Pointless Plans

The government has just announced that it is going to reduce red tape and allow buildings such as loft conversions, extensions and conservatories to be built without planning permission.  Oh, boy, that is a recipe for starting a civil war.  Just think about the hatred some neighbours harbour towards each other, this could be the start of an "arms race" as one neighbour tries to out  build the other in constructing loft conversions which will block out the sun from nextdoors veggie patch while nextdoor erects a conservatory which will interrupt the enemies view from their bathroom window. Planning regulations are there for very sound reasons and rather than this being a measure to kick start the economy (how can a temporary relaxation of the regulations make any improvement to our failing economy?) to me it reeks of a favour to some little crony of Cameron who has been refused permission to build a two storey extension to their duck house and this will allow them to extend their moat without their local parish interfering.

There are thousands of houses and flats standing empty, boarded up, unused and mouldering away which could be made fit for purpose, thereby giving work to local builders and the associated trades which would bring money into the local economy.  This could be funded through grants to housing associations, the money coming from the banks which we, the people own, or if the banks still refuse to lend or distribute the grants use credit unions and local government. 

Again and again I have written about this issue, in my book "Days of Thrift" and in various blogs and every time I have come to the same conclusion that there is no need to build on green belt land, there are huge areas of brown field sites on which to erect affordable housing, just waive the building tax for a period of 10 years on construction that utilises brown fields and you would see the building industry blossom and the families and single people who have been on waiting lists for years waiting for a home while living in cramped squalor in bed and breakfasts and hostels would have homes and new purpose in their lives. The rents from these homes could be used to fund the next wave of house building.  I don't have a degree in economics or town planning but to me its "simples".  When I walk down my High Street I see boarded up shops and flats, the only shops trading are pawn brokers, charity shops and betting shops.  All those empty properties could be refurbished at very little cost compared to building new houses in the green belt because the infrastructure is already in place i.e roads, schools etc. and by having a mixture of residential properties, micro businesses, green technologies and workshops communities would be rebuilt where everyone had a stake in their neighbourhood and felt proud of living there.

Having a place to live isn't a luxury which is only conferred on a fortunate few it is a human right not something to be played with by politicians who have never wanted for anything and think a loft conversion will solve the countries problems.

The Customer Experience Part Three

I was sitting in the Job Centre waiting to sign on, next to me sat a small group of men, they all knew each other and I think from listening to them they had worked together and now they were unemployed together.  One of them began to talk about how hard it was to find money for food, he had two children and a wife - he didn't know how to put food on the table.  Instead of changing the subject and talking about sport or the Olympics each of them agreed and began to talk openly and loudly about their struggles to "make ends meet". I was really surprised to hear the conversation, these weren't women chatting about where to get the best deal or pensioners having a little moan;  these men must have been in their forties, they were politically aware and angry as they discussed various scandals and the huge disparity between rich and poor they got even angrier.  The anger wasn't the kind where furniture was going to be kicked over and the police called, this was bone deep fury at the way the country is heading and how they had to stand up for what was right.  I didn't get to hear the rest of the conversation as I was called to sign my piece of paper with an advisor.

Walking away from the Job Centre I thought about what I had just heard, the same things are being said all across Europe, all across Africa, the Middle East, across the world and I compared their words with the speech I heard Melvin King, the Governor of the Bank of England give a few days ago announcing another down grading of our prospects - he tried to blame the Eurozone for the UK's poor export figures (this is the newest magic mushroom George Osborne has been cultivating - that great export figures are going to pull the UK out of the Depression) but that is not true, the UK exported more to Europe than the rest of the world.  Exports to the rest of the world fell by 9.6% whereas exports to the Eurozone fell by 7.6%. These aren't great figures and our economy has flatlined with zero growth which according to Melvin who looked like a deer caught in the headlights, could go on for years and then there is the matter of the largest deficit for 15 years.  Sorry to use so many figures, I find my own mind goes walkies when I start writing about it but that is what Melvin and all the feral rich want that it gets too much for us ordinary people to think about so we give up, well, we can't give up.  To put it in real terms just a few weeks ago 806 people applied for one job in my town, that's our reality.  The policy of removing real jobs from our society, making more and more people unemployed and thinking that somehow the private sector would produce new jobs to replace all the ones destroyed is lunacy.  In Buddhism there is a wonderful phrase about a person who is deluded by greed, anger and ignorance and they are like someone in a burning house which is coming down around their ears but they think they are at a fabulour celebrity party which will never end.  I think we are standing in the burning building but we can put the fire out.

