Thursday, 30 June 2011

Credibility and Frances Maude

Credibility: not a word usually associated with the slimy, venal piece of ordure otherwise known as Frances Maude. When he mentioned it during a ding-dong with Mark Serwotka on the Today programme, it stretched credulity so much it felt like the bottom of a vast barrel had just been scraped and found wanting. 
Maude is the MP who had a spat with the Commons expenses authority so bought a flat on a £345,000 mortgage barely 300 yards away from one of his homes in London. He then claimed £35000+ over two years. From the public purse. Even though he is a millionaire with four properties to his name. 
This is the same public purse that he is now so eager to protect from the needs of decent folk. But as they say, he broke no rules - - - - because the rules were made up by similar cheating, conniving scum like him (aka ‘other MPs).
The fact that he is now a Minister says all you need to know about the standards of the government and of Cameron’s ‘clean up’ of politics. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Speaking of Public Sector Pensions...

There will be much pontification and rumbling about the Public Sector strike scheduled for tomorrow. Many of those doing the pontificating, whether it be in print or on the airwaves, enjoy vastly superior salaries and pensions than those they castigate. Take a look at how much one organisation pays its leading lights.
The BBC is a great national institution. It reflects our society on the issue of pay. There are a number of highly paid presenters including Gary Lineker on a reported £1.5 m. Yes, true, that much for cliche-ridden ‘analysis’ on Match of the Day. Jonathon Ross pleased many when he recently resigned from his £6 m pa contract. At the time he was reported to be the highest paid BBC employee. There are also thousands and thousands of intelligent, capable BBC staff who are paid a fraction of what these ‘celebs’ receive from us, the license payers.  The insatiable greed of the highest paid has been cravenly permitted by a BBC Management which is itself in thrall to greed. The vast sums paid to corporate non-entities like Mark Thompson do not correspond with value for money. There are other examples:
“John Humphrys will see his salary from the Today programme fall to £375,000 as part of deals which have seen presenters of the Radio 4 show take pay cuts of up to 20 per cent.
His new contract means he is likely to get an estimated £2,500 for each edition (approx 150 pa) until February 2013 — a 17 per cent cut.” Telegraph 19/2/11 Not a bad little earner per day.
“Jeremy Paxman takes 20% pay cut to stay at Newsnight - but still gets £3m over four years.” E Standard 8/2/11
“Huw Edwards, who reads The Ten o'clock News on BBC1 is reported to earn £250,000 a year, while Fiona Bruce earns £150,000 for reading the news, but another £250,000 for presenting other programmes, including Crimewatch.” Telegraph 2006
It is clearly very demanding to be able to look presentable and read an autocue. Much more demanding than arriving at a bad car crash and helping to save lives. Or inspiring young people to flourish and fulfill themselves. Or even sorting out housing problems with distressed citizens. Or cleaning up the vomit and body fluids produced by our infirm and elderly. 
Practicing looking sincere in front of the mirror is clearly the way to go for a well rewarded life. Talking inanities about football is lucrative but not quite as lucrative as being very cheeky with celebrities and politicians about their sex lives. 
With matching pensions to soothe the stress.
At more lowly levels, a Freedom of Information request to the Beeb revealed the following from BBC People:
“Based on staff employed on permanent or fixed-term contracts as at 28 February 2009, the median salary for a Broadcast Journalist within Radio 5Live was £32,014 and for a Senior Broadcast Journalist £42,452. These figures are based on full-time equivalent salaries to take into account those staff who work part-time.”  Now those figures seem grounded in the real world. Would that the ‘suits’ were rewarded on similar lines. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Open your wallet before your gob

