Remember, when we aimed to ensure our children had a better life than we did?
Posts from the ‘Blog’ Category
There are individual books which just enter the psyche from where we do not know. A passing glimpse on a bookshop shelf. A casual reference in the footnote of another book, or maybe a brief mention while in a discussion. I’m not sure how or why I ended up ordering Hector Abad’s memoir Oblivion. As an author, I have never come across his name or indeed his father, whose story inhabits each of the books 261 pages.
Hector Abad’s father was a prominent medical doctor, university professor and human rights advocate in Colombia. He was murdered in 1987 by those closely associated with the countries wealthy elites, government and military of the day.
The book is not merely a memoir to commemorate his fathers’ life and the subjects he fought for, which ultimately cost him his life. Abad also shines a light on the complicated relationship seldom explored between son and father. The tone, the issues and writing make it a joy to read. Its a genuinely lovely, enjoyable, thought-provoking and tender book, which goes beyond a son and family suffering the cruellest of losses, but a celebration of love, life and acknowledgement the world would be a much darker place without people like Héctor Abad Gómez.
Having recently read Daniel Rachel’s Walls Come Tumbling Down, a 500-page homage to the music and politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge (mid-1970s through to the early 1990s). A period in time, which I grew from child to adult, musically and professionally. I would say I started to mature politically during Rock Against Racism and then became genuinely active in politics during Red Wedge. The structure of the book is set out in a linear timeline. It is in effect an encyclopedia of crucial people and events driving these campaigns. The book did provoke many reflections, thoughts and inherent parallels with the Black Live’s Matter movement.
Times have, of course, witnessed many changes for the better since the darkness of the 70s where the racist attitude was not only endemic but ingrained and celebrated in popular culture and street violence. It’s 45 years since the birth of Rock Against Racism emerged. Still, we are struggling with the festering and illogical intolerance towards a person because they simply seem to be different continues.
As I write these words, the city I call home is searching its soul after a young black NHS worker was seriously injured by a racially-aggravated attack while walking home from his job. When I occasionally venture into Facebook land, I come across sarcastic, insensitive or misinformed memes deliberately designed to hurt people.
The painful truth remains the communities of my birth, childhood, and adulthood may face provocation from instigators of hate, funded by dark money and led by populist caricatures. But this is still no excuse. The tragic reality is that individual’s buy into these philosophies of hate because they are an embodiment of themselves. The thug on the street and that person who causally posts those memes on social media are part of this same philosophy of hate.
We find ourselves once again, in an era of false promises. Complex problems are brushed over with simple slogans. At the same time, politicians play to our fears as we seek to make sense of an unstable world. In these circumstances, as always, good intentions are positive, but its actions that make the difference and ultimately lead to change.
The musical shifts towards the end of the 1960s have always been intriguing to me. Psychedelia, music experimentation and the emergence of garage rock against a social-political backdrop has made for many a film and book. But here is a little story I only heard of lately.
It concerns a four-piece called Public Nuisance who had become a successful support band to the like of Buffalo Springfield, The Doors and Grateful Dead. Formed, 1964 and like so many pop bands of the time, Public Nuisance changed and adapted throughout the decade to a more Psychedelia/heavy rock format.
Towards the end of 1968 and early 1969, they recorded an album’s worth of material with producer Terry Melcher.
During 1969 Melcher had sub-let his house to director Roman Polanski and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and went on to suffer a breakdown after Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate, along with another four people were murdered by Charles Manson and his cult. Dennis Wilson had been socialising with members of the Manson Family cult.
Melcher closed down his label and basically retreated from sight. Public Nuisance played several gigs but went on to disband in 1970. The band and their recordings for many years went virtually unknown, but for a few people who survived the end of the drug-fuelled decade. Their music was not to see the light of day until 35 years with the release of a complete anthology double-CD entitled Gotta Survive.
As the killing and greed continued during the 90s small seeds of hope we’re starting show progress:
1991:The Berlin Wall falls, and like dominoes, authoritarian regimes across Russia and its Soviet satellites do likewise.
