Friday, 30 July 2010

Bastards

Our valued trading partners are up to their usual tricks:
China has jailed three minority Uighurs who ran websites with content considered politically sensitive by the government, according to a media report and an advocacy group.

-oO SNIP Oo-

Last week, the three men, identified as Dilshat Perhat, webmaster of Diyarim; Nureli, webmaster of Salkin; and Nijat Azat, webmaster of Shabnam, were sentenced to five years, three years and 10 years respectively, said Radio Free Asia and the Uyghur American Association, citing a brother of one of the men.
The Diyarim, Salkin and Shabnam websites were among the most popular Uighur-language sites, which were all blocked in China following the deadly unrest. The men were convicted of "endangering state security" during the one-day trial that took place sometime at the end of last week, according to Perhat's brother, Dilmurat Perhat, who lives in London.
Abject bastards. Makes me sick to see John Key groveling on his recent trip, and to think that Phil Goff brags about signing a historic free trade agreement with these swine.

Free trade trumps free speech?

Who'd have thought it. What a fucked up world.
1 - "China jails 3 Uighurs for sites deemed sensitive," by Tini Tran. Published by the Associated Press, 30th of July, 2010. Hosted by Google. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gSjMTGA_93sjHUt2y3ACaI8ak7vQD9H96H4O0)

Gove! Gove! Gove! Go! Go! Go!

It's got a ring to it, hasn't it?

Not content with almost losing the election for his aprty with his 'Big Society' campaign, then scraping school renovations and repairs, Michael Gove appears to have resorted to lying about the number of schools signing up for his 'Free Schools' initiative:
Michael Gove, the education secretary, faced renewed attacks today when it emerged that only 153 schools had applied to become academies – despite his claims that more than 1,000 had done so.

Gove had said that the scale of demand from schools to escape town hall control required the government to rush legislation through parliament before this week's summer recess.

-oO SNIP Oo-

In relation to the academies, the department issued a press release on 2 June quoting Gove as saying: "The response has been overwhelming. In just one week, over 1,100 schools have applied." He added: "Of these, 626 are outstanding schools, including over 250 primary schools, nearly 300 secondary schools (over half of all the outstanding secondary schools in the country) and over 50 special schools." (1)
Gove correctly identified a serious problem - that intelligent children from poor backgrounds fall behind less able children from affluent backgrounds - and suggests a solution that will only make it worse (2). Allowing 'Free Schools' will only increase the gap, as middle class, affluent, give-a-fuck parents will take advantage of the opportunity, leaving capable students to struggle in an (even more) second class comprehensive system.

Genius. And this from the man who a few weeks ago expected us all to get starry eyed at the idea of the 'Big Society.' The Big Society, in practice, would appear to be something to be enjoyed by the privileged few, not the rest of the dirty proles.

Oddly, the Toryastic Telegraph doesn't think the lack of interest in his educational apartheid merits a mention. It isn't anywhere that I can see in their Politics section. S till, maybe they are right - Michael Gove's incompetence is hardly news. And perhaps his political career is more properly located in the obituaries.

Though I rather hope David Cameron doesn't do the decent thing and keeps the useless quilt on. Every time he opens his mouth is a few thousand votes for Labour. Then we can keep shouting "Gove! Gove! Gove! Go! Go! Go!" for another five years.

(And God knows, Labour will need every gove gifted vote it can get, if the party makes a Miliband leader ...)

Gove! Gove! Gove! Go! Go! Go!

Come on, join in. You know you want to.
1 - "Michael Gove's academy plan under fire as scale of demand emerges," by Jessica Shepherd and Patrick Wintour. Publiushed in the Guardian, 29th of July, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jul/29/michael-gove-academies-schools-claims)
2 - "'Rich, thick kids' achieve much more than poor clever ones, says Gove," by Jessica Shepherd. Published in the Guardian, 28th of July, 2010. (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jul/28/gove-academies-rich-thick-kids)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Coalition scorecard

A slight move upwards after a couple of government ministers talk a good fight.
+1 ... Nick Clegg calling the Iraq invasion illegal (1). And Damien Green declaring a burqua ban would be 'unBritish' (2).

