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Tuesday 7 December 2010

Education Education Education

I am absolutely convinced that those who  benefit from education should be the ones who pay for it.  Who could disagree with that?  So who is it who benefits? We all benefit as a nation from having a thoughtful, well educated population who can improve our economy by the sweat of their brow and the strength of their creative imaginations and the necessary skills to create new technology. Engineers, sociologists, brain scientists, mathematicians, plumbers, architects, we need them all. 

Of course the individual benefits from having some earning power as a result, but that means he pays much more tax throughout his life, and also remember that high wages equal high spending power which equals more growth of the economy, an increased capacity to produce and better balance of payments. Win-win all round for the natiuon as a whole.

After a local mini-protest in which about 200 15  to 18  year olds left their classes and marched in an orderly manner to the Town Hall, demonstrated noisily but  without violence on their part although the police were out in great force and used quite a bit of persuasive force to corral the kids , there was a letter in the Colchester Daily Gazette. It came from a local citizen who insisted that the  "culprits" who "Blocked the Street" and "stopped people from doing their shopping"  should be named and shamed. Well I can tell him now that these people would be only too proud to put their names to what they did, and as for being shamed, ashamed of what? Ashamed of having their friends who are on a 'poverty plus a pound' budget  having their educational maintenance grants the only thing that allows them to be at the school at all cut? Ashamed of having to rack up a huge debt at commercial interest that they will be paying off until they are 55?  i can assure you that these young people - the very people who had no hand whatsoever in causing any kind of financial problems - have absolutely nothing of which to be  ashamed.

The whole point about demonstrations (which do work, as the poll tax riots proved) is that the inconvenience caused to others  like "stopping us doing shopping" should result in the people who are inconvenienced thinking about what the root cause of what it was that made these people (who would otherwise much prefer to be getting on with their lives) protest in the first place. They should then put  pressure on to the people who cause the problem, i.e  the government in this instance, rather than complaining at the protestors, who are sometimes quite desperate.

There are people who say that they should not go to University if they could not afford it , instead 'get a job like I had to' - as though there are not already  eighteen people chasing every job, however menial.

The qualification that they may or may not get from University is just one of the outcomes. Almost more important is the three years spent there becoming rounded, more thoughtful people, able to analyse problems and likely outcomes, and see things from all angles, learn their limits and be exposed to poeple with extraordinary imaginations. Not least they learn to be self-reliant, wash their own clothes (with a bit of luck) and feed themselves, plus the discipline to get up in the morning

 It is argued that students  will not have to pay anything back until they earn £15,000 a year. However if we do the maths, that means that not only will they pay income tax in the usual way but an additional sum on top of that. A 30K salary means that you repay £112 a month extra on top of the £450 plus income tax making a total of £720 a month including all the deductions.   Intelligent educated ex students tend to marry each other, so this will hit married couples very hard with two lots of loan within a single household. Just try to get a mortgage when your credit rating shows a £60,000 debt! And if only one of them is working, that means that having children is probably having to be put on hold. And if one of their debts is defaulted on the bailiffs will be round!

If you accept that cuts to the spending side need to be made all round, (which I believe is  a flawed concept as it doesnt take into account the income side of the equation) then I suppose you have to believe that education cannot have any special treatment. I find it hard to believe that the Tory led coalition does not want an educated population. Some countries, Morrocco for example does take this approach and makes it more than difficult for any of their own people who have a qualification to get a job,  but certainly not here.  So why are they considering this savage attack?  If we had a huge demand for manual labour I could understand it, but we don't. That woman prime minister whose name I find it difficult to say without feeling sick closed all our factories and mines insisting we could live forever on the fruits of financial services ( and look where that concept led us!)  So what on earth is the government proposing to do with all those surplus uneducated bodies? What will become of the crime rate? Will our streets fill even more with wall-eyed bored witless people with nowhere to go? Perhaps they will bring back national service, that sounds like a good Tory principle to me. They will probably dress it up as a public service force, clearing snow, that kind of thing... Oh hang on a minute,  thats what they are already doing making non -voluntary work mandatory for those in receipt of benefits...

