Sunday, January 25, 2009

Layer 117 Hail To The Chief: Barak Obama

This should have been posted last Tuesday, 20th January.

More than a million people turned out in Washington DC for the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. Millions around the world watched it live on TV. History was well and truly made.

A day to savour, and remember. People spoke about sheer, unrestrained joy, but the new president’s first speech focused on the work ahead, and the grim resolve needed to achieve what needs to be done.

He spoke of indicators of crisis, and worn out dogmas. He said the time has come to set aside childish things. He reminded us that all people are equal and all are free. He said greatness must be earned, especially if you happen to be the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth

He warned that the time has passed for putting off unpleasant decisions. There’s a need to transform schools and colleges to meet the demands of a new age

The stale political arguments no longer apply. Without a watchful eye the market can spin out of control.

He pointed to a future of peace and dignity for all people. He said power alone cannot protect us. Neither does it entitle us to do as we please.

He promised greater cooperation and friendship between nations, and between people of different faiths, and indeed non-believers. Mutual respect!

He spoke of the spirit of service, the willingness to find meaning in something greater than ourselves. He spoke of kindness, selflessness, courage, and nurture. He spoke of human values, of the need for honesty and hard work. He looked forward to a return to these truths, and a new era of responsibility. He reminded us of the need for hope, and virtue.



What a laugh! Dick Cheney had injured his back, clearing out his office, and he turned up for the ceremony in a wheelchair. What an image - Dr Strangelove! Wire rimmed glasses and all. The ultimate mad fascist! If we didn’t know it before, it was very obvious in that one image. He didn’t quite raise his right arm in a Nazi salute, or call for the bombing of the Rooskies, but he didn’t need to. We know already how his mind works.

So now Dick and his gang must get down to the task of plotting Obama’s downfall. Those guys will never give up, or go away, or change their spots.

And now the critics and the cynics will begin the business of shooting down the naïve fools who somehow believe that this really is the dawning of a new, liberal America, one that creates peace and harmony throughout the world, and works for justice and prosperity for all. To all those who say rejoice! - Obama is the Messiah! - they say, get real you idiots - he’s not going to do much at all, he’s just going down the middle of the road, just returning to a sort of Democratic Keynesianism, just pulling back from costly and illegal wars, nothing else.

But these people, these critics, miss the point. The reason so many people are rejoicing is not just because Obama is black, though that in itself is something to celebrate, and not even that he’s a liberal, though he is indeed that rare creature in modern American politics.

No - it’s simply that the best guy won, and that America finally has a president who is intelligent, who has real values, and a real vision for a decent society for all. It has a leader who’s not a stupid, warmongering conservative who sincerely believes that it’s OK to bend the world to the will of corporate and military America, and to bully other countries into doing what it wants.

America finally has a leader who genuinely wants to recreate a country that can feel proud of itself, that other nations can look up to or at least want to associate with; a country that works with other countries, rather than bullies, threatens and coerces everyone it can’t actually bribe or buy.

This is something to celebrate.


Scumbag Britain: A Country To Be Ashamed Of.

Meanwhile, back in stupid Britain, here’s three examples of what a nasty, ignorant, mean, uncaring and thoroughly dumb country we’ve become, totally without concern for the wellbeing of the elderly, and totally focused on increasing corporate profits at the expense of all else. It’s becoming incredible what complete arseholes we are in terms of sheer corporate greed and negligence, and the inability and unwillingness of the State to do anything about it.

1) On Monday I couldn’t find any paperwork relating to my mum’s house insurance so I phoned the company my mum thought she used - let’s call it Norfolk Union - to make enquiries.

I was told her policy had expired 2 years ago. Oh really? I said. And how much had she been quoted to renew the policy? £300 they said.

Mum felt dreadful because it was another example of her forgetfulness and inability to manage. She’s terrified of losing all her marbles and having to go into a home.

On Wednesday a letter arrived from Norfolk Union saying they were denying her the insurance claim on her television that had recently gone up in smoke because the dealer who’d sold her a new TV had taken the old one away and it wasn’t available for inspection.

So I phoned Norfolk Union and said look, why is mum being told she can’t claim on her TV on the grounds that it’s been disposed of, when as far as I know she doesn’t even have a valid policy to cover it?

Oh no, they said, she has a household contents policy that’s valid for another 5 months.

So how come I was assured two days ago that she had no such policy? We don’t know, they said - it’s quite clear on our computers that whilst her previous policy ran out two years ago, we started her off on a new policy when she phoned us two months after the old policy had expired. And how much does she pay for her current policy? £245 per year.

So of course I went ballistic and said I wanted to make a formal complaint about how much time I’d wasted on Monday, phoning around for quotations, knowing that £300 was a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a buildings and contents policy in mum’s area, when all along mum already had a valid policy.

Having gone from one person to the other up the complaints ladder I eventually spoke to someone who was very apologetic and said he’d be prepared to match Esure’s quotation for £125 when mum’s policy came up for renewal in May.

I told him that not only would I not consider using his company again, on account of the sheer amount of wasted time and hassle I’d incurred on Monday, I expected the return of the entire £245 that this year’s policy had cost - on the grounds that his colleague had told me on Monday that mum no longer had a policy. I said I also expected some compensation for the wasted time and effort, and the stress caused to mum and me.