OVERALL 3/10 - It's these little flashes of principle that keep the government just about looking respectable. They might be economic idiots and social vandals, but they manage to show more principle in a week than Labour did in 13 years.
Still, it has only been a couple months. They really have managed to plumb the depths pretty fast, and I suspect they may manage to sink lower still.
1 - "Nick Clegg's 'illegal' Iraq war gaffe prompts legal warning," by Micholas Watt. Published in the Guardian, 21rd of July, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/21/nick-clegg-illegal-iraq-war-gaffe)
2 - "Damian Green says burka ban would be 'un-British'," unattributed article. Published by the BBC, 18th of July, 2010. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10674973)

Electoral deform

I'm very disappointed to see the dinosaurs are winning the debate about electoral reform within the British Labour party (1).

While the boundary changes might hand the Tories an inbuilt advantage, that isn't an adequate reason for opposing them. Labour didn't exercise itself over boundary reform while they were in office, when the urban-rural imbalance favoured them. Now, they are complaining about it in the same terms as the Tories did before - the other side is seeking to give itself an advantage. The coalition plans, on the surface, are based on fairness - MPs should represent the same number of people, rather than the current situation where urban constituencies are smaller.

There might be an arguable case for the status quo - urban constituencies are where wealth is generated, they have more complex issues and more diverse populations, and so on. But I don't hear Labour making that case. They're just rehashing the same arguments - with minor changes - that the Tories were making a few weeks ago when it became obvious that they weren't going to get an overall majority because of the alleged 'pro-Labour' bias.

I'm still opposed to the idea of reducing the number of MPs, which will mean each MP is less beholden to his electorate, and will entrench the main parties, as it will be more difficult for minor parties and 'rogue' candidates to make a breakthrough. To be honest, I'd be inclined to see the Alternative Vote reform fail under these circumstances. It would create a three party system, instead of a two party system, and I don't regard that as progress.

It would, however, be very interesting if Labour and some Tory rebels do manage to cripple the referendum. That would be n effective deal breaker, wouldn't it? Cameron promised that he'd whip his hordes through the 'Yes' lobby, and if he fails to deliver, where does that leave the coalition? Though if the Lib Dem ratings are as low then as they are now, would Nick Clegg savour an election? Or would he do it to avoid being knived by his own back benchers for leading them to disaster?

It would be nice to see Labour advancing its own ideas and promising a programme of 'fair' reforms to replace this 'gerrymandered' fix. But they don't seem interested in that.
1 - "Shadow cabinet to oppose voting reform bill," by Patrick Wintour. Published in The Guardian, 27th of July, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/27/shadow-cabinet-to-oppose-voting-reform-bill)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Bastards

The PRC has just sentenced Uighur journalist and blogger Halaite Niyaze to FIFTEEN YEARS imprisonment for daring to write about the disatisfaction felt by Uighurs in Xinjiang prior to last year's bloody riots. Saying that people were unhappy, and that disquiet might explode into unrest or violence has been 1984'd into "endangering national security"(1).

For warning the government of the effects of thier policies, the 51 year old journalist will be imprisoned until he's 66.

Meanwhile, Nice John Key has been over in that part of the world, apologising for New Zealanders exercising their freedom of speech in New Zealand (2), and pledging to double our trade with these repressive, murderous bastards (3).

Nice.
1- "China sentences Uighur writer to 15 years in jail," by Alexa Olsen. Published by the Associated Press, reproduced by google News, 24th July, 2010. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gSjMTGA_93sjHUt2y3ACaI8ak7vQD9H4P8FG0)
2 - "China accepts apology over Norman protest," by John harteveldt. Published by stuff.co.nz, 8th of July, 2010. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/3897635/China-accepts-apology-over-Norman-protest)
3 - "Key pledges to double China trade," by john Harteveldt. Published by stuff.co.nz, 7th of July, 2010. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/3893719/Key-pledges-to-double-China-trade)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Britain's bloated, inefficient, Stalinist NHS?

