Monthly Archives: October 2012

Berlusconi sentencing, Stratford school strikes and more

Here’s a quick breakdown of today’s news, complete with sarcastic comments and angry interjections from yours truly, starting with everyone’s favourite sleazeball:

 

Berlusconi sentenced, banned from public office for three years.

 

After a trial which took the best part of a decade, Silvio Berlusconi has finally been sentenced for tax fraud, garnering a sentence of one year in jail, which is likely to be dropped due to his age. He has also been banned from taking public office for the next three years. Hold your cheers, this is a hollow victory, as he was going to leave politics anyway. At least the conviction means he can’t attempt a comeback. One thing to note, however, is that while this sentence has been passed by a Milanese court, it does still need to be ratified by a higher court. On top of this, Berlusconi still has, and will use, the right to appeal.

 

This isn’t the first time Silvio’s been in trouble with the law. He has been sent to trial several times, though most of these cases were cleared. Some of the trials, though, were closed after running over the judicial time limit. If only we could all afford an army of lawyers to delay court action against us until we won by default….

 

That’s not the only thing Berlusconi has had in his favour when going against the law; during his 10+ years in office he passed reams of legislation giving immunity to serving public officials like, oh, say, the Prime Minister, preventing them from being investigated and prosecuted. Now that’s good old-fashioned corruption! The thing that astounds me most about the laws he passed is that he was elected as a direct result of almost every Italian politician being prosecuted for widescale corruption. Irony!

 

Teachers strike over pay dispute

 

Teachers at the Stratford Academy in Newham, East London, went on strike today after a dozen members of staff had their pay docked for action taken in protest over government cuts to their pay and conditions.

 

Teachers were stunned to find that they had 15% deducted from their pay packets for taking part in national action organized through their unions: “I was stunned”, said Mrs Faketeacher. What, they probably were stunned. And enraged. I mean, wouldn’t you be pissed off at being paid less for not doing some photocopying?

 

Here’s what snivelling shitbag Andrew Seager, head teacher of Stratford Academy, had to say (you didn’t think I was going to be neutral did you?):

 

“The unions are instructing their members to refuse to carry out certain duties and tasks, the effect of which will be that the school will not be able to check and monitor the work of teachers taking action, and we know this will be to the detriment of our pupils,”

 

In reality, teachers were refusing to do photocopying and attend “excessive meetings” as they felt they should spend their time, y’know, teaching. I can see how focusing on their students instead of bureaucratic nonsense would warrant a reduction in wages. This is what happens when private companies run schools.

 

Also in the news:

 

IDS proposes capping child benefit to two children. Because anyone with more than two kids is benefit-scrounging scum and us employed people shouldn’t be expected to bear the burden of peoples’ children, apparently. Obviously an increase in the minimum wage or publicly funded schemes to create quality, long-term jobs in areas with high numbers of unemployed people would be ridiculous. This is just another thinly veiled attempt by the Tories to turn the general population against each other.

 

There’s also a much more important point here; in the words of Helen Lovejoy “won’t somebody think of the children?!?” People who claim child benefit need that money to feed and clothe their kids, as well as pay their bills and generally cover gaps in their income caused by soaring inflation.

 

Local council pensions to fund new housing program. This mind-boggling idea is the brainchild of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Whilst I would generally advocate building more social housing (hell, I did it in my last story), this idea is just plain fucking silly. It’s not like the housing market is completely freefalling, or that pensions are already being raided to save the government some dosh; building affordable homes is not an easy money-spinner, especially with the introduction of stricter rules on who can have a mortgage, and if the housing market is flooded with cheaper, higher quality homes then people trying to sell a house they bought in the last 15 years will be stuck in their current properties.

 

If this is introduced then one of two things will happen: Either the houses won’t be affordable, or will be of an atrocious quality, they won’t sell and as a result will only stand to devalue existing properties, or the council workers whose retirement fund is being ploughed into this will find themselves living off fresh air and warm wishes once they turn 67 (or 75, or 102, whatever the retirement age will be). That’s how economics works right?

