Comedian, actor and political campaigner who does not want to be involved with “voting type stuff” anymore, Russell Brand, has given Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn the potential kiss of death: his endorsement.
In the latest episode of “The Trews” – the true news – onhis YouTube channel, the Arthur star compared the Islington North MP and former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, sarcastically claiming that Corbyn’s policies of being anti-austerity, anti-war and opposing benefit caps made him an “absolute lunatic,” joking that what Britain really needed was an elder statesman who would “run a proper government with a nice accent” – a shot at Mr. Blair.
To view Russell’s endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn, click here.
IS militants, doing exactly what the western powers want them to do, in order to maintain fear of terrorism among (for example) British citizens. [Image: AFP/Getty].
Does anybody else think the reaction to the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo – along with that against ISIS (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days), Al-Qaeda and, for that matter, Russia – has been, at the very least, off-colour?
Terrorists attack the staff of a magazine, claiming to be doing so in the name of Islam (we have no proof that this was their purpose and may never have it), so there’s a huge backlash against Muslims and the same magazine’s next issue – with a cover featuring a poor (yet still offensive) attempt at caricaturing Muhammad himself – sells five million copies; its normal circulation is 60,000.
Here in the UK, David Cameron does his best to use the attack as an excuse for even greater government intrusion into citizens’ privacy, on top of the incursions already enacted by his government.
Is it really about keeping us safe, or is it about keeping us down?
Some have argued that the western military-industrial complex has a vested interest in providing the public with a state-sponsored bogeyman to fear. During the Cold War it was the USSR. Immediately after Soviet Communism (which must not be confused with socialism) collapsed, the west went to war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – a regime formerly supported by the USA. Since then we’ve had 911, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 7/7, Libya, Syria and Islamic State. While this has been going on, the western media seem to be stirring up fear of Putin’s Russia.
Isn’t that only to be expected from a coalition of groups with vested psychological, moral and material interests in the continuous development and maintenance of high levels of weaponry, in preservation of colonial markets and in military-strategic conceptions of internal affairs*?
There is no doubt that the British people are kept safe by the efforts of our security services – it is important that this should not be misunderstood. Many of the threats mentioned a couple of paragraphs above have been real.
But they aren’t anywhere near as serious as certain extremely rich people and organisations want us to think they are. Look at Iraq – Saddam Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction at all! He was found in a hole, living on ‘fun-size’ Mars bars (if certain writers are to be believed**).
It seems clear that there is a system of control being exercised upon us here. You can see it for yourself, evidenced by the fact that we never seem to find ourselves clear of any threats; there’s always another one on the horizon and it’s always important for us to give up more of our civil liberties in order to fight it – and of course, we pay for all the weapons and ammunition used, with our taxes.
So, looking at this objectively, we should be asking ourselves: Who is the greater threat?
As far as the Islamic extremists are concerned, if we lived in a rational world there would be a strong argument for someone to go and speak to them (under a white flag or whatever it took to be heard) and point out a few important facts: The western military has enough firepower to turn the Middle East into a scorched crater if it wants to do so. The reason it doesn’t is it needs you to be the equivalent of a pantomime villain, to be defeated at regular intervals on the evening news. The West will never defeat you completely, because you’re too useful for making a profit for the arms dealers and for keeping western citizens under control. You are, therefore, nothing but toys. The only way to defeat this strategy is to disengage completely; stop the violence against the west that will never, ever succeed and find better solutions to your problems.
If we lived in a rational world, they would agree.
Wouldn’t you like to live in that world, instead of this?
*As described in Revolution, by Russell Brand. Cheers for looking it up, Russell.
The money given to UK banks and the amount paid back by October last year – nothing but interest [Image: claritynews.co.uk].
There’s a passage in Russell Brand’s Revolution in which he quotes a chap called Dave Graeber as follows: “During the bailout of Wall Street, $30 trillion in support and subsidies went to the most powerful players… That was the greatest theft of wealth in history.”
Here in the UK, we were part of that. The Brown (Labour) administration paid a fortune into our own banks to keep them solvent because they were also participants in the global economic crisis – it had to, otherwise all of our savings would have disappeared.
We all thought this was reasonable, at the time. Shore up the banks, sure – they’ll pay us back in the long run. Have they paid us back?