I have written about growing our own vegetables and fruit, all the different ways you can do that on allotments, in back gardens, on top of blocks of flats and in window boxes, I wrote an earlier blog called "ABC" to try and make suggestions to augment our diets and keep down the cost of what we spend on food.  With food prices set to soar we have to act for ourselves.  Why do I say food is going to be more expensive?  The terrible weather conditions being experienced all over the world mean crops have been destroyed especially wheat (Australia's huge flood devastated its wheat crops, America has a terrible drought right across the fertile heart land hitting the wheat and corn harvests, Filopino floods, floods in China) you could say well, I don't eat much bread and I never eat Nan or Pitta bread so this doesn't affect me but it does - cake, scones, Yorkshire pudding, Toad in the Hole and Eccles cakes and finally add in the toxic component of food price speculation.  You get food riots, the riots last year across the country which were sparked by a murder were partly food riots (but we don't talk about that) instability, governments will fall and have already fallen in Haiti Egypt, Tunisia and other countries involved in the "Arab Spring" to name but a few and I haven't mentioned Africa.

What can we do, grow our own food, as much as possible, even one crop of tomatoes is one less to pay for and petition our government and the Labour Party to use the United Nations to outlaw food price speculation, let those huge cartels and multi nationals gamble with other commodities not food.

Finally, stop blaming other countries for George Osborne's ideology which is bringing us to the point of collapse.  We must lobby our elected members to force them to enact tax reform, change the policy which gives tax cuts to the feral rich, penalises the poorest, least able in our society and make them see they are living in a burning building and they are throwing petrol on the flames.

Breaking News

I would love it if one morning I turned on the news and heard a bulletin which went like this:  "Early this morning an Israeli battalion of hardened irrigation engineers stormed into the Gaza Strip, their spokesman said "We have only one mission, we are here and we are going to stay here until we have set up irrigation systems and built a couple of dams to support the crops these people grow".  Meanwhile, in Somalia the "International Brigade" of teachers supported by builders with earth movers have just finished building their twentieth school and classes have begun for the children of the twenty areas this action involves... We can go across live to our reporter who is embedded with a platoon of "Queens Own Highlanders", these brave soldiers parachuted into Helman Province, Afghanistan carrying solar panels which will be installed in isolated villages which have no electricity"..

If I heard that kind of bulletin I would think I had died and passed over.  Now, I enjoyed writing that silly paragraph and you can say it's a load of cracked ideas but I wonder.  The reason I wrote it was as an antidote to the London visit of Mitt Romney and his "World Tour of Trouble Making" and all the other war mongers who move around the world trying to resurrect the Cold War, protected by their wealth from the consequences of their actions.  When I had been thinking about Romney it occurred to me that actually we don't live in a world you can make old constructs come back to life.  If you just look at your own life;  I have friends on Facebook from all over the place, I support peaceful projects in lots of different countries, we Twitter to people all over the world and don't forget e-mail, sign petitions which do make a difference, read blogs, build dialogues through our comments and everything is instantaneous (or nearly, if you used my computer some mornings you would doubt that).  This virtual society is happening all over the world, it is what has partly triggered the "Arab Spring", the "Orange Revolution" and all the other movements for change.  Of course there are wars and atrocities, man made disasters and horrors but it seems to me that there are a lot of very brave (and you do have to be brave to light a candle in the dark), decent, honourable people working to stop the wars, mediate in the middle of the suffering, change our splintered societies into one global society.  Our technology has already made this happen in the virtual world.  I really do look forward to the day the virtual and the real worlds merge and the news presenter says "Yesterday, in the Hague, a peace treaty was signed between the two last combatants in the last war.  Today is the first day of peace"..

