poverty

‘I’: ‘Poor People Getting Sicker’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 10:27pm in

This morning’s I for 21st January 2020 has a piece by Joanna Crow reporting that poor people’s health is getting worse. She writes

Poor people in Britain have worse health than those born a century ago, a University College London study found.

More than 200,000 working age people in England, Wales and Scotland were asked to rate their overall health as part of the General Household Survey for 1979-2011.

The study created three-year “health” snapshots of the generations born between 1920-22 and 1968-70. 

The gaps between the richest and poorest households widened over time, with inequalities in the prevalence of long-term conditions doubling among women and by one-and-a-half times among men.

There should be absolutely no surprise whatsoever about this. Clinical studies have shown across the world that people’s health has deteriorated considerably since the introduction of austerity and the cuts to welfare, including state health provision following the 2008 crash. It’s why we still need to get the Tories out, and elect a leader of the Labour party someone who will actually strengthen the welfare state rather than continue the Thatcherite programme of dismantling it.

Lisa Nandy Praised by the ‘I’ – and the Reasons Are Obvious

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 5:25am in

One of the candidates in the Labour leadership elections is Lisa Nandy. I got the distinct impression that she’s from the Blairite right of the party, and is probably the most right-wing candidate there. She made a speech that was very well received by the I. Next to their report was a piece by one of their hacks, declaring that she was original and tough, but that wasn’t what the Labour party wanted. I’ve forgotten quite what the headline was, but it gave the impression that she was what the Party needed, but not what they’d accept.

And the reason for the hack’s praise was obvious. The article it accompanied, about Nandy and her candidacy, had the title ‘Tax Polluters, Not High-Earners’. I didn’t read on. I didn’t feel I needed to. That made it obvious what Nandy’s position was, and why the I was favouring her. She was a Blairite liberal. She was worried about the environment – an entirely good thing – but was definitely not going to do anything to upset corporate interests and the rich, like actually taxing them. Which means she isn’t going to to do anything to tackle the deep and appalling inequalities of wealth in Britain. She isn’t going to redistribute any of the massive wealth that the rich 1 per cent have accrued in the years of Thatcherism to where it’s need at the bottom of the social pile. Or that’s how it seems. She’ll just make token efforts to tackle poverty, without halting the privatisations, including that of the NHS or the promotion of the heads of corporations and senior executives to positions of government. At least, that was my impression. I may well have misjudged her.

Blair’s Third Way failed, just as neoliberalism and Thatcherism have failed. They’re only kept going because of the lies and spin by the media, including newspapers like the I that are supposedly left-wing. But these papers, and the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites in Labour are just offering the same stale, failed policies.

Thatcherism needs to be junked totally and completely, and the voices clamoring for it in the media should be ignored. We need a return to socialism, and the leadership of someone who will continue the Corbyn project, but will be firmer about defending it and rebutting malicious slurs than he was.

And that person is definitely not Lisa Nandy.

Voter ID and Other Tricks to Stop the Radical Poor from Voting

Mike reported a little while ago that the Tories were going ahead with their plans to demand photographic identification of voters at polling stations before allowing people to cast their votes. This is supposedly to cut down on voting fraud, despite the fact that actual instances are so low they’re negligible. Of course, the people who will find it most difficult to produce such identification will be students and the poor. Which is why the Tories are introducing it.

It’s another trick they’ve learned from the American Republicans, who introduced similar legislation over there. It prevents the poor, students and Blacks – the demographics mostly likely to vote Democrat – from being able to vote. And such tricks to stop working class radicals and Blacks from voting have a long history in America. All the way back to the Populist movement in the 1890s. This was a left-wing movement of America’s rural poor against exploitation by the great landlords. Bhaskar Sankara gives a brief description of it, and its fall, in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

But ferment was growing in rural America. The Populist Movement sprang from the 1870s struggles of indebted farmers in central Texas but soon spread throughout the country. As the price of cotton collapsed and the economy entered a depression in the 1890s, the Populists fervently supported Debs during the Pullman Strike, backed many demands made by labor, and were leading tenant and sharecropper efforts against the crop-lien system. Populist leader Tom Watson challenged white and black farmers to organise across racial lines, telling a crowd, “You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system that beggars both.”

In 1892, the movement formed a national political party around a progressive platform that called for a graduated income tax, nationalised railways, debt relief, and public works to combat unemployment. Planter elites responded with a campaign of electoral fraud and violence, including the lynching of hundreds of organisers, while the Democratic Party came to co-opt much of the movement’s platform in 1896. After the pro-Populist Democrat William Jennings Bryant’s election loss that year, the movement fell apart. Legislative efforts to disenfranchise blacks through poll taxes and biased “literacy tests” were expanded, helping prevent another multi-racial movement from emerging for decades. (pp. 163-4).

That’s the tactics of the Right. Keep whites and blacks attacking each other, so that they don’t unite against the system that’s oppressing both, and bring in laws to disqualify Blacks and the White poor from voting. The Tories also do both. But they haven’t yet started lynching members of the Labour party. So far, that’s been left to the far right. Thomas Mair and his assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox. Then there are the crazed Brexiteers who screamed at Anna Soubry that she was a traitor, and who took a model gibbet to their protests outside parliament, and the Nazi, homophobic thugs who beat up Owen Jones.

Perhaps after the Tories have introduced voter ID and similar legislation, they’ll bring back lynching as well. They’ve encouraged people to beat up the disabled already.

Classic Reply to Criticism of Socialists for Having Communist Supporters and Activists

The right-wing scumbags were after America’s Bernie Sanders last week. Having succeeded in defeating Labour in the elections over here, and Corbyn’s campaign to bring prosperity, dignity and empowerment to the British working class, they’re trying to do the same to America’s working people. They’ve started attacking Bernie’s cause of Medicare for All, whereby American people’s medical bills would be paid by the American state. 40 million people in the Land of the Free can’t afford medical insurance. 40,000 people every year die because they can’t afford medical treatment. In some states, people are hoarding medicines, including those prescribed by vets for animals, because they can’t afford drugs. But the Republicans and their corporate masters once again have started attacking Medicare For All in the interests of keeping the private healthcare companies’ profits high, and America’s working and lower middle class poor and sick. And they’ve also launched a few more personal attacks on Bernie himself. Last week several videos appeared on YouTube claiming that a member of his campaign team was a violent Communist.

