Monday, 26 October 2015

Are We Approaching Critical Mass On The Hot Button Issues?

We don't live in a vacuum, people. Politicians, religious leaders, everyone who holds and wields power forgets this because they have convinced themselves and their supporters that their cause is just in spite of the evidence to the contrary — and mounting opposition. Let's take a look at four issues where the dam is about to burst.

These are the four issues that are getting the British people riled up at the moment:

  • The dismantling of the welfare state
  • Government waste
  • The growing surveillance state 
  • The sell-off of national assets

Dismantling the welfare state

The term "welfare state" covers every tax-funded public service including benefits, tax credits, education, and the National Health Service. Created by the Labour Party in 1945 - 1948 the idea was to provide a cradle-to-grave safety net to give as many people as possible the chance of a better life. By providing a guaranteed minimum income and reducing living expenses for the poorest people (and the rest of us), the welfare state is directly responsible for the economic boom of the late 1950s that prompted the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to say, "You've never had it so good." As middle-out proponent Nick Hanauer will tell you, increased spending power leads to increased consumption. It's certainly true in my life, I bought two new tops for work last night because I could afford to. Before my wage went up last year I'd have had to think twice and maybe save up a bit. But now Our Glorious Leaders are hell-bent on destroying it. Why?

Arbeit macht frei

If that phrase sounds familiar it's because it is. The slogan was placed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps during World War II, including Auschwitz I, where it was made by prisoners with metalwork skills and erected by order of the Nazis in June 1940. Iain Duncan Smith of the British Conservative party has adopted it in a big push to force long-term unemployed people into the labour market, entirely forgetting that a) there aren't all that many jobs that pay well enough to cover people's living expenses and b) some people simply aren't capable of getting and keeping a job due to health issues, etc. That ancient trope "the deserving poor" has never gone away; according to received Tory wisdom if you're poor it's because you're too damn lazy to work. If you actually work and you're poor, then you're living beyond your means. If you're poor, working, and live like a Spartan, THEN you're the deserving poor, but only after you've jumped through a few more arbitrary hoops. Tories don't see low pay as the problem despite spiralling rents and mortgages, they see worklessness as the problem. If you're poor, you don't do enough work to earn the money you need, end of.

Other people's money

The idea of publicly-owned anything is anathema to the Tories. They also don't like sharing and would prefer to be in a position to decide who does or doesn't receive help, using the phrase "other people's money" to justify their immoral stance on tax-funded services. The tax-is-theft brigade have always been part of the Tory ruling elite, but they usually live on the sidelines. Now that neoliberalism has been rudely shoved to the centre ground position since the Tory election win, the neoreactionary faction has come out to play. Try to imagine the 1980s Loadsamoney character with a posh accent. It's the same thinking but it sounds more pretentious. The way they see it, if you want to help poor people out, good for you. Just use your own money to do so, not theirs.

Earned wealth

Everything you need to know about how many right-wingers think about money is contained in this paragraph from the Atlas Society:

In short, not every penny is a badge of honor for Objectivists, but we can nevertheless presume in most cases that it is a sign of goodness. After all, every dollar of profit earned through free trade represents value freely conferred by happy customers. Customers may demand things they shouldn't—some part of the market for wine consists of drunkards, for example. But for the most part, the responsibility for ensuring that the customer is well served must rest with the customer himself. He is the one who must take care to avoid dodgy deals and look out for his own long-term well-being. The seller, in general, must have confidence that his customer will use his product responsibly. Thus, there can be moral worth in selling wine, even though some people use it to become alcoholics. - William R. Thomas, The Morality of Money - The Atlas Society

The others don't have a problem with inherited wealth as they consider it a property right and while the Randians claim to object to inherited wealth and the overly enthusiastic attachment of property rights to cultural and scientific items, they prefer to leave it to the market to resolve the problems that arise from malfeasance by the rich and powerful.

The market will fix it

Right wingers profess an almost religious belief in a self-correcting free market based on the ideas in that Atlas Society paragraph. Therefore, if a situation exists in which we consumers are basically being screwed, why, that's our problem, and the cause is our failure to properly look out for our own long-term well-being by avoiding dodgy deals. The only vote we have is with our wallets and it's up to us to pay or do without; there is no middle ground here.