 Background: About the EMA
The Educational maintenance Allowance  is going as part of the savage cuts made to the young people. The very people who have absolutely no blame for the financial problems, but who will bear the harshest brunt of the cuts.  

Whats the EMA? If a child is  between 16 and 18 and there is a real problem in them carrying on at school, and the household income is less than £21,800-odd pounds a year then the child is entitles to a payment of 10, 20 or £30 a week, payable directly provided the child turns up every day and works as hard as they should. The idea is to encourage children to go to school, and thus improve their life prospects.  It works: 65% of participants on the highest EMA rate of £30 could not continue to study without the allowance. The maintenance allowance removes some of the barriers to participation in education, particularly in covering costs towards transport.  In London that is just under 100,000 teenagers, and in some areas of Birmingham, Leicester and the North West, as many as four-fifths of students receive the EMA.

Monday 6 December 2010

The Special Relationship: War as a profit making enterprise?


There is lots of money to be made from making, selling, exploding and repairing the damage from things that go bang,  but not much to be made from damage to humans...  no wonder that governments and their paymasters are not as anti- war as you might expect from a Government whose only job is to make life safe and nice for everyone ...

Both America and Britain’s biggest industry is its most secretive: The arms industry, making weapons of war including mines and cluster bombs for sale to literally anyone who can pay for them, or alternatively  being persuaded to fight wars in order to keep these crucial industries from collapsing. On the other hand they do create a huge income for the nation, which keeps our taxes low (er)_BAE had £1.8 Billion profit in 2007 ( in the USA Boeing alone had £4 Billion, the total in the USA being nearer 15 Billion profit). Europe spent £320 billion on arms, the USA £603.  BAE have tax havens in Leichtenstein and elsewhere, so they pay as little tax as possible, but it is still significant.

We have paid very dear, not just in cash, for war aid to Britain during the second world war.  It was not a gift but a loan on very high interest: and it has been repaid fully since 2006, partly paid off in kind by the forced licensing of North  Sea Oil , the effective theft of intellectual property,  the supply of Plutonium, and other deadly things to make hydrogen bombs with, being  the output from our fast breeder reactors .

The History:
There is supposed to be an informal “Special Relationship” between the UK and the USA.  It encompasses – theoretically - mutual defence  agreements, and economic support. It is meant to be in recognition of the shared values, the mutual respect and language and culture in common. In practice it is far from mutual and  until the debt was paid off in 2006, was pretty well entirely based on the requirement to repay the debt of $31 billions of dollars  ( $455 billion in 2010 terms) racked up in food aid and lease-lend before America entered the war.

At the end of the war  Britain was virtually ruined, the economy in tatters, the factories destroyed,   and the workforce, however willing they might be to rebuild, had few resources.  On the other hand America emerged from the war, richer and more powerful than ever, its factories booming, its people confident, and its industrialists personally wealthy beyond their wildest imaginings.  Most importantly, they had acquired an understanding that war was a hugely profitable business,- and so was the reconstruction afterwards. They ploughed billions in Marshall Aid into the defeated countries to rebuild their industrial base. Britain on the other hand got nothing but demands.

The Welfare State was founded at this time as a defence against the starvation, disease and homelessness which would be the inevitable outcome: but that’s another story....

This debt was being repaid in whatever spare cash Britain could muster. Our rebuilt factories  were all but forbidden to sell more than a tiny proportion of whatever they produced within the UK, but  everything had to be exported to the USA  help minimize the balance of payments.  Lend-Lease also involved Britain's surrender of her rights and royalties in a series of British technological achievements.  Radar, antibiotics, jet aircraft and British advances in nuclear research had led the world.. Under Lend-Lease, these inventions were surrendered as part of
the inter-Allied war effort, free of any royalty or other payments from the United States. Had Churchill been able to insist on adequate royalties for these inventions, both our wartime and our post-war balance of payments would have been very different.

