It’s offensive how banks try to play with our emotions

scan0001Have you noticed how the banks have been trying to humanise themselves through their adverts recently?

I first noticed it with the Nationwide advert which was aired in the run-up to Father’s Day. It’s a real tearjerker.

I won’t go into the details as I’m sure you will have seen it. Suffice it to say that the storyline involves an old scarf which gets lost on the bus, and which a Nationwide employee finds and returns: all set to a simple piano tune and a querulous voice singing deeply emotional words.

I don’t know about you, but I find it offensive the way it attempts to play on my emotions in order to sell me financial services.

Of course the Nationwide isn’t really a bank. It’s a building society, but it still pays its Chairman, Mr Graham Beale, over £2 ½ million a year.

After that I started noticing all the other adverts too: the Halifax, with its “you’re our kind of person” advert; Barclays, with its jaunty “today I’ll buy my little boy a treat” song; or Santander with its call for us to keep doing whatever it is we’re doing.

It’s all very nice, and it shows how deeply these banks must care for us, that they have paid so much attention to our concerns.

As if. It’s a classic psychopath’s trick. Banks don’t have emotions. They are institutions dedicated to maximising their own profits, by whatever means they can: whatever they can get away with, which has included outright fraud in the past.

Take HSBC as an example. It is busy changing its name at the moment. It stopped being “the world’s local bank” a while back, having been caught laundering Mexican drug money by American prosecutors in 2012.

If you or I were caught laundering drug money we would be in Jail. Not so the banks or their employees, it seems. They can do what they like until they get caught, after which they confess, pay a fine, and then get back to the business of finding new ways of siphoning off our money for themselves.

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Banning drugs drives users to gangsters

scan0001A while ago I noted that Julian Brazier really knows next to nothing about drugs, but feels compelled to comment on them anyway.

In his latest our MP has welcomed the Bill proposed in the Queen’s Speech that promises to impose a ban on legal highs.

This, of course, is a contradiction in terms because once substances are banned, they are no longer legal.

The absurdity of the legislation is highlighted by the fact that in order to ban substances that have a psychoactive effect, the law also has to include exemptions, such as cigarettes, coffee and alcohol, all of which are psychoactive.

We know that cigarettes and alcohol are amongst the biggest killers on the planet. In his assessment of the relative dangers of various drugs, both legal and illegal, Professor David Nutt, one of the country’s foremost experts on the subject, placed alcohol at the very top of the list.

I’ve made the point before that the only reason that legal highs exist is because natural highs are illegal. Once legal highs are made illegal, people will turn to the natural highs again.

Banning substances won’t stop people taking them. By making drugs illegal we simply drive the trade into the hands of gangsters, lessening the quality and increasing the dangers of adulteration and overdose.

You also increase the risk of people coming into contact with more dangerous drugs. Gangsters do not distinguish between addictive and non-addictive drugs. Once a drug is illegal it will be the same suppliers selling both.

The least dangerous drugs on Professor Nutt’s list are the psychedelics. These include LSD and magic mushrooms. Anyone who has ever taken these drugs knows that they can have a profoundly beneficial effect on the human heart, opening us up to the awareness that all life is one.

They are particularly good at relieving the anxiety of death, and may be the key to a permanent cure for depression.

One interesting side effect is that they teach us to question the imposed restrictions that society places on our ability to think and act freely.

People who take psychedelics almost invariably become rebels.

I wonder if this is the real reason for making them illegal?

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The austerity fairy story

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In my last column I referred to austerity as “fake”. You may have wondered what I meant.

I’m not the only person to have understood this. Prior to the election Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, wrote an article in the Guardian calling austerity “a delusion”. Other people have described it as “a con” or as “a myth”.

Two thirds of economists surveyed by the Centre for Macroeconomics disagreed with the statement that Government policies since 2010 had a “positive effect” on the economy.

Even the Treasury’s own forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, estimated that austerity slowed down growth in the first two years of the last parliament.

The argument for austerity is that in order to bring down the deficit the government needs to cut public spending.

The problem with this is that cutting public spending in a time of recession actually harms the economy. People are made poorer, thus they spend less, thus demand is decreased, thus output is slowed and the deficit increases.

This is glaringly obvious when you stop and think about it. The puzzle is that, for all its absurdity, the austerity fairy-story seems to have taken hold in the public mind.

In fact the only real outcome is that it has made the poor poorer and the rich richer.

Real wages for the majority of the population have declined in the last five years while the top 1,000 people have seen their income doubled.

London has become a playground for billionaires while ordinary people are being cleansed from the capital.

There are millions of people on in-work benefits, which gives the lie to the notion that the government is “making work pay”.

Who are the beneficiaries of state-handouts to the chronically underpaid? Is it the employee, who can no longer afford to live without benefits, or is it the multi-national corporation, whose wage-bill is being supplemented by the taxpayer?

The Tories won the election with 24.4% of the eligible vote.

