22 Dec 2012. 190 separate flood warnings dot the map of rain saturated Britain. In Dorset, a hill dissolves on film, caught by Coast Guard cameras. A dismal wet grey covers Britain’s green and pleasant land. Nor is today the end of it. A land already saturated to flooding in dozens of communities faces days more intense rain.
It is as if the land itself is locked in a paroxysm of grief
Indeed, it could be. Across this once prosperous and proud nation former bankers, young people with no where to go, mothers who have no money or benefits all seek shelter in parks, culverts and door stops. Legal "loan sharks" hound parents who borrowed at over 4,000% interest to feed their families or forestall eviction. Somewhere Dickens weeps.
It is not that Britain is more or less distressed than the United States -- or Greece or Spain or Ireland. It is a hard time. History will decide how much of it is due to external factors, how much self inflicted wounds, how much ideology's self fulfilling prophecy, and how much government by the obsessed inflicting the punishingly irrelevant on the vulnerable.
In the meantime ...
It is Christmas and children go hungry. It is Christmas and the Food Banks have grown geometrically since last year. It is Christmas and the poor no longer can count on the safety net the government once provided, of which Britain was once justly proud.
But the latest attack submarine will be built. Trident will be built. High Speed Rail will be built. Guns will be hawked by the Prime Minister. Bankers will receive bonuses which, however diminished this year due to public pressure, will nevertheless be more money than the homeless need to provide them with basic food and shelter for an entire year. The elite will holiday in Tuscany, hunt from horseback in the Cotswolds, sip Claret and laugh in the warm. Then there are those tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations socked into the budget. And so on.
Dress it up however one may -- the government has done its best to do so -- the Coalition has plenty of money to spend for what the Coalition wants to buy. The Coalition has its priorities straight. Those priorities are neo liberal. They take care of the 1%. No one is fooled about it, I suspect not even the Coalition. The Liberal Democrats purse their lips and grimly talk about rebalancing the economy. But I doubt even they are fooled.
That is, of course, not necessarily more true of Britain than the United States. But it isn’t less what it is, either.
Christmas is a time of hope, of promise full and rare. It is the time when many of us actually do try to be the quality of person we ought to be. But not this Christmas. Not in Britain. Not, at least, among the political elite. They are channeling Scrooge.
And the land weeps.
It is very hard under these circumstances to do what the Season demands -- turn on the warm, hopeful Christmas cheer.
But there is this hope -- all across Britain more of the British who Tony Blair famously described as “all Middle Class now” appear to realize that their “being middle class” is a delusion. Like the Titantic, when the Ship called Britannia hit the ice berg of the financial crash the Captain directed, “First Class to the life rafts, everyone else, listen to the band.” There is hope in that realization, because there is every chance that in that knowledge the British will rediscover their mojo. Having rediscovered their mojo, there is the hope they will say “enough.” Having said “enough,” they will discover that the people really do have the power to shape their own lives. The elite govern only by bluff.
I dearly wish tonight I could write a warm and fuzzy seasonal piece. Maybe something about someone who helped someone. I have picked up figurative pen and pencil many times to do it over the past several days, but found I just couldn’t. I have to be honest. This Christmas, like the very land itself, I weep for Britain and the British.
I weep for the United States and the children of “the leaders of the 21st Century” who led the United States into yet another massive economic contraction.
May 2013 bring a loud and ringing “enough, enough, enough” both sides of the pond.
How many hunters live in the U.S.? How many of them use semi-automatics in
their pursuit of four legged creatures and dinosaur descendants? Is a hunt for wild game in overkill mode to remain
protected by a 200 plus year old amendment to the US Constitution which in
reality pertains to citizen militias which have gone the way of the dodo replaced
years ago by state National Guards, police and sheriff departments and even
their eyes and ears – private security companies and unarmed neighborhood
Do the gun-afflicted really think that
they could fend off the federal government’s Special Forces with their home
grown firepower if push came to shove to protect their castle er home from a
government they’ve been encouraged to hate by fearmongering radio announcers?
Remember how long Osama Bin Laden lasted – once he’d been found and
targeted in Abbottabad. Wasn’t it about
half an hour? His compound had high
walls and a security guard and the CIA didn’t even use weaponized drones in
Or what about that unwanted
intruder? Chances are those home
arsenals are far more likely to be turned against a family member. Most murders are related to domestic
disputes. That’s certainly what statistics show.
