Category Archives: Education

Did the young Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Brasier play SimCity?

Having seen the beneficial effect of this computer game on a six-year old, a teacher advocates placing it on the national curriculum.

In every different edition of SimCity, the player is given the task of founding and developing a city from a patch of green land, defining what buildings are constructed via development zones – residential zones for Sims to live in; commercial zones for Sims to shop and have offices within; industrial zones to provide work through factories, laboratories and farms – as well as ensuring their citizens are kept happy through establishing various services and amenities, all while keeping a stable budget.

People report problems and the mayor addresses them – his objective: to keep as many people happy as possible.

SimCity 3000: (the environment and localisation now come into the equation); by allowing certain structures to be built within the city, the player could receive a substantial amount of funds from them. The four business deal structures are the maximum security prison, casino, toxic waste conversion plant, and the Gigamall (a large shopping center). Business deal structures however have serious negative effects on a city. The toxic waste dump lowers both the land value and residential desirability in the area surrounding it and produces massive pollution. The prison dramatically decreases land value. The casino increases citywide crime and the Gigamall weakens demand for local commerce.

Too late now – but if the young Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Brasier had been educated by the SimCity ’game’ (now used in urban planning offices!), Michael might well have grown up less willing to play real-life war-games, Jeremy could be ensuring good care for all the sick and frail and Theresa might be putting into practice her rhetorical concern for the less fortunate in our society.

 

 

 

 

 

Taxpayers unwittingly fund GM trials as the prospect of leaving wiser European counsellors looms

Will agri-business be allowed to charge ahead, imposing genetically modified food on an unwilling public?  

This is Rothamsted research centre, one of the country’s largest agricultural research stations.

The work is publicly funded through a £696,000 grant from the government’s UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and $294,000 from the US Department of Agriculture. Other partners include the universities of Lancaster and Illinois.

https://gmandchemicalindustry9.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/taxpayers-unwittingly-fund-gm-trials-as-the-prospect-of-leaving-wiser-european-counsellors-looms/

 

 

 

Admirable politicians 8 & 9:  Barry Gardiner and Angela Rayner

Steve Beauchampé sends a welcome lead, enabling Labour MP Barry Gardiner to be added to Political Concern’s ‘Admirable politician’ category – the first since May 2014, when MEP Molly Scott Cato was featured as the 7th.

Steve’s link to a Sunday interview on Sky News was accompanied by the comments that “(Gardiner) handles the interview with ease, batting away her questions. I increasingly find him arguably the most impressive member of the Shadow Cabinet”.

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As Shadow Secretary for International Trade, Barry Gardiner spoke to Sophy Ridge on her Sunday politics programme about Labour’s difficult week following the Party’s Copeland by-election loss.

barry-gardinerCalmly and with authority, he discussed the nuclear issues affecting the Copeland vote and Jeremy Corbyn’s misrepresented position on nuclear power.

He spoke compellingly on Labour’s forcefully expressed parliamentary concerns about new proposals for business rates, funding formulas and disability benefits – later moving on to analyse the divisive effect of Brexit.

This positive news brought to mind that a few hours earlier, listening to the Sunday repeat of Question Time, Labour’s shadow minister for education Angela Rayner was outstanding. She becomes the 9th admirable politician.

She had all the relevant facts at her fingertips and was able to present them in a way which confounded Conservative minister Justine Greening – no mean feat.

The Telegraph reports that some of her Conservative opponents have asked whether she has the qualifications to fulfil her responsibilities as shadow education secretary. “I may not have a degree – but I have a Masters in real life,” she replied.

angela-raynerAngela grew up on a Stockport council estate, brought up by a mother who couldn’t read or write.

Her life was, she has said, heading in the wrong direction until: “Labour’s Sure Start centres gave me and my friends, and our children, the support we needed to grow and develop”.

And without the NHS, she proclaims, her son Charlie, who was born prematurely, would not be alive today.

