universities

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Trickle-Down Economics

John Quiggin is an economics professor at the university of Queensland Down Under. His 2010 book, Zombie Economics, is a very thorough demolition of the economic theories that have formed the current dogma since the election of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979 and 1980.

One of the theories he refutes is ‘trickle-down’ economics. This is theory that if you act to give more wealth to the rich through tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, this wealth will trickle down to benefit those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It was one of the central planks of Thatcherism. And even in the 1980s, it’s effectiveness was highly dubious. I remember watching a documentary about it on the Beeb, which illustrated the theory with a pyramid of champagne glasses. When the glasses at the top of the pyramid were filled to overflowing, the champagne flowed down to the glasses lower down. So, Thatcher and her cronies claimed, their programme of free market economics would benefit everyone in society by enriching those at the top, from whom it would trickle down to the rest of us. If I remember correctly, the programme itself argued this wasn’t happening. And it hasn’t since. on pages 155 to 157 Quggin shows how the policy has not worked in America, and in fact the poor are massively poorer off. He writes

The experience of the United States during the decades of market liberalism, from the 1970s until the Global Financial Crisis, gives little support for the trickle-down view. The gross domestic product of the United States grew solidly in this period, if not as rapidly as during the Keynesian postwar boom. More relevantly to the trickle-down hypothesis , the incomes and wealth of the richest Americans grew spectacularly. Incomes at the fifth percentile of the income distribution doubled and those for the top 0.1 per cent quadrupled.

By contrast, the gains to households in the middle of the income distribution have been much more modest. As shown in figure 4.2, real median household income rose from forty-five thousand dollars to just over fifty thousand dollars between 1973 (the last year of the long postwar expansion) and 2008. The annual rate of increase was 0.4 per cent.

For those at the bottom of the income distribution, there have been no gains at all. Real incomes for the lower half of the distribution have stagnated. The same picture emerges if we look at wages. Median real earning for full-time year-round male workers have not grown since 1974. For males with high school education or less, real wages have actually declined. According to estimates made by the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual earnings of twenty-five to twenty-nine-year-old high school graduates, expressed in 2005 values, fell from #30,900 in 1970 to $25,90 in 2000, and have stagnated since then.

Since 2000, median household incomes have actually fallen, the first time in modern history that such a decline has taken place over a full business cycle. One result can be seen by looking at the proportion of households living below the poverty line. The poverty rate declined steadily during the postwar Keynsian era. It has remained essentially static since 1970, falling in booms, but rising again in recessions.

Unlike most developed countries, the United States has a poverty line fixed in terms of absolute consumption levels and based on an assessment of a poverty-line food budget undertaken in 1963. The proportion of Americans below this fixed poverty line fell from 25 per cent in the late 1950s to 11 percent in 1974. Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 13.2 percent in 2008, a level that is certain to rise further as a result of the financial crisis and recession now taking place. Since the poverty line has remained unchanged, this means that the real incomes accruing to the poorest ten percent of Americans have fallen over the last thirty years.

These outcomes are reflected in measures of the numbers of Americans who lack access to the basics of life: food, shelter, and adequate medical care.

In 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics quoted by the Food Research Action Center, 49.1 million Americans live in households classified as “food insecure”, meaning that they lacked access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Slightly more than 17 million people (17.3 million) lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security”, which means that one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This number had doubled since 2000 and has almost certainly increased further as a result of the recession.

The number of people without health insurance rose steadily over the period of market liberalism, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population, reaching a peak of 46 million, or 15 percent of the population. Among the insured, an increasing proportion was reliant on government programs. The traditional model of employment-based private health insurance, which was developed as part of the New Deal, and covered most of the population during the Keynesian era, was eroded to the point of collapse.

Homelessness is almost entirely a phenomenon of the era of market liberalism. During the decade of full employment, homelessness was confined to a tiny population of transients, mostly older males with mental health and substance abuse problems. By contrast, in 2007, 1.6 million people spent time in homeless shelters, and about 40 percent of the homeless population were families with children.

The experience of the United States in the era of market liberalism was as thorough a refutation of the trickle-down hypothesis as can reasonably be imagined. The well off have become better off, and the rich have become super-rich. Despite impressive technological progress, those in the middle of the income distributions struggled to stay in place, and those at the bottom became worse-off in crucial respects.

(My emphasis).

Bernie Sanders in his book described just how severe the crisis in private American medical care was. It almost collapsed completely in certain states because a very large number of patients are simply unable to afford medical treatment.

And the same situation prevails here in Britain, with increasing poverty here in Britain. Millions of households now live below the poverty line, a quarter of million people need food banks to keep body and soul together, including working people with families. As Mike pointed out in a piece last week, parents are now starving themselves in order to fee their children.

The NHS is also in crisis, though for different but related reasons to those in the US. It’s in crisis because of massive funding cuts by the Tories over the last decade, and the determination of both Tory and New Labour administrations to privatise it by stealth. The introduction of private enterprise into the NHS actually raises costs, not diminishes them. It’s for the simple reason that private firms have to make a profit to pass on to their shareholders. Plus private firms also have bureaucracies of their own, which in some instances can take up 44 per cent of the firm’s income.

And added to this there is a massive increase in homelessness. But don’t worry! Yesterday, the I newspaper published a piece from the Economist telling millennials to cheer up, because in the future they’ll be able to afford their own home. Which sounds very much like simple propaganda for the current economic orthodoxy, rather than a realistic, credible prediction.

Free market capitalism has failed, despite what the press and media is trying to tell us. The Conservatives responsible for its adoption should be thrown out of government, and the Blairites who introduced it into Labour should be forced out of the positions of power they seek to monopolise. If not expelled altogether as Thatcherite entryists.

We need a genuine, socialist Labour government to clean this mess up. A government which must be led by Jeremy Corbyn.

The Schoolboy Sexism and Snobbery of Toby Young

Leafing through an old copy of Private Eye, for 1st – 14th April 2011, I found an article in their ‘Street of Shame’ column about Spectator columnist Toby Young and his friend and ally, Harry Phibbs. Young was then trying to set up his free school in Hammersmith and Fulham, where Phibbs was a councilor. To show the strong relationship between them and just how extreme and noxious their right-wing views were, the magazine published and commented on a letter written by Young to Phibbs when he was a sixth form student nearly 30 years previously. The article, ‘Tory Boys’, ran

Spectator columnist Toby Young has no doughtier ally in his campaign to set up a west London Free School than the booming-voiced freelance hack Harry Phibbs, Hammersmith and Fulham’s council’s “cabinet member for community engagement”.

