Monday, 22 August 2011

A new economic model is answer to riots

There has been much focus on retribution in the aftermath of the riots in England. The courts have handed out some truly draconian sentences for what in the normal run of things would be considered minor offences. Some politicians have even attempted to climb onto the moral high ground to talk about single parents, family breakdown etc. What next bankers on how to live frugally?Some rather more useful comments came from east London priest Monsignor John Armitage who spoke of the greed and selfishness in society and the demise of family life. Oldham priest Father Phil Sumner pointed out that simply vilifying those who committed the crimes will achieve nothing beyond making matters worse. "People don't accept the values of society until they value themselves. They feel excluded by society and left behind, so they don't care what society says," said Father Sumner, who lamented the growing margins.
Picking up on the family theme, Alison Gelder, chief executive of Housing Justice, expressed her exasperation that "no one talks about the need to find a way out of the situation we are in where, even if there are two devoted parents, they both have to work full time just to afford a decent home." "I want a world where parents can afford to choose to be at home with and for their children, right up to school leaving age," said Mrs Gelder.Family breakdown, community disintegration and the increasingly alienated class of people who do not share in the wealth of our celebrity led culture all form part of the problem.Work has been lauded as a far more superior function to bringing up children. Indeed in most cases both parents have to work in order to raise children. A recent survey found that the average child had just 40 minutes with their parent.The binding idealogy that determines the society in which we live is market capitalism. It is a machine that has come to dominate everyones lives. If you do not serve the machine you have no part in the society or value to it. This has particular implictions for the old and young.
Other attributes of the most recent form of neo-liberal capitalism have seen the promotion of greed as a virtue. When in the 1980s Oliver Stone made his film Wall Street, the intention was that the main character Gordon Gecko would be viewed as the epitomy of all that is bad in society. The phrase greed is good became synonomous with the character. However, instead of exposing the appalling society being created, the Gecko figure became a role model for many in the banking and trading worlds. Roll on 25 years and we had the banking crisis. Now the riots, I am what I have and if I cannot get it through "legitmate means" I'll take it anyway.The evolution of the neo-liberal market economic system has seen the rich get richer, whilst the mass of poor get poorer. The polarisation of rich to poor has now reached epic proportions. The workforce is now made up of people working longer for less pay. Family life has been one of the main casualties of this process. If society really wants to get to grips with the problems thrown up by the riots then a new economic system must be developed with different values. People not profit must be put first. Family life should become a central tenent of this model. This is not be confused with the idea of a model family. Single parents, two parents doesn't matter. What does matter is that space is made for parenting and bringing up children. The role of the parent must be recognised, rewarded and celebrated.Community needs rebuilding. The society must get away from this purile self seeking individualism. Giving something to the community should be lauded. Schools and education have a role to play. Education should be open to all free and for all of their lives, something people can step in and out of. Schools should not just be exam factories preparing the child to become a cog in a corporate wheel.Failure to address these issues will lead to more riots and a truly ugly society. The super rich will retire to their gated communities protected by security companies, whilst disorder reigns beyond the gates. The margins will grow, with the prison populations expanding. More lives will be wasted. The choice is stark, begin putting our society back together again, which requires a new economic model or continue towards the abyss, blaimng individual criminality and gang culture.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots expose communities falling apart

The recent riots in London showed a glimpse of how close to the edge many communities have become.

Remember, London is the wealthiest, most diverse and integrated city in the land, yet the equivalent of a match in the tinder box resulted in days of rioting and looting. This then spread across the country.

The touch paper that seemed to set off the whole series of riots began in Tottenham where a black man Mark Duggan was shot dead by the police.The Independent Police Complaints Commission were called into investigate but all of the usual hallmarks that have typified the deaths of civilians in police custody over recent years came into play.

