Star Wars Turns 40

Prior to 1977, beyond the sci-fi nerd demographic, not too many Americans knew anything about pulp science fiction beyond B-Movies and Flash Gordon (and even then, that might be a bit of a stretch since this was around six years prior to its blockbuster movie). That is, until 40 years ago today – when Star Wars hit the big screen – creating millions of fans for generations, and catapulting two of its three leads into instant stardom overnight – as it became the highest ever grossing film at the time. But it was more than a mere sci-fi film. It was, and is a saga of a struggle of democracy and freedom versus tyranny; a coming-of-age tale of a young man thrust into a war across the galaxy;  and it had a classic hero stand with unlikely heroes.

I think that its currently difficult to appreciate how genre-busting and trope-defying that this film was. George Lucas fused Western concepts of chivalric knights with Eastern spirituality. He presented a ‘used future’ where as opposed to everything looking shiny, bright and new, it presented machinery and buildings as high-tech, but with a bit of rust and dirt around what was still and adventurous setting. The ‘damsel-in-distress’ turned out to be the leader of a well-organized interplanetary rebellion, a capable marksman, and actually chews out the quality of the rescue: “somebody’s got to save our skins!”, indeed. A ne’er-do-well bounty hunter who comes to take part in a resistance movement while keeping his independence, an old master who more-or-less willingly gets killed to get his student to step up, a villain who became the very face of cold, ambitious evil, whose imposing figure, menacing voice and fearsome visage came with obvious chinks (metaphorical and real) in his black armour, such as his labored breathing – which at first seemed pitiful but became very creepy.

Further installments developed the characters and the overarching saga even further, as Luke’s idealism took a major blow, Han and Leia were held captive in some form, and the plot-moving major villain moved from cold agent of evil, to the fore-bearer of a twisted legacy (“I am your father”), and finally, a path to redemption. The series from the first sequel onwards became a saga on the Skywalker legacy and its impact on the galaxy, with the original, prequel and sequel trilogies acting as generational arcs of the whole tale (Anakin’s generation, Luke and Leia’s generation to Ben’s generation). Whether or not that’s an improvement to Star Wars is up to the viewer, but what is undeniable is the effect it had on popular culture. From lightsabers, to Leia’s style, quotable lines, even extending to religious affiiliation, and a nickname for (in my opinion, a very misguided) potential space program by the Reagan administration (Reagan himself was amused by the comparison, even implicitly comparing the Soviet Union to the Galactic Empire).

Even this year, Princess Leia Organa became the face of resistance during the global Women’s March in January. This year, Star Wars will have released its eighth film in the series Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. With the new trio of sequel protagonists – Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Po Dameron (Oscar Isaac), taking the baton fro the actors who are now mentors to a film series that none of them envisioned that it would become the success that it was. And while one of the leads had passed in December, in her death, she acheived a form of immortality – not as a captive, but an icon of resistance. She had become more powerful than anyone could ever imagine. And that, my friends, is the enduring legacy of Star Wars. The current trio have (as did the prequel actors) big boots to fill, even after the success of Episode VII The Force Awakens. But I am confident that as the New Tens end, they would have made an indelible mark on Star Wars and pop culture as a whole. But for today, it’s a happy anniversary to Star Wars – the greatest sci-fi franchise of all time. May the force be with you.

 

Six Decades Of Independence – Six Champions Of Freedom

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Taken from newsghana.com

Today marks the 60th year of Ghana’s independence from the United Kingdom. While Ghana’s champions of freedom have their faces adorn the national currency, outside of Ghana, all but one enjoys anything resembling international recognition. I’m not much of a fan of “Great Man” theories – narratives of history that surround a single t cheaindividual. Of course, it’d be a bit cheap and cheeky to mention that I’ve only expanded it to six. But in my view, not expanding the role of independence as a team effort of resistance – a united front in the mission of self-governance does them a great disservice. These men were: J.B. Danquah, Edward Akufo-Addo, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, William Ofori-Atta, and Kwame Nkrumah. They were six of the leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention. But collectively within Ghana after their arrest by the colonial authorities in 1948: They became known as “The Big Six”.

