Tag Archives: government

Council and Accountability: whom serves whom?

This is a double post

We’ve been through a time where two key matters are raised: who is sovereign, and who is accountable to who? They are of course related.

I’ve taken up sovereignty here, but the two questions are stacked: who has ultimate power and agency, and who holds that to account?

Governments have the power to intervene in as well as to provide for many aspects of our life: what we consume, what we learn, what we can do and what can be done to us; where we live, where we work, where we walk, where we ride and where we rest – our cars, and our bodies, when they go wrong, we when can’t look after our own, and when we leave them behind. Our government forces taxes at a rate which it chooses – not us – from all but those deemed on too low an income. It also takes from the goods we buy – those whose pay is not docked for National Insurance and income tax do contribute to the treasury, as there’s no such thing as VAT benefit. [Value Added Tax, for any non British readers – added onto goods we buy here].

We might be happy to contribute to both national and local government in order for them to provide the above services. But if you look at how I described them, and consider that tax is paid on pain of punishment, one might feel less comfortable with assumptions about our state.

We made heroes of our ‘keyworkers’ during the lockdown. We’ve even put out thank you notices to our bin collectors, whom we may’ve hitherto taken for granted. But mine have frequently, in ordinary times, not only strewn bins across the streets and muddled them with our neighbours (like elsewhere in this city), but not bothered to collect. I’ve frequently had mine missed, and Norwich city council and their contractor always tried to blame me. They averred that I’d got the date, time and place wrong – I hadn’t – but I noted the many rules and variables they created which made it possible for them to deem that I, not they, were at fault.

Is a missed bin so terrible, even if it’s over 40 times and you need to spend an hour cleaning due to the rot caused by their remiss behaviours? Actually, the bin service is a synecdoche for our relationship with our council. It’s the most obvious service we (as a household) receive from our council in return for our nearly monthly tax to them. We have no choice about paying it, or who provides the refuse service. If it were privately contracted to us, we’d demand money back or sack the refuse collectors if they often failed to collect all our bins. But if we tell the council that this, or any other problem brought to them, has been such for so long that we’re withholding payment, we are liable for prosecution resulting in bailiffs or prison.

Thus this is a massively imbalanced relationship, showing the one more generally between us, the people, and all tiers of our government.

Now as government rules about the virus are being devolved onto shops and services on pain of closure, this becomes a serious problem. In England, shops are given permission to refuse entry if we don’t wear masks. Bars and libraries are told to take our contact details for tracing and self isolation, or they can be shut down.

Is this the benign provider of publicly owned services that I’ve heard left wingers say they are protective of, and won’t hear criticised?

I believe that the council is accountable to me – and to you. Not the other way round.

During the lockdown, some celebrated civil servants came into work, not to provide but to harass. I know someone who was assured that their housing benefit would continue throughout, but days later, a dreaded green chevron edged envelope appeared demanding details of income on pain of benefit stoppage. The council confirmed that no it wasn’t an automated letter going out by mistake, which would be bad enough; but that they did actually require the information within a month, or the benefit would cease… in the middle of a pandemic! The council failed to action the information – which took some gathering – reluctantly provided and then sent another auto letter saying that this claimant was suspended. If they didn’t get the barcoded form with mostly irrelevant questions within another month, benefit would be terminated, and this household would be expected to henceforth pay full rent and council tax (when both were fully provided by the council). Like so many, this person had lost their income and the stress made them ill.

I find this disgraceful, and what’s even more so, is that the council often sends random letters out like this. It doesn’t write bespoke letters – in fact it often takes the involvement of a third party such as a councillor or Citizen’s Advice to get the council to explain themselves. They talk to the third party, without permission of the claimant, and spout bureaucratic rubbish that doesn’t even match the situation.

I do wonder if there is a training course for this style of response, since I’ve seen it so often. It belittles the complainant, making the professional and their organisation sound entirely reasonable.

Like other benefit providers, this East of England city council didn’t confirm if the award was reinstated or not. You just have to check your bank each day, and wonder if they’ll change their minds again next month.

The council so far won’t apologise. It doesn’t understand that it acted deplorably.

Staff should have only come into work during lockdown to put and keep claims into payment – not to take it away. This cut made me highly suspicious: at best, it’s an inefficient system – the same person said it’s their 10th such stoppage. At worst, it’s deliberate draining and straining, trying to recoup from the centrally set ideological austerity budget from the poorest and most in need.

The council swiftly stops talking to complainants – they’ve only a two tier internal system. There’s a free external dispute resolution organisation, but the ombudsman is infamous for further unsympathetic timewasting bureaucracy. The grassroots website holding the Local Government Ombudsman to account has been replaced with a false URL and I saw an LGO report about how to ‘manage’ this troublesome group. So you and your complaint can feel not very heard.