Have they heck as like!
(That’s a colloquialism meaning, emphatically, no.)
The Conservative – sorry, Coalition – government has even been helping them steal some more. Look at this RealFare image:
The bankers involved in the bailout were all on the top rate of tax – bank on it! – so there’s a double tax cut for them, and their employers enjoyed the Corporation Tax cut too. That’s a huge amount of money that the Treasury has given away to people who already owe the nation a huge amount of money!
Meanwhile George Osborne announces more billions of pounds worth of spending cuts, taking money from the poor.
You see – and perhaps this has been obscured lately – government spending involves the redistribution of wealth, and on the face of it this is to make society more equal. What the poorest can’t afford, the state will provide, to ensure a reasonable standard of living for everybody.
But George Osborne, David Cameron and their government have pig-headedly used the financial crisis and the debts created by it to punish the poor and increase inequality.
The bankers have not been asked to give back the money they were given to bail themselves out – that money has been stolen.
The government has withdrawn spending from people who need it and given the money to people who don’t in tax cuts – that money has also been stolen.
Just because it doesn’t appear in the statute books as an act of theft doesn’t make it any less so.
And now it seems another banking crisis is on its way – because the people who caused the last one are still in charge, haven’t learned their lesson (why should they? They were rewarded for the last crisis), and are hell-bent on repeating the calamity because the only people it hurt were too poor to do anything about it – people like yourself.
Look at this, by Michael Meacher MP: “Six years after the financial breakdown in 2008-9 it is therefore disturbing to see the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority seeking public acclaim for the large increase in financial penalties it has imposed on miscreant banks, as though this has changed the culture of hubris that has infected the major banks over the last decade or more.
“The FCA has certainly imposed fines of £1.4bn on the UK banks in this last year, but that is… too modest by comparison with the enormity of their regular annual profits to change the City’s amoral mindset, and above all focused on the banking institutions themselves (the shareholders) rather than on the real perpetrators (the top executives and traders).
“Not a single top executive in the UK financial sector has been convicted and sent to prison, even for such egregious offences as rigging the Libor and forex markets.”
Ed Miliband has promised to reform the banks, “so they support small businesses” – is that enough?
In September 2012, he promised that, if banks did not separate their retail and investment arms, a future Labour government would break them up (with the aim of protecting personal account holders from debts created by the gambling of the so-called ‘casino’ bankers) – is that enough?
What will be enough?
From where this writer is sitting, the banks and financial institutions are sitting on billions – if not trillions – of pounds of money that doesn’t belong to them, while millions suffer and starve.
Going back to Revolution, Russell points out that this kind of money could cancel the debts of everyone, not just an elite; it could create employment and ‘ease’ life for ordinary people, not just an elite.
Ed Miliband could win an election on this. If he said “A Labour government will take your money back from the banks and use it to improve the lives of everyone,” he’d have a landslide on his hands.
“By the end of today, Britain’s top bosses will have made more money in 2015 than the average UK worker earns in an entire year,” according to calculations by the High Pay Centre thinktank.
“The calculations show that earnings for company executives returning to work this Monday will pass the UK average salary of £27,200 by late afternoon on ‘fatcat Tuesday.’
“FTSE 100 Chief Executives are paid an average £4.72 million. The High Pay Centre found that even if CEOs are assumed to work long hours with very few holidays, this is equivalent to hourly pay of nearly £1,200.”
Vox Political‘s attention was drawn to this by a tweet from Josie Long: “Have a look at this. It takes two days for the people at the top to surpass the average UK salary. Two days.”
According to Russell Brand’s book Revolution (which has a lot more in it than most reviewers want you to know), human beings and higher primates have an in-built sense of fairness and it seems clear that the pay of these FTSE100 bosses offends that sense.
Russell quotes a laboratory experiment in which “monkeys in adjacent cages… perform the same task for food. Monkey A does the task and gets a grape, delicious. Monkey B who can see Monkey A performs the same task and is given cucumber, yuck.
“Monkey B looks p***ed off but eats his cucumber anyway. The experiment is immediately repeated and you can see that Monkey B is agitated when his uptown, up-alphabet neighbour is again given a grape. This time when he is presented with the cucumber, he is f***ing furious; he throws it out the cage and rattles the bars. I got angry on his behalf and wanted to give the scientist a cucumber in a less amenable orifice. I also felt a bit p***ed off with Monkey A, the grape-guzzling little b*****d.”
