The future of the NHS? This is important!

May 30, 2017


Manufacturing Consent – the curse of the democratic classes

May 28, 2017

The UK election is on 8 June and I regret that I’m no longer eligible to vote as I’ve been out of the UK for more than fifteen years.  However, I follow the debates and dogfights on the media and am dismayed by the poor quality of the coverage by the media.  Of course, apart from state-owned BBC, the rest of the media is dominated by the Murdoch Press (Sky News, Times, Sun) and their ilk and essentially support the establishment against the people whilst purporting to be on the side of Everyman.  The choice between a government that acts in the interests of the majority of its citizens and one that acts in the interests of big business and banks should be stark and clear.  However, the media distorts the facts with unbelievably partial coverage; I listen to some of the Sky News journalists and the choice of language seems to be deliberate, almost as if there is a Sky News handbook listing perjorative words when describing anything socalist.  I must particularly criticise Sophy Ridge and Kay Burley for their dreadful and rude interviewing technique with their constant interruptions.  If I was being interviewed by them I would ask whether they would like to be interviewed by me as they usually seem to have more to say and their political opinions are barely disguised.  Incidentally, the best of them is Faisal Islam, a total gentleman.

One of the problems with a democracy is that every few years, the people are called on to vote.  US president James Madison echoed the reservations of Socrates when he observed that the dispossessed majority will naturally vote for a redistribution of wealth downwards, given half a chance.  In their day wealth was land whereas we are now in an age of industrial capitalism where wealth is wealth concentrated in very few hands.  This tendency has to be catered for in a capitalist system where it is natural for the power to rest with the people with money and that government will normally favour them.  The media play a role in this by manufacturing consent; in other words, swaying public opinion by partial reporting of the truth and in careful choice of language to produce the required result.  We call it propaganda.  This is made much easier when the public is dumbed down or too busy or fearful.  Sound bites were invented to help the ‘bewildered herd’ (to quote Walter Lippmann who said that the people functioned as a “bewildered herd” who must be governed by “a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality).  So in the UK,  the Conservative Party mantra ‘strong and stable’ has been repeated so many times that it is now tedious and comical.  What is not comical is that this is exactly the technique used by Josef Göbbels (and I quote:  ‘…the rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious.)  This is nothing to be proud of, to state the obvious.

The UK Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn who has the largest mandate of any leader of any political party in Europe.  Most of his MPs do not support him.  His problem is that he is that rare thing, a Socialist, and the MPs are mostly Blairite; ie, soft Conservatives. Yet every time Corbyn opens his mouth he voices the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the people.  He sees through cant and hypocrisy so clearly that it must infuriate those whose jobs is to maintain that particular house of cards.  He has barely diguised contempt for most political journalists but he rarely gets angry.  Theresa May is a hard-right Thatcherite but has poor powers of rhetoric.  There is a programme on Sky News tomorrow night in which both she and Jeremy Corbyn are to be interviewed; Theresa May will not engage in a public debate.  I expect Corbyn to come out of this on top and that the gap between Conservative and Labour will close still further when the people realise that, when they actually listen to what he says (as opposed to Sky News telling them their version) they find themselves agreeing.

I wonder whether common sense will prevail and that the people will vote in their best interests rather than in the best interests of bankers, businessman and the military.  You’d think that after the financial meltdown of 2008 (the greatest theft in the history of mankind), our disastrous interventions in the Middle East fuelling terrorism at home, the increased personal debt of everyone in the UK, reductions in police, social services and an NHS in crisis, that we, the people, would have seen through the mirage of lies and half-truths that the media feed to us.

Or are we more stupid that even I had thought?

 


Bureaucracy – a Portuguese tragedy

December 29, 2016

Everyone who lives here will have a horror story about bureaucracy.  Wherever you look, there is a problem and, although It’s easy to make jokes about it, ultimately, it is a tragedy for the Portuguese people.   The average salary here is 984£.  In Spain, it is 1718€, almost double.  Yet, costs are the same.  Result: stagnation, poverty, corruption, economic depression, poor social security and a collapsing health service.  The result is Portugal’s largest export; its qualified young people.

The Portuguese are no less intelligent than the Spanish and they certainly work as hard; I know quite a few people who do two jobs to make ends meet.  So, why the massive disparity in salaries?  One of the reasons is that when Spain ceased to be a fascist dictatorship, it radically overhauled its attitude to the way it did things and looked to the northern Europe model.  This meant sweeping away 40 years of top-down autocracy and replacing it with a system that works for the people.  In Portugal, most of that still remains.

