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Hated Tory ‘bedroom tax’ discriminated against disabled claimants, court rules

Tory welfare reforms suffered a blow in the Supreme Court as judges ruled the government acted outside of the law when it imposed its...

Bedroom tax ‘punishes poor & powerless,’ Supreme Court hears

Disabled people are unfairly impacted by the Tories’ ‘bedroom tax,’ lawyers for five appeal cases told the Supreme Court on Monday. Campaigners for disability rights...

MP Seeks To Curtail Bedroom Tax

A Liberal Democrat MP is seeking the backing of fellow MPs for his private members' bill that aims to curtail the controversial bedroom tax. To...

UK Government Caught Censoring Wikipedia To Hide Truth About Bedroom Tax

RINF Alternative News Today it emerged that the Wikipedia page of Housing Minister Kris Hopkins has been edited in an effort to censor disturbing information...

Bedroom Tax ‘Leading To Homelessness’ In Scotland

THE hated bedroom tax is keeping homeless people on the streets, Scottish housing workers said yesterday. A Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) survey showed...

Tory Welsh Secretary refuses to apologise for calling disabled bedroom tax victim a liar

Luke James Tory Minister David Jones refused to apologise yesterday for accusing a disabled bedroom tax victim of “lying” in a face-to-face meeting about the...

Money expert blasts Bedroom Tax

Money expert Martin Lewis is calling on David Cameron to admit he got it wrong on the hated Bedroom Tax — and finally scrap it. The cash wizard told...

One year on: Bedroom tax forces households into debt

Mick Meaney RINF Alternative News Since the Bedroom Tax was introduced in 2013, residents on welfare are now struggling to survive. Fearful of eviction, many have...

Britain’s “bedroom tax” puts thousands in financial jeopardy

Mark Blackwood and Paul Mitchell  RINF Alternative News More than 200,000 people requested emergency assistance from local councils in the six months after the bedroom tax...

British government took advantage of ‘bedroom tax’ loophole – charging thousands of exempt tenants

A loophole in the Tories’ bedroom tax legislation means the government owes hundreds of pounds to tenants who have paid the hated tax for...

UK’s Labour vows to scrap bedroom tax

British Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to abolish the controversial "bedroom tax" if his party wins the country™s next general election in 2015. In...

UK Lib Dems revolt against bedroom tax

Members of the British Liberal Democrat party have overwhelmingly denounced the so-called bedroom tax as unfair, demanding a review of the policy from their...

UK’s bedroom tax branded as ‘mistake’

British Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Shirley Williams has criticized the government™s controversial œbedroom tax”, describing the policy as a œbig mistake”. Speaking to the BBC™s...

UN official slams London’s bedroom tax

A United Nations (UN) official has called for the œabolishment” of London™s bedroom tax, as the UK™s housing reforms are assessed for a forthcoming...

Scots launch campaign over bedroom tax

Campaign launched against bedroom tax Scots launch campaign against UK governmentâ„¢s bedroom tax Scots launch campaign over bedroom tax Scottish activists launch a campaign against the UK...

Britons to stage bedroom tax protest

Thousands of Britons are to take part in a "mass sleep out" to show their anger against the government's changes to the country's welfare...

The Age of Austerity: Fighting Cuts and Privatisation — Nottingham Bedroom Tax Campaign!

Austerity in the UK affects the public sector across the board, whether it is the National Health Service, Primary and Secondary Education, Further and Higher Education, disability services, social housing, etc. The fourth event of the series The Age of Austerity about Nottingham anti-cuts campaigns by the local UCU association at Nottingham University on 12 June dealt with the Bedroom Tax. It affects people in social housing, who are deemed to have a spare bedroom. Becky Kent and her mother Karen Wood spoke about the Nottingham Bedroom Tax Campaign, the devastating impact the tax has on people as well as the attempts to resist the attack on some of the most vulnerable members of society.
 

The Bedroom Tax: a human perspective.


Photo by Mwezibou

Karen Wood, who had worked all her life until she became seriously ill, gave a powerful presentation on the human perspective behind the Bedroom Tax. Having already had her benefits cut by one-third due to the austerity agenda, she has now been hit by the Bedroom tax. Being asked to pay an extra £21 per week leaves her with £2.50 per week for groceries, toiletries, etc. The situation she faces is a choice between either paying the tax or continuing with her already very difficult normal life. But it is not only the harsh economic situation she is confronted with, it is the enormous stress resulting from the pressure to move, the general uncertainty about her future, as well as the daily worry whether another letter threatening eviction will be delivered by the post. It is the concerns for her severely ill son, which weigh heavily on her mind. He would have nowhere to go once he is out of hospital, if she had been forced to move out of a home, where she had lived for decades and brought up her three children. Listening to Karen Wood, it became clear why 53 year old Stephanie Bottrill saw no other way out than taking her own life, when hit by the Bedroom Tax (The Mirror). As Karen Wood made also clear, however, she does not see herself as a victim, because victims don’t fight back. She is determined to fight and defeat the tax.

Photo by Alan Denney


Economic nonsense and the attack on social housing: The real purpose behind the Bedroom Tax.

Becky Kent, in turn, made clear that the Bedroom Tax does not make economic sense. As soon as tenants are £100 in arrears with their payments, eviction procedures are started. The overall process of eviction, costing several thousand pounds per person, is, however, much more expensive than the debt by tenants. Moreover, while 5500 homes in Nottingham are affected by the Bedroom Tax, there are hardly any properties available, in which people, who are asked to leave, could move into. Housing them then in private or temporary accommodation would again be much more expensive than what would be saved by avoiding these people’s debts from the tax. Additionally, it should not be forgotten that many tenants have lived in their houses for years and build up a local community network of support. Moving people would not only deprive them of their social environment, it would also require local Councils to provide expensive assistance for tasks, so far carried out by friends and neighbours.

Clearly, taking all these factors together, the Bedroom Tax is not about saving money and reducing public debt. Yet again, as in the case of restructuring in education (see Hands off our Schools!) or privatisation of the NHS (see Broxtowe Save Our NHS), the real purpose is a market-based transformation of society. Social housing has been the target of Conservatives for some time and the current crisis gives them the pretext to undermine it severely.

Photo by Mwezibou


Resisting the Bedroom Tax

The Nottingham Bedroom Tax Campaignfocuses on providing information and support for people affected by the tax. For example, they provide detailed information about the process of eviction, helping people to understand that it is actually not that easy to throw people out. It is important for people to know that the first letter threatening eviction does not imply that they have to leave within the immediate future.

The Bedroom Tax often affects some of the most vulnerable people in society, suffering from disabilities, long-term illnesses, mental health problems or a history of domestic abuse. Many have struggled for such a long time with difficult situations that they have become completely alienated from politics and find it often impossible to resist. The Bedroom Tax Campaign also provides a rallying point for these people to come together, regain confidence and develop collective agency in resistance.

Photo by Joey's Dream Garden
A key aspect of the Campaign’s strategy is to lobby and put pressure on Nottingham City Council, which is dominated by the Labour Party, to declare a no eviction commitment in relation to people, who are in arrears with their payments as a result of the Bedroom Tax. Broxtowe Borough Council has already made such a pledge, although there is only a small Labour majority unlike in Nottingham. Especially prior to the national general elections in 2013, it would be important to put pressure on the Labour Party, Becky Kent argued, to declare its position on the austerity agenda and the local level is the best place to start in relation to the Bedroom Tax. In order to sign a petition to Councillor Jon Collins, Leader of Nottingham City Council, click on the Bedroom Tax Petition. 

The Bedroom Tax is not the Poll Tax, Becky Kent concluded. Because it affects only a small part of society, unlike the Poll Tax back in the 1980s, it is much more difficult to mobilise widely. Support for the Campaign is therefore necessary and spreading information about this attack on vulnerable people remains a task of utmost importance. Ultimately, should it come to evictions in the end, the final moment of resistance will be to put up eviction pickets. Mobilisation for this clearly has to start now.



Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net

13 June 2013

Bedroom tax makes rent soar in Scotland

Scotland has seen a rapid increase in rent arrears, causing Scots further financial difficulties, since the British government introduced the contentious bedroom tax. The controversial...

People of Britain say no to bedroom tax

British towns and cities have been witnessing a wave of demonstrations against the government’s fierce bedroom tax, a measure which is victimizing vulnerable people...

UK bedroom tax blamed for suicide

UK govt. bedroom tax blamed for womanâ„¢s suicideBritons staged demonstrations against changes to the country's welfare system, including the bedroom tax, on March 30,...

Will ‘Bedroom Tax’ Punish Pensioners’?

Some pensioners with spare rooms will be hit by reductions in housing benefit under what critics dub the Government's "bedroom tax", the Department of Work and Pensions confirmed. Existing claimants in homes where someone of working age also lives hav...

World’s superrich are renting London properties to avoid new taxes

Foreign billionaires living in London are opting to rent rather than buy in the British...

British Girl Held Captive & Raped by Non-White Taxi Driver for 13 Years

A woman who says she was kidnapped and abused as a sex slave for 13 years by a taxi driver in the...

British sex slave ‘held captive & raped by taxi driver for 13 years’

A woman who says she was kidnapped and abused as a sex slave for 13...

New York City Landlords Flout Rent Limits, but Still Receive Lucrative Tax Breaks

As gleaming new housing towers spring up around New York City, thousands of new rent-stabilized apartments are coming onto the market. And in return...

UK poor hit by double tax whammy

Barry Mason  RINF Alternative News One year ago, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in Britain initiated Council Tax Support (CTS) and the Under Occupancy Charge, or...

Thousands Rally Against Killer Tax

Thousands of people across Britain rallied on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the hated bedroom tax. They took to the streets in towns...

MP Tells Ministers To Go And Meet Victims Of ‘Callous’ Bed Tax

A Welsh Labour MP backing bedroom tax appeals told Con-Dem ministers yesterday to get out of Westminster and meet the people suffering under their...

Amtrak: Railroading the Taxpayers

Today is our lucky day, the day each year my wife and I get to be on the receiving end of multiple doses of...

Reclaiming the Roadblock, UK Uncut Takes Direct Action Against Austerity

Royal-Court-of-JusticeRoyal Court of Justice. (Photo: via Flickr)Since 2010, UK Uncut has facilitated direct actions involving tens of thousands across Britain in acts of civil disobedience. These actions have targeted the public spending cuts executed by the coalition government that came to power that year, alongside actions against corporations that are making massive profits while not paying taxes.

The anti-cuts group recently mobilized a nationwide action called "Roadblocks for Justice" that focused specifically on cuts to legal aid, which is the state support for legal services that ensure citizens are provided equality before the law.

England's most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, has expressed dismay about the British government's plans to remove legal aid to defendants in serious family cases. As an example, the civil rights law firm, Tooks Chambers, is soon to close down, and a senior lawyer at the firm asserts this happened because of government's cuts so far to legal aid. With more still to come.

Last Saturday, October 5, the street outside the Royal Courts of Justice was brought to a standstill. Activists against disability cuts, many in wheelchairs, locked themselves together. Supporters of UK Uncut and others opposing austerity occupied the other carriageway with a samba band providing the beat. They looked on as police interrupted those performing street theater.