Under the Atlee government Britain was repaying £200 million per year, money we certainly couldn’t afford. Then the US government dropped a bombshell. They called in the debt. Immediate repayment. The only recourse was to do what modern loan sharks always do. They consolidate the debts into one massive debt, the “American Loan”, the repayment and servicing of which placed a burden on Britain's balance of payments right into the twenty-first century.

Then someone had a brainwave. The USA had a requirement for huge amounts of nuclear fissile material, Uranium 235 and Plutonium in order to build all those bombs which threatened the world. Britain was looking to build peaceful power stations. The decision was taken that these be built as fast breeder reactors which by some technological magic produced far more fifthy material than they used. All this deadly stuff was shipped back to the USA, and a credit given against the war debt, but a credit smaller that the amounts owed in service repayments, so we were still held  in permanent debt. Then they made us sign an agreement to lease some of their weapons back from them, for use as an ‘independent’ deterrent. So we were paying out even more. And we are stuck with expensive, dangerous and difficult to decommission nuclear power stations.

The deal nearly collapsed when Wilson refused to back the American war in Vietnam. However Regan got his own back by refusing to support us in the Falklands War.

And now? Well we went to war twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan,  when we were asked to didn’t we? Even if it meant falling in with the lies and misinformation that was needed to persuade our peoples not to object?  Even though it was patently obvious that America has never won a war, since WW2  and that it is highly unlikely to win this one, as  it is not physically possible to win a land war against a guerrilla army in the 21st century. The very best that can be achieved is an uneasy armistice, at worst, an ignominious defeat like Vietnam.

So why are we part of these wars? Well imagine you have factory in say, Mississippi making , lets say, cruise missiles. Or a factory in Britain making ammunition and shells, You turn them out at a good rate and suddenly there are enough standing by to use at any time against anyone. What do you do then? Stop making them and mothball the factory? Lay off the workers? Or do you carry on making them until you run out of money and storage space? What happens when you suddenly need more in a hurry? And what about the economy of the country , the state the town which depends hugely on the income derived?  The answer is quite apparent really; you use your influence and your huge amounts of money to back someone for president, someone who will fall in line with your needs, and then insist that as a quid pro quo, to hold a nice war and bang them off, thus creating a demand for more weapons so you can keep the factory open and the world safe for democracy. That’s why wars seem to be planned three in advance.  In Britain it is on a much smaller scale but the rules are the same.

The other thing is the huge profits to be made from reconstruction after ( or even during) a war. The contract to rebuild Iraq was agreed even before the official decision to go to war was announced. Who got the contract? None other than Secretary of Defence Dick Cheyney’s , company Haliburton. (The same Haliburton whose cack-handed efforts to cap off the deep ocean oil rig using  explosives to beak the membrane of the restrictor so that they could do a top-shot to seal it led to  the worst oil spill ever and they still managed to blame BP) 

Halliburton also administer all the  private armed security guards ( or mercenaries as they are really) who are diverting huge sums from the aid and reconstruction budgets and are fully unaccountable. They are paying private individuals up to £1000 a day to do a job which is properly the province of the official army, and giving out huge checkpoint bribes.

So, lots of money to be made from making, selling, exploding and repairing the damage from things that go bang, but not particularly from damage to humans...  no wonder that governments and their paymasters are not as anti- war as you might expect from a Government whose only job is to make life safe and nice for everyone ...

Monday 29 November 2010

The Ruling Classes- still Normans?

The Ruling Classes

It’s a strange uncomfortable feeling that the ruling classes have reappeared, having been driven underground all these years. Who are they? Traditionally, the Marxist definition  of the ruling classes is well known, as being those who control the means of production.  However in Britain, they are a very different group who are based on a narrow class of well born and privately educated people, who have links into the older larger landowning families. They appear to display a traditional contempt  for the majority of people, while claiming affinity and concern for them.

These people are – and are proud to acknowledge – the direct descendents of the Normans

Think of the Norman conquest and what picture do you have?  A quiet invasion, a brief war, a recasting of ownership of land and  a long period of stability?  