I wonder how long it will be before people wake up and realise that we’ve been made suckers in a vast, elaborate con-trick?

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Paying price for peddling fake austerity

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For a longer version of this article please go to: https://christopherjamesstone.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/political-parties-make-even-honest-men-liars/

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Political parties make even honest men liars

Clement Atlee: not like Ed Miliband

It’s a few days now since the election and a lot of us are still trying to process the results.

I went down the Labour Club on the night, as I often do. I was sat next to one of the tellers who had manned the polling station at St. Andrew’s Church on Grimshill Road. He said he’d never seen an election like it. People were lined up down the street, waiting to vote.

“It was like South Africa,” he said.

How were we to know that the majority of people queuing up in their eagerness to put their cross on the ballot paper were planning to vote Tory?

One of things I’ve been doing in the last few days is fielding the bitterness of Labour Party supporters blaming the SNP for their loss.

This is what one of my friends wrote on his status update on Facebook:

“Let all who voted Tory and Scot Nats… May you all rot in hell.”

Never mind the slight grammatical clumsiness: it’s an extraordinary statement. The people of Scotland voted against the Tories. It was England that turned overwhelmingly blue.

The fact that the vast majority of the Scottish people rejected the Labour Party as well as the Tory Party should have given them some pause to reflect. Why have ex-Labour voters deserted the party in droves? Why has the membership of the SNP surged in the last few months (as has membership of the Green Party)? What is it that these parties are doing right that the Labour Party is doing wrong?

People who belong to political parties have long memories when it comes to the crimes of others, and very short memories when it comes to their own serial misdemeanours.

So Labour Party supporters are keen to tell you of a time, many years ago, when the SNP voted with the Tories. They are less keen to remember the time when the Labour Party welcomed a Tory into its midst and made him our Prime Minister.

Political parties make even honest men liars…

A demonstration of political inclusion

One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that political parties are essentially machines for getting themselves re-elected. And almost invariably, when it comes to the crunch, they will ditch all principles, all values, and all beliefs in order to get into office.

They will always tell you that you need power in order to put principles into action. That is true. But you need principles for that power to mean anything at all.

What’s the point of the Labour Party if it is only going to institute Tory policies?

The Labour Party manifesto was pro-austerity. Yes, it was a less onerous form of austerity than the Tories were promising, but it was austerity nonetheless. Given the choice between austerity-lite and austerity-ugly, the British people chose the latter.

They had bought into the oft repeated lie that austerity is necessary to bring down the deficit, and that public spending is the problem. Thus the Tory Party’s promise to tighten the belts of welfare recipients and immigrants was appealing to them. It’s a classic form of scapegoating. And the Labour Party’s promise to spend a little bit more, and to stretch out the austerity programme for a few more years, just didn’t cut the mustard.

Never mind that Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, amongst others, has pointed out that deficits in times of recession are a GOOD thing.

The only way to get out of a recession is to spend.

The National economy is not like an individual’s earnings, and Britain isn’t like Greece.

The Tory Party and the national media perpetrated a lie, and the Labour Party went along with it.

The tribalism of party politics

Politics is not a sport

Another thing I’ve noticed in my years observing the Labour Party is that Labour activists only really come into their own when they are in opposition. They are a fine bunch of people, and I love them. Fierce, uncompromising, empathic, with a deep, abiding hatred of injustice, nevertheless they go very quiet when the Labour Party is in power. They don’t want to rock the boat.

The Labour Party is basically a vessel for containing protest. Labour supporters spend most of their lives waiting for the next Labour government to arrive, and when that government fails to deliver, all they are left with is excuses.

The problem lies in the nature of political parties themselves. Your loyalty is to the Party, not to the politics it represents. It’s a kind of tribalism, not unlike the tribalism of football teams. I was born a Villa supporter and I will stay one till I die.

The difference between football teams and political parties is that football doesn’t really impact on the lives of people outside the footballing world, whereas politics effects us all.

The Aston Villa team in 1945 were a different set of lads than the ones playing today, but they were still playing the same game.

The Labour Party team of 2015, on the other hand, are playing a different game altogether than the people who shared their name and their colours back in 1945.

There’s nothing even remotely similar between Clement Atlee and Ed Miliband. Clement Atlee was a modest, unassuming, even a boring man, but he stood for something.

The Labour Party of 1945 took over in a time of crisis. It inherited a massive debt from the war. The country’s infrastructure was in ruins, and tens of thousands of soldiers were returning to civilian life and in need of jobs.

Did it impose austerity?

No. It spent. It increased the deficit. It nationalised the rail industry, the coal industry, the steel industry. It built homes. It created the National Health Service. It promised a better life, and it was true to its promises. We had more than 30 years of growth and prosperity.

Now look at the Labour Party. What pygmies they are in comparison.

There’s no vision left. All they have to promise is that they aren’t  quite as bad as the Tories.

And when we don’t vote for them, they blame the SNP.

