Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Ireland should default on the bankers

Support in Ireland for a debt default is gathering pace:
"[T]he demand for default has become a growing theme on radio talk shows and public commentary. The Sunday Independent nationwide telephone poll of 500 people found that 57% were in favour of default on debts to bondholders within Irish banks with 43% opposed.
This reflects an emergent belief among opinion formers that the state simply cannot support the debt burden it has asked to shoulder."
The word "default" is in itself something of a misnomer.  It assumes that the debt is, or should be, the state's - or, more specifically, the public's - responsibility in the first place, something which it is seemingly obliged to 'honour.'

In truth, the crisis is a consequence of the banks' reckless activity and bondholders' own speculations, gambles and losses. So, why should the Irish public be saddled with that debt 'obligation'?

It's a bit like someone going to a casino, gambling away all their money and expecting you to cover their losses.

Indeed, as Michael Burke shows, the banks and speculators have been demanding rather than expecting public bailouts:
"The response of financial markets was both swift and brutal, leading to a buyers' strike of government debt and the inevitable bailout. But it is important to be absolutely clear who is being bailed out. In the case of Greece the total amounted to €110bn, while there are fears that in the Irish case the rumoured sum of less than €100bn will not be enough to repay all the creditors. It is these creditors who are being bailed out. There is not a cent in either package that will be used to stop school or hospital closures or to prevent a single lost job." 
Harry Browne notes how the casual speculations and political indulgence of Anglo Irish Bank was symptomatic of the wider financial hedonism:
 "Anglo was a nouveau riche institution that had essentially become a casino for the country’s property developers as the bubble inflated. The more established banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland, followed its example; but they at least also had functioned as conduits of credit for other parts of the economy. Anglo was more like a private club with no systemic importance. Nonetheless, Lenihan guaranteed it, at a cost to the Irish state that we now expect will top €30 billion.  We now know too that Anglo’s list of bondholders is a who’s who of European capital." 
Mike Whitney echoes the point in his Memo to Ireland:
"Ireland is being asked to cut to social services, slash wages, renegotiate contracts, and dismantle the welfare state so that undercapitalized banks in France and Germany can get their pound of flesh. But, why? They're the ones who bought the bonds. No one put a gun to their head. They knew they could lose money if Irish banks went south. That's the risk they took. "You pays your money, and you takes your chances." Right? That's how capitalism works.

Not any more, it doesn't. Not while Cowen's in charge, at least. The Irish PM has decided to bail them out; make all the bondholders "whole again." But who made Cowen God? Who gave Cowen the right to hand over his country to the IMF?"
 But the case for going bust is also being echoed by elements of the business media, as in this Bloomberg piece from Matthew Lynn:
"It might sound like madness for a drowning man to refuse a lifebelt. But the decision the Irish make in the next few days will shape the future of their nation for a generation. Ireland would be better off going bust than taking a loan. The conditions attached to a rescue aren’t worth it: Once it takes EU money, it will never get off the hook. And the Irish banks aren’t worth saving anyway. Defaulting on your debts is a far less scary prospect than usually portrayed. The real question is whether Ireland’s politicians have the courage to take that step."
That looks increasingly unlikely.  In fact, the pain is compounded by news that Ireland's National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) will be used towards the €85 billion bailout package - while the major bondholders share none of the losses.

Again, though, there are other ways of dealing with the crisis.  Whitney again on "Ireland's hammering":
"This is nothing but extortion. If Ireland wants to put its banks on solid footing, there's a way to do it that doesn't involve years of debt-slavery for its people. The government can underwrite the banks with a €10 billion loan from the Pension Reserve Fund that will guarantee deposits while the banks are nationalized and restructured. It is an excruciating process, but it's been done many times before. Ireland does not have to accept indentured servitude if it chooses not to.  And why would the government even consider paying an interest rate of 5.8% per annum? Interest rates should be the same as they are for the banks; 1 percent. Should a sovereign nation get a worse interest rate than a crooked banker who ripped off millions of investors?"
 "Default" isn't the apocalyptic or humiliating process we're encouraged by the financial masters to believe.  It's the viable financial, political and social defence of a country's economy and the people it's supposed to serve.

Let the bankers and bondholders go bust rather than the society and its citizens.