Before any of the self-appointed ‘moral guardians’ of the fourth estate heap more rubbish on the actions of desperate people trying to preserve a reasonable pension they should tell us exactly what they receive each year. [Note the non-use of ‘earn’ - pay attention Littlejohn at the back]. Some of these opinion formers are on vast sums, well in excess of lowly council workers. The Beeb and other broadcast media are not blameless either. Many of their presenters are on huge salaries. Their foreign correspondents (who generally earn every penny) report on strikes and demo's from Arab Spring trouble spots to general approval. The reaction in the UK is markedly different. To take strike action in the UK is portrayed as an anti-social activity akin to child beating and cruelty to animals. Balance? The status quo prevails and the rich and powerful go unchallenged.  
The hypocrisy and craven subservience to the status quo needs challenging. Following Steve Richard’s awful article in the Independent today, which seemingly was based on the people he met on a cruise he once went on, there was this splendid response online. There are alternatives. 
“So the UK cannot afford to give retired people a decent income? Other countries can. Lets take Germany as an example.The difference lies in political attitudes and awareness. Both countries are wealthy in global terms. The resources exist in both countries for people to have a decent retirement, and to have full employment if they chose to do so. 
 In the UK the dominant cultural attitude is that you 'live to work', once you cannot work you should not really live. The UK chooses not to employ a good proportion of its population. Young graduates....83 applying for every job, the unskilled languish hopelessly for generations on the dole, employers expect anyone over 55 to retire or they are the first to be made redundant. Yet the new way of thinking is that people should now work up to their 70's, but there is no mechanism to create this huge number of extra jobs.  The UK has an economy based on banking and capital locked in over inflated property prices. It is fundamentally dysfunctional. Private companies have been allowed to get away without providing for pensions, the public sector therefore is now to lower its employment standards to the lowest standards in the private sector. The private sector dismisses collective opinions of its workforce and unsustainability and short termism is the prevalent culture in management and the boardrooms.
In contrast, in  Germany people 'work to live'. Holidays are longer and  the atttude is that  you should retire as soon as possible, and start to live and travel, including cruises if thats your forte! Pensions are generous. Private sector employers have to provide a decent contribution to pensions, the public sector has to do likewise. The economy is based on making things, its industries are efficient, it operates a Keynesian economy where the state provides assistance to industry in many guises as well as having an effective social infrastructure funded by the state. Indeed the ruling conservative party (CDU and CSU) have enshrined in it's constitution that social welfare is to be protected...and that is the more monetarist right wing party of the coalition in Germany! Unions are considered to be an important asset in managing companies through mechanisms such as works councils.
The problem with UK journalists like yourself, is that they can never see outside of the neo-liberalist box. There are many different economic models other than that set up in the Thatcher and Reagan years, and then embedded by New Labour.  Other economic models exist where people and then leading fulfilled lives are considered to be the core of economic policy. There is no political debate in the UK merely tirades about personalities, bashing unions, immigrants and the dispossessed working class. Its time the UK and its press joined the real world and started to explore alternatives, look beyond little England and lets have some decent coverage of issues where comparisons are made with countries with better economic models.” 
Well said oldnic007! They do have some funny monickers on the web

Monday, 27 June 2011

Parents as strike breakers

Everybody has been to school so anyone can teach, is a feeling prevalent among the more stupid in our society. The squit Gove is a fine example of someone who is reputedly quite bright but who makes stupid errors. Like many Ministers he is arrogant and is hell bent on forcing his agenda through.
He appears determined to inflict the education he had on the nation’s children. Rather than looking backwards to the last century our education system should be enabling children to thrive and flourish in the modern world. A world that is changing incredibly quickly. A world where standing up for yourself takes many forms and requires guts and good communication skills. A world where unchecked and insatiable greed has produced inequality and unfairness on a peace-shattering scale. 
Gove’s latest wheeze is a doozy. Parents should keep schools open on Thursday. Forget child protection issues, Forget planning. Forget ability. Forget about learning objectives. Forget the impact of such an action on the relationships within and without the school community. And forget about what an invidious position it puts non-striking headteachers in. 
One of the rights on the UN Charter of Human Rights is the right to withdraw your labour. It is a right which when used by emerging nations struggling to overthrow tyrannical leaders is applauded by our mealy-mouthed political class. Fine for the third world - do not do it here. That seems to be the message put out by a compliant and collusive media. Does anyone believe that Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers and Dirty Desmond are champions of union rights? Hmm, thought not.
Several members of the commentariat write that striking is just so passe, as though they were assessing fashion accessories. They moan, whinge and wail but are remarkably lacking in alternative legal strategies to get the message across. It is not a move that people take lightly. It costs money and is unsettling in so many ways. The ATL teacher’s union has never been on strike in 125 years. Does that not mean anything to squitty Gove? Why are the most moderate and pacific teachers prepared to strike?
Because what they are being asked to do stinks.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The politics of greed

Following the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression banking regulations were tightened up. For forty years banking and finance became synonymous with boring effectiveness. The seventies changed all that. The oil price rise allied to several crop failures made people lose faith in their governments effectiveness. Along comes Reagan spouting, “Untruths and doublethink to convince a credulous public that ‘government had become the principal obstacle to their personal fulfillment.’’ Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present by Jeff Madrick  reviewed in New York Review of Books by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, which appeared in the Guardian 25/6/2011. 
Reagan, who made a great play on his aw shucks folksiness, helped make greed not only acceptable but desirable. Deregulation of the financial sector promoted the boom and bust cycle which has dominated world finance ever since. As each bust passes we hear the familiar mantras of ‘lessons must be learned’ without any real attempt to put the genie back in the box. Why is this? 
It has a lot to do with the way our politics is financed by the greedy. People like Friedman and Greenspan who believed the financial markets could do no wrong are very influential. There is another aspect which is disturbing as it is with us to this day. “It’s hard to make sense of the growing ability of bankers to get the rules rewritten in their favour without talking about the role of money in politics.” (ibid)
In America today most Republicans are attached to greedism and see big government as the problem. They extol the small man but are in thrall to corporate executives. The lack of regulation which they support and which allowed the sub-prime market to boom and then bust, are working hard to undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to put in place consumer protections which would prevent another sub-prime fiasco.
In the UK much has been made of ‘we are all in this together’ and the need for massive and swingeing public sector cuts. Little has been done to rein in the architects of our distress, the banks and financial institutions who brought about this mess. It is no co-incidence that the biggest contributors to Tory funds are financial institutions and hedge funds. 
As ‘The Age of Greed’ makes clear, Wall Street has triumphed at the expense of America. We are in a similar position. The City continues on its unrestricted and unrestrained way while the rest of us take the pain for very little gain. This is a global problem. 
There has to be a way for the insatiably greedy to be controlled for the good of the world. Our current crop of politicians are simply not up to the task. Too many are corrupt; some are weak and others lack the principles and values to formulate an alternative vision. 
We cannot go on like this.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

