Disabled man requesting additional assistance from DWP taken off Disability Living Allowance

In the UK one million people have a disability, long-term illness or serious impairment. One in five. This is the story of one of them.

My son, Ben, lives in Cornwall. He is 44 and has been disabled since he was six months old after a vaccination precipitated Salaam epilepsy.

At Great Ormond Street Hospital, doctors prescribed a high dose of steroids which left him so weakened he contracted pneumococcal meningitis. He then developed hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid inside the skull which can cause catastrophic brain damage.

To alleviate the pressure, the hospital fitted a Spitz-Holter shunt to drain cerebral fluid from his brain into his heart. It was the doctors’ conclusion that Ben would never lead a normal life.

Since 1973, he has struggled against his physical and mental impairments. His eyesight is poor and the right side of his body has atrophied and shortened which causes him to walk with a limp. He often falls and has to use a stick.

He picks up common illnesses easily due to a compromised immune system. In recent years, he has had a recurrence of epilepsy.

Despite his limitations, Ben achieved a BTEC National Diploma in HND in Business and Finance but, other than an 18-month stint at MTV, has never been able to hold a full-time job. He occasionally picks up small bits of income working as a DJ and runs an online radio station from his home.

For 20 years, he received a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) of £80 per week and £108 per week working tax credits, a weekly income of £188. That’s £112 worse off than working full time at minimum wage.

He recently went for a scan on his right ankle which was causing him discomfort and was given anti-inflammatories and pain killers. His doctor is currently helping him with a request to be given an electric wheelchair.

Because his mobility was worsening, he contacted the Department of Work and Pensions to request assistance with his housework. He could only stand for 30 seconds without being in agony. He said, “They told me that my benefits had been stopped. As a result, my weekly income fell from £188 to £67. They said I could apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which had replaced DLA. I did so, but my application was rejected.

“It was a massive blow and has has left me with a huge shortfall. It’s crazy because my disability means I have to take five tablets twice a day as I’m in constant pain.”

Ben’s list of drugs include Keppra for epilepsy, Citalopram for depression, Omeprazole for acid reflux and sore throats, Paracetemol for pain and Ibuprofen for anti-inflamation.

He has lodged an appeal with the DWP, but this can take up to a year to be heard. His ageing parents are now using their savings to help him and he is fortunate to have a cousin who, as a lawyer, gives him free legal advice.

Ben will not end up on the street. He will not starve. He will not die. But what of the many thousands who face the same mistreatment at the hands of the DWP and don’t have family or friends as a safety net? Many are desperate and it has been acknowledged that ninety people a month are dying after the DWP has declared them ‘fit-for-work’.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin, former Chairman of the Conservative Party, said ministers had to view the funding for people with disabilities in the context of a wider need to reduce the UK’s budget deficit. This is code for what lies behind government austerity polices.

According to the Resolution Foundation, last year the richest reaped 80% of the rewards from tax and benefit changes, while the poorest became worse off,

For this obscene transfer of money from poor to rich, it’s not so much “Let them eat cake”, as “Let them die”.

May announces sanctions on Russia following Salisbury attack

When Theresa May came to the House of Commons on Monday and pointed the finger for the Salisbury poisoning at Russia and the Kremlin, she gave a deadline of midnight last night for a full response. When it soon became apparent that Russia wouldn’t be forthcoming, the Prime Minister had to come forward with strong “response” she promised.

So this afternoon, following a meeting of the National Security Council where Theresa May described the Salisbury incident as a “Kremlin calling card” she returned to the Commons to set out the sanctions Russia now faces.

May accused Russia of showing “complete disdain” for the process and the gravity of the situation. She added, “the Russian state is culpable” for the events, which she branded “an unlawful use of force” which forms part of a “well-established pattern of Russian aggression”.

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have spent the past week discussing potential sanctions with allies both in the EU and NATO, but ultimately the steps set out this afternoon only involve the UK.

There will be 23 diplomats expelled from the UK, all of which have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers. This is the biggest expulsion for more than 30 years and these individuals will have just one week to leave.

The Government will also bring forward an amendment to the Sanctions Bill to enable further steps to be taken, despite blocking a similar amendment when proposed by Labour in the past month. The Home Secretary is also considering new powers to detain suspects at the UK border, something currently only available for suspected terrorists.

Some state assets from Russia will be frozen and all planned high-level bilateral contact has been suspended. This means that the planning visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been cancelled. May stopped short of cutting all diplomatic ties. And some dialogue will continue with Russia. May also eluded to other secret actions which may be taking place, following speculation that cyber attacks could be conducted against the Russians.

Responding to the statement Jeremy Corbyn raised the cuts that have taken place to the budget of the Foreign Office, and called for both strong diplomacy and political pressure.