An assembly of nascent lawyers, civil servants and clerks, they founded the UGCC in 1947 with the mission of self-governance through “that by all legitimate and constitutional means, the direction and control of government should pass into the hands of the people and their Chiefs in the shortest possible time”. Nkrumah himself was a relatively late addition to the party, after fellow student-cum friend Ako-Adjei during their time spent in the historically black university Lincoln University persuaded him to accept the invitation of heading the party upon returning to the Gold Coast. After much consideration, Nkrumah took the offer and returned home. Their first major challenge was taking on the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM) and organising a mass boycott of their products until they became affordable. They later campaigned for the worker rights of World War II veterans,  who were kept out of receiving war benefits for their service. This is turn, snowballed into a series of riots in Accra – and then, their subsequent arrest as the principal agitators. Their imprisonment in Kumasi had  only encouraged their infamy, and they were split up. It was from there, the title “The Big Six” emerged, even after the group experienced internal disagreements, pertaining to the direction of the party. Of particular note was Nkrumah himself, who was something of a maverick within the UGCC. In spite of Dr Danquah being dubbed “the doyen of Gold Coast politics”, it was Nkrumah who gained based on his radical fervour, gained an increasing influence – more so after founding the Ghana National College and the Accra Evening News after their release from prison.

The other members were concerned with Nkrumah’s actions interpreted as party policy. The members were however, reluctant to remove him, and so repositioned him as honorary treasurer. The concessions of the colonial government towards the Gold Coast’s autonomy were not enough for Nkrumah, and amongst the disagreements with Danquah over the direction of the Gold Coast’s future and mounting pressure of his own supporters, Nkrumah finally broke off with the UGCC to form the Convention People’s Party in April 1949. Its populist sloganeering was broadcast via speakers attached to red-and-green vans, led to a landslide victory during the first universal suffrage in the Gold Coast for CPP against the UGCC, even with Nkrumah imprisoned by the colonial authorities for the riots that occurred during his calls for direct action protests for a constitutional assembly. Nkrumah was shortly released from prison, The UGCC dissolved after its defeat. Yet all of its members would still become involved within Ghanaian politics and the judicial system. Though, only Ako-Adjei joined the CPP in 1957.

After the 1956 elections the independence parties clinched a clear majority, the Gold Coast was granted its independence by the British Government, and so on the 6th March 1957, it was renamed Ghana, based on Danquah and Nkrumah’s suggestion, after the ancient empire of Ghana. The relative obscurity of the other five members, one of whom became President of Ghana from 1970-1972 can at least in part be attributed to the lasting influence of Nkrumah on the region both home and abroad, often negatively, as the rest for one reason or another fell afoul of Nkrumah, half of them were incarcerated as Nkrumah’s government became authoritarian. Despite the tragedy of the Big Six’s relationship on a professional and personal level, today Ghana is led the one of the children of these great nationalists – Nana Akufo-Addo, ensuring a continuity of a proud legacy. Ghana – the black star of Africa rejoices in its sixty years of freedom, with the image of five of its heroes, all of whom democrats rehabilitated. It is only fair that the tale of their struggle and recognition be mentioned alongside the person who became Ghana’s first president.

 

 

#african-history, #colonialism, #ghana, #history-of-ghana, #independence-day

They Went To War Over A Stool – A History Of Ghana – The Ashanti vs The British

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I remember hearing in church over ten years ago a rather disparaging account of the Ashanti’s devotion to a golden stool that they went as far as to go to war over. I guess that the purpose was to ridicule the allure of ‘idol worship’ that Ghanaian culture had before our colonial masters showed us the light and emancipated us from such primitive beliefs in favour of their god, for the price of our labour and material wealth. Even then, I wondered why following Christianity – True Christianity, meant that an ancient object of national heritage had to be denounced. It was only later that I realised that the younger Abrahamic religions, at least in the fundamentalist interpretations, demand that other spiritual traditions, and even some cultural ones be demonized in favour of the righteous path. From the Pentecostal outlook – the whole affair was a matter of foolishness – specifically when it came to the worship of gold. Of course, the colonizers, for all their preaching, worshipped gold as well. Or at least, the influence it brought. The fact that inspired the name the Gold Coast testifies to this.