Barry and Angela are some of Jeremy Corbyn’s most able colleagues – towers of strength.

New readers: a search will reveal that in order of date, starting with MEP Molly Scott Cato in 2014, the other admirable politicians featured were John Hemming, Andrew George, Margaret Hodge, Tony Benn, Salma Yacoob and Irish senator David Norris.

 

 

 

Robin Hoods cyber-rescue climate-change-related data disappearing from whitehouse.gov

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News in America and abroad but not in Britain – why?

Strange. The nearest to British reportage came from the Guardian who merely opened: “Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said”.

Read Quartz and others who have seen the American media reports and passed on an action-packed story which first broke in the Los Angeles Times.

As Donald Trump was sworn into office as the new president of the US on Jan. 20, a group of around 60 programmers and scientists were gathered in the Department of Information Studies building at the University of California-Los Angeles, harvesting government data.

Quartz continues:

“A spreadsheet detailed their targets: Webpages dedicated to the Department of Energy’s solar power initiative, Energy Information Administration data sets that compared fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and fuel cell research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to name a few out of hundreds.

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“Many of the programmers who showed up at UCLA for the event had day jobs as IT consultants or data managers at startups; others were undergrad computer science majors. The scientists in attendance, including ecologists, lab managers, and oceanographers, came from universities all over Southern California. A motley crew of data enthusiasts who assemble for projects like this is becoming something of a trend at universities across the country: Volunteer “data rescue” events in Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Michigan over the last few weeks have managed to scrape hundreds of thousands of pages off of EPA.gov, NASA.gov, DOE.gov, and whitehouse.gov, uploading them to the Internet Archive. Another is planned for early February at New York University.

“Hackers, librarians, scientists, and archivists had been working around the clock, at these events and in the days between, to download as much federal climate and environment data off government websites as possible before Trump took office. But suddenly, at exactly noon on Friday as Trump was sworn in, and just as the UCLA event kicked off, some of their fears began to come true: The climate change-related pages on whitehouse.gov disappeared. It’s typical of incoming administrations to take down some of their predecessor’s pages, but scrubbing all mentions of climate change is a clear indication of the Trump administration’s position on climate science . . .

“Over the first 100 days of the new administration, a volunteer team of programmers will be scanning government websites and comparing them to the archived, pre-Trump versions, to check for changes. to produce a weekly report on changes . . .  “

It is feared that large government data sets related to climate change and environmental health that scientists use for research will be lost next – for example, the Environmental Protection Agency database of air quality monitoring data might become a target of Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, based on Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA to roll back air pollution regulations.

Read more about the agencies involved in rescue and storage – one being Page Freezer which has three data centers, one in the US, one in Europe, and one in Canada – which will put the information out of reach of the US government.

 

 

 

Media 71: Peter Burgess tells the truth and pulls no punches

jeremy-corbyn-2Much of the media is taking its usual stance referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘handlers’ as though he were a pit bull terrier. The Times has determined that he was making a bid to relaunch his leadership which has been derailed and Jim Pickard in the FT, author of many hostile articles, focusses on pay caps but not pay ratios.

It is good to turn to sane and rightminded commentators such as Peter Burgess (Times comments) and Maisie Carter (recent article). Peter spells out the Corbyn message with absolute clarity and rather more bluntly than JC:

  • It is very clear he wants top execs pay to reflect that of the lowest paid worker for them to earn more and not rely on tax payers to boost their salaries and for the top execs to earn a decent salary but nor one that is obscene (sadly so many Tories want to see the poor get poorer and the rich richer).
  • He also wants to ensure that we continue to bring in workers when needed but ensure they don’t depress wages for British workers.
  • Of course those at the top getting obscene salaries want to disgrace Corbyn because the last thing they want is for their salaries to fall under £500,000 a year.
  • There’s big and there’s obscene especially when they are telling others to tighten their belts, can’t afford to pay you more then handing themselves 7 and 8 figure salaries and bonuses.
  • What shows double standards are all those commenting on here who think salaries of over £100,000 a year are too much if somebody is running the NHS, a local authority or running a Union.
  • I do find it difficult to understand how anybody can find the policies which have allowed so many workers to have their wages and working conditions deteriorate whilst CEO’s are paying themselves up to 700x the salary of their employees as being fair and something they’d support.
  • I would add that labour to their shame played an important part in allowing these obscene differentials since Maggie was in office. Some of them thought £500,000 a year for them and their friends was not enough.
  • Yes Corbyn needs to keep shaming all those, including some labour MP’s who’ve happily supported the policy of “austerity” that have hit the poorest whilst allowing the richest to continue to get richer.
  • I’d support a return to the differentials back in the days of Maggie. Top execs back then were hardly struggling. 20x / 30x acceptable 700x isn’t!

Endnote: Maisie Carter’s appeal

“Unite around Jeremy Corbyn’s ten point programme, which proposes the building of one million homes in five years, a free national education service, a secure, publicly provided NHS, with an end to health privatisation, full employment, an end to zero hours contracts, security at work, action to secure an equal society, a progressive tax system, shrink the gap between highest and lowest paid; aim to put conflict resolution and human rights at the heart of foreign policy.  On the last point, as the wars waged or aided by the West are the cause of mass immigration, we must step up foreign aid and instead of spending £37bn a year on foreign wars as our government does, invest in helping to rebuild these war torn countries”.

Read Maisie’s article in full here.

 

 

 

Reward for failure – 30: Jeremy Hunt

0223a RH 151271128, Byline: Rosie Hallam, Downloaded: 2012/09/04 10:19:00+0100, Shot: 2012/09/04 10:11:55+0100 LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Jeremy Hunt arrives at 10 Downing Street on the day Prime Minister David Cameron announces a government reshuffle. On September 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Rosie Hallam/Getty Images)

A concerned reader sends this link to a junior doctor’s blog – summarised:

There’s been enough of heated opinion lately- so let’s just serve cold hard facts.

Hunt’s plan to replace foreign doctors with ‘homegrown’ talent is as laughable as it is xenophobic. We are already in the midst of a workforce crisis:

  • applications to medical school dropped 13.5% in the last 5 years,
  • increasing numbers of junior doctors are leaving training and the country,
  • the existing doctor workforce increasingly cover the work of two or more doctors
  • 7 in 10 doctors work in departments where at least one doctor is missing,
  • 2/5 of consultant posts are unfilled,
  • 96% of doctors work in wards with nurse shortages.
  • Health Education England, the body that funds training of so-called ‘homegrown’ talent, has had its budget slashed by £1 billion next year
  • Around 25% of the doctor workforce are non-UK, and 10-15% of all NHS staff.

We are well below the European average in hospital beds per person and doctors per person in the NHS as we are – yet Jeremy Hunt plans to push away up to a quarter of the workforce and cut the training budget.

He has no plans to actually address the drop in ‘homegrown’ talent already, a direct repercussion of Hunt’s own morale plummeting war against the profession and yet Theresa May claims that this year was one of the most successful yet for the NHS.

 

 

 

Is the only response a progressive alliance?

With thanks to the reader working in Uganda who sent this link from which we give extracts:

Peter Hitchens writes:

peter hitchensIt will be good for Britain if Jeremy Corbyn wins his fight to stay as leader of the Labour Party. I agree with the late Queen Mother that the best political arrangement for this country is a good old-fashioned conservative government kept on its toes by a strong Labour Opposition.

There’s no sign of a good old-fashioned conservative government. But Mr Corbyn speaks for a lot of people who feel left out of the recovery we are supposed to be having, and they need a powerful voice in Parliament.

There is nothing good (or conservative) about low wages, insecure jobs and a mad housing market which offers nothing but cramped rooms and high rents to young families just when they need space, proper houses with gardens, and security.

