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‘I’ Newspaper: Wales Getting Ready to Nationalise Railways

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 9:12pm in

Today’s I for 23rd October 2020 has an article by Adam Hale, ‘Railways set to be nationalised’, reporting that the Welsh government is about to nationalise the railways in the principality because of falling passenger numbers due to the Coronavirus crisis. The article runs

The Welsh Government has decided to nationalise its railways following a significant drop in passenger numbers because of coronavirus.

The country’s transport minister Ken Skates said bringing day-to-day rail services for its Wales and Borders franchise under public control would help secure the future of passenger services and protect jobs.

Private firm KeolisAmey has run the franchise in Wales for just two years after taking it over from Arriva Trains Wales.

Mr Skates added that: “The Welsh Government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.”

It’s excellent that this is being done. The railways should never have been nationalised. Indeed, in Britain, sections of the rail network have had to be handed back to the state to manage almost as regularly as clockwork. Unfortunately, they’ve always then been given to another private operator because of the dogma that private enterprise is always better and more efficient than the state. Even when it glaringly isn’t, as the past four decades of dismal failure by the privatised utilities companies has abundantly shown.

There is a very strong movement for the railways across Britain to be renationalised, as shown by previous press reports about criticisms of private railway companies and the franchising system. So far, however, many of the recommendations for the system’s reform simply demand alterations to the franchising system. It’ high time this was all stopped, and the rail companies renationalised across Britain.

I’ve no doubt that the Welsh renationalisation will be successful, but it will be uncomfortable for the Tories and New Labour because of their insistence on the absolute primacy of private enterprise. If it is successful, then you can expect articles by some Tories across the border here in England recommending their nationalisation. I think Lady Olga Maitland wrote one for the Tory papers the other year. But there will also be attempts by the Tories to rubbish it, and the Welsh ministers responsible in order to put the voting public off it over here.

Because if the railways are successfully nationalised, who knows where it would stop! The state could start taking over electricity, water, gas and even healthcare. Shocking!

They also might consider it better to feed hungry schoolchildren rather than send them to school starving while wasting money on fat contracts for firms run by Tory ministers and their friends.

Flint-Linked Veolia Merger Brings Water Privatization Closer to “Global Reality”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 4:46am in

Veolia, one of the world’s largest private water corporations, has just announced the acquisition of 29.9 percent of Suez Water, another of the planet’s largest multinationals, with a plan to gain full control at a later date.

Based in France, Veolia already employs nearly 100,000 people worldwide, and this deal is set to greatly expand that. In order to get around French anti-monopoly laws, Suez will continue to operate in France, but Veolia will take over its operations around the world, including in the United States.

The company’s CEO, Antoine Frérot, has presented the move as a triumph for the environment. “I am very happy to lay the foundation stone in France today for a world super champion of the ecological transformation,” he said, adding that this was a “wonderful opportunity” for both investors and the planet.

Others were not so sure this takeover was such a positive move. Activist group Food and Water Watch decried the deal. “Veolia’s global domination of public water services is becoming a terrifying reality,” wrote its Public Water for All Campaign Director Mary Grant, warning of a host of negative consequences for humanity at large.

The merger of the world’s largest water corporations will erode any semblance of competition for water privatization deals. This lack of competition will lead to unaffordable costs for families, slack maintenance and safety procedures, loss of union jobs, and potentially rampant corruption. Water privatization has been a disaster for communities across the United States and around the world.”

 

“Lead seems to be a problem, do not pass this on”

The water and waste management firm is perhaps best known in the United States in connection to the Flint water crisis (2014-present), where it was employed in a number of lucrative roles by the city. While much of the public outrage has been directed at local and national officials, many in Flint blame Veolia for its alleged reckless disregard for their lives. In 2016, Michigan residents sued the company, accusing it of professional negligence, a charge Veolia called “outrageous,” claiming that people are “trying to create a corporate villain where one does not exist.”

However, last year, leaked email exchanges show that senior employees knew about the dangerous levels of lead and other carcinogens in the water but did not go public with the information. As a result, months passed before the city was forced to admit there was a deadly problem. The emails, published by The Guardian, are explicit, with officials communicating that “lead seems to be a problem” and instructing others, “do not pass this [information] on.”

In general, allowing private corporations to control water supplies has not been beneficial for local populations. For example, in the United Kingdom, water was privatized in 1989, with the cost of water to the consumer increasing at 40 percent above inflation ever since. Shareholders received $17.5 billion in dividends between 2010 and 2019, but the companies refuse to plug leaks that spill over 650 million gallons every year. As a result, the United Kingdom — a notoriously wet collection of islands — is facing a water shortage by 2045.