1995:The world finally unites on an environmental threat. It bans the production of CFC gases, which are eating the earth’s ozone player.
1997:The IRA called a ceasefire leading to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
2000:The Camp David Summit brings together Israel and Palestinian leaders in peace talks.
Events, which for many underpinned a resurgence in social democracy and ultimately the election of Obama in 2009.
Then it all turned to ash.
During our recent lockdown period, I wanted to get a better understanding of what had happened and of course, the current hype concerning Russian and China added another dimension.
This is not my review of the 5 books I read and endless hours on the internet, watching documentaries and talking to people who like me have witnessed the rise of populism from these ashes. These five books, if you are interested are:
Karen Dawiska: Putin’s Kleptocracy
Moneyland: Oliver Bullough
Democracy in Chains: Nancy MacLean
Dark Money: Jane Mayer
Putin’s Russia: Anna Politkovskaya
Any of these books will open a door for inquisitive minds who seek the truth. Often not easy reading, but compelling.
As the narrative is carefully sown against Russia and China, of which they are amble evidence of corruption, lazy journalists will follow the bread crumbs laid for them.
Our current predicament is not one sown by reds lurking under our beds, but one born from our own doing. Its origins run much more profound, and long before the fall of the USSR or the growth of China.
Its tentacles emerge from the fatback pockets of wealthy individuals who we have allowed to construct rules to protect their interests.
The oligarchs of Russia and the endless medal brigade of the People’s Republic of China have with their eye-watering wealth forced a place at the table, exclusively occupied by western gangsters.
What can be done?
Well, we can take responsibility and start by not electing their paid agents.
In the world of Horology, (the study of time and clocks) the mainspring or pully provides the source of power while the ratchet prevents the pully from unwinding. The pulley has gear teeth, which then drives the centre wheel. The centre wheel then drives wheel within wheels, which ultimately divides the motion. All entirely encased with the magic hidden from view from prying eyes.
Boris Johnson raised eyebrows when he decided to allow Huawei to invest in the U.K.’s 5G infrastructure. A decision, which baffled many given the Chinese provider ZTE has been banned from the U.K. communications infrastructure since 2018 because of “national security risks” that “cannot be mitigated.” Immediately following his decision, a fine-tuned, orchestrated and a well-connected alliance was born between those holding genuine concerns and American corporate interests, which outmanoeuvred Johnson within six months. On the 14th July 2020, Johnson had flip-flopped and ordered telecommunication companies operating in the U.K. to strip equipment from Huawei out of their systems by 2027.
A decision, which was taken in a post Brexit environment by a Government desperately trying to clinch trade deals with countries from around the world. While at the same time seeking to maintain the trading benefits of the Single European Market without being a member of the club.
The U.K. now finds itself led by a Prime Minister increasingly engrossing himself in the delusion of commanding an economic empire free from constraints, which hold others back, to wheel and deal like a global Del Trotter. His self-styled Winston Churchill caricature, proud and defiant against all the odds, which he skillfully presented to the U.K. electorate just a few weeks before, was about to be given a short shift.
The brutal reality of the U.K. solo and naked in the cold waters of international trade deals was about to be devastatingly exposed. The battle Johnson unwittingly led the U.K. into was not merely one of state security.
The Peoples Money v The Dollar
The People’s Bank of China has strategically kept the Yuan at a fixed exchange rate to the dollar, which has allowed China’s economic growth to soar thanks to low-cost exports to the United States. As a result, China’s share of international trade and gross domestic product grew to around 10%.
In 2015, the International Monetary Fund awarded the Chinese Yuan status as a reserve currency. In the same year as international trade grew, so did the popularity of the Yuan, when it became the fourth most-used currency in the world rising from 13th place in just three years.
In doing so, it surpassed the Japanese yen, Canadian loonie, and the Australian dollar. A position, which left many in no doubt that China’s long term plan is to replace the U.S. Dollar with the Yuan as the world’s trading currency.
The Frontline of an Emerging Trade War
What we may be witnessing here is not only the opening salvo’s of a trade war but the struggle for global economic supremacy between two of the biggest economies on the planet.
