The Lust for Personal Power without Popular Support Is Not a Winning Strategy Forever

Amersfoort, Netherlands     In these days, perhaps in all days, when autocracy, as a strategy and set of tactics, seems so attractive to so many politicians and wannabe royals in their lust for power under any terms, there’s some small comfort in seeing such techniques come to wreck and ruin, even if the damage in the meantime is inestimable.

Poor Carrie Lam, the mayor of Hong Kong, is a fair example.  After almost thirteen weeks of escalating protests by pro-democracy adherents both in the streets and behind doors against her Beijing-concocted policy to extradite people to mainland China and its questionable judicial system, she was once again forced to withdraw the extradition proposal.  Of course, having refused to negotiate for weeks while protests went unabated, she has no credibility now, since even conceding seems unilateral, rather than part of a corrective process.  Protests are likely to continue.  Here is the irony.  Reportedly, Lam has been trying to resign in the face of her own impotence before the protests, but has said to associates that Beijing will not allow it.  They have not reported that Beijing told her, you make your bed, you sleep in it, but it’s possible.

Then there’s the tragic case of Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar or Burma, as some still know it, who has gone from the Noble prize-winning ranks to Mandela, King and others to become the stone faced and silent apologist for genocide among the Rohingya people of her country who practice Islam, rather than Buddhism.  Once jailed and quarantined by the country’s military rulers, she has now become their face, rather than their critic, in the midst of unspeakable horrors and the displacement of almost a half-million people.  Is this the price of power?

Globally, British television is more known for its dark crime procedurals than the humor of its comedic farces, which seem tailored more to a local taste, but now we all can witness in real time that the British origin of “House of Cards” is also more likely farcical, than fictional, as we watch the ruthlessness of Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit, once seen as clown, now made the fool.  First, in pure Kevin Spacey fashion, he undermines Theresa May, not that any would really care, but he does so, as she did, heedless to the peril of Great Britain.  Then once he has the Prime Minister’s position, he suspends Parliament creating a constitutional crisis so he can try to ram through Brexit, the withdrawal from the European Union, without debate by running out the clock.  The opposition and some renegades from his own party, vote him down easily, since in his antics he seems to have forgotten that he had only had a one-seat majority.  He then ruthlessly throws twenty-eight nay voters out of his party to try and force an election.  But, like Mayor Lam, having no credibility, there’s no agreement to a snap election without forcing a vote to extend the Brexit deadline.

I flipped channels before collapsing in the Netherlands and got to watch one commentator after another excoriate Johnson in English, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch.  The message was unmistakable in all languages.

How is bypassing the people in your lust for power working out for any politicians today?  Maybe possible in the short run, but perhaps not for long, giving all of us hope still.

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Sanctions, Starvation, and Clawbacks in England’s Universal Credit

crowd files in early as 40 plus members and friends settled in for the show

Bristol      The “beast of the east” weather front roaring from Siberia to the United Kingdom was collecting front page headlines as it dumped snow on southern England, trapping some people in stuck trains for 12 or more hours and worse.  Coming from Paris, I had hoped to escape the storm, but waking up early I found a note that my plane was cancelled, and I needed to figure out a way to hop a train to get to Bristol.  The Eurostar under the Chunnel was pretty straightforward, but getting a train to Bristol had me standing open-mouthed in Paddington station looking at one train after another cancelled to Bristol Temple Meads, only solved by the Great Western Railway people having me – and many others – jump a train that was going through to Bridgend in Wales:  standing room only!  Snow everywhere, but it seemed to be receding, until we left the station, starving and popped into a huge Weatherspoon’s, one of the conglomerate pub operations, and found that they were out of food.  In fact, so was KFC and one place after another.  The beast had brought everything to a standstill.

The show must go on, and we had another packed house, approaching fifty ACORN Bristol members and supports at the Barton Heights Settlement House with a full complement of members handling tickets (47 presold with only 8 no-shows, so beast beware!), concessions, and production, no translation necessary.

getting set at the Barton Heights Settlement House

One of the most interesting questions came later at a curry house after the show, and focused on the emerging crisis for lower income families involving England’s new welfare and benefits scheme, “universal credit,” as it is called.  This has been in the making for quite some time, but in one pilot and rollout after another, the fierceness of this war against the poor, is being implemented, and Bristol in now counting the days when it is phased in here.  Without getting too far into the weeds on the policy prescriptions, universal credit, as argued by the government, seeks to consolidate all of the benefits into one check, while at the same time lowering benefits, increasing work requirements, and making receipt and continuation of benefits more difficult.

In talking with the organizers about how to confront this program and organize beneficiaries, two of its provisions already being implemented seemed more out of a Charles Dickens novel and the horrors of Victorian poverty, than modern England.  The first is the abnormal delay in receiving benefits once qualified:  six weeks.  Of course, you ask, how would anyone make it six weeks without money?  Here the punitiveness of the program becomes predatory.  The government allows you to borrow some from your future check, so that even once you are established the recipient is “paying back” their own benefit money.  Who thinks this stuff up?  Furthermore, since ACORN is a tenants’ union in the United Kingdom as well, we have been flooded with cases where the landlords triggered the forced “loans,” because they were unwilling to wait for their rent money until the tenant received their checks in six weeks.

organized signup and books table

It gets worse though.  Organizers were telling me about families who had gotten “sanctions” for even the most minor situations, like missing a case officer meeting or a work appointment with a sick child or their own illness.  The sanctions are no hand slap.  I heard of one for 6 weeks for a missed appointment, and another who was barred for two years.  No money, no housing subsidy, no nothing.  The entire policy seems designed to create homelessness and complete destitution.

The clawbacks are also amazing down to forced refunds and potential penalties if a claimant doesn’t report money from pawning something or selling an old couch in desperation.  Getting a little work to survive, means not only clawbacks, but even worse sanctions if discovered.

On this war against the poor in Britain, there’s going to be a body count, visible on the streets, unless we – and others – can organize recipients to demand basic human rights to life itself.

Bristol ACORN even had snacks and treats just like a real cinema
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