 

In any case, being a second-generation immigrant here, I do wonder if this view of “The War Of the Golden Stool” is quite widespread in my parent’s homeland. It would certainly be quite interesting to investigate in future. But to me, it does smack of an ignorance largely through a lens of colonialism. It is not simply a stool: It’s the symbol of a nation’s continuity and legitimacy.  The war was a literal resistance to white supremacy.

By 1900, the Ashanti had at least three wars with the British, who at that point controlled most of the territories of what was to become Ghana. Four years prior, the Ashanti king Prempeh I was exiled to the Seychelles, when the threat of a massacre or the capture of the Golden Stool became a reality. Yet on the 25th March 1900, Governor Frederick Mithcell Hodgson arrived in Kumasi, greeted with honours as the face of the British monarchy. Yet unsatisfied, he demanded the Golden Stool so that he many sit on it as a show of power. A lot has been made over whether Governor Hodgson understood the full significance of him, a foreigner, sitting on the stool meant. The Golden Stool is believed to house the souls of the Ashanti people – living, dead, or yet to be born, and so constituted an absolute sacrilege. Indeed, the stool itself isn’t even meant to touch the ground, and is held upwards over a purple cloth, and only allowed to handled by the Ashanti king. Nevertheless, in all likelihood, Governor Marshall demanded he be seated on it to symbolise that they answer to a British authority now. The Ashanti leaders who attended were infuriated, and it lead to a secret meeting with the aim of securing the release of Prempeh I. One such representative, Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of the Ejisu, called upon the leaders not to take the Governor’s disrespect lying down.

Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye and Opuki Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to the Chief of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls on the battlefield.

Soon afterwards, Yaa Asantewaa was appointed as war-leader of the Ashanti forces, and the rebellion went underway. Locals angered by what had taken place became volunteers for the forces against the British. The latter’s search for the stool was stymied by the Ashanti as they forced them into retreat towards their bases in Kumasi, and began a long siege – cutting off wires and entrapping them within the city so that there would be no escape. Governor Hodgson and his men did eventually make a break for it, and made it to the coastline, as reinforcements arrived – bringing with them Yoruba soldiers from  Nigeria. In September of 1900, the Ashanti had been driven back, and Yaa Asantewaa, along with several other leaders were captured and exiled to the Seychelles, where she remained until her death in 1921.

The war was the last of the British-Ashanti conflicts and ended with the British and allies receiving over 1,000 fatalities and the Ashanti over 2,000. The Ashanti Empire was annexed as part of the Gold Coast. Several more leaders including Yaa Asantewaa herself met the same fate as their king, and unlike the latter never survived to return to their land. However, the Golden Stool was never taken by the British even as they spent the following decades in search of it. In that respect, the Ashanti were successful in their aim to preserve the sanctity of the stool, and thereby the spirit of their people. The autonomy in which they governed themselves even after annexation reflected this. The stool, however was later found by a team of labourers in 1921, and they stripped the stool of most of the gold it was adorned with. The British intervened, and although mindful of another war breaking out petitioned the Ashanti leaders to be content with their exile, instead of their initial judgement – that they be put to death. The tribe leaders agreed.  Prempeh I returned to his homeland in 1926, and in 1935, the kingdom attained self-rule again. On 6 March, 1957, The former Gold Coast achieved independence, the newly named Ghana. The Ashanti Kingdom was unified into the new state, and today exists as a protected substate within Ghana.

So there you have it. The War of the Golden Stool was a war to preserve national independence and an identity. And to be honest, symbols of cultural and anthropological significance could only be serious business even without putting the situation of colonialism into it. The stool is a throne. I live in a country that has torn itself apart over cushy seats itself several times. Here and abroad, you can be arrested for burning the national flag, which is far more reproducible than the Golden Stool. I guess the lens of Eurocentrism is so overbearing people succumb to it without even realising it.