"This road block represents the U.K. government, who is blocking people's rights and access to justice," explained Anna Walker, a UK Uncut supporter. "We decided this would highlight the impact of the legal aid cuts that will particularly affect disabled people, migrants and the homeless. The vulnerable in society are being denied a path to justice, so we wanted a straight-up piece of civil disobedience to reject their policies."

Gordon Linch, participating with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:

"Without legal aid, you cannot challenge the cuts. The government are doing this to shut up the voice of these people. If it was not for legal aid, the Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan families would not have been able to correct the injustices they faced as two key examples."

The injustice of these cases is famous in Britain, though perhaps less so abroad. Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993, and only years later the British justice system found that the Metropolitan Police had mishandled the case due to institutional racism.

Mark Duggan was shot by police officers in a taxi in North London in August of 2011, which sparked riots across the country. An inquest into his death is still ongoing. Tooks Chambers, which now has to shutter its doors, took on both of these influential cases.

Taking Direct Action Against Austerity

The tactic of roadblocks in political protest has a long history, as UK Uncut highlighted in the run-up to last weekend's event. Blocking roads was used to fight against British imperialism in India, by the women of Greenham Common against Britain's Nuclear Arms bases, and by the Civil Rights Movement in America, among many other examples.

But in contrast to the past, "The blockades before were about demanding new rights – from winning the vote to displaying women's right to protest," said one organizer from the group, who wished to remain anonymous. "Yet this time we challenge our government's authority to rip away our rights."

"Roadblocks for Justice grew out of a meeting that brought together people who wanted to discuss the cuts to legal aid," he continued. "An idea was proposed at that meeting about legal aid, which included representatives of Women Against Rape, DPAC and UK Uncut. This proposal was then taken to the wider group. It was passed using our consensus process."

The action outside the Royal Courts added to a mounting list of direct actions organized by the group in recent years, starting in the autumn of 2010 when Uncut activists closed down eight Vodafone mobile phone shops to protests the company's tax dodging practices.

The BBC reported that in 2010 tax evasion cost the global economy $21 Trillion. The campaigning group, Tax Justice Network, calculated that over half this amount flowed through London into tax havens. Activists recounted how UK Uncut's actions brought this research to public attention.

"In 2010 it was so exciting to show corporations were not paying their fair share. There were not many actions or other groups focusing on it then," said Walker. "Now that has all changed."

In 2011, the first ever Occupy mass convergence happened within a UK Uncut action, when 3,000 people blocked Westminster Bridge to protest against cuts to Britain's National Health Service. "It was a week before the Occupy camp was set up [and] a General Assembly happened on the side of the action, organized by those who wanted to outreach about the Occupy movement," she added. "It did not seem a big deal on the day."

UK Uncut's largest action to date saw 40 branches of Starbucks occupied to protest the company's evasion of taxes. Reuters reported that the corporation's UK profits that year totaled £1.2 billion -- but that it reported to UK authorities it had made no profit. Other mass actions coordinated by the group have included "die-ins," which shut down the Department of Work and Pensions offices in protest to austerity cuts.

In addition, the group launched a "Who wants to evict a millionaire?" campaign, bringing activists just outside the mansions of those in the government who stood behind the "bedroom tax," which targets people receiving housing support. Since its introduction, The Independent newspaper reports that the bedroom tax has caused 50,000 people to face imminent eviction from their homes.

UK Uncut was also responsible for putting on a street party outside Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's house, the purpose being to embarrass him for reneging on his election pledge not to raise student fees, which he reversed only months later. Inspired by this action, the group UK Uncut Legal Action followed up in a rare move by activists: they took the British Treasury to court for allowing Goldman Sachs to get away with tax evasion.

Involved in the anti-tax evasion movement since the start, Anna Walker described how UK Uncut plans to move forward.

"Tax is something UK Uncut is associated with, but now we're trying to broaden out to a full anti-cuts message -- although when we do tax actions, these are the most popular, so we will keep doing them too."

In complement to other British anti-austerity movements in recent years, UK Uncut has proved perhaps the most successful at mobilizing activists from other cities as well as London. During Roadblocks for Justice, actions were coordinated across seven UK cities.

The nationwide impact is something the group want to push further. "We need to continue building the movement against cuts across the country. So far this has happened spontaneously and autonomously, which is great," Walker said. But, "it needs strengthening through more nationwide skillshares, improved administration and better lines of communication.

"In these ways more groups can be empowered to be totally included in a broader movement."

ince 2010, UK Uncut has facilitated direct actions involving tens of thousands across Britain in acts of civil disobedience. These actions have targeted the public spending cuts executed by the coalition government that came to power that year, alongside actions against corporations that are making massive profits while not paying taxes.

The anti-cuts group recently mobilized a nationwide action called “Roadblocks for Justice” that focused specifically on cuts to legal aid, which is the state support for legal services that ensure citizens are provided equality before the law.

England’s most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, has expressed dismay about the British government's plans to remove legal aid to defendants in serious family cases. As an example, the civil rights law firm, Tooks Chambers, is soon to close down, and a senior lawyer at the firm asserts this happened because of government’s cuts so far to legal aid. With more still to come.

Last Saturday, October 5, the street outside the Royal Courts of Justice was brought to a standstill. Activists against disability cuts, many in wheelchairs, locked themselves together. Supporters of UK Uncut and others opposing austerity occupied the other carriageway with a samba band providing the beat. They looked on as police interrupted those performing street theater.

“This road block represents the U.K. government, who is blocking people's rights and access to justice,” explained Anna Walker, a UK Uncut supporter. “We decided this would highlight the impact of the legal aid cuts that will particularly affect disabled people, migrants and the homeless. The vulnerable in society are being denied a path to justice, so we wanted a straight-up piece of civil disobedience to reject their policies.”

Gordon Linch, participating with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:

“Without legal aid, you cannot challenge the cuts. The government are doing this to shut up the voice of these people. If it was not for legal aid, the Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan families would not have been able to correct the injustices they faced as two key examples.”

The injustice of these cases is famous in Britain, though perhaps less so abroad. Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993, and only years later the British justice system found that the Metropolitan Police had mishandled the case due to institutional racism.

Mark Duggan was shot by police officers in a taxi in North London in August of 2011, which sparked riots across the country. An inquest into his death is still ongoing. Tooks Chambers, which now has to shutter its doors, took on both of these influential cases.

Taking Direct Action Against Austerity

The tactic of roadblocks in political protest has a long history, as UK Uncut highlighted in the run-up to last weekend's event. Blocking roads was used to fight against British imperialism in India, by the women of Greenham Common against Britain's Nuclear Arms bases, and by the Civil Rights Movement in America, among many other examples.

But in contrast to the past, “The blockades before were about demanding new rights – from winning the vote to displaying women’s right to protest," said one organizer from the group, who wished to remain anonymous. "Yet this time we challenge our government’s authority to rip away our rights.”

“Roadblocks for Justice grew out of a meeting that brought together people who wanted to discuss the cuts to legal aid,” he continued. “An idea was proposed at that meeting about legal aid, which included representatives of Women Against Rape, DPAC and UK Uncut. This proposal was then taken to the wider group. It was passed using our consensus process.”

The action outside the Royal Courts added to a mounting list of direct actions organized by the group in recent years, starting in the autumn of 2010 when Uncut activists closed down eight Vodafone mobile phone shops to protests the company's tax dodging practices.

The BBC reported that in 2010 tax evasion cost the global economy $21 Trillion. The campaigning group, Tax Justice Network, calculated that over half this amount flowed through London into tax havens. Activists recounted how UK Uncut's actions brought this research to public attention.

“In 2010 it was so exciting to show corporations were not paying their fair share. There were not many actions or other groups focusing on it then," said Walker. "Now that has all changed.”

In 2011, the first ever Occupy mass convergence happened within a UK Uncut action, when 3,000 people blocked Westminster Bridge to protest against cuts to Britain's National Health Service. “It was a week before the Occupy camp was set up [and] a General Assembly happened on the side of the action, organized by those who wanted to outreach about the Occupy movement," she added. "It did not seem a big deal on the day.”

UK Uncut’s largest action to date saw 40 branches of Starbucks occupied to protest the company's evasion of taxes. Reuters reported that the corporation's UK profits that year totaled £1.2 billion -- but that it reported to UK authorities it had made no profit. Other mass actions coordinated by the group have included "die-ins," which shut down the Department of Work and Pensions offices in protest to austerity cuts.

In addition, the group launched a “Who wants to evict a millionaire?” campaign, bringing activists just outside the mansions of those in the government who stood behind the "bedroom tax," which targets people receiving housing support. Since its introduction, The Independent newspaper reports that the bedroom tax has caused 50,000 people to face imminent eviction from their homes.

UK Uncut was also responsible for putting on a street party outside Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s house, the purpose being to embarrass him for reneging on his election pledge not to raise student fees, which he reversed only months later. Inspired by this action, the group UK Uncut Legal Action followed up in a rare move by activists: they took the British Treasury to court for allowing Goldman Sachs to get away with tax evasion.

Involved in the anti-tax evasion movement since the start, Anna Walker described how UK Uncut plans to move forward.

“Tax is something UK Uncut is associated with, but now we’re trying to broaden out to a full anti-cuts message -- although when we do tax actions, these are the most popular, so we will keep doing them too.”

In complement to other British anti-austerity movements in recent years, UK Uncut has proved perhaps the most successful at mobilizing activists from other cities as well as London. During Roadblocks for Justice, actions were coordinated across seven UK cities.

The nationwide impact is something the group want to push further. “We need to continue building the movement against cuts across the country. So far this has happened spontaneously and autonomously, which is great,” Walker said. But, ”it needs strengthening through more nationwide skillshares, improved administration and better lines of communication.

"In these ways more groups can be empowered to be totally included in a broader movement.”

- See more at: http://www.occupy.com/article/reclaiming-roadblock-uk-uncut-takes-direct-action-against-austerity#sthash.7UkAou4e.dpuf

ince 2010, UK Uncut has facilitated direct actions involving tens of thousands across Britain in acts of civil disobedience. These actions have targeted the public spending cuts executed by the coalition government that came to power that year, alongside actions against corporations that are making massive profits while not paying taxes.

The anti-cuts group recently mobilized a nationwide action called “Roadblocks for Justice” that focused specifically on cuts to legal aid, which is the state support for legal services that ensure citizens are provided equality before the law.

England’s most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, has expressed dismay about the British government's plans to remove legal aid to defendants in serious family cases. As an example, the civil rights law firm, Tooks Chambers, is soon to close down, and a senior lawyer at the firm asserts this happened because of government’s cuts so far to legal aid. With more still to come.

Last Saturday, October 5, the street outside the Royal Courts of Justice was brought to a standstill. Activists against disability cuts, many in wheelchairs, locked themselves together. Supporters of UK Uncut and others opposing austerity occupied the other carriageway with a samba band providing the beat. They looked on as police interrupted those performing street theater.

“This road block represents the U.K. government, who is blocking people's rights and access to justice,” explained Anna Walker, a UK Uncut supporter. “We decided this would highlight the impact of the legal aid cuts that will particularly affect disabled people, migrants and the homeless. The vulnerable in society are being denied a path to justice, so we wanted a straight-up piece of civil disobedience to reject their policies.”

