Friday, February 24, 2012

Crimefare

You have to admire the grand strategy on the Tories.  It's really brilliant - if I was committed to producing an economy that can't even come close to employing everyone who needs work, I'd encourage young people to take up careers in crime too.

Put simply, firing everyone you possibly can and forcing them to compete for scarce jobs while cracking down on unemployment benefits is a masterstroke, if your aim is to crush all hope out of your opponents' electoral base and empower your own.  If you force people to stand on each others' faces by keeping employment opportunities massively below demand, it creates a self-reinforcing cycle of impoverishment, lowered wages and public resentment, setting everyone at each other's throats rather than your own.

So their new workfare wheeze is a devastating victory.  I mean, I've had some terrible jobs in shops, bars and restaurants.  The first job I ever had paid £1.52 an hour in 1995; I've scrubbed urinals, hauled tables and kegs, mopped up more barf than I care to recall, scrubbed a bajillion ashtrays, hosed down bins and worked in pubs where you have a genuine fear that one of the punters might assault you at any second.  Of course, I'd go back to any of them in a flash rather than try to subsist on the dole, which is what makes Workfare so wonderfully vicious.

Since the saving grace of crap jobs is a barely-adequate wage and the possibility of advancement, why not remove even these motivations?  They carry the serious possibility of encouraging optimism and self-respect, and a workforce that possesses these traits might want to unionise, or something.  They've got to go!  Hence, workfare - all the shitty labour and none of the recompense.

So now, we have millions of kids spilling out of school looking for their first job.  Realistically, they know those jobs are going to be dire and drudgerous for the first few years, but at least they pay.  Confront these kids with bullshit like workfare instead of a respectable start to an actual career, and they're going to instantly clock that the British workplace is an exploitative scam designed explicitly to immiserate them for the benefit of others.

If I'd been put in that position at the age of eighteen, I might have started to notice that other acquaintances of mine were making good cash by cutting corners.  Drug dealers, for example, can make hundreds of pounds a week tax-free by sitting on their arses playing Playstation.  A skilled shoplifter can boost an acceptable wage from the High Street with only a couple of days' work a week.  Countless criminal behaviours offer a quick buck, even if the long-term prospects are grim beyond description.  Crime delivers  the kind of instant gratification that, not coincidentally, is usually only available to folk who work in the City.

And here's the genius part - once kids get into crime as a career, there's usually no way back out into the world of legitimate employment.  Tot up a couple of convictions - especially crimes of dishonesty like theft - and you can forget gainful employment, forever.  Not only that, but as a criminal you're now outside public sympathy.  Nobody feels sorry for burglars, and why should they?  Nobody should have to worry that some light-fingered little twat is ripping off their telly while they sleep.

This set-up creates all kinds of benefits, if you're an ideological fruitcake.  It divides working class people amongst themselves and creates a massive tranche of undeserving poor; it encourages great waves of public resentment for people on benefits, since it's easier to portray such people as layabouts and villains.  That justifies even nastier crackdowns; it creates a demand for the kind of gleaming prisons and coppers in space marine outfits that's guaranteed to get your law and order voter stiff as a rolling pin.  It distracts everyone from the plain fact that you are to blame for the mess our society is in, and sends flocks of furious electors to the polls to vote for more of the same.

It's really an impressive system, if you couldn't give a damn about whether Britain is a pleasant place to live or not.  If your ideal scenario is a country dotted by gated communities full of Croesus-rich suburbanites, surrounded by a great roiling ocean of resentful wage slaves and feral scumbags, then the present government's strategy is working like a charm.

Ho hum.  I'll say it again - I don't expect capitalism to be fair.  The clue is in the name, isn't it?

It just surprises me that our current model of capitalism - essentially, setting up a massive, heavily-rigged  scam for funneling as much of its rewards to a wealthy minority as possible while keeping the majority of people on the verge of bankruptcy - is now the accepted norm.  You'd think that people would look at that and say, hey, this all looks kind of unsustainable and destined for disaster, doesn't it?

Well, maybe that's the whole point - short-term gain for long-term... Who cares?  We'll burn that bridge when we come to it!  I certainly can't imagine another explanation for why seemingly intelligent people would foist this kind of hilariously obvious sting on the nation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baboons On The Loose



That from Jack of Kent yesterday, mounting his high horse alongside a string of hacks and activists to decry the villainy of someone, somewhere, about the current bloodbath in Syria.  John Rentoul wants to investigate the possibility of a no-fly zone; bomb-happy French interventionist Bernard Kouchner wants to arm the Syrian opposition.  Green councillor Rupert Reid sternly admonishes that our enemy's enemy is not necessarily our friend and attacks a website for making dodgy alliances.