I never thought a lethal minority of
about 4 million people (the number of NRA members) out of a country of 315
million or less than .013 percent of the population should be able to hold the other
99.9 percent hostage essentially enabling murderers and would be murderers in
the name of what did you say? But that’s
what the New York Times reported from Newtown even after last Friday’s tragedy there although others are trying to get a grip on the tragedy so it doesn't happen again.
Let’s not quibble with the Second
Amendment’s words. They read: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to
the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,
shall not be infringed.” Read it
again. Carefully this time. Consider the context of the clause “the right
of the people to keep and bear Arms,” because that has all to do with the
maintenance of a “well- regulated Militia” necessary for the security of a “free
State.” It doesn’t mean a well-funded,
finely tuned gun industry with all too many right wing and a few other members
of Congress, the Supreme Court and state legislatures in its thrall.
Please. Get it right for a change.
Guns kill people and the greater the
gun’s firepower the more people a single gunman – or woman – can kill. If Adam Lanza’s mother Nancy had been an
archery aficionado, for instance, not a semi-automatic weapons freak the
likelihood of her son’s murdering more than a couple of people if that with her
bows and arrows before being stopped would have been infinitesimal. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely Lanza would
have been able to turn that bow-and-arrow around to use on himself regardless
of his mental state.
Other industrialized countries have
gotten their murder rates and serial killers under control.
Look at Japan, Australia, the UK and much of the rest of Europe.
Well placed and enforced laws made all the difference in protecting the
many from the few. Doesn’t mean,
however, that they don’t have problem citizens with mental disorders. Dealing
effectively with these troubled people is another part of the complicated equation this country
needs to address but it’s no excuse for lack of gun control.
Update: At its 8 PM virtual meeting on Twitter and Facebook WOWpetition named
comedienne Franchesca Martinez as their spokesperson. Franchesca, an
outspoken and nationally known entertainer has already made plain to
everyone across the country where she stands on the issue of the
government's War on Welfare.
18 Dec 2012. A poignant conversation took me by surprise late last night. It was one of those mind focusing moments of unexpected intimacy with a stranger and his unremitting grief. The stranger lost his dear wife two years ago to long term illness. She was only 44.
Poignant under any circumstances, it was made the worse by an event become all too common place in today’s “United” Kingdom. ATOS -- a contractor used by both the current Conservative and the preceding Labour governments -- had found the stranger’s wife “fit for work” just 2 months prior to her death.
All too common
ATOS has done the same to many women and men who previously had been considered too disabled or ill to work. The grim statistics-- and stories-- are easy to find. Advocacy organizations keep and publish them. Both BBC’s Panorama and Channel 4’s Dispatches broadcast exposes of ATOS. I’ve heard many anecdotes from strangers. But I also know -- and seen the paperwork-- concerning people close to me.
Although the stranger’s experience took place in 2010, the current Conservative government takes it all to a new level. Its “Welfare Reform” coerces the disabled to work -- without proper medical exam to determine what they can do within the limits of their disability without exacerbating it. It coerces them to work without proper determination of what resources, support (including carer) or accommodations the disabled need in order to do the job within the limits of the disability. It coerces them to work without assessment as to their suitability to the task or the working environment. The government coerces the disabled with substantial sanctions to their weekly benefits if they fail to cooperate with work placement activities, including placement into unpaid manual labour.
The government likes to characterize their procedure as a medical exam. In fact it is a computer checklist with pre-determined standards. Those who complete the check list may have degrees and experience but they have no discretion. They examine no records. They may not consider the recommendations of treating physicians. To call it a medical exam is like calling one who microwaves MacDonalds’ hamburgers a chef. The standards are such that the ability to sit upright for a brief period is considered sufficient to require finding someone “fit for work.”
By contrast, US Social Security tries to determine what someone can and cannot safely do under what circumstances with what kinds of support or accommodation. They make the determination based on medical records, recommendations of treating physicians and independent medical examination.
Unrealistic and demeaning
Welfare Reform pushes the disabled into a job market where scores of persons not diagnosed as disabled-- including many young college graduates and persons with solid track records of previous employment-- compete unsuccessfully for the scarce job vacancies. It does this without calculation of the reasonable probability of success either at the job or at building what is often a temporary placement into permanent work. Indeed, the current government declares such considerations irrelevant. What’s important, according to the current government, is that the “work shy” be “helped” to see work as the thing to do.