Phibbs represents the ward in which the school will be sited, and threw his considerable weight behind the council’s decision to sell off a building occupied by voluntary groups so Toby could have it. Phibbs’s current partner, Caroline Ffiske, sits on the school’s steering committee.

But the relationship between these two likely lads goes back much further. The Eye has somehow obtained a fan-letter sent to Harry Phibbs 29 years ago, when as a noisy Tory schoolboy he was attracting media attention. The author, a sixth-former at William Ellis School in north London, professed himself “very amused” by an Eye report of Phibbs’s antics.

“Here is a brief history of my political career [sic],” wrote Toby Young (for it was he). “having been a victim of a bohemian upbringing, and living in a small, socialist community in Devon surrounded by feminists and hippies of every (unspeakable) description. I decided to set up a provocative organization which I suitably named ‘Combat Communism’.”

After several paragraphs recounting how he’d tried to disrupt a protest by CND (“this band of idiots”), Toby made his pitch. “Recently I started up a political group called ‘the Young Apostles’, and we hold regular meetings where topics such as disarmament, feminism, culture, education, the media, the constitution and international finance are discussed. I originally banned females from taking part, partly because I don’t believe them equipped with the ability to discuss things and partly because I don’t know any bright females. Much to my horror some local saggy-titted feminists (Greenham Gremlins) found out about this discussion group and its high membership standards, and picketed the first meeting. Naturally they weren’t prepared to listen to my arguments about the genetic character traits of women and just ranted and raved… so I was forced to enlist the services of the local constabulary in order to dispose of them.

“Anyway, to get to the point, I was wondering whether you (and perhaps one or two of your brighter friends) would be interested in attending any of these meetings. I can promise that no members of the (un)fair sex will halt you on your way in Currently we have the sons of several ’eminent’ men among our ranks… Our next meeting is on Sunday 6 March at 2pm (whisky and cigars provided).” Using the courtesy title deriving from his dad’s peerage, he signed himself: “Yours sincerely, Honourable Toby D.M. Young.” Who’d have guessed that three decades later this comical duo would be collaborating to set up a co-ed school? (p. 5).

Okay, a lot of children and young people have obnoxious views, which they later grow out of. And Young wrote the letter back in the early 1980s, when attitudes towards gender and feminism were rather different. The women protesting against American nuclear weapons at Greenham Common were vilified in the right-wing press, and by Auberon Waugh, one of the columnists in Private Eye. I can remember Waugh appearing on the late Terry Wogan’s chat show one evening to sneer at them. It was at that time there was a comedy on BBC 2, Comrade Dad, starring George Cole, set in a future Communist Britain. This not only satirized the Soviet Union, but also the supposed far-left politics of Labour politicians like Ken Livingstone and the GLC in London. Just as women performed traditionally masculine jobs, like engineers and construction workers in the USSR, so they were shown doing such jobs in the Britain of the time. The lead character, played by Cole, was a firm believer in this system, and in line with avoiding sexist speech used to refer to everyone as ‘persons’. Women were ‘female persons’. Even so, Young’s view were horrendously reactionary at the time. As for Waugh, his humour largely consisted of writing outrageously opinionated right-wing pieces against groups like the Greenham women, teachers, and everyone else who offended his Thatcherite sensibilities in order to upset the left. Looking back at him, he could probably be described as a kind of privileged literary troll.

Regarding Young’s claim that he didn’t know any intelligent females, that can probably be explained by him being too opinionated and stupid to recognize the intelligence of the young women around him. On the other hand, he probably attended a boys’ school, in which case he may not have known many girls. It’s also possible that the girls and women with brains recognized immediately how stupid Young was, and took care to avoid him.

Young has, however, continued to have extreme right-wing views, and indeed has made a career out of it. I think he was the author of the book, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People was based. He last notable appearance in the news was a few years ago, when the Tories made him the official responsible for looking after the interests of students at university. Private Eye, amongst others, revealed that Young had been one of those attending a eugenics conference at University College London along with others on the far right. These included people, who believed that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites, and out and out Nazis. In this company, his remark in the letter that his youthful study group also discussed international finance could sound sinister, like a coded reference to the stupid and murderous conspiracy theory about the world being run by Jewish bankers. I doubt that is how he meant it at the time, but undoubtedly that is how it would be presented if Young was a member of the Labour left rather than extreme right-wing Tory.

I don’t know how Young got on with his plans to found the free school, and he probably has changed his views on women. But otherwise he seems to have remained extremely right-wing and bigoted. He definitely doesn’t support or defend the interests of people from lower income backgrounds, regardless of their gender. And indeed he, like the other hacks on the Spectator and in the right-wing press genuinely, are fiercely opposed to them.

Bakunin: Democracy without Economic Equality Is Worthless

More anarchism now, this time from the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin violently criticized and rejected democracy because he passionately believed and argued that without economic equality for the workers, it would simply preserve the power of the exploiting classes, including the bourgeoisie, the owners of capital and industry. These would continue legislating for themselves against the workers.

Bakunin wrote

The child endowed with the greatest talents, but born into a poor family, a family of workers living from day to day on their hard labour, is doomed to an ignorance which, instead of developing his own natural talents, kills them all: he will become the worker, the unskilled labourer, forced to be the bourgeoisie’s man-servant and field-worker. The child of bourgeois parents, on the other hand, the child of the rich, however, stupid by nature, will receive both the upbringing and the education necessary to develop his scanty talents as much as possible. He will become the exploiter of labour, the master, the property-owner, the legislator, the governor-a gentleman. However stupid he may be, he will make laws on behalf of the people and against them, and he will rule over the popular masses.

In a democratic state, it will be said, the people will choose only the good men. But how will they recognize them? They have neither the education necessary for judging the good and the bad, nor the spare time necessary for learning the differences among those who run for election. These men, moreover, live in a society different from their own; they doff their hat to Their Majesty the sovereign people only at election-time, and once elected they turn their backs. Moreover, however excellent they may be as members of their family and their society, they will always be bad for the people, because, belonging to the privileged and exploiting class, they will quite naturally wish to preserve those privileges which constitute the very basis of their social existence and condemn the people to eternal slavery.