Who can blame him? The figures from the High Pay Centre betray an even worse situation, if you think about it, because most people work a lot harder than FTSE100 executives, simply to survive. Why are they guzzling grapes while we have to cope with cucumber?
According to Russell (again), “studies show that [this inherent sense of fairness is] less pronounced in environments where people are exposed to a lot of marketing.”
So all that “Buy this – it’ll make you sexy” advertising is actually telling you that it’s okay to have more – and better – than the next person. If it’s okay for you, then you have to accept that it’s okay for someone else to have more – and better – than you. Right?
Well, is it?
And if it isn’t, what are you going to do about it? Bend over and wait for someone to stick a cucumber up your “less amenable orifice” – as usual?
Seen to be done: The tribunal took place at the Law Courts in Cardiff (pictured), in public – which allowed friends of Vox Political to hear the case.
The Information Commissioner’s Office and the Department for Work and Pensions have highlighted the weakness of their own case for hiding the number of people who have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits – by failing to turn up at a tribunal on the subject.
They had the opportunity to explain why mortality statistics for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance since November 2011 have been suppressed, at a tribunal in the Law Courts, Cardiff, yesterday (April 23).
But, rather than be grilled on the reasons for their decision by a judge, a specialist in this area of law, and a ‘lay’ person (representing the opinions of right-thinking members of the public), they chose to stay away.
The tribunal had been requested by Vox Political‘s Mike Sivier, after he made a Freedom of Information request for access to the information – and it was refused on the grounds that it was “vexatious”.
The Department for Work and Pensions said he had written an article about his request on the blog, containing the line, “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers.” According to the DWP, this line constituted a co-ordinated, obsessive and protracted campaign of harassment against the department.
One line in a blog article, added as an afterthought – an obsessive campaign designed to “disrupt” the workings of the DWP. It’s ludicrous.
The DWP claimed it had received 23 requests that were similar or identical to Mike’s, in the days following his own, and inferred from this that they were from other members of this fictional campaign. Mike has only been able to track down evidence of seven such requests and, of them, only one mentions him by name. Without a tangible connection to Mike or Vox Political, the case is not made out – and one connected request does not constitute a campaign.
In fact, Mike’s own request was made after he read that a previous request had been refused – that of disability researcher and campaigner Samuel Miller. Mr Miller had published this fact in the social media and expressed that he was “furious” about it, and this inspired Mike to write his own request. Who knows how many other people did the same in response to Mr Miller? Yet he has (rightly) not been accused of starting any conspiracy.
Mr Miller’s original request has now received a reply, after the Information Commissioner’s office ruled that it had been mishandled by the DWP. This reply contained the wrong information and Mike urged Mr Miller to point this out. Clearly Mr Miller’s claim is not being treated as vexatious, even though it has inspired others to follow his example – as Mike’s article shows that he did. The contrast in treatment betrays a clear double-standard at the DWP (and the Information Commissioner’s office, after appeals were made to it in both cases).
Perhaps it is because of this fatal flaw in their logic that neither the ICO nor the DWP saw fit to send representatives to the tribunal. This left the floor free for Mike to make his own case, with nobody to speak against him or cross-examine him. Tribunal members asked questions, but these were entirely helpful in nature – allowing Mike to clarify or expand on his argument.
So the claim that the number of similar requests, received soon after the blog article appeared, indicated a campaign against the DWP was refuted with the simple observation that the subject was of topical interest at the time, because of what had happened to Mr Miller. Mike said an appropriate comparison would be with complaints to the BBC over the now-infamous radio show involving Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. The corporation received only a couple of complaints from people who listened to the show at the time, followed by thousands from people who heard about it later. Mike asked: “Were all those thousands of complaints vexatious in nature? Were they the result of organised campaigns against Messrs Ross and Brand? Or were they genuine expressions of horror at behaviour they considered to have gone beyond the pale? The BBC accepted the latter choice because logic mitigates in its favour.”