What is it about our MPs that makes so many of them so crap?

Perhaps it is the way they have ‘moved on’ from the expenses scandal. There were a few casualties along the way, a handful of scapegoats who are currently doing time at her majesty’s pleasure but great swathes walked away relatively untouched. There has been an outpouring of ‘lessons learned’ and similar vagaries. But deep down not a lot has changed. 
Take for example the slipped out news that just as the coalition are gearing themselves up for a scrap with the public sector over pensions, MPs are negotiating their pension provision behind closed doors. No talk of restraint or taking the pain there. 
Or have a look at David Laws, an MP rated as very clever and a future mover and shaper.  The millionaire ex banker wrongly claimed £56,000 from the Commons authorities. He was suspended by his colleagues for a whole seven days with hardly a murmur. Frances Maude, currently upsetting the public sector with his comments about privilege and the need to take a bashing, is another millionaire whose expenses were a disgrace. He sails blithely on.
Or maybe it is the way they will not give a straight answer to a straight question. Angela Eagle was on ‘Any Questions’ this week. Asked repeatedly if she would support or condemn the public sector unions for taking strike action she weaselled and slithered while audience members yelled, “Answer the question.” A simple statement to the effect that she supported the UN Charter which entitles workers to withdraw their labour yet hoped an agreement could be reached would have been fine. What is it with Labour MPs and striking? Their movement was born out of industrial struggle, yet the modern post-holders deny their lineage. The same MPs who rage about workers taking strike action in the UK applaud workers taking action in other countries cf the Arab Spring.
Perhaps it is the way they enjoy fantastic perks. The Olympic ticket agency announced with great fanfare how they were making 10,000 tickets available for our troops. As there are currently over 200,000 of them, that number will not go very far. Quietly and without too much fuss, it was revealed that 9,000 tickets had been reserved for our 650 MPs. Nice.
But what is really awful is the way that so many have become clones. They follow a similar route into politics. University, research assistant to an MP, research assistant to a Minister or Shadow Minister, safe seat. Sometimes they had a job with a PR company or a lobbying company along the way (Cameron). One thing is absolute; contact with real people in real jobs struggling in the real world is kept to the minimum. Life in the bubble dominates. Values and policies overlap around the middle with a few exceptions at either end of the spectrum. All three major parties are singing from the same page of the hymn book although not necessarily singing the same hymn. Alternative approaches to our current situation are thin on the ground. The one Green MP has a different solution. Where are the others?
And as for the House of Lords.....!

Thursday, 16 June 2011


“No Treasury Minister would appear on this programme.” Yet another example of our political class treating us with contempt. It is something which has been going on for some time. It happens far too frequently and is not confined to the coalition. It will not stop until we rise up. 
 An investigation on ‘File on Four’ into the lack of transparency and the huge profits available to the private sector for getting involved with PFI schemes ran into the usual wall when accountability crops up. PFI or the Private Finance Initiative, was the wheeze dreamt up by the Tories under Major and enthusiastically taken up by NewLabour. It works like this. Companies put money up to build a school, hospital or build fighter planes or similar. The government agrees a contract whereby the builders are paid back so much a year for 30/40 years. At very good rates. One research project established that a new hospital built under PFI would cost three times the actual cost spread over many years. It is no wonder that governments do not want us to see what they are doing. They are saddling future generations with masses of debt. 
The contract often then becomes a marketable asset in itself in that the contracts can be bought and sold. For reasons of ‘commercial confidentiality’ it is all hush hush. 
And that is why it stinks.
Without transparency corruption runs rampant. Without transparency  accountability can be denied or delayed. Without transparency the rich cream off masses of cash from the poor and keep the details secret. It is the FIFA approach to good governance. 
The silence from our political class is deafening. NHS defecit? MoD problems? Education cuts? All could be eased if this nettle were grasped.
According to the File on Four programme, contracts appear to have been somewhat generously drawn up to the massive advantage of the private investment companies. The sums involved are colossal. Billions and billions. Which leads us to another cause for concern which the programme did not touch on. The revolving door between Ministers, senior civil servants and private industry is well known but little tackled. Private Eye have made the point on numerous occasions. Defence Ministers who step down and within months are on the board of an arms company. Health Ministers who step down and walk into the boardroom of BUPA or similar. Former Home Secretaries on the boards of security firms. Senior civil servants responsible for negotiating the contracts walk away from Whitehall into the industry they have just been dealing with. The massive amounts of cash on offer in the off-balance sheet PFI deals are a great temptation for public servants feeling somewhat unappreciated and unrewarded. Nothing like a bit of back-scratching to sort out the pension. 
And so it goes and the cash flows into deep pockets. It is a real struggle to find out the extent and what the actual costs are in both short and long term. We are being ripped off by our financial institutions. And guess what? Many use offshore tax havens to maximise their profits. So we, the taxpayer, pay over the odds to companies who avoid paying taxes on the massive profits they make from public works.
It is wrong. It is rotten. It is false accounting and too many of our political leaders are happy to keep schtum.
It is no surprise that the government do not want to go on the record. Shame on them.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Maude - Minister of State, cheating bastard or both?

