Tag Archives: pensions

46 years after Stonewall

On the last Saturday night of June, 46 years ago, white New York police raided a queer bar in the Village, called the Stonewall inn, and the intended victims – black and Hispanic, trans and genderqueer – fought back.

That night and the name of the bar became a gay icon: not just the US, but around the world.

In 1969, in England and Wales, sex between two men in private if both were over 21 had been decriminalised. Police harassment had stepped up: the police now believed they had been given specific limits on where and who they could harass for being gay.

LGBT people would not be allowed to serve openly in the UK armed services until 1999: until 2003, it was completely legal for an employer to fire an employee for our sexual orientation. Last year the ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in Scotland: this year Ireland became the first country in the world to declare marriage equality by majority vote in a national referendum: Northern Ireland is the standout anti-gay land in the British Isles, but perhaps not for too much longer. (Although the Supreme Court decision overshadowed it, yesterday a Belfast high court judge granted judicial review to couples who wanted to be able to convert their civil partnership to a marriage.)

On the last Friday in June, yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that nowhere in the US can same-sex couples be banned from marriage.
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On Christian Values

When I first started this blog, I planned to make a post a day. And real life kind of got in the way, as it does, and I’ve been making posts whenever a news item catches my attention and I have the time to write it. It’s Sunday morning on a beautiful frosty day and I want to go out with my camera and take photos of it, but I do have time to make one blog post, and two news items that have caught my attention: gay marriage, and the latest stupid thing David Cameron said. On the face of it these have nothing to do with each other, so I’m going to do a blog post about both.

On Friday 15th December, David Cameron made a speech to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. I love books, and I’d be happy for Cameron to make many speeches celebrating their birthdays. It’s something we don’t do often enough.

What Cameron said, though:

“But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.”

I have no idea if Cameron actually goes to church, but if he does, and if his minister has any conscience or sense of humour at all, here’s the text (2 Samuel 12) Cameron should be listening to today, from the King James Bible in all its rolling thunder of glory:

1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

As Fred Clerk at Slacktivist says, this is an alien story from another world: “it illustrates just how vastly different our view of the world and of God has become from the view that Nathan and David shared. David was guilty of adultery and murder. He knew himself to be guilty of those things. And Nathan didn’t walk in and point his finger at the king and say, “You are an adulterer and a murderer!” Instead, Nathan told a story to help David understand that he was guilty of something even worse. He told a story to help the king understand that he had become a rich man who had stolen from a poor man.“.

David Cameron cast a vote against the EU treaty in order to protect City of London financial services, who are in plain fact robbing from poor people to give to the very richliterally stealing from widows and orphans:

Highly paid City traders are depriving pensioners and savers of thousands of pounds through high management fees that are often hidden, according to leaked advice provided by consultants to the Treasury. The charges are spreading and are so steep that savers may find they get less back in retirement than they invested in savings accounts and pensions over their lifetimes.

As Avedon Carol notes in The Sideshow:

Krugman, DeLong, and Atrios all seem baffled by Cameron’s destructive austerity policies and the LibDems’ continued failure to balk at wrecking the country. Things might clear up if they read Chris Floyd and realized that what we have in the LibDems is pretty much the same thing as what we have in the Democratic Party: “But here is the result of all this serious savviness on behalf of progressive ideals: the LibDems are now helping implement the most regressive policies that Britain has seen since the Victorian era. They are presiding — happily, even giddily — over the wanton ravaging of a society already brought low by the brutal, bipartisan religious extremists — blind, fanatic worshippers of Mammon — who have held sway in Britain, America and Europe for more than 30 years. The LibDems are Obama: socially liberal, fiscally conservative, willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of millions of innocent people to save a thuggish elite from facing the slightest consequence of their own criminal greed and stupidity.” Yes, they are Mammonists. They’re not liberal, they’re not democratic, and they are not your friends.

This morning in the Scotland on Sunday, an entire leader was devoted to something that the Catholic Church in Scotland appears to perceive as “Christian values” – banning all religious groups from performing same-sex marriages on the grounds that a few very powerful religious groups object. This ban on religious freedom is being described as a “compromise deal” which would lift the ban on same-sex couples getting married but “with the caveat that the ceremonies must be held in a civil setting”. David Cameron’s government has proposed exactly the same ban on religious freedom in England and Wales for a consultation to begin next year. The claim is that this would prevent religious groups and individuals from being sued if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, but this is something the anti-marriage brigade always say, and it’s absurd: there is no legal way that anyone in the UK can force any minister of religion to perform a marriage against their faith. Which all of the religious leaders know perfectly well. They’re just bearing false witness in the pursuit of their political goal.

Is the Scottish Government actually seriously thinking about enforcing a ban on multiple churches, faith groups, and the Humanist Society of Scotland, which seventeen faith groups and 24 religious leaders have already publicly told Alex Salmond they will oppose?

Well, yes, they probably are. In much the same way as, after World War I, the US government seriously considered invading Canada.

Over 50,000 responses were made to the Scottish Government’s consultation on equal marriage. 28,000 of those responses were simple postcards preprinted with a “No to same-sex marriage” message, distributed at Mass across 450 parishes as part of an anti-marriage campaign by the Catholic Church (which got a 14% return rate from Mass-going Catholics, rather demonstrating that their claims to speak for all Scottish Catholics in this were as bogus as the signatures on the Scotland for Marriage petition). Each of those cards will be recognised as a “no” vote, but they don’t constitute a detailed response.