He was sympathetic, said he understood perfectly why I felt aggrieved, and said he’s need to speak to his manager. When he phoned back he said all things considered they’d be prepared to offer £100 compensation, plus return £77 that was due as a rebate on the unexpired policy.

But would my mum have been able to do any of this, left to her own devices? No - she’d have paid the £300 to renew the policy that hadn’t even expired. As for her managing to get competitive quotes from the Internet or whatever - jolly old price comparison websites! - forget it.

2) It turns out that mum’s been overdrawn on her Lloyds current account since last May, even though she has considerable savings in her Lloyds savings account (earning interest of 0.75%). Naturally she’s been paying a considerable amount of interest, plus penalties, on the overdrawn amount, which has reached nearly £1,000.

Mum and I spent most of the morning trying to find bank statements for both her accounts for the past seven months, without success. She doesn’t know where she’s put them, or even whether she’s received any statements. I phoned my sister, who I’d thought was keeping an eye on things, but she said she had no idea where they were. And no, she hadn’t taken them from mum’s, on one of her infrequent visits.

And had mum’s local, friendly, caring bank manager phoned mum to talk to her about why she’d stopped transferring money from her savings account into her current account so that she could pay her standing orders? About why she was allowing herself to be so overdrawn when she had plenty of money in the account dad’s occupational pension goes into? Did they FUCK! What they’d actually done was to raise my mum’s overdraft limit, without telling her, so that the amount she was overdrawn could continue to mount up.

To add insult to injury, when I phoned the “customer care” number to discuss the matter, to ask about the current balances, to ask them to send duplicate statements, they said they’d need to speak to my mum to go through “security questions” before they could do anything. And when mum said she couldn’t tell them the number on her Visa card because she couldn’t find the card, they said they couldn’t do anything to help. Why? Procedures!

So of course I demanded to speak to a senior manager or a complaints officer, and after another hour on the phone they’d agreed to give me the figures, send duplicates, transfer money between accounts, etc. What’s more, it turns out that they haven’t even sent mum a statement on her savings account since last May. Why not? Don’t know.

They then took 20 minutes trying to get their ‘system’ to agree to send mum a new statement immediately. At one point I said look, can’t you just deal with it tomorrow as I have to get on with making dinner for mum? Oh no, she said, we can only deal with it if we have the customer on the phone.

Eventually I said thank you very much for agreeing to help me sort things out, but you’d have just left mum sitting in a state of complete ignorance and anxiety if I hadn’t pursued the matter and demanded to have it dealt with at a higher level. Of course.

3) It transpires that mum has allowed her ‘card account’ in the Post Office to build up to several thousand pounds, on which she gets no interest whatsoever. This is the account her state pension gets paid into. So I phoned the Post Office’s ‘customer services’ and said, don’t you have a savings account that this money could be transferred into, so that she can earn interest on it? Yes we do, they said, but those accounts are run by a different part of the organisation. So mum can’t transfer money from one account into the other? Yes, but she’ll have to take it out in cash in order to transfer it. But that’s not the kind of transfer I’m talking about, and in any case she can’t leave the house these days. Too bad.


Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious

Lord Turner, Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, last night delivered “a devastating critique of how the banking system has put Britain into a crisis”.

He’s come out and said the banking system needed to be completely overhauled, that it was completely unfit for purpose, that the banks should not have been allowed to create an incredible and unsustainable bubble based on inflated property prices and huge amounts of lending without having sufficient deposits from savers to back up the loans. “Banks have to build up deposits in the good times, so they’re protected when there’s a downturn.”

Duh! We fucking knew this years ago! We’ve been aware of what was happening to the ‘sub-prime market’ in mortgages, and how it was likely to impact on the financial system several years ago. Why didn’t someone do something about it before the shit hit the fan?

Someone like the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, for example? Or wasn’t it his duty to speak out and raise these issues when there was still time to do something sensible and constructive? Or is he only now aware of these issues, in which case how is he qualified to be the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority?

As Will Hutton said in his Observer column this week - “These are the grimmest economic circumstances since the 1930s. Lives and businesses are being wrecked. [Government and bankers] hope that we can muddle through, looking for “green shoots” of recovery and doing little radical. But after last week the government - and the opposition - have to get serious. Britain is on the edge.”

And as someone else said, in the context of Obama becoming President, leaders must make good use of crises. As I’ve said previously, the Shock Doctrine can also be used for the benefit of the world. Don’t just ask these fucking bankers to kindly stop paying themselves huge bonuses, and suggest they please start using the bailout money to help small businesses and ordinary consumers who can’t pay their bills. Nationalise the banks, since their shares are now worth fuck all anyway, and tell them that from now on the profits they make won’t be creamed off by their managers and shareholders - profits will be used for the benefit of us all. What’s wrong with that?

Springwatch 2.

I’ve now seen two mature camellias down mum’s road that are already in full, glorious bloom, plus some heathers and hebes. Mum’s own camellia is a little late this year, probably because it’s growing in a raised bed situated under her porch, and hasn’t been watered since . . . the last time I watered it.

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