Gordon Linch, participating with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:

“Without legal aid, you cannot challenge the cuts. The government are doing this to shut up the voice of these people. If it was not for legal aid, the Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan families would not have been able to correct the injustices they faced as two key examples.”

The injustice of these cases is famous in Britain, though perhaps less so abroad. Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993, and only years later the British justice system found that the Metropolitan Police had mishandled the case due to institutional racism.

Mark Duggan was shot by police officers in a taxi in North London in August of 2011, which sparked riots across the country. An inquest into his death is still ongoing. Tooks Chambers, which now has to shutter its doors, took on both of these influential cases.

Taking Direct Action Against Austerity

The tactic of roadblocks in political protest has a long history, as UK Uncut highlighted in the run-up to last weekend's event. Blocking roads was used to fight against British imperialism in India, by the women of Greenham Common against Britain's Nuclear Arms bases, and by the Civil Rights Movement in America, among many other examples.

But in contrast to the past, “The blockades before were about demanding new rights – from winning the vote to displaying women’s right to protest," said one organizer from the group, who wished to remain anonymous. "Yet this time we challenge our government’s authority to rip away our rights.”

“Roadblocks for Justice grew out of a meeting that brought together people who wanted to discuss the cuts to legal aid,” he continued. “An idea was proposed at that meeting about legal aid, which included representatives of Women Against Rape, DPAC and UK Uncut. This proposal was then taken to the wider group. It was passed using our consensus process.”

The action outside the Royal Courts added to a mounting list of direct actions organized by the group in recent years, starting in the autumn of 2010 when Uncut activists closed down eight Vodafone mobile phone shops to protests the company's tax dodging practices.

The BBC reported that in 2010 tax evasion cost the global economy $21 Trillion. The campaigning group, Tax Justice Network, calculated that over half this amount flowed through London into tax havens. Activists recounted how UK Uncut's actions brought this research to public attention.

“In 2010 it was so exciting to show corporations were not paying their fair share. There were not many actions or other groups focusing on it then," said Walker. "Now that has all changed.”

In 2011, the first ever Occupy mass convergence happened within a UK Uncut action, when 3,000 people blocked Westminster Bridge to protest against cuts to Britain's National Health Service. “It was a week before the Occupy camp was set up [and] a General Assembly happened on the side of the action, organized by those who wanted to outreach about the Occupy movement," she added. "It did not seem a big deal on the day.”

UK Uncut’s largest action to date saw 40 branches of Starbucks occupied to protest the company's evasion of taxes. Reuters reported that the corporation's UK profits that year totaled £1.2 billion -- but that it reported to UK authorities it had made no profit. Other mass actions coordinated by the group have included "die-ins," which shut down the Department of Work and Pensions offices in protest to austerity cuts.

In addition, the group launched a “Who wants to evict a millionaire?” campaign, bringing activists just outside the mansions of those in the government who stood behind the "bedroom tax," which targets people receiving housing support. Since its introduction, The Independent newspaper reports that the bedroom tax has caused 50,000 people to face imminent eviction from their homes.

UK Uncut was also responsible for putting on a street party outside Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s house, the purpose being to embarrass him for reneging on his election pledge not to raise student fees, which he reversed only months later. Inspired by this action, the group UK Uncut Legal Action followed up in a rare move by activists: they took the British Treasury to court for allowing Goldman Sachs to get away with tax evasion.

Involved in the anti-tax evasion movement since the start, Anna Walker described how UK Uncut plans to move forward.

“Tax is something UK Uncut is associated with, but now we’re trying to broaden out to a full anti-cuts message -- although when we do tax actions, these are the most popular, so we will keep doing them too.”

In complement to other British anti-austerity movements in recent years, UK Uncut has proved perhaps the most successful at mobilizing activists from other cities as well as London. During Roadblocks for Justice, actions were coordinated across seven UK cities.

The nationwide impact is something the group want to push further. “We need to continue building the movement against cuts across the country. So far this has happened spontaneously and autonomously, which is great,” Walker said. But, ”it needs strengthening through more nationwide skillshares, improved administration and better lines of communication.

"In these ways more groups can be empowered to be totally included in a broader movement.”

- See more at: http://www.occupy.com/article/reclaiming-roadblock-uk-uncut-takes-direct-action-against-austerity#sthash.7UkAou4e.dpuf

There Is An Alternative: reflections on elements of an anti-austerity economic policy.

Poster by freestylee
Similarly to the 1980s, when Thatcher proclaimed that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to her restructuring policies, again we are told in the UK that considering national debt levels, austerity is the only way forward. Up to one million public sector jobs are to be axed, public sector pensions and wages are under attack and welfare services are cut across the board.

Importantly, however, politics is always about choices and deciding on priorities. There are always several possible ways forward. In this post, I will reflect on some elements of an alternative, anti-austerity economic policy.


What would an anti-austerity policy look like?

  • clearly, as a result of government bailout of banks, national debt has significantly increased. Nevertheless, as the PCS has already made clear a couple of years ago, the current national debt level is lower than between 1918 and 1961, when the British welfare state was established (PCS). In short, the gravity of the situation is exaggerated;

  • tax justice – close tax loopholes by employing more inspectors: ‘figures produced for PCS by the Tax Justice Network show that £25 billion is lost annually in tax avoidance and a further £70 billion in tax evasion by large companies and wealthy individuals’ (PCS). Employing more staff at HM Revenue & Customs would allow the government to collect additional billions of Pounds every year;

  • moreover, the PCS further calculates that if the so-called Robin Hood tax, ‘a 0.05% tax on global financial transactions – was applied to UK financial institutions it would raise an estimated £20–30bn per year (PCS). At the European level, it is the UK government which currently blocks moves towards a financial transaction tax;
  • tax justice would also imply that unlike the current government, an anti-austerity policy would not lower the income tax rate for high earners;

  • government investment into infrastructure projects such as the generation of green energy and especially social housing to create employment. This would also help to address the energy crisis as well as solve the housing crisis, with many people finding it impossible to secure affordable housing at the moment (BBC, 8 July 2013). While this would initially lead to larger national debts, the creation of jobs would result in higher demand levels, less government spending on jobseeker's allowances and an overall more positive economic outlook;

  • small companies struggle to raise necessary finance (BBC, 17 September 2012). An anti-austerity policy would imply that the government gives more direction to state-owned banks towards finance for businesses and a more focused industrial policy;

  • emphasising cuts to wages is counter-productive as it takes demand out of the economy. An anti-austerity policy would protect wage levels in line with inflation and productivity increase;
Photo by Eddie Truman

  • spending is always also about deciding on what are the key priorities. Do we actually need to replace Trident? ‘The government estimates renewal costs will be between £15bn and £20bn but anti-nuclear campaigners say the figure will be much higher’ (BBC, 16 July 2013). Is the British involvement in Afghanistan a societal priority? In addition to the loss of human lives, ‘the war in Afghanistan has cost Britain at least £37bn and the figure will rise to a sum equivalent to more than £2,000 for every taxpaying household, according to a devastating critique of the UK's role in the conflict’ (The Guardian, 30 May 2013). An anti-austerity policy would channel finance from war adventures to investment into schools, social housing, the health sector, etc.;
Of course, these are just a range of potential elements of an anti-austerity economic policy. They are not a comprehensive programme. What is clear, however, is that there are alternative policies available. If this is the case, then why does the UK government pursue these austerity policies in the first place?


What is the real purpose of government austerity policy?
 

The government claims that austerity policies are necessary to reduce national debt. However, how much money do these policies actually save?

  • it is highly likely that the new loan scheme in Higher Education will ultimately be more expensive for the state than the past system of financing university education via block grants (see The Great University Gamble). Perhaps the real focus is on opening the door to private providers?
  • in secondary education, finance is moved from comprehensives to academies and free schools. Is this really about saving money, or is the goal ‘to incentivise’ private sector involvement (see  Hands Off Our Schools)?

  • the implementation of the bedroom tax is in all probability more expensive than what is actually saved in the process (see Nottingham Bedroom Tax Campaign). Is the real purpose an attack on social housing?

  • NHS restructuring: is privatising the most profitable parts really about saving money and making service delivery more efficient, or is the objective to provide private investors with profitable investment opportunities (see also Broxtowe Save Our NHS)?
Photo by infomatique
In short, the real objective of current austerity policies is not to save money, but to open up the public sector for private investment. The financial crisis is used as a justification for a drastic transformation of society resulting in a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich and a change in the power balance from labour to capital. Austerity policies are a strategy of class warfare!


And yet, alternative policies are available. Whether they are implemented is a matter of political will and, ultimately, a matter of the balance of class power in society.  



Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net

23 August 2013

The Age of Austerity: Fighting Cuts and Privatisation.

Since coming to power in 2010, the current coalition government in the UK has implemented drastic austerity policies across the public sector. During the Spring semester 2013, the local University and College Union (UCU) association at Nottingham University organised a series of talks on local anti-cuts initiatives. The purpose of this post is to bring together the various reports from these talks.

Photo by Dean Thorpe
As different as the various areas affected by cuts are, ranging from the National Health Service (NHS) to schools to the Bedroom Tax, several common features can be identified:

(1) austerity policies have nothing to do with cutting back national debt. Rather, they are intended to open up the public sector to private investment;

(2) downward pressure on terms and conditions of those working in the public sector is the general result;

(3) austerity policies are mainly directed against the weak and vulnerable in society;

(4) austerity policies are decided by those, who will not be negatively affected by them. Cuts in education and health have no implications for the rich, who are already accessing private education and health services; and

(5) many current policies had already been initiated by previous New Labour governments. Turning austerity around will, therefore, need to go beyond defeating the current government. It also requires an internal struggle for the direction of the Labour party.

Overall, austerity is a class project against working people’s gains since 1945!

The reports collected in this post highlight the dramatic implications of cuts, but they are also a testimony to the continuation of resistance and the possibility that austerity can be defeated.



Since April 2013, health service contracts have also been offered to private providers, able to cherry pick profitable parts of the NHS such as walk-in treatment centres. Opening up the NHS to private capital is clearly the purpose underlying this change in legislation. The related implications are two-fold: (1) while patients may receive similar levels of service from these privatised units during the initial years, this is highly likely to decline later on; (2) privatisation will lead to a two-tier labour market, where workers in private facilities will earn less and have less good pensions than in the NHS. Downward pressure on wages and working conditions across the sector is the inevitable result. Yet, resistance against privatisation continues. The main aim of the Broxtowe Save Our NHS campaign is regime change and, thus, the de-selection of the current local Conservative MP Anna Soubry.


Hands Off Our Schools!

After coming to power in 2010, the new government pushed in record time an education bill through Parliament, facilitating the transition of schools into academies. In order to incentivise this transition, funds are channelled from local education authority budgets to new academies. As a result, other schools suffer further cuts and essential local services for children with special needs are under threat. There is uncertainty over teachers’ terms and conditions in academies and in general the switch to academies may be the first step towards the privatisation of education more generally, considering the recent emphasis on so-called ‘free schools’. Resistance against the transition to academies continues, but in order to be successful it requires an alliance between parents of pupils at the school and the teachers.



