Opposing Israel policies is not anti-Semitism

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So there’s been this brouhaha in the media about whether Labour have an anti-Semitism problem or not.

Meanwhile, as if by magic, a number of other important issues seem to have disappeared from the news.

Take this as an example: on Monday the 25th of April, 4 days before Ken Livingstone’s clumsy intervention in the debate about Naz Shah’s Facebook posts, Tory MPs voted down an amendment to the Immigration Bill calling on the government to take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.

Let’s repeat those words so we can be clear exactly what they mean.

Unaccompanied”: they are on their own with no adults to protect them.

Refugee”: they are seeking refuge from a dangerous situation.

Children”: they are below an age when they can be expected to take care of themselves.

The amendment was tabled by Alf Dubs, a Labour Lord with Jewish blood who, at the age of six, had escaped the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia by coming to Britain.

Alf Dubs, in other words, knows exactly what it is like be a child fleeing danger.

The two stories are thematically linked. Alf Dubs knows the consequence of real anti-Semitism, and responds to it with a magnanimous amendment to a nasty piece of legislation.

Our own MP, on the other hand, apparently unable to grasp the plight of these vulnerable minors, voted against the amendment.

Neither Ken Livingstone nor Naz Shah are actually anti-Semitic. They are anti-Zionist, which is a different thing altogether.

Not every Zionist is a Jew. Not every Jew is a Zionist. Opposing the policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism, although it serves the State of Israel to pretend it is.

Ken Livingstone was certainly incautious in his use of words, but his main assertion, that the Nazis held talks with German Zionists in 1933, is true.

As for Naz Shah, the Facebook posts which caused such a furore were put there long before she became an MP, which makes you wonder who is trawling through other people’s social media pages to dig out quotes in order to be offended by them later?

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Corporations the worst offshore tax offenders

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There was something dishonest about the way news of the Panama papers was presented to us by the mainstream media.

The first thing we were treated to were insights into the financial arrangements of Valdimir Putin and some top officials of the Chinese Communist Party.

It was only later that we began the hear about David Cameron’s dad’s offshore dealings and the possibility that our Prime Minister may have been involved in tax avoidance in the past.

After that leaders of all the major political parties were forced to publish their tax returns.

So what is it about the words “tax” and “avoidance” that people don’t get? By definition, tax avoidance won’t show up on your tax returns, making the whole process an exercise in gesture politics of the most useless kind

But there was one glaring omission which the news was unable to bring to light. What about the corporations? Don’t they too keep their vast wealth in offshore accounts?

And the answer to this is: “yes, of course they do.”

What the Panama papers show are the activities of a single law firm dealing with the tax affairs of a number of wealthy individuals. Multinational companies don’t need to consult law firms as they have their own legal departments to work out the arrangements for themselves.

According to Oxfam, the fifty largest companies in the United States may have hidden as much as $1.3 trillion in offshore accounts.

This is only what they have avoided paying tax on in America. It doesn’t tell us what they have plundered from the other nations of the world, including our own.

“Poor countries are particularly hard hit, losing an estimated $100bn a year to corporate tax dodgers,” said Robbie Silverman, Senior Tax Advisor at Oxfam. “This is enough to provide safe water and sanitation to more than 2.2 billion people.”

So while us onshore citizens are being taxed at source, and watching as our public services are being wrecked beyond repair and the most vulnerable amongst us are targeted for cuts, the very richest are basking in their sunny tax havens, with almost unimaginable wealth at their disposal.

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The Whitstable Gazette.
The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.
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Austerity: a fancy word for class war

scan0005The business secretary, Sajid Javid, has ruled out nationalisation for Britain’s ailing steel industry.

On the other hand, when the banks were in trouble in 2007, state aid was lavished upon them in mind-boggling quantities.

In the period from 2007 to 2010, the British taxpayer directly subsidised the banks to the tune of £1,162 billion.

Try thinking about that for a second. That’s one thousand, one hundred and sixty two thousand million; or one thousand, one hundred and sixty two followed by nine noughts.

