Archive for December, 2010

I think it’s fair to say that only if you had been entirely outside the Western world could you have escaped the news of the Julian Assange case. Attack and counter-attack both judicially and in cyberspace are likely to continue for some time with the pro- and contra Wikileaks factions slugging it out. Assange’s case is more clear-cut, he is seen as the figurehead of Wikileaks, Wikileaks embarrassed the Americans and therefore it (and by extension Assange) must pay. There is little doubt that no matter what the outcome of this latest round of judicial bartering there is some serious political pressure being brought to bear which is why Assange remains in custody despite being granted bail. Come what may the US government will get him, the question is merely how and when and what the consequences will be. If you believe that Assange is being made a scapegoat for US blushes then what remains is to figure out how best to help him in his plight. My view is this:

The large media presence and celebrity interest is not doing Assange any favours, this merely bolsters the view for the Americans that he represents a seriously important figure in this side of the movement and that his removal and incarceration represents a victory. If Wikileaks were to carry on regardless, if the system were appear to see Assange’s arrest as no more than a minor blip and Assange himself as part of many that formed the inner cadre then he is of far less interest to the Americans. If he becomes less interest to the Americans I don’t think it would take a genius to assume that he will be of considerably less interest to the Swedes. It is ironic and a hell of a gamble to seem to be advocating ambivalence but I suspect were it to look as if the world had lost interest Julian Assange would be a very much safer man. It could well be the case that he would in fact be safer in Sweden than in Britain, Sweden has far less a history of lap-dogging to the US and is unlikely to go nearly as far as Britain has done in the past, any subsequent extradition would have to be approved by two countries rather than one which is difficult. Furthermore his legal team suggest that the charges in Sweden are sketchy to say the least and there is little likelihood they would be able to make a conviction out of it. it may well be that Sweden is simply the holding pattern whilst the US machine mobilises itself.

By all means herald Julian Assange as one of the movers and shakers of the current wave of anti-establishment feeling and action but if one looks at Anonymous, their great strength is the lack of perceived figurehead, it is far less easy to decapitate an organisation that has no identifiable point of reference with whom to start. To ensure Assange’s safety I think we might have to appear to afford him no respect at all.

Song Of The Day ~ Wavewalkers – A Quiet Revolution

I saw the youtube footage of Jody McIntyre at the London protests.  There was a little shock, only because Jody was wheelchair-bound, the sight of able-bodied protesters being beaten in this country does not surprise me.  I saw the subsequent interview with Ben Brown on the BBC.  There was a little shock,  only because this was a direct interview, I have seen Ben Brown give his report at Westminster bridge and it was clear then that he is “establishment-embedded” to hear a mass media correspondent in this country get the facts wrong and have no intention of asking genuine questions does not surprise me.  In fact what little came out of the interview of any succour was the fact that Jody McIntyre far from being a cowed debilitated witness came across as strong and committed and made Brown look dogmatic and petulant.

At this point I have to stop and think though.  Why does it not surprise me?  It does not surprise me because it is now so commonplace, I have become anaesthetised to such behaviour, to such injustice.  Yet, this does not make each of these incidents any less wrong than when I saw such things for the first time, just that I am no longer seeing it with the same naivety-crumbling shock but through the eyes of a middle-aged man who has seen this and sadly far worse many times before.  We must be very careful here for when we start to accept such attacks we are already down the road to complete ambivalence and dare I say it, toleration, if we lose our outrage there is little to stop atrocity.  To become used to the violence, to the infringement of civil liberties and human rights is to presume that “this is the way things are” as if therefore it cannot be changed.  Were that to be the case a great many repressive regimes would still remain in power.  These regimes function by the very normalisation of the violence coupled with the presumption that if you behave yourself, if you do not represent a threat then you will be ok.  The police attack on Jody McIntyre is a rare slip-up that reveals the more sinister underbelly and under that fleece of “new conservatism” there lurks a beast we are all too familiar with.

What Jody McIntyre’s case illustrates is the complacency and arrogance of the establishment over recent times, they believe they have won, they believe the spirit is broken and that it is now time to mop up a few dirty stragglers and because of this they are making mistakes.  They have attempted to portray the demonstrators as thugs, as organised hooligans, they have tried to focus upon the damage to property and the demonstration meeting with the royal car in order to obfuscate the issues and yet still people protest and still people are not prepared to put up with it.  They are not going to rest here, the ‘powers that be,’ water cannons may come, the cherry-picking of “ringleaders” certainly will and the stigmatisation of those who take part throughout the rest of their lives has long since been a feature of this country’s way of doing things.  If you attend then you should be aware that they know you have attended.  If you join up with organisations against the system do not expect the system to let you back in later.