A stench of unreality and grandstanding hangs over this entire scenario.  We appear to have now reached the stage where many of these internet moralists are issuing denunciations to no-marks for opposing a military intervention that no serious political figure is even suggesting.

The reason why there are no Nato jets bombing Damascus is that there is, at present, no appetite for Nato jets bombing Damascus.  The Sino-Russian veto stands in here as a convenient excuse so that the American ambassador can issue a stern finger-wagging while noticeably doing nothing - had the Chinese and Russians acquiesced, the UN would've been resolved to agree that Syrian regime are a bunch of horrible criminals... and that's it.  Well, of course they are.  You'll notice that they're also a bunch of horrible criminals whom our government doesn't presently propose to remove by force.

Let's imagine that the United States suddenly decided to intercede.  The Chinese would definitely veto it, not least because of the way Nato exploited its Libya mandate to "protect civilians" into a generalised blank cheque to bomb whatever it liked, for as long as it liked.  Even if we could get round Sino-Russian objections, there is no worldwide consensus on this issue - you can bet right now that Brazil and India would strongly oppose it, while many other major countries would be extremely reluctant.  Imagine trying to sell yet another Middle Eastern adventure to South America, or South Africa, while the Americans are playing Who Blinks First with Iran and sending oil prices rocketing?

And even if we could get consent for, say, a no-fly zone as Rentoul suggests, well... You can't shoot down flying artillery batteries that don't exist, even with UN approval.

So even if there was an appetite for intervention, which there isn't, and even if we could get round the Chinese/Russian veto, which we can't, and even if we could convince a clear majority of countries to support military action, which we won't...  Syria is still an Iraq-sized country with a massive population, engaged in a really nasty civil war in which both sides have mass support.  That is, half the country would actively hate our guts if we stuck our noses in and would go out of their way to fight us off.

And arming the Syrian opposition?  Look Bernard, Syria is not Libya.  The Syrian regime has almost five thousand tanks, thousands of BMPs, armoured cars and artillery pieces and a 600,000-strong army.  Even if it could only call on a half - a third! - of that total, what are we going to arm the opposition with?  Nukes?  Would we be arming them so they can successfully defend themselves - which they clearly can't - or to make ourselves feel better about our own impotence?

This is before we get to Councillor Reid's admonition not to ally with dodgy characters out of convenience.  Point taken Rupe, but Jesus - this decade, the Good Guys have found themselves in loose alliance with Afghan warlords, mass-murdering Iraqi Sunni militia, Libyan torturers and psycho Iranian terrorist groups amongst many, many other despicable characters.  That being the case, who gives a shit whether a who-are-they-then website like Medialens says nice things about Vladimir Putin? I realise that there are people who fervently believe that some lefty professors being overly fond of Stalin was an issue of world-historical significance but really, history itself disagrees.

It's as clear as ever that when it comes to Godawful civil wars and murderous military campaigns, half the people commenting on them don't have the first idea about what wars and warmaking actually entail.  I'm all for getting into pissy Twitter arguments with people over foreign policy, but I object to being lectured on my fictional iniquity by fantasists over the awesome humanitarian military wheezes which exist only in their own damn brains.

Good God.  This kind of thing really makes me worry about the possibility that Walter Mitty characters of this genus might have the ear of the Prime Minister.  It's like if someone let a load of baboons loose in the nuclear launch control room - even the best-case scenario would have you chewing your fingernails up to your elbows in terror.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Oh, God

Okay, hands up - who believes that Sayeeda Warsi is worried by the forces of "militant secularisation"?   Does she wake suddenly in the wee small hours from uneasy dreams of Commissars snatching crucifixes from the grasp of pleading children?   Do cackling blasphemers haunt her long dark nights of the soul?

I'm going to out on a limb here and suggest... not.

Britain certainly hasn't been a Christian country in anything but the loosest cultural sense for at least a century.  It's had its fads and great revivals, but ultimately the Puritans have always got the boot.  The effects of the Sharia lite of yesteryear are now seen largely in period dramas.  Invitees to weddings mouth the words to hymns, humming and hawing what they hope is an approximation of the melody, unless it doubles up as a football chant.   Religion, especially the in-your-face type, is pretty much social death these days.