Friday, 26 November 2010

Key article from Jonathan Cook

Please take the time to read this fine, landmark article from Jonathan Cook detailing the long-standing array of media and official constraints imposed on journalists attempting to report Israel-Palestine:

Publish It Not


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Staying happy and well in a world of turbulence

A contributor at the Media Lens message board asks: "How does one avoid becoming politically 'burnt out' and totally disillusioned?"

And among the kind offers of advice comes this simple and brilliant piece of illumination from David Edwards, one of the ML Editors:
"Don't focus too much on the results: the key is to do something that you really enjoy that also helps others. If you're doing something that feels like drudgery, you're doing the wrong thing - you're not making a better world, you're making a world full of drudgery. It may sound paradoxical, but the concern should be with the quality and enjoyment of the work you're doing, not on what it's achieving. Concern about results is of the ego; authentically progressive work comes from a liberated, excited feeling in your chest.

Don't wear anger and despair as badges of commitment - they're not, they're badges of ego. The ego wants to be 'special' - specially rich, specially famous, specially powerful. But also, alas, specially virtuous, specially dedicated and committed to saving the world. People are very impressed by the claim that someone is "nauseated" by injustice - 'Wow! He's
really committed!' Often it's the ego advertising for admirers.

Don't believe the ego's tall tales about you coming here to save the world - we are all of us tiny specks and the world will be packed full of suffering 100, 200, 1,000 years after we're gone. But you can still work for the benefit of others because it's far more fulfiling than self-interested, ego-based work. And it's good to help even one sentient being to be free from suffering - it matters to them! And who knows? there
could be a major change for the better (but that shouldn't be a major focus).

Don't think that politics is enough. Do physical exercise every couple of days and find ways to escape from compulsive thinking (through music, meditation, yoga, whatever...) every day. Keep the emotional side of yourself alive - joke, be childish and non-serious; don't become a hard-boiled political rock."
I might well be tempted to say that I wish I'd written those fine words, but that would be to court and indulge my own ego. Instead, I'm just very pleased to have had them imparted to me and others as a confirmation and helpful reminder of how to maintain a balanced, harmonious and life-affirming disposition while engaged in such activity.


Saturday, 20 November 2010

Banking crisis and cuts - rich keep their wealth, poor take their lives

Here's something that an austerity-afflicted public might just becoming a little more aware of. There is an alternative to the cuts.

A study by Greg Philo and the Glasgow University Media Group shows that a staggering 74% of the public sampled support a one-off tax on the richest, an exercise - formulated by economists, tax experts and others at the behest of Philo's group - that would erase the bulk of the current national debt.

As Philo and others point out, there has been almost nothing of this very rational option in the mainstream media.

The figures have, at least, been duly considered in this rare feature by the online Daily Finance:
"A one-off 20% tax on the wealth of the richest 10% in the UK has been backed by 74% of a sample of 2,200 people in a YouGov poll commissioned by the Glasgow Media Group. The proposal would raise £800 billion pounds and wipe out the national debt at a stroke.

The level of support, says GMG's Greg Philo, "is an extraordinary result given that there has been no public discussion of this proposal and that the very negative consequences of the alternatives are only just beginning to emerge." Some 44% of the sample 'strongly approved' of the measure."
The author of the piece, Martin Cloake, goes on:
"The level of support for the measure revealed by the poll really is extraordinary – it's not hyperbole to say so. It's backed by 75% of ABC1s and 73% of C2Des, by young and old, men and women, working and unemployed. The level of support is virtually unchanged across all demographics.

And yet there has been almost no discussion of the proposal in the media. Instead, that media feeds us a constant diet of stories backing the lie that there is no alternative to cuts, and taking the lie that 'we are all in this together' at face value.

Why could it be that the very rich people who run the media and claim to have their finger on the public pulse do not want to discuss a proposal which would benefit the public while reducing their own wealth? And what is the Labour Party's excuse for being so silent on the issue?"
In a follow-up interview at Daily Finance, Philo responds to the question of whether it's right for the richest to pay most of the debt:
"Some think the rich should pay more because they have such a high proportion of the wealth and have used their position in the 'free market' to maximize their share of social assets.

