Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Gaza is a gigantic prison, but the real criminals are on the outside

If the Israeli attack on Gaza was one thing it was predictable. The Israelis have always used violence and terror to achieve their aims and have always got away with it. So far. The state of Israel was founded on terror. In fact the Israelis have not only used violence but have acted illegally, and are in breach of numerous UN resolutions.

They have illegally occupied the West Bank and Gaza for over forty years; they have built, and continue to build, illegal settlements in the occupied territories and are building an illegal 'security' wall.

In 2006 the Israelis invaded Lebanon and killed over one thousand people displacing about one million others. Most of the victims were Lebanese civilians. This was a wholly disproportionate campaign of mass murder intended to punish the Lebanese people for allowing Hezbolla to fire rockets from Lebanon into Israel.

When the Israelis 'withdrew' from Gaza and removed their settlements some people thought it was a step towards peace. But no. The Israelis simply created a prison for 1.5 million people which they control, denying the Palestinian 'inmates' the chance to work and live normal lives.

David Milliband on the World at One today said that the Israeli government is democratic and Hamas are terrorists. This is just crass Israeli propaganda and Millband ought to know better. Hamas my be an Islamist organisation but it was democratically elected by the Palestinians. And it is no more terrorist then the Israeli state.

We are told that Hamas are terrorists because they launch rockets into Israel. So lets look at the facts. There is a war going on between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis have tanks, jet fighters and all the latest weaponry. The Palestinians have small arms, mortars, stones and rockets. In the past eight years 20 Israelis have been killed by Hamas's rockets. In the past five days 370 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombs. We are told by the Israeli propagandists that Israel has the right to defend itself. But the Palestinians have an equal right to defend themselves - albeit it is a one sided war that is being fought - but you would never know that if you only listened to to the likes of David Milliband, . George Orwell said "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. " - as far as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned we are living in times of universal deceit.

We must not forget that the Americans are fully complicit in Israel's crimes. They provide the ammunition which kills Palestinian children. The European Union is also complicit in this violence, having supported Israeli aggression and done little to protect the Palestinians. Unless Barack Obama speaks out soon to condemn Israeli aggression and its wholly disproportionate response he is in danger of losing respect amongst his supporters. Its time that the promotion by the US of Israeli aggression and lawbreaking came to an end.

The Israelis cannot create a settlement and a lasting peace by the use of force. The attack on Gaza will create a new generation of Palestinians determinded to resist Israeli domination. It will also create animosity towards Israel around the world. In the longer run it may well prove Israels undoing.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Once a Nazi, now just a bigot

I've had occasion to blog about Joseph Ratzinger aka Pope Benedict XVI before, when I was discussing his absurd claims that the incidence of pedophilia amongst Catholic priests in America was more the fault of American society than of the priests themselves.

Now he is at it again, this time making an even more nonsensical claim that transexuality is as a big a threat to the human race as destruction of the rain forests. Before he became Pope, Ratzinger attacked homosexuality in 1986 as - " a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil".

But if anything is morally evil it is the views of the Pope himself. For too long Christians, Muslims, and oher religious groups have been able to get away with fomenting hatred against all those who don't fit into their repressive sexual straitjackets - a group which includes unmarried heterosexuals - but particularly homosexuals. Homophobia is no better than racism and religious belief can never be an excuse for this kind of bigotry.

Franco Grillini, of the Italian association Gaynet summed it up beautifully when he said - "What keeps the Pope awake at night is the idea that human beings might be able to seek out their own sexual identity to have a happy life".

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

How you(ng) people have been screwed

In June I posted about how children get a raw deal in the UK. But how about young adults? When I was eighteen, in the mid seventies, I expected to go to university as a right - with a student grant and full payment of my fees by the local authority - and that's what happened. Yes, the grant was means tested - as it is now - but the fees were paid upfront - no question. Would I have gone if they hadn't been? No. The thought of being in debt was pretty much unthinkable in those days. I had no money and neither did my parents. So I had the chance to go to university, without getting into much debt - my rent on campus was £7 per week and I think my grant was about £14 per week - my overdraft was £70 by the end of the first year. That seemed like a huge amount at the time. It was more than a monthly salary for most workers. Of course I paid it off - and it was also eaten away by high inflation rate at the time. Although it was no fun, it wasn't an albatross like the kind of debt students take on today.

Later, I was able to buy a house during the slump in the mid 1990s - £60k for a good sized terrace in Chorlton Green, Manchester - a location fit to get Phil Spencer
salivating. So I got on the housing ladder. I also have a final salary pension - albeit the Tories are trying to shaft me. So I aint going to be able to retire at sixty, I guess I'll have to work until I can afford to retire - unlikely to be before I'm sixty five. So, enough of my biography, I'm not one of the golden generation but neither am I one of the young adults who is being shafted at the moment.

If you are under 30 you are probably one of those people who have been screwed. Tony Blair & Co. benefited from the same things that I did, but then they pulled the ladder up after them. Now, you go to college, end up with £30k debt, can't afford to buy a house and end up without a decent pension. Of course New Labour lied, and claimed that you would earn so much more with a degree that you would be able to pay off your debts no problem - fat chance! Many graduates are unemployed, as they were before the credit crunch and many other earn less than the average wage.

Why is this happening? In simple terms blame it on the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As long as the Soviet Union existed, there was a realistic alternative to capitalism. The capitalist class couldn't afford to alienate the workers and middle classes by squeezing them too hard and they also had to try and convince workers in the Soviet Union that capitalism was a much better bet for them. So, workers had an easier ride than they have now. That doesn't mean that everything in the workplace was rosy. A large part of the reason why workers did better in capitalist societies in the late twentieth century was because trade unions were a lot stronger then than they are now.

The post-war consensus in the UK was about one nation that had fought the war - hence the reforms pushed through by the 1945 Labour government, In the USA there was a huge economic boom, fuelled initially by the war effort. In Europe there was a more benign form of social market capitalism. This was a time of increasing prosperity - when we never had it so good.

All that, like the American Dream, has now gone pretty sour. Trade unions are weaker, hidebound by legislation, capitalists have no serious opposition, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Communist China has become openly capitalist.
So now the capitaists are turning the screws. They want to roll back all the gains that our parents and grandparents made - the welfare state, free higher education, decent pensions, pay, and working conditions. That is what Thatcherism and New Labour is all about. That has been the free market project of the last 30 years.

If you're not a capitalist - and there are very few of them - no, they're not people who earn £150k per year, they are the Bransons, Murdochs and Gates of this world - you are going to have less pay, shorter holidays, crap pensions and poor housing. The situation will be worse for your children as the screw gets turned further.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention - you have to pay for the credit crunch, brought about by free market Thatcherite capitalism, and er... there is the small (sic) matter of climate change and peak oil. This is a long, complicated story, but if you want a succinct distillation of it you could do a lot worse than watch this.

So what can you do? Well you can put up or shut up. Either accept it or fight back, and the only way to fight back is political activism - join a trade union, join a political party of the left, tough as it is get off your arse and fight for the things your parents had. Why are the Greeks kicking off? Because they are getting poorer - just like you. As Margaret Thatcher once said - 'There is no alternative'. But then she was lying.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Let's stop pretending its not happening......

We are living on the edge of a precipice. The most recent scientific evidence points towards a potentially catastrophic swing in climate, which could lead to rise in global temperature of more than 2oC, threatening the fabric of our society. Beside that, the credit crunch will seem trivial. This is the climate crunch.

There is still uncertainty and
denial about climate change. This is hardly surprising, we have all been brought up to be consumers in a Capitalist society. To us, consumption has become a kind of addiction. Many people see shopping as their favourite leisure activity. We have the great new temples, shopping centres, to cater for this 'need'. And like a drug addict, consumption is killing us.

If you want to understand how we got here, I suggest you watch (at least) Part 1 of Adam Curtis's excellent documentary - The Century of the Self. It explains how Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's Nephew, created consumer Capitalism and changed the world. Since then, we have all learnt that we can be 'fulfilled' by consumption. Watch this film and you will know where you come from. We, in the West, have been sold a cosy materialistic dream, one which we find very difficult to wean ourselves from. What on earth are we going to do with ourselves if we cease to consume?

The immediate answer is go cold turkey. Suffer the withdrawal symptoms of consumption. But its not all bad news. There are some upsides to not consuming. And since consumption was only 'invented' by Bernays in the 1920s, we know that there was life before consumer capitalism - a time when people acted on need, not their wants.

So its really not too difficult, we can exist without constantly consuming, and along the way we can can experience some real benefits. We can get more exercise, we can eat better, we can live more locally, get to know our neighbours, and appreciate our local environment. In short, we can have a better quality of life. We don't need to live in caves, give up the telly or healthcare, but we do need to live a much lower energy lifestyle. We've done this before, and we can do it again, except this time we will have the benefits in terms of technology. We don't have to give any of it up - just change the way we use it. But we are still a long way off pursuading the majority of people of the changes we need to make.

For example, the vote in Manchester today against the congestion charge was entirely predictable. If I still lived in Manchester I probably would have voted against it myself. If you seek to impose extra taxes on people they will inevitably vote against them, unless you can give a very good reason indeed. But why should we have to have a congestion charge to fund better public transport? That is a nonsense. We need to provide people with an alternative to the car - now! Well, yesterday actually. But to try and finance that by an extra tax is just daft. We already have the means and money to make public transport available. That is what we should be campaigning for. Because the time when we will have to use it isn't that far away.

For a start we can stop wasting taxes on subsidising the profits of bus companies like Stagecoach and rail companies like Virgin. We can take the £24 million that Richard Branson trousered last year and put it to good use.

We have a great capacity for working together and we can re-discover it. The last time we really had to use it was 1939-45. The coming challenge is as big as any of our grandparents and parents faced during that time and they came through - to a better and more equal society. We now have the opportunity to do the same and the chance to grasp change with both hands.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Ahead of a general election New Labour turns to bashing the poor

The government has announced new plans for benefits claimants which may mean cuts in benefits and people being forced into unsuitable low paid work.

This 'new' approach will no doubt be applauded by Daily Mail readers and the private sector companies who plan to profit from the easy money on offer for 'placing ' the unemployed in jobs.

The people the government are aiming at are single parents and those on incapacity benefit. I have to ask what is the point of forcing a single parent to go into a low paid job so she can (just about) afford to pay a child-minder to look after her children when they would be better off belong looked after by her?

Of course, those looking for work will be offered 'help' in the form of writing CVs. This is likely to be a great help when unemployment is set to rise to 3 million in the next year or so.

Many of those who aren't working are doing so for good reasons, but what must never be forgotten is that unemployment is an essential part of the Capitalist economy. Capitalism requires unemployment to keep labour costs down. - "...unemployment is not an aberration of capitalism, indicating any sort of systemic malfunction. Rather, unemployment is a necessary structural feature of capitalism, intended to discipline the workforce." - see this link.

If we want a decent welfare system, which combats the poverty endemic in the capitalist system, we need a citizens income, which is Green Party policy. At a time when capitalists are benefiting more than ever from corporate welfare why should the poor be made to suffer in this way? Answer - because it will play well with the Tory voters that New Labour wants to attract back before the next election.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Tories plan to make pensioners poorer

One of the great scandals of the past quarter century in the UK has been the way pensions have been handled and pensioners treated. Pensions have slowly but surely been devalued and the result has been misery for millions in old age. So why has this happened? Well for much the same reason as everything else. The neoliberal free-market deregulation project, championed by Thatcher and Reagan, was always about making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The aim of this project has been to undo all the gains made by working people in the last century or so. Every dollar or pound a Capitalist pays into a pension is one less dollar or pound in his pocket - hence the attack on wages, terms and conditions and pensions.

Go back 25 years in the UK and you'll find many workers in the private and public sectors on final salary pension or defined benefit schemes but these have been whittled away to almost nothing in the intervening years. Workers in the private sector now have to rely on defined contribution or money purchase pension schemes which are worth much less. When Gordon Brown became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997 he made tax
changes which made it more difficult to sustain final salary schemes in the private sector and New Labour have much to answer for in the pensions debacle. But its not just about Gordon. Many companies have taken pensions 'holidays' - periods when they failed to contribute to their own schemes. The same is true of local government. Capitalists can simply save money by refusing to contribute to employees pensions.

As a gulf has opened up between pensions in the private and public sectors there have been howls of rage from the right. It is claimed that public sector pensioners are living in the lap of luxury while their private sector counterparts are living in poverty. This is nonsense. Certainly private sector workers are suffering but most public sector workers are low paid and earn less than the average wage, hence their final salary pensions are still very low.

David Cameron in a speech to business leaders said "We have got to end the apartheid. We are getting into a situation now where pretty much everyone in the private sector has gone to defined contributions and the final salary schemes are closed." Now we all know what that means don't we. The Tories are planning to slash public sector pensions just as the Daily Mail have been urging them to do. The Daily Mail complains that private sector workers are living in poverty and public sector pensioners are better off - its solution, like David Cameron's - is to make all pensioners live in poverty by ending public sector final salary pensions - smart huh?

We need better pensions for everyone. If public sector pensioners are benefiting from final salary pension schemes its time to create the conditions in which private sector workers can also enjoy those benefits, by legislation, if necessary. Here is a quote from the Green Party's policy on pensions - "The Green Party would introduce a Citizen's Pension that would pay pensioners a livable amount, without means testing and would be linked to the rise in average earnings. Independent studies by the National Association of Pension Funds have shown that a citizen's Pension could be afforded today within current net expenditure on state pensions."

We live in a society with an aging population its in the interest of all of us to ensure that we can have a dignified old age.

Friday, 28 November 2008

We need to fight back against repressive anti-union laws

It comes to something when its easier to go on strike in China than it is in good old Blighty. A post on CiF by Zhang Hong about a taxi driver's strike in Chongqing suggests that maybe its not quite as difficult to dissent in China as you might think. Of course, we all remember Tiananmen Square and what happened in 1989, and so it is assumed that trade union action must be so much tougher in China than here.

How about what is happening in the UK in 2008? We have seen the increasing deregulation of businesses and the private sector by New labour over the past decade. In fact, New Labour have done things with big business that would make David Cameron and the Tories blush. Before New Labour, the Labour Party always had an arms-length relationship with business. But, after eighteen years in the governmental wilderness New Labour, like an enthusiastic virgin bride, has given its all for Capitalism ever since May 1st 1997. Never was a wedding so enthusiastically consummated, and the love affair has continued unabated since.

New Labour has enthusiastically pursued the regulation of citizens as much as it has made certain that workers are prevented from defending their livelihoods. While Capitalists are allowed to do what they want through deregulation, workers and citizens are increasingly controlled and restricted by a reactionary, authoritarian government.

Just a reminder - the trade unions have bankrolled the Labour Party since they created it in 1900 to represent working people. And they still do even though now the party represents the interests of the Capitalist class. It was the Thatcher government that in the 1980's introduced legislation which restricted trade unions from taking industrial action. The legislation ensured that businesses had the upper hand and that workers were unable to support each other and show the solidarity which is crucial to workers power. Nothing has changed since. A decade of Labour government has favoured the interests of the Capitalist class against working people.

But maybe its time for change. As working people suffer from the excesses of the Capitalists and their credit crunch, maybe its time for UK workers to strike back. If taxi drivers in China can strike with impunity - so much more can we. Its time to ignore the repressive class war-based laws that restrict trade unionists in the UK and fight back to demand an end to restrictive anti-trade union legislation. As businesses, like Woolworths, fail, workers should take control of them just as they did in Argentina in the 1990s.

But let's make no mistake, We can't expect the trade union leaders who have continued to bankroll New Labour to support such action. They are as much the enemies of working people as New Labour are. Trade unionists are weak because they are on their knees. Let us rise!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Prohibition doesn't work

Today we hear that the government is planning a 'clampdown' on prostitution. There seems to have been a concerted campaign by anti-prostitution campaigners recently with a number of articles, including a rant from Baroness Warnock, published on the Guardian's Comment is Free (CiF) webpages.

What is going on here? Is this a concerted attempt to improve our society and protect vulnerable women? I don't think so, and here's why. Because of the retreat of the left, we live in a society where reactionaries feel much more confident about pushing their agenda to take us backwards to that mythical age when all was well. You know what I mean - cricket on the village green, people going to church, homosexuals firmly in the closet, foreigners knowing their place, Empire and all that. The kind of thing that would suit rabid Tories and BNP members and religious fanatics down to the ground -
Not that there weren't any prostitutes in those days.

The attack on prostitution appears to come from an unholy alliance of right-wingers, religionists and 'feminists'. One of the things that has breathed new life into this essentially bigoted crew is
trafficking. Now I have no doubt that women are being brought into the UK by criminal gangs and forced into prostitution. I'm sure that such women lead miserable lives filled with abuse. They must be protected and the gangs who force them into sexual slavery need to be put behind bars for a very long time. That is job for the police. But trafficking seems to be being used as an excuse to clamp down on all prostitution including consensual sex for money.

The government's proposals would make it an offence for a man to have sex with a prostitute being 'controlled' by others. Ignorance on the part of the man will not be a defence. Now that may sound reasonable to some but there is no way we can expect this to be fairly interpreted by the police or courts. Men who use brothels where the women are working freely and consensually, without any coercion can still expect to be prosecuted according to sex workers and brothel keepers who spoke on the Radio Five Live phone in this morning that I listened to - and I have no reason the disbelieve them.

Prohibition doesn't work. The result of this legislation will be to drive prostitution further underground, encourage the criminals and put sex workers in danger. It will have the opposite effect to that which its supporters claim.

I suspect the motives of these campaigners. The position adopted by the 'feminists' I've read and heard seems me to be patronising to women. Of course we would expect a feminist to want to protect women from abuse. But you would also expect a feminist to defend the right of women to be sex workers, if that is their choice, and to want to ensure they could do it legally and safely. In addition, in all the things these people have written and said, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on the Today programme this morning, there has been no mention of men? Why? Men are sex workers as well as women but none of these campaigners seems to be interested in protecting male prostitutes. Do they not suffer abuse as well? Are they unimportant? Of course they aren't - but they just don't raise as much sympathy for the emotive arguments about helpless women that the anti-prostitution campaigners love to employ.

And why is it that none of these people listen to the sex workers themselves, who have said that they want the industry to be legalised? Because the real motivation for the anti-prostitution campaigners is not so much concern for women but a bigoted dislike of prostitutes and what they do. This is very similar to the hatred of recreational drug users which I referred to in this previous post.


In a free society consenting adults must be allowed to do what they like as long as no one is being abused. And no moraliser has the right to tell them that they can't do it. The best way to protect vulnerable women, like the ones' who died in Ipswich, is to legalise brothels so that the women and men who work in them can have a safe environment.

There will always be people who object to prostitution. They are entitled to do so. What they are not entitled to do is impose their views on others, and if we allow them to, how long before they start imposing other views on the rest of us?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Money, money, money

I was going to call this post 'Money is bullshit' but decided against it because of my recent post called 'Hierarchy is bullshit'. But money, like hierarchy, as you'll see, is indeed bullshit. We think of money as being something that has real, intrinsic value, but it doesn't. It is just something we use for convenience, as a means of exchange. And just like the commodities we purchase with it, money can increase or decrease in value. Money, or its equivalent, has taken different forms in different times and in different societies, but given the financial crisis its worth looking at what money is today and how it is created.

Money, that is the paper notes and coins we use for day to day exchange, used to be backed by a commodity that had intrinsic (but variable) value - gold. This was known as the gold standard. In effect, the person issuing the money was saying - 'this note represents a certain amount of gold'. This system gave people confidence in the value of money and meant that there ought not to be more money in circulation than the value of gold to back it. The only way to increase the amount of money would be to obtain more gold. Things were not that simple however, because of wars and economic difficulties the gold standard became impossible to maintain. In the First World War Britain had to use fiat money to sustain the war effort, Britain finally left the gold standard in 1931 and other countries followed suit.

Fiat money, which is the system used globally nowadays, is money that, in effect, has a value because governments say it has - it must be accepted as a means of payment for goods and services. But where does this money come from? Well of course it is being coined and printed by governments. But new money is being created all the time from debt. This is explained simply and effectively in Paul Gringon's excellent animated video 'Money as Debt' which is essential viewing. In essence private banks are able to create money out of nothing. When you go in to a bank and ask for a £1000 loan you might expect that the bank is lending you money it has on deposit... but er.. no ... the bank is legally allowed to create that money out of nothing. A bank can lend you money it doesn't have, and charge you interest on it. Don't you just wish you could do that too?

There are a number of consequences of this debt driven system. One of the key one's is that it is unsustainable. The tendency, as you might imagine is for debt to grow over time, and with deregulation of the banks it has. But where does the money come from to pay the interest on all this debt? It comes from other debt, which in turn, has to have interest paid on it. hence the system cannot be sustained.

But what really matters about this is who really benefits from this set up? Its not difficult to guess! The fact is that we don't need this system of money. There are alternatives, for example at one time much of the money in circulation was created locally, and there is no reason why that can't happen again. In the Argentinian financial crisis millions of people used notes called creditos produced by community based organisations. All that is needed for money to have value is that people believe that it has. In practice any locally issued currency needs to be backed by goods and services otherwise it won't work. People also need to have confidence that any currency they use is well managed.

There are two key lessons here. The first is that global Capitalism is underpinned by a set of rules which work to the benefit of Capitalists and Capitalists alone. These rules, which make the Capitalist system possible, can and must be changed so that everybody benefits rather than the Capitalists. Secondly, there is nothing to stop us from creating our own monetary systems and thereby reducing the power and influence of the banks.
Money, or the need to earn it is an essential mechanism for tying us into the Capitalist system. We need to create local economies backed by their own money systems in order to undermine the imperialist movement known as globalisation. As a first step, we can end the power of banks to create money from debt.

Footnote: Now we have front page confirmation of who is really running UK Plc. An article in Saturday's Guardian shows that Tesco boss Terry Leahy was instrumental in making the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England give us a 1.5% interest rate cut. Thanks Terry. Not only does Tesco trouser £1 in every £8 we spend - it now sets our monetary policy. No doubt New Labour and the Tories will be thrilled - they want the country to be run by big business anyway. And you think you live in a democracy? - well you do - a Capitalist democracy, run by Capitalists like Terry, for Capitalists.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Hats off to Barak Obama

There has been so much wall to wall coverage of Barak Obama's sensational election victory that I wasn't going to mention it in my blog. But then I decided it was churlish not to - so well done Barak, very well done indeed - I was celebrating along with the rest - its a victory that gives us some hope after the dark days of the Bush presidency.

Much has also been said about the challenges facing the President Elect. The USA has 40 million people who live in dire poverty, millions without proper access to healthcare, a looming recession, a couple of wars, and possible environmental meltdown to deal with.

Whatever happens, I hope Obama fulfills his pledges on healthcare. For far too long the USA has been shamed by its appalling lack of health provision. Giving basic provision to all would cost $60 billion. Sounds pretty cheap compared to the $700 billion that Hank Paulson wants to give to Wall Street, and the estimated $70 billion Wall Street is planning to spend on bonuses in the coming year.

Donald trumps Alex

Now we see what the Scottish Nationalist Party are really made of. The news that the SNP government had given the go ahead to Donald Trump to build a luxury golf course and housing on the Aberdeenshire coast, threatening a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), drew condemnation and derision in equal measure.

So, this is what Alex Salmond has in mind for the future of an independent Scotland - grovelling to the rich for jobs. The only person who will really benefit from this development is er...Donald Trump, and the wealthy people who use the luxury resort. An important habitat will be endangered and the Scots will get more jobs cleaning rooms and serving drinks.

It would be nice to think that this crass decision influenced the outcome of the Glenrothes by-election. Although that is unlikely, its good to know that the SNP's bubble has finally burst and Alex Salmond's true colours have been shown. Its looking like an independent Scotland is going to become a haggis republic.

But Alex isn't on his own. So far have all the main political parties become willing stooges of Capitalists like Trump that we can be sure that New Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats would all have done exactly the same.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hierarchy is bullshit

Ever thought about why we need bosses? I have, and I've never been able to understand why we need them. What are bosses for other than to earn more than us and tell us what to do? But we don't need anyone to tell us what to do, and we certainly don't need them to earn more than we do!

So why do we have them? Because its a great way of maintaining control and a great way of making us accept that we are worth less than we actually are. Now I guess some of us have worked for an inspirational boss at one time or another. But for every good boss there must be a least a dozen poor ones. They tend to range from the ones who just aren't up to it to those who are careerists, desperate to climb the greasy pole, who see each job as a stepping stone to the top, and of course some are just downright bullies.

So why do we put up with them? I'm not a psychologist but it's not too difficult to see why. We are socialised into it. As children we look up to our parents - the 'grown-ups' who comfort and protect us. Then we go to school and are trained to accept the authority of another grown up - the teacher.

When we finish education we are usually starting on the bottom rung of of the ladder in a large organisation. We accept that those who've been there longer than us and have more experience and prestige. So it seems natural that we defer to them. But is it? Respect should be earned - not taken for granted.

The system works well for those at the top as we have seen recently in the banking debacle. These top bods claim they are special people. Without them businesses and organisations wouldn't be run properly - but ...er were the banks run properly? More recently we have seen Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, floundering over the Ross and Brand debacle. Do we seriously think that no one could have handled it better? I doubt it.

So why do we tolerate these people? - especially when there is plenty of evidence that we just don't need them. Lets go back to the start of the century when there was an economic crisis in Argentina. Years of corruption and privatisation lead to a run on the banks. While the rich took their money and ran, ordinary Argentinians were left in the lurch, unable to access their bank accounts. Businesses went bust, and in many cases bosses just abandoned their businesses, making the workers jobless.

But many of the jobless refused to give up - they took over the abandoned businesses and kept them going. Many are still successful today, and still owned as worker co-operatives. Not all successful co-operative businesses start in this way though. The US company W L Gore and Associates is very successful, and it doesn't have any bosses. Don't believe me? Then read this article. You'll probably know the company because it makes Gore-Tex. In fact the The company topped the UK Sunday Times "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for 4 consecutive years, 2004–2007.

The hierarchy that surrounds us is manufactured bullshit. There is nothing natural or desirable about it. It is maintained because it suits the purposes of those at the top who cream off the wealth from society and require us to to accept less as a consequence. Attacks on this system are described as sour grapes or envy - but they would be wouldn't they? The most efficient and effective forms of organisation are cooperative and consensus-based. As I've posted elsewhere on this bog, cooperatives  have a higher success rate than top-down companies, and they add much greater value to the communities they are based in. If we want our economy to work better we need a horizontal, collective democratic approach.

Postscript 08/11/08: I don't usually add anything to a posting but there is an interesting article on the front page of Guardian Work today by Don Tapscott about inter-generational attitudes to hierarchy that is worth reading. I searched the website but couldn't find it so I can't make a link. here is a brief quote:

"Too many organisations are still stuck in the old unproductive hierarchy, which divides worlds into the governors and the governed. Most people above the age of 40 accept this..... The goal in hierarchy is to move up, and have more people reporting to you"

Don believes that the 'net generation' have a different attitude to hierarchy - lets hope he is right.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Capitalist's snouts are still firmly in the trough

One of the more amazing features of the financial crisis is the fact that bank executives and staff still see their inflated salaries and bonuses as sacrosanct. Despite the fact that they have failed, and have been bailed out by the taxpayer its bonus business as usual.

The World at One on Radio four reported today that Barclays Bank had done a deal with Arab wealth funds to take on an extra £7.3 billion in capital. The government had offered Barclays a capital injection just two weeks ago at 12% which was reckoned to be a fairly punitive rate. But Barclays is taking the Arab cash at 16%! Why? - so they can avoid any potential curbs on bonuses and fat payouts. This beggars belief. Barclay's customers and shareholders are being taken for a massive ride.

On the same day Naomi Klein reports in the Guardian that chunks of the $700 billion bailout cash offered up by the Bush regime in the USA appears to be heading for executive pockets, and Citigroup is planning to spend $25 billion of the bailout cash buying other banks - how nice for them!

At this rate, we might as well just hand over the billions of taxpayers cash to the rich and let them get on with it - and all this at a time when thousands of taxpayers are losing their jobs and having homes repossesed.

So what does this tell us about global Capitalism? Well its clear that the Capitalists are in charge. Governments are either too weak or too complicit in all this to be able to stand up to the Capitalists. The function of governments and the rest of us is just to make them very rich. And while they party and ravage the planet we are supposed to look on in awe.