The Government has stopped short of some of the other suggested sanctions including withdrawing England from the football World Cup, though no members of the Government or Royal Family will attend, and taking RT – formerly Russia Today – off the air.

It remains to be seen how the Russian Government will react in the coming days, but it’s almost certain that UK officials will be expelled from Moscow in response.

Rock Bottom: Can Europe’s Left learn from Corbyn to reverse its decline?

Europe’s centre-left is locked in a cycle of decay. Across the continent historically unassailable parties are sliding into electoral oblivion, failing to take advantage of growing discontent with the status quo.

The recent failure of Renzi’s centre-left coalition in Italy is just the latest in a string of brutal defeats for the European left. There is hope for Europe’s progressives though, if they can learn from the few success stories of the European left then they may be able to reverse this decline.

Matteo Renzi has overseen the most recent electoral disaster for the European Left

The recent failures of Europe’s left are numerous and seem to repeat similar stories of lack of identity in crowded political environments:

  • In 2017 the Dutch Labour Party was reduced from a close second place to the seventh largest party, pushed out of a crowded electoral field that instead rewarded the radical GreenLeft and Gert Wilder’s far-right Freedom Party.
  • The French Socialist Party was similarly heavily defeated last year in both the presidential and legislative elections after being outflanked on the left and centre by Mélenchon and Macron. The party achieved only 36% of the vote and was eliminated in the first round of the presidential election, then lost 286 seats in parliamentary elections soon after.
  • The German SDP suffered an equally disappointing result, which stung bitterly after the ‘Shultz-mania’ polling surge of last year. This ultimately fizzled-out into a bitter defeat, with the party achieving only 5% of the vote. To make matters worse, despite the efforts of radical young activists, the SDP have now repeated their previous mistake and signed a new ‘grand coalition’ deal that leaves the party unable to do the necessary soul-searching needed to redefine itself outside of the trappings of government.

The latest in this series of progressive defeats was Italy’s Centre-Left Coalition which has now fallen into third place after defeat in March to the populist Five Star Movement and the Centre-Right Coalition. This is a particularly disheartening case, as the centre-left coalition had taken Italy out of recession and achieved slow but steady economic growth over the course of its term, showing that even proven economic competence is no longer enough to save moderate social democratic parties.

Polling shows that even Sweden’s Social Democratic Party – historically Europe’s most successful progressive party – is maintaining only a slim poll lead as it faces serious challenges from parties of the far and centre right in September’s upcoming election.

So why is the European left facing such steep decline? To answer this question, it is necessary to contrast the performance of the moderate parties above with some of the rare success stories of Europe’s contemporary left.

One of the few exceptions to the trend is the UK’s Labour Party, which has increased its votes, seats and party membership over the past two years. Despite an unexpected, heavy defeat in 2015 the party unexpectedly revived its electoral fortunes thanks to a considerable shift to the left under Jeremy Corbyn. The party defied expectations and overcame a twenty-point polling deficit to take away the parliamentary majority of the Conservative Party, and Labour have maintained a slim but growing poll lead ever since. Although the party remains in opposition, they are testament to the impact that radical political redefining can have on a mainstream party in decline.

The Portuguese Socialist Party is another impressive exception to the trend. A radical, anti-austerity party that is simultaneously popular and properly exercising these principles in power. Portugal can now boast significant deficit reduction and sustained growth thanks to a bold, anti-austerity programme. Portugal’s success has defied negative predictions, with the left overcoming serious economic difficulties and continuing to win-big in elections. It is an enviable model for the rest of the Europe.

The example of Portugal is a stark contrast to Syriza in Greece. In 2015 Syriza rose from a fringe-party to a decisive victory in Greece on a radical anti-austerity platform. This victory of radical politics was held-up at the time as an example of how to save the European left. However, the party is now paying the price in the polls after failing to stick to these principles and being forced to submit to severe austerity measures by the ‘troika’ made up of the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. Clearly radical politics can be a route to power but mean very little if they are not enforced once in office.

So, what can be learned from these contrasting stories of failure and success?

Firstly, it is clear that embracing radical politics is paying off for the mainstream social democratic parties with the courage to accept change. The UK’s Labour Party and Portugal’s Socialist Party clearly show that radical anti-austerity programmes are the only way to differentiate progressive parties in a context of increasingly populist politics.

Secondly, mainstream parties that refuse to set out bold political positions are being outflanked by radical parties from both the left and right. Italy, Holland, France and Germany have all demonstrated the rising threat from small parties across the spectrum to mainstream progressive parties. This trend cannot go unaddressed.