Boris Johnson’s flip flop on Huawei drew condemnation by the Chinese Government as both disappointing and wrong, which will likely result in recriminations from the worlds third-largest economic superpower.
The European Union, the worlds second-largest economic power has slowly been distancing itself from Huawei given its almost self-sufficient capacity in the manufacturing of telecommunications and concerns over long term security. On the other hand, President Trump, leader of the worlds biggest economic superpower, welcomed Johnson’s decision, “We convinced many countries, many countries – and I did this myself for the most part.”
Although the recent events in Hong Kong and the Huawei debacle have chilled relations, Boris Johnson has never hidden his fondness for China, a family trait. His younger half-brother, Max Johnson company (M.J. Capital), based in the Chinese province of Hong Kong proudly boasts its “at the crux of UK-China business….we connect capital seekers with capital providers…across a broad spectrum: real estate, consumer, technology, education, sports, and media…for Western brands looking to establish a presence in Asia or vice-versa.”
Max was the first U.K. citizens to join the MBA program at Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management (SEM), one of China’s most respected schools. When asked why he had chosen Tsinghua, he did not hide his motivations during an interview with Business Because in June 2020, “….the chance to mingle with China’s elite”.
Tsinghua University’s founding dean, Zhu Rongji, was the fifth Premier of the State Council of China (a role often referred to as China’s prime minister). Both current Chinese president Xi Jinping and former Chinese president Hu Jintao graduated from Tsinghua University. The current mayor of Beijing, Chen Jining, is the university’s former president.
Taking Care of Business
There are many justifiable reasons to question how and why the U.K. should do Business with authoritarian regimes, like China, Saudi Arabia, etc. However, the alarmist narrative now being spun by elements of the Conservative Party that it is far too risky to allow Chinese investment into our sensitive national infrastructure only tells half the story.
After all, these concerns did not prevent a Conservative Party-led Government granting a nuclear site licence in 2012 for the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. China General Nuclear Power (CGN) holding a 30% equity stake in this project.
Boris Johnson’s initial decision to allow Huawei a foothold in the U.K. telecommunications market was one of his first significant strategic decisions he made after his election victory on 19th December 2019 and following the Christmas/New Year holiday.
A Christmas/New Year holiday widely reported at the time and according to the M.P.s’ register of interests, had a value of £15,000, which was covered by David Ross, the co-founder of Carphone Warehouse.
The Dark Forces Amass
5G technology has the potential to be a revolutionary force for good. It provides us, businesses to engage with one another much more comfortable, faster and better. It will enable autonomous cars to read maps and power drones to undertake complicated search and rescue missions, etc.
Large quantities of money and power also attract dark forces. The estimated global value of 5G is $12.3 trillion and 22 million jobs by 2035, which means this emerging market will not be an exemption from these dark forces.
Very broadly, the 5G infrastructure requires a wireless communication network, which consists of ‘base stations’ and operating ‘software systems’.
Base stations often referred to as single-purpose providers: These are traditional providers who have built and deployed equipment likes masts in town and cities around the world to support wireless networks.
Multi-purpose providers: These are the corporations who develop software programmes, operating and information storage systems, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software. Without these systems, the single-purpose providers are just pieces of junk. I’m going to come back to DCIM towards the end, so keep a note.
Estimates are that software infrastructure spending will increase between 20% and 50% annually, reaching £300 billion by 2025. Multi-purpose providers are worried and are seeking to forge closer working partnerships with single-purpose providers for a good reason. The ownership and geographical location of those corporations seen as market leaders in both single and multi-purpose provider market start to tell the story:
- Ericsson: Swedish
- Huawei: Chinese
- Nokia: Finish
- Samsung: South Korea
- ZTE: Chinese
- Cisco Systems: USA
- Dell: USA
- Hewlett Pickard: USA
- Aruba (a subsidiary of Hewlett Pickard): USA
- Lenovo: Chinese
Unlike other companies in the market place, Huawei can tap into Chinese government subsidies to the tune of over $200 million based on its most recent annual report as well as an extensive line of credit for its customers estimated at a staggering $100 billion. These levels of subsidies enable Huawei to enter markets on a loss leader basis and undercut their competitors.