The claim that abusive or aggressive language exhibited by blog commenters indicated harassment that was likely to cause distress to members of the DWP was batted away with the argument that nobody from the department would have seen it if they had not gone looking for it (after reading the FOI request from a Vox Political reader who referenced the blog).
Mike said it would be “like a social landlord gatecrashing a residents’ association meeting, listening to the grievances of the tenants and then saying they are harassing him and he’s not going to service any of their requests for repairs. That is not reasonable”.
The DWP had claimed that actioning the 24 requests it insisted on connecting with Mike’s “could impose a burden in terms of time and resources, distracting the DWP from its main functions”, but Mike showed that this was not true, as an email to the ICO, dated October 21, 2013, makes clear: “We can confirm that the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit, some of the information requested.”
Nevertheless, the ICO had upheld the claim, saying on November 27, 2013: “For the DWP to respond to all of the requests, it is not simply a matter of sending an email to 24 people. There is a requirement to collate the information, consider exemptions under the Act which may apply, provide a formal response and then, if necessary refer the decision to an internal review…. The Commissioner considers that 24 requests on the same topic in a few days could represent… a disproportionate use of the FOIA.”
In his speech to the tribunal, Mike responded: “It is reminiscent of the line in the TV sitcom Blackadder The Third, when the title character, butler to the Prince Regent in Georgian times, demands a fortune in order to buy votes in a by-election for a ‘tupenny-ha’penny place’. Challenged on the amount, he responds: ‘There are many other factors to be considered: Stamp duty, window tax, swamp insurance, hen food, dog biscuits, cow ointment – the expenses are endless.’” He said the ICO’s claim “smacks of desperation”.
One aspect that worked in Mike’s favour from the start was the fact that both the DWP and the ICO have accepted that there is a serious purpose to his request – publication of figures showing how many people have died while claiming ESA. This is important because the assessment regime for this benefit has been heavily criticised as harmful to claimants and the government has claimed that it has made changes to decrease any such effect. The only way the public can judge whether this has worked, or whether more must be done to prevent unnecessary deaths, is by examining the mortality statistics, but these have been withheld. This is the matter at the heart of the request and the fact that the ICO and DWP acknowledge this is a major element in Mike’s favour.
Perhaps realising this, the ICO tried to claim that the intention was changed by the volume of requests submitted: “The purpose of the totality of the requests as a whole may have gone beyond the point of simply obtaining the information requested and may now be intended to disrupt the main functions of the DWP.”
It is not reasonable to suggest that the purpose of an action changes, just because other people carry out the same action within a similar time-frame. Mike put it this way: “Millions of people make a cup of tea in the advertising break after Coronation Street; would the Information Commissioner suggest that this was a campaign to overload the national grid?”
With nobody on hand to provide the ICO/DWP side of the case, the hearing ended at around midday, after Mike had been speaking for two hours. He was grateful to be supported by his McKenzie friend, Glynis Millward, who provided help and advice, and by a group of Vox Political readers who attended to hear the case.
Now the bad news: No decision was handed down on the day. The tribunal judge explained that the panel must now think about the issues raised and discuss their findings. He said they would aim to provide a full, written decision within 21 days.
It is interesting to note that Mr Miller has acted on Mike’s advice and has been advised that a revised response to his request should be with him soon.
If this response contains updated information under the same headings as the original ‘ad hoc’ statistical release provided by the DWP in July 2012 (and from which we derived the 73-deaths-per-week figure that shocked so many people at the time), then a decision by the tribunal to release the same information may seem redundant. In fact, it is possible that the DWP may provide the information to Mr Miller, simply to spite Mike.
But this would be yet another misunderstanding of what this case is about. Mike doesn’t care who gets the mortality statistics first; for him, it is not about who gets to say they were the one who forced the government into submission – this is about getting the information out to the public, so the people can decide whether ESA does more harm than good.
The tribunal’s decision will still be important as it will establish whether the DWP – and other government departments – will be able to manipulate the principles behind the Freedom of Information Act to avoid providing politically inconvenient information in the future.
In Mike’s opinion, a decision in the government’s favour would effectively turn the Act into a dead letter.
We’re on our way: The WoW Petition is on its way to Parliament, having hit the 100,000 signature mark necessary to trigger consideration for a televised debate. [Image: WoW Petition website wowpetition.blogspot.com]
What a great result for the WoW Petition – it has reached its target of 100,000 signatures with time to spare!
The petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform and a new deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions – rather than the political aims of the current Westminster administration or any motive to cut welfare budgets.
WoW (it stands for resistance to the ‘War on Welfare’) demands an immediate end to the humiliating work capability assessment and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act, along with an independent, committee-based inquiry into welfare reform. And it wants an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits, along with other demands.
Passing the magic 100,000-signature mark does not mean the petition has automatically won a chance to be debated in Parliament; the Backbench Business Committee has to agree to put it forward first.
It is fortunate, then, that the petition has won the endorsement of celebrities including Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Yoko Ono and Bianca Jagger (according to the Daily Mirror).
“This is a hugely important issue because many disabled and sick people cannot go out and protest against these devastating policies,” said comedian Francesca Martinez, who launched the petition in December last year.
“It is vital that those of us who can, join together to ensure these basic rights aren’t eroded away. With 83 per cent of disabilities acquired [rather than congenital], anyone can find themselves with an impairment, or [living] as a carer, and we must make sure that people are adequately supported when in challenging times.
“This is what a civilised society does. Instead of demonising those on welfare, we should be proud to create a society that provides for everyone regardless of health or ability. We will never forget the many tragic deaths already caused by this government and we will continue to fight in the hope that we can protect those in need from despair, poverty and death.”
One death that we can commemorate is that of WoW Petition co-founder John Dyer, who sadly passed away in November. Fellow co-originator Rick B said: “We are resolute to take this democratic mandate and pursue the cause of making justice for sick and disabled people, and carers, a reality.”
Rick said that he himself almost died in July 2012 because of government ill-treatment.
Let’s all agree that we’re a far cry from where we were in October, when the petition had just 62,792 signatures, didn’t look like it was going to make it, and I wrote: “Are we all so apathetic that we are happy to sit around, eating our horseburgers and gossiping about whether the stars of our favourite soap operas are sex fiends… that we can’t be bothered to spare a thought for people – perhaps people we know – who are suffering for no reason other than that the government we didn’t even elect demands it?”
We’re not – and what a great feeling it is to be able to say that!
But my gut instinct tells me that we should not sit back and expect others to finish the job – not yet. It’s great that the petition will be considered in Parliament, but let’s make sure that our MPs know how strongly we feel about this.
What I’d like to suggest – and this is just a thought that has come to me as I was writing this – is that those of you who have taken part in the Twitter campaign might like to post another tweet saying something like “I want a Parliamentary debate for the WoW Petition bit.ly/XFS5Ur“.
If you’re emailing someone, you could add that line after your signature – and this could be especially effective if you are sending a letter to the press – newspaper, magazine or online media.
And you could also add it to any messages you put on Facebook or similar social media.
We’ve got public attention now – let’s make it all worthwhile.
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Violence marred the Million Mask March in London – with the clashes apparently started by British police.
But you should not expect to see the spectacle reported on the news as the BBC and other right-wing media seem to have put their heads in the (proverbial) sand and, once again, failed to report anything that might indicate the British people are not happy with their government.
Thousands of people took to the streets, many wearing what is now seen as the symbol of protest against austerity cuts imposed by the rich – the Guy Fawkes mask made famous by the graphic novel ‘V for Vendetta’.
[Picture: Million Mask March London Facebook page]
Comedian Russell Brand, who has called for non-violent revolution, was spotted at the London protest.
Inevitably, someone had to spoil it and it seems the police were the aggressors.
According to the Huffington Post, an eyewitness said: “They [the police] started shouting move back, move back, but we had nowhere to go. The police started pushing us, screaming ‘move back, move back’. There was a fire on the right hand side of the monument [the Victoria Memorial near Buckingham Palace] and people started throwing things.”
The HuffPost reported: “The event is part of a Million Mask March, with similar protests being held in cities around the world. A Facebook page promoting the protest called for Anonymous, WikiLeaks, the Pirate Party, and Occupy to “defend humanity”.
“‘Remember who your enemies are: Billionaires who own banks and corporations who corrupt politicians who enslave the people in injustice,’ it read.”
If any Vox Political readers were at the march – or at any of the many others around the world – please tell us about it. Let us know what the mainstream news reporters aren’t telling us.
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