But why haven’t the people been sending men of their own, men of the people, to the legislative assemblies and the government? First, because men of the people, who have to live by their physical labour, do not have the time to devote themselves exclusively to politics. [Second, b]eing unable to do so, being more often ignorant of the political and economic questions which are discussed in these lofty regions, they will nearly always be the dupes of lawyers and bourgeois politicians. Also, [third] it is usually enough for these men of the people to enter the government for them to become members of the bourgeoisie in their turn, sometimes hating and scorning the people from whom they came more than do the natural-born members of the bourgeoisie.

So you see that political equality, even in the most democratic states, is an illusion. It is the same with juridical equality, equality before the law. The bourgeoisie make the law for themselves, and they practice it against the people. The State, and the law which expresses it, exist only to perpetuate the slavery of the people for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

Moreover, you know, if you wish to file suit when you find your interests, your honour, or your rights wronged, you must first prove that you are able to pay the costs, that is, that you can lay aside an impossible sum; and if you cannot do so, they you cannot file the suit. But do the people, the majority of the workers, have the resources to put on deposit in a court of law? Most of the time, no. Hence the rich man will be able to attack you and insult you with impunity. There is no justice at all for the people.

Political equality will be an illusion so long as economic and social equality do not exist, so long as any minority can become rich, property-owning, and capitalist through inheritance. Do you know the true definitions of hereditary property? It is the hereditary ability to exploit the collective labour of the people and to enslave the masses.

In Robert M. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-71 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985) pp. 50-1.

Bakunin’s stance is extreme, obviously, and the educational opportunities open to working people has changed immensely since the late 19th century when he wrote this. The school leaving age in Britain has gradually been extended until it’s 18, and nearly half of all school leavers now go on to university to obtain degrees. But nevertheless, his criticism still remains valid.

The majority of politicians and members of parliament come from the middle and upper classes. There was a book published a few years ago that estimated that 75 per cent of MPs have senior management positions or sit on the boards of companies, so that the majority of them are millionaires. As a result, legislation passed by them has benefited industry at the expense of working people, so that the rich are getting much richer, and the poor poorer. They have attacked employees’ rights at work, introduced the gig economy, which has trapped people in insecure, irregularly paid work without benefits like annual leave, sick pay or maternity leave. At the same time the benefits system has been attacked to create a demoralized, cowed workforce ready to accept any job than starve without state support, due to benefit sanctions and delays in payment. And then there’s the infamous workfare, which is nothing less than the abuse of the benefits system to supply industry and particularly the big supermarkets with subsidized cheap labour for exploitation.

This situation has partly come about because New Labour abandoned economic justice for working people and took over the Neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher. The result was that even when the Tories were ousted with the 1997 election, elements of Thatcherism continued under Blair and Brown. And the Neocons have admitted that while they were in favour of exporting democracy to Iraq, they wanted that new freedom to be strictly limited so that only parties promoting free trade and economic individualism would be elected.

In the US the situation has got worse. Due to political sponsorship and donations from big business, politicians in congress notoriously do not represent their constituents but their corporate donors. Only 19-25 per cent of American voters feel the government works for them, and a study by Harvard University concluded that the country was not so much a democracy as a corporate oligarchy.

Democracy would thus benefit the ruling classes, and provide the illusion of freedom for everyone else.

This has to be reversed. Corporate money and power has to be taken out of politics and ordinary working men and women put in, with an agenda to empower this country’s ordinary people instead of reassuring lies, like the Tories.

It’s why we need Corbyn in government, and the Tories, Lib-Dems and New Labour out.

Education…education…education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/12/2018 - 2:24am in

Aerial view of students wearing mortar boards at a graduation ceremonyAnd in the news this week…

 

Education…education…education.

 

Last week the Public Accounts Committee published its findings on the sale of the student loan book.  The government was criticised for having sold yet another public asset for half its face value, but it explained that net government debt would fall as a result, enabling it to borrow more. The PAC, in its turn, said in its report that it had expected the Treasury to get the best possible deal on behalf of the taxpayer and achieve its aim of reducing the public sector net debt.  And then according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, in its Student Loans and Fiscal Illusions working paper published earlier this year, the sale was also a ‘perverse incentive’ to make it appear that the public finances had improved. It then went on to estimate that the government’s plans would, in addition, deprive the Treasury of billions in repayments over the lifetime of the loans thus making the country poorer in the long term.

The fiscal language of government and its institutions cited above is instructive, and demonstrates how government’s success or failure is being measured in household accounting terms rather than the effects of its spending policies on environmental, economic and social well-being of the nation.  A good deal for taxpayers, reducing public deficit and debt, depriving government of revenue, borrowing from the future and debt burden are all examples of recurrent tropes which are fed into the public arena daily by politicians, journalists and institutions. So, it is no surprise that people are led to believe that the state finances resemble their own household budgets and they judge a government by how much it reduces or increases the deficit or debt. The vocabulary of income, spending, borrowing and debt however does not apply to a government which issues its own currency and the term fiscal responsibility should be confined to measuring how such a government balances the economy by ensuring that money creation does not exceed the productive capacity of the nation.

 

And in more news on education

 

“Privatisation, marketisation, neo-liberalism and austerity are beams of the same sun.”

Steve Watson, Faculty of Education (Cambridge University).

 

While the government focuses on accounting gymnastics to balance its accounts, the dire state of higher education has been in the public spotlight this month as it was revealed that the universities watchdog was forced to give a struggling institution an injection of cash so that it could remain afloat. This followed news earlier this month that three universities were on the verge of bankruptcy and having to rely on bridging loans to keep going.  The financial uncertainty was said to be linked to falling numbers of 18 year olds applying to go to university, increased competition for students and more stringent immigration controls on foreign students who, in the absence of adequate government funding, bring much needed revenue to university coffers.  The University funding policy and funding report published in 2016 noted that given limited government funding and the fact that not all universities can borrow more over the long term, they will need to maintain and grow their student numbers, including those from outside the EU, to fund increased investment.  As governments fights over allowing foreign students to access higher education and adequate funding streams from government a train crash would seem inevitable.