The family of the dead man were it seems literally ignored. The shooting occurred on Thursday yet by Saturday they had still not seen the body. Tensions in north London toward the police have run high for many years, partly due to a number of deaths in police custody. Nationwide there have been shown to be a disproportionate people from black, irish and other minority ethnic communities among those dying in police custody. There have been moves to address the issue over the years but there are still a frightening number of people still dying at the hands of the police.The process lacks credibility among many communities, with the odds loaded against the family of the dead individuals. In worst case scenarios they are almost treated like criminals themselves. At the end of the process, when an inquest has taken place, no action is usually taken against the police. Even when inquest juries have brought in verdicts of unlawful killing against the police, the Crown Prosecution Service has today rarely moved to prosecute.Over the years this has had the effect of destroying any belief in the system that people in these communities may have held. On the police side it breeds a belief that they are above the law, whatever happens, even if someone dies in custody they will not be held to account.It is against this background that the march of the family and friends of Mark Duggan last Saturday needs to be set. The march went off peacefully but at the police station the marchers were kept waiting for hours before the police engaged with them. This no doubt built tensions. Having been on a number of similar demonstrations myself in east London I know the feeling of tension that can build up. On a couple of notable occasions on marches to Forest Gate and Ilford Police stations to make similar protests, the tensions rose and the things could have gone either way, riot or restrained peaceful and dignified protest. In both cases, due to the families concerned and the response of the police the events passed off peacefully.On Saturday, the peaceful protest seemed somehow to then morph into a violent protest. This then spread in the community leading to the violent scenes portrayed on television. There no doubt was mindless violence and looting by opportunists looking to prosper at the expense of others. However, the way in which this protest developed and later spread across London and beyond, suggests other underlying factors prompting the situation.Many of the youngsters in these communities face a bleak future, with a lack of jobs and prospects. In an increasingly atomised world, strings that may have linked them to communities no longer exist. What strings there are hold many to the gang culture. This was seen in evidence during the riots, as groups of youngsters in hoodies on bikes seemed to take over parts of London. Into this bleak scenario feed the celebrity led culture that worships wealth. You are what you have. Given that most of these youngsters have no means or prospects to obtain these material goods, why when an opportunity comes to just take it would they resist?The cuts made by the present government have simply exaserpated a bad situation. Funding for youth clubs and educational centres has been withdrawn. It was these services that provided what little bit of cement there was holding together many of these communities. The removal of these last links has effectively proved to be the straw that broke the camels back and almost brought the whole lot crashing down.Much of the media focus has been on the police. Ironically, despite the way the police have mishandled the situation from the Duggan case in Tottenham to failure to keep control of the streets, the outcome will no doubt be more resourcing for the police. However, this misses the point. For far too long there has been a focus on the police as the answer to social problems. Put more police on the streets and everything will be all right. This is simply wrong, police at best are social dustmen dealing with the outcomes of societal failure, they cannot be the solution.What the riots should teach is just how little real community cohesion there is in many parts of this country. The cement that kept communities together has been constantly chipped away to the point now where there is very little left. This was the underlying situation that only needed the blue touch paper lite to go up in smoke. What is required is not more cuts that take the little vestage of cohesion away but a root and branch effort to build community. This will involve investing in work for people, providing affordable housing and a real prospects of a future for today's youngsters. The riots brought the country to the edge of the abyss, failure to address the root causes or taking a strictly public order approach as a solution will mean that the next time the whole scenario could be far worse.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Change needed to a system that rewards the rich at the cost of everyone else

The deal struck to avert the US deficit crisis was typical of others agreed around the world on the subject of deficit reduction. The crux of the matter being that the public services that the majority of people rely upon are to be savagely cut whilst those with massive wealth will not pay a penny more in taxes.So the poor pay, whilst the rich continue with business as usual.The super rich, who in a number of cases are responsible for the economic crisis in the first place, escape all responsibility for their actions. In the banking world where the seeds of this crisis were sown, high earners continue to operate in a bubble, seemingly oblivious to the damage they have caused. The champagne continues to flow as the latest bonuses are pocketed, some ofcourse directly paid for by the tax payers who bailed out the banks.On an individual and corporate level tax avoidance is the name of the game. Companies move their operations around the world to the area that demands the lowest tax take on their profits. They also seek areas with weak labour laws that make it difficult for trade unions to operate, so making it easier to directly exploit workers. Super rich individuals minimise tax payments.Turning to the situation in the UK, all of these processes are going on in microcosm. As Labour MP Jon Cruddas pointed out recently, the poor are being made to shoulder the £18 billion burden through the cuts imposed by the Welfare Bill whilst the tax on the banks raises just £3 billion. The government has largely been conducting a smoke and mirrors exercise with its Big Society agenda. Whilst cast in the rhetoric of charity and volunteering, the reality is that it is about people doing services either for less pay or no pay at all. The short sighted attitude to the charitable sector was recently underlined by the research group False Economy which found that 2,000 charities were being hit by funding cuts due to less money being available to local authorities. These are the very same charities, like the Citizens Advice Bureaux, whose services will be needed all the more in these times of economic austerity.The whole process of deficit reduction seems to be a giant sized con trick perpetrated by the very rich on everybody else. As public services are cut, the ultra rich continue as though nothing has changed. The capitalist media plays its role building the cult of celebrity around the rich, making excessive wealth out to be something to be admired and aspired to rather than simply the fruits of a modern day version of the robber baron. The question remains as to how long the mass of people across the world are going to continue bankrolling the lifestyle of the ultra rich. How long will those who pay tax be prepared to see their public services trashed? The politicians seem powerless to act. In the US, President Obama clearly wanted to tax the rich more but did not have the necessary support in a Congress dominated by the representatives of the ultra wealthy. Looking to individual politicians to make these changes in the modern world is just wishful thinking. The media continually portray the world as though it is all down to individuals. In reality, there is little difference between political leaders, these days, they mainly sing from the same hymn sheet of defending the wealth of the rich and powerful to the cost of everyone else.It was not coincidental that in past decades, there were higher taxes on the rich and a more equitable distribution of wealth. This was because there was a strong civil society and labour movement. Politicians in the past were just as opportunistic as those today but they had to act more equitably because the society had checks and balances to make sure this happened. Today these checks and balances seem to have disappeared, with corporate power the only deciding factor in town. None of these factors make for a functioning democracy or indeed contribute to the common good. If things continue in the direction they are going then there will be civil unrest, as the injustice on the mass of people continues to be perpetuated. Only root and branch change from the present busted neo-liberal economic system will see any progress being made toward a more just and equitable world.