Examples are everywhere; the fact that every small town needs a notary (there are no notaries in northern Europe – they’re not needed).  The fact that those same towns have special offices where citizens can pay someone to do the paper trail for them (also unknown in northern Europe).  The fact that you cannot run a business without employing an accountant.  Here’s an interesting statistic that I am told is true: Lagos Câmara (population 31,000) has the same number of employees as Hamburg (population 1.7 million).  That says it all for me.

In my experience, bureaucracies feed off themselves.  They get to a certain size then become like a clockwork orange, sitting there, making a noise but doing nothing.  In northern Europe, when you need to start a paper trail, the process is made easy for you. The requirements are clear.  You meet the requirements, you get the result.  Here, every official seems to have a mission to obstruct as far as possible.  There are good signs however; the growing numbers of Balcões Unicos and Lojas da Cidadão are revolutionary and work really well.  It’s start, but there’s a long way to go.

I’ve noticed that bureaucrats don’t trust anyone, making the assumption that everyone is dishonest.  The idea of self-declaration of tax (as done in UK) just wouldn’t work here.  One of the reasons for the crippling bureaucracy is this mistrust.  My message is this; make it easier and most people will be honest.  Bureaucracy creates corruption but bureaucracy is more damaging than corruption.  Bureaucracy affects everyone but not everyone is corrupt.  The perverse fact is that bureaucracy actually encourages corruption because it is sometimes easier to bribe than to fight.  Therefore, if bureaucracy is reduced, corruption would naturally reduce.  Result.

Some of these bureaucrats may feel that they’re just doing their job and that if the system was simpler, they’d lose their jobs.  So, job security is an issue but, and here is my main point, If the systems were simplified it would lead quickly to greater economic growth, less unemployment, increasing salaries and increased tax revenues.  If it was easier to start a company, to take an idea to production, to be an entrepreneur, to provide a service, to get a licence for anything, economic growth would be a natural result as the economy is released from the prison of state bureaucracy.  Who knows; we may even reach the point where the people could afford to use their own motorways.

Everyone can see the problem yet no one does anything.  That is the Portuguese tragedy, the lack of empowerment felt by the people. Well, wake up and smell the roses!  Brexit and Trump have shown that elsewhere in the world the people are starting to realise that the system isn’t working for them.   So, what’s the solution?  Simple, actually.  It’s a second bloodless Revoluçâo dos Cravos, it will cost nothing, it will reduce government spending, it will increase salaries and standards of living and it can be done right now.  It doesn’t need a change in the law, it doesn’t need a government edict.  It can be done by anyone.  Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  How?  Well, it’s not rocket science.

OK, First.  There is a government Ombudsman, the Provedor da Justiça (http://www.provedor-jus.pt).  He is there specifically to handle complaints of bureaucratic maladministration.  If everyone who is affected by this wrote to him, he would soon get the message.  It just takes a letter.  He is well connected.  He has powerful friends.  The second is that every person administering a bureaucratic process must take action themselves.  It means going up the chain and trying to simplify things.  Every manager needs to add this to their objectives.

So, it requires every person in the country to act. Those affected by bureaucracy need to complain.  Those who can do something about it must do so.  I think that covers pretty well everyone in the country.  Most people don’t want a fight, but the last time the people stood together was in 1974 and the government backed down; there was no fight.  There needs to be public ridicule of the worst excesses; maybe a weekly piece in The Portugal News to keep the issue in the public eye.  I don’t think they’ll be short of material.

Don’t wait for the politicians to take action; they won’t.  The people themselves need to act.  Don’t wait for someone else to do it.  Do it yourself.  You can do it and it’s your right.

Within a couple of years, you will see the seeds starting to grow.  It will cost nothing.  Everyone will benefit.  Everyone can do it.  It just takes the will.  Do it now.


A few thoughts on Brexit

December 1, 2016

Now that the dust has settled and we can see the magnitude of the self-imposed calamity that the British public has chosen for itself, it’s time to collect my thoughts and raise a few issues that interest me.

The Brexiteers were predominantly telling half-truths or lies and the public believed them.  The Remainers were predominantly telling the truth but it was dubbed ‘Project Fear’ and the public didn’t believe them.  The Sun told people how to vote and the Sun is always right.  The people (and I know plenty of them) voted Brexit for all the wrong reasons; immigration brought out the nastier side of a prejudiced nation (xenophobia is not far below the surface of most EU states) and was at the forefront of people’s minds.  The issues should have been rooted in the economy; the vote was a decision to leave the world’s largest and most prosperous free trade block and must go down in history as one of the most stupid decisions made by any population, ever.  It was a decision to commit national commercial suicide.  Not one of the promises made by the Brexiteers will come to pass.  Not one.