Do not presume they hold all the cards.  The reason they want to sort the students out now is because they expect public sector workers to take to the streets in protest against the massive cuts in the NHS, the information about which is seeping out of the dam of disaster capitalism, to risk an active united front of union workers, students and the general public is something they are very afraid of indeed, hence the desire to compartmentalise each individual section of the cuts to be dealt with in turn.  The vote should have seen this off people should have returned home embittered but defeated, this is the English working classes, the MPs aren’t supposed to be scared of them, after all they’ve beaten them before and “we’re not going to have another miner’s strike again.”  This much is true, centralised, mobilised trades union movements are not what they used to be but the loss of central co-ordination also brings with it the loss of central power, the movement now is of people in much smaller groups, more difficult to control but also for the establishment to infiltrate, the weapons of this struggle on their side will be the same, police brutality, zero tolerance in the courts, repression on a grand scale, but we have seen this before this does not defeat people it makes them come stronger and this time we have more modern weapons, ones that if used properly will hit them genuinely where it hurts.  People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people as Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta.  It is time to remind them why they should be afraid, very afraid.

Song Of The Day ~ The Smiths – Panic

Degrees Of Choice

Let us first state quite unequivocally that that there is a difference between the old fees charging system and the new one. In fact from the upper middle-class perspective of the politicians passing these laws they may well feel the changed system is better than the one that precedes it since the new system will charge after usage and based upon a threshold of earnings where the new system charges at the point of usage regardless of earnings or circumstance. The danger is to assume that debt that isn’t immediate is preferable to that which is, whereas in the working and lower middle classes often the very opposite is seen as true, you do not undertake now that which you cannot pay for.

As someone who staunchly protested and campaigned against both I find either option objectionable and retrogressive, and I believe this country is not merely letting down the younger generations but it is selling the entire population short socially, politically and economically. If university graduates supposedly can afford to pay more because they earn more then income tax will take care of that and progressive stepping of income tax bands can increase the revenue via the ONLY fair method of doing so as it will always tax on means, “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” as ‘someone’ once said. If graduates are not going to earn more then these new measures will not raise the income that is expected thus rendering them not a help to the deficit as has been portrayed. Fortunately, one might surmise, at least the teaching of languages in this country is so woeful, and likely to get only worse, that it is highly unlikely many will be able to go abroad after their degree and thus avoid paying the fees back.

At present students pay for tuition fees up front and must also sort out subsistence whilst they study. This has over the last number of years progressively marginalised the numbers of students from the working classes and stretched the finances of those from the lower middle classes to breaking point. For the working classes a university education can often be seen as a waste of time, families do not have a tradition of tertiary education and do not see it as necessary. However in this globalised image rich world expectations for children are by default very different to those of their parents not to mention the fact that the heavy industrial jobs that may once have been seen as a generational inheritance no longer exist as a safety net. It was clear from the early 1990s that students without subsidiary finance to the maintenance grant and student loans were going to have to seek part-time employment in order to make ends meet. Part-time employment inevitably means less time studying and puts those students at a disadvantage over their wealthier peers. it is true that sometimes this can indeed focus the mind more, not being able to afford to fail means one must try to ensure passing exams in a way that those who can afford to retake may not see as so necessary. Is this fair though because make no mistake for a student at university in London with hall fees, tuition fees and living to pay for this is a very substantial sum indeed, the effect is slightly lessened outside the capital but remains a serious problem.

The long-term effect of this has been to commercialise education, students will take the course that they feel will best lead to a good job, after all they need to make lots of money in order to pay back the thousands of pounds of debt they have accrued. This has drastically changed the sort of degrees people are doing as they are acting now with financial consideration at 18 at which time, with the best will in the world most 18 year olds are not nearly as worldly-wise as they would like to think they are.

Students and parents but particularly politicians are missing the point on what education is actually for and why it must be disassociated from vocational training. Each are vital, I would in no way seek to place one above or below the other for they are so different that it is not a valid comparison. There are many who do not wish to study academically and for whom vocational training should be readily available, there are others for whom academic study is about personal well-being and roundedness and vocational training may or may not then be something afterwards, or in some cases before or during academic studies.

