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Israel-Gaza ceasefire, NHS failings and more

Here’s a quick round-up of what’s been going on in the world, starting with the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Gaza

Israel – Gaza ceasefire declared


From midnight last night a ceasefire has been declared between Israeli and Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip after a week of bloodshed. The fighting started as Israel executed its Pillar of Cloud operations, in an attempt to disarm Hamas of its long-range missile capabilities. Israel claimed that the operation was launched in response to Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and territory, ignoring the fact that in September and October there were over 300 Palestinian civilians injured or killed at the hands of the Israeli Defence Force. This includes a number of young boys who were killed by artillery fire whilst playing football. In the aftermath of a week of non-stop bombardment by the fourth best funded military in the world, over 150 Palestinians, including a number of elected leaders, reporters and civilians, have been killed. There were also casualties and injuries on the Israeli side, with five Israelis losing their lives.

There are obviously a number of things that I could rage about as far as this tragic loss of life is concerned, but I’ll keep it brief. First and foremost, Israeli missile strikes killed Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari in his car whilst it was moving, showing the targetting capabilities of their weaponary. On the same day an 11-monh old boy was killed when a missile hit his home, which was not near any legitimate Hamas targets. Accidents happen, but there were dozens of small children killed by missile attacks which had no chance of hitting anything that might have been a threat. The IDF has continued to show a callous disregard for their targets, favouring instead to inflict death and destruction upon a population that is being slowly starved and crushed from the face of the planet. The continually indiscriminate targetting of Palestinian civilians, especially children, shows that the heads of the Israeli state and military would prefer to send their neighbours to the grave than work to any form of sustainable peace. What we’re witnessing is a decades-long genocide.

 

Secondly, the support of Western powers for Israel’s entirely disproportionate attacks on the Gaza Strip give a glimpse of how this situation has come to be. I’m not going to give you a history lesson on this 60 year old conflict, but essentially Israel has been given the right and means to inflict apartheid on the indigenous population of Palestine in order to act as the attack dog of the West. The U.S., for example, has given Israel more funding than any other country for the last 65+ years, including a staggering $19,509,734,000 between 2001 – 2007. The 1.7 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have essentially been given a multi-billion dollar death sentence by successive Western governments who are more interested in ensuring their influence in a resource-rich region of the world than things like human dignity or life.

 

I’ll leave it there for now, mostly because if I don’t I might explode.

 

Patients Association highlights “appalling” NHS care

 

A report published by the Patients’ Association today detailed a number of cases of what it termed “appalling” care provided by NHS trusts from across the country. Included in the report were details of a dementia patient who was found dead in a river after going missing from their hospital bed and a number of patients who had “Do Not Resuscitate” cards next to their beds without consent from their family. Last year the Patients Association received over 8,000 calls regarding poor standards of care in NHS hospitals. Chief Executive of the organisation, Katherine Murphy stated that “behind each one [of these cases] are many more unheard voices. Whilst there is a lot to be proud of about the NHS, including the overwhelming majority of staff who are skilled and hard-working, these cases are a tragic wake-up call.”

 

From personal experience I am utterly unsurprised at the findings of this report; when my sister had her appendix out earlier this year she was put on a ward where me and my mum had to give additional support to half a dozen elderly patients because there weren’t nurses around to help them.

 

Given that there are a total 61,00 nursing jobs that have either already been cut or are facing the axe in the NHS, this news seems like a grim inevitability which is dommed to continue. Many commentators have also pointed to the fact that two-thirds of emergency admissions are among those with an existing long-term illness, which also points to the failings amongst GPs and community care in general.

 

We are seeing the human cost of the Coalition governments slash-and-burn policy across the NHS and, if these cuts go ahead, then thousands of the most vulnerable people in the UK will lose their lives as the NHS is unable to bear the load of one million patients a day. There’s a Gandhi quote that goes along the lines of “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” On that basis I have two suggestions:

1) Remove the “Great” from Great Britain

2) Stop the Con-Dems before they kill someone close to you.