Listening to Frances Maude on the Today programme was not edifying. He is the Minister responsible for negotiations with the public sector unions. He poured scorn on the turnout in the strike ballot and ridiculed the extent of anger. He was also minded to review legislation about strike ballots making it more difficult to achieve a yes vote. This from a party elected with barely 20% of the possible vote at the last election. (Turnout 65%, Tory share 35%). 
This is the same man who before he came to office was exposed in the Telegraph as another example of a greedy MP. The information below is from The Telegraph.
“Francis Maude claimed almost £35,000 in two years for mortgage interest payments on a London flat – even though he already owned a house just a few hundred yards away.
The minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster general owned the house outright, but in 2006 took out a £345,000 mortgage on the flat no more than a minute’s walk away, which he designated his second home. He then rented out the house and began claiming mortgage interest payments on the flat which is in a grade II-listed building with a gym and 24-hour concierge.
Mr Maude also claimed, and was paid, £387.50 for the cost of moving his effects down the road from the house to the flat. The shadow minister made the unusual property flip after a lengthy row with the Parliamentary fees office over which home he could claim expenses for.
After being told he could not claim for his constituency home, he bought the London flat using a mortgage – and began claiming the interest.
Mr Maude is independently wealthy. He was previously a managing director of Morgan Stanley, a director of Salomon Brothers and a non-executive director of Asda during the 1990s.
He has four properties — two in London, one in France and one in his constituency of Horsham, West Sussex. After being exposed by The Daily Telegraph, Mr Maude said he had stopped claiming for a second home.” Telegraph.

So thats alright then? The Tory voters of Horsham clearly thought so. His share of the vote went up at the last election. Clearly Maude is a role model for greedy unscrupulous  tories.
According to Wikipedia His personal net wealth is estimated at £3m. Despite this, during a discussion on Newsnight on 22 October 2010 he argued that a 5% cut to his £65,738 salary was equal to the 'pain' suffered by Britain's poor. Oh yeah!
As the negotiator for the government he is at best flawed and at worst an inflammatory presence who some think should be in jail. He should not be in government. 
He certainly should not be invoking single mothers in support of the cuts. 
He is a very bad example of the political class at its worst.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A nugget from the Cheshire County Cricket league Newsletter.

“THEY sent my neighbour’s census form back.
 In answer to the question: “Do you have any dependants?” he put “Asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, smack heads, unemployable layabouts, the cast of the Jeremy Kyle Show, 80,000 people in our 133 penal establishments, Northern Rock, RBS, Ireland, Portugal, Greece and half of Eastern Europe”.
 Apparently, that wasn’t an acceptable answer.” 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Is The Dirty Digger Untouchable?