How have we come to this pass? The process started in the 1990s with the first steps towards the marketisation of higher education.  New Labour followed the Tories lead and gave universities the right to charge tuition fees, thus changing the very basis upon which universities were funded. Private debt instead of government spending became a primary mechanism to finance higher education. As Steven Watson who lectures in the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University notes:

“The introduction of student loans, tuition fees and subsequent increases are all part of the commodification and privatisation of higher education. The Higher Education and Research Bill that was hurried through before the general election in 2017 further embeds the consumerization of higher education, with the creation of the Office for Students and providing opportunities to establish challenger institutions to increase competition in the sector.”

Universities have become businesses with a product to sell and students have become customers with choices. University management elites command huge salaries whilst lecturers increasingly face the prospect of insecure contracts and low pay. According to an analysis by UCU published in 2016 university teaching is now dominated by zero-hours contracts, temp agencies and other precarious work.  It also noted that the richest Russell Group institutions rely heavily on insecure academic workers.

Instead of higher education being about learning, exploration and creativity, it is increasingly becoming commodified; serving the interests of capital rather than the development of the individual for life and the benefit of society. Already, as Steve Watson notes, there is the potential for subjects that do not have a direct link to the world of work to disappear or be reconfigured for employability.  And while universities struggle for funding and try to cut costs, students face the prospect of a lifetime of education debt without even the certainty of finding a good, well paying job at the end of it.

The public is fed a daily diet of the benefits of choice, competition and private-sector efficiency and innovation, whether we are talking about education, the NHS, or the energy, rail and water sectors, when the reality is that it has more to do with accruing capital, than providing high quality public services. We are also fed the daily lie that the government has no other alternative as it has no money of its own and must seek to balance its accounts to prove its financial competence.

BUT the national economy is not one great big household, and a government which issues its own currency could, by making a political choice, spend on our public services tomorrow. Why would it not do so?  Education is an investment which is not just about economics. It gives people the skills they need for life, enables them to ask questions and seek solutions as well as confront the challenges of our times from social issues to environmental ones. Getting with monetary realities is a first step in challenging the neoliberal, market driven status quo.

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The post Education…education…education appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/11/2018 - 5:32am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

November 8, 2018 Natasha Lennard, author of this article, on cops & white supremacists • Forrest Hylton on Colombian university protests and a potential alliance with Brazil to topple Maduro

Teaching to the SET, by Grazyna Zajdow

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 9:44pm in

An article in the 26 July issue of Times Higher Education holds some interest for academics, educationalists and others concerned with the increased managerialism of the contemporary university. A long-running dispute between the Canadian academics’ union and Ryerson University went into arbitration, with the arbitrator finding that student evaluations of teaching (SETs) could no longer be used for promotion and tenure because SETs are imperfect, unreliable and ‘downright biased’.

While many academics have long held that student evaluations are being used to monitor, direct and punish staff rather than improve education, evidence of their effectiveness as a marker of teaching and learning has largely gone unexamined. But the closer one gets the more it becomes evident that the emperor has no clothes. The evidence shows that SETs are tests of teacher popularity, and that unreconstructed and subconscious racial and gender bias are involved. SETs, it seems, are generally useless for finding out anything about teaching practices or learning, although they seem to be effective in cowering staff. In comic form of ‘teaching to the test’, Australia and most other Anglophone countries have gone down the SET cul-de-sac. Instead of teaching to the test, we are teaching to the SET! Effectively, staff popularity with students has been equated with teaching ability.

Each university has a different way of collecting this information, but mostly it is gathered online by asking questions about a lecturer or tutor’s performance. Every year I look forward with trepidation or glee—depending on my desire to retire in the near future, or not—to my student evaluations. One year I received a letter from my supervisor asking me to explain my poor scores, while the following year’s letter congratulated me on my performance. The difference was totally unrelated to any change in teaching methods on my part; maybe it was due to my haircut. In any case, I am sure these letters and my scores are on my human-resources file.

The article piqued my interest as to what the available evidence says, and I have almost gone blind reading sophisticated statistical analyses of quantitative studies of student evaluations. I feel that I deserve a promotion just for working my way through them! In the end, they say exactly what most university teachers have been saying for years: SET scores are unrelated to student learning or academic teaching. However, they are related to the racial, sexual and gender bias of the young people who take part in them. If you are an academic who is young, male, good looking and white, you are likely to be liked at greater levels than a middle-aged woman who might be a lesbian. In a national survey of British students, investigators from the University of Reading found that students were most satisfied when they had been taught by academics who were male, white, had a PhD and were on fixed-term contracts. In the United States, African American academic teaching staff were considered substantially less intelligent and competent than white staff—by both white and non-white students.

Other problems with using SET scores are more technical but perhaps more pernicious. Most universities use averages from SET outcomes to rate individual staff via-à-vis faculty and course outcomes. The size of the group that fills in the class survey is crucial here. Academics with small groups of students are much more at the mercy of outlier responses, luck and error than academics teaching larger groups. For example, academics with small response rates are often compared to those with large numbers of students and large response rates. Averages also do not give a good indication of the peaks and troughs of responses. The scores are ordinal categorical variables, which means that they are what statisticians call ‘labels’, not ‘values’. Most importantly to any statistician worth their salt, they are descriptions given a number, but they have no real numerical meaning. On a 7-point measure, the difference between 7 (outstanding) and 6 (very good) may not mean the same thing as the difference between 1 (terrible) and 2 (tolerable), but they are used as if they are—they are used as though there is a continuous numerical relationship between them.

Some studies have looked at the relationship between SET scores and future results. For example, some have looked at the SET score given to a level 1 academic teacher and then the outcome for students at the next level. Researchers have found that student performance at the second-level subject is negatively related to their satisfaction with the lower-level one. The researchers posited that students may have liked the harder (initial) subject less, but they actually learned more because it was harder. Indeed, other research has found that lenient teachers are more liked by their students, but this is not related in any way to how much the students have learned. A meta-analysis of almost 100 studies of SET scores and higher-education results found that students did not learn more from professors with higher SET scores. However, the problem for many academics is that students with less ability are likely to overestimate their capabilities and become angry when their teachers do not recognise their (overestimated) skills; thus the likelihood of a poor student evaluation increases.

