March 10th, 2014
Thunderous Western denunciations of Putin’s actions over Ukraine ring hollow in the light of a decade of utterly unprovoked aggression against Iraq, let alone other bloody interventions in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan (repeated lethal drone strikes killing far more innocent civilians than Taliban), and Afghanistan (13 years of war), none of which was authorised by the UN. The hypocrisy of railing against Putin for an ‘incredible act of aggression’, which has killed nobody, is truly breathtaking when the invasion of Iraq alone led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. |But there’s more to this crisis than blatant double standards.
Ever since the Berlin wall came down in 1989, the US has treated Russia, not as a new partner in the club of nations committed (however falteringly) to democracy, but as the loser in the Cold War to be humiliated and marginalised at every opportunity.
March 8th, 2014
It had always been the Thatcherite/Blairite dogma of service provision that the big private companies – whether the likes of Capita, G4S, Serco, A 4E, Atos or the huge US healthcare multinationals – wouold provide all the health services, but the commissioning would be done by the independent public sector. Now even that split, with the public sector confined to a relatively marginal role, is being done away with and the carving up of the NHS in all its various roles by these private behemoths is now all but complete. For the first time the NHS under Tory ideological control is asking the private sector to undertake the buying of billions of pounds worth of services for hospitals and GPs. NHS England has just advertised for companies to compete (or share out the booty) for £5bn or more of work advising the new GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) which spend more than two-third of the NHS budget (some £70bn) buying care for patients. (more…)
March 7th, 2014
‘Sanctioning’ is a particularly harsh and brutal way of treating unemployed people. They have all their benefit removed even for the most trivial infringements, e.g. being 5 minutes late for a job interview or for a work programme session. Their benefit (£71 a week JSA) is removed for 4 weeks for the first infringement, for 3 months for the second, and (almost unbelievably) for 3 years for the third. This quickly reduces the victims of this abhorrent policy to destitution and leaves them with no alternative but to beg for board and lodging from family or friends. There is no appeal against these decisions which could well be regarded as a breach of the common law by deliberately reducing a person to penury by administrative edict against which there is no redress. There are now nearly a million people who have been subject to this inhumane practice of sanctioning. That is awful enough, but it has now become clear there is another motive on the part of government driving this policy. (more…)
March 6th, 2014
This is a strange election. It’s Labour’s to win given that the most recent polls have shown UKIP hoovering up, not just disgruntled Tories, but – much more dangerously – working class voters in the Midlands who have switched to UKIP in their droves. But whilst Tory support is haemorrhaging to the nationalist Right, they still command the narrative about the state of the country which could still turn out to be critical at the polls. What is so perplexing about this is that that narrative is all based on lies, yet Labour is not challenging, let alone repudiating, these lies either because the Blairites in the Labour ranks actually agree with the Tory narrative or because the non-Blairite elements in the leadership are too timid and cautious to take the Tories on big time. Yet that could set the election alight very much to Labour’s advantage.
The first Tory lie is that the country is in its present parlous state because of the legacy of Labour’s profligate expenditure. In fact, the biggest deficit in the Labour years before the crash was 3.3% of GDP, yet the Thatcher-Major governments racked up deficits greater than this in 10 of their 18 years. And whilst Thatcher-Major produced a surplus in 2 years, Blair-Brown produced a surplus in 4 years. So why isn’t Labour shouting this from the rooftops? (more…)
March 5th, 2014
Once upon a time we had nationalised industries; now we have Capita, G4S, Serco, A4E, and the rest of a small coterie of private conglomerates who dominate the service world. Unlike the nationalised industries they have no specialist focus, but merely bid for anything going, much of which they handle poorly or badly as we have seen with G4S over the Olympics, A4E over the Work Programme, and Serco over medical services in Cornwall. But whereas in the public sector such lamentable shortcomings would be taken as a reason for takeover, closing down or enforced amalgamation, these private sector oligarchs are treated with kid gloves. G4S is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over its over-billing the taxpayer by £24m for electronic tagging and prison escort services, but instead of being closed down for embezzlement or being disqualified from future public contracts for dishonesty or its lead executives prosecuted and if guilty jailed, it’ been given a ‘minder’ from business to oversee its behaviour. How courteous. His job is to help G4S satisfy ministers that the company is now fit again to take on more public contracts – a charade worthy of the best business world fix. (more…)