According to OECD figures for 2006, the UK spent 8.5% of GDP on health, compared to 15.8% of GDP in the USA.

Of these respective figures, 82% of British spending was delivered through the public system - not surprising, given that most British health care is provided by the NHS. That is to say, 6.97% of GDP was public health spending.

Interestingly, however, in the USA, 45.2% of their health spending was delivered publically. That means, 7.14% of GDP was used for public health (1).

In other worlds, Britain's public health bill is LOWER as a percentage of GDP than in the USA. And the NHS covers EVERYONE for pretty much EVERYTHING you might reasonably need. It's a friggin' beaut of a institution.

Obviously, comparing the NHS to the cabbaged American health system is a bit unfair. But France spent 11.0% of GDP on Health, Germany spent 10.5% - again, using the 2006 figures. Of that, France's public spend was 79.1%, or 8.7% of GDP. Germany's public spend was 76.8%, or 7.72% of GDP. Compared to the British spend of 6.97%.

Even compared to civilized European nations, the NHS is a bargain.

All of which suggests that Nye Bevan wasn't entirely wrong when he suggested the costs of the NHS would dimish over time. he wasn't right, obviously, but the comprehensive public model seems to be delivering good care at a bargain price.
1 - The statistics for OECD Health spending can be verified here: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=HEALTH. 2006 wasn't outstanding in any way - if anything, in the key comparison to the American spending, subsequent years have only seen the gap grow.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The real cost of cheap consumer goods

From the BBC:
At least 38 miners have been killed in three separate accidents in China's notoriously dangerous coal mines, according to state-run media.

Twenty eight people died after an electrical cable caught fire inside the Xiaonangou mine in Shaanxi province, the Xinhua news agency reports.

Police have arrested the mine's owner.

Eight miners died in an accident in Henan province, while two others were killed in Hunan, Xinhua says.

Thirteen miners remain trapped underground in a separate incident in Gansu province in the north west.

Rescuers retrieved five bodies from the Shaanxi mine on Sunday morning, Xinhua said.

An investigation is currently under way.

China's vast coal mining industry is considered one of the most dangerous in the world.

According to official figures, 2,631 coal miners died in 1,616 mine accidents in China in 2009, down 18% from the previous year.

The country gets more than two-thirds of its electricity from coal.

Most accidents are blamed on failures to follow safety rules, including a lack of required ventilation or fire control equipment.

But independent labour groups say the figure could be much higher, as accidents are covered up to prevent mine closures. (1)
A mining industry with few - and slackly enforced - safety standards literally fuels Chinese manufacturing, and puts cheap consumer goods in the shops for us to enjoy. Every time we buy something made in China, we're reinforcing the pattern of exploitation and industrial murder.

On top of that, of course, you've got the environmental impact of Chinese coal driven industrialization - CO2 emissions and the general pollution resulting from industrialization.

Western nations could change this, as China is reliant on us as we are on it - unless the economy can keep growing, the country will go bust. But it seems we prefer the shop shelves full of baubles and don't want to worry too much about where it came from or how it was made.

The west went through a similar development about 150 years ago - nowadays we call it the industrial Revolution and celebrate it as the Great leap Forwards for civilization, cheerfully forgetting the incalculable suffering, injury and death that made the revolution. Apologists argue that China is going through the same process, and should be allowed to imitate each stage. But, to paraphrase Santayana, we know our history, so other people don't need to repeat it.

And there is a compelling practical argument if the airy-fairy moral stuff doesn't do it for you. There are 1.3 billion souls in China. If they do follow the European coal and oil based model of industrialization, then we;re all screwed. China is already the world's biggest gross emitter of CO2 - never mind all the other pollutants - and that's with a predominantly rural population with a low carbon footprint. But as each individual' footprint gets bigger, the imapct on the planet will be immense.

I don't want the Chinese to live in the stone age. But I don't want everyone living in the stone age, which is what will happen if China is allowed to develop unchecked.

