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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Education Education Education

I am absolutely convinced that those who  benefit from education should be the ones who pay for it.  Who could disagree with that?  So who is it who benefits? We all benefit as a nation from having a thoughtful, well educated population who can improve our economy by the sweat of their brow and the strength of their creative imaginations and the necessary skills to create new technology. Engineers, sociologists, brain scientists, mathematicians, plumbers, architects, we need them all. 

Of course the individual benefits from having some earning power as a result, but that means he pays much more tax throughout his life, and also remember that high wages equal high spending power which equals more growth of the economy, an increased capacity to produce and better balance of payments. Win-win all round for the natiuon as a whole.

After a local mini-protest in which about 200 15  to 18  year olds left their classes and marched in an orderly manner to the Town Hall, demonstrated noisily but  without violence on their part although the police were out in great force and used quite a bit of persuasive force to corral the kids , there was a letter in the Colchester Daily Gazette. It came from a local citizen who insisted that the  "culprits" who "Blocked the Street" and "stopped people from doing their shopping"  should be named and shamed. Well I can tell him now that these people would be only too proud to put their names to what they did, and as for being shamed, ashamed of what? Ashamed of having their friends who are on a 'poverty plus a pound' budget  having their educational maintenance grants the only thing that allows them to be at the school at all cut? Ashamed of having to rack up a huge debt at commercial interest that they will be paying off until they are 55?  i can assure you that these young people - the very people who had no hand whatsoever in causing any kind of financial problems - have absolutely nothing of which to be  ashamed.

The whole point about demonstrations (which do work, as the poll tax riots proved) is that the inconvenience caused to others  like "stopping us doing shopping" should result in the people who are inconvenienced thinking about what the root cause of what it was that made these people (who would otherwise much prefer to be getting on with their lives) protest in the first place. They should then put  pressure on to the people who cause the problem, i.e  the government in this instance, rather than complaining at the protestors, who are sometimes quite desperate.

There are people who say that they should not go to University if they could not afford it , instead 'get a job like I had to' - as though there are not already  eighteen people chasing every job, however menial.

The qualification that they may or may not get from University is just one of the outcomes. Almost more important is the three years spent there becoming rounded, more thoughtful people, able to analyse problems and likely outcomes, and see things from all angles, learn their limits and be exposed to poeple with extraordinary imaginations. Not least they learn to be self-reliant, wash their own clothes (with a bit of luck) and feed themselves, plus the discipline to get up in the morning

 It is argued that students  will not have to pay anything back until they earn £15,000 a year. However if we do the maths, that means that not only will they pay income tax in the usual way but an additional sum on top of that. A 30K salary means that you repay £112 a month extra on top of the £450 plus income tax making a total of £720 a month including all the deductions.   Intelligent educated ex students tend to marry each other, so this will hit married couples very hard with two lots of loan within a single household. Just try to get a mortgage when your credit rating shows a £60,000 debt! And if only one of them is working, that means that having children is probably having to be put on hold. And if one of their debts is defaulted on the bailiffs will be round!

If you accept that cuts to the spending side need to be made all round, (which I believe is  a flawed concept as it doesnt take into account the income side of the equation) then I suppose you have to believe that education cannot have any special treatment. I find it hard to believe that the Tory led coalition does not want an educated population. Some countries, Morrocco for example does take this approach and makes it more than difficult for any of their own people who have a qualification to get a job,  but certainly not here.  So why are they considering this savage attack?  If we had a huge demand for manual labour I could understand it, but we don't. That woman prime minister whose name I find it difficult to say without feeling sick closed all our factories and mines insisting we could live forever on the fruits of financial services ( and look where that concept led us!)  So what on earth is the government proposing to do with all those surplus uneducated bodies? What will become of the crime rate? Will our streets fill even more with wall-eyed bored witless people with nowhere to go? Perhaps they will bring back national service, that sounds like a good Tory principle to me. They will probably dress it up as a public service force, clearing snow, that kind of thing... Oh hang on a minute,  thats what they are already doing making non -voluntary work mandatory for those in receipt of benefits...

 Background: About the EMA
The Educational maintenance Allowance  is going as part of the savage cuts made to the young people. The very people who have absolutely no blame for the financial problems, but who will bear the harshest brunt of the cuts.  

Whats the EMA? If a child is  between 16 and 18 and there is a real problem in them carrying on at school, and the household income is less than £21,800-odd pounds a year then the child is entitles to a payment of 10, 20 or £30 a week, payable directly provided the child turns up every day and works as hard as they should. The idea is to encourage children to go to school, and thus improve their life prospects.  It works: 65% of participants on the highest EMA rate of £30 could not continue to study without the allowance. The maintenance allowance removes some of the barriers to participation in education, particularly in covering costs towards transport.  In London that is just under 100,000 teenagers, and in some areas of Birmingham, Leicester and the North West, as many as four-fifths of students receive the EMA.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Special Relationship: War as a profit making enterprise?


There is lots of money to be made from making, selling, exploding and repairing the damage from things that go bang,  but not much to be made from damage to humans...  no wonder that governments and their paymasters are not as anti- war as you might expect from a Government whose only job is to make life safe and nice for everyone ...

Both America and Britain’s biggest industry is its most secretive: The arms industry, making weapons of war including mines and cluster bombs for sale to literally anyone who can pay for them, or alternatively  being persuaded to fight wars in order to keep these crucial industries from collapsing. On the other hand they do create a huge income for the nation, which keeps our taxes low (er)_BAE had £1.8 Billion profit in 2007 ( in the USA Boeing alone had £4 Billion, the total in the USA being nearer 15 Billion profit). Europe spent £320 billion on arms, the USA £603.  BAE have tax havens in Leichtenstein and elsewhere, so they pay as little tax as possible, but it is still significant.