Women are particularly negatively affected by current austerity policies. Considering that two-thirds of public sector employees are women, job cuts in the public sector will affect women disproportionately. Moreover, it is often women in our society, which have caring responsibilities. Cuts to benefits, as a result, also affect especially women. Finally, women are also more likely to suffer from cuts to public services, considering that they are more likely to be lone parents or to suffer from domestic abuse. Nevertheless, women are not defenceless victims. The Nottingham Women’s Conference on 21 September 2013 has the goal to raise consciousness and empower women to stand up for their rights.  



The bedroom tax is one of the clearest examples of how austerity policies are mainly directed against the poor and the weak. It affects people in social housing, who are deemed to have a spare bedroom and, therefore, are asked to move to smaller accommodation or have their housing benefits cut. The tax does not only endanger these people’s livelihood, it also puts them under enormous psychological stress, as they live in constant fear of receiving a letter of eviction. Considering that the eviction of tenants is more expensive than the money saved through the tax, it may well be that social housing as such is the main target of the tax.



It is the proliferation of food banks, which most dramatically illustrates the devastating social implications of austerity. Overall, there are now 15 food banks in the wider area of Nottingham, where people can turn to in order to receive emergency food supplies. The main reason for why people need to access food banks is the changes to the welfare system. When people have their benefits withdrawn or cut by job centres, they often have no alternative than to go to a food bank to feed themselves and their families. The proliferation of food banks makes clear that austerity must be resisted and defeated.



Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net

18 August 2013

ON REALISING THE FULL POTENTIAL OF THE PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLIES


On 18 May, the first People's Assembly took place in Nottingham to organise local resistance against the cuts by the coalition government. In this guest post, Alan Story, reflects on the lessons to be learned from the process of organising this event.

Photo by
I could not agree more with the overall thrust of the 9 May blog post by Andreas Bieler where he wrote about the need for – and political potential of – of the People’s Assemblies against Austerity now being held across the UK (see Why we need local People’s Assemblies). At a moment when opposition to this government’s cruel cutbacks is ‘highly fragmented’ and the Labour Party, as well as many unions, have almost ‘given up the struggle against austerity…local and regional People’s Assemblies are of high importance to ensure a revival of resistance and overcome the lethargy at the national level,’ Bieler wrote. And as the historian Keith Flett reminds us, such mass gatherings have a long history in the British working class movement. Meetings in Birmingham and Manchester to choose local delegates for the Chartist Convention of 1839 attracted crowds of, respectively, 200,000 and 300,000 people  (see On the History of People’s Assemblies).

So yes, the People’s Assemblies --- IF they are organised democratically and transparently and actually do create a ‘broad space to bring together the diverse groups opposed to austerity’ ---- do have some potential. (I also add the caveat: unless they also directly challenge the insipid role of the Labour Party in the growing anti-cuts campaign, PA’s have a potentially fatal Achilles’ heel.) That’s exactly why I actively participated in the organisation of the 18 May People’s Assembly in Nottingham. But I watched in growing disappointment for over six weeks as its planning committee fell apart after a series of undemocratic manoeuvres and local activists withdrew (or were excluded). This meant that the best possibilities of the Notts PA were not realised. Controlled by two trade unionists from Notts TUC, its planning committee reproduced capitalist relations of production --- that is, there were bosses and there were workers --- and its functioning mirrored the cabal politics of Westminster.  

The Notts PA did give us a flavour of the anger that is ‘out there’ in the broader community and the event has been called the ‘best-attended’ local protest meeting in some years. But the words of PA plenary speaker and disabled activist Francesca Martinez that ‘I believe in better’ led me to write an open letter to the Notts TUC.

This guest blog expands on that letter. The trajectory of events concerning a proposed crèche for the PA gives us a series of lessons as to how activists and trade unionists must learn to work together in a far better fashion in future months and in future campaigns. As a large crowd was expected at the Notts PA and as the event was to last all day, the establishment of a crèche was agreed at a Notts PA planning meeting in early April. A child care expert then did all of the planning required, including engaging the top-rated mobile crèche unit of a local non-profit agency. But the crèche never occurred. What lessons does this regrettable debacle teach us for future collaboration?  

1) BE INCLUSIVE – When establishing a crèche was first proposed, the head of planning committee clearly was rather cool to the idea. ‘I have never been to an event which had a crèche,’ he said, adding that he doubted anyone would need one. But those of us with a somewhat broader political experience and a strong commitment to assisting women to get involved in politics --- as well as appreciating the need to send a clear political signal that the PA did as well --- won that initial battle. We were, however, to lose the crèche ‘war’…as we found out a few weeks later and as we again learned our own lessons about how not to organise. The importance of inclusiveness also applies to disabled people (as it says in the open letter, ‘one accessible parking space on a steep road simple does cut it’), to working class people who may lack middle class confidence and, thankfully, glibness, and to people who are still novices at political campaigning. Concerning the latter group, one woman I know who is an extremely hard-working and talented campaigner, passionately hates injustice and who needed a crèche at the PA for her two children left the planning committee in disgust after a single session. That’s not surprising; read on.

2) OPERATE DEMOCRATICALLY – One of the reasons that more activists are getting involved in the struggle against austerity --- and indeed government policies are bringing forth new activists daily by the barrow-load --- is because they detest the increasingly dictatorial attacks on their lives, as well as the resulting alienation and sense of isolation they feel. Or they appreciate how others at the pointed end are feeling. Not surprisingly when such activists join protest campaigns or plan events AS VOLUNTEERS, they expect to feel at least some sense of community and solidarity with those who are working in the same campaign. And they can also expect a minimum level of democratic functioning. Time and time again this did not happen in the People’s Assembly planning process here in Nottingham: democratically-taken decisions (such as to establish a crèche) were ignored, some meetings were packed while others were held unannounced, and some genuinely bizarre events occurred. For example, about four weeks before the PA was to occur and before any distribution of 3,000+ flyers had even begun, the group’s chairperson decided --- without consulting anyone in the group ---- to post at midnight on the Notts PA website these words: ‘Sorry, this event is sold out.’ Such shenanigans, whether the campaign is about the lack of NHS beds or the bedroom tax, do not promote group cohesiveness and trust.
3) OPPOSE ‘CONTROL FREAKERY’ - Anyone who has ever participated in a protest campaign or organised a large event understands the need for strong leadership. But strong leadership is not the same as ‘control freakery.’ Take the question of access to a campaign’s e-mail lists, website, Facebook or Twitter accounts. In these digital days, all four of them can provide campaigners with simple, powerful - and cheap - rapid response units that allow them to connect with, inform and mobilise their target audiences. In the case of the Notts PA, there were more than 625 names on an e-mail list of people who had taken the initiative to personally send in an RSVP to say they would be attending this event. For more than a month, members of the planning committee repeatedly requested that the planning committee chairperson announce the fact that a crèche would be held and tell parents how they could register their children. A minuted meeting in late April unanimously made the same request. (You might ask:  why couldn’t they do this posting themselves? Because the chairperson was the sole person in the group with digital access rights to this media.) But these minutes were never circulated and, after that, those on the committee who wanted a crèche --- and thus wanted the group to carry out what had been agreed --- were never told where or when committee meetings were held. The committee chairperson simply did not want a crèche; so none was held. Thus the aptness of the analogy to bosses and workers made earlier. One of the first decisions any campaigning group needs to make is how, AS A GROUP, it will get out its message into cyberspace.    

4) USE EVERYBODY’S TALENTS – Some trade unionists have long experience organising campaigns. But lots of activists have many talents and experiences as well. Good leadership decides how to harness and co-ordinate the talents of all who want to work together to plan a large event or campaign against Iain Duncan-Smith’s hare-brained and cruel schemes, such as the bedroom tax. (See the open letter for a couple of examples of how this scheme is working here in the Midlands.) But it simply won’t do to have a very sickly child care expert spend many hours organising a crèche and then to scrap the idea without discussion because the building chosen to host the event would obviously be too cramped, as it proved to be, and because several people wanted to use the space selected for a crèche (and agreed to at a group meeting) for their own particular workshop. Word of a ‘bad experience’ working with --- sometimes, more accurately working for --- trade union officials advancing their own narrow agendas, personal or sectarian, can spread quickly in the community.  

5)  BE ACCOUNTABLE – Most activists join campaigns as individuals. Trade unionists, however, often join as official representatives of their union or local trades’ council and claim to speak on their behalf. But what if they, bluntly, ‘screw up’ as occurred at the Notts PA?  To whom are they accountable?  To the campaign group? To a local TUC? And is it national TUC policy to create another barrier to the wider political involvement in our movement of women, likely the main people requesting a crèche for their children? These are questions, and others, which I think trade unions need to address. 

     


It will be a while before 300,000 people attend a protest meeting held outside London; even acquiring 300,000 followers on Facebook would be an accomplishment. Bur we will never reach such a plateau unless we ALL start constructing a radically transformed opposition culture. Trade unions have a key role to play in this construction project…which can’t start too soon.

Alan Story lives in Sherwood, Nottingham and would be interested in learning your comments on this guest blog ([email protected]). All of the events mentioned above are fully documented. 

The Age of Austerity: Fighting Cuts and Privatisation — The Impact on Women!

Austerity and cuts affect especially women. In the third talk on local anti-cuts initiatives, organised by the UCU association at Nottingham University, Melanie Jeffs, manager of Nottingham Women’s Centre, illustrated the triple jeopardy women are currently facing as a result of government policy: (1) cuts to jobs; (2) cuts to benefits; and (3) cuts to services.

There are three key areas, in which cuts affect women disproportionately to men. First, the current government has announced that up to one million jobs will go in the public sector. Considering that two thirds of employees in the public sector are women, job cuts in this area inevitably will affect women more. As reported by the BBC in May last year, ‘female unemployment has been rising a lot faster than the male total’ (BBC News, 16 May 2012). Moreover, as Melanie Jeffs made clear, the economic crisis is also affecting the voluntary and charity sector now. As this sector is characterised by a predominantly female workforce too, the tendency towards higher female unemployment is likely to increase further.

Second, it is especially women in our society, which carry major caring responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, any benefit cuts, be it to childcare benefits, be it to housing benefits through measures such as the bedroom tax, affect women more than men. Finally, cuts to public services affect women disproportionately. Women are much more likely to be lone parents. It is women who have babies and it is women who are more often subjected to domestic violence. When specialised local services are abandoned and women refuge centres are closed, women are therefore the first to suffer.

In general, the state was regarded for decades as a great leveller, guaranteeing through employment legislation, benefits and public services that women have had an equal chance to develop their own talents. Recent cuts have drastically undermined this role and thus negatively affected women. 


Nevertheless, Melanie Jeffs’ talk was not all doom and gloom. It was time for women to fight back and make their voice heard at the ballot box, she argued. Thus, the Women’s Centre is closely involved in organising the Nottingham Women’s Conference on 21 September 2013 with the goal to raise consciousness and empower women to stand up for their rights.  


Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net

14 May 2013

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The environmental fascists are constantly “pushing the envelope” and doing whatever they can to use the power of the government to impose new rules on all the rest of us.  Most of the time, Americans just take it without ever fighting back.  For example, a car wash for a high school cheerleading squad was recently shut down because the cheerleaders were “in violation of water discharge laws“…

It’s hard to wave your spirit fingers when the city shuts down the cheerleading squad’s fundraising car wash to protect the environment.

This is what happened to Lincoln High School cheerleaders trying to raise money to attend a national competition in April. The San Jose Mercury reports that local environmental officials warned the high school cheerleaders that their car wash violated the city’s water discharge laws.

“We had a visit from the city of San Jose Environmental Services Department who said that the car washes at Hoover [Middle School] are in violation of water discharge laws, therefore we had to cancel this and all future car washes,” said an email that was sent out to neighborhood email lists on Oct. 18.

Fortunately, there are some Americans that are still willing to stand up and fight back against this emerging ecofascism.  A recent Businessweek article profiled one north Idaho couple that is vigorously fighting back against the ridiculous demands of the EPA…

Four years ago the Sacketts were filling in their lot with dirt and rock, preparing to build a simple three-bedroom home in a neighborhood where other houses have stood for years. Then three federal officials showed up and demanded they stop construction. The agency claimed the .63-acre lot was a wetland, protected under the Clean Water Act.

The Sacketts say they were stunned. The owners of an excavation company, they had secured all the necessary local permits. And Chantell Sackett says that before work began, she drove two hours to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to consult with an Army Corps of Engineers official. She says the official told her orally, though not in writing, that she didn’t need a federal permit. “We did all the right things,” she says.

The EPA issued an order requiring the Sacketts to put the land back the way it was, removing the piles of fill material and replanting the vegetation they had cleared away. The property was to be fenced off and the Sacketts would be required to submit annual reports about its condition to the EPA. The agency threatened to fine them up to $32,500 a day until they complied.

Sadly, this kind of thing is happening all over the nation.  The EPA is completely and totally out of control, and they seem to be obsessed with making life absolute hell for farmers and private landowners.

But over in Europe, environmental fascism is actually even worse than it is in the United States.  In fact, one new regulation that was recently implemented bans Europeans from owning large vacuum cleaners

Incandescent light bulbs have already been removed from the shelves. Next being removed are larger size vacuum cleaners. Germany’s online flagship daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports: “Beginning September 2014 in the EU only vacuum cleaners that consume less than 1600 watts may be sold. From 2017 only a maximum of 900 watts will be allowed.”

Ultimately, the ecofascists intend to manage virtually every detail of our lives, because literally everything that we do “affects the environment” in some way.

According to the Los Angeles Times, one of the next things they hope to do is to put “black boxes” in our vehicles that they can use to tax us and track the “damage” that we are doing to the environment…

As America’s road planners struggle to find the cash to mend a crumbling highway system, many are beginning to see a solution in a little black box that fits neatly by the dashboard of your car.

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America’s major roads.

The usually dull arena of highway planning has suddenly spawned intense debate and colorful alliances. Libertarians have joined environmental groups in lobbying to allow government to use the little boxes to keep track of the miles you drive, and possibly where you drive them — then use the information to draw up a tax bill.

What I find humorous about the above excerpt is that the L.A. Times is trying to get us to believe that this is something that “libertarians” actually want.

Another thing that the ecofascists have planned for the future is to move much of the population into “eco-friendly” stack-and-pack living environments.  These stack-and-pack living environments were described in a recent article by Suzanne Eovaldi

A typical stack-and-pack living area in the 200 square foot APodment bulding in Sammamish, WA is already developed. Occupant Judy Green (Seattle Times 5-12-13) “shares the kitchen with seven other tenants on the second floor.”  With no elevators, she has to walk up and down six flights of stairs to get to her loft! Bathrooms often are communal; no or few cars are allowed because of global warming.

The ultimate goal is for the government to watch, track, monitor and control everything that we do “for the good of humanity”.

And of course this emerging “Big Brother” control grid has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.  In fact, it is being reported that the United States spied on 60 million Spanish phone calls in just one single month recently, and according to CNN, the U.S. had even been spying on the private phone conversations of 35 foreign leaders…

The release of further allegations of National Security Agency surveillance efforts caused the Spanish government to summon the U.S. ambassador Monday, and The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House ordered a halt to some eavesdropping on foreign leaders after learning of it this summer.

Quoting unidentified U.S. officials, the newspaper’s website said the wiretapping of about 35 foreign leaders was disclosed to the White House as part of a review of surveillance programs ordered by President Barack Obama after NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified information on the NSA’s phone monitoring systems.

The White House ordered a halt to the monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and unspecified other leaders, the newspaper reported. The Journal report did not specify who gave the shutdown order or the date it was issued.

And this “control grid” is getting much tighter and much more oppressive on the local level as well.  For example, just check out what happened to one Texas woman recently

A Texas woman was arrested, strip-searched and jailed for an overdue traffic ticket Wednesday, a local CBS affiliate first reported.

Sarah Boaz said she was cuffed outside her Richland Hills home by an officer who was waiting for her when she stepped out to go to work, the New York Daily News reported.

The officer told her a warrant had been issued for her arrest after she failed to pay a summons for running a stop sign in August. Mrs. Boaz admitted that she didn’t pay the fine because she lost the summons.

“I’m like nobody puts out a bench warrant after 60 days,” she told the Daily News. “Why would you do that?”

Mrs. Boaz said she was forced to step into a jail cell and remove her clothes for a search. Her family bailed her out within a couple of hours.

When most people read about stuff like this, they are absolutely outraged.

But the ecofascists actually love this kind of stuff.  They want an all-powerful government that will have the power to force people to do “what is right for the environment”.  In fact, many of them actually believe that the planet will not survive if government does not behave in such a manner.

In the end, they are not going to settle for anything less than total control.  They want to control where you live, what kind of work you do, what kind of transportation you use and even how many children you have.

It is a totalitarian system wrapped up in a “save the world” package.

And right now, the ecofascists are steadily gaining ground.  If they are going to be defeated, people need to start standing up for freedom and liberty while they still can.

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Who Will Protect You from the Police? The Rise of Government-Sanctioned Home Invasions

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The Morality Brigade

We’re still legislating and regulating private morality, while at the same time ignoring the much larger crisis of public morality in America.(Cartoon: RobertReich.org)

In recent weeks Republican state legislators have decided to thwart the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in “Roe v. Wade,” which gave women the right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Legislators in North Dakota passed a bill banning abortions after six weeks or after a fetal heart beat had been detected, and approved a fall referendum that would ban all abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception. Lawmakers in Arkansas have banned abortions within twelve weeks of conception.

The morality brigade worries about fetuses, but not what happens to children after they’re born. They and other conservatives have been cutting funding for child nutrition, healthcare for infants and their mothers, and schools.

The new House Republican budget gets a big chunk of its savings from programs designed to help poor kids. The budget sequester already in effect takes aim at programs like Head Start, designed to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children.   

Meanwhile, the morality brigade continues to battle same-sex marriage.

Despite the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the constitutionality of California’s ban, no one should assume a majority of the justices will strike it down. The Court could just as easily decide the issue is up to the states, or strike down California’s law while allowing other states to continue their bans.

Conservative moralists don’t want women to have control over their bodies or same-sex couples to marry, but they don’t give a hoot about billionaires taking over our democracy for personal gain or big bankers taking over our economy.

Yet these violations of public morality are far more dangerous to our society because they undermine the public trust that’s essential to both our democracy and economy.

Three years ago, at the behest of a right-wing group called “Citizen’s United,” the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in politics by deciding corporations were “people” under the First Amendment.

A record $12 billion was spent on election campaigns in 2012, affecting all levels of government. Much of it came from billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson —seeking fewer regulations, lower taxes, and weaker trade unions.

They didn’t entirely succeed but the billionaires established a beachhead for the midterm elections of 2014 and beyond.

Yet where is the morality brigade when it comes to these moves to take over our democracy?

Among the worst violators of public morality have been executives and traders on Wall Street.

Last week, JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, was found to have misled its shareholders and the public about its $6 billion “London Whale” losses in 2012.  

This is the same JPMorgan that’s lead the charge against the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to protect the public from another Wall Street meltdown and taxpayer-funded bailout.

Lobbyists for the giant banks have been systematically taking the teeth out of Dodd-Frank, leaving nothing but the gums.

The so-called “Volcker Rule,” intended to prevent the banks from making risky bets with federally-insured commercial deposits – itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act – still hasn’t seen the light of day.

Last week, Republicans and Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee passed bills to weaken Dodd-Frank – expanding exemptions and allowing banks that do their derivative trading in other countries (i.e., JPMorgan) to avoid the new rules altogether.

Meanwhile, House Republicans voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, as part of their budget plan.

And still no major Wall Street executives have been held accountable for the wild betting that led to the near meltdown in 2008. Attorney General Eric Holder says the big banks are too big to prosecute.

Why doesn’t the morality brigade complain about the rampant greed on the Street that’s already brought the economy to its knees, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and subjecting countless others to joblessness and insecurity — and seems set on doing it again?

What people do in their bedrooms shouldn’t be the public’s business. Women should have rights over their own bodies. Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

But what powerful people do in their boardrooms is the public’s business. Our democracy needs to be protected from the depredations of big money. Our economy needs to be guarded against the excesses of too-big-to-fail banks.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations; Locked in the Cabinet; Supercapitalism; and his newest, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

The Morality Brigade

The Morality Brigade

Posted on Mar 25, 2013
Flickr/Erix!

By Robert Reich

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s Web page.

We’re still legislating and regulating private morality, while at the same time ignoring the much larger crisis of public morality in America.

In recent weeks Republican state legislators have decided to thwart the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in “Roe v. Wade,” which gave women the right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Legislators in North Dakota passed a bill banning abortions after six weeks or after a fetal heart beat had been detected, and approved a fall referendum that would ban all abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception. Lawmakers in Arkansas have banned abortions within twelve weeks of conception.

The morality brigade worries about fetuses, but not what happens to children after they’re born. They and other conservatives have been cutting funding for child nutrition, healthcare for infants and their mothers, and schools.

The new House Republican budget gets a big chunk of its savings from programs designed to help poor kids. The budget sequester already in effect takes aim at programs like Head Start, designed to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children. 

Meanwhile, the morality brigade continues to battle same-sex marriage.

Despite the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the constitutionality of California’s ban, no one should assume a majority of the justices will strike it down. The Court could just as easily decide the issue is up to the states, or strike down California’s law while allowing other states to continue their bans.

Conservative moralists don’t want women to have control over their bodies or same-sex couples to marry, but they don’t give a hoot about billionaires taking over our democracy for personal gain or big bankers taking over our economy.

Yet these violations of public morality are far more dangerous to our society because they undermine the public trust that’s essential to both our democracy and economy.

Three years ago, at the behest of a right-wing group called “Citizen’s United,” the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in politics by deciding corporations were “people” under the First Amendment.

A record $12 billion was spent on election campaigns in 2012, affecting all levels of government. Much of it came from billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson —seeking fewer regulations, lower taxes, and weaker trade unions.