All these baubles that seem such a bargain just now really might end up costing us the Earth.
1 - "China coal mine accidents 'kill at least 38', trap more," unattributed BBC report. 18th of July, 2010. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-10675363)

Rotten Apple

So the iPhone 4 is a load of old balls that is so temperamental it needs a special coat before you can use it reliably? Apple selling hyped up stuff that looks neat but doesn't meet expectations? Who'd have thunk it?

Serious question - why are people who buy Apple tech so often fanatic, wild eyed obsessives?

Apple is just another tech company. Steve Wozniak made a great computer back in the 70s (the Apple II) the company managed to produce a great computer, albeit with a near fatal flaw in the 80s (the Mac), but their history is littered with failures and misfires, like the Apple III and the Lisa, which were hyped beyond human comprehension but failed to deliver. The iMac was a gimmick. The iPod was a fricking MP3 player, why is it an object of fascination? Now the iphone over promises and under-delivers.

Apple consumers like to think of themselves as blessed with a special discernment that allows them to see the special 'quality' that makes Apple products better than the run-of-the-mill tat the rest of us put up with. The opposite is actually true - they're labouring under a whole extra misapprehension, specially reserved for Apple users. In fact, they're just magpies on autopilot, grabbing every shiny bauble Steve Jobs excretes in their direction.

What's even more annoying is the tacit assumption among Apple users is that their baubles aren't just technologically superior (the aren't) and inherently cooler (only to deluded poseurs), but somehow imbued with a special moral quality. The idea is that Apple is the plucky little band of techie heroes gallantly resisting the tide of grayish conformity. Bollocks. there's nothing more conformist than listening to Apple fanatics drone on about how wonderful their toys are, and by implication how great they are. Apple is no different from any other company. They deliever gloss to fulfill needs and desires we don't really have, so we can feel good and successful and sexy with out shiny new toys.

But beneath the Apple gloss, their products aren't much different from anything else out there. They are manufactured in the same places by the same exploited workers, at the same cost to the environment. Steve Jobs is no better than Bill Gates.

Steve Jobs = Satan. The Iphone 4 = Satan's penis. You wouldn't want that anywhere near you mouth, would you?
1 - "Free cases likely for NZ iPhone buyers," unattributed article. Published by the New Zealand Herald, 19th of July, 2010. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/connect/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501833&objectid=10659712)

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Turning from red to blue

Dr James Rockey, of Leicester University, analysed the stated values of 136,000 people in a survey carried out in 48 countries, and found that the well-educated were most likely to misplace themselves on the political spectrum.

A tendency was observed among this group to identify as left-wing, and vote accordingly, despite holding views on wealth distribution that placed them further to the right, Dr Rockey reported.

In his paper, Dr Rockey suggested that this was due to the fact that "people compare themselves not to the population as a whole but to the people they know" and that "political preferences change over time".

The Daily Telegraph pounced on these findings, proclaiming them as evidence that "many middle-aged 'champagne socialists' fail to notice their views shifting" and have become, despite their left-wing university days, right-wingers who cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the fact. (1)

I think this (or at least the Telegraph's reaction to it) is a variation on the "Anyone who isn't a socialist at 20 hasn't a heart, anyone who is a socialist at 40 hasn't a head" bollocks that gets reprised every now and again (1). This is usually done either by people who have made that journey themselves and are trying to justify the collapse of their principles, or by people who were never there in the first place, but who are trying to belittle an opponent in argument by writing off whatever they are saying as youthful naivety.

I wonder, cynically, how many of the journalists at the Telegraph started out as wild eyed young Trots, only to mellow into reactionary prigs, round about the time they accepted the 30 pieces of silver offered by the Barclay brothers?

I wonder, more constructively, if there has been any study of people who preach individualism / Social Darwinist / Libertarian / Randite dogma, to see if they also fail to measure up to their avowed principles?