In 1997 the World Bank strong-armed Bolivia into privatizing its water system as a condition of a loan agreement. Almost overnight, prices soared. A water and sewer connection for a single household cost $445 in El Alto, where many residents earned less than $2 per day. Nevertheless, private companies managed to get the government to pass laws banning the collection of rainwater. The result was mass thirst, and anger that spilled over into the streets and set the tone for two decades of radical politics in the country, especially after U.S. corporation Bechtel sued the country for $25 million for canceling its municipal contract with them.

The United Nations recognizes the right to water and sanitation as a fundamental human right. Yet when the profit motive is injected into the equation, and it is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold, those without the ability to pay often miss out. Food and Water watch categorically warns against privatization.

“As the fiscal realities of the COVID crisis begin to set in for struggling municipalities, some may consider selling off their valuable water systems as a short-term solution. But this would create long-term harm. Communities must revert all privatized water and sewer systems to public control to ensure safety and affordability for all,” Grant added.

Feature photo | A student gets water from a cooler in the hallway at Gardner Elementary School in Detroit, Sept. 4, 2018, due to elevated lead levels in public water. Paul Sancya | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Flint-Linked Veolia Merger Brings Water Privatization Closer to “Global Reality” appeared first on MintPress News.

Gogglebox Clip Shows Starmer’s Uselessness as Opposition Leader

Mike’s mentioned this in his piece about Starmer now trying to win back donors to the Labour party when its haemorrhaging ordinary members thanks to his return to Blairism. One of the shows the peeps on Channel 4’s Gogglebox watched on Friday was an interview by Andrew Marr of Keir Starmer. And unfortunately, if the clip can be believed, Starmer was completely trounced by Marr.

The Labour leader was repeatedly asked what he would do about the Covid crisis. Starmer’s reply was a refrain of ‘We support the government’. Marr remarked that Starmer had done so much condemning past Tory policies in retrospect that Johnson had called him ‘Dr. Hindsight’. This is biting, but it appears from the clip that Starmer has earned. He was presented as having nothing to say against Johnson and his policies, which are wrecking this country, and impoverishing and destroying the lives and livelihoods of its people.

Starmer’s performance at PMQ’s has shown that when he does care to attack Johnson, he can land devastating blows. And it shouldn’t be hard. Johnson’s administration is one long catalogue of abject failures and U-turns. So much so, in fact, that Zelo Street has presented some very persuasive posts arguing that the Tories are considering easing him out and replacing him with someone else, like Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak or Priti Patel. But Starmer seems determined to put up only the weakest, most ineffectual opposition.

This is almost certainly because Starmer’s a Blairite. Blair’s policy was to take over those of the Conservatives and try win over their voters and their press and media. He was a neoliberal, whom Margaret Thatcher regarded as her greatest achievement. Much of New Labour campaigning was based on the claim that they could implement these policies better and more efficiently than the Tories themselves. They also made a feeble effort to retain their traditional working class support by presenting themselves as being less extreme and harsh in their welfare reforms than the Tories. But as one of the Blairite women MPs – I think it may have been Rachel Reeves – announced that Labour would be harder on the unemployed than the Tories, this claim is extremely dubious. Blair, Brown and their cronies also expected to retain working class support because they didn’t think they had anywhere else to go.

That argument doesn’t work. Some members of the working class simply stopped voting Labour. Others, a minority, moved to the right and started supporting UKIP and then the Fuhrage’s Brexit party. And many in the traditional Labour heartlands of the north and midlands were won over at the last general election by the Tories’ promise ‘to get Brexit done’. Starmer and the Labour leadership shouldn’t be so complacent about working class support.

But Starmer has shown that he has little idea or even interest in winning back traditional Labour supporters. Despite the vicious hostility the Tories and their complicit media succeeded in whipping up against Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s policies – nationalised utilities, a properly funded, state owned NHS that provides treatment to everyone, free at the point of service, strong trade unions and restored worker’s rights, and a proper welfare state that gives people what they really need and deserve to live on, instead of forcing them to rely on food banks and charity. But this conflicts with Blairite neoliberalism, and so Starmer has shown that he’s determined to move away from them and the working class in order to present Labour yet again as a pale imitation of the Conservatives.

It seems very much to me that Starmer and his supporters were never primarily against the Tories. They were just anti-Corbyn. Especially considering the allegations about the Blairite plotters and how they actively conspired to have the party lose the 2017 and 2019 elections. Through the past years they called on Tory and Lib Dem supporters to help them in their campaign against the Labour leader. Alistair Campbell even went as far as campaigning for the Lib Dems.