They didn’t entirely succeed but the billionaires established a beachhead for the midterm elections of 2014 and beyond.

Yet where is the morality brigade when it comes to these moves to take over our democracy?

Among the worst violators of public morality have been executives and traders on Wall Street.

Last week, JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, was found to have misled its shareholders and the public about its $6 billion “London Whale” losses in 2012. 

This is the same JPMorgan that’s lead the charge against the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to protect the public from another Wall Street meltdown and taxpayer-funded bailout.

Lobbyists for the giant banks have been systematically taking the teeth out of Dodd-Frank, leaving nothing but the gums.

The so-called “Volcker Rule,” intended to prevent the banks from making risky bets with federally-insured commercial deposits – itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act – still hasn’t seen the light of day.

Last week, Republicans and Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee passed bills to weaken Dodd-Frank – expanding exemptions and allowing banks that do their derivative trading in other countries (i.e., JPMorgan) to avoid the new rules altogether.

Meanwhile, House Republicans voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, as part of their budget plan.

And still no major Wall Street executives have been held accountable for the wild betting that led to the near meltdown in 2008. Attorney General Eric Holder says the big banks are too big to prosecute.

Why doesn’t the morality brigade complain about the rampant greed on the Street that’s already brought the economy to its knees, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and subjecting countless others to joblessness and insecurity — and seems set on doing it again?

What people do in their bedrooms shouldn’t be the public’s business. Women should have rights over their own bodies. Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

But what powerful people do in their boardrooms is the public’s business. Our democracy needs to be protected from the depredations of big money. Our economy needs to be guarded against the excesses of too-big-to-fail banks.

Robert B. Reich, chancellor’s professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including the best-sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.


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Why Democrats Shouldn’t Put Social Security and Medicare on the Table

Why Democrats Shouldn’t Put Social Security and Medicare on the Table

Posted on Mar 21, 2013

By Robert Reich

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s Web page.

Prominent Democrats — including the President and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — are openly suggesting that Medicare be means-tested and Social Security payments be reduced by applying a lower adjustment for inflation.

This is even before they’ve started budget negotiations with Republicans — who still refuse to raise taxes on the rich, close tax loopholes the rich depend on (such as hedge-fund and private-equity managers’ “carried interest”), increase capital gains taxes on the wealthy, cap their tax deductions, or tax financial transactions.

It’s not the first time Democrats have led with a compromise, but these particular pre-concessions are especially unwise.

For over thirty years Republicans have pitted the middle class against the poor, preying on the frustrations and racial biases of average working people who can’t get ahead no matter how hard they try. In the Republican narrative, government takes from the hard-working middle and gives to the undeserving and dependent needy. 

In reality, average working people have been stymied because almost all the economic gains of the last three decades have gone to the very top. The middle has lost bargaining power as unions have shriveled. American politics has been flooded with campaign contributions from corporations and the wealthy, which have used their clout to reduce marginal tax rates, widen loopholes, loosen regulations, gain subsidies, and obtain government bailouts when their bets turn sour.

Now five years after the worst downturn since the Great Depression and the biggest bailout in history, the stock market has recouped its losses and corporate profits constitute the largest share of the economy since 1929. Yet the real median wage continues to fall — wages now claim the lowest share of the economy on record — and inequality is still widening. All the economic gains since the trough of the recession have gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans; the bottom 90 percent continue to lose ground.

What looks like the start of a more buoyant recovery is a sham because the vast majority of Americans have neither the pay nor access to credit that allows them to buy enough to boost the economy. Housing prices and starts are being fueled by investors with easy money rather than would-be home buyers with mortgages. The Fed’s low interest rates have pushed other investors into stocks by default, creating an artificial bull market.

If there was ever a time for the Democratic Party to champion working Americans and reverse these troubling trends, it is now — forging an alliance between the frustrated middle and the working poor. This need not be “class warfare” because a healthy economy is in everyone’s interest. The rich would do far better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than a ballooning share of one that’s growing at a snail’s pace and a stock market that’s turning into a bubble.

But the modern Democratic Party can’t bring itself to do this. It’s too dependent on the short-term, insular demands of Wall Street, corporate executives, and the wealthy. 

It was Bill Clinton, after all, who pushed for repeal of Glass-Steagall, championed the North American Free Trade Act and the World Trade Organization without adequate safeguards for American jobs, and rented out the Lincoln Bedroom to a steady stream of rich executives.

And it was Barack Obama who continued George W. Bush’s Wall Street bailout with no strings attached; pushed a watered-down “Volcker Rule” (still delayed) rather than renew Glass-Steagall; failed to prosecute a single Wall Street executive or bank because, according to his Attorney General, Wall Street is just too big to jail; and permanently enshrined the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent.

Meanwhile, over the last several decades Democrats have allowed Social Security taxes to grow and its revenue stream to become almost as important a source of overall government funding as income taxes; turned their backs on organized labor and labor-law reforms that would have made it easier to form unions; and then, even as they bailed out Wall Street, neglected the burdens of middle-class homeowners who found themselves underwater and their homes worth less than what they paid for them because of the Street’s excesses.

In fairness, it could have been worse. Clinton did stand up to Gingrich. Obama did get the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Democrats have scored tactical victories against social conservatives and Tea Party radicals. But Democrats haven’t responded in any bold or meaningful way to the increasingly concentrated wealth and power, the steady demise of the middle class, and further impoverishment of the nation’s poor. The Party failed to become a movement to reclaim the economy and our democracy.

And now come their pre-concessions on Social Security and Medicare.

Technically, a “chained CPI” might be justifiable if seniors routinely substitute lower-cost alternatives as prices rise, as most other Americans do. But in reality, seniors pay 20 to 40 percent of their incomes for healthcare, including pharmaceuticals — the prices of which are rising much faster than inflation. So there’s no practical justification for reducing Social Security benefits on the assumption inflation isn’t really eating away at those benefits as much as the current cost-of-living adjustment allows. 

Robert B. Reich, chancellor’s professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including the best-sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Selling the Store: Why Democrats Shouldn’t Put Social Security and Medicare on the Table

Prominent Democrats — including the President and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — are openly suggesting that Medicare be means-tested and Social Security payments be reduced by applying a lower adjustment for inflation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week she's willing to consider cuts to Social Security as part of a sweeping deficit-reduction package, the so-called 'Grand Bargain.'. (Photo: File)

This is even before they’ve started budget negotiations with Republicans — who still refuse to raise taxes on the rich, close tax loopholes the rich depend on (such as hedge-fund and private-equity managers’ “carried interest”), increase capital gains taxes on the wealthy, cap their tax deductions, or tax financial transactions.

It’s not the first time Democrats have led with a compromise, but these particular pre-concessions are especially unwise.

For over thirty years Republicans have pitted the middle class against the poor, preying on the frustrations and racial biases of average working people who can’t get ahead no matter how hard they try. In the Republican narrative, government takes from the hard-working middle and gives to the undeserving and dependent needy.

In reality, average working people have been stymied because almost all the economic gains of the last three decades have gone to the very top. The middle has lost bargaining power as unions have shriveled. American politics has been flooded with campaign contributions from corporations and the wealthy, which have used their clout to reduce marginal tax rates, widen loopholes, loosen regulations, gain subsidies, and obtain government bailouts when their bets turn sour.

Now five years after the worst downturn since the Great Depression and the biggest bailout in history, the stock market has recouped its losses and corporate profits constitute the largest share of the economy since 1929. Yet the real median wage continues to fall — wages now claim the lowest share of the economy on record — and inequality is still widening. All the economic gains since the trough of the recession have gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans; the bottom 90 percent continue to lose ground.

If there was ever a time for the Democratic Party to champion working Americans and reverse these troubling trends, it is now — forging an alliance between the frustrated middle and the working poor.

What looks like the start of a more buoyant recovery is a sham because the vast majority of Americans have neither the pay nor access to credit that allows them to buy enough to boost the economy. Housing prices and starts are being fueled by investors with easy money rather than would-be home buyers with mortgages. The Fed’s low interest rates have pushed other investors into stocks by default, creating an artificial bull market.

If there was ever a time for the Democratic Party to champion working Americans and reverse these troubling trends, it is now — forging an alliance between the frustrated middle and the working poor. This need not be “class warfare” because a healthy economy is in everyone’s interest. The rich would do far better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than a ballooning share of one that’s growing at a snail’s pace and a stock market that’s turning into a bubble.

But the modern Democratic Party can’t bring itself to do this. It’s too dependent on the short-term, insular demands of Wall Street, corporate executives, and the wealthy.

It was Bill Clinton, after all, who pushed for repeal of Glass-Steagall, championed the North American Free Trade Act and the World Trade Organization without adequate safeguards for American jobs, and rented out the Lincoln Bedroom to a steady stream of rich executives.

And it was Barack Obama who continued George W. Bush’s Wall Street bailout with no strings attached; pushed a watered-down “Volcker Rule” (still delayed) rather than renew Glass-Steagall; failed to prosecute a single Wall Street executive or bank because, according to his Attorney General, Wall Street is just too big to jail; and permanently enshrined the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent.

Meanwhile, over the last several decades Democrats have allowed Social Security taxes to grow and its revenue stream to become almost as important a source of overall government funding as income taxes; turned their backs on organized labor and labor-law reforms that would have made it easier to form unions; and then, even as they bailed out Wall Street, neglected the burdens of middle-class homeowners who found themselves underwater and their homes worth less than what they paid for them because of the Street’s excesses.

In fairness, it could have been worse. Clinton did stand up to Gingrich. Obama did get the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Democrats have scored tactical victories against social conservatives and Tea Party radicals. But Democrats haven’t responded in any bold or meaningful way to the increasingly concentrated wealth and power, the steady demise of the middle class, and further impoverishment of the nation’s poor. The Party failed to become a movement to reclaim the economy and our democracy.

And now come their pre-concessions on Social Security and Medicare.

Technically, a “chained CPI” might be justifiable if seniors routinely substitute lower-cost alternatives as prices rise, as most other Americans do. But in reality, seniors pay 20 to 40 percent of their incomes for healthcare, including pharmaceuticals — the prices of which are rising much faster than inflation. So there’s no practical justification for reducing Social Security benefits on the assumption inflation isn’t really eating away at those benefits as much as the current cost-of-living adjustment allows.

Likewise, although a case can be made for reducing the Medicare benefits of higher-income beneficiaries, as a practical matter their savings are almost as vulnerable to rising healthcare costs as are the more modest savings of middle-income retirees. “Means-testing” Medicare also runs the risk of transforming it into a program for the “less fortunate,” which can undermine its political support.

Medicare for all, or even a public option for Medicare, would give the program enough clout to demand health providers move from a fee-for-service system to one that paid instead for healthy outcomes.

In short, Medicare isn’t the problem. The underlying problem is the sky-rocketing costs of health care. Because Medicare’s administrative costs are a fraction of those of private health insurance, Medicare might be part of the solution. Medicare for all, or even a public option for Medicare, would give the program enough clout to demand health providers move from a fee-for-service system to one that paid instead for healthy outcomes.

