don quixote's travels

a travelogue in the time of the information superhighway


My story starts in drizzly, dreary, grey England. I worked as a nurse in a specialist cancer hospital in Manchester. One day, I suddenly entered her world, there she was. At once beautiful, but decaying visibly. Eyes that melt you, fumbled for reasons. High on morphine, she slumped on the chair. Her legs, previously long and graceful, were now fat and full of fluid. She was loosing her hair, something that upset her most. We all witnessed her struggling with the remains of her dignity and modesty, but she carried on fighting. Her mother applied facial cream like a corner man at ringside, her father just looked lost. She was a twenty seven year old woman, right before us, dying in her prime. She seemed to hold up a mirror to the thoughts sailing across my mind, a metaphor for what we've all become and what will become of us. So much potential, so much waste. It is at moments like this that we can take the looking glass to our own fragile existence, and ask questions of it. Cancer had infiltrated her womb, the very giver of life. I became aware of a feeling that her death had released something else, a thirst for living itself. She haunted me. Four months later, I set out on an adventure to view the world that she would no longer see.

Posted by don quixote

Friday, 8 May 2015

The politics of fear, division and self interest

Middle income England, the demographic that wins elections, don't give a shit.

They've sold their children's future for low taxes, increased house prices, gas guzzling cars, cleansing their neighbourhoods of the poor and young. Fuelled an economy that serves themselves with low paid insecure jobs for the bottom third, while they cling onto child benefits and gleefully cut welfare for others. Build up their pensions and private health insurance while cutting provision the less well off and having the effrontery to complain about how long it takes 'them' to see an NHS doctor. Enjoy the benefits given to them of free state higher education while stealing it from this, and future generations. Enjoyed the housing boom and the unearned accumulated wealth it gave 'them' but has refused to pay tax to build houses for those who can't afford buying or renting. Happy for an economy that no longer makes things but relies heavily on the financial sector, the very people who crashed all western economies and continue to steal our money.

They voted for the politics of self interest, of fear of the 'other', of division and inequality. They're not interested in securing a safe and healthy planet for their children to inherit. They're too busy partying into old age on house bubble wealth expecting the crumbling NHS to prolong their lives.

They voted for the Conservatives, it's in the name, preserve the status quo, conserve your wealth, your privilege and therefore, power.

'And you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families' - Margeret Thatcher 1987

Saturday, 25 April 2015

'The winners get to write the history'

It's worth looking back to the reality of the 2008 crash, what this coalition inherited and how the LibCons used it to deliver ideologically driven 'austerity' cuts.

It's also worth noting that it is a lie that they were given a recession, the economy in 2010 was in moderate growth(ONS) The recession, the slowest to recover since the 1720's!(Blanchflower- Ex Bank of England), occurred after austerity cuts were enacted. Over half way through his term, Osbourne had to finally listen to the critics and slow the pace of the zealous cuts, which were increasing poverty and depressing living standards. He therefore, failed his target to eliminate the deficit, borrowed more than Labour did in 13 years(ONS) and suffocated the recovery. Finally, after 5 years, we go back to the modest growth that he inherited, but with many economists believing it to be fragile with no government investment to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing, a growing housing bubble and more cuts promised.

Austerity stifles growth, reduces living standards and creates a crisis in underfunded public services, however, it does allow neo-liberal zealots to shrink the State and sell off public services to the private sector (the same people who fund their political parties and pay huge sums for consultancy favours after they leave office). It is a deliberate, opportunistic policy, using 'the deficit' as an excuse to cut and privatise and simultaneously fill the pockets of private companies with tax payers money.

So, the debt. Successive governments since the 80's and the first sell-off's, privatisations, cuts in public services and cuts in taxes, have increased the national debt. In my view, it's obvious what has happened, if the dominant philosophy is one of a low wage, low tax, 'free-market' economy, you can't invest in public services or infrastructure without increasing debt. So that led to PFI's (private/public finance initiatives), building hospitals and schools with private money at exorbitant repayment rates that have saddled us with more debt. It led to outsourcing public services, to more sell-off's of state assets, to low tax receipts so that you can't pay off debt. Private sector investment alone, means that only short term, profitable spending occurs, 'cherry picking' the easiest services and leaving the State to pick up the tab for essential, but costly, services that the nation depends upon. Small government is good for the rich and powerful lobbyists, but not for the rest of the economy, not for infrastructure, skills & training or R&D, not for health & social care, education or housing policy. Not for defence & policing, not for counterterrorism.

This is the neo-liberal free market consensus (low tax, low wage, deregulated economies) from Reagan &Thatcher through Major & Blair. All major parties have adopted it as well as most western governments. To advocate a rise in taxes or more State intervention or regulation of the economy is a heresy, a blasphemy against the 'faith'. And yet, it is this model that inevitably led to the financial meltdown and the biggest depression since the 30's.