Contrary to what yer Warsis might think, this is something that has happened naturally.  I put it down to a mixture of factors, myself.  The wars of religion, for a start - Britain has produced some world class fire and brimstone bellowers, with predictable results.  Plus, there's the typically British gut instinct that public acts of piousness are just that little bit undignified, something we expect from excitable Foreigns.

And there's also all that religion in state schools.  If I wanted to draw up a plan to sabotage what remains of public faith in one generation, mandated prayer and psalms in school assemblies would be right at the top of my list.

You'd think that a Conservative politician would readily grasp the causes for this irreligion.  Far from being the result of some wicked cultural Marxism, Britain's Godlessness is the natural outcome of a free market in belief.  Once social enforcement collapsed, most of the populace took a look at the product on offer from the major religions and said thanks, but no thanks.  We'll take consumerism instead, if that's okay with you - spend it now, rather than save for the future.  It's the British way.

The wisdom of crowds!  Maybe there is something to all that greed-happy Tory goobledigook, after all.

So, if there is no great threat from secularism - this is secularism!  You're looking at it! - what can have provoked the Baroness's ire?

Let's bear in mind that Baroness Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative Party, has hardly found her faith an impediment either to becoming a Baroness or to making co-chair of the Conservative Party. I think we should at least consider the possibility that this career politician is in fact playing politics.

It's hardly new.  The wingnutty social conservative wing of the Tory Party has spent much of the last few years slyly trying to import the wackier sections of American culture war politics, the cornerstone of which is that Ol' Time Religion.    Let's review how culture war works. 

Step One - make some lunatic proclamation. 

Step Two - wait for various urbane, polysyllabic, smartarsed ex-student types to take the piss out of you in a highly condescending manner. 

Step Three - Wail and rend your garments over said smartarses' mockery, thus eliciting sympathy and indignation from your supporters. 

Step Four - see Step One.

It's a fairly simple strategy, based around the simple formula Blame; Hate; Coalesce; Rinse and Repeat.  The issue at stake can be sexual morality, abortion, teenagers fucking, religion - anything really, provided it riles up the social conservatives and gets the metropolitan set's vitriol flowing.  Sarah Palin has made tens of millions off the back of this.

After all, the aim here isn't to win.  If an issue is clear-cut, it's worse than useless, because the whole point of culture war is to start an argument and keep it going indefinitely.  If anything, it's better if the issue is something irresolvable.  It's better if it's some indefensible foolishness that sends your supporters flocking into the wackier corners of the internet looking for better arguments.  There are hundreds of thousands of aggrieved, unhappy people out there, and lots of them have years of experience in stoking popular resentment over slights, both real and imagined. 

And it's not like you'll ever want for enemies.  Hell, there are hundreds of thousands of offensive, strident pricks out there who have hours to spend infuriating fledgeling wingnuts with their superior intellects and wondrous powers of reason.  I know, because... 

Well, I know.  Let's leave it at that.

Let battle commence!  Why not have an argument over who gets custody of the Nazis?  Abortion is literally genocide!  And don't go reading any headlines today about how the government is tanking the economy, thanks.

If I was Sayeeda Warsi, you're damn right I'd want a public debate on religion, a really feral and merciless one.  Take a look across the pond and you'll see why.  Every second that the suckers on both sides spend raging over piss-soaked crucifixes or the commandments in court is more time that they're not spending comparing the unemployment rate to the number of available jobs.

I guess it's up to you to decide how far you want to join in the ruckus.

Now, whose side are suicide bombers on?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Shaft

Consider:

A major institution has been brought to its knees through years of overreach, financial chicanery and wild, hubris-driven casino gambling in pursuit of ever-greater success...

Very large chunks of the company's assets appear to have been (significant cough) "mislaid", and now...

The company is facing imminent downsizing or liquidation, either of which will lead to...

Sacking of most of its low-earning employees and potentially ruinous knock-on effects for their customers, competitors, suppliers and creditors, while...

The already wealthy individuals who bear responsibility for the disaster remain...

Very wealthy.

This could accurately describe any number of major banks or hedge funds in the last thirty years. Today, it's a solid summation of Rangers Football Club, whose supporters are currently shooting nervous glances at the hangman.