How decayed communities fell to looting

There has been much focus on the performance of the police during the London riots. But the police are social dustmen. They deal with the results of social problems; they are not a solution.
What the riots denote is just how much communities in the inner cities have decayed over recent years. The latest cuts simply take away the last remaining bits of cement that had been holding the crumbling edifice together.Hope for many young people has been taken away, yet at the same time the materialist celebrity culture is fed to them 24 hours a day – you are what you have. Once this dangerous cocktail of dispossession, hopelessness and shops crammed full of goodies is brought together, who can be surprised that, with a little co-ordination via social networking sites, a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham should have turned into rioting and looting. It is time for politicians and media commentators to realise that community is falling apart in this country and we are closer to the abyss that anyone has been prepared to contemplate.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Norwegian tragedy should act as wake up call

The initial reporting in the UK of the killing of 77 people by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway said much about the media mindset surrounding such events.
There was an immediate leap to link the killings to Al Queda and Islamic terrorism.
As soon as it was established that it was not an Al Queda attack, but a right wing fanatic the tone changed. It was no longer an attack on our society but the acts of a crazed mad man.
Even, once the facts were established, this did not stop a number of politicians and commentators here continuing to rehearse all the old clich├ęs about terrorism, despite the total disconnect with what had occurred in Norway.
The old adage of never wasting a good crisis sprang to mind as some in the media and political class used the opportunity to stir up the vista of fear to frighten people.
It seemed that another effort was being launched to use a tragedy in another country to justify more authoritarian measures taking away liberties here. The old cry of the dictator: give me your liberties and I will provide security resonated out once again.
Fortunately though these sentiments were not being voiced in Norway, where Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called for a response that brought "more democracy and more openness." This was exactly the response needed to such an attack on innocent people and democracy. It also reflected a country clearly secure in its identity, not seeking to look for a scapegoat for societal ills.
An extreme right wing fundamentalist Christian, Anders Breivik was anti-Muslim and anti-left, hence the shooting of the students at a socialist youth camp. He is apparently an admirer of the English Defence League in this country.
There has been a worrying synergy growing up over recent years between fundamentalist Christians and the far right with common ground developing over a hatred of Islam and anti-immigrant xenophobia.
It is interesting to see some of these fundamentalists seemingly stuck in a time warp, referring everything from environmental catastrophe to economic breakdown back to the old left/right divides of the Cold War era. For these individuals, there is always an enemy out there that has to be confronted, whether it be communism, Islam or simply the other.
The far right in this country has not been slow to exploit possible links to fundamentalist Christianity, targeting Catholics in particular for recruits. The BNP has in the past quoted Papal encyclicals like Rerum Novarum out of context in order to justify its creed.
Two years ago at the time of the European elections, the BNP ran an advertising campaign claiming that Jesus would vote for the party. Church leaders spoke out but the party ended up winning two seats in the European Parliament.
The tragic events in Norway need to be put in a proper context of the crazed killer motivated by extreme right wing idealogy. The most comparable individual to Breivik is probably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, not the 9/11 or 7/7 terrorists. He no doubt will be dealt with through the criminal process in Norway, which is what should happen. And hopefully, given the Prime Minister’s comments, there will be no resort to cutting the liberties of Norwegian citizens in the aftermath.
What these events do is to serve notice of the growing danger of the far right in Europe, with its appeal to the increasingly disenfranchised amongst the population.
The Norway tragedy show the dangers that extreme right wing ideology can bring about in disturbed individuals. Communities need to come together to counter the threat of the far right, whilst those charged with protecting the people from the threat of terrorism should refocus their efforts on the real dangers rather than getting caught up in an often illogical focus on Islam.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

When are the rich going to be made to pay for the deficit they did so much to create?

The deal to fix the US deficit once again reflects how every financial crisis that occurs in the world today seems to be being dumped at the door of the poorest people. The deal reflects the same type of thinking as seen in this country when addressing deficit reduction, namely the average to badly off have the public services they depend on cut whilst the rich - who in the main caused the crisis - pay not a penny more in tax. How long will people be prepared to tolerate this internatioanal con trick being perpetuated by the very rich to the cost of everybody else? When will a politician emerge with the guts to say to the rich, you created this crisis, now pay your share to sort it out.