#african-history, #ashanti, #colonialism, #eurocentrism, #ghana, #golden-stool, #history, #history-of-ghana, #imperialism, #resistance, #war

Trevor Phillips Gazing Into The Abyss: “‘Political Correctness’ Caused Rise Of Populism”

What happened to Trevor Phillips? Just how did this former champion of race relations go from spokesperson of the National Union of Students to the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality- one that fought the tide of stop-and search instances by the Met Police around black men. Nowadays, he’s predisposed to saying that there’s a lot of black-on-black crime that nobody anywhere is willing to talk about. It is of course, not true that nobody is willing to even to discuss, and his views on multiculturalism “encouraging separatism” isn’t amongst the unsayable either – It’s not like you can’t find a Daily Mail columnist espousing those views. At least with the latter opinion, I can firmly say that Phillips’ stance of multiculturalism isn’t a recent development. Pretty much a lot of his statements on race relations in the UK are not recent. But what is a recent comment based on this line he’s been walking on to suggest that the current wave of populism in 2016-2017 is largely due to ‘political correctness’. He also has a new documentary coming out this Thursday called Has Political Correctness Gone Mad?, in which I hope to review by the following week.

When thinking about how Phillips got to the stage that he did, I assumed that he may be simply getting older and that it might be a generational gap. I actually remember discussing this very point with a close friend of mine last summer, after she was recounting a documentary he did the year before “Things We Don’t Say About Race That Are True”.  But I’ve come to realise what an insulting assessment that actually is. Why don’t we see Lee Jasper telling black youths to pull their pants up? Why isn’t Darcus Howe regretting his activism of over four decades? The fact of the matter is, at some point Trevor Phillips got cynical.  He’s more or less come to oppose anti-racist efforts as they currently stand. Some of which he helped in building.

Once upon a time, Phillips campaigned for better pay among ethnic minorities, and for more spaces for ethnic minority presence in executive positions, and against racism within even the elite of liberalism in UK Politics. Now the assumption is that he caught the ‘New Labour’ bug when they came to power in 1997 from his good friend Peter Mandelson, with a later unsuccessful run for Mayor London, and his chairmanship of the Commission for Racial Equality and later Equality and Human Rights Commission was fraught with controversies arising from the divisiveness of his leadership, his statements on ‘multiculturalism’ encouraging separateness among different communities only further encouraging former left-wing compatriots and other public speakers within the Black British community to denounce him. It seems from close observation, Phillps’ stances may not have from merely old age, or even exposure  to New Labour ideology per se – but a logical extension of an ideal for Black Britons to aspire to: For Phillips, equality means being allowed the opportunities to aspire for the best in the society that you live in – the young Phillips interpreted practices such as stop-and-search rightfully as an obstacle, as harassment by the authorities on the basis of race is as form of victimization and one of these social roadblocks; during his time in political activism, Phillips identified more in the workplace, and within the establishment itself. In fact, the few hazy moments he had during his time in New Labour was during the run-up to the 1999 mayoral election, which turned Ken Livingstone from ally to enemy – He felt that he was being passed over because of his race. Phillips sees racial equality in terms of the positions available to them. A sort of “self-made person of colour” although I imagine Phillips would now reject the POC terminology as being too ‘politically correct’. And yes, acceptance to a Britishness standard is part of that. From this, we might be able to see where Phillips opposition to multiculturalism comes from, since he seems to advocate a form of “cultural assimilationism” in its favour.