Welfare Reform comes wrapped in demeaning rhetoric. It isn’t just the frothing-at-the-mouth “know nothing” who is “not prejudiced, but ...” who uses terms like “Scrounger,” “work shy” or “blinds drawn” or the tabloid press. Government Ministers regularly use them, including no less than the Chancellor. Neither Welfare Reform, its proponents, the Department of Work and Pensions or Ministers exhibit any appreciation for the distress they cause or its real life consequences to health & indeed life.
In late October a list of 2,059 Greeks and Greek companies with
supposed accounts in the Swiss bank FSBC suddenly appeared in the Greek magazine
Hot Doc. The list revealed only the names and professional identifications of
the account holders. No other list of Greeks with foreign bank accounts has subsequently
appeared. Yet the Hot Doc article created an instant political θυελλα (thiella), or storm, in Greece among
the Greek 99%, the country’s wealthiest 1% and its politicians.
Yet, this intrigue - also reported in two lengthy articles in The New York Times – could, however, concern
not one but two lists. Nothing in Greece
is ever as simple as it seems.
The first is a list which IMF Managing Director Christine
LaGarde apparently received when she was France’s Minister of Finance and
passed on to then Greek Minister of Finance George Papaconstantinou who
apparently lost it, hid it or, in any event, failed to use it when the Papandreou
government had promised to – but didn’t – collect taxes from wealthy Greek tax
evaders to help restore the Greek treasury to health. The
second list is the one published in Hoc Doc in October. But are the two one in the same? And if so, why is the list published in Hot
Doc likely out of date and just how important is the list, or lists, to
resolving Greece’s economic failings?
One can hardly blame the shrinking Greek middle class for its
anger at the harsh austerity which successive governments have forced upon it
to keep the country from falling into bankruptcy and expulsion from the EURO. Those terms – which have thus far failed to
regenerate the economy - have sunk this small Eastern Mediterranean country
into an ever greater economic depression over the past six years. They have hit wage earners the hardest fueling
anger not just at the EU, the Germans, the IMF and their own political leaders
but also at the country’s wealthiest who live the life of Riley all the while stashing
money in off-shore accounts to avoid the local tax collector.
But will The List published by Greek investigative journalist
Kostas Vaxevanis help resolve the Greek government’s financial problems? If you read his own justification in The
Guardian October 30, 2012, Vaxevanis states only that the list he published
contains names of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts (he does not say they are FSBC
ones) nor does he state that the list he published is one and the same as the
“Lagarde list” apparently given to the then Greek finance minister in
Transparency is often an amazingly effective antidote to the
secrecy that envelopes suspect dealings and questionable relationships. But transparency also needs to be based first
and foremost on the truth. To begin with,
is the list of names that Hot Doc published in October a replica of the one
reportedly given to Venizelos over two years ago? Or not?
If the latter, what caused the Athens police to arrest
Vaxevanis but then seemingly to almost immediately back off and ultimately charge
him with only a misdemeanor –the invasion of privacy for his publication of
this list? Does the Greek government
know something that the public doesn’t?
We only get rare glimpses into a man called Charles amid all the controlled publicity for the Prince. I must confess, I like what I see in sometimes spontaneous interchanges.
Glipses of a man
5 Dec 2012 two Australian DJ’s managed to invade the privacy of Charles elder son William and daughter-in-law Kate. Kate had been hospitalized with acute morning sickness. The two DJs managed to pull off a rather bad imitation of the Queen and the Prince. They fooled staff into revealing private information.
The following day the Press caught up with Charles. It could have been awkward badgering, an exacerbation of the original invasion of private feelings. But Charles quipped, a whimsical smile on his face, “how do you know I’m not a radio station?”
For someone known for my often wicked (but sometimes corny) sense of humour, it was instant bonding. But tragic news dimmed the glow. One of the deceived staff died. The death will likey be treated officially as "unexplained" pending a Coroner's verdict, although the media report it as apparant suicide.
The very next day the Sun caught another example of Charles "being real."
At an event honouring soldiers, Charles confessed to fears for the safety of his gung ho younger son, Harry. Prince Harry seems at times a cut from a cloth of a much earlier age, as much rugby player as Prince, but every inch a soldier. His would not be my choice, but it is who Harry is. Shakespeare would have approved of Our Harry.
But his father worries.
As a father whose children are never far from my thoughts, I once again felt instant connection. "Stiff upper lip" it might not have been. But all real man as far as I am concerned.
Romanticizing again, are we Dyer?
Schmaltzy sentimental at Christmas. B*£^%dy Colonial, Charles is the coddled progeny of privilege.
No doubt Charles is a Prince. No doubt the monarchy has a checkered history. No doubt it is the remnant of a most undemocratic tradition, and one of unbridled excess and cruelty.