Thirdly, winning power for the sake of it won’t pay off if principles aren’t stuck to. The decline of Greece’s Syriza after capitulating to the austerity demands of the European Union demonstrates this, as does the steady decline of Germany’s SDP after a series of ‘grand coalition’ agreements. In contrast, parties that have stuck to bold political principles after winning power – like Portugal’s Socialist Party – have remained both popular and effective in office.

If the European left is to be saved from decline and irrelevance they will need to be bold and principled. European voters across the political spectrum are looking for radical alternatives, and if the left is to survive it will have to learn from its mistakes to meet that challenge.

Who is to blame for the deaths of 340,000 Syrian civilians?

More than 340,000 people died since what started as a ‘peaceful’ uprising of president Bashar al-Assad almost seven years ago. After succeeding his father in 2000 , protests began during the Arab Spring calling for al-Assad’s resignation. This followed the government’s prevention of freedom of speech and opinion when it came to calls for democracy. 

In Assad’s attempt to bring back government control the protests and violence worsened leading to the formation of hundreds of rebel groups which ultimately led to this civil war.   

Currently Syria’s Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, home to 400,000 people, continues to be under mass destruction leaving families displaced and desperate. 500 people have been killed by the deadly bombing campaign by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his allies during the seven-year war. Syrian Civil Defence workers state that government forces targeted the town with a number of deadly weapons including barrel bombs which were dropped from helicopters.  

On 24 February, the UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 2401 in favour of a month-long ceasefire, but this has failed to materialise.  Hospitals, schools, and shops are still being destroyed by air and artillery strikes, despite this Russia have taken action and enforced a “humanitarian pause”, replacing the UN ceasefire. The pause was to occur  for five hours a day allowing civilian corridors to let people flee and evacuate in order to get aid and medical attention. However, reports from Al Jazeera say that many of the victims say there is no guarantee of their safety if they choose to evacuate, whilst they continue to stay in their shelters in an attempt to avoid being seen or bombed they’re still far from safe. A man who recently spoke to Al Jazeera, spoke of being forced to go to a shelter in Douma after the area he lived in with his family was indiscriminately shelled.

Throughout the civil war the Syrian government has denied the use of poisonous gasses but those monitoring the situation have reported otherwise, claiming that there has been at least 200 incidences of poison gas attck. It has been said by local medical and other sources that gases released during a dawn rocket attack caused “cases of suffocation,” Reuters reported. Sadly, these allegations of using illegal chemical weapons is nothing new for the President, rather more of the same.

The blame game for who is responsible for the deaths of civilians continues, with both sides alleging the other is responsible for the number of deaths and destruction that is occurring. Russian Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, states that the accusations that Russia bears some of the blame for civilian deaths in Eastern Ghouta is “groundless”, while  the Syrian Observatory claims that they’re able to distinguish between Russian and Syrian planes because Russians aircraft fly higher and they’re not to blame for the deaths.Who

Banks for the many – Reasons why co-operative banks should have our support

First established in Germany in the mid-19th century to help poor farmers, cooperative financial institutions have grown to include about 250 million members, most of them in the developed economies. There are two main types of cooperative financial institutions: credit unions and cooperative banks. Both are owned democratically by their members, as opposed to investor-owned banks owned by shareholders.

Credit unions are distinct from cooperative banks mainly in two ways: they only accept members as customers and limit their membership to those sharing a “common bond”, such as profession. For example, the Navy Federal Credit Union membership consists of current and former US Navy personnel. Credit unions are more common in North America, while cooperative banks are more common in Europe.

Other major cooperative financial institutions include building societies such as Nationwide, that specialise in home mortgages. Co-operative banks offer a real alternative to the private run banking sector we have today, and as well as being democratically run they offer a number of economic advantages over private banks.

Firstly, co-operative banks are more resilient to banking crises. Even before the 2008 Global financial crisis, the cooperative banks in Europe were more cost effective than other banks, with better loan quality as a consequence of low risk lending policies. The credit unions in North America were expanding as well, with the reserves growing from 80 to 100 billion between 2005 and 2007. However, the financial crisis of 2008 truly revealed the advantages of cooperative banking. The failure rate of US credit unions between 2008 – 2010 was around 0.3%, compared to 1.5% of commercial banks. In Europe, the co-operative banking sector went into the crisis better prepared than its competitors with profits being added to the reserves instead of going to the shareholders, creating a stronger capital base to buffer difficulties. With stronger focus on retail banking instead of more speculative endeavours, their share of write-downs and losses (7%) was nearly three times smaller than their market share (20%). Without the massive government welfare check to save the big banks, the cooperative banking sector would’ve grown substantially in market share. For example in Netherlands, the cooperative Rabobank was the only major bank that didn’t need a bailout.