To this end, he has taken to shoe-horning his bedbug in cases which have the barest of connections – like 21st century populism. I’m expected to accept that ‘political correctness’ is what gave America Trumpism, Brexit over here, and Labour in shambles. I’m expected to bear responsibility for white anxiety around around acceptable language and behaviour, which is really what he’s talking about in terms of ‘political correctness’ for why the wave of alternative right washing away progressivism. As bad as post-Brexit UK seems to be, it has not completely sank under the new reactionaries. But what has Trevor Phillips offered beyond providing cover for the Colonel Blimps of the media and political establishment? How is his tea parties with David Goodhart changing his mind about Muslims in Great Britain, when he is half-parroting them? Can he really claim that we’ve become a society too polite to properly discuss British society and its minorities in light of all this? Even before Brexit, Nigel Farage was on Question Time in what seemed every fortnight while bemoaning the BBC’s descent into “left-wing propaganda” where you can’t say anything yet he somehow was verbose and loquacious enough to find multiple ways of not saying anything. Certainly not about immigration and the Arabs who threaten to subvert ‘core Christian values’ in the UK. I mean, really. Did these people come out of nowhere? Or were they emboldened by a quiet, bitter subsection of the population angry about Britain changing that Mr Phillips thinks that they’re opinion is worth courting? Surely when ostensible liberals and progressives use the rhetoric of the illiberal while when Jack Straw who was then Home Secretary made comments on Asian men seeking “young white girls as ‘easy meat’” in response to the Rottherham sex trafficking scandal, they only stoke the fire, right? This tactic never disarms the far-right. It emboldens and legitimises them by making it appear that there is a problem that the “liberal establishment” are too weak to challenge effectively.

Since Phillips has pretty much the same opinions as two years ago when he produced “Things We Don’t Say About Race” documentary, I think that it might be fair to ask that given the rise in anti-Semitic attacks, and other hate crimes since Brexit, whether its worth noting the concentration of wealth in households in Jewish and Cypriot communities? How exactly is telling ethnic minorities, especially migrant communities to aspire to Britishness useful when the notion of Britishness is so nebulous? Surely migrating to another land , learning the language, paying taxes and citizenship applications would be enough. But Phillips seems to think that not prompting isolated communities into some nebulous concept of Britishness will turn the tide against demagoguery.

The problem is, this demagoguery has been here building and gaining strength, often accompanied by an admittance or the use of their language to encourage them. Demagogues don’t give rational answers, and they don’t want conversations either. All they want to do is bellow simple solutions which often have one group benefiting at the expense of another. They care for nothing but an authoritarian playground. Phillips is right that we don’t need to hold our tongues and be bold. But let’s also call a spade a spade: More often than not, suspicion of communities with ethnic minorities is what creates tension and division, and not any leftover ‘incompatible values’ the people from those communities supposedly have. This is not helped when a commentariat and other influential figures cast fears on migrants entering before they even get off the boat. It’s almost certain Farage’s campaigning with a “Breaking Poster” depicting a large queue of migrants helped in tipping the scale of the Brexit vote. Racist rhetoric is real in the UK, and it’s not always shy or subtle in its message. Polite encouragement, appraisals or even silence when its coded is only making racists bolder in their language. This isn’t a time for complacency, or giving excuses for reactionaries. There’s only one tactic that we can borrow from them – and that’s a clear, blunt and unsubtle message in telling them to sod off. Make that a universal standard of Britishness.

 

 

#britishness, #multiculturalism, #political-correctness, #politics, #populism, #race-relations, #society, #trevor-phillips, #writing

Motivational Monday Jukebox: The Delfonics – “La-La Means I Love You”

Well guys, it’s not Valentine’s Day yet, but it is that time of the month: Motivational Monday Jukebox. I’ll be real: I haven’t been feeling that motivated this Monday, or indeed throughout the past week. It’s been up-and-down, to be honest. But one constant stream of bliss has been in listening to classic soul acts, which led me to (re)discover The Delfonics. I actually love that name: Delfonics. Nice reference to their hometown and the beautiful music that they make. Since this happens to be now my favourite song of theirs, ladies and gents, here’s an old-school performance of “La-La Means I Love You”. These guys always had the grooviest moves with their dulcet tones. Enjoy:

#motivational-monday-jukebox, #music, #the-delfonics

Two-And-A-Half Minutes To Doomsday: Two Weeks of Trump & The ‘Special Relationship’ of Nativists, and Deceivers

The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock introduced by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists representing a countdown to global catastrophe. It was introduced in 1947, in the early years of the Cold War, with its attention being drawn to the geopolitical game changer known as the atomic bomb, and observing the possibility of mankind’s usage of a series of weapons that could ultimately seal its collective fate. Its attention on the possibility of global thermonuclear war, until 2007 when it expanded to climate change, and other man-made potential risks to humanity.