 

Here’s an alternative suggestion for the government: recover some of the billions of pounds of evaded tax by FTSE 100 companies in the last 20 years, reclaim the billions you gave to bail out the banking sector and stop pissing away money on murdering people in the Middle East, then use that to build some decent houses and pay back the money you stole from everyone who works for you. Then go hang yourselves.

 

Rant over, thanks for reading.

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The real solution to rising gas and electricity bills

Want lower energy bills? Nationalise utilities!

EDF Energy announced that its prices will be increasing by 10.8% per fuel today, making them the 5th of the “Big Six” energy companies to increase their prices this year. With reports that fuel poverty (where a household spends more than 10% of its annual income on fuel bills) is going to continue to increase, as it has done year-on-year since 2003, this news is hardly a surprise. A study from Poverty UK has shown that currently 6.3 million households are in fuel poverty, including over 40% of the poorest fifth of people in the country, and that pensioners and single parents are disproportionately affected. The effect that fuel poverty has, particularly on pensioners and low-income families, is terrifying; during winter 2010-11 over 2,500 deaths were directly linked to fuel poverty and many people are now in a position where they have to decide whether to eat or heat their homes.

The nature of this issue turns from terrifying to despicable, however, when you look at how energy companies are performing financially. Every one of the “Big Six” (British Gas, Npower, E.On, EDF, SSE and Scottish Power) reported eye-watering profits in 2011, with their parent companies making anywhere between £1.3 billion and £2.3 billion profit over the last 12 months. What’s more, many of these companies, such as British Gas and E.On, are currently laying off staff or enforcing pay freezes as cost-cutting measures. In this years Budget Tory Chancellor (and contender for the title of World’s Most Punchable Face) George Osborne has attacked green taxes and announced that he will be backing energy companies looking to build gas-fired power plants by cutting Emissions Performance Standards, meaning that the energy giants will be able to produce gas and electricity more cheaply whilst hiking prices and cutting jobs. As a reward for driving pensioners to an early grave and throwing hundreds of people on the dole queue, the chairmen (and they are all men) of the Big Six each earned at least £1million last year. We truly are all in this together….

So, you ask, what can we do to curb the effects of this years price rise and the certain death it means for thousands of people across the country? Well, OFGEM has recently published plans for a “simpler, clearer and fairer energy market for consumers.” Here’s what they had in mind:

SIMPLER CHOICES

Ban on complex multi-tier tariffs and scrapping of uncompetitive dead tariffs*

All tariffs shown as a standing charge and single unit price

Limit on number of core tariffs each supplier is allowed to offer

 

CLEARER INFORMATION

All consumers given their supplier’s cheapest tariff on their bill

A Tariff Comparison Rate to compare tariffs ‘like for like’ across the market

New personalised information to help consumers find their best deal

FAIRER TREATMENT

Fair treatment to be enforced by standards of conduct backed by fines

Consumers to default to cheapest tariffs at the end of fixed term contracts

Ofgem to consider ways to promote more collective switching

That all sounds very good, but it doesn’t stop the cause of the problem; rising gas and electricity prices on the wholesale market. In an article on the website moneysavingexpert.com Phil Bentley, the Big Boss of British Gas, gave us a very simple-to-understand breakdown of where the money from our utility bills go:

As you can see, energy companies only make about 5% profit on our energy bills. Don’t get me wrong, 5% of a fuckton is still a helluva lot, but, and it pains me to say this, Bentley’s right. Energy companies, on the whole, aren’t behaving outrageously or gambling with our money, they aren’t ripping us off, they’re just making a reasonable profit on what they sell. The redundancies they’re making and the tax cuts they receive are simply part of an economic exercise to help energy companies do what they’re designed to do, make more money. So then, what difference will making tariffs simpler or encouraging collective bargaining have on the publics gas and electricity bills?