PM David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, Treasury Deputy Secretary
Danny Alexander laugh at Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls wrong footed by an
accounting ruse on the front page of today's Guardian. The picture has
gone viral on the internet as the symbol of their heart hearted
5 December 2012. The Chancellor delivered his “Autumn Statement.” Autumn, you ask? Well, yes, Autumn - delivered in Winter. Makes perfect sense.
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is meant to be a combination fiscal progress report and budget for the forthcoming period. It announces initiatives the government will take in light of the country’s fiscal and economic health (or lack thereof).
Making this year’s Autumn Statement just a fortnight ahead of the darkest night in Winter makes a certain kind of perfect sense. In a remarkably direct way it reflects the statement itself. The Chancellor delivered “news” he would not meet any of the targets he had set for himself and his government when they came into office. It wasn’t “news” for many of us. But it may have been for him. Somehow the nation is supposed to see this unmitigated failure (and indeed Britain’s serious economic distress) as signs of success in the far off future. Spring is coming, just like the Autumn statement at last came in Winter.
For this fete of magic the Chancellor relied on a technocrat’s forecasts.
Key were the forecasts of the Office for Budget Responsibility, based in part on the Chancellor’s budget, in part on economic performance data. The Chancellor spent considerable time reading these forecasts into the record. He put great emphasis on the independence of the Office from the Treasury. The Oracle of Delphi has spoken. It must be true.
The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the government may now reach their targets between 2016 and 2018.
Why is it that the Republican Party continually thinks it
needs to claim mandates to govern this fair country when the voters say
otherwise? Is this another piece of the same
hubris – or self-inflicted delusion -that resulted in Mitt Romney’s unhappy
surprise the evening of November 6? Or is it a piece of a deliberate Republican
disinformation campaign that somehow thinks that declaring something to be true
makes it true – even if it’s not?
I don’t know whether the party of the right needs to rely
upon more honest pollsters or whether it needs to emerge from its Fox News-rightwing
radio talk show cocoon - but someone needs to tell the Republicans in the US House
of Representatives that they do not, repeat, not have a mandate to shove this
country off a fiscal cliff or stonewall on other legislation during the next
two years. Compromise yes. Stonewall no.
The last time this made-in-America electoral peculiarity happened
was in 1996. If this country was not a
federation with its power scales weighted in favor of rural states, regions and
whites, then – ahem – the Democrats would have gained control of the U.S. House
of Representatives on November 6, 2012 as well.
The Republicans' desert mirage
It’s clear that John Boehner knows that his party needs to
compromise with the White House – or at least had that figured out immediately
after the election as demonstrated by his amazingly conciliatory speech. But does he control the more radical in his
party? They have been his cross to bear
all along. Because in the days following
the election, Boehner seems to have changed his tune and declared a mandate
despite the fact that this supposed mandate should be seen more as a mirage in
the desert than anything else.
But there’s another factor the Republicans need
to think about. Not only did Obama win a
respectable second term from the voters and hence control of the executive branch,
this country has a system of divided government. Let’s go back to the US Constitution for a
minute: the Constitution established the
checks and balances system with three equal branches of the federal government: the executive, the legislative and the
judicial. The House of Representatives, therefore, represents one half of the legislative
branch or one/sixth of the federal power equation. And the distribution of seats in the House gives the Republicans 54 percent if
they win that last outstanding race (a special Congressional race in Louisiana is
set for December 8.) 54 percent of one of two legislative bodies
does not a mandate make.
please. Let’s get over and on with
it. I’m fed up with seeing a roiling stock
market spurred by needless fear-mongering on the right attributed to power games
in Washington. The 1 percent rolled the
dice and lost. But, hello there, it’s
neither the end of the world nor the end of their wealth: there’s way too much at stake for the 99
percent - from jobs to pension and private health plans - to send this country’s
economy into a tail-spin just because of the inflated fears of a tiny but
powerful minority who make more than they’ll ever need.
Patricia Lee Sharpe Poet, journalist, teacher, foreign service officer with 23 years public diplomacy experience in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Patricia H. Kushlis 27 years public diplomacy experience in Europe, Asia and Washington, DC as a US foreign service officer. International affairs writer, analyst and commentator.
John C. Dyer, UK correspondent Public Policy "wonk" with over 34 years public service experience, over 17 as state level policy counsel, legislative advocate and analyst. Writer. Poet. Dual citizen relocated to UK 2010. Follow on Twitter @JohnCharlesDyer