With healthcare costs under better control, retirees wouldn’t be paying a large and growing portion of their incomes for healthcare — which would alleviate pressure on Social Security. I’m still not convinced a “chained CPI” is necessary, though. A preferable alternative would be to raise the ceiling on the portion of income subject to Social Security taxes (now $113,600).

Besides, Social Security and Medicare are the most popular programs ever devised by the federal government, which is why Republicans hate them so much. If average Americans have trusted the Democratic Party to do one thing it has been to guard these programs from the depredations of the GOP.

Putting these two programs “on the table” is also tantamount to accepting the most insidious and dishonest of all Republican claims: That for too long most Americans have been living beyond their means; that we are rapidly approaching a day of reckoning when we can no longer afford these generous “entitlements;” and that prudence and responsibility dictate that we must now begin to live within our means and cut back these projected expenditures, particularly if we are to have any money left to invest in the young and the disadvantaged.

The truth is the opposite: That for three decades the means of most Americans have been stagnant even though the overall economy has more than doubled in size; that because almost all the gains from growth have gone to the top, most Americans haven’t been able to save enough for retirement or the rising costs of healthcare; and that because of this, Social Security and Medicare are barely adequate as is.

Democrats shouldn’t succumb the lie that the elderly and young are in competition for a portion of a shrinking pie, when in fact the pie is larger than ever. It’s just that those who have the largest and fastest-growing portions refuse to share it.

Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget takes on Medicare, but leaves Social Security alone. Why should Democrats lead the charge on either?

The Republicans are already slashing help for the young and the disadvantaged. Democrats shouldn’t succumb the lie that the elderly and young are in competition for a portion of a shrinking pie, when in fact the pie is larger than ever. It’s just that those who have the largest and fastest-growing portions refuse to share it.

We are the richest nation in the history of the world — richer now than we’ve ever been. But an increasing share of that wealth is held by a smaller and smaller share of the population, who have, in effect, bribed legislators to reduce their taxes and provide loopholes so they pay even less.

The budget deficit “crisis” has been manufactured by them to distract our attention from this overriding fact, and to pit the rest of us against each other for a smaller and smaller share of what remains. Democrats should not conspire.

Needy children should be getting far more help, better pre-school care, better nutrition. Seniors need better healthcare coverage and more Social Security. All Americans need better schools and improved infrastructure.

The richest nation in the history of the world should be able to respond to the legitimate needs of all its citizens.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations; Locked in the Cabinet; Supercapitalism; and his newest, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

Billionaire Speculators’ Greed Makes Life Hard For Renters and Would-Be Homebuyers

Wealthy real estate speculators are snapping up homes with the same zeal that created the housing market bubble.

March 3, 2013  |  

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The foreclosure crisis in America has had many unexpected twists. But none may be as striking as the latest development: real estate speculators, with billions in ready cash, are swooping into hard-hit locales and buying foreclosed and low-end homes with the same vehemence that created the housing market bubble.

They’re hoping to rent these properties to ex-owners or others, but they’re creating distortions that truly worry housing advocates. Banks are flocking to cash buyers, not to people with loans. First-time buyers can’t get in. Rents are skyrocketing. Home values and prices are going up.

If Maria Benjamin had her way, the For Rent sign hanging from a post on the small front lawn of the bungalow at 22 Chanslor Ave. would not be there. Nor would similar signs on other lawns across Richmond or a string of other working-class cities on the industrial northern end of San Francisco Bay.

Benjamin is program director at the Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond, which relies on a portfolio of government housing programs, some with roots dating back to the New Deal, to assist first-time home buyers. Her mission, as has been the case for housing activists for decades, is built on the belief that owning a home helps to stabilize individuals, families and communities.

But in a turn that affordable housing advocates like Benjamin could not imagine just two years ago, starter homes like the two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 939-square-foot bungalow at 22 Chanslor, keep being snatched from her clients’ hands. Homes that were abandoned or boarded up as the housing bubble burst are now hot properties, but not for the kind of buyer Benjamin seeks.

“We have people who have been making offers for a year or more, continuously being turned down,” she said. “They’re being outbid by investors.”

“Waypoint is a giant player,” said Benjamin, referring to a company that started in the Bay Area in 2008 and expects to raise $1 billion from Silicon Valley venture capitalists this year as part of an ambitious plan to buy 10,000 homes across America’s foreclosure belts. “But it is not only Waypoint,” she said. “They’re buying up and targeting low-income neighborhoods… They’re targeting cities that don’t have strong rent controls.”
   
Benjamin is upset that working people who have played by the rules—saving money, holding jobs, filling out piles of paperwork to get low-interest federal loans—or tried to restructure debt to keep their homes—are being steamrolled. She says there’s no precedent for corporate takeover of low-end homes on the scale that’s unfolding, a concern voiced by others, including realtors in Southern California where outlier counties are seeing a third or more of foreclosed homes bought with cash.

“It’s been going on for about 20 months,” Benjamin said. “In the beginning, the investors were on the courthouse steps buying these properties, but they weren’t organized. They were smaller investors. Now there are investment pools that are coming together. So they are more organized and more strategic. Our folks don’t stand a chance.”    

Another Set of Rules

Waypoint, however, tells another story. It sees itself as something of a capitalist white knight, riding into blighted communities and doing what few private investors have done as the foreclosure crisis spread like a wildfire and left shuttered homes, or buildings with Occupiers who refused to leave as banks and lenders refused to restructure their debt.  

There’s an old saying in real estate that you make money when you buy, not when you sell. Waypoint’s investors—like other big investment pools with similar plans—see low-end homes as a giant untapped equity play. Property values in this market dropped by a half or two-thirds in value in cities such as Richmond as the real estate crash bottomed out. Pheonix, Las Vegas, Tampa and other foreclosure centers all had similar price collapses. The sector was poised to rise in value at margins exceeding most stocks and bonds, if home values even recovered a fraction of their former peak.

Investors with hundreds of millions in ready cash, such as the Blackstone Group, Colony Capital, Oaktree Capital Management started buying thousands of homes in the most depressed markets for cash and as-is. Their sales pitch promised returns of 6 to 8 percent from rental income and a longer-term payout of 16 to 18 percent once the properties are sold in a half-dozen years or so, said Paul Staley, who buys, rehabs and sells homes for a Bay Area affordable housing non-profit. The investor's cash meant banks and other mortgage lenders didn’t have to worry about inspections, appraisals, government standards and haggling with buyers. Those market "efficiencies" pushed players like Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond and its clients out of the equation.

But then Waypoint spent tens of thousands of dollars fixing up its homes. If you look at its website, you’ll see houses with new paint inside and out, new kitchens, carpets and floors, tubs and showers. They weren’t bringing buildings up to new construction code, but they were spending $20,000 or more on each to improve them. That investment had not been seen in this kind of housing stock in low-income communities in years. It helps to stabilize falling home values for neighbors (whose mortgages may be underwater) and it fortifies the local property tax base. For those efforts, and launching a slick marketing campaign where Waypoint said it would award prompt-paying renters with "points" that could be used to buy the home or to get cash back after leases end, the company has become a local media darling (although it is now downplaying these programs).

Waypoint spokeswoman Beth Haiken declined to make any executives available, saying they’d spent last week “skiing with their kids on spring break” and now “had to get back to work.” That’s too bad, because it would be very instructive to hear their take on the national trend they are part of—including questions about their business model and what they believe will be its long-term impact on affordable housing. Executives told USA Today that Waypoint now owns 3,300 homes and “expects to own 10,000” by the year’s end.

As you might imagine, skeptics abound. On the local level, Richmond’s Benjamin is worried about what kind of landlords they will be. Early on, she said they seemed to be making mistakes by renting to anyone and then evicting people who couldn’t pay. “To me, the biggest concern is the property management of these scattered sites,” she said. “There is no track record for this type of property management.”

On a more macro level, there are substantive questions about this business model and how it will play out, especially once it gets past the easy stages of buying and rehabbing properties with other people’s money. Waypoint seems to be relying on forecasts that suggest it can drive up local rents, get find enough occupants at price points that require middle-class paychecks, and eventually sell the properties to satisfy its billionaire venture capitalists.

“The question is what is scalable in that business model,” asked housing historian Eric John Abrahamson, author of Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream. “Is property management scalable? Is the intelligence that it takes to buy well scalable? Because one of the things about real estate historically is that it tends to remain a profoundly local business.”

Affordable Housing Trends

West Point Think Tank Buries the Dynamite

The United States Military Academy at West Point's  Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) is often referred to as a "think tank," whose primary mission is to inform and shape counterterrorism policy and strategy.  CTC's  recent study on domestic right-wing terrorist groups clearly reveals that more taxpayer-funded "tanking" than thinking goes on at the CTC. Indeed, after carefully reviewing the study myself, I am confident that the ladies and gentlemen that worked on this project have gone down in flames in the attempted accomplishment of their mission.

The CTC attempts to aim a blinding spotlight at the Racist/White Supremacist Movement, the Anti-Federalist Movement, and the Christian fundamentalist Movement and their potential for violence. While exorbitant amounts of money and time were wasted on the CTC's flimsy, tissue-thin report, it fails to focus so much as a dim penlight on a far greater threat to the liberty of our brave military personnel. Allow me to fill in the blanks for you.

We at the  Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) consider the report pathetically cold consolation to the countless members of our military whose Constitutionally-guaranteed civil and human rights are unceasingly violated by vicious attacks from a far greater and more sinister enemy within. As the founder and President of MRFF, a United States Air Force Academy graduate, and a sentient human being with access to public media, I observe on a daily basis the despicable and systemic abuse of authority by the members of our nation's military, up and down and through the chains of command. The forced imposition of fundamentalist Christianity throughout our American armed forces is the perpetual "flavor of the day," and has been for decades.

To paraphrase, more irreparable harm has been done with the point of a pen than at the point of a gun. The CTC obsesses on skinheads and the most extreme fundamentalist Bible-wavers. In doing so, it ignores the daily, relentless assault on freedom committed by those with stars on their chests and stripes on their shoulders.

There have been an unfathomable number of  personal accounts of our nation's servicemembers being given little choice in whether or not to take part in Christian events, and even many commanders throwing hazard to the wind (along with the United States Constitution) and making participation in religious ceremonies outright mandatory!  We live in a world where our enemies are already hostile to our country because they believe that our leaders are using our armed forces for the purposes of latter day Crusades. How, then, does allowing this utterly reprehensible nonsense to continue not produce a greater threat than the handful of neo-Nazis still getting together for bonfires and hate parades?

The CTC report wantonly ignored the continual, systemic proselytizing among United States military personnel. This brainwashing results in widespread, brutal stigmatizing of those opposed or indifferent to fundamentalist Christian doctrine--a savage trampling of their Constitutional rights!

Foolishly, the CTC engages in high-minded dithering about domestic terrorist groups and their potential for violence. That's like having a casual discussion about removing piles of newspapers and oily rags from the garage, while inside the house, the kitchen, the living room, and the bedrooms are blazing away in full conflagration! Money and time are better spent on exposing to the light of day and aggressively punishing the single-minded, unconstitutional religious predators who serve ubiquitously in our military, constituting literal multitudes of constitutionally crooked American military personnel.

