The Plastic Hippo

January 12, 2011

Please release me

Filed under: Fiction — theplastichippo @ 2:33 am

To: Dean in the press office
From: Sly in the press office:

“Dean, attached is a first go at a PR to put a lid on the latest crap. Do what you can with the quotes. Good luck, God knows you’ll need it – regards, Sly”

Woeful Metropolitan Borough Council
Draft press release – NOT FOR PUBLICATION

WONDERFUL WOEFUL COUNCIL TRIUMPHS AGAIN

Delighted residents of the borough of Woeful are celebrating yet another series of fair and progressive policy decisions to come from the hard working members of Woeful Metropolitan Council Cabinet.

In a wide ranging review of services offered to our clients, Woeful MBC are confident that improved provision will be guaranteed by removing them and then be ready to meet the needs of the 21st century. Senior councillor Harry Tonyant Tweed said:

“Who are you? Don’t you know its lunchtime? Feck off.”

“Dean, put something in here about uncertain times and difficult decisions – Sly.”

As the borough of Woeful forges ahead with remarkably fair and progressive initiatives that will improve the lives of its citizens, the future is looking good. Major savings are being made by closing unnecessary libraries that only attract scroungers who refuse to look for meaningful work. If further proof were needed then we need only look to our inspired partners running eduction, Coser plc, who have saved millions by removing the burden schools place on the budget by closing them. If children leave school unable to read, then libraries obviously become obsolete. Councillor Tonyant Tweed added:

“Look, I’ve told you once. Out of my way, I’m meeting Mike in the pub at twelve.”

“Dean, this needs some crap about online services and IT. Make sure you include the word digital. The plebs wont understand that – Sly.”

In these exciting, modern times, leisure centres are also under review. In these uncertain and difficult times the need to loose weight and keep fit is a thing of the past as people will loose weight naturally through not eating food. Therefore, leisure centres are no longer needed. Another brilliant saving from Woeful MBC. Councillor Tonyant Tweed said:

“I’m going to nut you in a minute.”

“Dean, deflect any responsibility here. Include the word inherited and blame somebody else – Sly.”

More welcome savings have been made by efficiency savings in council operations. Working smarter will lead to a reduction in staff who do not provide value for money. A slimmed down council will provide better services. Councillor Tweed said:

“Look you, if you want to keep your job, you had better get out of my way and let me go to the pub.”

“Dean, if you mention social workers, care assistants or the Chief Executive, I will kill you – Sly”.

As with everything we do, residents will be fully ignored in our wide and comprehensive consultation process and Woeful MBC will continue to provide a continually improving level of service to the old, the young and those who are vulnerable by taking away the services that they need. Councillor Tonyant Tweed added:

“Right, don’t mess with me. I own a fecking funfair.”

“Dean, try your best. The bastard bit me – Sly.”

“Sly, I think there is a typo in the last para. Should that be involved rather than ignored? – Dean”

“Dean, feck off.”

January 10, 2011

The right that shall not be infringed

Filed under: Politics,Rights,World — theplastichippo @ 5:04 pm

Consider for a moment nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. On Saturday morning she was shot dead outside a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona along with a senior state judge, a political community outreach worker and three senior citizens, 14 others were injured. The target was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who remains in a critical condition after being shot in the head at close range.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The amendment, as part of the Bill of Rights, was adopted in 1791 in the first term of George Washington, the first President of the United States, just eight years after the American War of Independence. Having gained victory over the British, the newly born nation was close to bankruptcy and was being eyed with predatory intent by the Spanish and the French. Tensions between the original states threatened civil war, slave rebellions were common as were attacks by Native Americans keen to take back their tribal homelands. If the revolution was to survive into the 19th century, “a well regulated Militia” was needed to defend the republican cause.

310 years later, Christina-Taylor Green, having recently been elected as a member of the student council at her school, was taken by her mother to see one of Congresswoman Giffords regular “Congress on your corner” public meetings. The interest they shared in democracy was rewarded with bullets fired not by “a well regulated Militia”, but by a lone gunman bearing a semi-automatic firearm. He was restrained as he tried to re-load.