I’m not surprised that a Communist would work for Sanders. The American Communist party seems to have a history of joining mainstream left-wing movements. Sometimes its to try and take them over, as Marxist parties have tried to do elsewhere in the West. And sometimes it’s simply to help them in their attempts to improve conditions for working people. In the 1950s and ’60s, I think, a number of Communists were found working for the Democrats.

They tried similar tactics over here with Jeremy Corbyn. Apart from smearing him as a Trotskyite and Stalinist, they also attempted to discredit him through one of his campaign team, Seaumas Milne. Milne really is a Stalinist, who continues to support the old thug. His views on Stalin are genuinely disgusting, but that doesn’t discredit everything else he does. His books and articles tearing modern capitalism to shreds are still excellent. And just because Milne admires the brutal dictator, it doesn’t follow that Corbyn does, and the chance of Milne setting up a similar dictatorship in Britain, even if he wanted to, is absolute zero.

There have been similar attempts to discredit other socialist parties and leaders through their employment of or work with Communists. I’ve been reading Bhaskar Sankara’s superb The Socialist Manifesto. This is his call for radical change in America, and its transformation into a genuinely socialist state in which workers actually manage the companies in which they work, share the profits, and enjoy a welfare state comparable to those of Europe, only rather more expanded. The first few chapters are a history of socialism in various countries from its Marxist roots. This covers the rise of Social Democracy in Germany, Communism in Russia and China, social democracy in Sweden and socialism in America. America has, surprisingly, a very long tradition of socialism and working class parties. But these failed to make it into mainstream politics through factionalism, inept leadership, missed opportunities and violent opposition from the American state and capital. Private corporations hired armed thugs to put down strikes, along with the police and army. The Communist party also contributed to this through its factionalism, its blind obedience to the Comintern line even when this conflicted with the local party’s and American people’s own interests in favour of that of the Soviet state’s, and attacks on rival socialist parties. They caused the collapse of one working class, socialist organisation by infiltrating it in order to turn it into a Communist satellite. At which point everyone else in the organisation left. The Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party did the same thing in Britain in the 1970s when they infiltrated the Anti-Nazi League.

But there also were instances where Communists and reformist socialists attempted to work together. This happened in the Congress of Industrial Organisations, founded in the 1930s by John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers’ union. The CIO had a large rank and file, but needed skilled leaders and organisers, and so drew on those from other socialist organisations. When it was pointed out to him that a large number of them were members of the Communist party, Lewis replied, ‘Who gets the bird? The dog or the hunter?’

Quite.

American Communism’s actually rather interesting, as it saw itself as firmly in the tradition of the American Revolution. And in contrast to the dull, crushing boredom of the Soviet Communist party, it also seems rather fun. The Party had a very strong social side to it, holding youth dances and other social events. It was also very strong on reaching out and defending Black Americans, which explains how Jackie Walker’s parents met. Her mother was a Black civil rights activist, and her father was of Jewish Russian descent. They met at a Communist civil rights event, if I remember properly.

They also revered the American Revolution and were, in their way, as patriotic as other Americans. When the Daughters of the American Revolution forgot their annual commemoration of Paul Revere’s ride, they had a man dress up as an 18th century minuteman and ride down Broadway in New York. They proclaimed ‘The DAR forgets, but the Communist party remembers!’ Another of their slogans was ‘Communism is 20th Century Americanism!’

Bernie Sanders is very far from being a Communist. His views are far more like those of mainstream European social democrats. There isn’t much about nationalisation in his book, Our Revolution, though he does favour worker cooperatives. He also doesn’t want to nationalise American healthcare. He just wants the government to pay people’s medical bills – hardly a radical suggestion from the European perspective. The Germans have had it since Bismarck’s Socialist Laws of 1875. But that, and Bernie’s concern to expand the American welfare state, restore union power and give working people proper employment rights – in effect, to undo forty years of Reaganomic misgovernment – is too much for American capital.

Communism fell in the 1990s. But socialism is alive and reviving. The world as well as America needs Bernie in the White House.

So let’s making Socialism 21st Century Americanism and Britishism!

 

Is It Okay to Copy China?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 1:27am in

How should one think of a nation, institution or company that has pioneered innovation and found solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, but also has aspects we find objectionable, even despicable? How do we balance good and bad? Can we separate the two, or are they inexorably linked? 

More specifically: How do we think about a country that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, has backed and advanced renewable energy technology, and mostly avoided military imperialism, even as it violates the human rights of millions, persecutes minorities, wreaks havoc on the environment and embraces authoritarianism, surveillance, censorship and corruption? If we cheer the good stuff, are we tacitly endorsing the bad? Does it have to be all or nothing? 

With Reasons to be Cheerful we try to present the good stuff. But sometimes the good stuff is mixed in with not-so-good stuff, sometimes even with fairly horrible stuff. I’m going to take China as an example of this dilemma. Watching the Beijing-supported crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, and reading about the brutal Uyghur detention camps in Xinjiang province, one wonders whether it is bad form to highlight even the most indisputably good solutions from China. Like German coal-powered electric car infrastructure, is China good or is it bad? It’s complicated. 

Poverty reduction

China has raised millions out of poverty. The number of Chinese people living in extreme poverty was 88 percent in 1981 and 0.7 percent in 2015. How many people does that amount to? The numbers vary depending on the source, but 500 million would be a very conservative bet. (The World Bank says 800 million and President Xi Jinping says 700 million.)

Credit: Our World in Data / World Bank

Whatever the exact number, it is historic — no other country in the world has been able to do this. Needless to say, achieving it took a LOT of central planning, which can be an advantage when you’re an authoritarian regime. You don’t have to ask permission. You aren’t beholden to voters. 