Apparently, this early stage of Donald Trump’s presidency was enough this year to move the clock 2 1/2 minutes to midnight based on “the strident rise in nationalism”, and his comments indicating a dismissal of the threat of climate change, along with his rather cavalier attitude towards his stewardship of the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal.

It marks the very first time that a single individual has been the reason for a change in the clock, in it in fact increased the risk to our continued existence on terra firma. Not even Nixon (who reportedly told his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, he wanted to nuke Vietnam during a drunken rant), or Reagan (whose Strategic Defense Initiative would have made the already paranoid then-gerontocracy of the Soviet Union even more alarmist and warmed up an apparently cooling Cold War had it been practically feasible to design) carried that ignominy. Yet President Trump did in a week what other bellicose “Cold Warriors” couldn’t do even in eight years of office.

Given his rather alarming presidential speech, which did nothing of convincing the world that he was a president for all Americans, it should be no surprise that Trump invoked such a response. Donald Trump started his presidency with a remarkable lack of subtlety: Within a matter of days, he had already executive orders declaring his war on Obamacare, immigrants, and the “inner cities”. The Dakota Access Pipeline project that Obama halted was immediately reinstated, sparking violence between the Standing Rock protesters and the police. Republicans used the transition period to begin kickstart their agenda to repeal Obamacare by hosting late-night sessions in Congress, hoping to act before the Democrats attempt to block their attempts. It seems that only their own internal disagreements, and their own rush to repeal it catching unwanted attention, are what’s keeping the Affordable Care Act alive.

Trump was also very mindful of the fact that his inauguration attendees were considerably less than that of either of Obama’s, and after taking to Twitter to rant about it, he gave a speech at Langley – The headquarters of the CIA, stood before its memorial and gave a speech with an inordinate amount of focus given to his frustration on the press’ reporting of crowd size. So outraged was John Brennan, the then-director of the CIA – that he announced his resignation from the post. And following his departure, four other State Department officials went with him – it is currently up in the air whether it was a result of their services expiring before the finalised transition, or Trump’s ongoing fit-of-pique, or even reluctance to take part in the Trump Administration. In any event, Trump’s response to the “brain drain” of national security seems to be to doing the same as in how Trump himself got elected – appoint a wealthy, yet woefully inexperienced individual as head of your intelligence branches, in a way that practically screams “special interests”.

In addition to his special advisor and chief strategist, Steve Bannon – CEO of Breitbart.com, a website known for conspiracy-mongering, and churning out right-wing agitprop for the audience of reactionaries and neo-reactionaries with a collective will and a collective persecution complex to mold their own ideals of an America free from burdens such as accountability to a wider populace, respect for dissenting opinions, and a responsibility to marginalized groups.

The Press Secretary spending his hours spouting falsehoods before the media for the sake of Trump’s vanity. The President’s counsellor openly describing these falsehoods as “alternative facts”, and furthermore a chief adviser that advocates an  openly adversarial approach with the press telling it to “keep it’s mouth shut”, and referring to it as “the opposition party”. This is as clear a signal of “post-truth politics” and it just so happens that this year, a team working on behalf of the most powerful office in the world is spinning the flow of information as if it were cotton candy.

Meanwhile, over in the UK – where it’s halfway towards insanity, as opposed to completing the whole track. Prime Minister Theresa May is deadset on a “hard Brexit” – which equates to a swift and hasty termination of the United Kingdom’s involvement with the European Union and the renegotiation on the laws, treaties and the trade regulations that it was beholden to, in addition to an exit of the EEA – The European Economic Area, which would have the UK adhere to largely the same regulations, and receive the same benefits in the EU (with virtually no input in its direction), only leaving free decision-making being in the fishering policies, its home and foreign policies and its exclusion from the Schengen area would remain intact. Though that last bit would have effectively meant the same thing as it was in the EU anyway.