I agree that Europe is far from perfect and that the idea of a common currency without fiscal union of some sort was badly judged.  However, the problems could have been sorted out from within rather than storming out of the room.  Immigration is a red herring; I don’t know a single person in UK who even knows an immigrant let alone been disadvantaged by them.  It was a fake issue playing to the emotions of xenophobes, whipped up by the Sun, Daily Mail and Express.  My message to them is that the UK they yearn for probably never existed and will certainly never come back.  What they have voted for is a progressive economic decline, increased costs of energy and imports, further undermanning of the NHS and farming, increased inflation and increasing unemployment.  What they have lost is to be part of the great European project that has kept Europe at peace for the longest period in the past two millennia.

I am still staggered by the gullibility of the UK public who believe the web of half-truths and selective facts presented to them by the mainstream media, most of which is right-wing propaganda, the Murdoch press being the greatest culprit.  Murdoch is an ex-Australian now American billionaire who controls an international news empire that feeds propaganda to a gullible public world-wide who are too busy earning a living to find out the truth.  He dominates the UK press and yet no one thinks it’s in any way strange.  Unbelievable!  Yet, all the information is out there due to social media and the digital revolution; all you need is the time and interest to dig it out.   Witness the failure of the press to predict the outcomes of Brexit or the US election and I see some glimmer of hope.  People are starting to question the stance taken by most of the press.  They are realising that the press is talking to itself, not to them.

So, we’ve seen what we, The People, can do.  Fed up with political correctness and being fed a load of lies by the press, The People have spoken.  Should we rejoice?  No.  Absolutely not.  If the referendum wa run again tomorrow, the decision would be different.  However, that is not going to happen.  The result is a lurch towards the right in political parties and that has to be bad for everyone.  History repeats itself.  The Great Depression led to the rise of Fascism and World War II.  The crash of 2008 was actually worse than in the 1930s and was the greatest theft in the history of mankind.  With the exception of a few Icelandic bankers, no one has been brought to book.  That, coupled with a US foreign policy that is determined to sow the seeds of discord and violence around the world and you have where we are today, poverty in Africa, war in the Middle East and, of course, the refugee crisis.  This has all led to an increase in right-wing sentiments, if not outright fascism, and it is led from the US and fanned by the press.  It has resulted in the most powerful nation on earth voting in….oh, let’s not go there.  I just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself too precisely.

There is a famous Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times’.  I think 2017 will be an interesting time.

Depressed?  You should be.


Trump? Why Trump?

November 9, 2016

Trump.  Why Trump?  Why Brexit?  The answer is complex but I think that what we are seeing is a reaction to the realities of globalisation.  We, the people of the prosperous West, are told that we have continuous economic growth, that we are getting more and more prosperous with time.  I’ve lived long enough to know that that is total bollocks.  IT IS NOT TRUE.  Young people of today cannot afford to buy a house, mums and dads both work to make ends meet and graduates are crippled by debt.  To pay for things the banks simply print more paper money, not backed by gold or anything.  Paper.  Add to that the obscenity of zero-hour contracts and anyone with half a brain can see that the bollocks that is being fed to us by the TV & papers is little more than propaganda.  The emperor is actually wearing no clothes.  Then there is the reality of modern capitalism where half the world is dying of obesity, the other half don’t even have clean drinking water because capitalism is ultimately polarising and encourages the growing disparity between rich and poor.  The difference between now and a couple of decades ago is that we have social media and the internet.  Anyone can find out anything, given the time and the ability to discern the diamonds amongst the crap.

Just a word about democracy.  It is an illusion.  There was a time when choosing a government meant real choice but, these days, our lives are determined far more by what the big capitalist players decide to do than anything else.  Our lives are far more affected by decisions made in the boardrooms of companies like Microsoft, GSK, BP & Monsanto and we didn’t vote for them.  They have economies bigger than many countries.  Like it or lump it.  Globalisation wins, you see?

Globalisation is the ultimate expression of capitalism.  Capitalism sounds like a great idea when everyone is growing rich but it’s Darwinian evolution; the survival of the fittest; the losers go to the wall and only the richest survive.  Think Sir Phillip Green.  Shame about the 10,000 workers who lost their jobs or the 20,000 pensioners who lose their pensions.  Still, that’s capitalism for you.  Tough luck…but, If you’re on the winning side you get to buy a £100m yacht.  In the end, capitalism will eat itself but, here’s the rub, it will destroy the planet in the process.