This could take a couple of forms. It might be the 'do as I say, not as I do' sort of hypocrisy which sees the supposedly capitalistic USA, home of the free livin' individualist, subsidize its agricultural sector to the point where grain can be sold profitably at below the cost of production, and massive government spending on defense buoys up the whole economy? Or, more honourably, some "I'm alright Jack" type giving money to charity or the needy.

Also, it is worth noting that there is nothing hypocritical in a socialist making money by using the tools of a capitalist system. First of all, that money can then be used to help advance the cause, and second, the whole point of a capitalist system is that it forces you to look out for yourself and your own - I need to have the means to care for my kith and kin, if I can't rely on the state to do it for me.
1 - "Are ageing lefties in denial?" by Jon Kelly. Published by BBC Online, 16th of July, 2010. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10633782)

Friday, 16 July 2010

Coalition scorecard - update

-1 ... Ill conceived NHS reforms.
Overall - 2/10 The British people are far fonder of the NHS than the Conservative Party is, and it works damn well. Another ideologically driven move, that no-one would have voted for if the Tories had been honest about it. The coalition is once again in very dangerous territory.

Tory Lies

The Tories have announced plans to restructure the NHS (1), as always under the banner of cutting bureaucracy, breaking up the (supposedly) inefficient command model, and giving doctors more power. This is misleading fluff - doctors are contractors to the NHS, so they already have power. They may operate privately, if they wish.

But beyond that, the Tories are reneging on what they said before the election, that they would not seek to restructure the NHS:
There was also disagreement over the organisation of the health service. The Conservatives said they wanted to avoid another major restructuring. "One of the fundamental things that has gone wrong with the National Health Service in the last decade is constant reorganisation - nine in ten years," Simmonds said. "We need to allow the NHS to bed down so both clinical professionals and management professionals can get on with doing what they want to do, which is to look after patients and improve the quality of patient care." (2)
That's Mark Simmonds, then Shadow Minister for Health, speaking at a debate hosted by the New Statesman and Pfizer. The debate took place immediately prior to the election on the 6th of May - the New Statesman published its account of it on the 5th.

There's an obvious mismatch between what was being said then, and what is happening now, only a few weeks later.

So, we've got three choices. Either, the Tories drew up their plans for NHS reforms since they were elected, in spite of having campaigned on a pledge to avoid restructuring the long suffering health service. Or, they already had these plans drawn up, and Simmonds lied. Or, Simmonds didn't know about the plans and was a hapless dupe - Andrew Lansley took over the portfolio once the coalition government was formed.

Which ever way you look at it, it comes down to this - the Tories knew that suggesting they wanted to restructure the health service would terrify the voters, and give Labour something to campaign on. So they lied to the voters.
1 - "NHS faces radical pro-market shakeup," by Randeep Ramesh. Published in the Guardian, 12th of July, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jul/12/nhs-health-reform-andrew-lansley)
2 - "Taking the nation’s pulse," by Sophie Elmhirst. Published in The Newstatesman, 5th of May, 2010. (http://www.newstatesman.com/health/2010/05/nhs-burnham-simmonds-service)

Friday, 9 July 2010

Another day ...

... brings not one (1) but two (2) warnings that George Osborne's austerity drive is going too hard, too fast, and in all the wrong places. Which might be fun after a couple of pints on a Friday night, but is no way to run a country.
1 - "IMF slashes UK growth forecasts," by Russell Lynch. Published by the Press Association. Reproduced in The Independent, 8th of July, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/imf-slashes-uk-growth-forecasts-2021857.html)
2 - "Economists forecast faltering growth," by Russell Lynch. Published by the Press Association. Reproduced in The Independent, 8th of July, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/economists-forecast-faltering-growth-2021767.html)

Coalition scorecard - update

+1 ... Scrapping the police's power to stop and search without suspicion (1)
OVERALL: 3/10 - A nudge up towards respectability, as the coalition's Not Insane attitude towards civil liberties is again evident. disappointing to see Labour immediately jump to the defense of the arbitrary and draconian powers it gave the police.
1 - "Anti-terror stop and search powers to be scrapped," by Alan Travis. Published in The Guardian, 8th of July, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2010/jul/08/anti-terror-stop-and-search-scrapped)

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Coalition Scorecard

I've been monitoring the progress of Britain's coalition government over on the News General discussion board (1).

