Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Privatising roads

Not content with the National Health Service, now the Conservatives want to privatise the roads on the grounds that we do not have enough money to build or repair the network. Some thoughts.

First, governments, even indebted ones, can raise money for infrastructure cheaper than the the private sector (as the Private Finance Initiative demonstrates only too well). Second, tapping into sovereign wealth funds means ceding infrastructure to the Gulf States? Third, we know it is not about raising money, rather it is about paying big business well to run services that we can manage better – cheaper – inside. The railways are a case in point, nomatter how the Transport Secretary thinks she can reorganise the railways, the private sector has milked and will continue to milk the public coffers because they can. Because we let them. And every time the Government offers more assets, not surprisingly they accept them and get fatter.

Privatisation of the NHS

Why do the Conservatives hate public provision of services so much? The Guardian reported this week the privatisation of NHS Devon and Devon county council’s frontline services for children including some child protection services, treatment for mentally ill children and adolescents, therapy and respite care for those with disabilities, health visiting, and palliative nursing for dying children.

Who are the two front runners in this £130m contract? Serco and Virgin. Seemingly fallen by the wayside is a joint bid between Devon Partnership NHS trust, bidding along with Barnardo’s and other local charities.

I’m no fan of poor NHS management and care. But it does matter who runs the NHS. It does matter that those running it are not subject to shareholder pressure. Money is tight enough as it is, adding another shareholder dimension is unhelpful or even unethical. Virgin branded healthcare is in bad taste.

American assassin of Afghanistan

A lone man with personal problems was responsible for the massacre of 16 civilians in an Afgahn village on 11 March. The soldier, a 38 year old staff sergeant, we are told, was under stress, had himself been injured and had recently seen some of his own comrades seriously injured resulting from Taliban attacks. It was too much for him, seemingly. He left his compound, found some houses in a nearby village and then shot 16 people in the head. Now in custody in the USA, we’ll see what justice is meted out.

The story needs unpicking somewhat. Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent, reports that something like this was anticipated. General John Allen addressed the soldiers a mere three weeks before against taking revenge against Afghans for American losses arising from the riots generated after American soldiers foolishly burned copies of the Koran. ‘Now is not the time…’ etc (not sure if any time is the time for murderous revenge, but we take the point).

The media has, however, bought into the the lone deranged madman story, rather than reporting that he was in actual fact a cold-blooded murderer of Afghan civilians.

At best, this is shocking news reportage – across the board. At worst, collusion. This is not what the news media are for. Shameful.

The special relationship

So David Cameron is now in The USA shoring up the special relationship. The speeches yesterday on the Whitehouse lawn were somewhat over-the-top with respect to how fabulous the Camerons and the Obamas are. The description of beacons of liberty, freedom, justice, etc. from both sides seemed to have a certain other worldliness quality. Where does constant regime change, interference in other countries’ affairs, Guantanamo Bay, assassination squads, privatisation, bank bailouts….fit into all of this.

Nice clothes.

Cigarettes in the German spring

This is certainly turning out to be quite a thread for me. Whenever I pass through Laim station in Munich, I must view the latest episode in the smoking young people for Pall Mall. The latest has a spring theme. Same old toxic sticks. But now we can smoke them on the green pastures of the Alps.