Immigration.  Just a quick word.  Most immigrants are not fleeing war zones; they’re fleeing poverty and hopelessness.  They see the rich getting richer and they want a bit of it.  I’d be with them if I’d been born in Eritrea.  Don’t blame them for our greed; if we had been a bit fairer in the past, they might have futures in their own countries.  Do you think so-called Islamic State would be so aggressive if they had…jobs…or…were allowed to own their own countries… without a military occupation by the leaders of the free world? Ah, but they have the misfortune to be in countries floating on oil.  And Uncle Sam wants control of that…thank you very much, Mohammed.

So, whether we know it or not, the voters are reacting to the reality of advanced industrial capitalism; seeing their jobs go abroad, seeing uncontrolled immigration and everything else that we see now which they didn’t see a few decades ago.  They are existentialists; they believe what’s happening to them, not what they are being told is happening to them.  Their politicians feed them a load of bollocks and expect them to believe it.  Have you seen the appalling DHL ‘global trade’ ads on Sky News?  Jeezus….talk about condescending garbage.  Watch them and be sick.

History is packed with lessons that we should learn from.  Translate many of Donald Trump’s speeches into German and they could have come from the mouth of Adolf Hitler.  But the best lesson that might apply is that of France in 1789.  Remember that an entire ruling class was ‘eliminated’ by people who had nothing on their side except numbers.  I think we are seeing the early signs of another revolution; one where the rich industrialists and bankers are the enemy.  Bring out the guillotines!  Liberté, égalité, fraternité!  Yaaayy!  Nice idea, huh?

Oh, haven’t I read about that before?  Yes, I think it was…just give me a minute…that chap…oh, you know how it is when you get older…name’s on the tip of my tongue…yes…Marx, wasn’t it?

 


Antisemitism in Labour or a manufactured crisis? http://www.jewishsocialist.org.uk/news/item/statement-on-labours-problem-with-antisemitism-from-the-jewish-socialists-g

May 2, 2016

I have been massively irritated by the recent supposed Labour ‘antisemitism’ crisis.  I am staggered by the gullibility of the public that they can accept this manufactured issue and cannot see it as a transparent attempt to undermine Labour in advance of this week’s elections.  I refer you to this from the Jewish Socialist’s Group to which I am in complete agreement:

Antisemitism exists and must be exposed and fought against in the same way as other forms of racism by all who are concerned with combating racism and fascism.

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not the same. Zionism is a political ideology which has always been contested within Jewish life since it emerged in 1897, and it is entirely legitimate for non-Jews as well as Jews to express opinions about it, whether positive or negative. Not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Zionists are Jews.

Criticism of Israeli government policy and Israeli state actions against the Palestinians is not antisemitism. Those who conflate criticism of Israeli policy with antisemitism, whether they are supporters or opponents of Israeli policy, are actually helping the antisemites. We reject any attempt, from whichever quarter, to place legitimate criticism of Israeli policy out of bounds.

Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm a supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally.

A very small number of such cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism. Others represent genuine criticism of Israeli policy and support for Palestinian rights, but expressed in clumsy and ambiguous language, which may unknowingly cross a line into antisemitism. Further cases are simply forthright expressions of support for Palestinian rights, which condemn Israeli government policy and aspects of Zionist ideology, and have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism.

The accusations do not refer to antisemitic actions but usually to comments, often made on social media, long before Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership. Those making the charges now, did not see fit to bring them up at the time, under previous Labour leaders, but are using them now, just before mayoral and local elections, when they believe they can inflict most damage on the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn.

The attack is coming from four main sources, who share agendas: to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour; to defend Israeli government policy from attack, however unjust, racist and harmful towards the Palestinian people; and to discredit those who make legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy or Zionism as a political ideology. As anti-racist and anti-fascist Jews who are also campaigning for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, we entirely reject these cynical agendas that are being expressed by:

• The Conservative Party

• Conservative-supporting media in Britain and pro-Zionist Israeli media sources

• Right-wing and pro-Zionist elements claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community

• Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour party.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group recognises that ordinary Jewish people are rightly concerned and fearful about instances of antisemitism. We share their concerns and a have a proud and consistent record of challenging and campaigning against antisemitism. But we will not support those making false accusations for cynical political motives, including the Conservative Party, who are running a racist campaign against Sadiq Khan, and whose leader David Cameron has referred to desperate refugees, as “a swarm” and “a bunch of migrants”. The Conservative Party demonstrated their contempt for Lord Dubs, a Jewish refugee from Nazism, when they voted down en masse an amendment a few days ago to allow 3,000 child refugees into Britain while Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, gave total support to Lord Dubs and his amendment.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents.