Henry Porter writing in the Observer (12/6/2011) is less than impressed at the way the Digger and his chums continue to get away with it.
“In the sum of human misery, goes the argument I listened to with Buddhist forbearance last week, phone hacking does not rate very high. This is the starving millions defence, a familiar technique used to divert attention from any issue that is uncomfortable to a particular elite. MPs' expenses? Compared to global warming, old son, it hardly seems worth mentioning.
Although it is transparently self-serving, the gambit works well because in a world full of bewilderingly novel anguish, most of us try to prioritise our concerns: we are susceptible to suggestions that the phone-hacking scandal is navel gazing by the media; a chattering classes obsession; a Westminster village row.
But let me just say that this story, now given fresh momentum by last week's allegations that the News of the World and other newspapers, such as the Daily Mirror, used a convicted blackmailer to hack and steal the confidential data of, among others, Tony Blair, Kate Middleton, Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson, Lord Stevens, Alastair Campbell, Eddie George and Mervyn King, is a scandal of monumental proportions, which, were it not for the awkward fact that newspapers are swimming in their own filth, would be on every front page, instead of on those of a few liberal publications.
Newspapers still run the conversation in Britain. TV and radio can have an impact but rarely when Murdoch is concerned. For instance, you would have thought BBC news might welcome the opportunity again to draw attention to Murdoch's embarrassment, as well as to the behaviour of other titles that have been tormenting the corporation for decades, but the reality is that since John Birt's regime and the fallout from the David Kelly affair, the BBC behaves like a court eunuch. In days gone by, it would have forged ahead, but in 2011 its journalists wait for the Guardian's Nick Davies to publish a story or MP Tom Watson to use parliamentary privilege. At the moment, my marrows grow faster than the BBC reacts to this kind of news.”
So the conversation is shut down and now a kind of chill extends to Parliament, where just a handful of legislators on the opposition benches, notably Watson, Lord Prescott, Chris Bryant and Paul Farrelly, continues to point to the elephant in the room, eyes popping with disbelief. The coalition benches are silent; ministers murmur about the reality of living with Murdoch and the Daily Mail, while the prime minister simply refers people such as Watson, who brought the new allegations to light at prime minister's questions last week, to the ongoing police investigation, Operation Weeting.
This line of leaving the police to get on with their job without political interference is no more credible than the starving millions defence, particularly when you consider the government just aches to wave through the merger between Murdoch's News International and BSkyB. The announcement by Jeremy Hunt, media and culture secretary, was apparently delayed by the allegations, but this wasn't out of any concern for principle, merely presentation.
The thing I find baffling is that this is the one opportunity legislators have to rein in newspapers – not to restrict the freedom of the press, but to control its invasiveness and exorcise NI's influence in Downing Street. This is a rare chance for politicians to restore some kind of balance to the situation, where newspapers act within the law and are subject to the kind of scrutiny that is applied remorselessly by journalists to every public figure and institution across the land. As to News International, it has been plain for a long time that the company has far too much power and should be put in its place.
"Ah!" cry Murdoch's defenders, "you're just using the phone-hacking scandal to attack our revered leader." That is true to a tiny degree, but even the laziest mind and the most inert conscience have no difficulty in seeing this issue in terms of right and wrong. Here is a major media company whose senior executives, it is alleged, were serially commissioning criminal acts, which involved not just private detective Glenn Mulcaire listening to people's phone messages, but a much more sinister individual named Jonathan Rees, who had a network of contacts in the police, despite his conviction and prison term for conspiring to plant cocaine on a woman so that her husband would get custody of her children.
This man is an unpleasant piece of work. His activities allegedly included illegally targeting bank accounts, bribing and blackmailing police officers and hacking into hard drives and email accounts. That Rees had access to Straw's private affairs when he was home secretary or Mandelson's when he was trade secretary is appalling. Blair and Campbell are both involved and it is known that details of King's mortgage were sold when he was deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Straw is said to be shocked by the revelations and with good reason – it is difficult to comprehend how such a serious breach of security was allowed to happen. Quite apart from bugging the home secretary, Rees is accused of using a hacker to steal information about MI6 agents working undercover in the Provisional IRA. Where was the security service while this was going on?
And there is a legion of concerns about the behaviour of the police over the last five years, their relations with News International and their failure to follow up evidence of wrongdoing, which is why we must be absolutely certain that the hundreds of thousands of documents produced by the investigation into Rees's activities are included in Operation Weeting. Only then will we gain a full picture of the criminal activities of newspapers.”

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Phone Hacking - the plot thickens.

We were told at the outset that the phone hacking scandal was the work of a rogue reporter and an unprincipled private investigator. The revelations this week that the Met sat on another mountain of evidence gained during a separate murder investigation comes as no surprise. Yet again the stench of corruption wafts from the Met. 
The Met’s response shows they have learnt nothing. “Outside our remit,” is their current line. They have admitted that the original investigation into the affair carried out by Andy Hayman was, “inadequate.” This was some time after he left the Met to go to work as a columnist for News International. The same News International that he was supposed to be investigating. 
Therein lies the rub. The symbiotic relationship between some members of the Met and Fleet Street is stinky. Very stinky. So stinky that it is high time another force was put in charge of this investigation. 
It is interesting also to note that the story hardly warrants a mention in the Murdoch news sections but columnists taking the digger’s shilling are less restrained. And guess what? They think all these plods devoted to uncovering their organs wrongdoings is a waste of time and money. Fancy that. Clarkson and McKenzie, unprincipled whores for hire. 
Hypocrisy central, aka the Daily Mail, never mentions the subject. Odd that. The Mirror similarly are reticent. Could they be pooping themselves that somewhere a sackful of emails and documents will put them in the frame? 
The Guardian newspaper had scorn and derision poured on it by most of the rest of the media for continuing to chip away at this story. They were accused of breaking the code whereby paper does not turn on paper. Even they must be amazed at the way more and more becomes public knowledge.
Pressure is now increasing for a Public Enquiry. On oath with full legal powers. Brookes, Dacre, Coulson et al. It is such a delightful prospect that it will not happen. Too many powerful people would be unhappy. And those powerful people know which political strings to pull. Don’t they Mr Cameron?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Nuns from Hell