In all European countries, co-operative banks are over-represented in lending to small and medium sized businesses. For example in Germany the cooperative banks share of all loans in Germany is 17%, but the share of loans to SMEs stands at 28%. Research shows that SMEs perform better in countries with large cooperative banking sector and suggests that they loan to SMEs with lower costs. During the crisis the cooperative banks were more likely to continue or increase lending to SMEs than their competitors. In the US, startups are six times less likely to be dissatisfied with credit unions than they are with big banks. Loans to small companies are more likely to be used for growth whereas many loans to large companies are used to buyback stock.

Cooperative banks are better taxpayers: for every one billion in assets, German co-operative banks pay 2.5 million in taxes, compared to big private banks that pay only 0.5 million. A bank run by the people are more than willing to see their profits go back into society. They also engage more in other socially beneficial activities. For example, the Nationwide Building Society gives out community grants to projects submitted and selected by the members on one-member-one-vote basis.

Without shareholders pressuring for maximising immediate returns, cooperative banks have a more long-term focus. Numerous studies have shown that they are more likely to establish long-term relationship with their clients, especially with Small and medium enterprises. This, along with profits going to reserves instead of shareholders, manifests itself in less volatile return on equity. A stronger focus on relationship banking also leads to stronger local ties and networks. This can lead to co-operative banks having more sustainable growth.

Overall we can see that added to the appeal of banks run democratically for its members is not only appealing, but extremely beneficial to our economy. Co-operative banks, banks for the many, should have our support.

WeCo is a social media cooperative. Here’s a WeCo poll on what snippet of information in this article you find the most interesting

We should all want Keir Starmer negotiating in Brussels

Whilst it was Jeremy Corbyn who gave the speech announcing that Labour, if in power, would seek to create a Custom Union with the European Union, the man behind Labour’s Brexit policy is the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Keir Starmer. A man who when appointed to this role was unlucky; he was a potential future leader who is now tasked to stand up and read out statements that most Labour party members hate to hear.

 

Thus far, Starmer has delivered a masterclass in skill, competence, and (mostly) political strategy. He has walked the tight rope of Brexit, balancing the realities of leaving the EU with the referendum result.

 

His proposal on a transition period made economic and political sense. Not only did it provide businesses with confidence and security, if the UK is going to be paying in to EU budgets until 2020 we might as well make the most of the EU’s Single Market. This was a proposal so good that it was immediately copied by the Tories.

 

Yesterday’s announcements marked more genius. A slight move towards a softer Brexit which would solve the Irish border problem that has confounded David Davis. This move was also welcomed by businesses; the CBI hailed the proposal a Brexit that put “jobs and living standards first”. Unions have seemed equally keen, UNITE general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Jeremy Corbyn has shown that people really do have a choice on Brexit.”

 

Starmer’s move is clearly perceived as a move that will help the post Brexit economy but critically not endanger the desires of many Leave voters on immigration and having EU laws enforced upon them. It marked for the first time in the Brexit process creative thinking by a major party of how to solve the key issue of the Irish border.

 

His realistic yet optimistic approach has yet again shown to be superior to that of the government when the EU rejected the government’s trade deal and reiterated that the UK “will only be a trade agreement” because Ms May has refused to stay in the Customs Union and Single Market.” The EU has stated that friction would be added to trade due to the customs checks on goods flowing in and out of the EU, but there could be no tariffs and quotas.

 

You can see the difference in thinking between the two parties. Whilst Davis is constrained by the fanatics in his own party the Labour leadership have given Starmer a free hand to find the best deal for all sections of the Labour Party, and the country.

 

But whilst Starmer has taken the problems of Brexit seriously on an economic level, it is party politics where he has truly done well. Labour are divided on Brexit, less so than the Tories in parliament but very much so in the polling booth. Around 35% of their voters in 2015 went on to vote Leave, yet the majority of their constituencies were supported Leave. Labour has had to satisfy Leavers who wanted controls on immigration alongside it’s metropolitan vote who were scared of the impact of losing membership of the Single Market. His tactic surrounding Brexit seems to have come from the London Underground. Clever at minding the gap between Labour’s position and Theresa May’s. This strategy has kept Leavers on side as he delivers the results of the referendum, whilst keeping Remainers, reluctant to defect to an untrustworthy Liberal Democrat resistance to Brexit, voting Labour. By caring about the views of those who voted Remain he has centre ground remainers previously reluctant or unwilling to vote for Labour supporting the party. Both the announcement of wanting the transitional deal and wanting a Customs Union prompted messages to be sent my way about how a friend or family member would now vote for them. It has truly been a master strategy.