In one very large study, students at a French university in a variety of disciplines, who were assigned to different classes taught by male and female teachers but who all sat the same end-of-year exams, rated their satisfaction with male teachers at higher levels than their satisfaction with female teachers. These ratings were negatively associated with their final results. In a US study, students taking an online course were randomly allocated to teaching assistants whom they did not see. The teaching assistants were identified as male or female, regardless of their actual gender. Again, those students who thought their teacher was male considered their teachers to be more competent and effective. Again, these assessments bore no relation to their final results.

SETs have contributed to what some academics claim is a lowering of standards and a less rigorous education overall. There has been significant grade inflation (giving students higher marks than in the past), which is likely to be the result of more lenient marking. This has been clearly related to SET scores rating lenient teachers higher than more demanding ones. Assessments have become smaller, shorter and less critical or analytical (at least in the social sciences and humanities). Institutions like mine have forced on us a system of rubrics, which means that every assessment must have an outline of all possible factors that will be marked, what each category looks like and what each is worth in the final outcome. No need to learn from experience when you just tick boxes! There is no doubt that dumbing down is inherent in such a system.

So, knowing all of this, the question has to be why there is such reliance on SETs in academic settings. If we are going to measure teacher effectiveness at all in quantitative terms, the answer is that large-scale SETs are easy to administer and cheap to run. But effective teaching is a complex issue and to meaningfully understand and improve it would take more time and financial resources than most universities are willing to expend. Good evaluation of teaching and learning would involve peer assessment, ethnographic studies into classroom behaviours, and staff willingness to be open to such intrusions without compromising their position at the university. Certainly, a staff member’s tenure or performance review should not rely on student evaluations as they currently exist.

SETs look objective because they rely on numbers, even if those numbers are meaningless. Metrics are used in all sectors of our late-modern/technologically obsessed society and it would be surprising if we didn’t see them in the university sector, too. But metrics are meaningless when the relationship between what is being studied, how it is being studied and what it is being studied for becomes so skewed. I refer to Robert DiNapoli’s ‘A Supplement to Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary’ (Arena Magazine no. 155) and his definition of ‘metric’: ‘the science of reducing the organic texture of reality to sequences of numbers for the purpose of evaluating performance’. There seems to me no more apt description of a SET. Bruce Buchan’s article in the same issue, ‘Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair’, eloquently illustrates the damage to the humanities and social sciences due to the relentless obsession with online teaching and learning. Students are considered consumers of education now, and it would appear that consumer satisfaction counts for more than skill or knowledge.

More importantly, reliance on SETs allows for a form of managerial control of academic staff that has undermined the professional and democratic platform on which higher education was ostensibly based for 500 years or more. It is hard to believe that the Australian system will change the direction it seems to have taken, but this is not a lost cause. The University of Southern California has voluntarily undertaken a review of SETs and how they are used, and other universities in the United States are also going down this path. SETs do give an indication of students’ experience and teachers’ performance (charm, lucidity, hairstyle), but not of academic knowledge or teaching effectiveness. Don’t get me started on rubrics.

Book on How to Resist and Campaign for Change

Matthew Bolton, How To Resist: Turn Protest to Power (London: Bloomsbury 2017)

About this time last week, hundreds of thousands of people were out on the streets marching to demand a second referendum on Brexit. It was the biggest demonstration since 2 million or so people marched against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. And as Mike commented in his blog post about it, as likely to do as much good. Blair and his corrupt gang ignored the manifest will of the people, and went ahead anyway, determined to prosecute a war whose real reasons were western imperialism and multinational corporate greed. The march failed to stop the war and the chaos it caused is still ongoing. Just as last week’s march will also fail to prevent the Tories doing whatever they want.

It’s a disgusting situation, and this book is addressed to everyone who’s fed up with it. The author, Matthew Bolton, is an organizer with the campaigning group Citizens UK and their Living Wage campaign. And the book is addressed to people, who have been on the march, and are sick and tired of being ignored. Right at the very beginning of the book, he writes

This book is for people who are angry with the way things are and want to do something about it; for people who are frustrated with the system, or worried about the direction the country is going in. For people who are upset about a particular issue, or want a greater say in the changes happening in their neighbourhood. They’ve posted their opinions on social media and they’ve shouted at something they’ve seen on the news. They’ve been on the big march and they’ve been to the ballot box, but what more can be done? This is for people who want to make a change, but they’re not sure how. (p.1)

A few pages later he describes the dangers to democracy and the increasing sense of powerlessness people now feel when decisions are taken out of their hands by politicians.

What’s at stake here is more important than simply helping people who care about particular issues to run effective campaigns. It’s about democracy. In the past, people who wanted to make a difference, and believed in change fought for democracy with sweat, blood and courage. The Chartists, the Suffragettes and other endured prison and faced death in their struggle for the chance to have a say in the governance of the country. They organized and campaigned to force the ruling elites to open up our political system to influence by the majority of the people. It is a great misunderstanding to think that they were fighting for the chance to put a cross in a box once every few years. They were fighting – week in, week out – for power. Fighting for more people to have more influence.

Over time, we have become confused. Now we have the vote, we have mistaken politics for Parliament and have come to see democracy as something to watch on television or follow on Twitter, like spectators at a football game – or worse, to switch off from it completely, losing trust in politicians, losing trust in the media, losing trust in the system. Democracy doesn’t just mean ‘to vote’, it means people power. It means embedding political action into our day-to-day lives, in our communities and workplaces. It is a vision of a society where power is distributed amongst the people, not concentrated in the hands of the few. It’s not an end state, but a constant struggle for people to fight for a seat around the decision-making table.

But it doesn’t feel like we are at the table. It feels like we are on the menu. Power is being concentrated in the hands of an increasingly small circle of people. We have a revolving door of Cabinet ministers becoming bankers, becoming newspaper editors, becoming chief executives. We have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that our democratic system would create a better future for us all. But it doesn’t look that way. By lunchtime on the first Wednesday in January, after just two-and-a-half days’ work, FTSE 100 bosses will have earned more than the average person will earn that entire year. The generation now in their twenties will be the first in modern times to be worse off than their parents. What we want for ourselves and our children – a decent job, a home, a health service, a community – is under threat. (pp. 4-5).