The result is Starmer’s appallingly feeble performance in the clip shown on Gogglebox. Starmer’s determined to hang on to Blairite policies, but Mike has argued that they won’t work this time. The Tories are destroying this country, and what is needed is a complete change of policies, not just a change of parties.

Starmer and his Blairite policies are wrecking the Labour Party. He should go, and make way for someone better able to attack and defeat the Tories.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/27/starmer-runs-out-of-credibility-and-cash-and-runs-to-the-rich-as-labour-supporters-run-away/

Posted Copies of Book ‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ to Labour Party

This afternoon I posted two copies of my self-published book, For A Workers’ Chamber, off to the Labour Party with appropriate covering letters. As I’ve explained in previous posts, the book argues that as parliament is now dominated by the millionaire heads and senior executives of big business, the working class has been excluded. It therefore needs a separate parliamentary chamber, composed of working people, elected by working people, to represent them.

I’ve also explained in the covering letters that it draws on arguments for such working class assemblies going as far back as Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trades Union, the Chartists’ parliament of trades and the Guild Socialist strand within the early Labour party. I also state that it also draws on the post-war corporatist system in Britain, in which economic and industrial affairs were decided through negotiations and organisations that brought together government, industry and trade unionists. It also discusses too the producers’ chambers, which formed part of the governmental system of Tito’s Yugoslavia under the workers’ self-management system.

I have also said in the letter that the domination of parliament by employers supports the Marxist argument that the state is the instrument of class rule. Sidney and Beatrice Webb also felt that the parliamentary system could not cope with the demands of the expansion of parliamentary business into the social and economic spheres, and so recommended the establishment of a social parliament as well as a political parliament in their 1920 book, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. Another Fabian, Herman Finer, also recommended that Britain should copy the industrial chamber the Germans had set up, which contained representatives of industry and the trade unions to decide questions of industry.

We already have part of that through parliament’s domination by industrialists. We just need to include the working class. Of course, this could also be corrected if the Labour party turns away from the disastrous policies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which have done so much to ruin our country and impoverish its people. We need a Labour party that properly supports its traditional policies – a strong welfare state and unions able to defend working people, a properly funded and nationalised NHS and public utilities, run for the benefit of the community and not private profit, and a mixed economy. But there is a real danger that the Labour party is returning to the failed policies of Thatcherism. If that is the case, then the working class needs its own parliamentary chamber to defend its interests.

The Labour Party is holding a national policy review and has asked for suggestions by email. So I’ve sent them my book and its suggestions instead to the party’s National Policy Commission. I’ve also sent a copy to Richard Burgon in appreciation of his great efforts on behalf of the Labour left and the Labour Grassroots Alliance in supporting traditional Labour party policies and working people.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get a reply. Given the rabidly right-wing politics of the Blairite Labour party bureaucracy I have wondered if I might find myself smeared and accused of being a Trotskyite or Communist infiltrator or other slur after sending a copy of my book to the National Policy Commission. After all, they suspended and smeared Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier simply because he had the temerity to send them a document defending Ken Livingstone against the charges of anti-Semitism they had leveled against him. I hope nothing like that happens to me, but I’m still left wondering.

Hooray! Copies of My Book Demanding Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber Have Arrived!

I got the two copies of my self-published book For A Workers’ Chamber, published with the print on demand service Lulu through the post today. I wrote the book way back in 2018. It argues that as parliament is dominated by millionaire company directors and senior management, working people have been effectively excluded. Blairite Labour is no help, as it has enthusiastically embraced this policy. I therefore argue that what is needed to correct this is a parliamentary chamber composed of working people, elected by working people, following ideas and demands going back as Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union and the Chartist’s assembly of a parliament of trades in the 19th century. The book’s blurb runs

For a Worker’s Chamber argues that a special representative chamber of composed of representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries.

It traces the idea of worker’s special legislative assemblies from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, anarchism, syndicalism, Guild Socialism, the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils in Revolutionary Russia, Germany and Austria, the Utopian Socialism of Saint-Simon and the Corporativism of Fascist Italy. It also discusses the liberal forms of corporativism which emerged in Britain during the First and Second World Wars, as well as the system of workers’ control and producer’s chambers in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

It argues that parliamentary democracy should not be abandoned, but needs to be expanded in include a worker’s chamber to make it more representative.

I ordered two copies of my book as I want to send one to the Labour Party. It’s now holding a policy review, and they’ve been asking members to send in suggestions for a policy. I really this idea is quite extreme and Utopian, but I want to send a copy of it to them to remind them just who they were set up to represent and where their priorities should lie. And they definitely do not lie with chasing Tory votes, taking over Thatcher’s policies and dismantling the welfare state, privatising the NHS and enrolling rich businessmen in parliament.