Meanwhile, this council wasted its austerity budget on unnecessary road renewing and ever more security cameras, and new things on poles which I suspect are connected to 5G. I’m perturbed that we’re expected to accept ever greater watching and intensified harmful electromagnetic rays. It is us who need to be vigilant and the watchers need to have the lens turned on them. What are they doing?

The post viral world is demanding this fairness ever more loudly, asking who is this body who controls so much of ours (especially recently) and whether it really is in our or their interest that they act; and if it’s not time to restructure or recreate from a fundamental level. Starting with those apologies…

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I’d like to develop this notion of accountability further, taking it to our local representatives of our next level: our member of parliament.

We of the Western world are proud to speak of living in a democracy, and of universal suffrage, but voting is a passive act: you put a prescribed mark into a prescribed box on a form with preset answers. Most of us did not influence the options given to you, and nor can you make a proviso, suggestion, or say: none of the above. It’s expensive to stand for local or especially national government, and it’s as much about marketing – and which party you’re in – than your own suitability. Our first-past-the-post system in the UK ensures that half of the five main parties, and the many smaller ones and independent candidates, have no realistic chance of being elected. The proportion of overall votes for a party doesn’t translate to seats; and the systems at Westminster are so archaic – as described in Caroline Lucas’ Honourable Friends? – that it’s not easy to stand or get things done.

The public can perhaps contribute a little more at both national and local level than we may realise, but it usually involves going via our representative. We in Britain can attend meetings of either government, but we cannot speak – only watch. For Westminster, there’s a queue and a frisk, putting some off and also adding gravitas to the theatre of state in action – just as there is with its twin pillar: law.

We can make suggestions, either to be discussed at a sitting, privately considered by a minister, or just let our rep know how we feel about an issue. There are some personal problems we might want to bring to them – such as the housing benefit stoppage above, which we can take to a local councillor. To our Member of Parliament, there’s a broader range of issues; we’re often fobbed onto them when we can think of nowhere else to turn. This might include complaints procedures we’ve exhausted, before having to consider media or court action. Their portcullis-headed letters are supposed to have weight. But getting a sympathetic and timely one sent out is not easy.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman covers the public health service and many government ones in the UK – court administration, the valuation office, regulatory offices like OFGEM for energy, and the tax office. Unlike the other public alternative dispute resolution organisations, you can’t complain directly yourself: you must contact your MP, get him or her to sign the form and pass it to the PHSO. This means that if your MP is not sympathetic or efficient that you do not get your final chance for free redress.

I feel that many MPs are show people who make the right speeches, tweets, and appear at the right gatherings…but are less concerned for the very kinds of people they publicly supported when needy individuals appear in their mailbag.

Working Tax Credit is a top up from the tax office for those working full time on a low income. Now being phased out in favour of controversial Universal Credit, WTC was infamous for huge and often spurious overpayment claims, vociferously chased, to the point of ruin and breakdown. It – like other government support – could disappear suddenly, for specious and mysterious reasons. A random ‘compliance’ check can mean the end of your award – even if you fulfil the arduous and often immaterial request (read, demand) timeously.

Speaking to others in consumer forums and the self employed and creative community, it seems that one or both of the above is very common. I suffered both a demand and an axing 7 years ago, and still do not have an award or the backpay I am due – now several thousand pounds. This sudden cessation – which happened twice more – made it very hard to move forward financially, or in any other way. We even wondered if government cuts are related to your conformity. Are they wary of creators who question the system, but reward – with furlough pay during lockdown – those whose contribution to society (read, GDP) they approve? Has the Chinese system of social credit scoring in fact begun here in Britain, and is ‘compliance check’ rather telling? Do systems of redress only work for those whose work is recognised, who accept the money that they are, or are not, given, and do not assertively complain with threats of taking it further if not satisfied?

My MP, Clive Lewis, was slow to act and failed to send the 40 page supporting document with my PHSO claim. I found out over a year later, when the case was finally assessed – it wasn’t upheld, and nor was the review. But joining PHSO: The True Story, I discovered that this wasn’t unusual. Through freedom of information which I and someone I know obtained, the PHSO confessed that out of 33,316 cases in 2014-16, it financially awarded to a mere 845; in 2014-16, 8% of review requests were upheld, and only 1% awarded to. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/percentage_of_review_requests_fo#incoming-927328

It was only through receiving the FOI request on my case that I realised that most of it was missing – as were the papers to the tribunal. PHSO invited me to re-enter for another round of unsatisfactory rigmarole, but Clive, who’d only once written personally and not sympathetically during that year, would not. His aide Adam was rude, stating: we’ve given you alot of time (actually not); we have many vulnerable constituents. I replied incredulously that someone living off half benefit level, literally fighting for her existence due to this cut, who had every part of her life affected, was as vulnerable as any. I came to see it as constructive demise.