We stand against antisemitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism.


The rebirth of Socialism; the Jeremy Corbyn factor

September 13, 2015

But first, a brief history of capitalism.

Capitalism is the motor for the industrialised US-dominated planet we live on. Although the Romans were capitalists, modern capitalism was started by the British with the industrial revolution.  It was then  adopted by the nascent America (who did it more rapaciously) and has now been embraced by China.  All hail.  But let’s look at what capitalism really is; it is the ultimate expression of Darwinist ‘survival of the most adaptable’.  Darwin showed that species evolve through natural selection and competition, red in tooth and claw, and capitalism is this law of the jungle wearing a suit and tie.  But is evolved, civilised mankind naturally competitive or naturally cooperative?  Darwin noted that certain species naturally cooperate when it suits the entire species. Even lions cooperate within their prides. So, is humankind cooperative or competitve?  Both, of course.  However, the competitive aspects can be seen as crude and primitive whereas cooperation fits in well with our higher aspirations.  If you were walking past a burning house and a geriatric neighbour told you that there was a child in there, would you go inside to try and save him?  A child you don’t know?  Most people would not hesitate. Yes, we are cooperative if we would risk our own life to save the life of a stranger.

Capitalism works through competition but, over time, this is polarising because it rewards greed.  The weaker go to the wall and ultimately you could envisage, for example, only two car companies in the world whereas originally there were hundreds (we already have that in aviation, Airbus and Boeing).  Similarly all industry would become polarised in this way.  The polarisation isn’t limited to industry because capitalism ultimately results in a massive imbalance of wealth, food, water and resources, so we have half the world who are dying of obesity and the other half are starving and don’t even have clean water .  The majority of the world’s wealth is in the hands of less than a hundred individuals.  So that’s capitalism and you might think it’s good if you are on the right side.  However, remember that it is based on continuing unlimited economic growth and the rape of the world’s resources which are limited.  Capitalism will continue to polarise but, and this is important, it will destroy the planet in the process.  It is a statement of the obvious to observe that we only have one of those.

Continued unlimited economic growth.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Well, that’s what we have but are you feeling richer than ten years ago?  Will your chidren have the same ability to buy their own home as you did?  Are you working less than you did ten years ago?  Has technology made your life easier?  Has your leisuretime increased?  Do your children communicate with you?  Are you optimistic of an easy pension-funded retirement?  Do parents have enough time to bring up their children or must they both work to make ends meet?  Do you trust your bank manager to look after your money honestly?  Do you trust your politicians?  Do you have confidence in your health-care system? In other words, is a modern, western capitalist society working for you?

I suspect that the answer to some or all of these questions will be in the negative and the reason is that capitalism requires that We, The People, provide more wealth for the wealthy minority; the poor get poorer, the rich get richer. Since the 2008 economic collapse, it has become clear that rampant capitalism is creaking at the seams and cannot be sustained indefinitely.  Actually, it was also clear in the 1930s and that led to fascism and a world war in which 70m people died.  So, what is the alternative?  Well, actually….it’s probably a form of Socialism.  I don’t mean a Soviet-style command ecoomy, but one that recognises that unlimited growth cannot continue, that there’s nothing wrong with workers owning the means of production, that the state should provide free education and health care.  It’s not revolutionary.  However, whenever any country has tried to do that, it has either been undermined from outside (Cuba, Chile, most of Central America) or has morphed into a system which is indistinguishable from fascism (Soviet Union, North Korea etc).  Top-down government has ceased to work. Bottom-up organisation is the key to the future to allow We, The People, to organise Society in a way that suits us, not the minority who already own most of the world.

And that’s why Jeremy Corbyn is such a breath of fresh air.  He is a conviction politicial and, aside from his views on the UK Monarchy, everything he says pretty well agrees with my way of thinking and I wonder whether the time is right for a return of Socialist values.  The alternative has, I think, been shown to be unsustainable.  I’m not talking about a revolution (that’s not British, don’t you know) but an evolution and I’ll vote for that process.  That has to be done by the young to create a society that they want and one of the most encouraging things about the Corbyn factor is that he has energised the minds of progressive youngsters and got them involved in the political process again.  That’s got to be the future.  I just hope that he can sustain his good intentions in the face of the opposition from his own side.  I think the country might be persuaded to get behind him.  I’m there already.