I wish the voiceless millions of conservative patriots had a spokesman as clear and resolute as Mr Corbyn is for his side.

globalisation imagesThe truth is that both major parties have been taken over by the same cult, the Clinton-Blair fantasy that globalism, open borders and mass immigration will save the great nations of the West.

It hasn’t worked. In the USA it has failed so badly that the infuriated, scorned, impoverished voters of Middle America are on the point of electing a fake-conservative yahoo businessman as President.

So far we have been gentler with our complacent elite, perhaps too gentle. Our referendum majority for leaving the EU was a deep protest against many things. But it did not actually throw hundreds of useless MPs out on their ears, as needs to be done. They are all still there, drawing their pay and expenses . . .

If Mr Corbyn wins, our existing party system will begin to totter. The Labour Party must split between old-fashioned radicals like him, and complacent smoothies from the Blair age.

And since Labour MPs have far more in common with Mrs May than with Mr Corbyn, there is only one direction they can take. They will have to snuggle up beside her absurdly misnamed Conservative Party. And so at last the British public will see clearly revealed the truth they have long avoided – that the two main parties are joined in an alliance against them.

And they may grasp that their only response is to form an alliance against the two big parties. Impossible? Look how quickly this happened in Scotland.

greenhouse header

Is such an alliance gathering now? See http://greenhousethinktank.weebly.com/uploads/4/8/3/2/48324387/green_house_progressive_alliance_july_2016.pdf

 

 

 

SNP MP – Britain’s Game of Thrones?

Read the article by Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West and secretary of the SNP Trade Union Group, here.

Highlights

The hard right-wing Brexiters are on manoeuvres, resulting in a Queen’s Speech light on measures for dealing with our society’s major problems. No mention of:

  • the scandal of 209,000 UK workers being denied payment of the legal minimum wage in their pay packets,
  • The absence of any real legislation to deal with the scandal of tax avoidance
  • the absurdity of closing 90 per cent of HMRC offices.

A total of 3,765 workers are employed in the Department for Work and Pensions to tackle benefit fraud estimated at £1.2 billion, while at the same time 320 workers are employed in HM Revenue and Customs’s affluent unit chasing tax evasion and avoidance, estimated at £70bn.

The “blue on blue” attacks may provide some entertainment but . . .

The rhetoric on immigration is shameful. Slogans suggesting that Britain is “flooded” or being “swamped” don’t stand up to the simple reality — EU nationals make up 4.6 per cent of the UK population. equivalent of a net contribution of £55 a second to the public purse 75 per cent of migrants are renting privately, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing, and regulation of private rental costs.

eu 4 myths table

The Tory government handed asylum-seeker services to private-sector providers, such as Orchard and Shipman, which has resulted in those asylum-seekers and refugees being housed in the most appalling disgraceful conditions I’ve witnessed for myself in my constituency. Brexit won’t magically free up affordable, quality public-sector or private rental housing.

The misleading case that EU migration leads to a cut in wages is wrong on several counts.

First, because business is exploiting loopholes in how Britain operates the EU Posted Workers Directive, which guarantees the payment of the national minimum wage and not the rate for the job. This loophole needs to be closed so that workers alongside each other are not being paid different rates of pay for doing the same job.

In terms of workers’ rights those advocating Leave should be careful what they wish for. Recently Employment Minister Priti Patel let the proverbial cat out of the proverbial bag. In a speech to the Institute of Directors she said: “If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs.”

We should certainly not accept her claims on jobs or economic benefits to this kind of deregulation (it rather reminds us of right-wing claims on how the minimum wage would cost a million jobs, when it did the opposite), but her hostile attitude to employment protections is particularly striking and represents the agenda of those on the Conservative benches who back Brexit. These “burdens” viewed from working people’s end of the telescope are actually protections which we should be very keen on.