In practice it was the grimmest picture of ethnic cleansing and destruction of a proud nation by a gang of ruthless and greedy descendents of the very Vikings that considered Britain theirs to plunder, that Britain has ever or hopefully will ever experience. Of the thousands of land and house owners, magistrates, judges, civil servants, mentioned in the rolls, few remained, rounded up and murdered. The rest, driven from their homes, and forced into mass starvation, particularly in the North of England where the death toll is believed to be over 100,000, with substantial social, cultural, and economic  damage. Because of their scorched earth policy much of the land was laid waste and salted to render it impossible to grow crops, and in places depopulated, a fact that the Domesday Book readily attests. In my home town of Colchester the entire town was leveled to the point where not one stick or stone remained, apart from one Saxon church tower, presumably left as a look out point. The remaining population were driven to the fields to the west where they were forbidden on fear of tongue slitting or worse to grow food or hunt anything bigger than the rabbit until the town was deemed sufficiently pacified to use the slaves for their purpose – to feed and clothe the  Norman Lord. Their imperative were two: work on the land and be grateful for the scraps of your own toil that you are allowed to keep: and to breed to ensure a steady supply of landworkers. To ensure the quality of the brood, the Lords had, naturally, an absolute right of deflowering and using any woman they chose.  The droit du seigneur.

<< The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty.  To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of hunger.
I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him.>>    Orderic Vitalis, 11th century

God of course as we know did nothing of the kind.
 To this day, Britain is riddled with a unique class system based on those very distictions: we all recognize those who do the traditional huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’, wear the green wellies drive the Range Rover, cook with an Aga , living from investments, rents  and in the professions – and on the other hand those who live as best they can by working at things that really matter, engineering, building, factory work, call centre work and the service industries, in other words creating the wealth that other non-contributing investors can live from.  

Undoubtedly, people can rise through merit: but generally only because they are measured by their acquired wealth, or use their wealth to ingratiate themselves from the old families, who duly look down their noses, while accepting their money and privately decrying them as Nouveau Riche  (which is of course unspeakably vulgar). And of course they are graciously permitted to hand their money over in the form of semi worthless B shares which hold five times fewer voting rights than A shares in privatized public utilities, and to put  it into banks owned by the institutions, which can default with no responibility to pay you back, or decide to change to very low interest rates while handing out massive bonuses. And they have no access to the kind of tax avoidance systems that characterise the larger institutions.

 This was taken to extremes at the end of the nineteenth century up until the second world war, when the aristocratic families were on their uppers, and  down to their last few servants and wondering how to pay for the running of the house, they solved the problem in their thousands by marrying rich American heiresses: they were special  matchmaking directories, with those from Burkes peerage on one page and the heiresses on the other,  and  there were brokers who introduced them., Winston Churchill was of course the son of just such an heiress.

The Knickerbockers were one such rich American family who married into the Astors, who in turn produced Samantha Sheffield, now better known as Samantha Cameron.  David Cameron  was educated at Eton where like Boris Johnson and George Osborne, he was a member of the Bullingdon Club, a gang of old family thugs and louts who caused untold physical damage and blithely paid they way out of trouble, which was fondly ignored by the authorities as exuberance and high spirits. Nick Clegg , another scion of old family was educated at Caldicott and Westminster, mybe not Eton, but almost as good. Neither he nor Cameron would have any conception of the way of life of the non-Normans.

Are we therefore surprised when they wish to hark back to the good old days of the Normans? Does not the whole thrust of their legislation tend to this?

Look at some of the  laws they propose ( many of which will never be scrutinized by the second chamber because of the Money Bill Regulations, see next blog): Return of foxhunting, removal of all animal protection laws, including domestic,  farm and zoo animals, badgers and stags, Removal of rights to possession of Council and social housing,  dismantling of controls in education: the list is endless. More later.

Friday 26 November 2010

Why conservative? Why liberal?