The idea is simple - as a socialist, I am, of course, interested in matters of fairness, reason and science. Simply yelling "Boo! Tories!" isn't enough, so I've been keeping a sedulous record of the Good and Bad things that the coalition have done.

The scorecard started at 5/10 the day the coalition was formed - for all that the Boo! Tories! were in power, they hadn't actually done anything offense or wicked with it, and even Tories get the benefit of the doubt.

Here's where they stand as of today. This doesn't include every thing they have done, merely the actions that have been markedly wise or foolish.
+0 ... 5% pay cut for MPs. Silly gesture politics.
+1 ... Tax cut for the poorest, funded by the wealthiest. good and redistributive.
+1 ... The 55% rule is a good thing, would be even better at 66%.
+1 ....$10 billion of new spending. Even better, it makes the Tories look like scaremongering hypocrites.
-1 ... Plans to reduce the number of constituencies a VERY BAD THING.
+1 ... Increasing the capital gains tax, but ...
-1 ... Osbourne trying to hold off on it, pandering to wealthy Tories.
-1 ... Cutting business tax. Don't these fuckers know there is a DeT MowTIN?
-1 ... Hague's empty words on IDF killings. After ripping off our passports, why are we still talking to these murderous savages?
+1 ... Opening the books on spending. Possibly just to humiliate the last administration, but still a good move towards openness.
-1 ... Cameron and Osborne going overboard with the debt crisis rhetoric. Don't they realize they've won the election and have to actually act responsibly, now?
-1 ... Not changing the CGT rates to match income tax rates.
-3 ... VAT at 20%. Take that, pensioners and unemployed types! And for all the other ridiculously unnecessary austerity measures.
+1 ... Raising the tax free threshold a touch.
+1 ... Inquiry into allegations of torture.
-1 ... Cancelling school building programme. Idiotic, both in the short and long term.
OVERALL: 2/10 - Another point of because of the insane decision to stop building new schools. f**k**g future eating dingbat idiots. Again, the curious nature of the coalition is highlighted. They are doing some GOOD THINGS constitutionally and around the reckless authoritarian excesses of Labour. But they're being so idiotic on the economy that it is impossible to see how any of that will matter in a few years time. It's nice to know that, in the future, people will have know the truth about the torture allegations. Only, these dregs be too busy, scraping a living out of the unsympathetic soil and fending off bandit raids from outside the walls of their fortified settlements, to care much. And, of course, they won't be able to read ...
1 - The original source for this wondrous idea can be found here: http://newsgeneral.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=news&action=display&thread=6797&page=1. I am sure the progression of the scorecard since the formation of the coalition will be of great interest to students of political history and lefthandpalmology.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Sympathy for Little Nicky II

No, not Nick Griffin. Nick Clegg. Though I have to admit, not for the real Nick Clegg. He made his bed, he can lie on it. But for the Nick Clegg portrayed by the Guardian's cartoonist, Steve Bell (1), in this lovely pastiche of Bubbles, painted by John Everett Millais:



That Little Nicky looks so sweetly innocent and unsuspecting, imagining his bubble will last forever. It breaks my heart.

I'm sure the real Nick Clegg - the real one - will have taken a keen interest in the post-election polls. And it is interesting - if you are me - to see how the they have changed over the last 2 months.

UK Polling Report lists all recognized polls (2). You Gov has been doing a slew of them, and I've come to regard them as fairly reliable. Even though they didn't predict the collapse of Lib Dem support on polling day, they were (I think) the only poll that showed a wobble in the run up to polling day.

What the current polls are showing is the Tories at about 42%, Labour resurgent at 36%, and the Lib Dems down at a terminal 15% - lower than they polled in the late 80s and 90s consolidation period under Ashdown, when they won about 20 seats, and the sort of numbers that may mean them reduced to that sort of level of representation, if the AV referendum goes against them.