The fact that such thinking denies the reality of life today is a feature, not a bug. If you push hard enough you can get them to admit that they're quite happy with the status quo as long as they're not being made to suffer. This is why they want to turn all social services over to charities; the market will decide whether or not you deserve the help you need so you'd better practice that sad puppy expression to wring the money out of people's wallets! Priced out of London? Rents will surely have to fall eventually or other housing solutions found if people are to continue making money for letting property. Huh! I'll believe that when I see it and I ain't seen it yet.

The upshot

People are getting heartily sick of being told they're poor because they don't work hard enough or because they're not savvy enough. The tax credit cuts may well prove to be Cameron's downfall in the end as he discovers (far too late!) that Tory voters who work their tails off can also be poor and in need of a bit of help to get by. Of course, it goes without saying that employers like their staff to have had an education AND to be healthy enough to show up to work most of the time, concentrate, and perform well. We need an education and the NHS to provide for those but the Tories don't see it that way. In their market-driven world only money counts and if you don't have enough of it to get by well that's tough. Go to a charity and see if they'll help you.

Government waste

From the half-baked surveillance measures, the nanny state restrictions on internet use that block useful results, to Trident (do NOT get me started!) and the bailouts, our government is surely the most wasteful in history. They take state-owned industries, underfund them till they collapse beneath the weight of demand, then asset-strip them and sell them off cheaply. They've done it with the RBS, most of the Post Office, and now they're working on the NHS. The 2012 Olympics was a classic example of how the Old Boys network and flat out stupidity nearly spoiled a global event.

Military spending

Getting rid of Trident would save us a huge pile — why get it if we can't use it without poisoning our friends with radioactive dust? It's no deterrent. Meanwhile, the things our military actually need are being denied them. That's right: things we don't need are to be funded while things we do need are being cut. This is all down to flawed ideology; protip: don't predicate your belief system on a proven lie.

Meanwhile, in America

Across the pond, it's even worse and it's all summed up neatly in this tweet:

and the comments that follow.

When they're not hunting for ye witch's tet, they're getting over-familiar, then pretending it's not that big a deal. The waste that results isn't pretty, from the growing population of indigent parents to for-profit prisons demanding high levels of occupancy as part of their operations contract. In fact, crony capitalism is among the biggest causes of waste in government due to the relaxation of rules in campaign funding.

The growing surveillance state

If you ask people you know about surveillance, chances are they'll trot out that tired old trope, "If you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear." However, the news of the Talk Talk hack must have left at least some of them wondering why the 15 year old lad — a script kiddie who took advantage of weak website security to use a SQL injection to break into the Drupal website — was able to do so without being pre-empted by the all-seeing eye of Tessa May and her cronies. That Talk Talk should at least have updated their software seems a bit obvious now but apparently it's happened before.

TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding has insisted the company’s cybersecurity is “head and shoulders” better than its competitors in the wake of the massive hack attack affecting thousands of customers. - The Guardian

The scary thing is, she's probably right. Apparently the big companies don't spend that much on security or outsource it to foreign companies to save money — with predictable results. If you have a dynamic website keep the software up to date and use plugins to keep it secure!

Mandatory data retention

The reason I brought up the Talk Talk hack is because they're an ISP (internet service provider) subject to a data retention law (the apparent overturn is subject to appeal and doesn't take effect till next year anyway). This means they're legally obliged to hold your communications data so the government can sniff through it on demand. As Tom Brewster pointed out in The Guardian, this creates a treasure trove for criminal hackers to exploit. Both DDoS and SQL injections can be thwarted by either updating the software installation to its latest version or adding patches. Use Cloudflare to protect against DDoS attacks. It's easy to point and laugh at Talk Talk but this can and does happen to other companies and can happen again to anyone at any time. NOW are you going to join those of us who oppose mandatory data protection? Our numbers are growing.

The sell-off of national assets and services

National assets, from national parks to the utilities to the Post Office and the NHS are being privatised and sold off cheaply because Our Glorious Leaders believe that government should not own property. However, they're forgetting something; it's not the government's property, it's the people's. And many of us forget that. I've had the most surreal conversations with right-wingers who honestly think that if people are being priced out of their homes they should move and commute, effectively paying a tax to go to work. And if we think that's unfair, we should look for work locally, forgetting in our starry-eyed idealism that the best jobs tend to be where wealth is concentrated, according to the neoreactionaries.