But they stopped talking to me. I found out that there’s no way to report, complain about or to de-vote an MP, save the next election. Due to the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, and the desire to stop inequality and Brexit, Labour kept its seat in Norwich South. Hence, when there was another round with HMRC and a related matter, again jeopardising my wellbeing, I had only Clive to turn to. Unlike councillors where there may be a couple in your ward, we only have one MP; and although we can approach any member of the house of lords [lack of capitals deliberate], they cannot become personally involved in our case. Hence we are stuck with one another and I now feel that I do not effectively have an MP, which means no representation in parliament, no voice, and no-one to turn to for those myriad of issues which we have only our MP to recourse to. I can’t go to the PHSO, even if they reform, nor even for the inevitable compensation for their own failings (they did at least cede that – I was one of a dozen that year).

I hope that this has shown that the much vaunted democracy that we try to protect is not living up to its name. It’s a sham elected oligarchy and plutocracy, and our member of parliament shows that our governance not a membership for the people, and our MP is not ‘ours’ in any meaningful way – they’re just who we’re delegated.

I don’t think we’ve moved far from the rotten boroughs supposedly outlawed in the 1832 reform bill. It’s time that we have a far reaching reform, asking fundamental questions, rather than tweaking and repainting what is.

I’d like to ask those in another post, but for now I summarise that both local and national government seem to give and take as they see fit; and now we have global organisations doing the same, and devolving their decisions. I have found that many other institutions and companies – from law to energy providers, banks, and especially those government agencies meant to regulate them – are not meaningfully possible to hold to account. That means that the complaints procedures, and alternative dispute resolution, if there be one for that industry, just don’t work. And that puts us rather at their mercy – and they’re not often very mericiful, as I can personally attest.

In these current times, when the ‘they’ gets greater and more distant and faceless, it is all the more imperative to restore accountability and meaningful dispute resolution.

A site to list Britain’s MPs is called They Work For You; this feels like a timely reminder for our elected representatives, but also a misnomer.

It’s time that name – They Work For You – described exactly what our governments, councillors and MPs (or whatever your country’s equivalent is) do, and that the balance between the people and those who have the privilege of serving us is restored. We do not work, in any sense, for you.

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Are you distressing and discriminating against disabled and diverse people?

How Covid rules are oppressing the marginalised

If your country or state expects you to wear a mask in particular situations – perhaps even whenever you’re outside – then there should be exceptions.

I’m talking about England, but the principles remain wherever you are.

I believe in recommendation, not regulation.

I’ve discussed the dubious legality and medical veracity of masks in a previous post.

I’ve been checking with shops, transport and services about face coverings (note it’s not masks) and their knowledge of exemptions. In England, the rules are broad and vague. It even says that coverings – any kind will do – are to be worn where social distancing isn’t possible – which actually precludes most places.

The government website says that services must be understanding to those that can’t wear face coverings, and one of the non exhaustive reasons is simply those who would suffer distress. That isn’t defined. We’re (rightly) not required to prove or discuss it.

Some staff know the rules, some don’t – and yet they’ve threatened to debar entry without a mask. One train company was even stupid enough to say that if they suspect that people are making an excuse via claiming exemption, they’ll take action.

So will I.

Have they not heard of hidden disabilities? Is every physical condition you have something that everyone knows about you? Are we obliged to get these diagnosed by doctors? (NO).

And neither security nor police have the right to pry or to assess us.

I am very loathe to call autism a disability – I see it as a trait. But there are people in this wide spectrum who more ignorant people don’t recognise as such. Some might struggle with social distancing. It isn’t only those who may obviously appear autistic who get distressed by masks.

There are wider variations of neurodiversity – such as giftedness, high sensitivity, and empaths.

If you don’t recognise these in either sense, then you should not be someone who is front of house, making any decision about entry, policy, or enforcement.

There are people with what we (often unfairly) term mental illness.

There are those with anxiety, and who get panic attacks. I wonder if it affects those with epilepsy.

There are those we call learning disabled, although I’ve seen posters against such a term which can seem so derogatory.

There are those with hearing impairment who need to lip read.

We might also have been traumatised…attacked or abused…

I’m touching just on a few of the types of people who are very distressed by wearing a mask.

This is also true – and perhaps more so – of temperature taking, testing – especially drive throughs, where people are trapped and can’t choose. Having people swab us or inject us is a huge deal.