There is nothing democratic or especially fair about such a process. Nobody asks the population as a whole whether the man who makes Cillit Bang should earn £92 million a year or if Sir Philip Green should have a £1.2 billion dividend, let alone whether he should avoid £285 million tax on it because of his domestic relationship with Switzerland.

So the short answer is, yes of course the rich should pay more because they have the bulk of the money. The second point is about whether people have 'earned' their money.

"In the past people have asked whether the distribution of £21 billion in city bonuses in a single year was really to people who were working so much harder than a nurse or a teacher and was their work more valuable? As it turned out the answer was no as they were wrecking the world's financial system."
It's a highly-relevant point of blame, entirely ignored or marginalised by the media. As is the actual context of the crisis.

The current crisis is the inevitable product of neoliberal orthodoxy which, having promoted flagrant deregulation of the banking/financial sectors, allowed a spate of predatory dealing in the US housing market, notably the sub-prime mortgage sector, a bonanza which began to unravel in spectacular fashion with the collapse of the US housing bubble, a consequent liquidity crisis and the rush for state bailouts.

The story of how highly-aggressive mortgage selling to poor and financially insecure people in America became the catalyst for the banking crisis might be seen as comic-farcical where it not so grave. But the myriad chain of packaged debt, casino-type speculation on that debt and the chaotic fallout that ensued shows what happens when 'brilliant-minded' market-makers and vastly-salaried banking executives are allowed free-rein to pursue their relentless drive for profit.

As Harry Shutt's latest book, detailing the anatomy of the crisis, notes, the deepening range of speculative investments and resort to fraudulent activity were encouraged by the new environment of liberalisation on Wall Street and the City of London, which included the removal of cross-border capital movements, the 'levering-up' of bank lending ratios, expansion of their securities assets and the riskier practices of trading and underwriting different securities, all combining towards an increased conflict of interest and the potential for ever-riskier exposure.

But the darkest paradox of this unfettered, 'free market' activity and lack of control was the assumption that those engaged in it could always fall back on the state. As Shutt explains:
"Underpinning this ever more freewheeling structure of finance was the implicit understanding that the state (in it's historic role as 'lender of last resort') could be called upon to bail out any institutions that got into serious difficulties, at least if it was large enough for its collapse to threaten the stability of the entire financial system. Hence despite the official claim that the rewards of highly paid bankers, fund managers and speculators were appropriate compensation for the risks they were taking, in reality most of the institutions they worked for enjoyed the ultimate protection of the taxpayer. The obvious temptation to take excessive risks provided by this implicit indemnity against their own failings is commonly referred to as a state of 'moral hazard'." (Harry Shutt, Beyond the Profits System (Zed, 2010), pp 16-17)
The inexorable growth of collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) - the end-product of all that sub-prime mortgage debt - introduced a new level of anarchy to market instruments, one that over-zealous banks had rushed to be part of, contrary to past and more prudent banking practices.

The result has been massive over-exposure, the acquisition of 'toxic assets', the spectre of banking foreclosures and the last recourse to 'corporate welfare' through state/public-funded bailouts.

And, as Shutt relates, political administrations in the US, UK and elsewhere have responded dutifully with a resolve to:
"spend as much taxpayers' money as necessary to prevent those major banks and other financial institutions which have been rendered insolvent - by their own imprudent and and often fraudulent investments in various forms of 'toxic assets' - from collapsing totally, in line with what market forces would have dictated. The official justification given for this approach is that it is an urgent public priority that the banks' balance sheets be strengthened or recapitalised so as to permit them to resume lending to businesses or individuals whose activities would otherwise be paralysed for want of continued access to credit." (Ibid, p 34)
Shutt further notes how:
"Critics of the authorities' approach - such as Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz - argued convincingly that the public purpose would have been better served by allowing insolvent financial institutions to go bankrupt while protecting the depositors, but at the same time creating new banks (initially under state ownership) - unencumbered by the toxic assets that have turned so many of the existing major banks into 'zombies' and therefore better able to provide new credit to those businesses in genuine need of it. This would, moreover, have been more consistent with the state's lender-of-last-resort role.

Hence the only solution compatible with both the public interest and financial stability would have been the outright nationalisation of all the major insolvent institutions."
Which might have had the desired effect were it not for the power and influence of the banking aristocracy and their political servants:
"The reason neither the Stiglitz solution nor anything more drastic was allowed to happen is that the enormously powerful vested interests of Wall Street and the City of London successfully lobbied to prevent it. For they recognised that the tiny clique of the very wealthy that they represent stood to lose vast fortunes if the markets had been allowed to take their course free of intervention - while equally wholesale nationalisation of of insolvent banks would have posed and existential threat to their power, or even to the capitalist profits system in its entirety. Rather than accept such a fate, therefore, they tried to contrive that their bad assets be largely transferred to the state, thereby adding unimaginable sums - officially estimated as $18 trillion world-wide - to already excessive public debt." (Ibid, pp 35-36)"
Despite the selective and limited narrative promoted by politicians and the media of 'unavoidable austerity' and 'necessary cuts', Philo's study reveals quite the opposite view when the public is actually informed about real alternatives.

And, as Shutt suggests, that mood of realisation is growing:
"There are indeed already signs of strong resistance to such brazenly unjust impositions in countries where an attempt is being made to ensure that the reckless greed of a tiny minority of bankers and politicians will be paid for by imposing years of austerity and privation on the mass of the population who bear no responsibility for this folly." (Ibid, pp 36-37)
Meanwhile, the rate of suicide and depression is rising alarmingly amongst those most exposed to the austerity and insecurity caused by that folly.

While many are now coming on to the streets in serious protest, others have resigned or given up. Lost lives and human despair.

Bankers, profit and greed. Might the crisis and the misery it's causing help create, as in Shutt's book subtitle,"new possibilities for a post-capitalist era"?


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Israel's plans to put Palestinians on a diet

Sent today to Jon Donnison, the BBC's Middle East Correspondent.

Dear Jon

I trust you're managing well in Gaza.

As you are probably aware, Gisha, an active human rights organisation, has managed to obtain damning documents revealing the Israeli state's systematic plans to keep the entire population of Gaza, all children included, on a near-starvation diet.


As the current Media Lens Alert shows, it completely undermines Israel's insistent claims that the siege of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead and other attacks on Gaza have been motivated by "security" concerns.

I've had a useful exchange with you in the past and wonder whether you'd be willing, in the same constructive vein, to address the following questions.

1. Do you consider this document a significant piece of evidence confirming the Israeli state's true intentions towards Gaza?

2. Are you concerned that almost the entire international media has failed to cover this story?

3. Could you tell me whether the BBC:
a) thought the story too unimportant to report
b) didn't know about it
c) had other reasons for not reporting it

Again, please note that I'm asking these questions in a non-adversarial way. I think it would be helpful and in the public interest to have your considered, on-the-ground thoughts on why this crucial document and its highly-revealing content has never been noted by the BBC.

I do hope you can help shed some light on these matters.

Best wishes

John Hilley


No reply, as yet. Besides the stark absence of any media reporting of this key missive, one must also note the conspicuous lack of any BBC response to the Media Lens Alert.

The ML Editors have noted at their site:

"It'll be interesting to see whether these challenges are being passed up the BBC chain of command, a self-serving corporate response discussed, drafted and agreed, and then identikit replies churned out by the BBC "complaints" unit."

The independent Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook has also posted these useful points at the ML board:

"great alert. i think you might be creating a very useful research project here. each time an important piece of evidence emerges that proves israeli bad faith, and / or US complicity, it will interesting to test how consistently the media fails to cover it.

previously you highlighted the obama letter, and i think the same could be said for the netanyahu video in which he's caught on camera admitting that he avoided implementing the oslo accords and then pulled the wool over the americans' eyes. i suspect it's also true of israel's recent secret training exercise to transfer the country's arab citizens.

journalists and their news organisations can always refer to the failure to report a single episode as an oversight (even if they ALL fail to report it!). but if they all consistently fail to report these kinds of incidents every time they occur, then that defence becomes much harder to maintain, even for self-deceiving journalists.

all best, jonathan"



The 're-conversion' of IDS

Bob Holman is a sort of saintly man, living beside the poorest and most deprived of Easterhouse in Glasgow.

He knows poverty at first hand. He's chosen to be amongst it. And he's given his life to championing those at the harshest end of society.

He's also, we might assume, able to spot a sham 'caring Tory' at a hundred yards.

For eight years, Bob Holman thought Iain Duncan Smith was a real, caring Tory, converted to the cause of the poor. Now he thinks otherwise:

"The IDS I knew was a politician who almost wept at the plight of the poor. My guess is that, in order to reach his costly goal of a universal credit scheme, he has had to mollify the chancellor, George Osborne – and that can only be done by being like those Tories who take pleasure in punishing the poor."

Has IDS been 're-converted'? Or, was he ever converted in the first place?

Contrary to the blanket vilification of such Tories, it's not unreasonable to suggest that IDS does actually care as a human being about those in poverty; that he has a compassionate core.

The more pertinent question, however, is how he actions that supposed concern; how he puts those compassionate thoughts into practice.

As Holman acknowledges, the real impact of the policies IDS has initiated on coming to office will mean financial and emotional devastation for many of the poorest in society - those living in Easterhouse and other privation-ridden places that IDS claims to care for.

But, beyond even the obvious suspicion of staged pre-election visits and contrived empathy for those struggling residents, a more fundamental question might be asked: can even the apparently genuine articulation of politicians' shock and concern for such people hold any real compassionate value?

As suggested, the essence of compassion lies not, essentially, in what one feels, but in what one does about those feelings - again assuming, of course, that those feelings are sincere.

Compassion, in other words, has to be proactive. It has to demonstrate a genuine effort or real evident desire to correct an injustice or abuse. Otherwise, it remains self-indulgent emotion, void words.

One might reasonably argue that such people were never even partially interested in helping the poor. But that, again, would negate the kind of instinctive feeling Bob Holman felt towards IDS.

Holman sees a saving-grace choice for IDS:

"There is an alternative. I have observed his rare gift of being able to listen to and communicate with people crushed by social deprivation. I believe he should leave the cabinet and devote himself to the cause of those at the hard end. He cannot create compassionate Conservatism alongside Osborne and Cameron; the danger is that they will change him instead."
But does Holman's faith in IDS and the 'corruption' by his peers really stack-up as an explanation?

Proactive compassion can, in one sense, be passive, as in taking the form of not acting in a harmful way towards those one purports to care for.

In this regard, were IDS to refuse serving in an administration that imposed such cuts, he would have behaved in a proactive-compassionate way. Indeed, he would, through the high-level publicity of such a refusal, have sent out the strongest, most proactive statement of compassion possible.

That was never remotely likely. Not just because IDS is, at heart, a Tory, even a 'caring Tory'. It's that the very system of power acts as a massive deterrent to such action.

This requires us to recognise the kind of extreme system-serving culture which causes such people to jettison what little baggage of compassion they might have once carried.

Thus, when we castigate IDS, Nick Clegg and others who have eagerly sought to impose these punitive measures on the poor, it's worth considering the psychology of incorporation and vanity politics that draws even potentially well-meaning people into the fold.

This is never to excuse the individual actions of politicians - especially those like Clegg who have 'so-obviously', for so many people, 'sold-out'. (I don't include myself here, as I never believed his 'compassionate' claims in the first place.) Rather, it's to better understand the kind of systemic enticements, expectations, obligations and remunerations that will almost always cause aspirant politicians and others (in all walks of life) to rationalise what they do in the name of the cause they supposedly support.

Hence, Clegg talks of acting in the 'national interest', Cable of the 'necessary pain', Cameron that 'we're all in this together' and IDS that it's a "sin" for the unemployed to refuse a job, any job.

Thus, does the language of 'compassion' and 'concern' become one of 'dutiful' imperative, even, in IDS's case, divine judgement.

Holman's appeal to the IDS he 'once knew' looks like a last, proactive effort to reach-out and help restore those 'compassionate tendencies'. It seems like an honourable initiative in itself.

But, Holman's invitation and reasoning behind IDS's 'abandonment of the poor' might look a lot more persuasive - indeed, compassionate - were it indicting the system rather than just the corrupting individuals within it.

There's little point in blaming Cameron and Osborne for IDS's 're-conversion' and 'return' to Tory doctrine. The real fault lies with the structure of power that all these people are beholden to; an economic, political and social model concerned with profit and greed rather than poverty and injustice.

IDS, in that regard, is in his appropriate, predictable place, Whitehall rather than Easterhouse, doing the job he was always intent on doing.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Millbank moment - applauding the students

The admirable student-led protest and invasion of Tory HQ at Millbank yesterday marks a decisive point in the rising campaign of resistance to the Con-Dem purges.

Rejecting the predictable condemnations - obediently emphasised, as ever, by the BBC - Nina Power captures the growing mood for radical street action, making the accurate link between the Cameron-Clegg attack on university education for all and the wider assault on social provision:

"Direct action this most certainly was, the kind writers such as John Pilger have recently been calling for. It is hard to see the violence as simply the wilfulness of a small minority – it is a genuine expression of frustration against the few who seem determined to make the future a miserable, small-minded and debt-filled place for the many.

The protest as a whole was extremely important, not just because of the large numbers it attracted, and shouldn't be understood simply in economic terms as a complaint against fees. It also represented the serious anger many feel about cuts to universities as they currently stand, and the ideological devastation of the education system if the coalition gets its way. It was a protest against the narrowing of horizons; a protest against Lib Dem hypocrisy; a protest against the increasingly utilitarian approach to human life that sees degrees as nothing but "investments" by individuals, and denies any link between education and the broader social good."

Urging support for the students, Coalition of Resitance also:

"reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest as small, “extremist” or unrepresentative of our movement.

We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight to win. Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended. It is this kind of action in France and Greece that has been an inspiration to many workers and students in Britain faced with such a huge assault on jobs, benefits, housing and the public sector."

As Patrick Smith notes, the action in London, building on other campus dissent, is also reflective of the disenchantment felt towards a timid and ineffective NUS:

"This kind of radical action shows that some students are disillusioned with the National Union of Students protest and lobby model. With the Lib Dems doing a U-turn on their pledge to vote against an increase in fees, and Labour discredited as a champion of students, students have been left feeling that there is no one left to lobby.

There has been a significant segment of the student movement that has been pushing for more drastic action for a while. What has changed is that that segment has swelled to include a much wider section of the student community.

Several commentators and indeed the NUS have said that the Millbank occupation was not a student-led action and that anarchist agitators are behind it. Images of black-hooded youths have added to this belief. Speaking to the people inside the building, however, revealed a different story."

Taking inspiration from the wave of protests across Europe, Smith argues that such mobilisation will give impetus to greater civil dissent:

"There is a very real possibility that this could motivate people looking to fight the cuts to other public services to look beyond just protesting and lobbying. Across the country there have been meetings and protests already, with speakers at rallies calling for poll tax style revolts."

Smith also includes a neat rebuke to those anxious Guardian liberals afraid that any special government treatment of students will squeeze other, more deserving, social claims:

"No doubt Polly Toynbee will be looking on disapprovingly – she has argued that students are low on the pecking order of pain inflicted by the coalition government. And she is right that students are largely from middle class backgrounds and so won't be as hard hit by austerity as many others. But her argument assumes that there is only a certain amount of space in society for protest. If the students are successful, her argument goes, then others will face more severe cuts. Quite the opposite: if the students make some headway, others will be spurred on to push their agendas more forcefully."

Hopefully, that more forceful agenda will involve further marches on the privileged buildings of those intent on imposing and rationalising these draconian cuts.

Sanctimonious politicians, NUS wannabees and our ever-unctuous media will continue to demonise such action.

In truth it's an understandable, unifying and impressively human reaction to the political vandalism being inflicted on the poor, the vulnerable and the wider social infrastructure.


Monday, 8 November 2010

Challenging corporate welfare - mood builds on the High Street

Something just a little radical seems to be stirring across Britain. It's no French-style insurrection, just yet. But, as the cuts really start to bite, we may be seeing the first promise of a rather more serious public dissent. It's even got celebrities like Paul O'Grady going all 'La Marseillaise'.

Is it class war? Probably not. But there is evidence of a gathering cross-class support for active street resistance, even civil disobedience.

Here's a flavour of that nascent mood from a GP writing in a letters page about the unprecedented attack on the welfare state:

"I sympathise with the attitude of the unions and other protestors demonstrating against spending cuts. However, I would dispute the description of protests as being class warfare. I am a GP, which presumably makes me middle class, whatever that means. Not only do I support the protests, but I would suggest that the response to the Government’s austerity measures in this country has been far too meek and mild. I know that many others, whatever their so-called class, feel the same way. The French have the right idea: vive la Revolution!"

The middle classes have always been strongly resistant to any shrinking of the state. They, after all, take most from the public sector, whether in jobs, education, health or benefits - it's a curious irony how poverty and its social debris service the better-off at the expense of the poor.

But there's also something more class consensual, more fraternal, emerging as people from all backgrounds begin to comprehend the enormous social implications of this vast attack on the public sphere.

Writing in the Independent, Yasmin Alibha-Brown suggests:

"The mission is ideological – to demolish the principles and structures of the welfare state, including the humane idea of a shared and caring nation, where those who can support those who can't and even the minority who won't. I have paid taxes since 1975. Some of the money has gone to the "undeserving" indigent – so what? I know about privation. During desperate times, my mum lied to get loans and sometimes "forgot" to pay back neighbours. When the classes are divided by serious inequality, you do what you have to. The poor are castigated if they envy the rich, but the rich, it seems, can now freely express and enact the politics of resentment."
Smooth Etonians like Cameron and Osborne, of course, haven't the remotest idea about what it's like to struggle on paltry benefits and live a life of anxious insecurity. Nor do they feel the slightest concern for the long-term health of people now subjected to this ruthless purge.

Now we have William Hague playing to the Daily Mail gallery with the latest government threat to make 'feckless' claimants do unpaid, menial work or have their benefits withdrawn. It's the standard diversion: blame and punish those at the bottom for the greed and chaos caused by those at the top.

Yet, here too, we're seeing some hope of a gathering resistance, as the Benefits and Work website relates:

"Opposition to the cuts by claimants themselves is undoubtedly growing...At the moment opposition to the cuts is far from organised and is centred around child benefit and housing benefit, at least in the media and amongst politicians. But the message seems to be: begin to make your voice heard in any way you can and who knows what coalitions may grow amongst those who are the targets of these attacks."

John Pilger urges us all to "stand and fight", deriding the bogus message being played-up by a servant media:

"There is no economic rationale for the assault described cravenly by the BBC as a "public spending review". The debt is exclusively the responsibility of those who incurred it, the super-rich and the gamblers. However, that's beside the point. What is happening in Britain is the seizure of an opportunity to destroy the tenuous humanity of the modern state. It is a coup, a "shock doctrine" as applied to Pinochet's Chile and Yeltsin's Russia."

While the corporate fat cats and back-in-bonus bankers plunder more of the public kitty, the ideological assault on the poorest intensifies, all willingly executed, notes Pilger, by Liberalism's sleekest:

"Liberalism, the vainest ideology, has hauled up its ladder. The chief opportunist, Nick Clegg, gave no electoral hint of his odious faction's compliance with the dismantling of much of British postwar society. The theft of £83bn in jobs and services matches almost exactly the amount of tax legally avoided by piratical corporations. Without fanfare, the super-rich have been assured they can dodge up to £40bn in tax payments in the secrecy of Swiss banks. The day this was sewn up, Osborne attacked those who "cheat" the welfare system. He omitted the real amount lost, a minuscule £0.5bn, and that £10.5bn in benefit payments was not claimed at all. Labour is his silent partner."

The link between, on the one hand, corporate dependency - bank bailouts, tax privileges and other gratuities to big business - and, on the other, the final abandonment of the public sector, is starting to compute rather angrily on the High Street.

Following recent exposures, Vodafone have felt the wrath of public protests over their £6 billion tax evasion. Many of their key UK stores were forced to close after pickets highlighted the company's gross theft while jobs, benefits and services are being slashed.

The affair has also helped emphasise the revolving door that usually complements such financial largesse. Vodafone had, grudgingly, looked set to pay up:

"Then, suddenly, the exchequer – run by George Osborne – cancelled almost all of the outstanding tax bill, in a move a senior figure in Revenues and Customs says is “an unbelievable cave-in.” A few days after the decision, Osborne was promoting Vodafone on a tax-payer funded trip to India. He then appointed Andy Halford, the finance director of Vodafone, to the government’s Advisory Board on Business Tax Rates, apparently because he thinks this is a model of how the Tories think it should be done."

The ongoing actions all make for good, popular street education.

Aware of the potential backlash over such greed and favour, some of the big banks like Nat West and RBS have launched charm offensives, smooching customers with sweet-talk of 'improved services' and 'caring attention'.

Meanwhile, as the cuts deepen, it's boom time for
top corporations and other private sector companies contracted to the Department of Works and Pensions:

"The scale of the DWP’s infiltration by the private sector is revealed in a list of the top 100 suppliers to the department in 2009 –10 who, between them, walked away with almost £4.6 billion of public funds.

At the top of the list is a company few will ever have heard of, property management company Telereal Trillium who received a staggering £783 million of taxpayer’ cash.

Next in line was American computer giants Hewlett Packard, who took almost £657 million out of the department.

Further down the list at number six, job brokers A4E walked away with over £150 million of public money, even though the Public Accounts Committee reported last month that A4E had:

“achieved on average less than half what they promised in the contracts they signed with the Department. Against an average target of 36% of participants into work, A4E has to date found work for 15% of mandatory participants.”

Equally dismaying for many claimants will be the discovery that Atos Origin also pocketed over £150 million from the public purse. In Atos’ case the cash is for carrying out medicals whose findings are overturned in over 50% of appeals relating to incapacity benefit and over 40% of appeals relating to employment and support allowance."

Corporate parasites and private carpetbaggers, writ large.

Here's the top 10 (from the top 100) suppliers to the DWP 2009-2010:

1 Telereal Trillium £782,949,477.68
2 HP Enterprise Services £656,863,100.86
3 Learning Skills Council £244,979,729
4 British Telecom Plc £232,815,357.01
5 Royal Mail Holdings Plc £175,300,755.13
6 Action for Employment Ltd £150,835,957.26
7 Atos Origin £150,798,434.69
8 Working Links £134,722,405.31
9 Accenture £87,114,892.12
10 Shaw Trust £71,251,397.48

It's not just the administrative costs of public sector cuts and changes to the benefits system that are staggering and unworkable. It's the social carnage and despair that coming generations will have to face.

Thatcherism never went away. It just morphed seamlessly into Blairism, finding its latest brand in coalition-style protection of the rich while 'Con-Demning' the poor.

We're meant to be reassured by Cameron, Clegg and 'wise old uncle' Vince Cable that we're 'all in this together', on an 'emergency footing' to 'save the country'. The lie is becoming all too obvious. Even election-schmoozed liberals are now waking-up to the real truth of who's being saved and who's being sacrificed.

The sham palliative that there's 'no alternative' to the cuts is acted-out relentlessly by an echo-chamber media, the 'national consultation' getting every available minute on Question Time and other protective props for our fictional democracy. As BBC staff strike to protect their own cuts-endangered pensions, you won't see establishment gents like David Dimbleby rushing to join the picket lines.

With what passes at the BBC for 'critical analysis', we also hear of the government's newly-launched transparency website, the latest spin on how to to be 'accountable' while dismantling the welfare state. It's as though producing accounts for removing the basics of society will somehow make us feel better about the loss.

People, all people, have a fundamental human right to a living income, good health and real social security. 'Sorting the budget deficit' is nothing more than a spurious pretext for lavishing the banks, servicing the private sector and dispensing greater welfare to the rich. We're seeing naked state intervention on behalf of the already wealthy and privileged while meagre state 'assistance' to the poorest is being further shrunk in the name of more neoliberal 'solutions'.

What to do? Stay at home, watch the X Factor and hope it will all just, somehow, improve? We all need a little escapism, a little respite from the economic and political gloom. But the stakes here are massive, impacting on the very future of our telly-diverted kids.

Radical responses to that winter-approaching reality may still be in its autumnal phase, but, encouragingly, a promising resistance to the cold frost of this government's biting austerity and protection of the rich looks to be forming.



It's also well worth reading George Monbiot's latest piece on the tax evasion/benefits purge issue, including this revealing nugget:

"Workers at the Revenue tell me that some offices have been instructed not to chase business debts of less than £20,000, but are still expected to send threatening letters to people who've accidentally been given an extra £200 in tax credits. "The whole system is falling apart. It's predicated on allowing big business to get away with billions, while pursuing the poorest.""