 

When Theresa May lost her majority on June 8th, it was of my opinion that she should form a cross party negotiating team for handling the EU. It would have greatly increased the strength of the British negotiators and reduced parliamentary squabbling. It would also have allowed us to get a deal not decided by hard right Brexiteers. The remain vote, who seem to have been put in a box marked ‘not relevant’, would have some influence on their future outside the EU. However, it would allow for her party’s and perhaps won her survival in the long term.

 

Instead the Tories have made every mistake whilst Labour have outmanoeuvred them. If an unlikely general election were to come before the end of the Brexit process, getting Keir Starmer negotiating in Brussels would be one of huge positives of a Labour win.

Connecting the Dots: Cyber-Meddling and Russia’s Grand Strategy

To understand the motivation behind the seemingly indiscriminate nature of Russia’s cyber-meddling operations, it is essential to contextualise them within the evolution of Russia’s grand strategy.

 

In 1989, Vladimir Putin, a young KGB officer stationed in East Germany, witnessed first-hand the power of popular uprising and the infectious nature of chaos as a destabilising agent against established authority. Putin’s lesson in the destructive power of general disarray and the communicability of popular dissent represents the genesis of Russia’s contemporary grand strategy. However, to fully understand the rise of Putin’s Russia, discussion of a man by the name of Aleksandr Dugin is essential.

 

At first glance, Aleksandr Dugin, an occult fascist, seems an unlikely ally of a former KGB operative such as Putin. However, Dugin’s philosophical influence on Putin would further crystallise Russia’s contemporary approach to foreign policy.

 

In 1997, Dugin published Foundations of Geopolitics. The book draws heavily on the work of Halford Mackinder’s who recognised the strategic advantages of occupying the Heartland of Russia and that whoever controlled it would control the world. However, Dugin revises Mackinder’s work and reframes it into a strategy of perpetual conflict as an enduring foreign policy strategy.

 

Dugin’s influence on Putin’s strategy also comes from their shared belief that popular chaos and instability are as potent as military force in the game of power. For Dugin, maintaining a permanent condition of conflict with the West is essential to Russian political power, and the key to this play is the ceaseless subversion of its heartland by sewing internal chaos.

 

In George Orwell’s 1984, the world exists in a state of perpetual and unwinnable conflict within a tripolar global divide. In Dugin’s theory, Eurasia, a name that Orwell borrowed from Mackinder, is at war not with Oceania, but the Atlanticist alliance led by the United States. According to Dugin: “The Eurasian Empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, the strategic control of the USA.”

 

Understanding that Putin’s Russia is not pursuing the unlikely goal of singular world domination, rather the maintenance of a constant condition of Cold War-style tension, so that Russia can hold on to its relative power is key to understanding contemporary its foreign policy. So too is the practical operative strategy to foment domestic imbalance within the Atlanticist heartland in order to realise and maintain a global equilibrium.

 

Echoing 1984, Russia seeks an enduring conflict to divide and contain, rather than one to divide and conquer. This Machiavellian strategy is grounded in the subversion of their enemy’s core through infecting them with domestic disorder. By introducing a virus that attacks the social and political values of its foe, Russia hopes to unleash an epidemic of internal suspicion and agitation that will weaken interior power structures and, in turn, deteriorate their external strength. According to Dugin, for Russia to maintain its power globally, it must continuously erode America’s role as a superpower from within. In doing so, Russia is enacting Dugin’s argument that, “it is important to provoke all forms of instability and separatism within the borders of the United States.”

 

Considering the power held by America and its Atlanticist allies, and the rising might of China, which anchors the globe’s third tripolar sphere, it makes sense Russia has developed its grand strategy around relatively inexpensive arms-length cyber destabilisation campaigns. By focusing on remote subversion, Russia can punch far above its military and economic weight to maintain its position as a global power. Cyberwarfare, hacking, leaks, trolling, and bot-spread disinformation operations represent Moscow’s frontline tactics in its drive to weaken Atlanticist democratic society by influencing its citizens’ thought and warping perspectives.

 

Russia’s most infamous cyberattack to influence the result of the 2016 presidential election was a mission designed to infect the United States with the disease of internal division, suspicion, and chaotic paranoia. To Russia, President Trump is a useful idiot, an unwitting dupe in fulfilling Dugin’s plan to energise “extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilising internal political processes in the U.S.” Even Trump’s America First policy affirms Dugin’s desire “to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

 

Contextualising Russia’s wide range of targets within the narrative of its grand strategy connects the dots between the seemingly unrelated actions being directed by Moscow. Each headline issue that includes Russian cyber-meddling demonstrates the relatively inexpensive yet massively effective techniques Moscow is employing to destabilise its enemies and maintain global influence. Unlike the costly version of permanent military warfare in Orwell’s 1984, Russia’s cynical approach to ensuring a perpetual global stalemate is being waged by contaminating the hearts and minds of its enemy’s population. And so far, the plan to sustain an enduring condition of septic chaos within the West appears to be meeting little meaningful resistance.