“Brexit means Brexit” became a whole lot clearer when a plot by the Cabinet  to announce Britain skydiving off the economic plane with no parachute was announced. May had made it clear that she wanted to ensure that nothing of the UK’s was beholden to the EU. And although stalled by the efforts of Gina Miller by starting a challenge to the legality of the Government’s plan to launch Brexit had slowed the march to economic uncertainty down with the Supreme Court ruling that Government cannot come to an Article 50 agreement without the consultation of Parliament.

This had, at best only slowed May down on the march to Brexit. For on February 2nd, the House of Commons took a vote on the “White Paper” signifying the process in which the UK will trigger Article 50, with Parliament overwhelmingly being in favour of the White Paper – 498 in favour, 114 against. And so, closer and closer to the abyss Britain moves.

When Ms. May Went To Washington

 

While Theresa May claimed that when meeting President Trump that she would hold him to account over his sexist comments, and other concerning statements regarding the “Muslim ban”, they were conspicuously absent during her visit on the 27th January. As a matter of fact, far from giving a stern lecture to Trump on behalf of the United Kingdom, she held hands with him. It was not as if she forgot what she came for – Indeed, if making it clear to Trump what the boundaries of British goodwill were the mission, then none other then BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg did not hesitate directly ask Trump about his travel ban, and his reactionary stance on reproductive rights would’ve presented a good reminder. However, since the purpose seemed more about getting a post-Brexit Britain with a new trade deal with the United States, and reiterating other alliances – May was only too happy to address the question directed to the US President, since the President was not willing to respond. “Special relationship” indeed.

 

Some onlookers regarded this as something of a parallel to the Bush-Blair relationship. But it is more complex than that: Anyone who’s followed Theresa May’s Premiership, or indeed her political career in general would have already received whiplash from the amount of flip-flopping that she does on her stances. Just take a look on her statements on the NHS: Recently, she admitted that the NHS is under pressure and claimed that £400million to alleviate winter period strain even after she insisted just months before that the NHS will receive no further payments, saying that it received enough money that it is. Indeed, Brexit itself is one of them – she chose to abstain from the whole thing while half her party were raring to break out, including rivals Boris Johnson (sort of) and Michael Gove. Now she’s striving for severance from the EU as soon as possible.

Remember that the previous president, Barack Obama was very vocal about the UK severing its relationship with the EU, even saying that it’ll be “in the back of the queue” to any new trade negotiations that the US would be interested in making. Now, we have a have President determined to captain SS Uncle Sam completely in opposition to the previous one. And May seeks to use that. After all, Trump is a man who called himself “Mr. Brexit” before he gave any indication that he knew exactly what it was. May believes that this man, volatile as his administration seems to be running, can be made to work with her by appealing to his ego. To her credit, getting him to walk back on the US leaving NATO is something of a victory for her. This relationship isn’t Blarite. It’s downright Nixonian. Only that the balance of power still lies towards the nation that perfected many of his bag of tricks.

Still May has now fallen into bed with a man who, as of today, has affected the lives of 100,000 people – from students to film directors as a result of his travel ban, and is battling a federal judge on the ban to see it through despite its questionable legality; attempting to take apart the US’ own environmental agency, feuding with national park employees, and open contempt for historical allies of the US – the alliance, as seems to be any alliance with Trump’s America, seems to be tentative. We should be worried, as Trump has shown himself to be a whimsical leader. And in an era where right-wing populism is dragging Western nations like a black hole of concentrated reactionary politics, we can expect darker times ahead in era of pompous demagogues. The clock ticks ever closer.