Forbes, January 2019, reported that Huawei was already developing in-house A.I. solutions for its infrastructure.
The emerging nightmare for corporate America is Huawei being allowed to continue its global growth, and the risks of them combining single and multi-purpose technologies by embedding Huawei software in their telecommunications infrastructure, coupled with the continued growth of the Yuan.
Project Kill Huawei
Project kill Huawei in the U.K. was initiated immediately after Johnson had made his decision.
The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing conservative think tank based in the USA with a budget of approximately $90,000,000 was quickly off the mark. The Foundation is a firm supporter of the Trump presidency with an estimated 60 of the Foundation’s employees, and alumni given positions in the Trump administration.
Notable trustees of the Heritage Foundation, include Rebekah Mercer; Director of the Mercer Family Foundation and daughter of Robert Mercer, the American billionaire hedge fund manager, and former principal investor in the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica. The company that played a crucial role in the campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union by donating data analytics services to Nigel Farage. The Mercers own the right-wing blog Breitbart News, whose ex-executive chairman was Steve Bannon who also served on the board of Cambridge Analytica.
One of the Foundations claims to notoriety is Jason Richwine who co-authored the think tank’s report on the costs of amnesty. He resigned following intense media attention on his Harvard PhD thesis from 2009 and comments he made at a 2008 American Enterprise Institute forum.
Richwine argued that Hispanics and Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites and have trouble assimilating because of a supposed genetic predisposition to lower I.Q.
Michael Gove MP, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, has strong links to the American Enterprise Institute. According to his register of financial interests, Gove declares monetary donations from the AEI to attend their meetings in America.
The Heritage Foundation proudly boasts that it was “at the forefront of urging the British Government against going down the path of giving Chinese companies a stake in 5G. Heritage scholars met with senior British officials in London and Washington earlier this year, as well as with leading Conservative members of Parliament, conveying deep-seated U.S. concerns over the involvement of Huawei in Britain’s 5G network.”
The British politician who has been marshalling the backbench Tory revolt against Johnson’s decision to allow Huawei access is no other than Iain Duncan Smith MP. Smith has strong ties with the Heritage Foundation, and over the years he has enjoyed expenses paid junkets to visit America as their guest.
In February 2018, Smith also declared share options in NLYTE Software Ltd with a value of more than £70,000. NLYTE Software provides DCIM software and I.T. Asset Management solutions to an array of businesses, including CISCO the leading U.S. corporation, which coincidentally is in the Business of multi-purpose technologies.
Smith’s big idea while the Work and Pensions Secretary was the rollout of six welfare benefits into one universal credit. It did not take long for the wheels to come off given the policy seemed to be driven by political dogma rather than practical deliverables. As the Guardian Newspaper report, “The system collapsed into expensive chaos. Not only did many genuinely disabled people suffer needlessly, but – more important from the Governments perspective – the savings failed to materialise.”
A fellow Conservative traveller in the Heritage Foundation network alongside Smith, who has enjoyed expenses paid junkets to America is Liam Fox MP. The disgraced former defence secretary, also sacked by Johnson as trade secretary has been nominated by Boris Johnson to lead the World Trade Organisation.
The hapless Fox had famously said that a Brexit free trade deal with the E.U. would be the “easiest in human history” and he would sign 40 free trade deals the second after Brexit.
The delicate balance between any notion of democracy and free-market capitalism is similar to the workings of a clock with its fragile set of levers, movements, cogs and wheels. We may not understand its secrets, yet so much relies on it functioning. When it goes wrong, it’s normally out of sight, and we only notice when it is far too late.
After 25 years managing in a professional environment where the word ‘capacity’ frequently involves a justification to do little, please excuse me if I feel a bit fatigued with its application within the context of testing for the coronavirus.