Some credit for this massive change dates back to the early 1980s when rural poverty was targeted. Land was distributed in more equitable ways and new technologies made farming more efficient. Farmers were no longer serfs toiling on massive collective farms and the efficiency gains meant that fewer folks were needed to run the farms, so many rural folks migrated to the cities where they hoped to find other work. As a result, there emerged a massive source of cheap labor around the urban centers of China. The world took notice.

Various factors beyond just cheap labor seduced the world into making use of all these workers: China’s investments in its transportation and infrastructure, plenty of available energy, a system for efficiently resolving business matters… Even time spent in customs makes a difference — getting stuff in and out of Bangalore takes almost twice as long as it does in Shanghai or Guangzhou. For foreign companies any of these things can be a deciding factor in whether to work with China. 

As time went by Chinese workers became more skilled, and the government began to prioritize high-value industries like green tech, robotics and telecommunications. With these changes, incomes went up. This drove some global companies to seek cheaper workers in places like Vietnam and Indonesia, but it helped many Chinese workers escape the poverty trap. 

The flood of workers into urban centers was a strain, but a government subsidy paid to city residents helped, as did progressive taxation. The effect was that three-quarters of the reduction in world poverty was due to China alone

Migrant workers in Shanghai. Over the last couple of decades millions of Chinese have moved from the countryside to the cities. Credit: Leniners / Flickr

Nations around the world seeking to reduce poverty are looking to China for lessons in how they might do it. But should they? Practically speaking, some of China’s methods would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. For instance, many of those farmers who moved to the city didn’t do so by choice — they were forced there by the government, which effectively decides where folks will live by restricting their social benefits by geography. And China’s rise as an economic superpower has included plenty of pain, including a disregard for the environment, public health and workers’ rights.

Then again, some countries might be willing to accept these faults in exchange for a China-sized economic boom. Who cares about freedom of speech when you don’t have enough to eat? As the cynical saying goes, “Development first, democracy later.”

International power and loans

China invests in a lot of developing countries, building (or supporting via loans) infrastructure like roads, dams, schools and railways. In addition to being key to its plans for economic expansion, these international partnerships are China’s chosen form of “soft power.” But it’s not always clear how much the nations it’s partnering with benefit from the projects. 

The new terminal in Nairobi for the Chinese-built railway that runs between the capital city and Mombasa, which began service in 2017. Credit: Wikipedia

China, for its part, almost always seeks to benefit from these projects in some way. They’re not gifts — China uses them to extract resources, exploit cheap labor, or provide infrastructure for overseas Chinese businesses. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad for the recipient country — not all of this investment is the 21st century version of colonialism. Some of it is much needed by the client nations, who are clamoring for infrastructure that only China appears willing and able to build for them.  

Then again, some of it they don’t need. In recent years, Chinese companies have invested twice as much in Africa as American companies, and more than twice as much as the World Bank and the IMF combined. These projects are often funded by loans from Chinese state banks, which sometimes leave the recipients mired in unaffordable debt. There are shades of the World Bank and IMF here, which often saddled nations in South America and elsewhere with massive debts before forcing them to accept austerity programs. When the loans can‘t be repaid, China has, at times, declared ownership of the port, railroad or airport it just built. 

From the New Yorker:

In Malaysia, which once welcomed a surge of Chinese investment, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has grown concerned about “a new version of colonialism.” Mahathir cancelled Chinese projects worth almost 23 billion dollars, seeking to avoid the fate of Sri Lanka, which defaulted on heavy Chinese loans and eventually agreed to give Beijing control of a major seaport for 99 years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits South Africa in 2015. China has largely replaced the U.S. as Africa’s development leader. Credit: Government of South Africa

In general, economic partnerships like these are China’s way of reaching out to the world. As a burgeoning superpower, China knows it needs to make long term friends if it is to operate in those countries …and a more prosperous country eventually becomes a future trading partner. China wants some of their resources, to be sure, and it wants to sell Chinese goods. They see a potentially huge market. But there’s usually a power imbalance involved in these partnerships that gives China the upper hand. The trouble arises when China uses that advantage to exploit the recipient country.

The U.S. once famously invested in European countries this way, too. After World War II, the Marshall Plan was a way to woo Europeans who might have tilted towards Russia and communism. It also made trading partners of nations whose economies had been decimated. It worked. Today, the U.S. meddles in a lot of countries, overtly and covertly, often militarily, and often ends up both leaving a mess and making enemies as the recent release of communications within the U.S. military in Afghanistan show.

Climate and carbon

The environment and climate change is another area in which China is a study in contrasts, having wrought devastating destruction while pointing the way toward a greener future.

Even as it produces one-quarter of the world’s harmful emissions, China has taken huge steps to reduce its carbon footprint. Its state-owned enterprises have invested heavily in solar, surpassing their 2020 goal in 2017. The country appears to be on the verge of finally implementing the world’s largest national carbon market, covering 1,700 energy-related companies, which it launched in 2017 with the help of the Environmental Defense Fund. It’s on track to meet the emissions limits stipulated by the Paris Agreement. 

A panda-shaped solar farm in Datong, China. Credit: EPA

China is quite serious about this. As mentioned earlier, many nations and people around the world look to what China is doing as an example to follow, even if its faults are well publicized. These countries also want to raise their people out of poverty and become a force in the world. But will they be drawn to emulate the totalitarian and rapacious side of the Chinese state?

China, as the Western press loves to point out, has a horrendous human rights record. The Uyghur muslim population in western China is gradually being decimated. More than a million are in what are essentially concentration camps working as forced labor. (China denies this, but the atrocities are well documented.) 

Demonstrators protest China’s imprisonment of its Uighur Muslim population. Credit: Malcolm Brown / Flickr

But the Western capitalists are complicit in this, as well. From an op-ed by artist Ai Weiwei in the New York Times:

Westerners may think of Xinjiang as a distant and mysterious place, but in some ways it is not very exotic. Multinational corporations including Volkswagen, Siemens, Unilever and Nestlé have factories there. Supply chains for Muji and Uniqlo depend on Xinjiang, and companies such as H & M, Esprit and Adidas use Xinjiang cotton.