Vlad in a Box

Vladmir Putin was born a year later than me in 1952 but having seen him on his recent visit to Number 10 for a talk with David Cameron I must say he looks at least 30 years older than I do.  That seems quite an unpleasant judgement to make, people can't help how they age.  I always thought he looked like "Dobby the House Elf" from the "Harry Potter" books now his face lift or use of botox (no one can have such an unlined face without botox) has destroyed his features and makes me think of a badly made wax work model and as well as his waxen face he is shorter than David Cameron which means President Obama towers over him as well.  Why am I making so many disparaging personal remarks?  He is, in my opinion, paranoid, vain, very angry and the President of Russia.

When he became President in 2000 he brought in a lot of really good reforms which improved the lives of the Russian people, stablised the economy and got rid of a lot of corruption from the old regime of Boris Yeltsin but since he has been relected as President for a second term, in rigged elections things have changed and not for the better.  He has passed new laws which criminalize defamation, fine protesters at unauthorised demonstrations £6,000 and blacklist "harmful" internet sites.  He also has what you can only call his own "Hitler Youth Movement" an aggressive, racist, ignorant army of young people who idolise Putin and happily harrass anyone Putin doesn't like, including the British Ambassador.  Now, Putin didn't just get out of bed one morning and think I hate the West, I hate all journalists and whistleblowers I know what I'll do I'll pass laws to destroy them.  He really believes that the borders of Russia are being weakened especially when the withdrawal from Afghanistan takes place in 2014 and to that end he has ordered the building of a huge new military base to "monitor" events in Afghanistan, this has provoked demonstrations by local residents who don't want the army bringing trouble to their door.   I watched some footage of Putin holding a meeting with his Generals where he sneered that America should stay in Afghanistan and go on fighting, is he thinking of starting a second war with Afghanistan in 2014 because he can't see any other way of protecting his country and his prestige?  This is the reason Russian supports the Syrian regime he is convinced that if Syria falls Russia will be next.  The spectre of all the other dictators who have been deposed - Gaddafi, Mubarak, Saddam Hussein must always be in his mind. Putin knows the Russian economy is struggling;  gas and oil prices are falling and corruption is rife, "Wikileaks" said the American view of Russia was that it was a mafia state so guess who's the "Godfather".  When the economy starts to fail, people start to ask questions and recently he is being challenged by an educated very large and vocal opposition while he thinks Russia is becoming effete and decadent like the West and only draconian laws and punishment will control the mob.  To me this is paranoia and watching his body language at the meeting with David Cameron he is very angry and full of loathing.  So, all these thoughts are pushing him into a box that keeps shrinking in size.  When you are so angry and paranoid you can't imagine a differnt route except to repress opposition and dissent, he can't imagine having prestige and being respected without being an aggressive bully.

I can imagine a different way - repeal the new laws, release Alexei Navalny  and "Pussy Riot" with a symbolic fine of one rouble, go on tv and talk to the nation laying out democratic reforms, support green industry, embark on new measures to help AIDS sufferers, institute a nationwide
system of swapping used syringes for clean needles and deal with the huge alcohol and drugs problem especially heroin and "krocodil" use.  Then he and Russia will get the respect and admiration he longs for.