Ms Giffords represents a marginal district in Congress and as such was “targeted” along with 19 others by no less than the infamously gun loving Sarah Palin. Palin`s Facebook page published a “hit list” charmingly accompanied by telescopic rifle gun sights. After Palin published her “hit list”, Giffords office was attacked and in March the Congresswoman said this to a local television station:

“We’re on Sarah Palin`s “targeted” list, but the thing is that the way she has it depicted, we’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realise that there are consequences to that action.”

Clearly there is no evidence to suggest that Palin actively incited the shootings in Tucson and her website is just part of the knockabout fun called politics. Any “well regulated Militia” would realise that this was not a call to arms and would leave their flintlock muskets safely above the fireplace in the old homestead. Unfortunately, gun ownership in the US is completely unregulated and any spaced out psychopath can arm themselves with enough fire power to single handedly win the Battle of Bunker Hill.

There have, of course, been previous deaths brought about, in some cases, by the firearms of people only a few years older than Christina-Taylor Green. Young, angry Americans who happen to dislike Mondays or who bowl for Columbine grow up in a culture obsessed with violence in the name of almost paranoid self defence enshrined in the 18th century. With the largest and most powerful armed force on the planet and a willingness to deploy shock and awe interventions anywhere in the world, the need for “a well regulated Militia” to protect internal borders seems questionable. The latest slaughter in Tucson suggests that every president from George Washington to Barak Obama have failed to uphold the second amendment by allowing the right to bear arms to go unregulated. The disturbed assassin in Arizona legally bought his Glock at an outlet called Sportsman’s Warehouse. Using a semi-automatic kinda takes the skill out of deer hunting.

There are sections of American society, including Sarah Palin and the increasing ominous Tea Party, that believe the second amendment to be more than a right but a duty and some of the more extreme in the gun lobby defend utmost violence against people that they disagree with as “patriotic”. The frontier spirit of the American Revolution has evolved into a sinister mindset that embraces lethal weaponry as a force for good in protecting the state from the enemies of the people, namely liberals.

But politicians like Palin need to be careful. Gun toting middle America might not share the intelligence, subtlety and political sophistication of Ms Palin and may take her message literally. Those controlling her Facebook page have quickly removed any comments critical of the former Governor of Alaska but allowed a disturbing comment that celebrated the murder of a child. The consequence of this dangerous mix of a closed mind armed to the teeth and provocative political posturing has an air of inevitability about it. We may view events in America as distant and alien, but on this side of the pond, politicians also need to think before they speak.

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw has suggested that the sexual exploitation of young, white girls is a “specific problem” in Britain’s Pakistani community. This is a little like saying that all middle-aged, bespectacled, grey haired former Home Secretaries are child abusers. Although the evidence shows that 98 per cent of sex crimes are committed by white men, his comments are based on the convictions of just two individuals and it is likely to infuriate a part of our community already alienated and ripe for radicalisation. Young men of Pakistani heritage might like to point out to Mr Straw that Harold Shipman, Derek Bird and Raoul Moat were white middle-aged men and therefore we should fear and hate anyone fitting that description. As America lurches to the right in response to the Obama administration and Britain lurches to the left as the scale of coalition cuts bite, the last thing we need is politicians pulling on white hoods and pouring gasoline onto an already burning cross.

After the carnage of 9/11 and here in 7/7, paranoia became rife and the polarisation between corrupt dogmas accelerated. Those aiming an Uzi or a Boeing 767 at innocent people claim to have the same God on their side. God knows what God thinks about this insanity. On September 11 2001, when the attention of the world was focussed on the twin towers, the Pentagon and an anonymous field in Pennsylvania, Christina-Taylor Green was born into the world in Arizona.

Nine years, three months and eight days later any hope of her growing up, living the American dream and perhaps one day becoming a Congresswoman and marrying an astronaut were snuffed out. Yet another victim of the second amendment. The right that shall not be infringed.