Let’s peel back this context when Dominic Raab (The stand-in for the PM) explains the government as having a testing capacity of 40,000 a day, and this will be 100,000 in the next eight days.” On 25 March, the prime minister said: “We are going up from 5,000 to 10,000 tests per day, to 25,000, hopefully very soon up to 250,000 per day.” Professional anoraks often get themselves in a sweat over such terminology, but to help cut this short, there is the self capacity and then there is holistic capacity. There was a sleight of hand today by Dominic Raab who tried to shift the narrative from actually doing 100,000 tests a day to having the capacity to do 100,000 tests per day. Let me try to explain.
Self-capacity is pretty much self-explanatory. What government ministers are now repeatedly talking about is the government having the test capacity, which means having the resources and procedures in place so they can then commission adequate testing.
All well and good, you may say. Still, the health and care sector in the UK has been fragmented through the ideological enslavement of privatisation, outsourcing and artificial internal markets, as well as the climate of austerity, means that “self-capacity” is pretty futile. The government themselves do not do the testing. It is undertaken by either other parts of the state or a private agency contracted to carry out the tests.
One of the main reasons the government is struggling with PPE and testing is the lack of capacity throughout the health and care sector (holistic capacity throughout the supply chain) in the UK. We do not have an integrated national health and care service in the UK.
Decades of underfunding and trying to do things on the cheap through competitive market tendering have left weaknesses throughout the supply chain from service design, procurement, delivery and then right through to the quality outcomes for the person in receipt of the service.
Cruelty in our care homes is directly linked to UK politicians and social policymakers being obsessed with market competition in health and social care. The horrific case of Winterbourne View is but an example of what is going on and a simple Google search ‘care workers jailed for abuse in the UK’ will no doubt lift a few compassionate eyebrows.
At the end of the day, the government may have the capacity to resource 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. The whole health and care sector having the ability to deliver these 100,000 tests, well that is a different outcome altogether. The government are playing spin with the lives of our NHS and Care Sector workers, instead of sorting the supply chain shambles out.
In the murky world of political spin, the smoke and mirrors of tabloid headlines and the lack of interest for many to scratch beneath the surface, tragically lives will still be lost.
The decisions of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government have determined if a large number of people in the United Kingdom have lived or died. The only similarities between a state of war and tackling a pandemic virus are that when lives are at stake, there is no greater need for accountability. It was this reality and my growing anxieties that I wrote my first blog on this matter on 28th May 2020. The reaction to my first blog on this matter drew both criticism and praise.
Historically governments have stood and fallen by the decisions they made. However, in this era of fake news and an overwhelmingly biased media in favour of the government, it would seem Johnson’s administration is beyond accountability with impunity. In 2016 Johnson’s counterpart in the White House said, ‘I could shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.’ In other words, it does not matter what I say or whatever actions I take my voters will turn a blind eye. I am untouchable. His arrogance is neither surprising nor amusing but a sad reflection on the nation he leads. Likewise, Boris Johnson and his administration is a reflection of my country. Administrations on both sides of the Atlantic shelter in the disconnect between accountability, weak opposition and a voting populous that seem passive in demanding answers.
The UK Government operates as a sponge to public opinion. It continually seeks to weave its narrow ‘populist’ ideology through a maze of bobbing icebergs, tilting, swaying, ducking and diving. It is twitching a message here, making an empty promise there, and deflecting responsibility, while obfuscating in an ocean of soundbite drivel. The government is panicking, in holding its alliances together as it falls into its self-delusion of being a ‘one national’ political party. Paralysed by a Prime Minister terrified at the prospect of being cross-examined by journalists. A senior advisor with a hostile ‘drain the swamp’ mentality towards the civil service, they have created a toxic environment for a healthy government to function.
Trump threatens to withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation. The government in the UK encourages tabloid headlines demanding wealthy footballers take a wage cut to fund the NHS. Yet, the same cabinet of politicians sitting at the centre of this government made up of multi-millionaires as well as drawing down a salary paid for by taxpayers refuse to contemplate any financial sacrifice themselves. It’s all a cynical pantomime, a deflection, but a deflection with deadly consequences.
The media in the UK frequently compares data with the US, Spain and Italy. Those worst affected by the virus, but rarely with other states who seem to be delivering much better outcomes for their citizens. The Johnson administration dodges, but the questions will not go away.
Why is testing capability so inadequate in the UK?