March 4th, 2014
The latest figures collected by Oxfam indicate nearly a million persons have been ‘sanctioned’ (i.e. deprived of all benefits for a month for the first infringement, often trivial, for 3 months for the second, and 3 years for the third) in the last 15 months and that the numbers using foodbanks are now well over half a million. Yet bankers are still leading the life of Riley at the public expense without any being brought to book. Barclays under the so-called Jenkins ‘clean-up’ act has just stunned even the City by increasing bonuses by by 10% despite profits collapsing by 32%. All the Big 4 – HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds – have shown contempt for restraint by circumventing the new EU rule limiting bonuses to 200% of salary by paying a totally artificial ‘allowance’ far exceeding this limit. HSBC have thus paid their chief executive an ‘allowance’ worth £32,000 a week on top of his £1.6m salary. Barclays is the bank which took the lead in rigging Libor and HSBC was arraigned for money-laundering on behalf of drug cartels, terrorists and pariah states. Despite this background of big-time criminal activity amid soaraway boardroom greed, not one of the miscreants at the top of these organisations has been collared. (more…)
March 3rd, 2014
Last week Parliament debated the Transatlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated – in secret – between the EU and USA. It was almost universally approved on both sides of the House, with only one Labour and one Tory MP expressing scepticism or opposition. It was argued that it will stimulate trade by removing tariffs and thus promote jobs and economic growth. That is nonsense since these tariffs are already at minimal levels. Even US and EU officials admit that the real goal is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations . Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most valuable social standards and environmental regulations such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crash. Constant attempts by the big corporates to circumvent these ‘obstacles’ have regularly foundered, but this time the issues are being rushed through as swiftly as possible with no details entering the public domain, in the hope that they can be concluded before the peoples of Europe and the US can find out the true scale of the threat. So why isn’t Labour opposing it? (more…)
March 2nd, 2014
There are several signs in the wind that Osborne’s ‘recovery’, which he so relentlessly talks up at every opportunity, is not going anywhere. Carney, Osborne’s man at the BoE, has declared the recovery “neither balance nor sustainable”. It is certainly not balanced, despite all the rhetoric about bringing that about, as the chasm between finance and manufacturing grows ever wider. Nor is is sustainable when its foundation in household credit expansion is clearly limited by the continuing fall in wages and when the real pillars of sustainability – business investment, high productivity and rising net exports remain prominent by their absence. From another direction altogether which must make Osborne wince, the hedge fund king Soros has been putting his deep pockets where his scepticism leads him, which is not to back what seems the inexorable rise in the US stock market, and by extension the FTSE recovery. This is the man who gambled against the £ in the face of huge self-confident government hype, as now (but then by Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont), and forced it out of the ERM in 1992 and then got it right in predicting the credit crunch 15 years later, so his opinion is worth taking seriously when he’s put a huge bet behind it. (more…)
March 1st, 2014
Cameron is a rootless chameleon politician, but his daily masquerades putting on new guises sometimes do get in the way of each other. Having delayed and reacted late as the floods engulfed the Somerset Levels and then beyond, as soon as the growing climactic violence put his own leadership on the line he swung round, admitted that climate change lay behind the storms and devastation, and went to the other extreme of offering ‘money no object’ assurances to all and sundry. Gone in a whiff of rhetoric was the government platform that money was so tight with the deficit that a further £25bn had to be lopped off public expenditure in the next Parliament. But once again in a tight corner Cameron had shot his mouth off, and in the event very little aid has actually materialised for the beleaguered villages along the swollen banks of the Thames. Yet having been forced to acknowledge the virulence of the climate threat and to eat humble pie over the £110m cut in flood defences since 2010, he then immediately zigzags off in the opposite direction.
