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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

228. Westminster – North of common sense & South of reality.

Here in the UK, in Westminster outside Parliament, another man with a sad history of family instability, drugs and violence ran amok. Adrian Elms used the excuse of Islamic fundamentalism to hurt and murder people in cold blood. At least that is one way of seeing it. Unfortunately, the increasingly ghoulish media coverage took a view parallel to the one simplified by the terrorists themselves. Terror groups, retrospectively, claimed Elms (aka Khalid Masood) as their soldier and the press also broadly painted him as a crazed Islamist fighter. Really? Without wishing to seem cynical, I would doubt he had time to absorb any meaningful teachings of the Koran in such a chaotic, drug addled, sad, violent and confused life.

Have we learnt nothing about giving the oxygen of dramatic, protracted publicity to those who crave melodrama and extended media coverage?

Then, hot on the heels of the deadly speeding car and this unhinged man were ex-UKIP leader, liar and racist Farage and deluded, lying, attention-seeking Katie Hopkins with their particular brands of vile rhetoric. And just as quick were the media outlets to report every word they said.

There is muddy bog here of untruth and a warped reality.

Those who play with this particular brand of toxic populism and fear, cunningly ignore the destabilising role of rampant global capitalism, wealth disparity and the increasing pressures of climate catastrophes. Instead they roll out the convenient two-dimensional platitudes - it’s all the fault of immigrants, refugees fleeing war or Muslims or (in the US) Mexicans or the Chinese. Broadly speaking, you could say brown skinned people are the problem. Unless you were trying to lever the UK out of the EU in which case EU nationals were in the mix too.

On the other hand, we have the lone attackers, often with violent backgrounds – often involved in drugs and often perpetrators of domestic abuse. Along comes a situation of utter confusion and political chaos where leaders behave like headless chickens and where these unhinged, disconnected individuals can vent their disturbed and violent natures – under the false guise of a cause.

And a lazy media with endless hours of air time to fill – with an apparently short memory – swings along behind this simplistic narrative. It is a dangerous and pervasive narrative that does not serve the public and does not serve peace or justice. Add to this the new enthusiasm for public service announcements on the radio, warning folk to be vigilant. Here in the UK they are set to the kind of music one would associate with cheap TV drama. It’s a recipe for hysteria and fear.

In relation to the murderer Elms and his kind, it is a view that enlarges and gives a false sheen to these small sad characters. At the other end of the spectrum, it is a line of thought which ignores the past – ignores inequality – ignores the fallout from illegal wars, vicious detention regimes, social, political and economic destabilisation and the failure of the rule of law.

Then everything is boiled down to an easily digestible soundbite – albeit one that will give us socio-political indigestion for decades. It is simple and self-righteous and less than half the truth - THEY just want to ruin OUR way of life – we are told.

Many seem to accept the strange irrational nature of this out-of-focus picture. Do so few people remember that in pre-invasion-of -Iraq world we did not have entrenched global terrorism?

Added to the disruption and destabilisation of the Middle East we have the ever increasing disparity in wealth. While people still starve and millions are affected by climate weirding, fleeing their homes and on the move across the globe -  we have billionaires successfully avoiding tax, promoting the continuing use of climate-damaging fossil fuels and hoarding money mountains they could not use in 100 lifetimes.

The notion that this is simply a battle of ways of life is a dangerous. Them v us. The wrong v the right. The East v the West. This narrative is way too convenient for both extremes.

The reality is in the uncomfortable middle. The bare open ground. The no-man’s land of uncomfortable honesty. The world is unstable because too few people have way too much. Everyone else is edgy because they can see the waterhole they need to share with the majority shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.

What is truly bizarre is the way significant numbers have turned to the very architects of the inequality and destabilisation. So in America – we have a charlatan – a liar, an inept business man and corrupt ignoramus who promised to "drain the swamp". What he then did was to fill the swamp with crocodiles. This is what happens when the thinking is skewed and the easy narrative takes hold.

If you look round the world at stable countries, you will observe one interesting factor – they are the least divided economically and socially. They are often also the countries where the most vulnerable are given generous social and economic safety nets. And yes – the rich have to pay their fair share.

Unnerving and uncomfortable and energy draining as it is, we have to be honest. We have to look at the whole picture – not just the bits that suit a headline.

If you want something snappy but a wee bit closer to the truth – try this – Greedy Pigs are the problem, not Pigmentation…

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

227. Mothers’ Day Manifesto

Every wealthy tax-avoider should be forced to have a large picture of a homeless person or an over-flowing hospital outpatient department or a starving child or the suffocating interior of a sweatshop, on the walls in their place(s) of residence. This way they could be reminded who really pays for their opulent lifestyles.

I’m just throwing around some ideas for Mothering Sunday, this coming Sunday 26th March.