The idea that football can stand in perfectly for wider society in microcosm has been one of my most long-running conceits, one that I drag out with monotonous predictability. If you'd wasted as much time banging the Football-Is-Politics, Man bongo as I have, then the riches-to-rags story of Rangers is a Godsend. It's been much like the financial catastrophe of '08 all over again, except with rib-splitting hilarity instead of brown-trousered terror.

Like so many elaborate scams, the story began in the 1980s when a businessman named David Murray bought one of Scotland's largest football clubs. In short, he invested what were then enormous sums of money in the team and its properties, building a footballing colossus that would dominate its domestic rivals. By the time he'd added internationally renowned superstars like Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup to his already glittering line-up, Murray's Rangers had become a blitzkreig force in an era of musketry.

Nonetheless, as the rest of the league imitated his big-money methods and began to catch up, Murray found himself having to spend ever greater sums just to keep ahead. Like his high finance co-thinkers, Murray turned to "innovative" banking methods to fund his excesses, setting up tax avoidance boondoggles that would later explode in his face like a parcel-bomb full of shitty tomatoes.

Rangers owner Craig Whyte
Left facing massive losses and weary of the constant cash demands from the club's fans, Murray unwisely offloaded the company to a deeply suspect fraudster by the name of Craig Whyte, pictured right. While it's difficult to discern precisely what has happened, it's looking very much like Whyte has immediately trousered twenty-four million quid in future ticket sales and nine million in taxes, then invited in the administrators.

The parallels with high finance are surely clear - the risks taken to attain success that created only demand for more risks to create more success; the criminal tax avoidance schemes available to the super-wealthy but not to the man in the street, who stumps up or bends over; the sudden realisation that reliable products had not become worthless, but had in fact been worthless all along.

As it did 2008, cataclysm has crept up on the national consciousness, exploding seemingly from nowhere. Although the club's financial problems have been common knowledge among sports journalists for years, national media outlets - reliant on access to Rangers personnel for headlines and resulting profits - soft-pedalled and downplayed them. Just as it was in 1929, few asked serious questions until investors started hitting the pavement at terminal velocity.

Perhaps the most stark comparison is this - that the worst costs of Rangers' destruction won't be borne by the businessmen who drove it into the ground, nor by the players who pocketed such vast sums of cash. The full effects will be felt by the lowest-earning employees, by local businesses, by other football clubs owed whacking great payoffs, and by the club's supporters themselves, many of whom have spent small fortunes on their team.

Of these, it's most difficult to feel sympathy for the fans. Aside from other issues, a majority of Rangers supporters appear to have spent much of their Golden Era feeling, if anything, hard-done-by. Where other supporters of teams in difficulties have rallied to create pressure groups to ensure their club's survival, Rangers' fanbase has only been moved to demand more irresponsible spending.

More Rangers fans could've recognised the limits all clubs have to live within, even if few clubs' supporters are capable of such clear-eyed analysis.  They certainly should've greeted the approach of a cartoon vampire like Craig Whyte with Hammer Horror-esque shrieks of terror, furious whittling and improvised crucifixes. Instead, when the BBC exposed the new owner's record of deeply dubious wheeler-dealing, many of them rallied around him and attacked the BBC, accusing it of conducting a hate campaign against the club.  Because it had an agenda, you see.

As it turned out, the BBC were correct and now, the stench of death pervades Rangers FC so thickly, you can barely see Ally McCoist for billowing clouds of horseflies. As every new day brings fresh revelations of astonishing deceit, who can say how many bodies will be found buried under the Ibrox patio?

And again, we have to ask ourselves just how rife this kind of sharp practice is. One of the main reasons why the '08 crash was so deep and prolonged was the realisation that, as bank after bank failed, pretty much anyone could be guilty of the same fraud or recklessness.

How many more fans are going to watch their teams fold or falter, in the coming decade? If Rangers - a venerable club with a massive income and a huge base of passionate supporters - can go, anyone can.

Well. In football as in finance, the name of the game appears to be Fuckyounomics, or Success in the perpetual now, and we'll worry later. The club's supporters could now be left with armfuls of trophies and only their well-worn DVDs of past glories to watch on Saturday afternoons.

The revelations are now coming so thick and fast that attempts to build a We are all to blame narrative can't take hold, but there's plenty of time yet for that. Even the First Minister has felt compelled to warn that all of us Scottish football fans desperately need Rangers to survive, whether or not we agree.

Rangers were first in Scotland to turn their supporters into a goldmine, but one thing's for sure - now that the richest seams have petered out, each and every one is going to get the shaft.