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The Killing Fields then and now

scan0003The Killing Fields was on TV recently. Maybe you remember it. It’s about a journalist and his translator during the time of the Khmer Rouge take over in Cambodia in the 1970s. It came out in 1984, won eight BAFTAs and three Oscars and starred Sam Waterson and Haing S. Ngor.

The movie hasn’t aged a bit. It worth watching both for its depiction of the extremes of war, and of the deep personal relationship between the two men.

It also shows you the violence of the Khmer State in the years after the war.

What struck me while watching the film, however, wasn’t so much its historical resonance, as that it reflected something that is happening right now.

I’m talking about the Islamic State.

The Khmer Rouge were utterly insane. After taking power they engaged in a process of social engineering in which the urban population was forced into the countryside to work the land, and tens of thousands of intellectuals, educated people, and professionals were murdered.

Theirs was a peculiar, fundamentalist, barbaric strain of communism. Not unlike the Islamic State, which practices a peculiar, fundamentalist, barbaric strain of Islam.

The Khmer Rouge no longer exist, of course. No one is being murdered for being bourgeois in Cambodia any more. People are, however, being murdered in Syria and Iraq for being Christian, Shiite, Yazidi, Kurdish, foreign or a member of the Syrian Armed Forces.

So the question you have to ask is this: what is it that links these two organisations? Is there something uniquely murderous about Cambodians and Arabs? Or is there something else which might account for this psychotic behaviour?

And the answer to this is, yes. Both Cambodia and Iraq suffered extensive bombing by the Americans in order to “bring democracy”. Both nations were traumatised by the awesome violence of the American State.

The Khmer Rouge reign was ended by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. The Vietnamese, too, were communists, but of a more sane variety.

Likewise we should stop interfering in the Middle East, and allow the people of that region to put their own house in order.

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Save Whitstable Crown Post Office

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Julian Brazier, our Conservative Party election candidate, has intervened in the Post Office debate by stressing the “urgency of getting the mobile building alternative in place before the Gladstone Road site closes.”

I can’t see anyone in Whitstable arguing with this.

Where some of us might disagree, however, is in the status of the service that will be housed in the new, temporary space. Mr Brazier is on record as saying that “in principle” he has “no problem with the Post Office moving to another store as part of a franchise.”

I’d just like to remind readers that, had the Post Office’s plans come to fruition and the branch been moved into Budgens Invicta as a franchise before that store closed down permanently, we wouldn’t now be talking about a temporary Post Office: we’d be talking about no Post Office at all.

Surely that underlines the dangers of the franchise model for Post Office services in our town.

We also have to be very wary of statements coming out of Post Office HQ.

According to its website, the company has a specific target regarding Crown Post Offices of “turning around the current losses to achieve break-even by March 2015.” They plan to do this by “increasing revenue, improving customer experience and controlling costs.”

In the case of some Post Office branches “controlling costs” means closing them “temporarily” for periods of up to seven years.

If you don’t believe me, look up the Yorkshire Times, Monday 2nd March 2015.

According to that paper “some 38 branches across the region have been shut for longer than 12 months with the average closure lasting more than three years and three months.” The longest has been in the village of Coxwold, its branch having been closed “temporarily” since February 2008.

In Whitstable, Post Office Ltd has known about the impending redevelopment of the Gladstone Road site since 2010, and yet they still haven’t got round to organising a couple of portacabins in the carpark, for which there is already planning permission.

It’s not exactly rocket-science, is it? I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

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Time we gave up on the folly of saving daylight?

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Money as Debt

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the scandal over MPs expenses was that it took people’s minds off that other group of perennial fiddlers, the banks.

The difference is, of course, that whereas MPs expenses amounted to thousands of pounds, bankers bonus’ are measured in the millions. And whereas MP’s perks consisted of such unlikely items as floating duck islands and cleaner moats, the ultimate outcome of the present banking system is nothing less than total domination of the whole world by a few powerful institutions.

Everywhere you go you see the same thing. In the middle of every major city, in every country, there are huge buildings of glass and steel which tower above the city landscape like imperious statements of wealth and power. Invariably these buildings are banks.

How did the banks grow so big and come to dominate our world?

How come we have let them?

The process is insidious. Most money in existence does not consist of the notes and coins we carry about in our pockets, but is in the form of debt to banks. The banks create this money out of thin air. This is the simple and startling fact. The money we owe did not exist until the moment we signed the contract to pay it back.

This is known as Fractional Reserve Banking. Banks do not only lend out money deposited with them by savers, but are legally entitled to lend out many, many times this figure.

Thus banks create money. They create money as debt. They create money as debt and then charge interest on it. Thus our money is already devalued even at the moment it is created, since the amount lent out is always less than the amount which has to be paid back.

This is the cause of inflation and it forces us to borrow even more money to cover the difference. Thus there can never be enough money in the entire world to pay off all the debts owed to the banks, and the banks will, in the end, own everything.

And here’s us worrying about floating duck islands.

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Time for discussion on potential of drugs

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