I’d like to send the second copy to any Labour MP or senior figure in the movement, who might be interested in it. Ken Livingstone would be the obvious choice, as he was a strong supporter of workers’ rights and industrial democracy when he was head of the GLC. Unfortunately, he has been forced out of the party due to being smeared as an anti-Semite, simply because he correctly pointed out that Hitler initially supported Zionism and sending Jews to Israel. The German Zionists signed a pact with him, the Ha’avara Agreement, which is documented on the website of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

I’m also thinking of sending it Richard Burgon, who is now one of the leading figures in left-wing Labour politics. I realise that it is probably too extreme for him, as he’s traditional centrist Labour, wanting the return of nationalisation for the NHS and utilities and a state managed but mixed economy. You know, the standard post-war social democratic consensus until Thatcher’s election in 1979. But I’m also worried about sending it to him in case his enemies in the party use it to smear him as a Commie or Trotskyite, just as they did with Corbyn.

The book is only one of a number of pamphlets and books I’ve self-published. I tried sending copies of them to the press, but didn’t get any interest. If you have any suggestions for any senior Labour figure, or simply ordinary MP or official, who would enjoy reading a copy, please let me know.

Ignore the Tory Flag-Waving: Labour and Socialism Represent Real Patriotism

It was announced this week that there are plans to set up two independent networks to rival the ‘woke, wet BBC’ as the Daily Mail decided to describe the state broadcaster. This has been described by left-wing bloggers like Zelo Street quite rightly as attempts to set up a kind of Fox News in the UK. And the name of one of these broadcasters shows you just what type of audience they want to appeal to: GB News. Two of its presenters have already been announced. They are Andrew Neil and Nigel Farage. It’s another example of the Conservatives and right Brexiteers laying the claim to be patriots defending Britain, its people and traditions. And it’s rubbish.

The Tories have been making this claim almost since they appeared in the 17th century, but the nationalism became particularly acute under Thatcher. She took over Churchill’s heroic view of British history and consciously modelled her style of government on Churchill’s. Or what she thought was Churchill’s. The result was headlines like one in the Sunday Telegraph defending the patriotic middle classes: ‘Don’t Call Them Boojwah, Call Them British’. World War II and the Falklands were invoked at every opportunity. The Tory party election broadcast was a particularly blatant example. It started with World War II footage of Spitfires zooming about the skies while an excited voice told us that ‘We were born free’. It’s a line from the 18th century Swiss advocate of radical democracy, Rousseau. His Social Contract begins ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ Obviously, you can see why the Tories didn’t want to include the last bit.

Thatcher passed legislation intended to make New Commonwealth immigration more difficult by revising British citizenship to restrict it only to those born here or who had been naturalised. Previously it had extended to anyone born in the British Empire. At the same time, the Tory press ran article after article attacking Black and Asian immigrants, warning of the dire threat of ‘unassimilable immigrants’. The riots of the early 80s were ascribed, not to Blacks protesting against real racism, but to the racism of the Black community itself. The Labour party was full of Commies and traitors supporting the IRA, a lie that BoJob repeated yesterday in an ad hominem attack on Keir Starmer. Britain was under threat, and only Maggie Thatcher, personifying the spirit of Boadicea and Winston Churchill, could save us.

In fact the reverse was true. We almost lost the Falklands War, despite all the propaganda, flag-waving and sabre-rattling, because of Thatcher’s defence cuts. The Argentinians waited until the British ship guarding the islands had sailed away. We only won thanks to American and Chilean support. Hence Thatcher’s friendship with the old Fascist butcher, General Pinochet.

At the same time, Thatcher was responsible for the destruction of British industry and its sale to foreign companies. She didn’t want the government to bail out ailing firms, and so they were allowed to go under. State-owned enterprises were sold to foreign companies, so that many of the railway companies are owned by the Dutch, French and Germans, while I think Bristol Water is owned by an Indonesian firm. This has not brought the investment Thatcher claimed. Instead, these foreign firms simply take the profits from British companies and concentrate on their own domestic operations.

At the same time, the deregulation of the financial sector, which was supposed to take over from manufacturing as the main motor of the British economy, resulted in capital flight. The Tories hate the free movement of people, except when they’re rich, but are very keen to make sure that the British rich can invest wherever they like around the world, even at the expense of British domestic industry. Hence Jacob Rees Mogg also has investments in a number of far eastern and Indonesian companies.