If It's Not An Epee It Must Be A Double Pike

I don't know about anyone else but every four years I suddenly become an expert on sports I have never heard of, I can appreciate weight lifting's finer points and don't get me started on dressage.  It is all part of the weird bubble of illusion the Olympics engenders in me.  I experienced a similiar thing watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. I think this was partly because I had just watched a programme on BBC2 "The History of the British" with that excellent historian Michael Wood and he had been talking about the 17th Century;  the Civil War, the incredible radical thought and actions that came about after the death of the King. I should declare that I am a Republican, an old fashioned Socialist and, I admit it, an Idealist and I had a head full of Levellers, Ranters, Diggers and the New Model Army when I turned over to BBC1 for the Ceremony.  It was an extraordinary spectacle and it made my heart swell ( I have always thought that was a tacky, stupid, over used phrase but that was what I felt) with pride at being British, I thought to myself "Yes, this is who we are, this is our history as a country" and then after it had finished the presenter asked a visiting American if they had understood it.  My immediate gut reaction flared out of nowhere, it was "I couldn't care less if this foreigner understands it, this is us, take it or leave it American idiot".  I don't think like that, don't respond to foreigners like that, I have lived all over the world and I am not xenophobic.  Hearing myself made me stop and think - what I had watched was a  passionate, beautiful psychodrama that opened up all kinds of ideas about our country and who we are but it wasn't real.  Reality is what the Olympics are blocking out. Unless you are a serious news "junkie" it is hard to find out what is going on in the world, right now I am getting most of my news from Euronews, Al Jazeera, Michael Moore.com, Smirking Chimp etc even Channel 4's evening news gives a large chunk of time to the sports, yes I know, it is a huge event but there are even bigger, much more important and dangerous events happening or about to happen.  The war in Syria grinds on with atrocity piled upon atrocity displacing thousands of civilians - Jordan has set up a huge refugee camp to house them. Turkey has troops massed on its border with Syria and the fighting has leaked into Lebanon, there is even, according to an eyewitness, a kind of "International Brigade" with British fighters involved meanwhile Russia keeps supplying Assad with weapons and Mitt Romney, the ultra right wing American Presidential hopeful goes around the world stoking the fire for a war with Iran.  If you try to think happy thoughts a strong rumour has started that the EU interest rate has been tampered with and a quiet investigation into the claim is being conducted.  In Russia Putin is crushing any kind of dissent, from peaceful protest in St. Petersburg to yes, I know "Pussy Riot" is very old fashioned in our eyes but those feminists face 10 years in prison for "hooliganism" if they are found guilty.  Perhaps it is safer being inside the Olympic bubble can I have my epee back please?

The Customer Experience Part Two

As I sat in the Induction Meeting at A4E, which I had to attend because I have been unemployed for one year I felt as if I had stumbled into an audition for the "Jeremy Kyle Show".  There were nine of us at the meeting; one person had just come out of prison and his probation officer was going to help him, one very young girl was extremely pregnant and her friend had come with her, both of them wore track suits and sat staring into space, another person admitted to alcoholism.  The trainer discussed their problems as easily as if she were talking about the weather but I felt embarressed for these "customers" of A4E, these were personal issues which, if any of these had been a problem of mine, I wouldn't have wanted aired in public but no one seemed to mind. When the young man sitting next to me was introduced he asked about becoming self employed and setting up his own business, he had a business plan, determination and from listening to him he sounded focussed and just needed help to get going.  The reaction of the trainer surprised me she said he shouldn't think he could become a manager or go for a "top job" because he felt like it and he needed a business plan ( obviously she hadn't listened to him because he had a plan).  She had already talked about CVs and how to display any skills or qualifications you might have stressing punctuality, and being a good team player, but, she told us don't use any big words you can't understand.  It was in this context of watching the creation of mediocrity and low expectations that I opened my big mouth because I can't stand to see people put down. "Oh yes, you can start a business" I heard myself say "I did it from scratch, with no money or help, in fact I've done it twice".  The trainer gave me a long look and began to back track - of course a person could be self employed and have a company but it took a lot of hard work and passion and the careers advisor would help with his idea.  As I left the meeting I stood in the sunshine outside the building and thought about how important education is and how everyone in that room, including the trainer had been failed by the education system.