If you look for academic studies anywhere on education and crime, either via library catalogue searches or via the internet you will find a wealth of papers showing a clear correlation between the increase in post-secondary school education leading to an exponential decrease in crime. Now try to look for studies that contradict this fact. If you find any please send me the links because I couldn’t. That the educated are far less likely to commit crimes of a violent nature or require unemployment benefits is not going to come as a surprise to most, inclusion and participation being more likely to help people integrate into society more than social exclusion and disenfranchisement is hardly rocket science. However this goes on in that there is further evidence that this then leads to a great deal less internalisation and thus episodical mental health disorders such as short-term depression which itself means a lesser impact on learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Education really is the great win-win, perhaps in the way no other expenditure in public money is, except perhaps a comprehensive preventative health care system.

The financial impact of academic study CANNOT be measured in the short-term, if indeed at all and herein lies the absolute lunacy of cutting arts and humanities subjects which are seen as less use to business and enterprise. Were that even to be true, which of course it isn’t then would it even be a bad thing? Was Socrates good for the economy? What about Homer, or Brecht what sort of industrial use did they have in their time, or the reams of creative individuals that receive no acclaim in their lifetime but continue to create anyway? Does this negate their work and existence, does it devalue it below the level of the HR manager or Chief Operating Officer? Or must we always keep in mind that the pursuit of money and profit is not the reason we exist and therefore not the fundamental tenets around which our society should be based?

There are sections of the right who have a habit of saying that if academic education is for personal betterment then why should the tax payer foot the bill as if in some way the breadth of education and roundedness of an individual can only ever be of benefit to that individual. This as the studies outlined above illustrate is nothing short of utter nonsense. What it comes down to is what do you wish your tax money to pay for and there we do indeed have a simple choice: education and preventative healthcare and a benefits system that far from rewarding people for being out of work seeks to actively retrain and help people into whatever kind of work they may be able to do; or a lottery system where the amount of money that you are principally your family has determines in advance what opportunities you may have. This is a stark choice and you will be told there is no alternative to the cuts, this is because the people telling you there is no alternative are those for whom the cuts will have little impact. These are the people for whom a return to pre-industrialised feudal Britain represents a favourable scenario, you need to ask yourself whether you, and crucially your children will end up as master or serf remembering that the vast majority end up as serfs. What it all boils down to is this: Do you wish to pay taxes to ensure a better more educated society with inclusion and opportunity for all regardless of means or do you wish to pay taxes to clean up the mess of not having done so?

Answers on a placard please.

Song Of The Day ~ Queen – 39

(To the tune of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues – with the usual apologies)

George’s in the Treasury
geeing up the cabinet
I’m on the pavement
thinking bout the government
the students in their Nike coats
placards up, pissed off
say that they’ve been ripped off
want their debts all paid off
look out kids
Uni’s something you did
God knows when
we will afford it again
Better shoot up to Scotland
where education’s still free
the man here in the mortar-board
has your university degree
wants nine grand down now
when you already pay three

Maggie comes out of hospital
glum faces over all
hoping that the next fall
might finally be fatal
country’s right-wing anyway
Maggie says she’s ok
after election in early May
orders from the USA
look out kids
don’t matter what you did
walk outta Millbank
news reporting of it stank
better stay away from police ranks
when they’ve just been outflanked
ship of truth has long sank
you don’t need to be a judge
to know someone’s gotta walk the plank

Get sick, fresher’s flu
hang around the SU
will you get your 2.2
try hard, gold starred
EDL, Daily Mail
get jailed, pay bail
join Daddy’s business if you fail
look out kids
you’re gonna get hit
by users, cheaters
election losers
hang around lecture theatres
teachers in academy school
lookin’ for a new fool
don’t follow leaders
watch the plight of ‘readers’

get born keep warm
designer pants, romance, circumstance
get stressed, pope blessed
pay to be a success
screw her, screw him, drunk yob
don’t open your gob
twenty years of debt for schooling
and they stick you in a dead-end job
look out kid
they keep it all hid
have a 2nd life on the internet
make yourself forget
the congenitally onset
of diseases which’ll beset
don’t wanna be a freak
you better not speak
might end up a Wikileak
the future’s really this bleak

Song Of The Day ~ Bob Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues