Yearning for a credible alternative
Here’s a long list of indictments for you to be going on with:
- 100 thousand more children in absolute poverty than a year ago.
- 120 thousand children living more than 6 months in temporary accommodation.
- Housing starts remaining static; targets on social and affordable housing not being met.
- House prices flatlined or falling.
- Failure to make promised safety reforms in the wake of the Grenfell House fire.
- Campaign of disinformation against critics of the government’s inaction in the wake of the fire.
- Continuing welfare and benefit cuts affecting the poorest, e.g. “two children” policy; “universal credit” fiasco.
- 1.2 million free “3-day” ration packs dispensed by food banks in 2017 to registered users.
- Continuing “austerity” cuts to vital public services, including local authority, police, road repairs.
- NHS in almost permanent crisis of undercapacity, staff shortages and mismatch of resources.
- Little progress made on mental healthcare, especially for teens.
- Failure to tackle shortages of social care beds and staff and integrate patient care across sectors.
- Rising rate of violent crime; failure to tackle cybercrime (underresourced policing).
- Failure to deal rationally and pragmatically with totally failed drugs policy.
- Universities in meltdown over fees, falling rolls, demotivated lecturers and greedy Vice-Chancellors.
- Schools having to beg parents for money to buy teachers, books and other essentials; support “grey” kids.
- Mrs May’s disastrous “hostile” immigration policies resulting in incompetence, cruelty and injustice.
- Failure to resolve post-Brexit status of legal EU residents here and Brits abroad.
- Soaring cost of mostly successful immigration and disability “fit for work” appeals.
- Massive cuts in legal aid making the law available only to the wealthy.
- Continuing high wastage and incompetence in defence and computer procurement.
- Failures of outsourcing partners, e.g. Carillion, Capita. Criticisms of G4S.
- Continuing inability to address the additional costs to public finances of PPI projects.
- Feeble and overly prolonged negotiations over the Brexit withdrawal arrangements.
- Major split in the party over Brexit tactics; “magical thinking” on the Irish border issue.
- Certifiable lunatics, failures and joke figures in seemingly unassailable positions; eg. Johnson, Gove, Williamson.
- Long overdue reforms in the banking, money-laundering and offshore investments sectors.
- High-level unminuted meetings with Russia-connected ‘hard Brexit’ thinktank The Legatum Institute.
- Acceptance of almost £1 million in party donations from Russian exiles in London.
- Dependence on DUP votes, a party having unexplained financial links to the Leave.EU campaign.
- Attempts to bypass the sovereignty of Parliament; attacks on the Lords and the courts.
- Impotence in the face of data breaches and other internet-related issues.
- Failure to tackle large-scale corporate tax avoidance and offshoring of untaxed funds.
- Sleaze and bullying culture in Westminster.
- No attempt to tackle the problems of unearned CEO pay and bonuses.
- Slavish support for Trump’s dangerously incoherent foreign policies (maybe not the Iran deal, but if it’s war? …).
- GDP growth slowed to 0.1% in the first quarter of 2018
- Being taken to court in Europe for pathetic response to air pollution regulations …..
And of course, whenever any of these points are put to the very junior ministers and ex-ministers who do sometimes dare to go on radio and TV to answer journalists’ anodyne questions, what do we always hear?
“Oh, but we’re throwing lots more money at the problem, so there’s no problem. The experts are wrong.”
But they don’t mean it. The money is invariably already allocated and will simply be moved around at the expense of some other budget – more likely, not reallocated at all.
The Tory party: all smirk and mirrors.
It is quite beyond me how, after almost ten years in power, this headline-driven, rotten, heartless and inept government can still find a single person in Britain willing to vote for them, who is not out of their head on their designer drug of choice. And yet their poll lead is widening as Jeremy havers over Brexit, pissing off two-thirds of Labour voters who voted to remain.
Ending in a draw, the local elections seem to have been a case of “anybody but Jeremy”. (Incidentally, following the ‘draw’ at the polls it still appears from the numbers that there remain almost exactly twice as many Labour councillors in England than there are Conservatives…)
Possibly because the media tend to hype local government elections as a barometer of voter intentions for the next General Election, people forget that Councillor Jim Figgis from the next street has no influence over anything other than the binbag collections, meals on wheels and library closures. National issues are not relevant.
Or maybe not, and that’s why voters still feel they can vote Tory at the local level while yearning for a credible alternative in Westminster.
Don’t do it, it only encourages them.
“(Macron) sits in a primary school classroom. He speaks about the zad for a little over a minute, “republican order must be returned” he says, and “everything that was to be evacuated has already been evacuated”. As he speaks a hundred and fifty concussion grenades are launched in less than half an hour in the Lama Sacrée field, the explosions echo across the bocage, bursting the ear drums of those nearby…”
Support the zad
You may very probably not have heard of the zad.
It’s not the kind of thing the mainstream media owners like people to know about.
Thousands of protestors holding a huge area of land originally zoned for a new airport have daily since 8 April been battling against eviction by 2,500 riot police armed with plastic bullets, teargas and plastic fragmentation grenades, causing dozens of casualties.
Squatters who have lived on the site for a decade or more, occupying abandoned farmsteads, building their own camps, a complete rural society, a small township sprang up and has persisted as a kind of independent state. The airport plan was abandoned two years ago, but the French authorities, who can be pretty authoritarian, seem to have just gotten tired of this successful alternative anti-capitalist way of living. Despite the clever, mostly peaceful – ironic, even – tactics of the resisters, it all sounds pretty brutal, in the customary way of the French police.
Where is the zad?
It’s outside Nantes, in Brittany, near a village (scheduled to be bulldozed) called Notre-Dame-des-Landes – and it puts the “Swampy” occupations of 1980s British planning atrocities to shame; although we shall see what transpires once the British government starts trying to evict nice, middle-class, elderly people from the site of the new runway at Heathrow, bulldozing pretty, wisteria-clad C18th villages heartily redolent of our vanishing traditional British values.
“There is so much gas, we can no longer see beyond our stinging, running noses. The police are being pressurised simultaneously from the other side of the road by a large militant crowd with gas masks, makeshift shields, stones, slingshots and tennis rackets to return the grenades. They are playing hide and seek from behind the trees. The armoured car begins to push the barricade, some of us climb onto the roof of the two story wooden cabin, others try to retreat without crushing the beautiful vegetable plot. It’s over, the end of another collective living space on the zone. Then we hear a roar from the other side of the barricade. Dozens of figures emerge from the forest, molotov cocktails fly, one hits the APC, flames rise from the armour and the wild roar transforms itself into a cry of pure joy.”
That this incredible battle has been raging just a few hundred miles from here without comment, even from The Guardian and other faintly leftwing media, is astonishing. It is, after all, a powerful echo of “les événements” of exactly fifty years ago. Ah, 1968… The zad writes, collectively:
“From making our own bread to running a pirate radio station, planting herbal medicine gardens to making rebel camembert, a rap recording studio to a pasta production workshop, an artisanal brewery to two blacksmiths’ forges, a communal justice system to a library and even a full scale working lighthouse – the zad has become a new commune for the 21st century.
And we can’t have that, can we. There’s no room for nonconformity in little Macron’s unimaginative, dull and soulless technocracy.
For a good long read, turn to:
“…the highest ever April temperature recorded on earth.”
GW: stripped to me undies in the rain and snow
Parts of India and Pakistan are continuing to experience unusually hot spring weather with temperatures in the mid-40sC, 114F. A reading of 50.2C (122.3F) in Nawabshah on 30 April “may count as the highest ever April temperature recorded on earth.” A news service in Hyderabad reports 19 heat-related deaths.
Elsewhere, in Africa:
Burundi: “Red Cross says that over 2,500 people have been made homeless after floods … close to the city of Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital … on 28 April, 2018, after a period of heavy rain. According to local officials, the situation worsened when one of the dykes of the Mutimbuzi River gave way, causing the river to flood nearby communities.”
Rwanda: “…as many as 200 people have died in disasters since January … heavy rains have affected the whole country, causing floods and landslides. Storms and strong winds have also affected some areas. Over 4,500 hectares of crops have been destroyed. 15 were killed on 6 May following heavy rains in the western region. A local official in the capital, Kigali, told the BBC that 3 people had also died in a mudslide in the city.”
Somalia: “The flood situation has worsened over the last few days. Observers say the current floods are some of the worst the region has ever seen. The UN says that flash and river floods have now affected 427,000 people.” The President is appealing for international aid. Good luck with that. Uganda also affected by widespread floods.
USA: 1 May saw “21 preliminary tornado reports posted to the … Storm Prediction Center’s database, most of them in Kansas. Very large hail—up to 4” in diameter—pummeled parts of Kansas and Nebraska. No major damage or injuries were reported.” More forecast storms affected the midwest over the weekend of 05 May accompanied by record high temperatures over the east, reaching 93F, 34C in Washington, DC and 91F in New York.
Record cold had ushered in May in parts of the midwest, Iowa and Wisconsin having their coldest April in 154 years, giving way to severe storms as warmer air pushes northward, and there was more snow in upstate New York. Meanwhile, the wildfire season has kicked off in Arizona with thousands of acres of forest ablaze – the “Tinder Fire”. Forecast highs in Phoenix this week are expected back in the 100sF, 40sC.
Canada: heavy rain on snowmelt. 04 May, “the St John River in New Brunswick is at record levels and expected to rise further. Flooding has damaged homes and roads and prompted evacuations. Authorities have urged residents in the city of St John to leave their homes.” 2 killed, many injured and much property damaged by 100 Kph winds in Ontario. 200,000 left without power.
Caribbean: “Rain, flooding and landslides in parts of the Caribbean have caused at least 4 fatalities and displaced around 4,000 people. Heavy rain has affected Jamaica, Haiti and Dominican Republic since around 02 May”. Bahamas: a weather front stalled over the islands is given a 10% chance of becoming a rare tropical depression for early May as the sea temperature is already 2C above the 26C needed to generate a cyclone.
Argentina: a powerful storm rocks Buenos Aires on the 29th. Flash-flooding, power outages, 2 killed. “Flooding in the province of Entre Ríos (03 May, 300 mm rain) has left 1 person dead, more than 30 evacuated and 1,600 requiring assistance.”
Chile: city of Ancud underwater.
India: “At least 76 people have died and scores more were injured in a fierce dust storm that hit the northern Indian states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The storm on 02 May disrupted electricity, uprooted trees, destroyed houses and killed livestock. … The storm also hit the capital Delhi, more than 100km away, along with heavy rains late on Wednesday evening.”
Pakistan: a high of 49C, 120F was recorded over the weekend of 5 May in Karachi, with 9 fatalities attributed to the heat.
Iraq: “At least 4 people died in flash floods that hit the city of Duhok in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on Saturday, 05 May 2018.” Refugee camps are also affected.
Australia: overall, the country experienced its hottest April on record, the maximum daily average being some 3.17C above normal.
New Zealand: record rainfall brings extensive flooding and a state of emergency is declared in the Rotorua region.
Europe: continent bewildered by a chaotic mashup of extreme cold, heat, rain, floods, hail, snow (in France), high winds and “even a tornado”. Basically anywhere to the west of a line down the Franco-German border through to southern Italy has been too cold, anywhere to the right too hot; south of the Mediterranean, North Africa is roasting. A huge chain of thunderstorms with almost half a million lightning strikes counted was recorded on 30 April stretching from the Spanish border across France to Italy and the Balkans, up through Switzerland, Austria, Germany and over into Poland and Slovenia, where big hailstorms were reported with streets turned to rivers of ice.
Switzerland: 7 skiers, 2 climbers and a guide have died in 5 separate incidents after bad weather swept through the Alps region on 6 May. 5 skiing victims, from France, Italy and Germany, were among a group of 14 who failed to reach a mountain cabin.
Italy: “Two days of heavy rain has caused flooding and landslides in Sardinia. Around 100 people have been evacuated from their homes. In the last 48 hours some areas have recorded over 150 mm of rain – more than four times the average monthly total for May.” (This last statistic can also be interpreted as “a year’s worth”)
UK: World Health Organization reports, the steel town of Port Talbot in Wales has the highest level of dangerous microparticulate pollution in the country, at 18 mg per m/3 of air. That’s considered pretty unhealthy, unacceptable in fact – so you won’t want to be moving to Muzaffarpur in India, with a figure of 197 mg per m/3 the world’s most polluted city. (BBC).
Forecasters say the May Bank Holiday high could approach or beat the previous Mayday record of 28.6C, 83F.
Globally: April was the 3rd warmest on record and 0.5C above the 1981-2010 average. Only the unusual cold in the eastern USA and Canada during the early part of the month kept April from being the hottest ever, everywhere. The high of 50.2C (122F) in Nawabshah, Pakistan on 30 April was confirmed as the hottest temperature ever recorded in an April month.
Acknowledgments to: Richard Davies at Floodlist/ Wunderground/ BBC News/ Climate and Extreme Weather News (CEWN) #115, #116/
Bring on the ecopolypse.
Among other things, I’ve been thinking for a while about buying an air quality monitor.
Since I moved to live beside an increasingly busy main road I’ve had an itching sensation in my nose, low-level throat and chest congestion – rhinitis – am always bunged-up first thing in the morning and suffer from “dry-eye”, an obscure condition that is actually “wet-eye” as they’re constantly blinded with tears. Add to which, I’m always wiping a fine dust off every surface, that may have ruined my digital piano, and would like to have the scientific data to know how bad it is here so I can write to the local paper… lol.
And, as you know, your old Granny is always boring on about carbon dioxide concentrations. An air quality monitor of the right sort will tell you how well that’s doing too, both inside and outside your home.
Just now I went on Amazon, and while browsing the info about a particular model (see what I did there? Hahaha, particles!) costing a deterrent £229, was amused to see below it, a suggestion that (as, obviously, an eco-terrorist) I might (also? Instead?) like to purchase 1Kg of Sunwarrior “Warrior Organic Blend” drinking chocolate for £29.95.
Sod the pollution, I thought. Bring on the explosive dopamine.
And bring on the ecopolypse. The chocolate warriors are ready for anything.
The situation on Hawaii’s Big Island is looking unusually serious.
If you’re not paying much attention, Mount Kilauea has been erupting for over 20 years, and is one of a handful of volcanoes in the world to maintain a permanent lake of lava in its main crater. The lake has now escaped sideways through underground channels and the magma is erupting violently 24 miles away in a dormitory suburb. The nightmare of molten rock suddenly bursting out of people’s gardens and swallowing homes, roads and cars, huge fiery vents opening in the earth, the main ones now numbering 12, with thousands of earthquakes, the release of sulfurous poison gases, is like something out of Dante’s Ingerno and is expected to go on for weeks.
The fuckwitted booby
The Kremlins’ “Useless Idiot”, Trump recently presented an award to Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, praising her work in educating the children of America.
The poor booby apparently failed to spot a collection of faintly insulting anti-government campaign badges on Ms Manning’s dress; or to notice that she was refusing to speak to him on the platform.
Nor did he manage to understand that she doesn’t teach ordinary schoolkids: she specializes in English language development for refugees and other immigrants.
“Teachers like Mandy play a vital role in the wellbeing of our children, the strength of our communities and the success of our nation”, the US president said.
The story in today’s Guardian concludes by pointing to a certain irony in Trump’s position on foreigners:
“Trump has cracked down on both legal and illegal immigration and suspended the US refugee program … He has demanded that a wall be built on the Mexican border to keep out murderers, drugs gangs and other criminals”.
No wonder he didn’t know his lawyer, Michael Cohen, had paid Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) to keep quiet about the affair they never had, despite the existence of emails to the contrary, when he reimbursed the $130,000 Cohen says he borrowed from a bank using a false-front account just prior to the election, claiming it was his own money and that she had breached the confidentiality agreement Trump had failed to sign as First Party, the pseudonymous “David Dennison”, forbidding her from lying about whatever it was that never happened. As wealthy celebrities so often have to do. And of course, Trump says, he gave Cohen the money without knowing why. From what is now reported to be a slush-fund deliberately created to shut embarrassing people up.
Luckily, the orange imbecile has brought his friend, former NY Mayor and Rumpelstiltskin’s gropy grandad, Rudy Giuliani onto the legal team, so he could tell Sean Hannity on Fox News the exact opposite of the story Trump and Huckabee Sanders had been spinning the press for days: no affair, just ordinary blackmail; no precise knowledge of any payment; no payment. Poor sweaty christian Huckabee is taking the flak for lying.
There’s no argument any longer, he’s a total loser.
Banking on “facial recognition” technology – of the analog kind!
At the time my wife and I separated in 2005 we had a joint account with Lloyd’s Bank. Being somewhat older, I had had accounts with Lloyd’s since 1972, including a period from 1991 to 1996 when we had our business account with them as well; and a mortgage with Lloyd’s-owned Cheltenham & Gloucester.
Not only that, but coincidentally as a senior advertising agency copywriter, between 1987 and 1990 I had worked on creating consumer and business-to-business campaigns for all five main divisions within the Lloyd’s Bank Group.
I’m not sure how much more “brand-loyal” any customer could have been.
We decided to close the joint account, and I set up my own personal account. As part of our voluntary separation agreement, because I was back in work (although pretty poorly paid) and my wife was not, I agreed to take on the £150 a month repayments of our joint £19,000 liability to the bank.
As it happened, we’d had to come to an earlier arrangement with the bank over the loan at a time when neither of us was in work (we had for some reason moved to a part of the country where there isn’t any), and my persuasive wife had succeeded as part of the deal in negotiating an unusually favorable rate of interest.
Despite micro-managing our tiny revenue to the nearest penny, going just a few pounds overdrawn for any reason would result in bullying phone calls from Brighton – one even threatening to have us arrested and charged with fraud over a dishonored check for £50 we had written in good faith weeks before. Yet we had the security of owning our own home! (We didn’t know it at the time, but it was going up in value by about £12 thousand a year.)
This concessionary interest rate was then turned against me by the bank when, on agreeing my new personal account, and although I had found a job, a managerial position, and still owned half a house, they nevertheless informed me that my credit score was being reset at zero. That would not allow me to have any form of credit, not even a check guarantee card. Instead I was given a kind of Master-criminal card that would only allow me to withdraw up to £50 a day from an ATM, provided there was enough money in the account; which, as I was paying over half my salary in maintenance for my family, there often wasn’t.
This punitive situation lasted for three years during which I continued to make regular payments to the bank, while I enjoyed two pay rises; I was by now overseeing a £5 million business development project involving a culturally important institution, dealing with grants and government finance departments, yet I couldn’t pay for anything over £50, and it had to be in cash. Despite my appeals for greater flexibility, the bank remained obdurate.
Only with a change of manager did the situation improve, and in 2008 I was finally granted a debit card and a £50 overdraft facility.
Yet I had done nothing wrong, other than repay a loan!
On one occasion my employer (who lived abroad) failed to pay my salary on time – she had not realized it was a Bank Holiday in Britain. I became £5.72p overdrawn for one night and was immediately threatened with penalty charges and interest that, I calculated, amounted in the first year to more than two thousand pounds. I was tempted not to repay the fiver, just to see what might happen. It would have made a good story in the media.
In, I think, 2012 (there will be a letter somewhere), along with around two million other Lloyd’s customers, we were given the cattle-truck treatment. Our accounts were automatically being moved, certainly without my consent, into the TSB; a secondary bank of which, I imagine, few had ever heard, to, as Lloyd’s PR people charmingly put it, “increase our consumer choice”. (Fucking copywriters!)
Since then, however, I have found my local TSB branch staff – Lloyd’s immediately galloped out of town on their black horse – to be perfectly kind, helpful, efficient and friendly, to the point where I don’t even want to do Internet banking.
I enjoy a relationship “over the counter” with all the staff, who know me by sight and are able to sort out problems – as, for instance, the time when Experian informed them I didn’t exist – but that’s another story. I’ve had a couple of useful loans from them, plus a flexible overdraft arrangement, while my accounts – I can even save, and tragically have an ISA – remain miraculously in credit.
For the first time in my life I’ve found a bank that’s allowed me to breathe.
I don’t trust the internet, as it turns out presciently, and I appear so far to have escaped the worst of the consequences of the perfectly predictable IT meltdown at TSB, which has been trying to get the Lloyd’s monkey off its back (they are forced to pay £100 million a year to share Lloyd’s’ wheezing and clanking old systems but are now part of a different, go-ahead Spanish-owned group). I fear it may have ramifications that will eventually affect those customers who don’t rely on personal technology to rule our lives wisely and well – indeed, I don’t have any social media accounts, as I’ve never trusted them either.
What an old stick-in-the-mud. But you learn from experience, don’t you.
(Whouaahouaahouaa…. eerie flashback music)
My business had gone bust at the end of 1995, leaving me unemployed and with two credit card debts. I’d taken out one card earlier that year through the Institute of Directors (there was a case of claret on free offer) for the sole purpose of financing the acquisition of a computer we needed at work to service a lucrative new account, who insisted on compatibility with their own systems. A few months later, the client was ‘re-engineered’ without warning by its parent group and closed down over a single weekend, leaving us holding many thousands of pounds’ worth of promotional materials they hadn’t paid for.
The IoD-branded card was underwritten by Beneficial Bank, a rackety US corporation, who had sold me PPI – as indeed had Lloyd’s, on my personal credit card, through London & Edinburgh assurance. I was glad of it at the time. L&E paid out immediately, without a fuss, and even left me with £100 in the account. But Beneficial Bank’s Irish insurers refused to pay the principal, covering only the interest on a month-by-month basis – and I was out of work for the first time, with nothing coming in.
What happened next is still not fully explained, but the following year – 1997 – I started getting letters out of the blue from Beneficial Bank, demanding repayment of the principal in full, about £2,500, which I could not do. I eventually contacted them, and we came to an arrangement to pay a monthly amount. After several more months, however, I got another demand to repay the principal, again without being given a reason. So I resorted to the old trick of hanging on until their demands turned purple, then called the Credit Controller and offered him a minimal settlement figure, which I loaded onto a new “zero-interest” card taken out for the purpose. Well, why not? Our clients used to do it to us on a regular basis.
He told me nothing of what had happened. Subsequently, however, I began to piece together a narrative that puts them in a somewhat murky light.
Shortly after my original claim started paying out, it seems the bank had parted company with their Irish insurers without making arrangements for a new insurer to continue the business, which was why the interest payments had stopped – without telling me. That was on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality”, but it screwed my credit rating all the same. They had also managed to lose a large tranche of their customer records in a computer “upgrade” that had gone disastrously wrong, again without telling anyone, and so had no recollection of our arrangement and instead, pursued me for the balance.
Had I known at the time, I would certainly have filed against them for maladministration. But the PPI misselling scandal was still many years away, there were no “no-win, no-fee” solicitors chasing lucrative bank business, and now I no longer have any records on which to base a claim for damages.
But you can understand why, last week, after learning that TSB was “upgrading” its systems at the weekend, I made sure to go into the branch and transfer some savings into my current account, just in case, and get a paper record of the balances to use as evidence when (not if!) the records vanished.
Once bitten, as they say. The bank teller was super-confident. Oh no, she assured me, they’d been trialling the new system for weeks, nothing could go wrong. And so far, everything seems to be working normally, even using the debit card in shops. You can’t beat “facial recognition” technology – of the analog kind!
So, sorry to sound smug, but I hope this affair won’t bring TSB crashing down, I rather like them.
As long as CEO, Paul Pester doesn’t get his £1 million bonus for presiding over the screw-up, of course.