Definitive guide to America’s gun crisis, and how little is being done

You arrive to school ready to attend the first lesson of the day. Though you’re worried about turning in a project, the atmosphere is one of excitement, mainly because it’s Valentine’s Day.
Someone has sent you a vase of 3 roses. A secret admirer perhaps?
The fire alarm goes off before you have a chance to put the roses away.
What is to follow is one of the deadliest school massacres in history.
You see people stampeding to the exit followed by the ringing of bullet shots.
You run too.
The roses still in your hand, albeit crumpled. You make it out the school alive.
You are worried for the lives of your friends and family who are still in school. You are scared if they are still alive.

Violence is concerning wherever it happens but usually with a solution we can solve or curb it. Typically within a few years a visible reduction in crime statistics shows, quite frankly, that the solution has worked – to varying degrees, but this is rarely never the case in the US when the cause of violence is (or is accompanied with) guns.
The discussion is shut down by either side before a resolute solution hits the ground. Social media is a battleground with accusations of hypocrisy or cowardice and petty insults drown out bipartisan support in favour of gun safety legislation. The government’s inaction in the aftermath of school shootings have become something of a tradition in America.
Highly politicised events, by their very nature, create a lot of noise but little legislation action.
Mass shootings have been on the decline in America until 2007 when they suddenly became more frequent.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) sends campaign contributions to a number of Republicans running for office, but it’s quite obvious that the NRA are heavily invested in Donald Trump.

Peculiarly enough, they even endorsed Trump before he earned the Republican nomination for President. Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive director, justified this break from the NRA tradition by claiming that Hillary Clinton was too much of a threat to the Second Amendment.
From the annual NRA conference, Trump warned members that Hillary Clinton wanted to “abolish” the Second Amendment. While Clinton has previously campaigned against handgun ownership, she has never hinted any intention of amending the US Constitution.

Trump has stayed unwavering in his support of the NRA; he has yet to turn back on his words from the conference, “I will never, ever let you down”. So far the ban on bump stocks and other limited gun control initiatives have been endorsed by the CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre – although the Republican base are supportive of Trump, for the same gun control legislation, Obama was constructively halted by Congress every time he tried.
The immediate response from Trump’s reaction to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting can be found on Twitter. He seemingly blamed the students and school authorities for failing to report the shooter’s “erratic behaviour”.

However, Nikolas Cruz was receiving mental and emotional treatment but had stopped a year prior to the shooting.

Trump’s response is hypocritical considering that early on in his presidency Trump repealed an Obama-era piece of legislation which kept guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

His latest Fiscal Year 2019 Budget also stripped the Medicaid budget by $1.4 trillion, Medicare by $500 billion and Social Security Disability Insurance by $10 billion.
Medicaid and Medicare are the largest providers of substance-abuse, mental health and disability services in the US. More than 70 million people rely on these programmes, greater than the entire population of the United Kingdom.
Trump’s rhetoric against gun violence does not match what he has legislated in the past at all.

The reaction to school shootings, which are heavily politicised anyway, is also generally marked with large outpourings of shock, sympathy and grief (in that order). A week later from the Florida school shooting, however, the mood is noticeably more angry and full of frustration.

One survivor from the Florida School shooting who requested not to be named told me, “We’re the future. The adults who have failed us better find new jobs now, because we will outnumber and vote them out of a job”.
The sentiment of the survivors can be summed up by the words of their fellow high school senior, David Hogg, in response to attacks from the NRA, “You might as well stop now because we are going to outlive you”.

Donald Trump’s supporters have used the shooting to scapegoat mentally ill people and push their agenda that the Democrats have an interest in taking away gun rights, along with abolishing the Second Amendment.

Many conservative pundits and figures have insulted the survivors of the shooting. The reactions from the conservative camp is strictly on the defensive in respects to their guns. They have made a pre-emptive strike defending gun rights from those who they call “gun grabbers”.

When people say “something needs to be done” one can rest assured that nothing of substance will happen that would last long-term. It is poor enough that one side is willing to ignore the plight of students to defend their freedom, vilifying the mentally ill and poisoning the debate on gun control breaking with expected professional decorum.

In the hope of avoiding another school shooting there are a number of lessons to be learned from this one. I’m not going to purview the right to bear semi-automatic rifles, as I believe the problem to school shooting to be multifaceted and a complex issue that won’t be resolved by impulsive decisions. There is still a convincing case for banning military-inspired weapons like the AR-15 rifles, but just like former President Bill Clinton’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban, such legislation needs to be comprehensive, otherwise they become ineffective.