Might a “culturally different” nonwhite labor force play a role? People in no need of control because a harsh Communist government is already doing that work? In Xinjiang, as elsewhere in China, bosses from East and West have exchanged benefits, formed common interests and have even come to share some values. The chief executive of Volkswagen, which leads China in car sales, was recently asked for the company’s comment on the concentration camps in Xinjiang. He answered that VW knew nothing of such things, but the recent Xinjiang papers show otherwise. VW not only knew of the camps but signaled its readiness to go along.

The conundrum

So, how do we morally deal with situations like this? (And there are lots of them — China is just a giant example.) The world isn’t black and while — it’s vast and complicated. There is, one hopes, room for nuance, or there should be.

Pharmaceutical companies, for example, create medicines that save lives, but they also engage in ruthless predatory practices and have tacitly encouraged addiction. One in particular, the Sackler family, has profited from America’s opioid crisis. That same family also famously supports museums and the arts. Many of those arts institutions are now refusing Sackler money — in essence, they are saying that the family’s bad deeds are so egregious that they render their good ones irredeemable.  

Many arts institutions supported by the Sackler family have given back their funds. Credit: Serpentine Gallery

Social media and other forms of digital technology are amazing and often helpful, but they also, by systemic design, foster extremism, depression, alienation and addiction. Democracy is at risk. Craziness is on the rise. Data, AI and algorithms can be used to correct injustices, but also to exacerbate them. They can promote efficient and enlightened social and health initiatives, or reinforce existing biases and increase inequality. Bill Gates, one of the visionaries who brought us these wonders, is mostly viewed now for the good work his foundation does, and not as the rapacious monopolist he once was. Sometimes the bad simply gets forgotten. We forget the sordid past, or see what we want to see. 

For proof, look no further than the rise of the industrialized Western world, which occurred in very similar fashion to the way China’s rise is occurring now. A century ago, America and Europe ignored human rights, environmental concerns and basic safety protocols in their relentless pursuit of development. Economies were built on slavery and exploitation. Today, China is doing something similar, as are many other developed countries. There are lots of double-edged swords. How do we know which ones to pick up and which to leave alone? Can we separate the positive from the negative, or are they bundled too tightly together?

How shall we be?

As individuals and as a society, we like things to be simple, black and white, bad and good. We often evaluate situations as if they could be put on utilitarian scales, the good on one side and the bad on the other, to see whether more people are being helped than hurt. Does good cancel out bad? Can we use this utilitarian calculus, or is it flawed?

Credit: Flickr

It seems to me that attempting to itemize the positive and negative on a virtual scale is not really the way to go. Good does not really cancel out bad. That logic is close to the practices of the late Medieval Catholic Church, which sold “indulgences” (heavenly “get out of jail free” cards) to wealthy individuals.

Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine no karma, no judgment by outside forces. It’s just us, humanity, who collectively assign value. We are social animals, and cooperation and other kinds of beneficial and prosocial behaviors are, sometimes surprisingly, part of our nature. Those parts should be encouraged. By looking at longer range effects and including externalities in the cost of doing business, by making repercussion part of the true costs of policies and business, we become stewards of our common humanity. 

It’s tricky, though. To much of the world, especially the developing world, China’s economic success serves as a practical example to emulate. And certain parts of what they have done  — lifting millions out of poverty, investing in renewable energy, eschewing military conflict (for now) — can and perhaps should be emulated. One doesn’t need to have a repressive authoritarian structure to learn from those practices. Can we learn from the best aspects of China’s economic, environmental and soft power initiatives and separate them from the authoritarianism? Should we? 

Can that distinction and separation be made? Can we extricate the good from the bad? Is that more than our brains can handle? Can we be less absolutist and take a deep breath and accept more nuance?

Atypically, this piece poses a question rather than pointing the way toward a solution. I’m asking myself if maybe I need to reorient my thinking, embrace more nuance, and accept that some solutions come with caveats.

The post Is It Okay to Copy China? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Nonviolent Protest Groups Placed on Anti-Terrorism List

Last week it was revealed by the Groaniad that the environmentalist group, Extinction Rebellion, had been put on a list of extremist organisations, whose sympathisers should be treated by the Prevent programme. Extinction Rebellion are, in my view, a royal pain, whose disruptive antics are more likely to make them lose popular support but they certainly aren’t violent and do keep within the law. For example, in one of their protests in Bristol last autumn, they stopped the traffic for short periods and then let some cars through before stopping the traffic again. It was a nuisance, which is what the group intended, and no doubt infuriating to those inconvenienced by it. But they kept within the law. They therefore don’t deserve to be put on an anti-terrorism watch list with real violent extremist organisations like Islamist and White fascist terror groups such as the banned neo-Nazi group, National Action.

But Extinction Rebellion aren’t the only nonviolent protest group to be put on this wretched list. Zelo Street put up a piece yesterday revealing that the list also includes Greenpeace, the campaigners against sea pollution, Sea Shepherd, PETA, Stop the Badger Cull, Stop the War, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, CND, various anti-Fascist and anti-racist groups, as well as an anti-police surveillance group, campaigners against airport expansion, and Communist and Socialist parties.

I can sort of understand why Greenpeace is on the list. They also organise protests and peaceful occupations, and I remember how, during the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign, their ship, the Rainbow Warrior, used to come between whalers and their prey. I also remember how, in the 1980s, the French secret service bombed it when it was in port in New Zealand, because the evil peaceful hippies had dared to protest against their nuclear tests in the Pacific. From this, and their inclusion on this wretched list, it seems they’re more likely to be victims of state violence than the perpetrators of violence themselves.

Greenpeace’s John Sauven said

“Tarring environmental campaigners and terrorist organisations with the same brush is not going to help fight terrorism … It will only harm the reputation of hard-working police officers … How can we possibly teach children about the devastation caused by the climate emergency while at the same implying that those trying to stop it are extremists?”

And Prevent’s independent reviewer, Alex Carlile, said:

“The Prevent strategy is meant to deal with violent extremism, with terrorism, and XR are not violent terrorists. They are disruptive campaigners”.