Why is the UK government only publishing death rates from hospitals and not from the wider community, including nursing homes, like Franch, for example?
Why are our frontline staff in the NHS, Care Homes and those providing care in the community not being provided with appropriate protective clothing, but the UK Government can find time to promote a badge?
Why has a government, which branded itself with the ‘taking back control’ mantle continued to allow flights from some of the worst-hit enter the UK without suitable checks?
While our closet neighbour The Republic of Ireland cancelled St Patrick’s Day celebrations and large gatherings of more than 100 people. The UK Government allowed the Cheltenham Festival, large rock concerts and a major sporting tournament to take place on UK soil with a team from one of the worst-hit countries. At the time of writing close to 400 people had died in Ireland as opposed to 12,000 in the UK. If you adjust for population differences, there have been 7.4 deaths in Ireland for every 100,000 people. In the UK, there have been 17 deaths per 100,000.
The State of California, USA, is another part of the world that seems to be delivering much better outcomes for its citizens despite the goon show from the White House. On the 9th March, Santa Clara County banned gatherings of 1000 people, shortly followed to groups of 50 people. Other counties followed suit soon afterwards. California, whose population do not face the extraordinary levels of high-density living, as many UK residents do in our urban cities and towns simply took the threat seriously from day one.
When asked if one day or two can make a difference in the efforts to save lives Dr Neha Nanda, the medical director of infection prevention at Keck Medicine, University of Southern California, replied “Oh yes….even being one day ahead can have a huge impact,” she told the BBC. “the mortality we will be able to avert – it’s huge.”
While nobody knows how this will end for either the UK, Ireland or any other country. One thing is factually at the time of writing. UK citizens are dying at twice the rate as their counterpart in Ireland. Why is this not being reported in our press?
I must confess that upon relocating to London from Bristol in the late 90s, like a child playing with an oversized train set, I loved using the London Underground system. I never entirely understood the wails and grunts from work colleagues as they arrived at the office first thing each morning.
Accepted, it was not the best place to be on a hot day between Brixton and Vauxhall. Especially in an over-crowded carriage, waiting for the light to change and drivers unintelligible announcements.
Donning my headphones and observing the subterranean world become one of my little daily pleasures. Witnessing the solemn faces of passengers navigate the unwritten constitution, which governs the use of the underground with an iron glove:
Do not acknowledge other people
Pretend to read something essential.
Do not disturb.
Do not invade space and avoid all physical contact.
Do not intervene in other peoples misdemeanours.
Learn to pivot and balance against gravity.
When the occasion arises, gawk at your reflection.
Rush hour: Be a complete and inconsiderate tosser.
The practice of social distancing, before it became a necessity. After a period of using the same route a small acknowledgement, a nod of the head would be exchanged between familiar faces.
One particular day, it was my first week of employment at Lambeth Council. I was still coming to terms with the kaleidoscope of new names and faces, and I jumped on the system at Brixton Underground.
The carriage was pretty full, but not overcrowded. As the carriage pulled away, I noticed one of my new work colleagues down the other end of the carriage. I looked him in the eyes and gave him a firm nod of acknowledgement. He looked down and did not respond.
A few moments later, he lifted his head and looked my way. I gave him a smile and reaffirmed my acknowledgement. Once again, he looked away only this time a little more uncomfortably as if he was being tested by a psychopath. He tried to move behind somebody close to him, but I could see him looking at me through the reflection of the carriage window. I gave his reflected stare an acknowledgement, and he shuffled behind this human shield again.
Now feeling somewhat offended, I thought, fuck it, you miserable sod. The carriage pulled into Stockwell Station. I watched my supposed work colleague take a quick glance, again through the reflection in the window. I looked away in disgust. The driver announced the closing of the doors, next stop Vauxhall. In the blink of an eye, my work colleague jumped from the train onto the platform, leaving me with no time to join him.
With great stature, he stared directly at me, as the carriage slowly started to move. His eyes shouted out to me, “who the fuck are you?”
At this point, I realised my work colleague was none other than Mick Jones, guitarist from The Clash. Our paths were never to cross again.