I distantly remember that, as a child, you’d make a sticky card for your mum at school using the strange collection of odds and ends from the ‘craft’ cupboard. Often, bits dropped off on the way home. On the day, you would attempt to make breakfast for her. This usually involved tepid tea and soggy or burnt toast which she received with a surprised smile as if she had no idea what was coming. Dad would try to be useful and somewhere along the way flowers and chocolates might be involved.

Now, as a mother and grandmother, I am slightly repelled by the shelves of saccharine-pink cards, bouquets of desperate flowers, teddies with bows and schmaltzy messages hung round their necks, plus truckloads of celebrity-endorsed perfumes overflowing the supermarket aisles. The headache-inducing advertisements scream at people to buy buy buy something special for their special mother on this special day.

So, Ok – enough of the grumps. What would I really like for Mother’s Day?

Evidence is daily with us of just how grim it is for women trying to be mothers as they flee war. The current famine crises emerging in African countries, bring up the images we’d hoped to consign to history, of desperate women rocking starving hollow-eyed infants as the ravages of war and climate change go unchecked. Even in the UK we must ask, how is it possible to provide that essential motherly safety and nurturing while more families live in insecure accommodation or struggle with family debt. How powerless does a mother feel watching a child become ill with respiratory problems caused by increasingly bad air quality. So, I came up with a rough Mother’s Day Manifesto –

Let this government finally understand that the children and mothers languishing in refugee camps must be given a chance to make a decent life. The even more vulnerable lone child migrants must be given immediate help. The UK must reinstate the previously agreed commitment to accept vulnerable refugee children after Theresa May’s government shamefully overturned The Dubs Amendment.

Because this and previous administrations don’t seem to understand basic human decency – there should be – let’s say – a statutory £2million fine for every pregnant woman or mother and child group being held in immigration detention centres. Centres such as the infamous Yarl’s Wood are no better than prisons even though the people held there are not criminals but unfortunates who are in the limbo land of the current messy system.

More generally, there must be a coherent strategy to revolutionise the UK system where, if you are born rich, you rise regardless of how useless you are and you struggle if you are born poor regardless of how talented. Start by removing the charity status from private schools and increasing the per capita budgets for pupils at state schools. As I’ve said many times on this blog – the current system damages society on a fundamental level. Not just because the bright but socially unconnected youngsters don’t get on but, more to the point, dim but very well connected offspring get to be in charge. Then we all suffer.

As an adjunct to the previous point. Many private schools are set in extensive and beautiful grounds while very many state schools are situated on busy main roads or junctions where the worst traffic pollution occurs. These latter sites must be tested and if the air quality is consistently poor, the roads must be re-routed.

The government must finally ban the sale of weapons by UK arms manufacturers to corrupt regimes and those practising human rights abuses. This is an ongoing and identifiable problem. Somehow it keeps being side-lined. Many UK aid workers find themselves assisting refugees fleeing conflicts fuelled by armaments made in Britain.

This government must force the wealthy to pay their taxes. No more threatening a smack on the wrist. No more cup-of-tea ‘negotiating’ with HMRC when tax-avoiders are found out. New powerful sanctions must be imposed for those who asset-strip companies for personal gain (see blog 185 Does Sir Philip Green kick disabled orphan kittens in his spare time). Put genuine effort into retrieving the £millions / £billions owed and currently AWOL in the fiscal system. Then we can start to tackle the abomination of increasing numbers of homeless families in one of the richest countries in the world along with many other things on our social wish list.

Double the tax on private cars. Make buses free for children and the elderly.

Re-nationalise railways and halve rail fayres – so we can begin to improve the quality of the air our children breathe and reduce traffic accident mortalities.

Let the media, employers and governments stop dictating to women what they can / cannot wear.

Finally – make it compulsory for good-quality dark chocolate to be free on Mother’s Day 😊

That would mark a really good 2017 Mothering Sunday.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

226. Article 50 & Frozen Spice

The Real Zombie Zone

Ok – it may just be my odd brain but sometimes two phenomena come along that are like flip sides of the same reality.

Before the end of this month, the UK’s unelected Prime Minister Theresa May, who, as Home Secretary, campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU, can and will now trigger Article 50. This is the irreversible legal mechanism by which a member state leaves the EU. It begins a 2-year negotiating process at the end of which the UK could have an indeterminate something or nothing.

The EU referendum was an ill-conceived attempt by then Prime Minister David Cameron to control his own political party. The Leave campaign was easily hijacked by racists and bigots – UKIP leader Farage and Ex- Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson (now foreign minister) to name two. The pissy weakness of the opposition meant that there was no coherent strategy for positively presenting arguments for remaining.

Britain has not recovered from the 2008 financial crash caused by a corrupt banking sector. The fiscal shenanigans of the rich and powerful left us economically battered. Instead of prosecuting criminal behaviour and reforming the banking sector – UK tax payers were forced to bail them out and the media spotlight was deftly turned on Europe and immigrants. Fast forward a few years and we are launching into a process which will cause more economic pain and more instability for ordinary people. We are – you could say – like a homeless person increasing their problems and vulnerabilities by taking extremely harmful unfamiliar drugs.