Some people really hate being touched, or having people stand near, especially aggressively.

Threatening or debarring these people is going to exacerbate.

So before you misjudge – remember: only police can enforce law, and if you call them or refuse entry or try to arrest or contain, you’re causing offence in both senses. If you pick on any of the above persons, you’ll additionally have a disability/diversity law suit and I encourage anyone who suffers to make it known and take it further. There’s already been litigation in the US.

In England, there are exemption cards you can download and wear from photosymbols.com, which are also available via local and national societies, eg for disability or autism.

Face covering is a bungled piece of legislature, but people who already have extra challenges and live in challenging times shouldn’t have that worsened.

I know of people with special conditions who are in tears and in overwhelm because of how hard going to a shop or cafe is, who’ve been bullied in a library, and who don’t dare ride on trains.

Now they can’t even have the comfort of attending an act of worship.

All because of inappropriate rules and ignorant aggressive staff trying to force them.

It’s not keeping anyone safe. If you harm someone in the name of stopping the spread of illness, it’s like shooting them to stop them getting run over. Especially if shooting is part of a larger agenda…

Yes, shops, services and transport also have pressure on them.

So the clear message to them, and to governments and their agents is:

If you want custom, not complaints; good publicity, and your business and administration to survive Covid

Stop oppressing your people.

If you’ve had trouble for not wearing a mask, contact tracing, or anything else, please write a comment

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WONDER WOMEN: A Sermon For Magdalene Day 2020

The church created this the 22nd July, but although I’m writing this on that day, I’m delivering it on the following Sunday. I had hoped that this would be the first time that Between The Stools would meet personally – we will soon, when the time is right.

Four years ago, I made this day a launch of a different kind – of my first novel, Parallel Spirals. Several people kindly ask when the sequel is coming – again, soon, when the time is right.

Mary Magdalene has been important to me for much of my life. As a nonconformist, we didn’t do saints and so the other Mary – she who bore the Lord – was downplayed to avoid sounding Catholic. In recent years, I’ve been open to learning what I may have missed out on.

Mary the Mother has always seemed less interesting to me than the other Mary. The BVM is good and obedient, but Magdalene is naughty: for those familiar with British cult children’s television show Rainbow, one Mary was George, but the other Zippy. And Zippy was always the more appealing.

By my 30s, Mary Magdalene was sufficiently appealing to undertake a research degree about her. My original thesis was that she had something in common with Queen Anne Boleyn, who I had also come to admire. These women, 1500 years apart, in different countries, were vilified bringers of a new religious age, and right hand women of a powerful male leader who usually got all the attention – although her own contribution was considerable. The fact that we were undoing their vilification and rediscovering their own contribution showed that we too are in a new age.

For my studies, I read Margaret Starbird’s The Woman With The Alabaster Jar. She went from devoted Catholic to pretty much swirling her saffron scarf whilst singing “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” And, I by the end of my essay, I wanted to join her.

Now, I literally have the scarf, learned the words to the song, and am proclaiming a New Age. I slipped from alternative Christian into a Christian and Woo Woo hybrid. It’s through Mary M that I discovered and joined some priestess communities, who additionally celebrate Mary in late March. She led me to begin the path of priestess.

I recently read the book of one of these priestess community leaders, Lauri Ann Lumby – a novelised Gospel of Mary called Song of the Beloved. Alongside, I read the huge tome that is Margaret’s George’s Mary called Magdalene. Both of these will inform some of my comments that I will make.

My thesis included many more books – these two weren’t then published – and depictions in film, two favourites starring Juliette Binoche (2005) and Rooney Mara (2018). I was interested in how Mary was portrayed in popular contemporary culture.

I get very cross to see Mary shown as a prostitute. Us Baptists knew that the Bible never names her as such – only as a delivered demoniac. Margaret George literally has Mary infested by seven very scary demons. Her comments at the end make a distinction between possession and modern understandings of illness, by which I assumes she means mental health. I promised in an earlier sermon that I’d touch on this. It’s a huge and sensitive subject, and not fully under what I want to talk about today, but I do want to say:

note the two top ways to discredit and shun women are both connected with Mary.

You’re either a whore, and so unclean and not to be trusted. And you’re dangerous.

Or you’re filled with evil – you are a vessel for the Devil, just as church fathers taught.

You’re also unclean, not to be trusted, and dangerous.

Today, the liberal Christian tries to put modern Western science and medical models onto the Biblical text. We’re quick to find new explanations for frothing and writhing which perhaps sound more comfortable and palatable, and which do not involve any supernatural elements. I note that whereas the terrifying thought of demon possession may be something we’d like to explain away, that this attitude is also taken to miracles.