Freed from the constraints of the EU, it seems entirely likely that, unfettered by EU norms and processes, the Conservative government will sign up to a TTIP on stilts, meaning not just a threat to public services but the safety of goods and services.

The EU is not perfect by any means, and more work requires to be done. Those on the left who argue that our membership is the biggest obstacle to improving workers’ rights and achieving greater levels of equality in our country need to take a good hard look at the levels of damage an even harder right-wing Tory government could inflict post-Brexit on this country.

We in the SNP believe in independence for nations but also in independence within Europe, and a vote to Remain is a bigger protection against the economic and social ravages a right-wing no-holds-barred gang of Tory Brexiteers would inflict on us all.

 

 

 

 

Corbyn is offering truly democratic politics which take the public seriously

Several readers have commented on public consultations organised by local and national government. The narrow subject parameters and the lack of real information lead some to describe these as a charade.

Many allege that they are ‘managed’ – indeed ‘a sham’. The writer attended DfiD meetings years ago which – by preselecting discussion group leaders and issuing prepared minutes – got the desired result.

A search reveals such allegations: for example over Vauxhall bus station, NHS agency worker price caps, Nuneaton urgent care review, North East Lincolnshire Council future waste management, the M4 relief road and the Ministry of Defence Strategic Defenceand Security Review.

Anna Minton, the 1851 Royal Commission Fellow in the Built Environment, wrote in the FT about consultations dismissed as “a sham” by local communities:

“Consultation is a statutory requirement for councils and developers to which huge resources are devoted, with the rhetoric of community participation at the centre of every development brief. But time and again residents claim that consultations are carried out in name only, with “roadshows” and “exhibitions” by lobbying companies replacing public meetings. ‘You turn up, they tell you what they want to do, you go and they call that consultation’ “. She describes allegations of underhand tactics and dirty tricks subverting democratic processes:

  • there have been planning meetings elsewhere packed with actors,
  • fake letter-writing campaigns from non-existent supporters of controversial schemes
  • and “astro-turfing”: setting up by lobbying companies of apparently grassroots groups in favour of development.
  • The writer recently found out by chance that residents closest to a proposed development were just not informed of the consultation – only a few people from further afield attended.

Lesley Docksey writes of another tactic, “Make the questions so hard to understand that only those elements of business that support the government position will be able to answer them”. She gives a case history:

With just three days to go before the closing date, the Guardian alerted me to a DECC consultation on Feed in Tariffs (FITs) for solar energy. The government wants to reduce subsidies for solar energy by a massive 87%. Let people pay for it themselves while taxpayers’ money goes into nuclear and fracking seems to be their position.

Question 5 asked this:

“Do you agree or disagree that the updated assumptions produced by Parsons Brinckerhoff are reflective of the current costs of deployment for UK projects in your sector? If you disagree, please set out how they differ and provide documented evidence, such as invoices and/or contractual agreements to support this evidence. Please also mark this evidence as commercially sensitive where appropriate.”

My comment:

This and the following questions are aimed solely at industry. Has it escaped your notice that this “econsultation” is taking place on Citizen Space and should therefore take account of the voices of the citizens as well as business? Or are the technical questions there to frighten us off? For 15 of the following questions I answered “Comment as Question 5.”

Then I came to Question 30:

Do you agree or disagree that we should introduce a cap on the amount of overseas generated renewable electricity that can be exempt from the costs of the scheme? Do you agree that the cap for 2016/17 should be calculated based on the number of GoOs recognised in 2013/14, increased by 10% twice to match the cap under the CFD Supplier Obligation?

To “Comment as Question 5” I added “This is sheer gobbledygook for the average person in “Citizen Space”.

Well, could you understand any of it? Or do you, as I did, get the feeling they really don’t want our answers? That would interfere with what they have already decided to do.