And the British Empire has actually also been a problem for British domestic industry. British capitalists took their money there to exploit cheap indigenous labour. Even now the City is geared more to oversees investment than domestic, with the result that British industry is starved of investment. Labour tried to solve that problem in the 1980s by advocating a domestic investment bank. That went out the window when they lost the 1987 election, and Kinnock and his successor Blair did a volte-face and turned instead to the financial sector with promises of ‘light touch’ regulation. Further reforms by Blair, continued by the Tories, have resulted the extremely rich taking their money abroad in tax havens like the Cayman Islands in order to avoid paying British tax. Yet the same billionaires still demand the British taxpayer to bail them out. We saw this a month ago when Beardie Richard Branson called on the government to bail out Virgin Airlines, despite the fact that he is resident in the Virgin Islands and his company is also registered abroad in order to dodge paying tax in Blighty.

The playwright and Fabian socialist George Bernard Shaw called out the Tories on the fake patriotism nearly a century ago in his 1928 book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. He wrote

So far we have considered the growth of Capitalism as it occurs at home. But capital has no home, or rather it is at home everywhere. It is a quaint fact that though professed Socialists and Communists call themselves Internationalist, and carry a red flag which is the flag of workers of all nations, and though most capitalists are boastfully national, and wave the Union Jack on every possible occasion, yet when you come down from the cries and catchwords to the facts, you find that every practical measure advocated by British Socialists would have the effect of keeping British capital in Britain to be spent on improving the condition of their native country, whilst the British capitalists are sending British capital out of Britain to the ends of the earth by hundreds of millions every year. If, with all our spare money in their hands, they were compelled to spend it in the British Isles, or were patriotic or public-spirited or insular enough to do so without being compelled, they could at least call themselves patriots with some show of plausibility. Unfortunately we allow them to spend it where they please; and their only preference, as we have seen, is for the country in which it will yield them the largest income. Consequently, when they have begun at the wrong end at home, and have exhausted its possibilities, they do not move towards the right end until they have exhausted the possibilities of the wrong end abroad as well. (pp. 133-4).

Shaw was right. In terms of practical politics, the Socialists are the only real patriots. The flag-waving nationalism of Thatcher, BoJob and Farage is to distract you from the fact that they’re not.

Don’t be misled by patriotic rhetoric, the fake controversy about the Proms, the attacks on immigrants and names like GB News. The people who really believe in Britain and all its great people are on the left.

Bogota Cyclists Are Getting Much More Than Just Bike Lanes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 11:46pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Local Contacts

After a young man who had been at a party tested positive for Covid-19, the residents of his housing project leapt into action to improvise a highly effective response. 

The complex, in the Sunnydale section of San Francisco, is a tight-knit community, which helped its residents to cobble together a contact tracing effort all their own. Upon learning of the diagnosis, they immediately started making calls to figure out “who hung with who and who we could call in the family to persuade them to get tested,” according to one person involved. Once they’d sorted out who was at risk, they lobbied the city to bring in testing. It wasn’t easy — Black and Brown communities are underserved by San Francisco’s health system, and community leaders had to call in favors from allies in the medical community.

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Eventually, they persuaded the city’s Department of Health to begin testing on site. Thanks to the contact tracing blitz, health officials knew exactly who to focus on. Over seven percent of the housing project’s residents tested positive, and were quickly offered food delivery and other services by their neighbors so they could self-quarantine. A few weeks later, the city returned to do follow-up testing, and this time, only one resident out of 100 tested positive, showing the potential of a well-coordinated hyper-local response to an outbreak. “The community has to be served in the way the community works, and not the way the [Department of Public Health] thinks it works,” said one resident.

Read more at Mission Local

Virtuous Cycle

Cities around the world have gone big on bicycling during the pandemic. But Bogota may be Latin America’s champion of the two-wheeled commute.

bogota“Without the pandemic we probably wouldn’t have achieved half of what we have so far.” Credit: Michael M / Flickr

Yes, the city is building lots more bike lanes — in February, its mayor (an avid cyclist) pledged to add 280 kilometers of cycleways to Bogota’s existing 550-kilometer network. But it’s going much further than that to encourage more residents to bicycle. To make cycling safer, speed limits have been lowered citywide to 50 kilometers per hour. Some 20 percent of all parking — both public and private — has been turned over to bikes for the duration of the pandemic. And Bogota established a bicycle registration database in response to a surge in thefts in the first half of 2020. At registration stands that have sprouted across the city, riders can register their bike’s characteristics and serial numbers, making it easier for the police to identify if it pops up on the black market. 

“Without the pandemic we probably wouldn’t have achieved half of what we have so far,” Bogota’s cycling czar told Bloomberg CityLab. And there’s still room to grow: The city’s ultimate goal is to have 50 percent of total trips made via bicycle.