“The nuns had been dabbling on the stock exchange. The results were unfortunate. When a company they had invested in went bust, they decided to sell off a portion of their Dublin land holdings to cover the losses. The snag was that the land contained a mass grave. It was full of "penitents", the label attached to the thousands of women locked up in Ireland's Magdalene laundries. This particular order, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, ran High Park, the largest such laundry in the country.
The good sisters did a deal with the developer who bought their land. They split the costs of clearing the mass grave, exhumed and cremated the bodies, and re-buried the ashes in another mass grave, in Glasnevin cemetery. However, it emerged that there were 22 more bodies in the grave than the nuns had listed when applying for permission to exhume. Over one-third of the deaths had never been certified. The nuns did not even appear to know the names of several of the women, listing them as Magdalene of St Cecilia, Magdalene of Lourdes, and so on.
The final number so callously disturbed from their resting place was 155. All had died in the service of the nuns, working long hours in their large commercial laundry for no pay, locked away by a patriarchal church and society ruthlessly determined to control women's sexuality.
This week the United Nations Committee Against Torture (Uncat) issued a highly significant statement on the Magdalene laundries. It criticised the Irish government for refusing to acknowledge the pain and abuse suffered by women incarcerated in the laundries, the last of which closed in 1996, and called for a thorough investigation and compensation scheme. In doing so, the UN has focused international attention on what has become a festering injustice.
Ireland has experience of dealing with the sins of its past. A formal apology was issued by the Irish government in 1999 to the tens of thousands of victims of child abuse in the country's vast industrial (residential) school system, run by Catholic nuns, brothers and priests. An exhaustive statutory inquiry produced the damning Ryan report, and a redress scheme has now cost around £1bn.
There has, however, been a strange resistance to any official acceptance of the injustice suffered by the Magdalene women. The state has wriggled and squirmed, claiming that the laundries were private institutions and all the women entered voluntarily. Uncat has now firmly rejected this, confirming what we in Ireland have long known in our hearts. We knew that women who escaped were caught by the police and returned to the punitive and often brutal regime within the laundries. Generations of Irish people colluded in this, using the laundries when it suited them to clean their clothes and control their daughters.
Mary Norris ended up in a Magdalene laundry for disobeying an order. A teenage servant in Kerry, she took a forbidden night off, and was taken away to a convent where the nuns had her examined to see was she still a virgin (which she was). From there she was dispatched to the Magdalene laundry in Cork. Immediately on arrival, the nuns changed her name – standard practice in all the Magdalene laundries. "When I went in there," recalls Mary, "my dignity, who I was, my name, everything was taken. I was a nonentity, nothing, nobody."
The only way out was if a family member claimed you, and Mary was lucky. She had an aunt who tracked her down and got her out after two years of hard, unpaid labour.
And that of course is the rub. Where were the families of these women? For a society that prided itself on its emphasis on family values, the large numbers of women and children locked away with no one to claim them points to a glaring double standard.
Irish society was deeply complicit in the incarceration of women and girls in the laundries. In what has been described as a culture of containment, Ireland locked up more of its citizens per capita than anywhere else in the world – not in prisons, but in psychiatric hospitals, Magdalene laundries and industrial schools. Anyone who did not fit within the cruelly narrow definition of good behaviour was in danger.
This then is the legacy that Uncat is forcing Irish citizens to face before it is too late for the relatively few surviving Magdalene women, most of whom are now elderly and living in impoverished circumstances.”
Taken from an article written by Mary Raftery in the Guardian 8/6/11

Suffer little children.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Bullying the weak and vulnerable

The Panorama programme has created quite a stir. Among the most disturbing aspects was the way the chain of command simply ignored the claims of the whistleblower. Manager, Manager’s manager, Care Quality Commission (three times), all did not respond. 
Why is this? 
There has been a cultural shift in the collective attitude towards treating people badly. Programmes such as ‘The Apprentice,’ various Gordon Ramsay efforts, numerous reality tv programmes and the execrable Jeremy Kyle show make money by publicly humiliating and abusing participants. Many of these programmes appear on the same channel as Panorama. They collectively have helped make bullying acceptable - in the name of entertainment. Blood and circuses.
Politicians harrumph and huff and puff whenever these too common tales occur. “Lessons learned” and “Policy review” will be trotted out......and very little changes. Whistleblowers continue to face incredible difficulties and indifference from managers and the authorities. 
“All did not respond,” is damning. Not even an acknowledgement. To collude with bullying is disgraceful. It creates the environment where such horrible things become acceptable. From personal experience it is clear the status quo prevails and the powers that be protect the manager in place until the situation becomes totally indefensible. Then the hand-wringing begins all over again. 
In the same week it was reported that a manager who had over 40 allegations of bullying against him and who had reportedly driven out many good staff was leaving his job early with his (excellent) pension protected.  
Do we have a new breed of spineless gutless paper-pushers in charge? Where are people with humanity and decent values? It is an indictment of what we have become that the weak and vulnerable are so at risk.  
A civilised society? Hardly.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Read it and weep

