extermination. I think he’s speaking from experience, family if not personal as he’s too young to have experienced it himself.

And before all this started, we imposed similar laws in Ireland in the 16th century in order to eradicate that country’s Gaelic culture. Similar laws came into effect after the defeat of the 1745 rebellion, despite the fact that many Scottish clans actually joined the British in fighting the Young Pretender. And Welsh Nationalists keenly remember how the speaking of Welsh was punished in schools, with wooden notices saying ‘Welsh Not’ hung about the necks of children who persisted in using the oldest written language of the British Isles.

History of Chinese racism

There’s been a nasty strain of racism in Chinese culture for a long time. The Middle Kingdom was isolated from the rest of the world, and dominated the other nations in its region. It led the world for so long, that its defeat in the Opium Wars and then occupation by the European empires during the Boxer rebellion was a severe psychological shock, and has produced feeling of humiliation and resentment that have not dissipated to the present day. Europeans, initially confined to mercantile ghettos in a limited number of ports trading with the West, were viewed as almost alien beings. There’s a Chinese drawing from the 19th century of a western sailor, who is drawn as some kind of hairy anthropoid with a huge beak of a nose, wreathed in tobacco fumes like the smoke from some hellish demon. It’s the counterpart of western caricatures of other non-western races. The ‘Yellow Peril’ scares that spread through Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which claimed the Chinese wanted to invade the West and conquer the world actually had some basis in reality. They came ultimately from a small number of anti-western texts, although their significance was wildly and grotesquely exaggerated by racists, thus laying the foundations for the Fascist and imperialist horrors of the 20th century. I also understand that there are ideologies of Chinese racial uniqueness based on the ancient fossil finds of pre-human hominid races, like Peking Man. Chairman Mao, a man who did his best to wreck his nation’s people, history and traditional culture, was carefully anti-racist. He saw the Chinese as part of the global community of non-White races, referring to them as ‘we Coloureds’. But nearly a decade after his death, there was an anti-Black riot in one of the Chinese cities, which was reported in the Observer c. 1984/5.

19th Century Chinese Drawing of European Sailor

And with the emergence of the Coronavirus has come other forms of anti-Black prejudice and discrimination in China. The extreme Right-wing blogger, Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, put up a video about this on his vlog. It told how Black native English speakers are refused jobs teaching the language in China, because they prefer Whites. Blacks have also been refused entry to restaurants on the wholly mistaken grounds that they are more vulnerable to Coronavirus than those with paler skin. If they are admitted, they may be isolated from other guests and the area specially cleaned afterwards. Sargon wondered why no ‘SJWs’ were campaigning against this racism. Part of the answer, as Emma Maltby wrote in the I last Thursday/Friday, is that they don’t want to be deliberately distracted against their goal of combating western racism. But it is a very good question, as China is now fully integrated into the global capitalist economy. Hope Not Hate has compiled a petition, which they are asking people to sign, against buying goods from multinational companies, like Adidas, Puma, Fila, BMW and Jaguar, made from Uighur slave labour. I have absolutely no problem signing it, because the industrial use of slave labour was exactly what Stalin and the Nazis did. Under the purges, industrial combines gave the KGB lists of the type of workers they needed, and the KGB dutifully arrested them as capitalist spies and saboteurs, to work as slaves in the Gulags. The SS had a subsidiary company, staffed with Jewish artisans and craftsmen, producing luxury goods for the Nazi elite. They even brought out a catalogue. And it is notorious that America continued trading with Nazi Germany, with the banks lending them credit, even after their persecution of the Jews was well known. If we continue buying Chinese goods made using forced Uighur slave labour, we are doing exactly the same.

I am not remotely trying to demonise the Chinese as a people. I know some really great Chinese people here in Bristol and the West Country, who are vital members of the community running some of our local stores. I knew one lady who was an opera signer, or at least opera trained. I am merely stating that China, like very many nations, also has its racism and that in the case of the Uighurs it has become little short of Nazism.

Mencius – Ancient Chinese Anti-Racist/ anti-Nationalist

Way back in Chinese history there were a number of competing philosophical schools. Confucianism is the best known as it was ultimately victorious, becoming the ideology of the Chinese empire. The worst of these was Legalism, an ideology that has been compared to modern fascism in that it did believe that might was right and the rulers should have absolute power. But there was also Mencianism. Mencius, or to give him his real, Chinese name, Meng-tse, was an altogether gentler, more idealistic soul. While Confucius believed that one’s primary love should be for the country of one’s birth, Mencius argued that one should love all the world’s people’s equally. You could imagine the great sage mixing easily as a respected figure among the hippies of the ’60s.

