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Month January 2011

Libraries to be axed by market fanatics

Market fanatics will kill what makes our libraries precious
Those who count only profit do not grasp the value of a service whose gift is humane, generous, and life-enhancing for all

The public library service offers children a chance to discover a love of books and the characters in them. Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian
Philip Pullman

The government, in the Dickensian person of Mr Eric Pickles, has cut the money it gives to local government, and passed on the responsibility for making the savings to local authorities. Some have decided to protect their library service, others have hacked into theirs like fanatics. In Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries. The leader of the county council says cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe?
I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them. Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. Is the job of a librarian so empty that anyone can step up and do it for a thank you and a cup of tea? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities, and yet are so wealthy they can commit hours every week to working for nothing?
But there’s a prize being dangled in front of these imaginary volunteers. People who want to save their library are going to be “allowed to bid” for money from a central pot. This bidding culture sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market.
Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we thought was safe and solid. “Everything solid melts into air,” he said. “All that is holy is profaned.”
Market fundamentalism, this madness that’s infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days. The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re set up to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for everything?
The theory says they must do such-and-such, so they do it, never mind the human consequences, never mind the social cost, never mind the terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane. I’m afraid these fundamentalists of one sort or another will always be with us. We just have to keep them as far as possible from power.
I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, and share their adventures in your own imagination.
No one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?
Somewhere in Blackbird Leys, somewhere in Berinsfield, somewhere in Botley, somewhere in Benson or in Bampton, to name only the communities beginning with B whose libraries are going to be abolished, there are children who only need to make that discovery to learn that they too are citizens of the republic of reading. Only the public library can give them that gift.
I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.
Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.

A new pan Arab nationalism?

I would love to hear what Egyptians abroad are thinking.
I wonder if they agree that dynastic rule is over.
Gamal or Mubarak the Younger had better make new plans. He is not going to succeed to the throne.
That means the military and business elite are whispering behind the scenes about an alternative.
Where’s Wikileaks when you need it?
This spontaneous explosion of anger seems not have been coordinated by the Brotherhood.
If that is the case, then we are witnessing a new political dynamic in Tunisia & Egypt.
I think this will move from Reform into something more radical. The timing is unpredictable. Is it five months or five years?
Hilary Clinton wishes to impose the 1986 Philippines model of people power and replace Old leaders with new friends (more democratic but still on the same side).
That may not be possible.
If so, then the theocratic states of Saudi Arabia and UAE will be alarmed.
The last thing they want is an updated version of Pan Arab nationalism of the Nasserite tradition.

street, shields, mobile, facebook, tear-gas…..

Today, Egyptians are trying to recreate Tunis.. in a day of ‘revolution’….. it’s a show of strength.

Let’s note that the Muslim Brotherhood aren’t exactly leading the charge…. which says something….

At Conway Hall, I was trying to get the point across that Egypt is the key, it was always the key and will always be the key to the Middle East.

That that regime would probably be overthrown in a few years, not a few months (I would be happier if I were wrong in my timing).

The pattern is reasonably straightforward. Let’s ignore PR from multi-billion dollar corporations, FB and Twitter.

THis is not a Facebook rebellion. What FB is doing is to offer citizens a window to film, record and write what’s happening and their reactions. This is helping fan the flames but the spark comes from action on the ground.

Behind it are some core political beliefs, a sense of right and wrong and that a line has been crossed… that things can no longer remain the same….

Established parties would have been bypassed anyway. National Liberation movements in the 1950s and 60s had to do with a lot less technology.

Let’s not forget that it works both ways. If the police in the UK can infiltrate environmental groups, then their far nastier equivalent in Cairo, Amman and Algiers will be monitoring FB/Twitter & blog.

Whatever happens, the Arab world needs to be free from its regimes.

No one has mentioned Libya. I think Gaddafi could be a lot less safer than he thinks.  An appalling Leader IMHO.

The pleasant thing is that we are thinking what would have been impossible in 2010.

An economic crisis does change politics.

Gdansk 1981

Berlin 1989

Tunis 2011

Cairo (the rest) ???




Bankers in Davos: unrepentant, unworried, ungrateful

Bloomberg writes that Bankers in Davos are partying as ‘they’ overcome the crisis.

There are no panel discussions on banking regulation nor on reform .

They think they have it in the bag. Central Banks print money, they lap it up and the price that bond-traders insist on is deficit reduction …… in the public sector with job cuts ….. which deflate the economy…… but not for the top echelons of society.

Bankers aren’t stupid. They are sure they face no opposition from the main political parties who have bought into the globalisation story.

The best we have is to eulogise Gordon Brown’s sidekick – Ed Balls – and paint him as some left wing firebrand who will stand up to the banks.  Exit Guardian and Independent from the land of the living.

Ditto Spain and Greece…. where left-wing governments are cutting the deepest.

Tunisia, Cairo, Athens and London have shown that the new politics isn’t the Nick-Clegg-Lib-Dem kind but that of the street bypassing Parliaments and Senates and social networks bypassing mainstream media.

This is a decade long story….. the bankers in Davos have uncorked the champagne bottles much too early.

The silver lining is that their crass behaviour helps cement public unity among the classes. Much of the middle class is ‘hurting’ too, not just below,  but the point Ed is that they need something different, not more of the same that you offer at a slightly reduced pace.


Tunis Cairo Gdansk

Spoke at the Public Rally last night at a packed Conway Hall on behalf of the Green Party.
Being on the same platform with Tony Benn is something else ….. He deserves to command public affection…

Rather than go for ra-ra, I focused on Egypt and the corrupt Arab regimes.
Tunisia is the golden hope. Let’s hope a Franco-American backed military coup doesn’t kill the uprising.
Egypt is the key to the Future in the region.
It may take a few years but the people of that proud country need to unshackle themselves from the family autocracy of Mubarak & son and build a new democracy.
The Egyptians in London and all over the world will provide the hope fr that ambition.
A whole generation of educated people are effectively exiled working in low paid occupations to escape from the oppressive regime in Cairo.
If Tunis is Gdansk then Cairo will be Bucharest sometime this decade.

Tunisian youth rise against free market economics

A French businessman in Tunisia told Le Monde: “Here it’s not rare to be served at a gas station by someone with a master’s degree in sociology. Cleaning women have English degrees, the fruit vendor has a doctorate in mathematics, and so on.”

Tunisia’s young cannot get jobs. Free-market policies have slashed jobs and made it virtually impossible to obtain employment without personal connections or paying bribes.

Le Monde wrote: “In the strongly state-supported economy, an advanced degree used to guarantee a stable job, often in the state or para-state sector. But things changed with the major structural reforms of the post-Bourguiba era,” with unemployment rising rapidly in the late 1990s. The youth unemployment rate is now comparable to Algeria’s…….

Wikileaks (July 2009) provided a clue: this is what US diplomats wrote: “While we share some key values and the country has a strong record on development, Tunisia has big problems. President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor. Many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities.”

In another cable—titled “Corruption in Tunisia: What’s Yours is Mine”—US diplomats wrote: “Corruption in Tunisia is getting worse. Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants. … President Ben Ali’s extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption. Often referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of ‘the Family’ is enough to indicate which family you mean. Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage.”

Could Algeria be the next economic domino?

The tyrant in Cairo will be watching anxiously.

ETA declare permanent ceasefire

ETA has declared a permanent ceasefire which they say will be verifiable by the international community.
Source: gara.net