As I wrote in my autobiography "Pulling Myself Towards Myself" I grew up in Australia and had a first class education at one of the top private schools in Melbourne. I left school and became a Librarian and when I went travelling around the world I took, what others might call "menial" jobs working in a shop, running a market stall and cleaning houses but I never felt "menial" or of a lower class but that was because of my background and how I viewed myself.  If you don't have a good level of education it is hard to hold your own in a fast changing society which uses "big" words and concepts that are beyond you and it is hard to have any feelings of self worth and pride in yourself.

For hundreds of years education was prized and cherished beyond all else:  slaves taught each other to read in secret, women taught each in little groups hidden from sight, working mens institutes held night schools and courses that workers could attend after their shift finished and they were right because if you can read, think, reason and express yourself you are free inside your mind and a world of opportunities opens up that you can be part of.

Today, we have free education for all children but the education offered is shrinking the life not expanding it and I don't know why.  I talk to the children in my street, they are nice kids with good parents but what they want for themselves is so little and it breaks my heart.  When I was nine I knew I would be a world traveller, a writer and my life would be magnificent!  Now, most of them want to be famous, be in the newspapers or on tv, one or two want to be footballers, all of them want lots of money but they don't know how to read well although they are all impressed that I write books but when I say they could write too they laugh and think I am crazy. The summer holidays are here and I am going to see if I can set up a little readng circle amongst the kids in my street, just a couple of hours a week to help with their literacy, it will be free and maybe it will be the start of opening up some of the opportunities this new generation of "customers" are being denied.

The Customer Experience

I don't know about anyone else but to me a customer is someone who buys something:  I go into a shop, select an item, pay for it, have it packed for me and I take it home.  Or I go on line and as I did a few months ago buy a robot vacuum cleaner which is the most wonderful invention ever devised by humans and it is delivered to my home.
Last week I became a "customer" in a very different sense and it started me thinking.  I have been unemployed for over one year and I have been placed on A4E's "JobFit" scheme to help me find work.  The induction meeting was held by a trainer who guided the eight other "customers" and myself through a series of forms.  This was the first time I have ever heard myself described as a "customer" in the context of a work scheme and it didn't make sense - I am an unemployed person looking for work and struggling to get by, I am not buying anything from A4E, in fact if I get a job they will make money off the back of my efforts.  When I left the meeting I began to think part of the problems we face in this society is we have stopped calling things by their true names and therefore our judegement and understanding gets clouded when we try to define ourselves and our experiences.

In Buddhism clarity of thought and expression is extremely important but at the moment everytime you listen to any politicians, banker or other feral rich creature trying to protect their wealth and justify their position of power there are only illusions, half truths and buck passing coming out of their mouths.

Without going into every nook and cranny of the various scandals which are coming to light from phone hacking to drug money laundering I think we should start to re-evaluate our society and find new ways forward which will take our economy out of the Depression we are in, you notice I call this time a Depression just like the Depression which started on Wall Street in 1929 and continued into the thirties.  I want to make suggestions about the economy because that is the driver for everything else - education, free health care, good affordable housing, sane happy people to name just a few.

Lets get rid of Income Tax and instead use VAT which would be charged on everything the entire population buys as the "New Income Tax" system. We know now that there are trillions of pounds hidden away in tax havens and offshore accounts that will never be recovered by the taxman, okay, leave the money where it is but think how all of us would benefit if every time one of the feral rich bought a bottle of Bollinger, a tub of caviar or a new luxury car they had to pay VAT, we would have that tax paid to the Treasury automatically (no more deals with  top HMRC officials over long lunches).  We, the ordinary people really would be "consumers" in the truest sense of the word able to use our full wages as we saw fit in our own communities.

We would also have to rethink what we wanted to spend the VAT on everyone wants free health care, education, council services and affordable housing but we have to ask questions and debate honestly for example, why do we still have costly, in every sense of the word, nuclear weapons and want to spend billions updating them when, we are continually told it is the terrorist who is our greatest enemy.  You can't nuke a single ragged fighter with a rocket launcher - these are the sorts of debates we have got to start having and soon if our economy isn't going to continue to stagnate for decades to come and I will be an old woman writing a follow up book to "Days of Thrift" entitled "100 Years of Thrift".