The neoreactionary movement

In short, shut up, move to Stoke-on-Trent and apply for jobs in the local Pound Shops until it is eventually gentrified. Aspiration is for people who are willing to endure privation until they attain enough momentum to escape the poverty well and join the better-off in orbit around the slums. Excuse me, Loadsamoney, but I don't subscribe to that neoreactionary nonsense. These are some of their positions:

9. We want to glorify war — the only hygiene of the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
10. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.- RationalWiki

If some of that cant seems familiar it's because many of Our Glorious Leaders openly promote it as policy. The Tories just took a hammering in the Lords over tax credit cuts but like the bad guy in the movies, expect them to return with something more dastardly.

The housing crisis

The current problems we're experiencing with spiralling rents and mortgages are the direct result of Thatcherite policies in the Eighties. As I've said any number of times, the market is not free so can not "sort it out." And the housing market is particularly rigged. So, faced with a rise in the population of homeless people in a society not set up to be nomadic, what do Our Glorious Leaders do? Why, sell off council housing stock, of course! And if that's not enough they want to get housing associations to sell their stock off too. The idea is to force people into the private housing market; in this they are actively attacking the "social enterprises" they want to push people to instead of the tax-funded services we rely on now.

Anyone who hasn't spotted the debt-loading asset-stripping modus operandi from the Royal Mail and RBS sell-offs are going to be caught by surprise when the homeless population doubles instead of plummeting as predicted by starry-eyed Tories relying on the market to deliver affordable housing. It won't. It's rigged to deliver profits to property-holders who must first obtain property, hence right-to-buy. Now you know.

Creeping privatisation

I knew about G4S taking over the prison service, escorting prisoners, etc., but I didn't know that the company I work for was getting involved with providing essential services to vulnerable people, too, until recently. Purple Futures provides rehabilitation and probation services to low-medium risk offenders. It's one of many and the verdict so far is a bit patchy, to say the least. I'm not a fan of "the free market" as the all-powerful solution to social problems I don't believe that if you ain't ill it will fix your car. The whole point of government is to govern, and that means providing solutions to the people's problems when the market can't. There is plenty of room for the likes of Sodexo and Purple Futures in supportive roles and I wouldn't rule them out of involvement in service delivery altogether, I just think that essential services should be tax-funded and run by qualified professionals, not companies, and for the benefit of the public, not for profit.

What next?

Since they are utterly determined to demolish the welfare state and sell off our national assets in the name of reducing the deficit they've already enlarged, as nasty as it sounds I'm hoping Our Glorious Leaders will paint themselves into a corner and try to fight their way out. This will hopefully result in a vote of no confidence and the collapse of the government. This needs to happen.

We are approaching critical mass, there just aren't enough angry people willing to push back against the Tories' most cherished policies... yet. If, however, we keep on chipping away at them, pointing out how extreme and damaging they are, more people will join the growing chorus of discontent which will naturally be summarily dismissed. This will provoke them to anger, creating more resistance. No government can stand without the support of its people. Ours is losing credibility daily. What little support it has can not last much longer.

What about the moderates?

Political discourse has moved so far right in this country that neoliberalism is widely considered a middle-ground position. It's not, it's right wing. Moderates are people like me who advocate for a mixed economy and are realistic about market forces and their role in the economy and in our society. If we, like John McDonnell, advocated for a moderation in Tory policies, and they listened, they'd go from neoreactionary to neoliberal. That is still bad, as it's a short hop from one to the other. In fact, it's the logical endpoint. In short, the changes we don't want would still come, but more slowly. That is not a middle-ground approach.

What can we do?

We need to tackle this nonsense head on, calling it by its true name and providing a real alternative. Tax cuts for the wealthy need to be reversed and the minimum wage will have to rise to £10 per hour by 2020. Corporations need to be made to pay their far share of tax and non-domiciled residents will have to pay up. The revenues generated thereby ought to pay off the deficit and balance the books. 38 Degrees and other advocacy groups are already campaigning for things like this and it would help to add your voice to theirs whether you agree with them in full or not. We need to keep talking about it, raising awareness and getting more people on board.

The sooner we reach critical mass, the sooner we will see change.

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