Read more at Bloomberg CityLab

Hashtag No Filter

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine heaps fresh praise on New York City’s water system, one of the most enviable in the world.

reservoirThe Ashokan Reservoir in upstate New York provides the city with drinking water that need not be filtered. Credit: Daniel Case

The report finds that New York’s $2.5 billion watershed protection plan has been a smashing success. Through the program, launched in 1997, the city purchases and protects watersheds all along the 175-mile route that its drinking water must travel as it rushes down from the mountains in the north to the city’s pipes. Protecting these watersheds has prevented pollution from seeping into the system, which is why New York remains one of the few U.S. cities that doesn’t have to filter its drinking water. If it hadn’t spent the last two decades protecting these areas, the report finds, the city might have needed to build a filtration plant — at a cost of a cool, not-so-refreshing $10 billion.

Read more at Grist

The post Bogota Cyclists Are Getting Much More Than Just Bike Lanes appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

From 1997: Financial Times Article on Free Market Creating Global Poverty

This is another piece I found combing through my scrapbooks. It’s by the Financial Times’ columnist, Joe Rogaly. Titled ‘Market Victims Who Are Free to Be Poor’, and with the subtitle ‘One set of figures shows the capitalist road leading to paradise; a better set shows it leading to misery for many’ it compares and contrasts two reports on global poverty, one by the UN and another by a group of free market think tanks led by the Fraser Institute. And Rogaly comes down firmly on the side of the UN. The article, published in the Weekend edition for 14/15 June 1997, runs

When pictures of skeletal children or abandoned babies appear on the TV news do you (a) lean forward to catch the commentary (b) change channels (c) switch off and head for the kitchen? Some of us have seen about as many images of third-world distress as we can bear. Our assumption is that we know the cure for deprivation: unshackle the free market and the globalised capitalist wealth-producing machine will do the rest.

No it won’t. The 1997 Human Development report, published this week by Oxford University Press for the United Nations, demolishes the idea that the bounty created by the genius of market economics will trickle down. You have to spend tax -payers’ money to help the worst-off, or they will be dead before they are rescued.

Not everyone accepts this. It is contrary to the spirit of the 1997 Economic Freedom of the World report. Right-thinking and therefore expressive of familiar sentiments, it was published last month by the Fraser Institute, Vancouver, in association with 46 other pro-market think-tanks dotted around the planet.

This clutch of capitalist theologians, which includes London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, has invented an index of economic freedom. Its 17 components include growth and inflation rates, government spending, top marginal tax rates, restraints on trade, and so on. These are expressed in hard numbers and therefore “objective”. Hong Kong tops a list of 115 countries thus appraised. The US comes 4th, Britain 7th and France 36th.

You can guess what follows. A few clicks on the mouse-button tell you that between 1985 and 1996 the economies near the top of the economic freedom index grew fastes, while those at the bottom – the “least free” fifth – got poorer. That unhappy quintile includes Russia, Ukraine, and the well-known African disaster areas. The lesson is obvious. Impede the market, and you pay, perhaps with your life. The unobstructed capitalist road is the highway to  paradise.

Wrong again. The UN’s Human Development Index is closer to the truth. it does not measure progress by the rules of conventional economics alone. To be sure, it factors in real gross domestic product per head, as do the freedom-theorists. But GDP is only one of three ingredients. The other two are life expectancy and educational attainment. The resulting list puts countries in a different order from the free marketeers’ league table.

On the latter, remember, Hong Kong comes first. On the development index it falls to 22nd. France, which believes in government expenditure, moves up from 36th on the economic freedom ladder to second place on human development. The United Kingdom falls from 7th to 15th. It’s not just the wealth you generate. It’s how you spend it.

The Human Development report introduces another index this year – for “human poverty”. It counts the people who are expected to die before turning 40, the number of illiterates, those without health services and clean water, and underweight toddlers. Once again you get changes in the rank order, particularly among developing countries.

Cuba, China, Kenya and Peru have all done relatively well at alleviating human poverty. Egypt, Guatemala and Pakistan score less on poverty relief than on human development. It is not only how you spend it, but who you spend it on.

The obvious message is aspirational. If the rich countries would put their hands in their pockets, poverty could be eliminated. We know this will not happen, in spite of the determination to give a lead expressed by Britain’s new Labour administration. Government to government aid is no longer fashionable. The money does not always reach its destination, as the worst case story, that of Zaire, teaches us. The US poured in the dollars, and they went straight into former president Mobutu’s Swiss bank accounts.

Tied assistance is better. Big donors usually demand that markets by set free. This is not quite enough to meet the needs of Human Development or the alleviation of poverty. Happily, contracts tying aid to certain actions are getting more sophisticated – although so are the means by which recipients contravene them. Anyhow, aid is but a part of what is needed.