He pledges £200bn for a massive extension of North Sea oil and gas exploration, as though blithely unaware that driving this further huge contribution to climate upheaval directly contradicts what he was so hand-wringingly deploring just a few days before. But that’s not how Cameron’s mind works. He’s moved on, another threat looms – this time the SNP making progress in the polls for a yes-vote – and what does a howling contradiction matter if it serves today’s menu at the expense of yesterday’s? (more…)
February 28th, 2014
Ed Miliband’s instincts are strongly in the right place, but in several recent speeches the solutions he offers don’t match his ambitions. He is right to make challenging unaccountable power his commanding theme, but his proposals to counter it are in many cases inadequate to achieve his purpose. Thus in order to deal with the grotesque levels of inequality at the top of the banks and Big Business, he proposes to put a shopfloor representative on the remuneration committees which are the vehicle for these excesses, but one worker or even two or three would still be easily outvoted and anyway outmanoeuvred by the backroom deals designed to circumvent them. If the aim is to shut down theses excesses by greater transparency, he needs to go the whole hog by introducing Enterprise Councils in the largest companies comprising representatives of all the main grades of employees, from the boardroom to the shop floor, and using this forum to discuss not only company performance but pay claims at all levels. (more…)
February 27th, 2014
One has to give it to the Tories, what they lack in even basic humanity and concern they make up for in sheer gall. For Shapps, the brash hard-nosed in-your-face Tory chairman, to declare that the Tories are now the Workers’ party is so preposterous and silly that one marvels they have the nerve to raise such an absurd canard which could well boomerang back on them. What it shows is that they believe they can get away with anything however ridiculous, given the lickspittle Tory tabloid pack and the lack of a sufficiently aggressive kick-back by Labour. Yet if this isn’t laughed out of court before it gets any airing, it may only serve to highlight just how far Toryism is now the party of the fraction of the top 1%. (more…)
February 8th, 2014
Two young women recently glued themselves to the door of one of the UK’s biggest PR firms, Bell Pottinger. They had good reason to protest. An undercover operation had recorded PR executives boasting, in response to a request to help the vile Uzbekistan dictatorship, that they had access to the PM and Foreign Secretary and that they could use their dark arts to swamp negative images of human rights violations and child labour. They also explained that they could manipulate Google searches, fix Wikipedia material, generate pretend-independent blogs, and put favourable articles in the mainstream press. This deliberate dissemination of lies, misrepresentation and deception, used in support of some of the nastiest persons, companies or governments around, is a typical part of the UK public relations industry which is the second largest in the world and worth £7.5bn. It is shocking that such a sordid and squalid operation can be so large, so influential and so profitable, and shows sadly just how amoral are some of the activities tolerated by our money-obsessed, anything-goes contemporary culture. It is no surprise that Tim Bell was knighted by Thatcher in 1990, presumably for services to the ‘dark arts’. (more…)
February 7th, 2014
There is a story popular in Germany, and often repeated in the UK, that the Greeks are being punished for their grievous financial misdeeds and the virtuous Germans are teaching them a lesson which, painful as it may be, needs to be learnt. Whilst it is true that Greece (and Greece was far from alone in these matters) suffered from a poorly organised taxation system, corruption of the State by an ultra-rich elite, and capital flight to tax havens or investment hot-spots across the world, finger-wagging at Greece and moralising about debt hardly fits the record. There have been three crucial periods in the last 60 years when Germany was in deep financial difficulty and was bailed out by creditor countries……including Greece.
The first and most important was in 1953 when Germany’s post-war debt trap was lifted in London at a creditor’ conference in London. The enormous war reparations owed were halved and the repayment period was extended over 30 years. It is almost certain that the post-war German economic miracle would not have occurred or brought the country to global economic power status, had it not been for the London Debt Agreement. Greece, one of the countries overrun by the Nazis and having suffered grievously under their domination less than a decade before, was nevertheless party to this agreement. So why are Greece, Spain and Portugal being demonised now and debt forgiveness isn’t even on the agenda? (more…)
February 6th, 2014
The 2008-9 crisis highlighted two fundamental flaws in the UK banks. The first was illiquidity when their creditors and depositors withdrew their money at the first sign of serious trouble, but the banks couldn’t call in their loans in order to pay them, and the Bank of England had to intervene to provide them with emergency funding. The second problem was that some banks weren’t just illiquid, they were insolvent, i.e the loans weren’t going to meet the bank’s liabilities even when they became due, and the Treasury either had to nationalise failed banks or spend billions in buying the shares of others (£68bn in all). Now the banks have been forced by the new Banking Reform Bill (inadequate though it is) to reliquify and recapitalise their balance sheets. As a result bank lending to UK industry has gone into reverse. In the 4.5 years leading up to the financial crisis, Britain’s banks raised loans of £260bn to UK companies, while in the 4.5 years after the crisis they have called back in from UK companies a net £110bn. So the way has been left open for a new intermediary, and that is very likely where the next crash will develop. (more…)
February 5th, 2014
Big Business remains in a state of denial. After the biggest crash for a century, their line is unaltered: low taxes (or preferably no taxes through avoidance), deregulation, privatisation to remove virtually the entire domain of the State into the private sector, unrestrained inequality. It’s as though the trauma of the last 30 years hadn’t happened – unemployment nearly 4 times higher than in the pre-1980 period, growth of output and income per head down, manufacturing hollowed out, investment and R&D falling, rising balance of payments crises, and much more frequent and severe financial instabilities. It is said that the first sign of insanity is to keep on doing the same thing but expect a different result. Clearly neoclassical economics has run into the buffers, and the only thing that prevents us burying it is the lack of an alternative better-grounded model. The good news is that this is beginning to germinate. The best economics now has a much more sophisticated understanding of what drives innovation, investment, productivity and growth than the old model’s reliance on low tax and deregulated markets. (more…)