January 5, 2011

One cheer for democracy

Filed under: Literature,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:11 am

“We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet.”
E M Forster (1879 – 1970)

If, against the odds, the current leader of Walsall council is in possession of an endearing quality, then it must surely be the ability to amuse by being ridiculous. Like the lucky citizens of London, we are fortunate enough to be represented by an utter buffoon.

Since becoming leader again in May 2009, Mike has delighted us with some crazy slapstick worthy of the Marx Brothers not including their Uncle Karl who we never mention. Within days of assuming power for the third time, a meeting of the full council descended into farce leading to calls for council meetings to be webcast in the name of accountability. Two of the more rational Conservative councillors who understand social media supported the idea. One did not last long in cabinet and the other posted his last blog in July 2009. The idea has been quietly forgotten.

But apart from his oafish behaviour in the council chamber, councillor Bird is at his most hilarious when he makes his forays into traditional local media. His contributions to BBC Radio WM have to be heard to be believed. Defending Walsall council spying on its citizens and employees, claiming that vote rigging is the unique preserve of an ethnic minority and back tracking on a pay rise he wished to award himself were the radio comedy highlights of 2010.

He is even funnier in the printed press. When asked to react to the incompetence of his administration or to defend malicious and disastrous cuts to services that the people he claims to represent depend upon, Bird employs two parrot learned bleats: “It is the fault of the previous government” or “put up or shut up”. A man not lacking guile, the councillor for Pheasey Park Farm has just about managed to stay within the restrictions of the code of conduct for elected representatives and the standards in public life legislation. It will be left to the good people in the land beyond Barr Beacon to decide if he has brought his office or the borough of Walsall into disrepute.

The annual pantomime of setting a budget for Walsall has rolled around again. Mike and his cabinet mechanics have made their decisions and will now spend the coming weeks justifying incompetence in a farcical “scrutiny” process and the insidious paradox of ignoring what they describe as “consultation”. The view from the cabinet room is bleak.

Well, councillor Bird, here are a few suggestions that you and your cabinet may wish to consider.

If things are so bad financially, why not adopt an idea currently being proposed in Ireland? Suspend council with immediate effect and appoint a non-party technical administration to set a budget based on need and not greed to run this town until the local elections in May. Freed from blinkered political compliance and made up of people who actually know what they are talking about and who actually put the borough before themselves, this executive containing representatives from business, health, social care, education and community groups would do a better job than you.

If that is not to your taste, then the budget deficit would be better reduced by re-negotiating the contracts of your many service providers. Private companies like Amey, Tarmac, Serco and many others are making fat profits from our council tax and at the same time providing inadequate service. If these multinational empires refuse to take some of the pain, then dismiss them and bring services back into council control, not to make profit for shareholders, but to provide services to your constituents.

Your Chief Executive and other senior council mandarins are grossly overpaid and should be subject to a cut in salary, benefits and perks. Any argument that high salaries are designed to attract and retain the most able is, in the case of Walsall MBC, laughable. These anonymous, inept apparatchiks are contributing to the financial deficit and their obscene, inflated pay cheques are an insult to the people of Walsall who now have to pay for their failure.

Electoral reform in Walsall might also help to keep care homes, leisure centres and libraries open. Currently there are three councillors per ward claiming expenses allowance for the honour of representing the residents of the borough. Many of those who bother to attend council meetings make no contribution to debate and seldom question policy decisions and are happy to drink the tea, eat the biscuits and deposit the allowance cheque into the bank. Sure, there are some that work hard for their wards and give a voice to the people who live in their communities, but there are others that contribute nothing and slavishly follow the party line. How about having just one councillor per ward, elected annually? This would save on councillor allowances and save on the cost of the three year round of elections and make councillors more accountable.

Should a councillor not attend a council meeting then a percentage of his or her allowance should be deducted depending on how many meetings they missed over the municipal year and those savings be channelled directly to public service budgets. Similarly, cabinet members who do not attend cabinet should see a proportion of their allowance go to the common wealth. Of course, illness and family circumstances may result in absence, but remember that this council recently announced a “crack down” on absenteeism in their own workforce, a workforce they are about to slash through redundancy.