If they do lose that referendum, then Nick Clegg may have destroyed his own party - the drop in Lib Dem support matches the rise in Labour's, and pushes the Lib Dems down to the sort of level of support where they'll struggle to hold the balance of power in future FPTP parliaments.

Still, I'm sure the Tories will have him.
1 - "A portrait of Nick Clegg, after Millais," by Steve Bell. Published in The Guardian, 5th of July, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cartoon/2010/jul/06/nickclegg-liberal-conservative-coalition)
2 - UK Polling Report blog, http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/.

Tough on schools, tough on the building of schools

What a master stroke. Faced with a changing economy where traditional 'hands on' jobs have almost disappeared, and faced with a debt that will need a well educated, high skilled work force that can see opportunities and have the skills to exploit them, the ConDem solution is to stop building schools:
The coalition government took its axe to a further £1.5bn in spending commitments, cutting £1bn from the schools budget and millions from the business department, communities and local government and the Home Office.

The announcement coincided with the education secretary's confirmation that the £55bn, 20-year Building Schools for the Future programme would be cancelled altogether. Some 706 new school buildings and services that already have contracts signed will go ahead, but 715 more will be scrapped.

Gove told the Commons that the scheme had been hit by "massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy". (1)
In the short term, this will have a a negative economic impact as the stimulus provided to the construction industry will disappear. It's longer term impact will be worse, as it will mean affect the education of children and thus the skills of people entering the work doleforce over the next generation.

What's particularly odd is that Gove seems to think that citing the speed and efficiency of the construction of Hong Kong's airport is a sound reason for stopping building schools:
He said: "There are some councils which entered the process six years ago which have only just started building new schools. Another project starting this year is three years behind schedule.

"By contrast, Hong Kong international airport, which was built on a barren rock in the South China Sea and can process 50 million passenger movements every year, took just six years to build — from start to finish." (2)
So his solution to supposed inefficiency is to stop trying. What a role model for our youth. When the going gets tough, the Gove just gives up and complains about how the shifty orientals do it better. God only knows what he would have done if he'd been in charge of evacuating the BEF from Dunkirk. "Oh, bugger it, it's a bit too hard, let's just leave them there to be captured."

(For what it is worth, Gove is being disingenuous - Hong Kong International Airport was first mooted in 1974. Construction started in 1991, and was completed in six years - but how many delays, overspends and botches marred the intervening period, he does not say. Also, it was a rush job, and was meant to be completed before the hand over of Hong Kong. As it turned out, it missed that deadline ...)

Good one, ConDems. Keep it up, you're doing brilliantly.
1 - "School building programme scrapped in latest round of cuts," by Polly Curtis. Published by The Guardian, 5th of July, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jul/05/school-building-programme-budget-cuts)
2 -
ibid.

On the polical utility of debt and deficit

Debt and austerity seem to be the flavour of the month, at least among those getting to giving the cuts, thought it remains to be seen how long the enthusiasm will last among those receiving them.

i've just finished reading Martin Walker's biography of Bill Clinton, The President We Deserve. Early on, Walker notes that the fiscally constrained nature of the Clinton presidency was due to a deliberate - and breathtakingly cynical - strategy originating in the 1980s, when Reagan and his supply side wreckers went on their spree.

their economic decisions weren't driven by ‘positive’ ideological vision, that is a genuine – but deluded – conviction that supply side economics worked. Foisting a massive peace time debt on the public was a cynical, ‘negative’ ploy to stymie any plans the Democrats had:

Clinton came to office in 1993 to be caught by two deep fiscal traps, which made it almost impossible to finance the reform measures on which he had campaigned. The first, and underlying cause of his difficulties, had been set twelve years earlier, in the first year of the Reagan administration. Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, set out deliberately to destroy the welfare state by plunging the budget into fiscal crisis. The strategy was for the White House to cut taxes, and if the Democratic Congress would not then cut spending, the result would be a mounting deficit that would in the long run constrain any more growth in public spending and eventually force spending cuts. Stockman was extraordinarily frank about this: “The success of the Reagan revolution depended upon the willingness of the politicians to turn against their own handiwork – the bloated budget of the American welfare state. Why would they have to do this? because they had to! In the final analysis, I had made fiscal necessity the mother of political invention.