It’s a huge number. So huge, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to imagine it. But let’s try.

If one pound equalled one second, it would take 36,821 years to reach that number.

If every pound was an inch, it would add up to over 18,339,646 miles; or to the Moon and back nearly 40 times.

That’s how much money was transferred from the public to the private sector in that period, and which we are currently paying for in the form of austerity

No such commitment is being offered to the steel industry, of course

Port Talbot is losing around £1 million a day. That’s a lot of money. To put it into perspective: at that rate we could continue to subsidise steel for over 3,181 years for what we spent in just three years to bail out the banks.

RBS is about to be re-privatised, at a loss to the taxpayer of £22 billion. That would keep the steel industry afloat for 60 years.

You have to ask why there is such a discrepancy in the government’s attitude to one set of people, as opposed to the other? The answer is fairly obvious if you stop and think about it.

Sajid Javid is a merchant banker. George Osborne’s family own a lucrative wallpaper business which has not paid corporation tax for seven years. David Cameron’s father founded a multi-million pound investment fund in a number of off-shore accounts.

In other words, these people are rich: they have more in common with bankers in the City of London than they do with steelworkers in Port Talbot.

There’s an old fashioned word to describe what this is really all about. That word is “class”.

So when Noam Chomsky says that “austerity is just a fancy word for class war” we know what he’s talking about.

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The Whitstable Gazette.
The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.
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Death of a friend is reminder to value life

scan0004I’ve just heard that a close friend of mine, an ex-flatmate, has died.

It came as a complete shock. He was very young: not a lot older than 50 I would have thought.

I knew he was ill. We’d spoken on the phone about it. He told me he had stage four cancer and I asked what the prognosis was. He was due to go into hospital for an operation, he told me, and then they would commence with chemotherapy. His voice sounded serious but determined. He hoped he would be able to overcome the disease.

That was not much more than a month ago. Obviously things must have changed drastically in the meantime.

One of the customers on my round, a mutual friend, asked me if I’d heard the news? I said I had.

Now I think about it, the look on her face was telling me it was much more serious than I understood.

He must already have been in the hospice by then.

He lived with me for about two years. He’d been in the army and was the tidiest flatmate I have ever shared with. He had a cleaning business and would scour the kitchen and bathroom once a week in an intense burst of activity.

I never had to do any cleaning while he was sharing with me. I should have been paying him, rather than the other way round.

He was a genuinely kind person. He thought about you.

He was considerate, in more than just a polite way. He took time to really consider who you were.

He was around during the time my mum was dying, and was a great help and a supportive friend.

After he moved out he left some furniture and a cactus plant, and I moved into the room he had vacated. It’s almost as if I’m living in his room now.

What more can I say? I don’t intend to mourn. Every time another person dies I’m reminded how precious this life is.

Our duty to the dead is to go on living, with all the joy and fervency we can muster.

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The Whitstable Gazette.
The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.
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Sick people being targeted by the law

John Ehrlichman, Watergate co-conspirator

So – remind me again – why is heroin illegal? Is it really the terrible drug it is made out to be?

Surprisingly, aside from its fearsome addictiveness, it is a relatively benign drug.

A heroin addict can live to a ripe old age, without any damage to their body whatsoever. You can’t say that about alcohol.

However, certain conditions have to be met for that to be true. Those conditions are: a clean and secure supply, clean needles, regulated strength.

What kills a heroin addict is its illegality. It is shared needles, adulterated product, uncertain strength.

It is allowing the drug to be sold and administered by criminal gangs whose only purpose is to amass vast profits on the backs of other people’s weaknesses.

There is a story in this month’s Harper’s Magazine, about John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, and close aide to Richard Nixon.

It was Richard Nixon who started the War on Drugs.

Ehrlichman said that the Nixon Whitehouse in 1968 had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.

He said, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.

“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.

“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

So there you go. The War on Drugs was a cynical conspiracy started by a criminal administration in order to block opposition to the Vietnam War, and it was based on lies.