Some of these ideas might seem undemocratic, but it might be appropriate to consider how democracy works in Walsall. The leader, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance represent just one ward. The more affluent east dominates the poorer west in council and cabinet protects the interests of the better off. Not a single councillor has ever achieved a majority of eligible voters in any ward.

E M Forster is probably best remembered for his rather genteel novels set in Edwardian England and colonial India. A Room with a View, Howards End and A Passage to India were successfully filmed and the novels became hugely popular 20 years after his death. But Forster was no purveyor of penny dreadfuls. In 1951 he published a collection of essays entitled Two Cheers for Democracy in which he offered an insights on politics, art, the darkness of the Second World War and the austerity of post-war Britain. He ended his book by saying this:

“So Two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism.”

One needs only to look at the coalition government to realise that variety has gone and one only needs to look at Walsall council to realise that any criticism is met with a bellicose screech of put up or shut up. So it is just about one cheer for democracy and no cheers for the leader of the council.

“The fact is we can only love what we know personally. And we cannot know much. In public affairs, in the rebuilding of civilization, something less dramatic is needed, namely tolerance.”
E M Forster (1879 – 1970)

January 1, 2011

We`ll take a cup of kindness yet

Filed under: Education,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 3:59 am

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? At the turning of the year, any brave soul that reflects on what has gone before and what is about to come must shudder with trepidation. As 2010 becomes history and the reality of government motivated by corrupt ideology begins to inflict its spiteful misery, there is precious little to celebrate on 1/1/11.

There can be no doubt that the parlous level of sovereign debt is alarming and has to be tackled if the UK is to avoid becoming an economic basket case. The previous government were clearly complicit in converting the debts run up by banks into a national debt that now has to be paid by all of us. Well, maybe not all of us. The new coalition government have decided that the poor, the old, the young, job seekers, people with disabilities and public sector workers who provide vital services are the ones who should reduce the deficit and guarantee the vast bonuses expected by the idiots who run the banking system.

Given the need to reduce public borrowing, it seems strange that the coalition government borrowed more in November than any other November in history. After raising university tuition fees, scrapping EMA and BSF and laying waste to social services, banking bonuses have been defended as a necessity in order to retain talented, successful bankers. There might be many young people denied an adequate education that will wish that these greedy incompetents would sling their hooks and bugger off to Switzerland, Dubai or Wall Street. Vulnerable people and people with disabilities currently being targeted by coalition cuts might be happy to see the back of both the useless bankers and the useless politicians who are determined to create a new dark age of a divided Britain.

The economic crisis is just an excuse to impose a savage and unjust reduction in public services. The conservatives in the coalition have been very clever in imposing an ideological agenda that even Margaret Thatcher would not have dared to attempt. Millionaire public schoolboys now in cabinet talk of “fairness” and “progressive” reform. The bottom line is that the poor will suffer the pain and the rich will be allowed to avoid paying tax. The really clever part is that the Liberal Democrats, especially Clegg and Cable, will be the fall guys. Being two faced is no longer the exclusive prerogative of the Roman deity Janus. The Liberal Democrats, including Simon Hughes, are deservedly doomed and should not receive anything but our utter contempt.

The year ended with serious incidents of civil unrest that saw parliament itself being protected by riot police who beat and kettled children and young and disabled people who had the nerve to challenge the regressive and unfair self interest of a government that lacks a mandate to govern. As the state is deliberately dismantled in the name of dogma and the failed mantra of free enterprise, things can only get worse.

On the last day of 2010, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain would support armed intervention in Cote d`Ivoire to oust President Laurent Gbagbo and replace him with Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo, it seems, is under the illusion that he won the recent election in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. The obvious violation of human rights in that unhappy nation means that international intervention is both necessary and urgent. One wonders how Cameron and Clegg will react when soldiers from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal and the Cameroon march along Whitehall and into Westminster to restore order and meaningful democracy.

For the sake of auld lang syne, we can only hope that those we once oppressed will come to our aid and save us from catastrophe. A happy new year to one and all, especially those that as a result of unnecessary cuts in social services will not be around to welcome in 2012. But before you die of neglect, remember that your vote counts.

That is if you believe in democracy.

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