Karl Marx wrote about this nearly 150 years ago in a book called Das Kapital. Nothing much, it seems, has changed since. As for the capitalists their attitute, like Marie Antoinette's, seems to be - 'let them eat cake'. But we all know what happened to her don't we?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What is responsible for this pandemic of illness?

Are you overweight? Could do with losing a few pounds? I am. I suffer from the dreaded middle age spread - which has accelerated since I stopped smoking a few years ago. I now find that I am suffering from type II diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic illness, and one that can can have severe consequences - heart disease, blindness, impotence - need I go on?

It is estimated that two million adults in the UK suffer from type II diabetes and there are at least half a million who are undiagnosed.
So what happens next? We are exhorted to lose weight - easier said than done for many people. Overweight people are stigmatised - just like smokers have been. Its your fault fatty!

But is it your fault? Two important pieces of recent scientific research suggest otherwise. They suggest that this pandemic may have been caused by environmental pollution. Firstly, an article published in The Independent on obesity describes research that shows obesity is caused by pesticides. It has long been known that pesticides, even in low concentrations, have potentially harmful effects. Pesticides such as organochlorides - DDT, dieldrin etc - have effects which are oestrogenic - they behave like female hormones and have effects on humans at very low levels. This research is not a one-off. The link between industrial pollutants and obesity was exposed in The Ecologist magazine in November 2006

Secondly, new research suggests that bisphenol A, a chemical commonly found in plastics - such as food packaging - can cause Type II diabetes.

So, could the obesity/type II diabetes pandemic have been caused by environmental pollution? I believe it is highly likely that environmental pollution is a contributory factor, and not just because I find it difficult to lose weight. Its because I have background in molecular biology and an understanding of how these things work.

Yes, its complex. Yes, its difficult to prove cause and effect, especially when these pollutants are present in very low concentrations. But they are present in all of us. We still have DDT in our bodies even though it was banned about thirty years ago. Its much easier just to blame people for being fat, especially when we know that we eat too much, and don't get enough exercise.

But lets not underestimate the fact that the environment we live in is contaminated with chemicals which can have a significant effect on us even at low concentrations. Its important to understand that scientific studies of the effects of such chemicals are flawed. Why? for two main reasons: One - the dose-response studies that scientists use to test toxicity of chemicals are carried out mostly in rats - not humans; Two - at very low concentrations of many chemicals a response cannot be detected - because it cannot be detected it does not mean there is no effect. Nor are long term, or chronic, human effects studied

I intend to lose weight. But I do recognise that the condition I suffer from could be caused by environmental pollution - as well as diet and lifestyle. Why is this post in my blog? Because it is a log about environmental justice - pesticides and plasticisers like bisphenol A are used to make profits. Corporations will defend there use just as they did with DDT until someone can prove that they are harmful.

Obesity and type II diabetes are the pandemics of the current age. What will be the pandemics of the age of GM technology? But then that's safe as well isn't it?

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Its the environment stupid!

As we slide into a recession, one or two commentators such as George Monbiot have been doing us a service by reminding us that the credit crunch is trivial compared to what is potentially facing us in terms of a climate crunch.

In August I highlighted a report from the New Economics Foundation which stated that we had just 100 months to avert rising temperatures and runaway climate change - 98 months now! There is an increasing sense of urgency about our need to do something about this, and the recent pledge by the government to make an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is encouraging. Problem is, they have a lousy track record of delivery on such pledges - they are too wedded to big business and consumption.

In any case, we can't make big enough cuts unless everyone is involved - and that means you! And yes it means insulating your house, using low energy light bulbs, turning the central heating down, putting a jumper on, car sharing, dusting off your bike lights and cycling to work if you can. You have heard it all before but now is the time to get on with doing it and encouraging other in your local community to do so also.

I am working with a nearby local action group and trying to set up a group in the village I live in. In Cheshire, we have the example of Ashton Hayes, which aims to be the first village in England to become carbon neutral. Since starting in January 2006 they have cut their carbon emissions by 21%. You can get help in doing this from the Low Carbon Communities Network. If you have a local group - get involved. I have only just started but I'll keep you informed of progress. So far I have contacted the Parish Council and will speak at their next meeting to try and get their support. I've put a poster on the village notice board, and have an article coming out in next weeks local paper.

But this isn't just about climate change. Also of great significance is Peak Oil. Its worth quoting the definition from Wikipedia:

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline
.


There is some disagreement about when peak oil occurred. Some people say 2007 others as long ago as 2005. But there is a consensus that we have passed peak oil. Just think for a moment what this means - a world without oil means massive changes in the way we live and there is no substitute, no magic technological fix on offer. We are going to go through what is known as an energy descent. And it is going to happen in our lifetimes. We are going to have to get used to living in a lower energy environment. And that means making the same kind of adjustments we would have to make for climate change anyway.

So, the local group I am trying to set up is not just about climate change because climate change adjustments to our lifestyle and peak oil adjustments go hand in hand. If you want to find out more I suggest you take a look at what Caroline Lucas had to say about the Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins.

We need to see theses changes as an opportunity rather than a threat. An opportunity to connect with our neighbours and build sustainable communities, communities free from the destructive excesses of free market capitalism,

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Time to take full control of the banking sector

So. One of the great architects of free-market failure, Gordon Brown, is now claiming to have found the solution. The £500 billion bail out plan, which he hopes will be copied around the world, didn't exactly get off to a spectacular start, and the markets are still falling. The plan is unlikely to work because there are still huge losses to unwind and no one knows who is holding them.

But Gordon isn't trying to reform the corrupt system of greed which threatens to undo all our livelihoods, he is trying to preserve it. Will people stand for this? I don't think so
. Already we are seeing more jobs losses and people are beginning to see the value of their pensions fall. The guilty have no place to hide and there is a lot of anger about. In the near future things can only get worse.

Instead of bailing out the banks we should be taking full control of them. We need to lower interest rates quickly - the 0.5% cut was too little too late. We must also nationalise some of the companies which are in danger of going under (and no I don't mean Karen Millen) and we need to help those who are threatened with repossession by the government taking over their mortgages and charging them rent. Local authorities must also be protected. But this just for starters. Then we need to start looking at economic renewal and that is where the Green New Deal comes in. The GND will not only create much needed jobs, but set us on the road to tackling climate change. Its interesting that the United Nations has now jumped on the GND bandwagon with proposals of its own.

The problem is that there is nowhere for people to channel their anger. We have the three main political parties - all supine adherents to the status quo. We have the trade unions - still stupidly tied to New labour. The Green Party is too small at the moment to be able make a significant impact. Other parties of the left have little influence or support. On top of this there is the general disillusionment with politics, because people don't think it can change anything.

People who would at one time have joined parties of the left are now putting their energy into changing things at a local level. There is a lot of local green activism around climate change and peak oil. At a meeting I attended on Monday, people from a small community (a housing estate) were working to strengthen and enhance their local area, and protect it from climate change and peak oil. They discussed all sorts of initiatives around reducing energy and water use. Their commitment, imagination, organisation and resourcefulness was impressive. They are changing things themselves because the government is failing them.

In the short term the only group who could make a significant difference are the trade unions. They should withhold all funding from New Labour until they have guarantees on bank nationalisation, protecting local authorities, regulation of the financial sector, and help for those facing repossession. What the trade unions really need to do is split the labour party, kicking out Brown and the Blairites, but there is little danger of that happeniing. But after the next election who knows? Aside from this there is still time and scope for a significant political shift to happen before the next election. What we need is a party of the left who can collect that vote. The only option for that at the moment is the Green Party.