Zelo Street commented that this was all very 1960s establishment paranoia. Which it is. You wonder if the list also includes anyone, who gave the list’s compilers a funny look once. And whether they’re going to follow the example of Constable Savage in the Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch and arrest gentlemen of colour for wandering around during the hours of darkness wearing a loud shirt. This is a joke, but the list represents are real danger. It criminalises any kind of protest, even when its peaceful. About a decade ago, for example, Stop the War held a protest in Bristol city centre. They were out there with their banners and trestle tables, chanting and speaking. Their material, for what I could see where I was, simply pointed out that the invasion of Iraq had claimed 200,000 lives. They were on the pavement, as I recall, didn’t disrupt the traffic and didn’t start a fight with anyone.

As for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, this is a knee-jerk attempt to link pro-Palestinian activism with terrorism. But wanting the Palestinians to be given their own land or to enjoy equal rights with Israelis in a modern, ethnically and religious diverse and tolerant state, does not equate with sympathy for terrorism or terrorism itself. Tony Greenstein, Asa Winstanley and Jackie Walker are also pro-Palestinian activists. But as far as I know, they’re all peaceful, nonviolent people. Walker’s a granny in her early 60’s, for heaven’s sake. They’re all far more likely to be the victims of violence than ever initiate it. In fact, Tony was physically assaulted in an unprovoked attack by an irate Israeli, while one woman from one of the pro-Israel organisations was caught on camera saying how she thought she could ‘take’ Jackie.

I realise the Stop the Badger Cull people have also physically tried to stop the government killing badgers, but this is again disruption, not violence. And one of those against the cull is Brian May, astrophysicist and rock legend. Apart from producing some of the most awesome music with Freddy Mercury and the rest of Queen, and appearing on pop science programmes with Dara O’Brien showing people round the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, he has not, not ever, been involved in political violence.

This shows you how ludicrous the list is. But it’s also deeply sinister, as by recommending that supporters of these organisations as well as real terrorist groups should be dealt with by Prevent, it defines them as a kind of thoughtcrime. Their members are to be rounded up and reeducated. Which is itself the attitude and method of suppression of totalitarian states.

Zelo Street pointed the finger for this monstrous shambles at Priti Patel. As current Home Secretary, she’s ultimately responsible for it. The Street wanted to know whether she knew about it and when? And if she didn’t, what’s she doing holding the job? But there’s been no answer so far. And a police spokesperson said it was unhelpful and misleading to suggest the nonviolent groups on the list had been smeared.

The Street said it was time for Patel to get her house in order, but warned its readers not to bet on it. No, you shouldn’t. This is an attempt to criminalise non-violent protest against capitalism and the actions of the authorities and British state. It’s the same attitude that informed the British secret state’s attempts to disrupt and destroy similar and sometimes the same protest movements in the 70s and 80s, like CND. And it will get worse. A few years ago Counterpunch published a piece reporting that the American armed services and police were expecting violent outbreaks and domestic terrorism in the 2030s as the poverty caused by neoliberalism increased. They were therefore devising new methods of militarised policing to combat this. We can expect similar repressive measures over this side of the Atlantic as well.

This list is a real threat to freedom of conscience, peaceful protest and action. And the ultimate responsibility for it is the Tories. Who have always been on the side of big business against the rest of society, and particularly the poor and disadvantaged.

They’re criminalising those, who seek peaceful means to fight back.

Austerity and Prison Violence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/01/2020 - 11:37pm in

A week or so ago Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on the death of a disabled man in prison. From what I remember, like many such instances the man’s own special needs had been ignored and he was actually in prison for a minor offence. At least, one that should not merit his murder. Mike connected this to the Tories’ ongoing campaign of mass murder against the disabled.

In fact, violence, including self-harm, has risen massive in British jails since the Tories launched their wretched austerity. Joe Sim has authored an entire chapter on it in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. Sim has his own particular view of the crisis. He considers that prison violence hasn’t itself been created by austerity. It’s always been there, and is part of society’s brutal maltreatment of the poor and marginalised. But it has been massively intensified by the Tories’ cuts.

The stats are horrifying. Between 2011 and 2016, sexual assaults almost doubled. In 2014-15 there were over 400 serious incidents requiring the intervention of the specialist National Tactical Response Group, In 2015 an average of 160 fires were started each month. Self-harm rose by 40 per cent in two years, so that in 2015, 32,313 incidents were recorded.

321 died in the year to June 2016, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. 105 of these were self-inflicted, a rise of 28 per cent. Deaths by natural causes rose by 26 per cent to 186. Between January 2010 and December 2016, 1637 prisoners died, 542 of which were self-inflicted.

In 2015-15 there were nearly 5000 assaults and acts of violence against the different groups of people working in prisons. These included 423 on prison officers below the rank of principal officer, 828 on nursing auxiliaries and assistants, 640 on nurses, 535 on care workers, and 423 on welfare and housing associate professionals.

Sim states that to many commentators, including the media, Prison Officers’ Association and mainstream politicians, the cause of this increased violence are the cuts to the prison budget. These amounted to £900 million between 2011 and 2015, or 24 per cent of its overall budget. The Prison Reform Trust said that it was

[n]o mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff.

I’m not disputing that very many of those incarcerated are guilty of the most heinous offences, and fully deserve their incarceration and punishment. But it is very clear that austerity has resulted in a massive deterioration in conditions which fueling violence in prisons against staff and prisoners. There’s obviously a long and complicated debate about the purposes of prison – to punish, reform, or even both – but it is clear that neither staff nor prisoners deserve the maltreatment and violence the cuts have generated.

This isn’t reformative. It isn’t proper punishment. It is carnage.

But the Tories just love killing and death when it’s directed against the poor and powerless.

Sargon of Gasbag Blames Plato for SJWs

Okay, I know, I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. I watched another of Sargon of Akkad’s wretched videos. In my defence I can only say that it is important to understand the ideas of the right and extreme right, and what they’re telling people about the left. And some of Sargon’s ideas are so bizarre that there’s a kind of weird fascination about them. Sargon is, of course, the nom de internet of Carl Benjamin, the Sage of Swindon, who broke UKIP by joining it. The scourge of Communists, feminists and anti-racist activists put up a video in which he claimed that the ancient Greek philosopher Plato was responsible for Social Justice Warriors. That’s the term the right sneeringly uses to refer to all the above, or even simply anyone who believes that the poor, unemployed, disabled and the working class are getting an increasingly raw deal and that the government should do something about it.