Now as the Uighurs are being ground down and exterminated by the Chinese authorities, we need less Legalism, less racism, less totalitarianism and far more Mencianism.

And Nazism needs to be fought wherever it is, whether in Europe, America or China.

Hope Not Hate, the anti-racism organisation, has an entire section devoted to the genocide of the Uighurs, including videos of the concentration camps. It’s at:

What’s happening in Xinjiang?

It has this section on the western brands exploiting Uighur slave labour.

Brands of shame

Fighting Racism Means Restoring the Welfare State

One of the most important things I learned when I was studying Geography for ‘A’ level nearly forty years ago was that poverty leads to political extremism. Part of the course was on the Third World, although I now gather that term, coined by Gandhi, is now out of favour. It was fascinating. We were taught that the countries of the Developing World varied in their levels of economic development and that many of their problems stemmed from the neocolonial system put in place when the European imperial power granted their independence. In return for their political freedom, the former colonies were required to confine themselves to primary industry – mining and agriculture. They were forced into a relationship with their former masters in which they were to trade their agricultural and mineral products for finished European goods. Punitive tariffs were imposed on industrial goods produced by these nations. They are therefore prevented from developing their own manufacturing industries and diversifying their economies. And as the primary resources they export to the global north are produced by a large number of countries, competition works against them. If one country tries to raise the price of copra, for example, the developed countries can simply find another nation willing to supply it at a lower cost. And so the Developing World is kept poor. And that poverty will drive people to political extremism – Communism and Fascism.

Poverty, Economic and Political Crisis and the Rise of Fascism

The same forces were at work behind the rise of Fascism in Europe. Part of the impetus behind the formation of Italian Fascism and German Nazism was frustration at the international settlement at the end of the First World War. Italy was angered by the great powers’ refusal to grant it the territories it claimed, like the Yugoslavian island of Fiume. Germany was humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles and the imposition of crippling reparations. The new democratic system in both countries was unstable. The Nazis made their first electoral breakthrough as the champions of the small farmers of Schleswig-Holstein in the 1920s. But arguable what gave them the greatest spur to power was the 1929 Wall Street crash and the massive global recession this caused. Combined with the breakdown of the ruling Weimar coalition between the Catholic Centre Party, the German  Social Democrats – the rough equivalent of the British Labour Party and the two Liberal parties – the crisis boosted Nazism as a mass movement and allowed President Hindenberg, then ruling by decree, to consider giving them a place in power in order to break the political deadlock. He did, and the result was the twelve years of horror of the Third Reich. Faced with rising unemployment, national humiliation and social and political chaos, millions of people were attracted by the Nazis denunciation of international capitalism and Marxist Communism and Socialism, which they blamed on the Jews.

The Collapse of Louisiana Oil Industry and the Witchcraft Scare

Sociologists and folklorists critically examining the witchcraft scare of the 1990s also noticed the role poverty and wealth inequalities have in creating social panics and the persecution of outsider groups. From the ’70s onwards a myth had developed that there existed in society multigenerational Satanic groups practising child abuse and infant sacrifice. A critical investigation by the British government over here – the Fontaine Report – and the FBI over the Pond found absolutely no evidence that these sects ever existed. But large numbers of people uncritically believed in them. As this belief spread, innocent people were accused of membership of such cults and their mythical atrocities. As the American folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand pointed out, this witch hunt emerged and spread at a time when the gap between rich and poor in America was increasing. One of the places hit by the scare was Louisiana. Louisiana had a strong oil industry, and the state levied a tax on its profits to subsidize local housing. This was fine until the industry went into recession. Suddenly ordinary, hard-working Louisianans found they could no longer afford their mortgages. There were cases where the banks were simply posted the keys to properties as their former owners fled elsewhere. With poverty and insecurity rising, people started looking round for a scapegoat. And they found it in these mythical Satanic conspiracies and in real, New Age neo-Pagan religions, which they identified with them.