 

Also in the news:

EU leaders meet for budget discussions

 

As EU leaders meet for talks on the EU budget for the next seven years David Cameron has threatened to use his veto if the deal struck between the 27 heads of state is not “in Britain’s interest”. Basically, the way he plans on doing that is by making sure Britain keeps it’s sizeable EU rebate (about £3 billion a year) and pushing for cuts to the cohesion and agricultural budgets, which support the poorer members of the EU and help to keep food prices low across the 27 state bloc. On top of that the PM will be campaging for increased investment in “growth and innovation”, i.e. policy programs that will help big buinesses make more money. What a dick.

Students march against tuition fees

Yesterday around 4,000 protesters marched through London against tuition fees on an NUS-led demo which avoided Parliament Square and instead went through deserted sections of south London. NUS President Liam Burns was run off stage at the rally following the march by angry protesters who shouted “NUS, shame on you, Where the fuck have you brought us to”, showing rising frustration with the NUS’s complete inability to organise effective protests. Many have criticised the NUS as simply a breeding ground for future Labour MPs, which is a bit unfair. Some of them are Lib Dems.

Micahel Chessum from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts laid the blame for the (relatively) low turnout on the NUS, stating : “The appetite of students to fight varies proportionally and will rise with how radical you make slogans and how clear you make the political message. If you march people to Kennington with a political slogan that’s difficult to get people behind, you will end up with low numbers.” If the 50,000 strong demos from 2010 showed us anything, it’s that students will mobilise if they think there’s a chance of a tangible result. An A-to-B march that doesn’t stop at Parliament Square and ends in the arse end of London just isn’t going to cut it. Plus, they need this guy.

Rant over, thanks for reading.

 

 

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Greece faces further austerity, HSBC bankrolls drug barons and more

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the big news stories of this week that AREN’T the US election (read my comments on Obama’s vicotry here), Superstorm Sandy and paedophilia.

Greek Parliament passes latest wave of austerity measures

A riot cop burns in Greece amid national protests

Last night the Greek Parliament passed the highly unpopular austerity measures forced upon it by the European Central Bank, International Monetry Fund and the European Union. Across the country protesters clashed with riot police as their elected representatives forced through a series of new cuts , including €4.6 billion to the country’s pension funds. The latest program of cutbacks also includes 110,000 public sector redundancies and public sector wage cuts of 35%, essentially bankrupting hundreds of thousnads of Greek workers and adding to unemployment figures which currently stand at over 25%. The government passed these austerity measures in order to secure a €31.5 billion bailout from the ECB, IMF and EU.

This is the fifth time in three years that Greeks have faced severe cuts to their income, either through their salary or through pensions, and many have been pushed beyond breaking pint. Yet another general strike was called by Greek unions prior to this vote, the third in two months. Ilias Iliopoulos at the civil servants’ union, Adedy, had this to say: “These policies are clearly not working. All they have done is impoverish Greeks and this country and instead of going down our debt is simply going up. People are going hungry, more than two million are unemployed. This government isn’t going to last long, of that you can be sure.” He added: “These measures may have become law but they won’t be able to enforce them.” (quote stolen from The Guardian)

This massive attack on the lives of millions of people perfectly displays the nature of international relations: Global market leaders are worried about the effect the Greek economy will have on the Euro,  other EU economies and, ultimately, their profits, and so have… persuaded international institutions to essentially blackmail Greece into doing whatever they want by threatening to kick them out of the Euro. This would cause an enormous economic collapse in Greece that would have irreparable consequences, plunging millions more people into poverty and dooming not just one but several generations to lifelong joblessness, illness and torturous living conditions. But hey, what do the ECB care, with Greece out of the Euro they can start throwing some more money at the Italian and Spanish economies, which are much heavier weights for the Eurozone to carry.

The long and the short of it then: Financial capital, under the guise of it’s puppets in Athens, have just put the last nailin the coffin of modern Greece as we know it. All together now: One solution!

HSBC to face huge fines after bankrolling drug cartels

The human cost of money laundering

HSBC faces fines of upwards of £940 million after a US Senate report found that it was complicit in laundering money for Mexican drug cartels and potential terrorists. Though the report that confirmed HSBC’s activities was released in July, the sub-committee investigating wrongdoing by the bank has yet to give precise figures on what the bank will be fined for failing to enforce appropriate anti money laundering procedures.