My week

I've always been slightly bemused by commentators who seem to think if I'm blogging I'm wasting valuable time during which I should be actively changing the world. I've been accused of being an (self-confessed!) armchair middle class socialist and far worse. Karen invited me to attend a Manchester Rally on Thursday. I couldn't make it. Why? Because I wanted a night off. I fulfilled all the other commitments which I already had planned.

On Monday night I went to a local climate change action group meeting; Tuesday night was my regular weekly music lesson; On Wednesday I was in Bristol on business and Friday I traveled to Bradford for a weekend Unison seminar, from which I returned on Sunday morning. Only on Thursday night did I spend anytime in my well padded self indulgent socialist armchair. While all this was going on I was working to try and get West Cheshire Green Party off the ground.

Will this be enough to appease the critics? I doubt it. If you want to know, I didn't find the seminar very inspiring. But I did find a great pub - the Shoulder of Mutton - its Sam Smiths, has great organic lager and a lovely pint of bitter for just £1.47. So the trip was worthwhile. How was your week?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

What is the value of a Nobel prize?

Its interesting to note that its possible to obtain a Nobel prize in economics without taking into account the realities of Capitalism. See this comment on the latest shenanigans by congress on the bail out of wall street by Joseph Stiglitz on CiF. Joseph Stiglitz is well meaning but where he goes wrong is by believing you can control Capitalism and protect people against its worst excesses.

History shows that you can't - that's why half the worlds population are living in dire poverty - three billion on $2 a day or less.
Ordinary people create wealth. Capitalists expropriate that wealth for themselves, leaving a few crumbs behind. Capitalists have no interest in providing pensions, holidays, health, & welfare because that all eats into their (sic) profits. All the gains we have made in the west have historically come from democratic and trade union activity - i.e. we have taken back from the Capitalists some of the wealth we created in the first place! - in the form of pensions etc.That is why (some of us) have a reasonable standard of living - but they still keep the lions share. While the Soviet Union existed it suited Capitalists to keep us 'on-side' by allowing us to keep the benefits we had won from then.

Now the USSR has gone and there is(allegedly) no serious alternative threat they are determined to reverse the gains we made. Hence privatisation and deregulation - making us work harder for them - for less.
The end result of this process will be third world levels of poverty in the USA and Europe - for most of us - if we don't stop it from happening. The truth is we need Capitalism like a hole in the head because it is Capitalism that makes us poor. What we need to do is keep the wealth we make for ourselves - i.e. by ending Capitalism as an economic system. That is what Socialism is really all about - not nationalisation - that is just one option for an alternative economy.

Capitalists want us to think that Capitalism is part of the natural order of things like gravity - it isn't. Its a system which is artificially maintained by a set of rules, and the rules are made by Capitalists - so no wonder it works for them! The wealth you have is something you (and you forbears) have had to fight Capitalists for - whether through the ballot box or industrial action.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

After the debacle ....the whitewash begins

Well, what a momentous week! It started with the 'invincible' Lehman Brothers going bust and moved on through AIG and HBOS, not to mention Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs - both of which are still reputed to be in trouble.

But it gets even better because after the $200 billion bail out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac we now have the US government planning to buy up all those toxic mortgages to the tune of $700 billion dollars! How they have managed to come up with that figure I don't know, but it may be more, just as Lloyds TSB's takeover of HBOS my yet run into difficulties. That makes George W Bush just about the biggest socialist in history. Of course American citizens are right to be worried about where all this is going to lead. We are not out of the woods yet.

In the UK, Robert Peston the BBC's Business Editor said - "The UK's unsustainable economic dependence on the City and financial services is coming home to roost." But who has been Chancellor for most of that period? None other than Prime Minister Gordon himself. And Gordon has been hamming it up this week trying to absolve himself of any blame. In fact, he is trying to take the credit for the buy out of HBOS by Lloyds TSB, something which may well yet rebound on him. But lets look at what Gordon has done since the collapse of Northern Rock a whole year ago .... er ... exactly zip, zilch, zer0 ... er ..... one big fat NOTHING. Only now, after the wheels have finally come off, has Gordon, on the eve of a Labour Party conference, said he will do what it takes to sort out the mess. Oh, well, that's alright then.

You can bet Bush, Blair. Brown, Bernanke, McCain, Greenspan et al will all be doing their level best in the coming months to airbrush their role in this debacle out of history. But if the panelists of BBC Radio Four's Any Questions have their way it will be a very easy task. When Friday's panel was asked whose fault the meltdown of the financial system was - Bridget Roswell, who, apparently, is an economist, said that it was the "fault of all of us". Well thank you Bridget, now we know. It was our fault that thousands of dodgy mortgages were sold in the USA (and UK), it was our fault that governments did the bankers bidding and deregulated the financial system , and it was our fault that regulators did nothing. Now I guess it is 'our fault' that we are having to stump up billions of taxpayers money to prop up the fat cats. Of course non of the other panelists, including Menzies Campbell, had either the guts or gumption to challenge Bridget's erroneous view. No Bridget, it wasn't 'our' fault it was the fault of the aforementioned individuals, the fat cats of Capitalism and their flunkeys.

I tell you what - it is our fault, though. It is our fault that we have tolerated the politicians and financiers that have lead us into this mess. Its time for change. Join the Green Party and help make that change happen.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

New Labour's free market economic disaster

At the weekend we had Lehman Brothers going bust , then AIG having a $85 billion handout from the US Government and today HBOS merging with Lloyds TSB. In the latter case the government has been bending over backwards to avoid having to pay out for another Northern Rock, even to the extent of breaking competition rules. So the new British banking behemoth will have 28% of the mortgage market - good for customers eh?

But lets not forget that although much of the credit crunch originated in the USA, New Labour has a lot to answer for. And who was Chancellor while the conditions for the crunch were being created? - none other than Gordon Brown. Mr 'prudence', who claimed to have eliminated boom and bust, has now lead us into the biggest bust since 1929. The 'sound' economy he created over here was based on a housing boom and ballooning credit. That is economic mismanagement. Notice that the biggest casualties in all this are the USA and UK - the cheerleaders for free market deregulation and privatisation. Do you hear of a housing collapse in Germany or France - no - they follow the European Social model much despised by Gordon Brown.

Blair and Brown encouraged the City-lead deregulatory financial model that got us into this mess in the first place and turned the UK into a tax haven for non doms and other tax dodgers. Well now the chickens have come home to roost. If Brown had any integrity he'd resign and if his party had any guts they'd sack him. Sadly, neither is likely to happen.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

We do not need GM technology to feed the world

A recent report has highlighted the fact that while enough food is being produced to feed the world's population 800 million people are still going hungry. The report, based on the findings of 400 scientists from around the world, and chaired by professor Robert Watson, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, also concluded that GM technology was not the answer to feeding the world's population.

Not surprisingly, these conclusions have not gone down at all well with agribusiness corporations like Monsanto. They don't want to feed the world, they want to make huge profits by controlling the food chain with GM technology which effectively puts the farmers, and the crops they produce, in their pockets. That is why the GM companies have been buying up traditional seed companies - they want to monopolise world markets. If they succeed you will end up with no choice other than to eat GM, unless you can source food locally. But if GM is used here in the UK it is unlikely that non GM agriculture would remain uncontaminated.