The true value of the Human Development report lies in its implicit challenge to narrow-focused concentration on the market mechanism. Compiled by a team of economists and others directed by Richard Joly, it has evolved within the broad discipline of economics. It would be better still if someone could come up with an acceptable index of political freedom, to measure both economic and human development and democratic practices. That would require judgments that could not be quantified. How would you have treated 99 per cent votes in communist countries?

The outlook is not all so dolorous. Poverty is declining overall, largely thanks to the improvement in China, which has moved up the economic freedom tables and reduced destitution. Not many countries can make that boast. There are still 800m people who do not have enough to eat. We have some clever indices, but so far no great help to the misery on our TV screens. Only a change in the way we think can achieve that.

That was published nearly a quarter of a century ago. I don’t doubt that with time and the progress of neoliberalist, free market economics, things have become much, much worse. The book Falling off the Edge, which I’ve reviewed on this blog, is a full-scale attack on such globalisation, showing how it not only has created worse poverty and exploitation, but has also led to political instability and global terrorism. And as more British children go hungry, as more people fall into poverty due to the Tories’ privatisations and destruction of the welfare state, I wonder how long it will be before conditions very like those of the Developing World appear here.

This was published when the Financial Times’ weekend edition was still worth reading. It had good reviews and insightful columnists. It declined in quality around the turn of the millennium when it became much more lightweight. It has also switched its political allegiance from liberal to Conservative in an unsuccessful attempt to gain readers.

This article shows that neoliberal free market economics, of the type pushed by the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs, has always been a fraud, and known to be a fraud.

But our mendacious, vicious press and political establishment are still pushing it, at a massive cost in human lives and wellbeing. Even in Britain.

From 25 Years Ago: Private Eye on the Failings of the Privatised Water Companies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/07/2020 - 2:53am in

A few days ago I put up a piece about a report in the I that stated MPs had criticized the regulatory authorities for their failure to ensure that the water supply is adequately maintained. According to the I, the supply is in such a terrible state that within 20 years England may run out of water.

This isn’t exactly surprising, as environmental scientists, ecological activists and archaeologists have been warning about the terrible possibility of a global drought as the world runs out of supplies of drinking for over two decades. And in the 1980s the SF author Alfred Bester set his last book, Golem 100, in the ‘Guf’, a sprawling metropolis covering America’s eastern seaboard somewhat like Judge Dredd’s Megacity 1. Society in the Guf was decaying, with different areas controlled by various gangs and terrorist groups. Crime was rampant, and in addition to the social and political decline and fragmentation the huge megacity also suffered from a shortage of drinking water.

The regulatory authorities aren’t solely to blame for the deleterious state of England’s water. The industry is also responsible, and particularly its privatization in the 1980s and ’90s by the Tories. This was supposed to bring new investment. This hasn’t materialized in the privatized utilities, either here or in the US. In this country, these industries owners are foreign companies, which put the minimum into maintaining them while taking the profits out of the country.

Private Eye was a sharp critic of the Tories privatizations when they were being pushed through by Maggie Thatcher and then John Major. And one of their criticisms at the time was that the Tories appointed as heads of the new regulators, such as Ofwat and the Environment Agency in the case of water, people from the private sector, who shared the Tories view that government should leave industry to regulate itself. This was the beginning of the corporatist system, in which private industry is entwined with government to the point where it dictates official policy. This became notorious under Tony Blair, with leading industrialists like David Sainsbury of the supermarket company given posts on government bodies, that Guardian hack George Monbiot wrote an entire book attacking it, Captive State.

I found three reports of some of the antics of the privatized water companies in the ‘Privatisation Round-Up’ column in an old copy Private Eye from 25 years ago, Friday, 16th June 1995. They were as follows:

It’s tough at the top of a water company – especially if you are William Courtney, chairman of Southern Water, and all you hear are grips about your salary, your £250,000 share options (cashed) and the increasing cost of water in your area.

The public probably doesn’t realise how hard Mr Courtney works. In his capacity as director of Waterline Insurance, for example, a major subsidiary of Southern Water, he recently had to attend a long conference. As did his long-suffering wife Margaret; his diligent finance director at Southern Water, Ray King; and Ray’s long-suffering wife Sandra.

The relevance of the conference – on “international risk management” – may not be immediately obvious to Southern Water consumers, who will ultimately foot the bill; but the surroundings were relevant. Hard-working Mr Courtney and Mr King and their spouses attended the five-day conference at the luxury Marriott’s Castle Harbour Hotel in Bermuda – and as everyone knows Bermuda is surrounded by, er, water.

OFWAT, the water regulator, likes ot boast of its own successes, but the residents of Clyst St George in Devon are not convinced. Their case has been sitting in OFWAT’s tray for three years.