Which is interesting…

Last week, many UK news outlets started highlighting the widespread and disturbing prevalence of new synthetic cannabinoids; drugs known as SPICE. One, which is endemic in the fast-growing homeless communities in our cities, is called Frozen Spice because of the way it sends users into a catatonic state. A Manchester drug worker has been quoted as saying that 95% of the homeless community there may be using this cheap, treacherous and devastatingly addictive drug.

Richer recreational users turned away from the drug as ‘cheap and nasty’ but it is now the alternative for people with few alternatives. Some dealers will sell for whatever the user has in their pockets. In short – Frozen Spice is a capitalists’ dream and shows that unfettered markets can work - for the pushers!

And just as Spice users enter a limbo land where they seem neither dead or alive so will Britain be once it has taken Article 50.

Frozen Spice is an unknown quantity. Even now scientists are trying to de-construct it to find out how it messes with the brain to put the user into such a zombie state where they can struggle to breath and are so defenseless there are stories of users being ‘mugged’ unopposed while they are under the influence.

Leaving the EU is an unknown quantity and it is a risk Britain did not have to take at a time when there are so many major challenges facing Britain and the world. It is a silly risk, equivalent to taking a new cheap nasty drug. And like the drug, which may cause anything from seizures to psychosis to paranoia to breathing problems to death – Article 50 will lead to consequences we cannot fully know and were silly to chance. Like a homeless person, when you are already in a mess, if someone offers you a ‘cheap and nasty’ escape, it’s always a bad idea. And, just as those who concocted this life-denying synthetic marijuana, worked to ensure its properties were highly lucratively addictive, peddlers of the referendum deceits, succeeded in getting it into the systems of the vulnerable and scared. To the extent that a lot of areas in the UK that were net beneficiaries of EU membership voted hardest to leave.

Many, on the margins of society who take Frozen Spice and other drugs – are self-medicating their way out of an uncomfortable reality. Using a cheap temporary stun gun to obliterate the world around them that has become frightening and confusing.

Similarly, many people voted for Brexit in the mistaken belief that some of the bad things that were happening to them and their community could be solved with a quick fake fix. The big pushers, Farage, Boris Johnson and the other liars, slipped a gullible electorate the heady contradictory, cheap mix of false ideas. By leaving Europe, they said, we’d solve everything from the problems of straight bananas to the money that was being sucked away from the good old brits for wasteful projects. Such as supporting struggling regions and trying to protect – for example – the European steel industry from Chinese overproduction?

The big red Brexit battle bus claimed that £millions ‘wasted’ by the EU would go into health service coffers. A lie that was admitted THE DAY AFTER THE REFERENDUM result. But just like a junkie who has a bad trip – there is no come back from the dealer.

If you are a regular reader, you will know I love my analogies. In this case I think it goes all the way.

Just as the dealer will mess with the head of the junkie to keep them buying – so the pro Brexit media and the leave campaigners keep pedaling Brexit shit.

The economy is doing great – look at the increased exports – they croon. The reality is that exports are high because the value of the pound is low. Show me a country anywhere on the planet where shipping out lots of cheap stuff and having to import expensive stuff works for ordinary people long term.

At the end of the day – the dealers win and the junkies lose. We will all be the socially, politically, economically homeless once Article 50 is triggered.

Now we’re hooked, regardless of whether we were tricked, did it of our own accord – or were swept along by those around us. We have to take the shit and hope our zombie state is temporary and not terminal while the rest of the world moves by without us.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

225. Trump – your place in hell will be TREMENDOUS

Where to begin? 
The UK government seems comfortable using EU citizens living in the UK as pawns in the ongoing Brexit madness. The economic cracks are widening and we have not yet triggered article 50 (see cartoon below). PM Theresa May is equally untroubled about turning away from promises to help unaccompanied, suffering migrant children. 

Meanwhile, across the pond, Trump – the draft dodger – salivates at the idea of pumping up the US military and sending other people’s sons and daughters to war.

I’m way too fed-up this week to proper blog. Even when you are satirising, this shit it still stinks and it can get you down. A week of the miseries and claustrophobic dreams also reminded me that it’s the 10th anniversary of my dad’s unpleasant premature death from lung cancer (check out blog 22 Drink Driving with my Dad & other Happy Memories.)

So, a brief note to those who profit from or compound the misery of others without losing sleep; cigarette manufacturers, those selling illegal arms to corrupt governments, sweat shop owners, people traffickers, warmongers yada yada yada. Despite the centuries of cumulative horrors man has committed, there is room in hell for you.

And for those who whip up fear, bile and hatred because they can – Farage, Le Pen, Wilders and of course Trump – your places in hell will be, to use a favorite word from Donald’s limited vocabulary, “tremendous”.

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