1990s Prosperity and Positive Challenges to Affirmative Action

It’s a truism that poverty creates social and racial conflict, as different groups fight over scarce resources. There was a period in the 1990s when it looked like racism was well on the wane in America, Britain and Europe. Blacks were still at the bottom of American society, but some Blacks were doing well, and challenging stereotypes and the need for affirmative action. The Financial Times approvingly reported a self-portrait by a Black American artist, in which he pointedly exaggerated his ‘negrotic’ features in order to make the point that these didn’t define him. There were cases of Black college professors turning down promotion to senior, prestigious positions at their seats of learning because they didn’t want people to think that they hadn’t earned them through their own merits. They hated the idea that they were just being given these places because of their colour. Whites further down the social scale were also challenging the need for affirmative action in a different way, which didn’t involve racist abuse and violence. The FT reported that four American firemen had changed their names to Hispanic monickers, as this was the only way they believed they could get promotion under a system designed to give preference to ethnic minorities. Back in Blighty, some TV critics naively applauded the lack of racism in a series of Celebrity Big Brother, before that all shattered as Jade Goody and one of her friends racially bullied Indian supermodel and film star Shilpa Shetty. Sociological studies revealed that people’s accent was more important than their race in terms of social identity and acceptance. And then when Barack Obama won the American election in 2008, the chattering classes around the world hailed this as the inauguration of a new, post-racial America. But wiser voices reminded the world that the terrible racial inequalities remained.

Austerity, Poverty, and the Destruction of the Welfare State Behind Growth in Racism

All this has been shattered with the imposition of austerity following the banking crash, and the increasing impoverishment of working people across the world. The crash has allowed Conservative government to cut spending on welfare programmes, force through even more privatisations and cuts, and freeze and slash workers’ pay. At the same time, the top 1 per cent has become even more incredibly wealth through massively increased profits and tax cuts.

One of the many great speakers at last Saturday’s Arise Festival on Zoom – I think it was Richard Burgon, but I’m not sure – remarked that talking to people in the north, he found that they weren’t racist. They didn’t hate Blacks and ethnic minorities. But they were worried about access to jobs, opportunities and housing. He made the point that we need to restore these, to fight for all working people and not allow the Tories to divide us. He’s right. If you read rags like the Scum, the Heil and the Depress, the line they take is of virtuous Whites being deprived of employment and housing by undeserving immigrants. Who also sponge off the state on benefits, like the White unemployed the Tories also despise. But they’re obviously not going to tell the world that they are responsible for the shortage of jobs, the insecure conditions for those, who are lucky to have them, and that the shortage of affordable housing is due to them selling off the council houses and defining ‘affordable’ in such a way that such homes are still out of the pocket of many ordinary people. Even if enough of them are built by companies eager to serve the wealthy.

Austerity and Black Lives Matter

It’s austerity that has given urgency to the Black Lives Matter movement. Blacks and some other ethnic minorities have been acutely affected by austerity, as they were already at the bottom of society. If prosperity had continued, if the banking crash had not happened and austerity not imposed, I don’t believe that BLM would have received the wave of global support it has. Blacks would still have occupied the lowest rung of the social hierarchy, but conditions would not have been so bad that they have become a crisis.

White Trump Voters Whites Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action

At the same time, some disadvantaged Whites would not have given their votes to Donald Trump. While Trump is a grotty racist himself, who has surrounded himself with White supremacists and members of the Alt Right, some sociologists have counselled against accusing all of his supporters as such. Years ago Democracy Now’s anchorwoman, Amy Goodman, interviewed a female academic who had done a sociological survey of Conservative White Trump supporters. She found that they weren’t racist. But they did feel that they were being denied the jobs and opportunities they deserved through unfair preference given to other ethnic groups. She likened their mentality to people in a queue for something. Waiting at their place in line, they were annoyed by others pushing in ahead of them. And this was made worse when the queue jumpers responded to their complaints by accusing them of racism. I think the sociologist herself was politically liberal, but she stated that the Conservatives Whites she’d studied should not automatically be called racist and it was dangerous to do so.

Conclusion

It’s clear from all this that if we really want to tackle racism, we need to restore jobs, proper wages, trade union power, real affordable and council housing, and a proper welfare state. These are desperately needed by all members of the working class. I’ve no doubt that they’re most acutely needed by Blacks, but this certainly isn’t confined to them. Restoring prosperity would bring all the different racial groups that make up the working class together, and it would stop the resentment that leads to racial conflict by one group feeling disadvantaged for the benefit of the others.

 

Taxpayers’ money doesn’t exist and is in the hands of the receivers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/07/2020 - 5:00pm in

Ministers, government and mainstream media, insist on calling government money taxpayers’ money. Indeed everyone ‘knows’ it is taxpayers’ money and that is exactly why the government has to be so careful with it – because it’s not really theirs. So indeed did one Neil Mendoza, who is in charge of distributing the £1.57 billion in... Read more

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