With that kind of provenance it seems strange that the basic structures are still in place. Sick people being targeted by the law.

Heroin addiction should be seen as a medical disorder, not a criminal one. We should have compassion for those who are caught in its fierce grip.

They should be allowed to live in dignity, rather than criminalising them and risking their lives by handing them over to the exploitation of gangsters.

Posted in Drugs, politics | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

CJ Stone in the Independent

Photograph courtesy of Helen Stone:  http://www.helenstone.co.uk/reportage.html

Photograph courtesy of Helen Stone: http://www.helenstone.co.uk/reportage.html

My first article in the Independent appeared in the Saturday Magazine, on Saturday 22nd March 1997.

It was the first of a series a columns collectively entitled “Going Home“, about my return to my home city, Birmingham, in early 1997.

The story is called “Back to Brummagem“, Brummagem being the local name for the city.

It’s not, as it sounds, just a nickname. The name “Brom” or “Brum” appears as a prefix for a number of places in the area: West Bromwich and Bromsgrove, to name but two. So Brummagem is probably the original name, and “Birmingham” the tarted up version.

People from Birmingham call themselves “Brummies.”

The reason I was going back there was that I was in need of a place to stay, having lost my council flat in Whitstable.

It was the Whitstable flat that was the setting for my previous collection of columns in the Guardian, Housing Benefit Hill.

After I was forced to move out of there, I lost both my home, and my source of income.

Housing Benefit Hill was a very successful and durable column, lasting from September 1993 to September 1996. That was followed by CJ Stone’s Britain, which I was still writing at this point, but it was nowhere near as popular or so enjoyable to write as Housing Benefit Hill. Quite soon it petered out, and that was the end of my relationship with the Guardian.

At the time of these columns, however, things were going very well for me. I had columns in the Big Issue, Mixmag and the Guardian, as well as in the Independent.

You can read all of my Independent columns here.

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Poor paying for profligacy of the rich

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It seems our MP voted against a House of Lords plan for an impact assessment into cuts to Employment and Support Allowance to the work related activity group.

To translate that into normal English: Julian Brazier has just voted to take £30 a week away from disabled people.

Yes, you heard that right. Some of the most vulnerable people in society are now being picked on by our government in order to cover up their mismanagement of the economy.

Employment and Support Allowance is money provided to disabled people on the recognition that their disability makes it harder for them to go about their daily business.

The government’s reasoning for the cut is that it will “incentivise” them to find work. That would be funny if it wasn’t also so tragic. It’s like saying that in order to incentivise homeless people to find a home we should take away their sleeping bags and put spikes into shop doorways.

As it happens this is actually happening. If there aren’t any homes, homeless people won’t find them. They’ll die on the street instead. If there aren’t jobs for disabled people, no amount of incentivisation will help. Employers prefer the able-bodied because they do more work for the dosh.

Baroness Campbell, a disabled Peer, said, “It is attitudinal and environmental discrimination that really prevents this group from accessing employment.” Meanwhile the disabled will be £30 a week worse off and the government aren’t even going to allow an impact assessment to see how this will affect them; presumably because they know it will affect them badly.

I would be interested to hear our MP’s reasoning for his decision. He voted against increasing the tax rate for people earning over £150,000 a year, while also voting against a banker’s bonus tax.

In other words he thinks powerful people with plenty of money should be allowed to keep a greater proportion of their income, while vulnerable people with less money should have to face increasing poverty.

Poor people paying the price for the profligacy of the rich. What an insane, cruel and stupid world we are moving into.

Contact Julian Brazier: http://www.julianbrazier.co.uk/contact

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The Whitstable Gazette.
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Ian Pollock’s Illustrations for Housing Benefit Hill

Steven Andrews as drawn by Ian Pollock for the Housing Benefit Hill column Deeper and Down, October 7th 1995

Steven Andrews as drawn by Ian Pollock for the Housing Benefit Hill column Deeper and Down, October 7th 1995

Housing Benefit Hill was a series of columns which appeared in the Guardian Weekend between September 1993 and September 1996. Originally it featured a cartoon series by Steven Appleby, which were very funny, but not specifically intended as illustrations of the text. (Mind you, sometimes they could be accidentally appropriate). However in September 1995 the editors at the Guardian commissioned Ian Pollock to illustrate the stories, and the results are shown below.