In his 2011 book, Amexica, journalist Ed Vulliamy gave both a harrowing account of the effects of drug-trafficking in northern Mexico and the southern US and also drew attention to collusion of international banking groups in this deadly endeavour. The drug war between a number of rival cartels accounted for over 40,000 murders in Mexico between 2006-2011, as well as innumerable serious injuries, not mention skyrocketing levels of addiction, poverty and drug-related crimes, such as assault and rape. That a household name like HSBC has been profiting off of this immense human suffering may not be a surprise to many, but it is despicable nonetheless.

Just a couple of quick thoughts on this. Firstly, no amount of financial penalties would absolve the bank of its role in the destruction of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives. If criminal procedings are not undertaken this will show just how corrupt the criminal system is.

Also in the news:

Legalize It!: Well, they have. Sort of. The states of Colorado and Washington have just voted on whether or not to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, despite it being against federal law in the country. So what does this mean for the hazy eyed people of these states? Well, not much really. Whilst ballots to make marijuana use legal have been passed, they must now be certified before you can smoke a doobie in the street. TO SEATTLE!

Chinese Communist Party to Announce New Leaders: The Chinese Communist Party opened its National Congress today, and will announce its leaders for the next ten years on November 15th. In an opening statement to delegates, current President, Hu Jintao, gave several stark warnings to the new standing commitee, stating that the party had to face up to the “serious challenge” of corruption and find ways to “promote social harmony and improve the people’s lives.” Suggestion: use actual democracy to decide who should run tings and how, stop sending people who disagree with you to labour camps and let people access information through the internet. Plus, y’know, Tibet.

Rant over, thanks for reading!

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Four more years

I think pretty much everyone this side of the Atlantic breathed a huge sigh of relief yesterday morning as we awoke to hear that Barack Obama was re-elected as leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Completely understandable given that his opposition, Mitt “I like firing people” Romney looked like a surefire bet to start a nuclear war with whoever he could get congressional approval to destroy. Many of us hailed Obama’s victory as proof that the American people aren’t all bible-beating, homophobic gun nuts (which is roughly correct) and chalked one up for progress and equality. If only it were that simple…

First of all, I want to highlight the ridiculous sums of money involved in the election campaign; between the two campaigns there was well in excess of $1.5 billion spent during the presidential campaign. Pretty sickening huh? Here‘s the full breakdown. The fact is that neither of these men can claim to speak on behalf of the American people, based purely on the amount of capital that they pissed away during the worst economic downturn of the last 50+ years. Just think of all the jobs that money could have created, the medicine it could have bought, the new homes that could have been built, all spent on a frantic scramble for power. It’s more than a little disgusting.

Secondly, and I know this isn’t exactly the popular thing to say, Obama really hasn’t had that good a record. The wars in the Middle East continue, with troops still deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has totally failed to end the War of on Terror during his four years in power. This has cost the American people billions of dollars whilst multinational oil companies make even more from the exploitative free market reforms enforced upon the two countries. What’s more, he has failed to deliver on promises to restore civil liberties and actually passed an act which allows anyone held on terrorism charges to be held indefinitely. And where would they be held? Why Guantanamo Bay, of course! The infamous torture-and-execution centre is still very much open for business, despite constant promises that he would close it during his first presidential campaign.

What’s more, since Obama was elected in 2008 he has helped American banks fleece thier customers of $468 billion worth of interest payments on customer accounts, thanks to his Zero Interest-Rate Policy. By dropping interest rates to 0%, Obama has allowed the priviliged few at the top of the banking sector to rake in eyewatering sums of money through cutting the amount that banks have to pay customers with savings accounts. There’s a reason Wall Street had no problem with this guy coming into power.

A huge proportion of Obama’s votes in both 2008 and 2012 came from trade unionists and Latinos, and he has well and truly screwed them over too. During the automotive crisis the commander-in-chief supported a “re-structuring program” which allowed car companies to make huge cuts to jobs, wages and employment conditions in order for these massive international firms to maximise profits. Similarly, Obama has overseen the deportation of 400,00 people from Latin America, after assuring voters that he supported naturalisation of currently illegal immigrants. In fact he has done the opposite, sending people back to countries that have been torn apart by crime and poverty as direct result of U.S. foreign policy.

Looking foward to the next four years, I don’t see many reasons for things to change with Obama in charge; the rich will continue to get richer whilst the poor face crushing austerity, all in the name of the economy, i.e. private profit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still VERY glad Romney lost, but that doesn’t mean that I’m happy that Obama won.

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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