He then discusses how the political terrain has shifted immensely recently, with people demanding change, giving as examples the vote to Leave in the Brexit referendum and the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But he also makes the point that you need a strategy and that winning campaigns are very well planned and organized. And he gives two examples: Rosa Parks and Abdul Durrant. While the action that sparked off the bus boycott that began the Civil Rights movement in earnest was presented as spontaneous in Dr. Who, in reality it was very carefully planned. The Montgomery chapter of the NAACP had been planning a boycott for a year before she refused to give up her seat. They had already tried this with three other Black passengers, but had failed to light the fuse of public indignation. This time, they found the right person with Rosa. Durrant was a leader in the East London Communities Organisation, part of Citizens UK, who worked nights as a cleaner in HSBC in Canary Wharf. He led a campaign to get better pay for workers like him, and then organized a media and mass protest to get it.

As for Bolton himself, he comes from a working/ middle class family. His father’s family were working class, his mother’s solidly middle class. He attended Cambridge university, but went to the state primary in his part of London. The local area was very rough, and his mother wanted him privately educated, and he was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a private school in Dulwich. He says that it was at this time that the stark difference between conditions in south London and the bubble of privilege in Dulwich began to grate on him. He was mugged twice in his neighbourhood, once at the point of a knife, punched several times in the face, and violently carjacked. After private secondary school, he went to sixth form at a state school that also had its fair share of problems. He describes how some of his friends from private school went on to work with a family friend in the City, which he describes as a conveyor belt to a decent university and a great career. Others had to avoid gang trouble on their way home, looked after their young siblings in the evening because their mother was working nights, scrimped and saved to pay the gas meter, and then tried to do their homework. He continues

It wasn’t just the unfairness that made me angry: it was the fact that as a society we say success is determined by how clever you are and how hard you work. If you fail, it’s your fault. That convenient lie made me angry then and it makes me angry now. (p. 21).

The book describes the strategy he has devised over years of campaigning to affect change. It starts off by identifying the issue you are particularly angry about – it could be anything – and identifying the people in authority who may be able to do something about it. He rejects the idea that powerlessness is somehow noble, and recommends instead that protestors concentrate on developing their power, as well as appealing to those that already have it to help them through their self-interest. The book also talks about the correct strategy to adopt in meetings and talks with those in authority and so on. It is all about mobilizing popular protest for peaceful change. After the introduction, pieces of which I’ve quoted above, it has the following chapters:

1. If You Want Change, You Need Power

2. Appreciating Self-Interest

3. Practical Tools to Build Power

4. Turning Problems Into Issues

5. The Action is in the Reaction

6. Practical Tools to Build a Campaign

7. Unusual Allies and Creative Tactics

8. Finding the Time.

9. The Iron Rule.

I’m afraid I didn’t finish reading the book, and have no experience of campaigning myself, so I can’t really judge how useful and applicable it is. But just reading it, it seems to be a very useful guide with sensible, badly needed advice for people wanting to mount effective campaigns on the issues that matter to them. And Bolton is absolutely right about the rising, obscene inequalities in our society and the crisis of democracy that has developed through the emergence of a corrupt, self-interest and interlinked media-political-banking complex.

Video of Three Military Robots

This is another video I round on robots that are currently under development on YouTube, put up by the channel Inventions World. Of the three, one is Russian and the other two are American.

The first robot is shown is the Russian, Fyodor, now being developed by Rogozin. It’s anthropomorphic, and is shown firing two guns simultaneously from its hands on a shooting range, driving a car and performing a variety of very human-style exercises, like press-ups. The company says that it was taught to fire guns to give it instant decision-making skills. And how to drive a car to make it autonomous. Although it can move and act on its own, it can also mirror the movements of a human operator wearing a mechanical suit. The company states that people shouldn’t be alarmed, as they are building AI, not the Terminator.

The next is CART, a tracked robot which looks like nothing so much as a gun and other equipment, possibly sensors, on top of a tank’s chassis and caterpillar tracks. It seems to be one of a series of such robots, designed for the American Marine corps. The explanatory text on the screen is flashed up a little too quickly to read everything, but it seems intended to provide support for the human troopers by providing extra power and also carrying their equipment for them. Among the other, similar robots which appear is a much smaller unit about the size of a human foot, seen trundling about.

The final robot is another designed by Boston Dynamics, which has already built a man-like robot and a series of very dog-like, four-legged robots, if I remember correctly. This machine is roughly humanoid. Very roughly. It has four limbs, roughly corresponding to arms and legs. Except the legs end in wheels and the arms in rubber grips, or end effectors. Instead of a head, it has a square box and the limbs look like they’ve been put on backwards. It’s shown picking up a crate in a say which reminds me of a human doing it backward, bending over to pick it up behind him. But if his legs were also put on back to front. It’s also shown spinning around, leaping into the area and scooting across the test area with one wheel on the ground and another going up a ramp.

Actually, what the Fyodor robot brings to my mind isn’t so much Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, but Hammerstein and his military robots from 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ strip. The operation of the machine by a human wearing a special suite also reminds me of a story in the ‘Hulk’ comic strip waaaay back in the 1970s. In this story, the Hulk’s alter ego, Banner, found himself inside a secret military base in which robots very similar to Fyodor were being developed. They were also controlled by human operators. Masquerading as the base’s psychiatrist, Banner meets one squaddie, who comes in for a session. The man is a robot operator, and tells Banner how he feels dehumanized through operating the robot. Banner’s appalled and decides to sabotage the robots to prevent further psychological damage. He’s discovered, of course, threatened or attacked, made angry, and the Hulk and mayhem inevitably follow.