#current-affairs, #donald-trump, #minutes-till-doomsday, #nationalism, #politics, #populism, #theresa-may, #troubling-state-of-affairs, #u-s-politics

‘Work-Shy’ Series Part 2: Back On The Dole

There’s a lot of assumptions about people who happen to be unemployed. I’m not gonna lie – some of them have truth to them. A lot of are directionless and are resigned to the dole money we receive from the Job Centre. Some of us do spend it on cheap pleasures and otherwise unproductive things that in no way betters their situation. While that is true for some of unemployed, our society as a result of the cynical campaign headed by unscrupulous ministers and their colleagues to paint the unemployed as a whole as in requirement of the proper motivation. This is where the targeting of the austerity measures came in, and the rise of the term “work-shy”.

There are various problems faced when the unemployed walk into the Job Centre. So much of the unemployed over 40+ with a skill set that was either practical; or otherwise involved a set of skills outside the professional, now suddenly find themselves having to use a PC in order to try to find work, and to justify trying to find work. It is not an easy transition to adjust to, and requires a level of patience that the workers at the Job Centre cannot give, and a level of dignity that isn’t always up for offer. For those who have had professional work, yet somehow found themselves unemployed, the former is less of an issue while the latter is much worse – all the more because of their predicament, in spite of the fact that they do not have much control of their own job security.

For those unemployed who spent the majority of their lives in education – the final stages either at college or university – the problem is somewhere in the middle. We’re the first generation to be raised on the usage of the Internet, and yet for those who us who aren’t the so-called ‘go-getters’ and or among those that haven’t been stuck in minimum wage jobs ill-matched for their level of education, find themselves at the Job Centre all the same – often to get to the second example.

The function of Universal Jobmatch sure doesn’t make it any easier: It is an atrocious website that looks like something out of the 90s, and does nothing to recover the details of your account in order to let the work coaches know that, yes, you have been doing for work.

With Universal Credit, it’s a little different: Here it’s insured that all of our job-related activities are updated online on the website with the penalty of having your payment reduced if in anyway you don’t comply if what is required of you. This is where I come in: I’ve recently (as in hours ago) completed my application for Universal Credit. The simple reason being that there was little guarantee that I would be able to find new work despite my last month-2016-end-of-year enthusiasm before the money I earned ran out. I spent a year and-a-half beholden to the Job Centre and now after two months, it’s happened again – the worst part is, as explained in my last article, it’s getting much harder to pretend anymore to want to get roles that you don’t actually want. This is where the question “where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” becomes an inane one. I mean, what honestly am I supposed to respond to that at this point? I could only mouth that I wanted to be in an admin position. My only paid experience in bloody KFC – what the hell was I supposed to say?

In any case, I now have to search for work every day – essentially what I’ve been doing already – except to let them know on their website of the activities that I’ve done, as the monitoring of people’s work-activities will determine the justification of getting Universal Credit. This is the part that is never mentioned to British society about the unemployed: Over and over again, they have to justify why they should receive payments – which in themselves are barely enough to live on, even if it means performing tasks beyond their ability. It gets even worse for those of us with disabilities, as shown in the disability rights marches against the DWP’s “Fit For Work” assessments. While I do have a disability, it isn’t (well, not always, and even now I can’t be sure – mental illness is like that) currently affecting my ability to work. The pressure to earn money, and the dearth of opportunities is however, affecting the avenues that I go to in order to find work, and the places that I search for it. It seems like the only real safety net was education, and even that drove me round the bend.

And now to take it back to the ‘guzzling beer scroungers’ stereotype: Those that embody this have already been beaten down by this system. I imagine that they’ve had several sanctions already, but are beyond caring because they’ve just figured out how best to survive (sort of – definitely not live) with the money that they receive. They are past the point of even caring what the state does to them, because they won’t do anything different that makes their lives any less despairing than it already is. There’s an entire nation apathetic about the unemployed regardless of whether they just left school to find themselves jobless, or spent most of their adult life without ever receiving a wage. And when the right employment is like running through a maze in this current climate, with ever increasing obstacles, apathy becomes all the more seductive and alluring to us as well. Precisely what is not demanded of the unemployed to do.

#dwp, #job-centre-plus, #jobless, #society, #unemployment, #universal-credit