Blake Page, Director of MRFF Affairs at West Point, recently stated, "Some may attempt to mince words... with claims that Christianity is a philosophy and Christmas is a cultural tradition." Page refers to officers who blithely use disgusting ruses such as "ceremony" and "custom" to excuse the blatant and systematic advancement of a rapacious sectarian religious agenda.

Breathless media coverage trumpeted the news of Page's bravery in withdrawing from the Military Academy. Page, a veteran and proud cadet, was a mere six months shy of graduation. His fearless action exposed him to liability for a small fortune in academy tuition and risked his being forced involuntarily back into the Army as a junior enlisted soldier. With the buzz of personal attacks and malcontent directed toward former Cadet Page that resounded up and down the Academy's hallowed halls for weeks after his viral blog titled  "Why I Don't Want to be a West Point Graduate," no one could dare argue that the authors of the CTC's report were unaware the problem existed. Page  continues to fight--a la Rosa Parks--against the insidious, ingrained forces that trample on his rights and those of his fellow cadets.

One hundred and fifty-one West Point cadets, faculty, and staff are MRFF clients, and 90% of those cadets, faculty, and staff are Christians. Clearly, MRFF's battle is not with the Christian religion, despite the bloodthirsty, threatening hate mail, phone calls, and "other serious category" threats that MRFF staffers, my family, and I  receive continuously. The content of these deranged attacks is beyond vitriolic, furthering the false and hateful characterization that MRFF is somehow guilty of the canard of "anti-Christian" bigotry.

Perhaps the CTC has taken a step farther and begun to physically plug their ears and close their eyes to news that might scuff the shine on their donors' highly polished low-quarters. Earlier in 2012, due to MRFF's demands,  unabashed Islamophobe General Boykin was forced to back out after having been invited to speak at an official West Point event, ludicrously dubbed a "Prayer Breakfast."  Boykin is now the Executive Vice President of the wretchedly hateful, Christian extremist Family Research Council.

The skinheads, the sheet-wearers, and the cross-burners are easy to spot. But the more devastating injury, as MRFF has shown repeatedly, is the stark and severe NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT wrought by those in suits, in vestments, and--most disgracefully of all--in the uniform of our nation's armed forces.
 
In short, West Point's Combating Terrorism Center has completely failed to investigate whatsoever the pervasive "inside job" emanating from and permeating the official military establishment of the United States armed forces. There should be no mystery as to why an organization situated at West Point would prefer to feign ignorance.  They do it because they know that speaking up from within can cost them their careers and worse.

As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand." It's hard and it's dangerous to stand up and demand one's civil rights. Look, when even the President of the United States of America gives a  nontrivial, symbolic endorsement of Christian exceptionalism at his second inauguration by having a prayer "In Jesus' name," followed by a choir singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," an unabashed anthem of Christian supremacy, who would dare to step up and say, "No Mr. President, our Constitution applies to you too!"?  If no one else, then MRFF and I will.

Squatter Occupies Bank Of America-Owned $2.5 Million Boca Raton Mansion, Hilarity Ensues

The robosigning/fraudclosure fiasco came, saw, and eventually left following a comprehensive slap-on-the-wrist settlement with all mortgage originating banks. In the process, it gave an inadvertent hint to the banks how they can boost house property values: by keeping homes from exiting the foreclosure pipeline, and off the market due to a legal mandate forcing them to do just that, it created a shortage of homes available for sale and thus provided an explicit subsidy funded by the banks themselves. The resulting "foreclosure stuffing" remains with us to this day.

Yet while it did manage to artificially boost prices, the process succeeded in one thing: making a mockery out of property rights, as it became quite clear that nobody knows who owns what, hence demanding a global settlement release from the very top. But not even the 10th incarnation of Linda Green could possibly conceive of the following episode showing just how surreal U.S. housing reality can be, when one mixes combustible and outright idiotic property laws, with a real estate market that, when one pulls away the facade of "made for TV pundtiry", is in absolute shambles.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Squatting in style: 23-year-old occupies empty $2.5 million Boca home 

The 23-year-old has moved into an empty $2.5 million mansion in a posh Boca Raton neighborhood, using an obscure Florida real estate law to stake his claim on the foreclosed waterside property.

The police can't move him. No one saw him breaking into the 5-bedroom house, so it's a civil matter. And representatives for the real owner, Bank of America, said they are aware of the situation and are following a legal process.

But the situation is driving his wealthy neighbors crazy.

"This is a very upsetting thing," said next door neighbor Lyn Houston. "Last week, I went to the Bank of America and asked to see the person in charge of mortgages. I told them, 'I am prepared to buy this house.' They haven't even called me back."

Barbosa, according to records, is a Brazilian national who refers to himself as "Loki Boy," presumably after the Norse god of mischief. He did not return calls.

Someone with his name has been boasting about his new home on Facebook, even calling it Templo de Kamisamar.

Barbosa also posted a notice in the front window naming him as a "living beneficiary to the Divine Estate being superior of commerce and usury."

A spokeswoman for Bank of America said her company has sent overnight a complaint and an eviction notice to a clerk in Palm Beach County.

"The bank is taking this situation seriously and we will work diligently to resolve this matter," said Jumana Bauwens for Bank of America.

Sunrise real estate lawyer Gary Singer said Barbosa is invoking a state law called "adverse possession," which allows someone to move into a property and claim the title — if they can stay there seven years.

A signed copy of that note is also posted in the home's front window.

It's the most valuable grab since the adverse possession law started being used in a handful of cases that have popped up in the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office over the past three years. Soon after Bank of America foreclosed on the property in July, Barbosa notified the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office that he was moving in.

Police were called the day after Christmas to the home at 580 Golden Harbour Drive, but did not remove him. He presented cops with the "adverse possession" paperwork, according to the police report.

Houston said that the home had been empty for about 18 months. Property records show it was sold to a family in 2005 for $3.1 million. The deed is currently valued at $2.5 million, according to county records. The county appraiser's office lists the total market value of the 7,522-square-foot house at $2.1 million.

Real estate websites show canal views from sumptuous interiors including pillars, a curved staircase, marbled bath, second-floor balconies and a pool.

Singer says the adverse possession rule stems from the days when most people lived on farms. He said whoever tries to use the rule has to occupy the property in an "open and notorious manner."

"They can't be boarding up the windows and hiding in there," he said.

After relatively few instances of the rule being invoked over the previous 10 years, 13 cases of adverse possession were filed in 2011, according to John Enck, a manager of ownership services at the appraiser's office. It spiked even more in 2012: 19 cases, but so far, since Oct. 1, only six cases have been filed, he said.

Officials in Broward County did not respond to several requests for similar data.

Meet the squatter: Loki Boy humself:

Andre Barbosa can safely say that he has one of the nicest homes on the block in Boca Raton, Florida.

But the 23-year-old Brazilian national does not own or even rent the palatial $2.5million estate legally - he is a squatter.

Barbosa, originally from the neighboring Pompano Beach, moved into 580 Golden Harbour Drive in July

...

Speaking to ABCNews.com Thursday, a homeowner who asked not to be identified said that he entered the house around the same time and found four people inside, Barbosa among them.

One of the people said that the group is 'establishing an embassy for their mission,' and that families would be moving in and out of the property.

The neighbor said he believes that the 23-year-old is a 'patsy' who got caught up in something bigger.

According to his Facebook page, the 23-year-old, who refers to himself as 'Loki Boy' after the Norse god of mischief, attended South Technical Education Center in Boynton Beach and South Tech Academy in West Palm Beach.

In a brazen move, he also created a page for the Boca Raton mansion where he has been living and entertaining friends, which he calls Templo de Kamisamar.

Meanwhile, neighbors around Golden Harbour Drive who spoke to the station WPEC had a clear message for the unwanted resident: Leave now!

'You're walking into a house, it's crazy. And the point of not being able to get him out is even crazier,' one unidentified neighbor said.

And finally:

HOW TO TAKE OVER SOMEONE'S PROPERTY AND GET AWAY WITH IT

Adverse possession is a principle of real estate law that gives anyone who possesses the land of another for an extended period of time in an 'actual, open, hostile and continuous' manner the right to claim legal title to that land.

The exact elements of an adverse possession claim may be different in each state. In Florida, the law prescribes continuous possession of at least seven years. In New Jersey, a squatter must be in possession of the property for 30 years, while in New York it's 10 years.

In some states, the trespasser must have paid taxes on the property during this time period. Other states don’t require payment of property taxes, but will apply a shorter time requirement for occupying the land if the trespasser has paid taxes.

* * *

Just like that lightbulbs went over the heads of millions of Americans, especially when one considers that for the vast majority of banks there is virtually no imperative to pursue squatters out of houses to which the banks themselves most likely don't have the original "wet title" to.

That, and all the other allergies the US seems to developing with respect to "private" property slowly but surely.

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British mother gets life for murdering son over Koran studies

(Reuters / Carolina Camps)

(Reuters / Carolina Camps)

A UK mother convicted of beating her seven-year-old son to death after he failed to memorize passages from the Koran has been jailed for life.

­Sara Ege, 33, collapsed as the sentence was read out at Cardiff Crown Court. The judge presiding over the case announced Ege would serve a minimum of 17 years behind bars for killing her seven-year-old son Yaseen.

She was also convicted of perverting the course of justice.

Ege had pleaded not guilty to the July 2010 murder of her son at the family’s home in Cardiff, South Wales. She claimed her husband, who had allegedly beaten both her and her son, had in fact killed Yaseen.

Yousef Ege, a 38-year-old taxi driver who stood trial alongside his wife, was cleared of criminal negligence in his son’s death.

Yaseen was originally believed to have perished in a fire that started in his bedroom, though a post-mortem examination later revealed he had died from severe internal injuries inflicted prior to the blaze.

During the five-week trial which resulted in her conviction in December, Ege was accused of regularly beating Yaseen and locking him in a shed for failing to do well in his Islamic studies.

Ege and her husband had enrolled Yaseen in advanced classes at their local mosque as they wanted him to become Hafiz – an Islamic term for someone who memorizes the Koran.

She told police that Yaseen was approaching the end of a three-month trial period at the mosque, where he had failed to memorize the 35 pages expected of him.

Ege confessed to growing increasingly frustrated, regularly hitting “Yaseen with a stick on his back like a dog." Following his final beating, she said her son had collapsed in front of her, reciting the Koranic verses until he died. She would later douse Yaseen’s body in lighter fluid and set him ablaze in an attempt to cover up the crime.

Although she would later retract her statements, the judge said there was no reason to believe statements made in her July 2010 confession were untrue.

Based on Ege’s initial admission of guilt and all the available evidence, he concluded the violence which befell Yaseen was not an isolated incident.

"I am satisfied that, over three months, you beat him on a number of occasions, often with a wooden pestle."

"His injuries must have caused him a good deal of pain. In my judgment Yaseen was subjected to prolonged cruelty," Justice Wyn Williams said.

Williams added that Ege’s attempt to burn Yaseen’s body after his death removed any doubt she was attempting “to evade the consequences” of what she had done.

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