That story is very definitely a product of the ’70s and the period of liberal self-doubt and criticism following the Vietnam War, Nixon and possibly the CIA’s murky actions around the world, like the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. The Hulk always was something of a countercultural hero. He was born when Banner, a nuclear scientist, got caught with the full force of the gamma radiation coming off a nuclear test saving Rick, a teenager, who had strayed into the test zone. Rick was an alienated, nihilistic youth, who seems to have been modelled on James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Banner pulls him out of his car, and throws him into the safety trench, but gets caught by the explosion before he himself could get in. Banner himself was very much a square. He was one of the scientists running the nuclear tests, and his girlfriend was the daughter of the army commander in charge of them. But the Hulk was very firmly in the sights of the commander, and the strip was based around Banner trying to run away from him while finding a cure for his new condition. Thus the Hulk would find himself fighting a series of running battles against the army, complete with tanks. The Ang Lee film of the Hulk that came out in the 1990s was a flop, and it did take liberties with the Hulk’s origin, as big screen adaptations often do with their source material. But it did get right the antagonism between the great green one and the army. The battles between the two reminded me very much of their depictions in the strip. The battle between the Hulk and his father, who now had the power to take on the properties of whatever he was in contact with was also staged and shot very much like similar fights also appeared in the comic, so that watching the film I felt once again a bit like I had when I was a boy reading it.

As for the CART and related robots, they remind me of the tracked robot the army sends in to defuse bombs. And research on autonomous killing vehicles like them were begun a very long time ago. The Germans in the Second World War developed small robots, remotely operated which also moved on caterpillar tracks. These carried bombs, and the operators were supposed to send them against Allied troops, who would then be killed when they exploded. Also, according to the robotics scientist Kevin Warwick of Reading University, the Americans developed an automatic killer robot consisting of a jeep with a machine gun in the 1950s. See his book, March of the Machines.

Despite the Russians’ assurances that they aren’t building the Terminator, Warwick is genuinely afraid that the robots will eventually take over and subjugate humanity. And he’s not alone. When one company a few years ago somewhere said that they were considering making war robots, there was an outcry from scientists around the world very much concerned about the immense dangers of such machines.

Hammerstein and his metallic mates in ‘ABC Warriors’ have personalities and a conscience, with the exception of two: Blackblood and Mekquake. These robots have none of the intelligence and humanity of their fictional counterparts. And without them, the fears of the opponents of such machines are entirely justified. Critics have made the point that humans are needed on the battle to make ethical decisions that robots can’t or find difficult. Like not killing civilians, although you wouldn’t guess that from the horrific atrocities committed by real, biological flesh and blood troopers.

The robots shown here are very impressive technologically, but I’d rather have their fictional counterparts created by Mills and O’Neill. They were fighting machines, but they had a higher purpose behind their violence and havoc:

Increase the peace!

The Sky At Night Looks at Britain in Space

I just managed to catch the weekday repeat a day or so ago of this month’s Sky at Night, in which presenters Maggie Aderin-Pocock and British astronaut Tim Peake looked at the history of Britain in space, and forward to the country’s future in the deep black. The programme’s changed a bit over the past few years in the case of its presenters. It was famously presented by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in the 1950s until he passed away a few years ago. This made the programme the longest-running show presented by the same person. Aderin-Pocock joined it before Moore’s departure. She’s a black woman scientist, with a background in programming missile trajectories. She’s obviously very intelligent, enthusiastic and very definitely deserves her place on the show. But I wish she’d done a job that didn’t involve the military use of rocket technology, however much this is needed as part of national defence.

Aderin-Pocock was speaking to one of the management officials from Orbex, a new, British company, which has developed a rocket launcher and intends to open a spaceport in one of the more deserted areas of Scotland. The rocket will stand about 17 meters tall, using propane and High Test Peroxide as fuel. High Test Peroxide is a highly concentrated version of the hydrogen peroxide used by hairdressers to bleach peoples’ hair. The use of propane is particularly important, as it’s lighter than conventional rocket fuels, meaning that the rocket doesn’t have to carry as much fuel to lift off into space. Advances in satellite design have also allowed the rocket to be smaller than other spacecraft used elsewhere. British universities have succeeded in developing microsatellites – satellites that are much, much smaller than some of the satellites put into orbit, but which can perform the same functions. As these satellites are smaller and lighter, they only need a relatively smaller, lighter rocket to launch them.

The Scottish launch complex also wasn’t going to be as big as other, larger, major launch complexes, such as those of NASA, for example. I think it would still contain a launch tower and control buildings. As well as the official from Orbex, the show also talked to a woman representing the rural community in the part of Scotland, where they were planning to build it. She admitted that there would be problems with building it in this part of the Scots countryside. However, the community was only going to lease the land, not sell it to Orbex, and care would be taken to protect the farms of the local crofters and the environment and wildlife. Like much of rural Britain, this was an area of few jobs, and the population was aging as the young people moved away in search of work. She looked forward to Orbex and its spaceport bringing work to the area, and creating apprenticeships for the local young people.

The programme went on to explain that this would be the first time for decades that a British company was going to build a British rocket to launch a British satellite. From what looked the British space museum in Manchester, Time Peake stood under the display of Britain’s Black Knight rocket and the Prospero satellite. He explained how the rocket launched the satellite into space from Australia in 1975. However, the project was then cancelled, which meant that Britain is the only country so far which has developed, and then discarded rocket technology.

But Black Knight wasn’t the only space rocket Britain developed. Peake then moved on to talk about Skylark, a massively successful sounding rocket. Developed for high altitude research, the rocket reached a maximum of altitude of 400 km in the few minutes it was in flight. At its apogee – its maximum distance from Earth – the vehicle briefly experienced a few minutes of zero gravity, during which experiments could be performed exploring this environment. The Skylark rocket was used for decades before it was finally cancelled.

Aderin-Pocock asked the official from Orbex how long it would be before the spaceport would be up and running. The manager replied that this was always an awkward question to answer, as there was always something that meant operations and flights would start later than expected. He said, however, that they were aiming at around the end of 2020 and perhaps the beginning of 2021.