Sargon’s Libertarianism

For Sargon, anyone who believes in government intervention and in greater equality for women, ethnic minorities are working people is a Communist. But it’s the definition of Communism as used by the American right, which means anyone with vaguely left-wing views. Barack Obama was actually very moderate in his policies. He’s since come out and said that he considers himself a moderate Republican. But that didn’t stop his right-wing opponents attacking him as an evil Maoist Communist, as well as an atheist Muslim Nazi. Sargon himself is a ‘classical liberal’, which means that he’s a Libertarian who looks back to the early 19th century when governments followed the economic doctrine of laisser faire, so that people could work 18 hours per day in factories or the mines before dying of disease or starvation in a cellar or garret in an overcrowded slum. But Sargon, like all Libertarians and Conservatives, believes that if private industry is released from the chains of government bureaucracy, it will somehow magically produce economic expansion and wealth for all. Even though we’ve Tory privatisation and neoliberalism for forty years, the Conservatives have been in power for the past ten, the economy is collapsing and people are being forced in homelessness, debt and starvation. Most weirdly, Sargon somehow continues to believe he’s on the left. He’s a moderate, you see, unlike the far-right SJWs.

Plato and Aristotle

And he blames Plato for the far left on account of the ancient Greek philosopher’s highly authoritarian political views and his theory of forms. Plato believed that beyond this material world there was another, perfect world of ideal forms, of which the entities in this world were only imperfect shadows. For example, these ideal forms included animals, so that there was an ideal cat, of which real, material cats were imperfect copies. But there were also abstract concepts like justice and beauty, in which the beings in this world also participated and reflected. A beautiful woman, for example, was a woman who corresponded to the perfect ideal of beauty in the intelligible world. SJWs were intolerant, because they were idealists. They had impossibly high ideals of justice, and this made them intolerant. Just as Plato himself was intolerant in his idea of the perfect state, which he wrote down in his Republic and Laws. Plato himself believed that government should be left to enlightened absolute monarchs, and his idea of a perfect state is definitely totalitarian. Sargon’s right about that.

Sargon, however, champions Aristotle, because he believed in ‘the republic of virtue’ and democracy. And it was at this point that I stopped watching, because there’s only so much right-wing idiocy you can take. It can sound plausible, but a moment’s reflection is all it needs to show that it’s all nonsense, and Sargon knows less about SJWs, Marxism and Aristotle than he thinks he does.

Aristotlean Democracy Different from Today’s

Let’s deal firstly with the idea that Aristotle is a democrat. He isn’t, or rather, not in the modern sense. He’s not a totalitarian like Plato, but he believed that the only people, who should have a vote and a share of government in his ideal democracy were leisured gentlemen, who didn’t need to work and therefore had the time, education and money to devote themselves to politics. He makes this very clear in his Politics, where he states categorically that artisans and other working people should very definitely be kept away from politics and from mixing with the gentlemen of political class. So firmly did he believe this the he argued the two classes should have two separate forums. And Aristotle, like Plato, also believed in the world of intelligible forms. Which means that if idealism makes someone intolerant, then, by Sargon’s argument, he should also attack Aristotle as intolerant.

Marxism, Communism, Postmodernism and the New Left

Sargon is also, of course, spectacularly wrong about Communism. He uses it to mean anyone, who has what he considers to be extreme left-wing views. But Communism also has a very distinct meaning in that it referred to those versions of Marxism practiced in the former Communist bloc and the parties outside it that followed these forms of Marxist dogma. In the USSR and the European Communist countries, this meant Lenin’s formulation of Marxism; in China, Mao’s. But at the time there were other forms of Marxism that were far more democratic. Karl Kautsky, the leader of the Austrian Marxists, believed that industries should be socialised and taken over by the state when they became monopolies, and that socialism could only be achieved through democracy. He was bitterly hostile to the Soviet dictatorship.

Marxism certainly is an element in some forms of contemporary radicalism, such as postmodernism and Cultural Studies. But this is the Marxism of the New Left, which emerged in the 1960s. The New Left attempted to revitalise Marxism through a return to Hegelianism. As far as I can tell, it was Trotskyite, rather than Communist, although both refer to radical Marxism. But Postmodernism was also strongly influenced by structural linguistics, Freudian psychology and Nietzsche. And, at least in the 1990s, it rejected class politics, which are an essential part of orthodox Marxism.

Modern Feminists and Anti-Racists Not Necessarily Marxists

It’s also problematic how much contemporary anti-racism and feminism owes to Marxism. Some of the Black rights and anti-colonialist movements of the 20th century were influenced by Marx to a greater or lesser extent. But I doubt that the mass of anti-racist or feminist activists in this country have read Marx. For them, it almost certainly has more immediate causes in their experience of being treated as less than and denied opportunities open to White males. One of the landmark cases in British feminism was the strike by women workers at Dagenham in the early ’70s. But I doubt they were interested in creating a Communist utopia. They simply wanted to be paid the same as the men. And as for utopianism, while that does exist among the real extreme left, such as anarchists, communists and Trotskyites, for most people left-wing activism simply means realising that things are badly wrong now, and wishing to change it for the better. But as the books on left-wing organisation and activism I’ve read have argued, that means simply trying to make things a little better, and realising an absolutely perfect society is unachievable. That’s also the point of view Marxists like the economist Bernard Wolf.

The Utopianism of Libertarians and Conservatives

If anyone does believe in a perfect system, however, it’s Sargon and the Conservatives/Libertarians. They really do seem to believe that capitalism is a perfect system, and if people are poor, then it’s their own fault. It reminds me of the 19th century Tories, who talked endlessly about the perfection of the British constitution without thinking that anything could or should be done about the mass poverty around them. Sargon and his allies are thus rather like Dr. Pangloss, the character in Voltaire’s Candide, who believed that all was for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds. Except in their formulation, all is for the best in capitalism, the best of all possible economic systems.