NOV 26th 2010

Why conservative? Why liberal? A general examination:

On the one hand, conservatives do tend to be conservative because the hierarchy of society based on achievement as measured by material success seems right and reasonable, and makes sense. After all, hard work surely equals reward, no?. And as they feel that the world does not owe them a living, why not maximize what they have by increasing their wealth by careful investment and husbandry, which might allow some of what they create to cascade downwards in the form of employment and largesse? They see the people who contribute little to society reaping rewards and benefits that they have not earned, and look upon their wastefulness and fecklessness with disdain. They see the balance of the society that they have worked so hard to create being eroded by those who seem to have little concept of fair play and balance.

On the other hand liberals (which include any form of left thinking people) prefer arguments from emotion, relativism, and pragmatism. They see hard working people striving to keep the wheels of family, social and cultural life turning and get nothing in return, and feel little valued. They see huge amounts of money changing hands among the super rich and then see them walk away unscathed when problems arise, while being certain that the entire weight of law will fall viciously on them if they tried anything similar. They fear that the little they have will be looked upon with disapproving eyes and removed from them as wasteful and somehow undeserved. And they know without doubt, that the path to survival as an individual, as a family and as a community or the chance of an education relies on ever higher indebtedness from which there is – can be- no escape.

Conservatives see things on a long time scale, both looking back and looking forward, knowing that things cant be done overnight and that plans made now can come into fruition later. They tend to be much more interested in history, sometimes seeing periods through rose tinted spectacles. Liberals see things in a much shorter time frame, expecting short-term fixes for solutions to immediate problems. Liberals accept history as an example, but usually for the purpose of not making mistakes again.

This is not to say that the political strategies either side use reflects these paradigms. In fact it tends to be the opposite, where conservatives largely use smear campaigns, exaggerations, evocative language, and outright lies or at best misleading arguments, with no compunction about doing the opposite of whatever they promise in a belief that the end justifies the means: whereas liberals use logical arguments, bald statements of fact, statistics and evidential truth as they see it, but base it on a set of sometimes spurious assumptions, from which they do not like to diverge.

The government has just the one job: to make the all people whom they represent as comfortable and happy as possible. Everything else that they do, be it defence, education, policing, managing the economy and wealth creation, for example, is a just subset of this, not an end in itself.

Wealth creation was controlled originally by those who owned land and who could demand support from the toiling masses in the form of tithes and taxes. The alternative being mass starvation and the fear of eviction. Later the industrialists would rely on an endless pool of surplus and desperate labour to mine for the resources thy needed, occupy and plunder other peoples countries where necessary, and operate the machines that are owned by others in order to create wealth they would never have a share in, set against the fear of those identical sanctions of starvation and homelessness, together with violent enforcement by police and army.

The conservatives and the liberals, were largely in agreement over the things they thought mattered, and there was no legitimate opposition.

The coming of the Welfare state and the trade unions stopped that cosy arrangement dead in its tracks, and removed at a stroke those two terrible weapons. Never again would any British person be allowed to starve, be ill of a curable disease, work for starvation wages or live in the streets if it could be avoided. Perfect it wasn’t, and people fell through the cracks, and others took ruthless advantage of the fact that the economy required a pool of available otherwise unemployed people that kept the wages of the rest high enough.

Stung by the drastic curtailment of their lavish lifestyle and their loss of power, how should the conservatives, who still felt that they had a natural right to govern react? Well just how you might expect. They used the power of their media to divide the nation until they could smash the unions, remove and price out of peoples reach the Council houses, limit the service provided in healthcare to the most basic, excluding dentistry and , and ultimately to dismantle most of the social safety net. If that were not enough they invent a form of wealth creation which not only does not require the participation of the population as a whole, by such things as the creation of invisible financial products and selling them to each other at a profit. Sometimes when they have no option but to require, grudgingly, some labour, it is sourced elsewhere, usually far away in a society where the original weapons of starvation and eviction and the use of child labour can be employed, albeit deniably and at arms length, to keep the prices low.

Without the safety net of hardship payments, and with homelessness, TB and hunger about to reappear, these measures will go a long way to restoring the status quo ante, and the conservatives can sleep snug in their beds a bit longer.