GM technology is a pig in poke. We are told it increases yield but there is little concrete evidence to support this. In fact there is evidence that GM reduces yield. GM crops are a vast unregulated gamble. We don't know what the possible long terms effects on the environment or harm to human health could be. There are a number of potential dangers such as harm to human health and damage to biodiversity and environmental systems.

The simple fact is that we don't need GM to feed the world. So why take the gamble - especially when the main beneficiaries are large corporations and their shareholders - not the poor or the hungry.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Brown provides too little too late....again

Many people were disappointed when the government announced a stamp duty holiday for properties costing up to £175,000. It was rightly denounced as too little too late to stimulate the housing market and help first-time buyers.

Now we have the latest gem from Gordon - £910 million for household insulation to tackle fuel poverty. £560 million of which is old money. We also know that the work to insulate all the houses of the 'fuel poor' can't be done before winter. Which means the old and the poor are likely to freeze. Meanwhile the energy companies are making billions in extra profits and laughing all the way to the government bailed out bank. Much of the extra cash that they are making is going where you would expect - straight into the pockets of shareholders. The energy suppliers paid £1.64bn in dividends in 2007 - £257m more than the year before.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party Leader, has called for a windfall tax - she wrote:-

"When the fuel crisis started to bite, a strong leader would have set their sights on achieving energy independence. Instead, our prime minister went running to the profiteers-in-chief to beg for just enough more oil to keep us dependent. Just three of these companies – BP, Centrica, and Shell – together made £1000 profit every second over the first 6 months of this year. Every penny that the oil price inches up, is a new surge of cash from the pockets of working families, students, the elderly and the disabled, directly into the bank accounts of the world's petro-giants."


It's unlikely that Gordon Brown, who is deeply committed to protecting the interests of big business, will be shifted on a windfall tax. But his obstinacy in the face of the overwhelming case for such a tax might just result in him finally being shifted out of office.

What is "progressive"?

Progressive politics is an alternative to conservatism but not as far to the left as socialism. Progressive politics is about social justice and workers rights. Franklin D Roosevelt was a progressive. Of course we have shifted so far to the right nowadays, and the left is so weak and divided, that hardly anyone dares mention socialism (or even social democracy) anymore.

'Progressive' has been co-opted by 'modern' political parties because it sounds good - i.e. forward looking - and, for parties of the 'left', avoids using the dreaded 's' word.
But being 'progressive' has to be a pretty vacuous concept if it is being used by New Labour and the Tories. Of course, neither the Tories or New Labour are progressive parties in the true sense of the word - they both espouse reactionary free market policies. The reactionary right are trying to co-opt the term progressive to describe their politics thereby devaluing it as a concept, just as they have stolen to term 'reform' which means 'making things better'. Does this matter? Well yes it does because it confuses people and provides yet another distraction from the issues that we should be talking about.

I think socialism's obituary has been written far too soon.
But its interesting to read 'lefties' squabbling on CiF about what left wing politics means nowadays. What they need to understand is that nothing has changed - the same old conflict between Capital and Labour is continuing as it always has. Class is just as important as it ever was, and good old imperialism is going strong too - they just call it globalisation these days. All this has been well understood for well over a century thanks to someone called Marx, and others. Give these 'lefties' a couple of decades and they might manage to come up with some coherent ideas for a way forward and ... er ... call it socialism.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The Green Party elects a new leader

Caroline Lucas has been elected as the first ever leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. I voted for Caroline and I wish her every success in the job. I believe that she has got the ability and integrity to make a good leader for the Party.

But she is going to have to be tough. When it was suggested (this time around) that the GP elect a leader I thought twice about it. Why? Because I know that the media agenda will be to neutralise the GP's radical programme of reform by making the GP conform to the neoliberal agenda that every other mainstream party has adopted.

That means that our leader will come under great pressure to act and behave as every other leader does, and that isn't what the GP is about. They will also shine a spotlight into her private life in an attempt to rake up anything they can use to discredit her.
They are probably sifting through her (recycled) rubbish as I write this.

The Party agreed, if I recall correctly, that we would have an elected leader for a two year term. There will obviously be pressure to increase this into a 'permanent' leadership position - so that the GP leader will become an elected dictator. The media like such 'strong' leaders because once they are 'onside' there is little the rest of the party can do to change anything - remember Tony? We have to make sure we resist these pressures. If we don't the GP will become like all the other parties - and then it won't be worth voting for.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

What I like about Sarah Palin

I have been meaning to comment on the Presidential contest in the USA, particularly on Barak Obama. I haven't done so, so far, for two reasons; firstly I keep getting distracted by events and issues elsewhere; and secondly I can't really find much to say about Barak except I hope he wins. I'd have liked to comment on his policies, but I don't know what they are. He does represent hope against the darkness of another Republican presidency. But that's about it - as far as I know.

So what about the opposition? McCain was on the left of the Republican Party and surely it would have been better if he had beaten Bush to the nomination eight years ago. But now he is in the serious business of getting elected he has, inevitably, been moving ever rightwards since his campaign started. He one described the religious right in the US as 'agents of intolerance' but that sort of rhetoric has long been dropped.

Now he comes up with his trump card - Sarah Palin. Why is she so useful? Well obviously she will attract support from the religious right who are suspicious of McCain. But most importantly she will help to polarise the election and deflect the debate from things that matter.

Since the late sixties Capitalists have been successfully dividing America along 'lifestyle' lines. Jonathan Freedland recently called it the 'Culture Wars' in the Guardian. It goes like this - you kick up an almighty big fuss about things which divide and distract the nation from the important issues of the day. In America the Capitalist controlled media makes a big deal out of abortion, gay marriage, and 'family values'. Palin's role is to polarise the debate, and deflect it away from the really important issues such as Iraq, the new cold war, controlling Wall Street, taxing the rich, climate change, healthcare and employment.

The more time the electorate spend squabbling about abortion, gay marriage, and family values, the less time they'll spend on the big issues, and that plays right into the hands of the Capitalists. It'll be interesting to see how Obama deals with this. He has done fairly well so far but not well enough. To win, he has to bring the big issues back centre stage - in spite of the media. If he can't do that he may well fail.

So how did we get the title of this blog? Well I can't think of anything that Sarah Palin and I could agree on; She is a Christian - I am an Atheist; She is against abortion - I am pro-choice; She is against gay marriage - I am for it; She likes guns - I don't; She likes to kill animals - I don't; She likes to promote ignorance in the form of creationism - I'm a biologist and a qualified teacher and I know that creationism is not science, its a flat earth belief; She likes war in Iraq - and elsewhere - I don't; And finally She is stupid enough to support a political party which defecates on her class - I'm not.

So what do I like about her? - what I like about her is the fact she is prepared to stand up on her hind legs and say what she believes in. And I've had a bellyful of politicians on the left who haven't got the guts to stand up and say what they believe in, or perhaps haven't even got the guts to believe in it anymore.

Culture wars: how we are divided

Rulers have always maintained their power over society by dividing the ruled. Racism, for example, has proved a useful tool for those who dominate society to exploit the people beneath them. Some people think that racism is a 'natural' phenomenon - that its normal to dislike or fear people who are different to themselves. But racism has been deliberately manufactured, and used by imperialists and capitalists.