Orbex are not, however, the only space company planning to open a spaceport in Britain. Virgin Galactic have their own plans to launch rockets in to space from Cornwall. Their vehicle will not, however, be launched from the ground like a conventional rocket, but will first be carried to a sufficiently high altitude by an airplane, which would then launch it. I’m not a betting man, but my guess is that of the two, Orbex is the far more likely to get off the ground, as it were, and begin launching its rocket on schedule. As I’ve blogged about previously, Branson has been telling everyone since the late 1990s at least, that Virgin Galactic are going to be flying tourists into space in just a few months from now. This fortnight’s Private Eye published a brief list of the number of times Branson had said that, with dates. It might be that Branson will at last send the first of his aspiring astronauts up in the next few months, as he claimed last week. But from his previous form, it seems far more likely that Orbex will start launches before him, as will Branson’s competitors over the pond, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

When asked about the company’s capability of perfecting their technology, Orbex’s manager not stressed the skill and competence of the scientists, technicians and engineers working on the project. This included not just conventional space scientists, but also people, who had personally tried and failed to build their own spacecraft. He said that it was extremely important to fail to build rockets. He’s obviously referring to the many non-professional, hobby rocketeers out there trying to build their own spacecraft. He didn’t mention them, but one example would be the people at Starchaser, who started out as a small group of enthusiasts in Yorkshire but have gone on to create their own space company, now based across the pond in America. I think it’s brilliant that amateurs and semi-professionals have developed skills that the professionals in the industry find valuable. And the failures are important, as they show what can go wrong, and give the experience and necessary information on how to avoid it. I don’t think the rocket will be wholly built in this country. The manager said that some of it was being constructed in Copenhagen. This sounds like Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish team of rocket scientists, who are trying to put a person into space. They’re ex-NASA, I believe, but it’s a small, private venture. They have a webpage and have posted videos on YouTube, some of which I’ve reblogged. They’ve also said they’re keen for people to join them, or start their own rocket projects.

I’d been looking forward to that edition of the Sky at Night for the past week, but when the time came, it slipped my mind that it was on. I’m very glad I was able to catch it. If Orbex are successful, it will be the first time that a British satellite will launch a British satellite from here in Britain. And it sounds really optimistic. Not only will Britain be returning to space rocket development, but the Scots spaceport sounds like it will, hopefully, bring work to a depressed area. I’m also confident that the local environment there will also be preserved. The launch complex around NASA is necessarily so remote from other buildings, that it’s actually become a wildlife haven. So much so that it’s now a location for birdwatching.

When it was announced that they were planning to build a new spaceport in Scotland, I assumed it would be for Skylon, the British spaceplane. There had been articles in the paper about the spacecraft, which stated that it would be launched either from Scotland or Cornwall. It seems I was wrong, and that it’s Orbex’s rocket which will be launched there instead. But nevertheless, I wish Orbex every success in their venture, and hope that sometime soon Skylon will also join them in flight out on the High Frontier.

Liberals’ ‘free speech’ crusade is an attack on right to protest

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/10/2018 - 7:15pm in

Liberal Education Minister Dan Tehan has launched an anti-protest crusade in the name of “free speech” on campuses.

In late September, he called on University Vice Chancellors from the elite Group of Eight universities to charge students for security costs if they wanted to protest on campus.

The proposal came after students at Sydney Uni protested a Liberal Club “Fake Rape Crisis Tour” event featuring Bettina Arndt. Arndt is an appalling right-wing ideologue who promotes the idea that there is no rape crisis on campus.

This is despite the Human Rights Commission report last August that revealed the alarming extent of sexual harassment and assault at universities.

Tehan postured as a defender of free speech to justify his attack on protesters, saying:

“We’ve seen some examples where groups have tried to prevent forums taking place, and I think what we have to ensure is that where that is happening, there is an ability—especially on our university campuses—for those events to go ahead”.

Right-wing Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt also joined the chorus, railing against “thuggery from the Left“, despite Arndt’s Sydney Uni event going ahead as planned.

Donald Trump’s Presidency in the US has given confidence to racists, sexists and homophobes the world over. Women face very real consequences if the kind of sexism Trump champions is further entrenched.

Liberal PM Scott Morrison was eager to give Trump’s politics legitimacy, inviting him to visit Australia in November. And his government has backed Bettina Arndt’s disgraceful “free speech” to the hilt. This only serves to underline why the likes of Arndt should be met with disruptive mass protests wherever they rear their heads. Their brand of viciously sexist politics shouldn’t go unchallenged on campus or anywhere else.

Whose free speech?

The free speech of bigots and right-wingers isn’t under threat.

Bettina Ardnt is a columnist for Murdoch’s The Australian, the only national daily paper in the country. Andrew Bolt gets to use the Herald Sun as a megaphone for his views—one of Australia’s most highly circulated tabloids. Not only that, but he also has a Fox News style TV show on Sky and a radio program.

The likes of Arndt and Bolt get a huge platform because they spout the kind of right-wing views that corporate media bosses approve of. Australia has one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. Murdoch’s News Limited controls 70 per cent of newspaper circulation alone. There are only three commercial TV stations in each city.

All the big media outlets are owned by the rich and promote views that defend their basic interests. Even the ABC is desperate to show it is “balanced” by only permitting a narrow range of political opinions and excluding overly left-wing views.

The grossly unequal system of media ownership in capitalist society means there is no real freedom of speech.

The Liberals also have zero reservations about squashing freedom of speech when it suits them.

Espionage laws passed this year give the government the power to prosecute and imprison whistle-blowers who “prejudice national security” with harsher penalties than before. Anti-terror laws passed in 2015 threaten journalists who report on “special intelligence operations” with up to ten years’ jail.

Workers who take stopwork action to rally over political issues are breaking the laws that ban strikes.

It is the freedom of speech of the working class and ordinary people that needs to be defended, not the freedom of speech for bosses, corporations and right-wing ideologues.

No free speech for fascists

The hypocrisy of the Liberals’ cry for free speech, and the massively unequal access to media platforms, doesn’t mean we are for denying free speech to all right-wing speakers on principle.

We are for empowering workers and the oppressed to protest and disrupt appearances by the rich and powerful.

But the “no platform” approach—refusing to let groups speak or gather publicly- is non-negotiable only in the case of fascists. Fascists aim to build a street movement that can use physical violence to attack minorities, trade unionists and the left with the ultimate goal of installing a dictatorship. The far right is a growing threat, particularly in Europe. Many of these groups have fascist organisations at their core.

The Football Lads Alliance in the UK is one such organisation. It has organised thousands to take to the streets on anti-Muslim marches. They have done Nazi salutes and physically attacked trade unionists and minorities. Strong counter mobilisations that block their marches and deny them the “freedom” to go on racist rampages have been an absolute necessity. It is extremely dangerous to accept the idea of universal freedom of speech in the face of such a threat.

By Adam Adelpour

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