Johann Hari, writing in the Independent puts another aspect of the IMF into the spotlight. It is a much needed look. 
“Sometimes, the most revealing aspect of the shrieking babble of the 24/7 news agenda is the silence. Often the most important facts are hiding beneath the noise, unmentioned and undiscussed.
So the fact that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is facing trial for allegedly raping a maid in a New York hotel room is – rightly – big news. But imagine a prominent figure was charged not with raping a maid, but starving her to death, along with her children, her parents, and thousands of other people. That is what the IMF has done to innocent people in the recent past. That is what it will do again, unless we transform it beyond all recognition. But that is left in the silence.
To understand this story, you have to reel back to the birth of the IMF. In 1944, the countries that were poised to win the Second World War gathered in a hotel in rural New Hampshire to divvy up the spoils. With a few honourable exceptions, like the great British economist John Maynard Keynes, the negotiators were determined to do one thing. They wanted to build a global financial system that ensured they received the lion's share of the planet's money and resources. They set up a series of institutions designed for that purpose – and so the IMF was delivered into the world.
The IMF’s official job sounds simple and attractive. It is supposedly there to ensure poor countries don’t fall into debt, and if they do, to lift them out with loans and economic expertise. It is presented as the poor world’s best friend and guardian. But beyond the rhetoric, the IMF was designed to be dominated by a handful of rich countries – and, more specifically, by their bankers and financial speculators. The IMF works in their interests, every step of the way.
Let’s look at how this plays out on the ground. In the 1990s, the small country of Malawi in south-eastern Africa was facing severe economic problems after enduring one of the worst HIV-AIDS epidemics in the world and surviving a horrific dictatorship. They had to ask the IMF for help. If the IMF has acted in its official role, it would have given loans and guided the country to develop in the same way that Britain and the US and every other successful country had developed – by protecting its infant industries, subsidising its farmers, and investing in the education and health of its people.
That’s what an institution that was concerned with ordinary people – and accountable to them – would look like. But the IMF did something very different. They said they would only give assistance if Malawi agreed to the ‘structural adjustments’ the IMF demanded. They ordered Malawi to sell off almost everything the state owned to private companies and speculators, and to slash spending on the population. They demanded they stop subsidising fertilizer, even though it was the only thing that made it possible for farmers – most of the population – to grow anything in the country’s feeble and depleted soil. They told them to prioritise giving money to international bankers over giving money to the Malawian people.
So when in 2001 the IMF found out the Malawian government had built up large stockpiles of grain in case there was a crop failure, they ordered them to sell it off to private companies at once. They told Malawi to get their priorities straight by using the proceeds to pay off a loan from a large bank the IMF had told them to take out in the first place, at a 56 per cent annual rate of interest. The Malawian president protested and said this was dangerous. But he had little choice. The grain was sold. The banks were paid.
The next year, the crops failed. The Malawian government had almost nothing to hand out. The starving population was reduced to eating the bark off the trees, and any rats they could capture. The BBC described it as Malawi’s “worst ever famine.” There had been a much worse crop failure in 1991-2, but there was no famine because then the government had grain stocks to distribute. So at least a thousand innocent people starved to death.
At the height of the starvation, the IMF suspended $47m in aid, because the government had ‘slowed’ in implementing the marketeering ‘reforms’ that had led to the disaster. ActionAid, the leading provider of help on the ground, conducted an autopsy into the famine. They concluded that the IMF “bears responsibility for the disaster.”
Then, in the starved wreckage, Malawi did something poor countries are not supposed to do. They told the IMF to get out. Suddenly free to answer to their own people rather than foreign bankers, Malawi disregarded all the IMF’s ‘advice’, and brought back subsidies for the fertiliser, along with a range of other services to ordinary people. Within two years, the country was transformed from being a beggar to being so abundant they were supplying food aid to Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The Malawian famine should have been a distant warning cry for you and me. Subordinating the interests of ordinary people to bankers and speculators caused starvation there. Within a few years, it had crashed the global economy for us all.
In the history of the IMF, this story isn’t an exception: it is the rule. The organisation takes over poor countries, promising it has medicine that will cure them – and then pours poison down their throats. Whenever I travel across the poor parts of the world I see the scars from IMF ‘structural adjustments’ everywhere, from Peru to Ethiopia. Whole countries have collapsed after being IMF-ed up – most famously Argentina and Thailand in the 1990s.