“It worked. In 1980, when Reagan was elected, the national debt was just over $1000 billion. Twelve years later, when Clinton entered the White House, it had ballooned to over $4000 billion, a debt on which interest had to be paid. In Clinton’s 1996 budget, $257 billion was allocated for interest, rather more than the entire U.S. defence budget of $247 billion for the year. The debt burden and the annual deficit had become precisely the fiscal restraint Stockman had planned, a straitjacket into which Clinton’s reform ambitions had to fit. (1)

Sorry if I’m teaching y’all to suck eggs here, but this was news to me. Before, I’d thought that the Reagan administration were just financial imbeciles who genuinely believed that cutting taxes while spunking money on Tanks In Space would somehow lead to everyone becoming billionaires. I didn’t realize it was actually a brilliant act of political castration, effectively neutering any future government’s reform agenda and forcing every president thereafter to become an administration, scraping up money to service Reagan’s debt, rather than actually using the power of the state to actually help people.

Compared to this sort of long sighted cunning, the current moves to hack up the institutions of social democracy in the name of austerity, seem almost naive.

1 - The President We Deserve, by Martin Walker. Published by Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1996.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Thought for the day

I don't have much to say on the topic of religion - except when it is used as a means to divide and foment hatred - because, as Karl Marx wrote, rational adults taking time to point out that they don't believe in God is like a child loudly declaring they aren't afraid of the ghosts and goblins any more (1). And what, moreover, would be the point in adding to the words wasted by the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens, with their pompous attempts to persuade people to rationally reject irrational beliefs?

But today, while reading If This Is A Man by Primo Levi at the moment, his account of his time in Auschwitz, a particular quotation struck me emphatically, following recent tragic events (2) in the all too frequently pain-wracked Democratic Republic of Congo:
Today I think that if for no other reason than that an Auschwitz existed, no-one in our age should speak of Providence.
One doesn't need a horror on the scale of Auschwitz to make one repudiate belief in any sort of benevolent God. A couple of hundred innocent African villagers being immolated while they watch football should be quite enough for most people.

Wouldn't even the most despicable God have thought these people have suffered sufficiently without visiting more horrors on them and their loved ones?
1 - the quotation referred to is "... if there is to be talk about philosophy, there should be less trifling with the label “atheism” (which reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogy man), and that instead the content of philosophy should be brought to the people" and occurs in one of Marx's letters to Arnold Ruge, from 1842. It is reproduced on marxists.org. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1842/letters/42_11_30.htm)
2 - "DR Congo fuel truck victims buried in mass graves," unattributed BBC report. Published by the BBC, 3rd of July, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/10500068.stm)

Thursday, 1 July 2010

What does this even mean?

Another day, another reason why members of the Labour party should be contemplating not whom to vote for, but how best to put themselves out of their misery. From the Press Association:
Labour needs a "revived politics of Englishness" to restore its electoral fortunes, leadership candidate David Miliband has argued.
...
Instead, he argued, Labour needs "a revived politics of Englishness rooted in a radical and democratic account of nationhood", appealing to "the English commitment to democracy, to equal life chances and to challenging corporate excess". (1)
Without making light of the serious issue raised by Miliband - the almost complete collapse of Labour in the south and east of England - waffle like "a revived politics of Englishness" does nothing to address the problem, and this sort of technocratic non-language only makes David Miliband sound like an idiot.

As if his previous literary ruminations had not already achieved that (2).

Noose, firing squad or guillotine?
1 - "Labour must revive 'Englishness'," unattributed article. Published by the UKPA, 1st of July, 2010. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5hRmVcH9lHsg8yAVwWxmuF2qVi2Xw)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/06/ye-gods-part-2.html

Prediction

There's nothing stupider on the internet than putting down your thoughts in an indisputable form.  So that, of course is what I am going...