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.