However, there are a number of important concerns that arise from the current situation. It is necessary to increase federal funding to mental and emotional care. Nikolas Jacob Cruz is not a victim here, but he displayed the characteristics of a disturbed individual relating to delinquency, crime and violence.

His social media show Cruz toting guns, posing with knives and pictures of dead animals (birds and toads) that he reported to have killed. There is one rather telling post where he pointed the barrel of what seems to be a semi-automatic rifle aiming outside a window. His Instagram profile picture shows him wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap.

State investigators and health providers did not have access to his social media. They did not have him on their radar for a long enough time to establish an accurate assessment of his mental and social wellbeing, nor were they able to follow up with school authorities that he was a threat to other students. State investigators assessed that he “was at low risk of harming himself or others”.

Nikolas Cruz’s public defender even made the point, “This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter”, he concluded that this was a “multisystem error” as someone who suffered from emotional problems and mental illness like Cruz, and with the problematic social media posts, should have failed the background check for a gun.

To emphasise, gun violence is a public health problem as well as an issue of criminal justice.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) have advocated for firearm safety to patients and have campaigned against handgun ownership. Increasing numbers of health professionals are asking their patients if they have a gun at home since some doctors believe it is important to know the environment and access to harm of their patients.

If gun violence in the US truly is a cultural phenomenon then an approach to pacify the violence may be found by treating gun violence like drug abuse. Rather than hoping mental illness provisions will weed out at-risk students and potential school shooters, a comprehensive public-health approach begins in counselling the public in firearm safety because without knowing how to safely handle and live with firearms then more people could potentially be exposed to gun violence (including unintentional fatalities). It is important to note that firearm injuries is the second leading cause of death due to injury after motor vehicle crashes.

A medical policy paper said on the issue of gun violence, “Strategies to reduce firearm violence will need to address culture, substance use and mental health, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation, consistent with the Second Amendment, to keep firearms out of the hands of persons who intend to use them to harm themselves and others, as well as measures to reduce mass casualties associated with certain types of firearms”.

Public health research into responsible firearm ownership can inform legislation into what types of weapons should be handled by citizens by law.

Perhaps a multidisciplinary policy objective is key to understanding, if not curbing, gun violence. The shooter in Stoneman Douglas High School was obsessed with guns, the disturbing content he uploaded online were missed by mental health professions and state investigators who assessed him. Clearly a misunderstanding occurred here, a 19-year old young man fell through the cracks of a failing system, exemplified by the increased frequency of these mass shootings (Umpqua Community College shooting, San Bernardino Attack, Orlando Nightclub shooting, Sutherland Springs church shooting and the Las Vegas shooting – 5 major mass shootings in total over 3 years).

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting should not have happened. Yet it did under the watch of President Trump and his administration. All the institutions which are supposed to be overseeing and preventing school shootings are facing cuts. Failure at the federal level, and a database that is missing millions of records and staff shortages – which has been deemed too costly to fix – are contributing to the problems which previous administrations sought to resolve.

Trump’s rhetoric against gun violence does not match what he has legislated in the past – in fact, they’re in direct contradiction. There’s no point in saying you will focus on mental health and school safety, when those are the very things you focused on revoking as President. There’s no point in saying you care about mental illness when you strip funding for the provisions of mental health and make massive cutbacks to mental health budgets.

With all its problems, I fail to see how Trump is taking this issue seriously, his recent comments on arming “20%” of teachers is a typically Trumpesque policy decision with no details on viability.
If Trump wants to deal with these issues, then he needs to overcome the shortcomings of his administration right now.

The illusion of a soft Brexit must end

Jeremy Corbyn finally confirmed this week that the Labour party will support Britain to stay in a customs union after Brexit. The Labour leader has kept an extremely ambiguous semi silence since the Brexit referendum. This probably has to do a lot with his own euro sceptic beliefs but I suspect it is more to do with a finely calculated electoral strategy, to keep equally content those who voted to leave in the old industrial strongholds and those who voted to stay in. As a PM in waiting he has it easier than Theresa May. She has being juggling this divided nation since the referendum happened with her party in a perpetual state of war. Her weakness and her imprecisions come from her intention to please everyone and she is failing to do so with the world and especially the EU watching every single step.

Mr Corbyn has being juggling with exactly the same divisions but away from the relentless media focus. Both are making precisely the same mistake trying to see Brexit as an electoral opportunity instead of a question of state. Jeremy’s new found position is not a very plausible soft version of Brexit which is aimed only at the Government. It not a plan for the future of the country. It is a stratagem to bring down this incapable Tory government by splitting them even further.