An unregulated financial sector, gluttonous on greed, traded in bundles of debt rather than investing in manufacturing, betting on the sub-prime mortgage market despite warnings from risk assessor's and with barely any government regulation. This led to the run on the banks as the bet's turned bad and they run out of money, the 'crash', the tax payers bailout, huge extra national debt, a huge deficit and ultimately, austerity and  recession.

That's not all neo-liberalism managed to do to us, by smashing the trade unions and deregulating the labour market ('flexible'), now we have insecure jobs, agency workers(less rights), exploitation of migrant labour, zero hour contracts, low wages (subsidised by government tax credits) a low tax threshold, and reduced spending in economy.

The State is rolled back, railway services cut and cherry picked, prices up, service down. The Power industry, ripoff prices, service down, no State investment in green energy, an opportunity lost! (Think what could have been done with a kind of 'Green New Deal', jobs and training in renewable energy technology, State backing to make us leaders in Europe). The Post Office, prices up, service down, sold off for a song so City of London spivs could make a quick buck. The slow privatisation of NHS, quality of care down, lots of tax payers money directly into the pockets of corporate healthcare via contracts. Running down the nations housing stock, sold again for a quick buck, lack of affordable homes increasing homelessness and fuelling rising house prices, locking out the next generation and leaving them to the mercy of Rackman landlords. We pay these vultures in housing benefit because the rents are too high for ordinary people to afford. A massive house building program, would have fixed the demand and supply problem, provided homes for those that needed them, created jobs & training and boosted the economy. Basic Keynesian economics, government intervention to help the economy and build infrastructure. That's how you get out of debt, it's counter intuitive, but by investing government money in national projects(at a time of record low interest rates) you create jobs, help businesses rebalance and boost  the economy into growth and increase tax revenue as people have better wages and start spending again. Welfare costs go down as wages improve, rogue landlords no longer need subsidising with housing benefit, less tax credits and unemployment benefits. It has happened before, after the 2WW the Labour government embarked on a massive project, to provide clean, safe, affordable housing, tearing down the slums. It created the NHS, free healthcare at the point of use, ending the fear of unaffordable medical bills and dying in pain that haunted the poor before the war. It nationalised the railways, coal, energy, telecoms and built roads and dams. Just like Roosevelt's 'New Deal' in the US during the depression of the 30's, it brought us out of war debt and into the boom of the 50's/60's. We have to deal with our debt, but we can pay it off gradually, as we can afford It, and when our economy is booming and the tax receipts are rolling in. The banks, who brought us all to our knees, need to pay their debt to us.

 A financial transaction tax to go directly to the national debt.

What we have now with neo-liberalism, are low wages, insecure jobs, lack of government investment, less infrastructure building, less research&development to boost the economy. The low tax consensus has reduced investment in public services which has led to an A&E crisis, primary care crisis, more Baby P's, more suicides, more abuse of our elderly.

Because of this consensus, no government  can raise the basic rate of tax and get elected. So if they do want to invest, they have to use regressive taxes or go into debt, usually both, and privatise.
This 'free market' economics has increased government debt because you can't maintain civilised public services without raising taxes. The ultimate goal is full privatisation of essential services. They will run them down until there is no choice, pretending we can't afford it. We should take our share of the blame, in buying into this bullshit economic 'theory' and allowing it to become a 'faith'.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Paris attacks, Islamophobia and freedom of expression

I have many conflicting feelings regarding the attacks in Paris.
Sadness and despair with both the increasing momentum of Jihadi fascism AND anti-muslim and anti-immigrant populism. Europe is sailing close to the conditions in the 30's that led to the democratic election of the National Socialist Party of Germany(Nazis) and fascism in Spain and Italy. Jews, gypsies and 'foreigners' were being blamed for all our woes in hard economic times.
As an atheist and secularist I instinctually defend the right for all of us to criticise and mock ALL those in power, politicians, bankers, corporations AND those who seek to influence our minds and have the power to do so. So that includes ALL religions, their gods, prophets, saints, their priests, imams and rabbis.

However, with the right to free speech comes responsibilities. As a humanitarian and internationalist, I don't want us to ferment hatred of religious communities and add to intolerance and violence. In the UK there are laws that restrict free speech if it crosses the line into inciting racial or religious hatred. This is, of course, not straight forward. People who want their belief system to be protected from offence, have to be careful. Other beliefs will demand the same. Pro-Israeli groups have attempted to use 'anti-semitism' to shut down criticism of Israel's brutal occupation of Palestinian land.
In a secular nation, no religion can have its belief system dominate the States laws and institutions. This not only protects citizens who don't believe in organised religion, but importantly, protects ALL minority religious communities from persecution and enshrines their rights to practice their faith in law.
Therefore, with freedom of expression, communities who feel they have been offended, have the right to campaign, to demonstrate, to lobby, to write and to draw. NOT to kill and intimidate.
My instinct is for publications to self censor against an image of Muhammad. However, to muddy the water, I can't help wanting to see the cartoon proposed by a British cartoonist on C4 news. It would have Muhammad with the words "not in my name" written on his shirt.