The answers MPs and MEPs come up with are even worse. Consider this from Ashley Fox, Conservative MEP for the West Country:

“The regulation regarding all derivative products, including commodities is being driven globally by the G20 objectives to reduce risk through increased transparency and use of central clearing. The EU is implementing these measures via the European Markets Infrastructure Regulation. The future trading of these financial instruments on electronic platforms as opposed to bilateral contracts will be addressed in the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II and any abusive behaviour by market participants is covered under the Markets Abuse Directive Review. It is important that position limits are used as part of a wider tool box available to market supervisors in order to ensure the proper functioning of the market…” and so on.

Did you understand that? Did the MEPs understand it?

Conservative MEP Julie Girling produced exactly the same reply. The paragraphs were in a different order, and she admitted it had actually been drafted by Kay Swinburn, Conservative MEP for Wales. They needed a standard reply because so very many people had emailed their MEPs about this. Shouldn’t that have told them something?

What we are witnessing is the abject failure of democracy at local level

Anna Minton sets the context: “Building on Conservative thinking about localism and “open source planning”, the coalition agreement pledged to instigate “a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people”, in order to promote “democratic engagement”. Instead what we are witnessing is the abject failure of democracy at local level”.

Corbyn mode

Lesley Docksey continues, “In contrast, because Corbyn and his team think the public should be consulted, and because I have a rural post code, I was asked to take part in a consultation about rural life. The questions were all about how I perceived the issues and problems in rural areas. In other words, tell us how it is, we will listen and then, with your help, work out the policies needed.

“It is this that Joe Public picks up on. He (or she) may or may not join the Labour Party but… despite the sneering and backstabbing, and the plans to oust Corbyn, the kind of politics he is offering takes the public seriously. Our opinions, the people’s opinions, aims and desires matter. And it really is about time the Parliamentary Labour Party recognised that.

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Economists welcome Corbyn’s policy proposals

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As thousands flock to hear Jeremy Corbyn in England, Scotland and Wales (before the Bristol meeting, above), OurKingdom, a section of Open Democracy which focusses on the crisis of democracy in Britain, addresses mainstream devaluation of his economic proposals, which would be of benefit to the 99%.

It sees the recent statement by Jeremy Corbyn that “austerity is a policy choice not economic necessity” as providing a welcome return to serious discussion in the Labour leadership debate.

Economists from several countries and those named below have welcomed Corbyn’s proposals as opening up fruitful new areas for public discussion on the economy.

Many of Corbyn’s policies are advocated by prominent economists and commentators. One example is his proposal to fund public investment by the sale of bonds to the Bank of England. Yet, until now, politicians competing to hold the centre ground have largely ignored such policies or cast them as unthinkable.

Corbyn’s proposals should also be welcomed by his opponents for stimulating serious discussion of crucial issues such as the role of the public sector in investment, management of debt and money, and how to tackle inequality.

It is to Corbyn’s credit that he has broadened the policy discussion so that the shared assumptions behind the narrow range of policies advocated by both  the Conservative government and the other Labour leadership candidates are now being debated.

American Nobel prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have sent messages of support, and in British universities the following teachers and researchers in economics signed this statement:

Victoria Chick, University College London

Susan Himmelweit, Open University

Malcolm Sawyer, Annina Kaltenbrunner, Gary Dymski, Ruth Pearson and

Hugo Radice, University of Leeds

Ann Pettifor and Jeremy Smith, Prime Economics

Steve Keen, Eva Karwowski and Engelbert Stockhammer, Kingston University

Alfredo Saad, Guy Standing, John Weeks, Carlos Oya, George Irvin, Ioana Negru, and Chris Cramer, School of African and Oriental Studies

Jo Michell, Susan Newman, Daniela Gabor, Andrew Mearman,  University of the West of England

Ozlem Onaran, Jeff Powell, Mehmet Ugur, Giovanni Cozzi and Maria Nikolaidi, University of Greenwich

Simon Mohun, Queen Mary University

Neil Lancastle, DeMontfort University

James Meadway, City University

John Grahl, Middlesex University

Rhys Jenkins, University of East Anglia