In the early days of the British Empire in India the leading colonists admired Indian culture and even adopted its dress and practices. Warren Hastings, the first Governor General, was one of these. But Hastings was deemed to be fraternising too much with the Indians. He was recalled to Britain and impeached. After that, racism against the Indian population was fostered by the British. The same racist measures were used during the slave trade. Much easier to enslave people and expropriate the wealth of their countries if you can see them as being inferior.

Of course the same could be said of sexism and the fostering of prejudice against the poor. But in the USA since the late sixties capitalists have been manufacturing a new kind of division - culture wars. Why is America so obsessed by gay marriage, abortion and issues like 'family values'? Because the capitalist controlled media push these divisive issues in order to distract people from the real issues.

In this sense McCain's choice of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a smart move. Not only will it bring in the religious right's support but it threatens more than ever to move the election away from things that really matter such as Iraq, the fostering of a new cold war, controlling Wall Street, the economy and employment.

It will be interesting to see how Obama and the Democrats react to this. He should focus on the economy and real issues. But will he be able to turn the debate away from Palin and on to the real issues. If he fails to do so he may just fail to elected.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Capitalists create poverty then report on it....

A recent report from the World Bank (WB) estimates that 400Million more people are living in poverty than was previously thought. Here is a quote:

"August 26, 2008—New poverty estimates published by the World Bank reveal that 1.4 billion people in the developing world (one in four) were living on less than US$1.25 a day in 2005, down from 1.9 billion (one in two) in 1981."

Note that they are talking about poverty in the 'developing world' here. No mention of poverty in countries like the USA where about 37 Million live below the official US poverty line. Incredibly 58.5% of Americans will find themselves living in poverty between the ages of 25 and 75 at some stage in their lives .

Of course you might also want to consider the measure of poverty at $1.25 a day. When you look at the number of people who live on less than $2 a day the number doubles to 3 Billion, about half the world's population.

Its interesting that the World Bank should show such concern. Particularly when privatisation, deregulation and expropriation of natural resources by multinational corporations, are policies that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) force on countries in the developing world - its called globalisation. In April protesters demonstrated against these globalisation policies at the World Bank meeting in Georgetown.

Countries like the USA and the UK were able to develop their economies protected from the kind of predatory capitalist measures supported by the WB AND IMF. That is how our economies became developed. The developed west, through the WB and IMF is now denying 'developing countries' that same opportunity to develop by insisting on the form of economic imperialism called globalisation.

Monday, 1 September 2008

What we want is a secular state education system

Who wants faith schools? Lord Adonis apparently. Lord Adonis, in case you didn't know, is Tony Blair's unelected chum, who seems to have control of education policy in the UK. Now what does he know about education? Has he been a teacher or had any experience of schools apart from being a pupil? Not according to Wikipedia. But isn't that just what you would expect from New Labour - don't bother about any kind of useful expertise - just parachute your mates in to run the country. Tony knows best. Anyway, apparently his Lordship likes 'Faith' schools, and because he likes them we all have to have them.

Not only that, but its OK to discriminate against teachers who are not Christians (or Jews or Muslims) by not giving them jobs in faith schools. You can't discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality or race but its now quite legal to say - " We are not going to give you this job because you are an atheist". So are we now going to have that grotesque farce whereby teachers are going to have to pretend to be Christian to get a job - just as parents have to - to get their children into school? All of this is utterly unacceptable and is being foisted on the English people. Its something we just don't want. What the hell are people in the Labour party doing allowing this to happen!

Taxpayers money should not be used to promote religious interests. And that includes faith schools. Its simple we need, and want a secular state school system. Just 2% of people in England a regular churchgoers - this is not a christian society much as the faith brigade would like us all to believe.

We had a Tory government which neglected the state school system because of antipathy and now we have a New labour government forcing faith schools on us dishonestly whilst making false claims that such schools are better.

Fortunately, not all Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths are narrow minded enough to want segregated schools and communities. A group called Accord is working to promote a secular education system bringing people of all faiths and none together. They deserve our support. Lets work together to provide schools for all our children.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

What is Socialism?

We live in reactionary times. Times, in which, the political left appears to be unable to respond to the dominance of the political right. Capitalism is everywhere triumphant. The left is in crisis. So what has happened?

Firstly we need to go back to 1989 the year in which the Soviet Union collapsed. The champagne corks must have been popping in every capitalist boardroom. Why? because as long as the Soviet Union existed it was possible to believe in a viable alternative to capitalism. That gave the left an awful lot of strength. There isn't the time and space here to go into the pro's and cons of the Soviet Union. Was it really a workers state? Was it state capitalism? Was it just a brutal dictatorship? Suffice to say the Soviet Union was not a bad as Western Capitalist propaganda made it seem. People had housing and healthcare and it was a much more equal society than anything we have ever experienced. An awful lot of good people gave their lives trying to create a better world. Their efforts deserve to be acknowledged.

But back to the left. After 1989 it became seized with doubt - trapped like a rabbit in the headlights of the oncoming capitalist juggernaut. But how did things fold so easily? I think there are a number of reasons. One key one is the fact that a lot of the old Marxists and Socialists, people like E P Thompson simply died out. The people who replaced them didn't have the experience of war, conflict and struggle that those those old Socialists did, they were tough cookies. Socialists had gone soft and Socialist politicians in Europe had been sucked into the Eurocracy, expense accounts, and (largely) meaningless debates in Strasbourg.

So where do we go now? What next for the left? Well socialism of course! But hang on isn't that a bit 20th century? Isn't socialism dead as Martin Kettle claimed recently? Well no it isn't. Broadly speaking there are two kinds of socialism; Socialism with a big 'S' and socialism with a small 's'. Socialism with a big 'S' - the Socialism that arose from the work of people like Marx, Engels and Lenin.
By the the late 1960s Socialism had become dogmatic, doctrinaire and sterile That does not mean that Marx, for example, was dogmatic, just that Socialism had become riddled with a particularly deadening kind of dogmatism. Socialism had ceased to be empowering and vibrant. Changing economic circumstances and disillusionment with the Soviet Union helped to bring about the decline of this mainstream Socialism.

But socialism with a small 's' is, and always has been, alive and well. Socialist ideas pre-date Marx by a very long time. Wat Tyler was a socialist, so was John Lilliburne. Because socialism with a small 's' is simply the politics of putting people first - of need not greed. You don't need to have read Das Kapital to understand that kind of socialism - anyone can.

Of course Socialism is so unpopular that some people believe the 's' word should never be mentioned. If they can think of a better word to describe the politics of need not greed then I'd like to hear it. 'Progressive' politics just isn't enough. If David Cameron can call himself a progressive - he's not really - then that's a good reason for not using the word. The fact that Cameron would never dream of calling himself a socialist is good enough for me.

To be honest I'm glad that doctrinaire Socialism is dead. Too much focus on theory, rather than practice, too much self indulgence, too many varieties, too many meetings, too much sectarianism - too much baggage by half. We need to learn from the mistakes that Socialists made in the past without underestimating the great value and contribution of socialists like Marx. We need to unite and move forward with the simple politics of social, economic and environmental justice. That's what socialism, at its core, is really about.