It is time now for the main parties to stop disguising reality. There is no such thing as a soft Brexit. It is wrong to keep going on about the choice this country needs to make between a harder or softer version of leaving the EU. The real choice is staying in or leaving. There is no magic formula capable of pleasing everyone. Not even staying in a customs union will provide the perfect solution. Corbyn aims for a customs union where the UK will be able to have a say in future agreements between the EU and third parties which so far the EU bluntly refuses to accept.

On paper being a member of a customs union will be the best solution for the UK. You can have all the trade without the free movement or paying into the European Union chest or being supervised by the European court of justice (ECJ), and most importantly it will bring no hard border between the UK and Ireland. It is not that simple though. The EU has so far agreed to frictionless trade only for countries that have accepted free movement as members of the European Economic Area like Norway. The only example of a country outside the EU with which it has a customs deal is Turkey. It was signed with the hope that one day they would join the EU but as the deal stands now it is not an example of what the UK needs. Their agreement covers only goods and not services or finances and it does follows EU rules on production of goods. Brexit was voted to regain control of the countries own business so neither of these examples will suit this mandate. Same applies to the illusion that membership of a customs union outside the EU would free Britain from the jurisdiction of the ECJ. Something else will have to arbitrate disputes between Britain and the EU. The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) has been mentioned but EFTA does indeed follow ECJ rulings. The UK will end up following EU trade policy anyway to sell into the EU marketplace but with no power whatsoever to decide its current policies or any changes in the future.

So once you have faced all the facts it seems that a customs union will only work really for the Irish border issue. For the rest it seems a soft Brexit is merely a weapon against the Tories “Brexit means Brexit” as in fact it will leave the UK as close as possible to the EU without being one of its pillars anymore. Immediately the question pops up… why leave then? And so it all starts again. The dilemma this country is facing needs a second referendum. The main parties have proved incapable to look no// further than their own interest when it comes to the future of the country. Brexit means Brexit. No hard. No soft. Completely in or completely out. The final decision should be made by the people not the parliament. Whatever that decision might be. It cannot be worse that this utter nonsense.

Lords Reform: Technocracy or Lottery – Ideas from Athenian democracy

If someone were to design a constitution for a country from scratch, it is inconceivable that they would design the current British constitutional settlement. The House of Lords, among other institutions, is seemingly based on completely arbitrary principles. Some members have their positions because their ancestors were in the right place at the right time, some are appointed because they have expertise, some because they were owed favours by a particular Prime Minister.

Many solutions to this mess of a chamber have been proposed; direct election of all or some of its members, indirect election, abolition entirely or some kind of technocratic chamber, among other proposals. All of them are problematic.

An elected Lords could challenge the Commons for supremacy and create deadlock; Italy and the United States of America are shining examples of too many directly elected chambers. A chamber of ill-defined experts would require members to be appointed somehow; politicians could simply fill the Lords with their supporters, as is the case of many current members of the Lords. Abolition is also a problem, without any checks on Commons power, a government with a majority of one can do whatever it likes. In theory, they could take away our right to a fair trial, abolish elections or persecute minorities.

Ancient Greece offers some fascinating alternatives to the current House of Lords. Athenian democracy bears little resemblance to the modern notion of democracy. A lottery was held among eligible citizens to take up seats within what we would call the legislature, for a fixed time period. Normal citizens would be called up based on complete chance rather than connections or skills; this was true equality of opportunity. It was very similar to jury service in contemporary Britain. These representatives of the people would then vote on who was to lead the armies, policies and so forth. A system where Lords were selected at random from British citizens would give everyone an equal opportunity to participate, rather than merely being able to vote once every five years.

An alternative comes from Plato, the fiercest critic of Athenian democracy. The people, Plato argued, were stupid and easily led to disaster by witty and clever speaking politicians who make promises they can’t possibly keep. The Athenian Assembly voted to execute Socrates, to embark on disastrous wars with Sparta and Syracuse and had brought disaster upon itself. Plato would not be surprised by the Brexit vote or the rise of populists like Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. As far as Plato was concerned, politicians who promise the people a moon on a stick will always win because the people are idiots. Plato’s solution was guardianship; have the ‘kings’ rule as philosophers, or the philosophers rule as kings.’ These days we call this technocratic government; rule by the cleverest, most able people.

A solution to the Lords is to have both systems; half of the chamber can be chosen from among the people by lottery like jury service, the other half technocrats selected according to objective criteria much like recruitment to the Civil Service. Short term limits can be imposed perhaps of as little as two or three months, with regular circulation of members to prevent self-serving behaviour and the emergence of politicised factions.

Everyone agrees the House of Lords needs reform, but no one can agree on what to do about it. Ancient Greece offers us one perspective on how to maintain a check on government power, have a technocratic body which can scrutinise government legislation and include representation of the people.