But capitalism is not perfect. Unregulated, it creates mass poverty, and this has always spurred left-wing activists and reformers to try to tackle it. This includes liberals as well as Marxists. But Sargon doesn’t understand that, and so he thinks that those dissatisfied with capitalism can only be radical Marxists.

He’s wrong, but this view is very influential, and used by the right to discredit everyone on the left. And so, daft as it is, it needs to be fought.

 

 

This is no time for despondency or pulling the duvet over our heads. This is a time to regroup in solidarity to understand the problems and find solutions; our future depends on it. Let’s organise!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/01/2020 - 3:26am in

Protester holding sign with slogan "Change the politics not the climate"This time of the year is for making new year’s resolutions and this year was no exception. A local radio channel reported that a survey had revealed that the most popular one was doing more to be ‘green’. However, whilst our good intentions are worthy it is becoming ever clearer that the scale of action required goes far beyond individuals. It is also clear that despite our well-intentioned promises and the increasing alarm bell warnings of the scientific community, the well-oiled engine of consumption rolls on. It invites us through sophisticated advertising to consume the latest piece of technology or travel to exotic places and is designed to persuade us that green and infinite consumption growth can go together. You too can save the planet by buying that ‘sustainable’ cotton t-shirt with the message ‘There is no Planet B’.

Indeed, a report published by the UN Environment Programme and other research organisations revealed that the world’s nations are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. So much for curbing fossil fuel production and saving ourselves. As Mans Nilsson, an executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute commented ‘We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging’.

And yet across the world, those messages are being ignored. Our ice caps are thawing at an unprecedented rate. The snows of Kilimanjaro have melted more than 80% since the beginning of the 20th century. Glaciers in India are receding so fast that it is believed that most of those in the central and eastern Himalayas could virtually disappear by 2035. The impact on water resources will be devastating to the livelihoods of around 129 million farmers in India who depend on glacier meltwater to grow their crops – put bluntly, the food we eat. The edges of Greenland’s ice sheet are shrinking, and scientists say that extreme ice melt will affect coastal communities across the world. Thawing permafrost has caused ground to subside more than 4.6 metres in Alaska, worse as permafrost degrades under a warming climate, some of the carbon contained within will decompose and be released into the atmosphere. In Siberia, in what is known as the Kingdom of Winter, the permafrost is also thawing and revealing the bodies of long-dead animals preserved in the permafrost for more than 32,000 years.

GIMMS reported last year on the fires in the Arctic as well as Brazil and Bolivia which destroyed vast tracts of the Amazon forest causing huge devastation in terms of biodiversity loss and threats to valuable water resources. Reuters reported earlier this week that deforestation in Brazil rose to its highest in over a decade in 2019 under the administration of President Bolsonaro. INPE the space research organisation has suggested that the timing and location of the fires were consistent with land clearing encouraged by Bolsonaro as part of his economic development plan which has emboldened ranchers and loggers to slash and burn.

This week people across the world have been looking on in dismay at the ongoing destruction happening right now in Australia as bush fires rage, burning more than 17 million acres across the continent, destroying its biodiversity and killing hundreds of millions of animals in their path not to mention demolishing whole towns, causing loss of life and leaving frightened people in dangerous conditions on beaches waiting to be rescued. Record heat, ongoing drought and dry vegetation have all played a devastating role in the destruction, which will not only affect those habitats for years to come but will also cause an increase in carbon emissions as burning trees release it into the air. The fires will impact on people’s long-term health and damage agriculture and businesses, the consequences of which will be costly.

Extreme weather events from droughts to storms and floods are becoming the norm and the media brings them to our living rooms with instant newsflashes. We can see the devastation they bring across the globe from Australia and Asia to the US and Europe and even the UK where over recent years we have had our fair share of extreme weather from floods to heatwaves. Only this week it was reported by Public Health England that the summer heatwaves of 2019 resulted in almost 900 extra deaths and over the past four years more than 3,400 people have died as a result of extreme heat. And last November very heavy rainfall left acres of valuable farmland under many feet of water destroying crops and affecting livestock and inevitably the livelihoods of farmers. MPs warned last July that the UK was ‘woefully unprepared’ for the impact of the climate crisis.

And yet, disgracefully, some leaders around the globe still have their heads firmly in the sand over the threats to the lives of people and the natural world. The outcome of the climate conference in Madrid which took place in mid-December last year was deemed disappointing by the UN Secretary Antonio Guterres who said that the international community had lost an important opportunity to tackle the climate crisis. Laurence Tubiana from the European Climate Foundation called it a ‘far cry from what science tells us is needed’. With the prospect of next year’s climate conference being held in Glasgow, Boris Johnson has already been warned by environmentalists that preaching to other nations whilst the UK fails to make progress on its own commitments will lead to humiliation.

The commitment of the Conservatives on one of the most pressing issues of our time has been derisory. Expanding aviation and road-building plans are quite simply not compatible with eliminating CO2 emissions. Promoting electric cars may provide a stopgap solution but not a sustainable one since the batteries to power them also require energy to extract, manufacture and dispose of them and indeed the rare earth materials to make them are themselves finite. Add to that the environmental impacts of battery production for use in wind and solar power which may also negate any environmental benefits and one begins to see how things are not simply a matter of exchanging one energy source for another in a finite world of resources where everyone globally will be chasing those same raw materials to sustain and green their economies. Without consideration of the problems of resource availability and strategies to create green supply chains and more reuse and recycling of the rare materials needed for solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines, greening our world will be fraught with difficulties.

Furthermore, our standard of living has been built on the backs of those poorer countries where many of the resources we need to maintain our lifestyles are found and whilst we benefit, those same countries have also been at the sharp end of our excessive consumption in terms of climate change and western inflicted poverty.

What is needed is a revolution in the way we think about how we live, what our values should be and how we consume. And yet, in light of the challenges we face globally, inertia and lack of real commitment could be viewed as puzzling given the future real costs both financial and physical of inadequate governmental action. However, one does not have to look very far for the answer; rampant, out of control capitalism which relentlessly feeds on driving economies regardless of the consequences. Over 40 years and more political dogma in the form of neoliberal ideology has embedded itself, not only in our governmental and political structures and educational and other institutions, but also in how the public has been led to believe economies work, persuading them that there is no other way, indeed no alternative. The price we are paying in social, environmental and economic terms has been terrifying.