They are remarkable drawings, not least because somehow or another Ian seemed to be able to capture not only the essence of the story, but the actual appearance of some of the characters. It was genuinely uncanny. I never met Ian, and, as far as I know, he never visited the people or places I was talking about, and yet, on the scantiest of information, he was able to do a portrait of that person of such accuracy it was as if they were sitting for him as a model.

You can see the illustrations here:

http://hubpages.com/art/Ian-Pollocks-Illustrations-for-Housing-Benefit-Hill

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NHS not safe in the hands of private companies

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You probably remember David Cameron telling us that the NHS was safe in his hands. In fact he’s used this expression on a number of occasions, most recently during the General Election campaign in 2015.

He said, “We can’t go on like this. I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.”

Well it’s sort of true. True in the sense that he hasn’t cut spending to the NHS.

In fact he has done something even more radical. He’s abolished it.

This took place in the form of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which removed the responsibility for the health of citizens from the Secretary of State for Health, while abolishing Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts, and redirecting funds to “clinical commissioning groups”, whose task it is to buy in clinical services rather than providing them directly.

This is the means by which private health care companies are making inroads into the NHS.

Virgin, Circle, Bupa, Serco and United Health are just some of the companies vying for a piece of the NHS pie.

In 2015 nearly 40% of NHS deals went to private health companies, many of them donors to the Tory Party, who are cherry-picking the most profitable parts and leaving public service providers to cover the rest.

Virgin Care has recently taken over hospitals in Sheppey and Sittingbourne. According to the company’s own website, they now operate over 230 NHS and social care services, including walk-in centres, urgent care centres, out of hours care, community services and GP practices.

Don’t tell me they are doing this to perform a public service.

Richard Branson, while he nurtures the image of an amiable and slightly bumbling uncle, is, in fact, a ruthless financial operator. He wouldn’t be taking on these services if there weren’t significant profits to be made.

Noam Chomsky said, “The standard technique of privatisation: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

Private profits will inevitably cut into services, thus making it appear that the NHS is failing, thus providing the pretext for its eventual sale – to the very companies who are draining it of funds.

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/04/why-we-support-the-cross-party-nhs-bill

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Dental Costs are painful – even for NHS patients

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The following story is an illustration of what private provision of health care in the NHS could look like.

For many years I went to the same dentist: Kelvin House on Nelson Road.

That ended just over three years ago, when staff told me that they could no longer treat me as an NHS patient. Either I was to go private with them, or I had to find a new dentist.

I chose the latter and signed on as a patient at The Whitstable Dental Centre on Oxford Street.

The provision there is perfectly good and affordable under NHS arrangements. I have no complaints. But the problem isn’t with my teeth: it’s with my gums.

Gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss and the only cure for the affliction is to have the teeth regularly descaled by a hygienist.

This work is unavailable under the NHS. You have to pay for it privately.

This wouldn’t be so bad, but for two things: firstly, the equipment at the Whitstable Dental Centre causes considerably more pain than that at Kelvin House; secondly, it is more expensive too.

It costs £42 to have your teeth cleaned in Oxford Street: £37 on Nelson Road.

Don’t ask me why. Maybe they think I’m a masochist willing to fork out an extra £5 for feeling like someone is scouring my teeth and gums with emery paper.

I tried going back to Kelvin House, only to find that the first obligatory consultation with the dentist would cost £70, thus bumping up the overall cost including the hygienist to £107.

Meanwhile, I am starting to lose my teeth.

This is exactly the situation that the NHS was set up to avoid. We are not supposed to have to consider cost in order to stay healthy.

Nye Bevan said: “Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.”

Unfortunately the current government doesn’t appear to agree with this.

The wholesale privatisation of the NHS is already under way.

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