Look at some of the organisation’s greatest hits. In Kenya, the IMF insisted the government introduce fees to see the doctor – so the number of women seeking help or advice on STDs fell by 65 per cent, in one of the countries worst affected by AIDS in the world.
In Ghana, the IMF insisted the government introduce fees for going to school – and the number of rural families who could afford to send their kids crashed by two-thirds. In Zambia, the IMF insisted they slash health spending – and the number of babies who died doubled. Amazingly enough, it turns out that shovelling your country’s money to foreign bankers, rather than your own people, isn’t a great development strategy.
The Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz worked closely with the IMF for over a decade, until he quit and became a whistle-blower. He told me a few years ago: “When the IMF arrives in a country, they are interested in only one thing. How do we make sure the banks and financial institutions are paid?... It is the IMF that keeps the [financial] speculators in business. They’re not interested in development, or what helps a country to get out of poverty.”
Some people call the IMF “inconsistent”, because the institution supports huge state-funded bank bailouts in the rich world, while demanding an end to almost all state funding in the poor world. But that’s only an inconsistency if you are thinking about the realm of intellectual ideas, rather than raw economic interests. In every situation, the IMF does what will get more money to bankers and speculators. If rich governments will hand banks money for nothing in “bailouts”, great. If poor countries can be forced to hand banks money in extortionate “repayments”, great. It’s absolutely consistent.
Some people claim that Strauss-Kahn was a “reformer” who changed the IMF after he took over in 2009. Certainly, there was a shift in rhetoric – but detailed study by Dr Daniela Gabor of the University of the West of England has shown that the substance is business-as-usual.
Look, for example, at Hungary. After the 2008 crash, the IMF lauded them for keeping to their original deficit target by slashing public services. The horrified Hungarian people responded by kicking the government out, and choosing a party that promised to make the banks pay for the crisis they had created. They introduced a 0.7 per cent levy on the banks (four times higher than anywhere else). The IMF went crazy. They said this was “highly distortive” for banking activity – unlike the bailouts, of course – and shrieked that it would cause the banks to flee from the country. The IMF shut down their entire Hungary programme to intimidate them.
But the collapse predicted by the IMF didn’t happen. Hungary kept on pursuing sensible moderate measures, instead of punishing the population. They imposed taxes on the hugely profitable sectors of retail, energy and telecoms, and took funds from private pensions to pay the deficit. The IMF shrieked at every step, and demanded cuts for ordinary Hungarians instead. It was the same old agenda, with the same old threats. Strauss-Kahn did the same in almost all the poor countries where the IMF operated, from El Salvador to Pakistan to Ethiopia, where big cuts in subsidies for ordinary people have been imposed. Plenty have been intimidated into harming their own interests. The US-based think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research found 31 of 41 IMF agreements require ‘pro-cyclical’ macroeconomic policies – pushing them further into recession.
It is not only Strauss-Kahn who should be on trial. It is the institution he has been running. There’s an inane debate in the press about who should be the next head of the IMF, as if we were discussing who should run the local Milk Board. But if we took the idea of human equality seriously, and remembered all the people who have been impoverished, starved and killed by this institution, we would be discussing the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – and how to disband the IMF entirely and start again.
If Strauss-Kahn is guilty, I suspect I know how it happened. He must have mistaken the maid for a poor country in financial trouble. Heads of the IMF have, after all, been allowed to rape them with impunity for years.”  J. Hari Independent 3/6/2011
So what will happen to this iniquitous organisation? In all likelihood very little. It is time for the ‘little people’ who pay taxes and bear the brunt of the cuts to stand up against these so-called masters of the universe. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Blatter the Twatter

And so the ‘family,’ as Mr Twatter likes to call it has spoken. ‘Two -thirds of us come from very poor parts of the world and we love getting brown envelopes stuffed with dollar bills.’
Mr Twatter knows his constituency. He also knows his Switzerland. The land where anti-corruption laws are disapplied to world governing bodies. The land where the banks guard their secrecy and their clients with zeal and determination. The land which appears to have severed its embarrassment gene.
The same two-thirds regard our FA with justifiable contempt. No strangers to corruption themselves, they knew full well what the game was when they bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The opprobrium poured on honest journalists who had the temerity to lift the lid on the scorpions nest by the FA was sickening in its hypocrisy. The squealing afterwards was equally gutless. 
The ‘FIFA family’ is an apt description - modelled as it is on the long line of poor Italians from Sicily who also described themselves as ‘families.’
As for Coca-Cola, Adidas  and the Emirates etc? They will only act when the stench is so overpowering it badly affects their business. 
Some way to go yet.