We have paid very dear, not just in cash, for war aid to Britain during the second world war.  It was not a gift but a loan on very high interest: and it has been repaid fully since 2006, partly paid off in kind by the forced licensing of North  Sea Oil , the effective theft of intellectual property,  the supply of Plutonium, and other deadly things to make hydrogen bombs with, being  the output from our fast breeder reactors .

The History:
There is supposed to be an informal “Special Relationship” between the UK and the USA.  It encompasses – theoretically - mutual defence  agreements, and economic support. It is meant to be in recognition of the shared values, the mutual respect and language and culture in common. In practice it is far from mutual and  until the debt was paid off in 2006, was pretty well entirely based on the requirement to repay the debt of $31 billions of dollars  ( $455 billion in 2010 terms) racked up in food aid and lease-lend before America entered the war.

At the end of the war  Britain was virtually ruined, the economy in tatters, the factories destroyed,   and the workforce, however willing they might be to rebuild, had few resources.  On the other hand America emerged from the war, richer and more powerful than ever, its factories booming, its people confident, and its industrialists personally wealthy beyond their wildest imaginings.  Most importantly, they had acquired an understanding that war was a hugely profitable business,- and so was the reconstruction afterwards. They ploughed billions in Marshall Aid into the defeated countries to rebuild their industrial base. Britain on the other hand got nothing but demands.

The Welfare State was founded at this time as a defence against the starvation, disease and homelessness which would be the inevitable outcome: but that’s another story....

This debt was being repaid in whatever spare cash Britain could muster. Our rebuilt factories  were all but forbidden to sell more than a tiny proportion of whatever they produced within the UK, but  everything had to be exported to the USA  help minimize the balance of payments.  Lend-Lease also involved Britain's surrender of her rights and royalties in a series of British technological achievements.  Radar, antibiotics, jet aircraft and British advances in nuclear research had led the world.. Under Lend-Lease, these inventions were surrendered as part of
the inter-Allied war effort, free of any royalty or other payments from the United States. Had Churchill been able to insist on adequate royalties for these inventions, both our wartime and our post-war balance of payments would have been very different.

Under the Atlee government Britain was repaying £200 million per year, money we certainly couldn’t afford. Then the US government dropped a bombshell. They called in the debt. Immediate repayment. The only recourse was to do what modern loan sharks always do. They consolidate the debts into one massive debt, the “American Loan”, the repayment and servicing of which placed a burden on Britain's balance of payments right into the twenty-first century.

Then someone had a brainwave. The USA had a requirement for huge amounts of nuclear fissile material, Uranium 235 and Plutonium in order to build all those bombs which threatened the world. Britain was looking to build peaceful power stations. The decision was taken that these be built as fast breeder reactors which by some technological magic produced far more fifthy material than they used. All this deadly stuff was shipped back to the USA, and a credit given against the war debt, but a credit smaller that the amounts owed in service repayments, so we were still held  in permanent debt. Then they made us sign an agreement to lease some of their weapons back from them, for use as an ‘independent’ deterrent. So we were paying out even more. And we are stuck with expensive, dangerous and difficult to decommission nuclear power stations.

The deal nearly collapsed when Wilson refused to back the American war in Vietnam. However Regan got his own back by refusing to support us in the Falklands War.

And now? Well we went to war twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan,  when we were asked to didn’t we? Even if it meant falling in with the lies and misinformation that was needed to persuade our peoples not to object?  Even though it was patently obvious that America has never won a war, since WW2  and that it is highly unlikely to win this one, as  it is not physically possible to win a land war against a guerrilla army in the 21st century. The very best that can be achieved is an uneasy armistice, at worst, an ignominious defeat like Vietnam.

So why are we part of these wars? Well imagine you have factory in say, Mississippi making , lets say, cruise missiles. Or a factory in Britain making ammunition and shells, You turn them out at a good rate and suddenly there are enough standing by to use at any time against anyone. What do you do then? Stop making them and mothball the factory? Lay off the workers? Or do you carry on making them until you run out of money and storage space? What happens when you suddenly need more in a hurry? And what about the economy of the country , the state the town which depends hugely on the income derived?  The answer is quite apparent really; you use your influence and your huge amounts of money to back someone for president, someone who will fall in line with your needs, and then insist that as a quid pro quo, to hold a nice war and bang them off, thus creating a demand for more weapons so you can keep the factory open and the world safe for democracy. That’s why wars seem to be planned three in advance.  In Britain it is on a much smaller scale but the rules are the same.

The other thing is the huge profits to be made from reconstruction after ( or even during) a war. The contract to rebuild Iraq was agreed even before the official decision to go to war was announced. Who got the contract? None other than Secretary of Defence Dick Cheyney’s , company Haliburton. (The same Haliburton whose cack-handed efforts to cap off the deep ocean oil rig using  explosives to beak the membrane of the restrictor so that they could do a top-shot to seal it led to  the worst oil spill ever and they still managed to blame BP) 

Halliburton also administer all the  private armed security guards ( or mercenaries as they are really) who are diverting huge sums from the aid and reconstruction budgets and are fully unaccountable. They are paying private individuals up to £1000 a day to do a job which is properly the province of the official army, and giving out huge checkpoint bribes.

So, lots of money to be made from making, selling, exploding and repairing the damage from things that go bang, but not particularly from damage to humans...  no wonder that governments and their paymasters are not as anti- war as you might expect from a Government whose only job is to make life safe and nice for everyone ...