In short, little to fuck all; it’s not lack of competition that’s behind Britain’s increasing fuel poverty, but the profit-centred nature of the energy market. Whilst private companies who have to turn a buck are responsible for keeping our homes warm and our lights on we will continue to see prices soar, with the most vulnerable sections of society hit hardest. If we want to see a drop in energy bills, if we want the elderly and the poor to be able to heat their homes AND eat three times a day (what luxury!), we need to nationalize all UK energy companies.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the same kind of “nationalisation” we saw in the banking sector; these companies should be run by the public, without compensation to the super-rich who make millions out of a basic human need. With their money, infrastructure and assets we could ensure that every single person could live comfortably in their own homes, cut carbon emissions, create jobs and drive forward the renewable energy industry.

Rant over, thanks for reading.

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Racism in football

So the media is filled to bursting with people throwing in their two cents about racism in British football at the moment. Between John Terry, Luis Suarez and most of the Serbian Under-21s team, it’s pretty obvious why, and there have been a lot of different views on how to deal with the issue.

The PFA has recently released a six point action plan to deal with racism in football, including introducing the “Rooney Rule”. This has nothing to do with a spud-headed scouser, but in fact is named after Dan Rooney, the owner of NFL franchise the Pittsburgh Steelers. One idea which has been floated recently by the PFA  is to adopt the “Rooney Rule”. Brought into place in 2003, the Rooney Rule requires any team hiring a new head coach to interview qualified non-white candidates as a matter of course. Since it’s introduction the rule has had positive results, with an increase in coaches from ethnic minorities from 6% to 25%. Compare that to a big fat 0% in the Premier League, and you can see why this idea has garnered some support. The logic behind adopting this rule is fairly simple: if a player has a black manager he’s much less likely to racially abuse an opposing player.

But wait a minute, don’t John Terry and Luis Suarez have black teammates? Why yes, yes they do. By the aforementioned logic then, the racial abuse committed by both men should never have happened.

I feel like this plan is missing a crucial point….

But don’t worry, the PFA is also going to, amongst other things, introduce stiffer penalties and awareness days for clubs and players involved in racial abuse, as well as classifying racial abuse as gross misconduct in player and coach contracts.

Again, these are definitely steps in the right direction, but I can’t help but feel like something is being overlooked.

Oh, I remember now. Racism isn’t caused by not having a black boss or only working with white people. It’s caused by a number of different factors, which I won’t go through here, but those aren’t amongst them.

Don’t get me wrong, affirmative action is perfectly good, and I still think the Rooney Rule should be adopted, the FA should come down hard on racism and so on. But let’s not kid ourselves, those things aren’t going to stop racism existing on the pitch and in the stands.

Racism is the result of countless different social factors which need to be addressed by national and international policy, education and community integration. Football, and sports in general, are fantastic at breaking down barriers between people (Christmas Day 1914 anyone?) and the FA, UEFA and everyone involved in the sport should take every possible step to stamp out racism wherever it raises its ugly head. That doesn’t mean it won’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support tougher measures to ensure that racism doesn’t taint the beautiful game, and I think these new rules should be welcomed with open arms. I just don’t think we should be so naive as to think it will solve the problem.

It isn’t all down to the governing bodies to deal with this, though. As football fans, we should be making a stand alongside players like Jason Roberts, who this week refused to wear a Kick It Out t-shirt in protest over the lack of action against racism in football.

We should show people like John Terry and Luis Suarez exactly what we think of them and their actions. I’d start by holding very visible, very public demonstrations outside stadiums on match days. I’d also suggest a shirt trade-in scheme, facilitated by Chelsea, Liverpool and the FA, to allow any fan with a Terry or Suarez top to swap it for a new kit which doesn’t have a proven racists name emblazoned across the back.

Not only will this shame the players involved, but it also sends out a strong message to the home of racism in professional football, our fellow supporters.

Again, this isn’t going to wipe out racism completely, but I do feel like supporters should be sending a clear message as well.

That’s just me though.

Rant over, thanks for reading.

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