But the Scottish Government do have to consider over 30,000 detailed responses to their consultation. Of those, about 24,000 were positive responses. Out of the 6,000 negative responses, undoubtedly more than one proposed the “compromise deal” of allowing same-sex couples civil marriage while banning all religious groups from providing a legally-valid religious ceremony for same-sex couples. As the SoS editorial admits at the very end, when they asked the Scottish Government for comment, they were told : “We have given an assurance that all opinions will be listened to, no final views have been reached and therefore no decisions have been taken.” (Which today they confirmed on Twitter: “Re story on same sex marriage in SoS: it is w/o foundation. No decision has been taken. Ministers still considering consultation responses.”)

The notion is current in American Christianity that you express being a Christian best by declaring yourself against homosexuality and especially against same-sex couples getting married. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has made clear he subscribes to that view of “Christian values”, and I suspect that insofar as David Cameron thinks about Christianity, he tends that way too: I doubt for all his praise of the King James Bible, that he’s actually read it.

1 Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.
2 And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. Micah 2)*

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Luke 16

The Occupy Edinburgh camp is just five minutes walk from St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. The message of the Occupy movement is far closer to the Christian values of the King James Bible than any message of homophobia that Cardinal O’Brien may be preaching in his church today.

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*For those who haven’t made the connection: Youtube: Financial Crisis Explained: Subprime Mortgage / New Statesman: The next financial crisis

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Don’t set the house on fire

I had been to the pensions and privatisation meeting at Meadowbank, where in a small room called the Thistle Lounge (no, I don’t know either) about a hundred people listened to about a dozen speakers – most of whom were better-informed about the current crisis than most people you hear on Question Time.

The link between pensions and privatisation: public sector workers get low wages but they get what should be a rock solid pension – they pay for it with a substantial contribution out of their wages. If a publicly-run service is to be sold to a private company, the pension for which the workers have been paying can be enough to make the service unprofitable, or at least not very tempting, to a private buyer. The solution, in the minds of those who see privatisation as the solution to everything, is to give the public sector pensions such a hammering that they’ll be worth no more than a private sector pension, or even less, and thus make the service more tempting to a buyer. Privatisation does no one any favours except the people who are rich enough to think in those terms.

So when the public sector union workers go on strike on November 30th to defend their pensions, they’re also defending the public services they work for against a sale to private companies who will operate their Government-given monopoly on terms most profitable to them – and it won’t matter any more what we think of the services, because we won’t even be their customers – that will be the councils.

In Edinburgh, the Council has offered a nine-year contract to a private company and apparently, when it discovered by Mori poll that people in Edinburgh regard private companies as only out for a profit, privatisation always meaning services being cut and diminished in quality, and the Council as unfit to manage such huge transfers from public to private, they redefined these views as “myths” and a “knowledge gap”. Because after all it’s not as if we’ve any direct experience on the Council throwing millions to a private company and making appallingly stupid financial decisions. Not at all. Trams, what trams?

Thinking this, I walked from Meadowbank to Easter Road and caught the 35. I got off the 35 bus by The Shore at the temporary bus stop just past the Sandport Place bridge. There was a strong smell of burning in the air – very thick and unpleasant. I turned towards The Shore, and saw smoke and a small crowd of people outside the Waterline Pub, which had closed early – it was about quarter to nine in the evening. There was smoke coming from the window of the flat immediately above the pub, where the windows were dark. The flats above had lighted windows.

What follows all took place in about five minutes. I saw a red light through the window in the dark flat and realised that this was a real fire. I heard someone else asking if someone had called the fire brigade, and an affirmative answer. The window of the flat above opened and someone looked out and called down something about the smoke, and was told from the street that this was a fire – get back from the window. She couldn’t see how bad the fire was, as we could from the street, but the smoke must have been blowing right in her window. Several people called to her that the fire brigade had been called, to get back. She called down then – and sounded really panicked – “we can’t get out!” The stair must have been full of smoke. A girl who had been to a judo class – she was still wearing her gi and had a backpack on – asked me if they would be OK, and I told her, someone had called the fire brigade, yes, they would. At that point I climbed over the metal fence that separates the road from the footpath by the river, and headed towards the fire, I suppose thinking that there might be a window and we might be able to help. And then I called 999 and told them where I was and there was a fire and people were trapped. And literally just as I was speaking on the phone three fire engines came up, Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue, and the relief. Seriously. I know, because of the timestamp on the photos I took, that all of that took place in five minutes or less, but it felt like much longer.

They’re one of the oldest municipal fire services in the world. They’re good at what they do. It was a bad fire, with two storeys of flats above the fire, with thick choking smoke. But everyone in the building got out alive, no casualties, fire put out.

That’s a dramatic use of public services. There’s a thousand other less dramatic public services. But they’re all vital. And we don’t want to turn any of them over to private companies who want to make a profit out of them. And we don’t want to cheat them on their pensions, either.

So I’ll be joining the rally in Edinburgh on 30th November.

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