Aside from the vast wealth and indescribable poverty living side by side, with swathes of working people offered up to the god of the market and reaping the consequences in low wages and precarious employment, poor housing and inadequate access to good healthcare and education and other services, we are now experiencing the inevitable environmental consequences of planetary exploitation by large global corporations which dominate the corridors of power, lobby politicians and infiltrate political circles with special advisers to serve their own profit interests. The planet and the natural environment and its resources, human labour and our public services have all become commodities to be traded in the market and bought and sold for profit. The concept of the common good has been replaced by market diktat. Governments which should be serving the interests of their people are instead serving those of large corporations and allowing them to dictate policy and legislation.

The god-like domination of market solutions to our most pressing challenges are, however, not about the common good; they are about keeping the wealth and power in the hands of the few at huge cost. Our democratic institutions are being whittled away so that capitalism in all its rottenness can continue its rape and plunder of nature, its biodiversity, its resources and the people who depend on it.

So, what can we do? It seems sometimes that we are powerless to oppose the mainstream economic orthodoxy and corporate power. However, in light of what is happening, we still do have choices. We can choose to become the ‘lords of the ashes’ or we can choose a different path; one which restores concepts of the common good and of values other than exchange for profit. We need to restore the confidence of working people in democracy and the politicians that serve them and give them confidence that their voice after having been ignored for too long will be heeded.

Shining a lens on monetary realities to show the possibilities for real change and to provide answers to the question of how we pay for a progressive agenda, a green transition and a job guarantee must be foremost in our minds now. We must find ways to reach out to those who have suffered the most as a result of 40 years of political attachment to ideologically driven agendas. We must, as a matter of priority, develop clear and comprehensible strategies to communicate to ordinary working people how an understanding of how money works opens up the opportunity to develop solutions to those serious issues which dominate their lives – from jobs and housing to the decay of public and social infrastructure and their local communities.

To that end, GIMMS is organising two events in London and Manchester with a view to exploring how that might be achieved. To buy a ticket follow the links below. In the light of the disappointing election result, this is not a time to hang up our boots; this is a time to express our solidarity with those who have been left behind and come together to develop a coherent strategy for change which will engage the nation and offer some hope for a better and indeed a sustainable future.

Professor Bill Mitchell and Professor Steve Hall Seminar – London – February 20 @ 1:30 pm – 5:00 pm  – £5.98

Professor Bill Mitchell and Professor Steve Hall Seminar – Manchester – February 21 @ 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm – £5.98

Finally, GIMMS recently added a new fact sheet on the Green New Deal. If you’d like to explore the issue further or indeed find out a bit more about what MMT is please follow either or both of the links below.

The Green New Deal

A brief introduction to Modern Monetary Theory

 

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The post This is no time for despondency or pulling the duvet over our heads. This is a time to regroup in solidarity to understand the problems and find solutions; our future depends on it. Let’s organise! appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

‘I’ Review of Art Exhibition on Ecological Crisis and Some Solutions

Also of interest in yesterday’s I was a review by Sarah Kent of the exhibition, Eco-Visionaries, at the Royal Society in London. This was about the current ecological crisis, and showcased some possible solutions to the problem, some of them developed by architects. This included a moving desert city, the Green Machine, which also planted a watered crops as it moved. The article ran

Melancholy humming welcomes you to the exhibition, with a globe suspended in the cloudy waters of a polluted fish tank. This simple installation by the artist duo HeHe neatly pinpoints our predicament: our planet is suffocating.

“The absence of a future has already begun,” declare Ana Vaz and Tristan Bera in a film, Reclaimed (2015). We know this already – according to the UN, we need to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050 if we are to prevent the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem. So what are we waiting for?

Vaz and Bera highlight the problem. The situation requires a wholesale change in attitude: minor tinkering can’t solve it. We need “reciprocity with nature rather than domination… We are nature.” We are mesmerised by events such as the Arctic on fire, Greenland’s ice-cap melting and Venice drowning. But the scale of the problem is so enormous that we can only watch, “fascinated by the acceleration” of the crisis.

The collective Rimini Protokoli encourages us to confront our imminent extinction. On film we see a tank full of languidly floating jellyfish. They flourish in the warming seas and, with diminishing fish stocks, there’s less competition for the plankton they feed on, so their numbers are increasing dramatically. Humans are similarly multiplying – by 2050, according to the UN, there will be 9.7 billion of us – but unlike jellyfish, we require too much energy to adapt to climate change so, like the dinosaurs, our days are numbered. At the end of the presentation they invite us to go with the words: “Your time is up; you will have to leave.”

The Royal Academy is to be congratulated for hosting an exhibition that tackles this urgent issue, but the show exemplifies the problem. The warnings are persuasive, but the solutions envisaged are pitifully inadequate, mainly by architects who don’t address the catastrophe but instead offer us post-apocalyptic follies. The Green Machine (2014) is Studio Malka’s answer to desertification. Resembling a giant oil rig, this monstrosity trundles across the Sahara on caterpillar treads that plough the ground then sow and water the seeds to produce 20 million tons of food per year. Solar towers, wind turbines and water-capturing balloons create a “self-sufficient urban oasis” for those inside. What percentage of the 9.7 billion will they accommodate, I wonder?

Studio Malka’s Green Machine mobile desert city.

It’s a grim subject, and clearly the ecological crisis requires drastic action across the entire globe and very soon. But I am fascinated by the Green Machine. It reminds me of the giant moving cities that cross the devastated future Earth in the SF film Mortal  Engines. As for how many people such a machine could house, the answer is: very few. Douglas Murray’s book Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture predicts that if we carry on as we are, we will end up with a future in which the rich will inhabit closed, protected environments like the various biodomes that were created in the 1990s, while the rest of humanity will be left to fend for itself in the decaying world outside.

It’s a bleak, dystopian prediction, but one I fear will come true if we carry on electing leaders like Trump and Johnson.

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