Their argument began when the National Rivers Authority ordered a clean-up of local ditches which acted as open sewers for septic tanks. The bill for householders could have run into the thousands. When the case finally ended up in court it was ruled that the responsibility fell on South West Water to bring the ditches up to modern hygiene standards.

South West Water had better things to spend the money on – like share options worth £144,95 for its managing director. The consumers turned to the apparently powerful watchdog OFWAT to force South West Water to take action. Finally, after no encouragement from OFWAT, the company is now thinking of installing the new sewerage system. But it still refuses to foot the bill and has approached the residents for a financial contribution towards the clean-up.

The European Union, meanwhile, is investigating why Yorkshire Water, which is now trying to buy up its own shares, was once given £23 million of regional aid to fatten it up for privatisation when the sold-off company now makes profits of more than £140 million a year.

The money, from a fund earmarked regenerating regional economies in the EU, was spent on improvements to three sewage works – improvements that had to be carried out in any event. When the EU bureaucrats sent the cheque, perhaps they forgot to point out that regenerating local economies does not mean boosting shareholders’ dividends and executive salaries.

I have a feeling that Yorkshire Water was hit by so many scandals that it ended up re-branding itself as Kelda.

These stories are an example of why English water is in the terrible state it is: greedy senior management doing as little as possible to maintain or improve the supply, awarding themselves grossly inflated pay and benefits and flitting off to foreign junkets and complacent and apathetic regulators doing as little as possible to protect the interests of these companies’ customers.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party were quite correct to demand these companies’ renationalization, along with other utilities. And it can’t come soon enough.

‘I’ Newspaper: England Could Run Out Of Water in 20 Years

Yesterday’s I for 10th July 2020 carried an article by Madeleine Cuff, ‘England ‘at risk of running out of water’, which reported that MPs had criticized the water authorities for the state of the country’s water supply. The article ran

MPs have issued a stinging rebuke to England’s water authorities, warning the country is at “serious risk” of running out water within 20 years unless “urgent action” is taken to shore up supplies.

“It is very hard to imagine, in this country, turning the tap and not having enough clean, drinkable water come out – but that is exactly what we now face,” said Public Accounts Committee chair Mog Hillier.

In a report published today, it accused the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency, and the water regulator Ofwat of having “taken their eyes off the ball” in the race to secure a sustainable long-term supply of fresh water. It follows similarly stark warnings from the national Audit Office in March.

England is already extracting groundwater at unsustainable rates, and as climate change brings hotter, drier weather, water supply will come under more intense pressure.

Yet every day more than three billion litres of fresh drinking water is lost through leakages, a fifth of the total volume used. Urgent action must be taken to reduce this “wholly unacceptable” level of leakages.

Meanwhile, industry action to persuade the public to use less water has “failed”, the MPs added.

The water crisis has been going on a long time, and doesn’t only affect England. It’s all over the world. Viewers of Stacy Dooley’s documentary a few months ago into the massive environmental impact of the ‘fast fashion’ industry will remember the scenes of the dried-up wastes of what used to be the Caspian Sea, caused by Uzbekistan diverting the water to irrigate the fields for its cotton industry. Way back in the 1990s the Financial Times covered the emerging water crisis in arid countries in Africa and the Middle East, and predicted that in this century conflict over water would become the major cause of war.

The I and other papers also published reports years ago about the declining state of Britain’s own water supply. Even at the time water extraction, including that for industrial purposes, was exceeding the supply. And when I was at Bristol University studying for the archaeology doctorate nearly a decade ago, we had a visiting archaeologist tell us in a seminar about the effects of climate change on civilizations across the world down through time that we needed to save water.

It is not, however, just the water authorities’ fault. The real responsibility lies with the water companies and their privatisation. They were sold to mostly foreign companies with the promise that this would bring extra investment. It hasn’t. The foreigners who own our water supply simply regard it as a profit-stream, rather than a vital utility. The profits have gone out of the country, while they themselves have done precious little to maintain the water supply to an acceptable standard.

And if the water authorities haven’t done much about this, it’s because they were deliberately prevented from doing so by the Tories when the water industry was privatized. There were a series of reports in Private Eye about how the Tories had cut back the scope and regulatory powers of Defra, Ofwat and their predecessors, so that their ability to interfere in the running of the new, privatized companies was severely limited.

The crisis has been going on for a long time. And it is partly due to Margaret Thatcher and her insistence on the primacy of private industry. But private industry has shown itself incompetent to run the water supply. It’s one of the reasons its renationalisation was in the 2019 Labour manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn.

But Corbyn was massively smeared and reviled by the establishment right and their poodle media. Which is why we now have a parliament, who will do nothing about this, adding drought and thirst to the misery they are inflicting on the poor.

 

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