I also point out that even by transmuting devils to chemical imbalance, that Mary is therefore potentially mad. Demon possessed people and those with afflictions that we demonise are also outcasts, confined away from decent society and sometimes literally fettered in some form. I noted the uselessness of the Jewish priests’ response in Margaret George’s book, as inept and ignorant as mental health services can be.

Madness of course is a great way to discard and discredit people who might not fit in and whose truth might actually seem unsettling.

Mary Magdalene is such a person.

I want to state very clearly that our God has power over all, including any spirits; and that mental illness – which I am not linking with possession, if that state really exists – or sexuality is not about uncleanness, peril or unreliability. This is simply spin.

Mary pulls the veil off all that. A good metaphor, considering new rules over here…

I am among those who believe that Mary’s prostitute backstory was a deliberate invention to vilify her by the church, and which allows Peter, another disciple, on whom the established churches are founded, to take centre stage. His being so is necessary for the keys being passed between generations of bishops and priests, who are most commonly ordained at Petertide – a late June feast in honour of the fisherman bishop to whom Jesus allegedly gave all earthly authority.

Lauri Ann Lumby portrays Peter so differently in her novel that I didn’t recognise him. She always calls him Simon, and the new name that Jesus gives him isn’t an honour, it’s a sad nickname. The Rock (which translates as Peter) is a hard, impenetrable heart who is always the fiery critic and downer, who just doesn’t seem to get Jesus’ message. For Lauri, Simon/Peter and James, Jesus’ brother, distort the message of Jesus and misrepresent it. They focus on laws and communion and building a church chain – but that wasn’t what Jesus taught at all. Yet it’s them who have held sway – til now.

I asked Lauri where she gained her inspiration. There is a non canonical Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and other contemporary Gnostic texts suggest that Mary’s role was somewhat different to the small part she’s allowed to play in the four Biblical gospels. Even then, she has managed to come out of the thick mesh laid on her and fascinate people, even when her followers were driven underground.

The rediscovered Magdalene brings a different message, and Lauri conveys this as well as any. It’s suggested that Mary’s surname is a title – like Mahatma Gandhi (I think) – and it may refer to her enlightenment, not her geography. I wonder if this name, meaning ‘tower’, is like the perspective you get when you climb one: it’s over a wide area, seeing people from above. It’s what I call the authorial eye view, or the Higher Self.

Mary’s not the Woman At Well, With the Jar, Sister of Lazarus and Martha, I don’t think, but I can see how these Gospel characters embody the facets that we like to attribute to this Mary: she’s unconventional, an outcast who’s given a ringside seat by the master; she loves Jesus and she shows it; she’s not interested in rules, but she does have novel theological understanding. She’s more interested in discussion than dishes (amen, sister!). I think that if Magdalene were all these women, it would mean that Jesus touched the lives of far fewer people and that insight and incident came to just one, rather than to three.

In both Magdalene novels, I noted the critique of the Law. I also read God by Deepak Chopra, and his first chapter is a take on the book of Job which exemplified the same idea. For a Jew – in the ancient time of Job, as in Jesus’ day – to please God was to keep these 613 laws. And for this, you were credited with righteousness – interesting that phrase comes from the epistle of law-loving James (2:23). Note the ‘credit’ – a banking transaction. And so the world could see, like wealthy Job, that God had blessed you in return for what you had obeyed. You kept your boon whilst God was pleased with you. If you stopped obeying, then disasters struck. Job starts to turn this argument, as I’ll take up another time. But Deepak’s understanding facilitated mine: this was what the Jewish world believed, for centuries. And this is the world that Jesus entered and began turning.

In Margaret George, young Mary sees Jesus’ dad break the Sabbath by unscrewing a medicine bottle for his daughter in pain. Her own father put law and tradition before his own daughter’s wellbeing. In chapter 35, p415 of the paperback, Jesus answers the ‘shall we pay taxes to our oppressor’ trick question with an answer that goes farther than the Bible: “All these laws are passing away. The coming Kingdom will render them all meaningless. To make more of them than they deserve is a mistake.”

I bookmarked that and re-read it several times. Alas, Jesus charges into his next encounter before that point could be elucidated, but it made me wonder. How could Jesus state that not a jot or tittle of the Law would pass away, but yet he would fulfil it, and imply that its observance was both necessary and obsolete? (Matthew 5:15-20; Luke 16:16-17). In what way was he fulfilling it?

Does he mean that this new teaching would crunch the law into a dense space, where all of it was there, but now existed as something else, and the individual laws no longer mattered? Principles rather than particulars? Distilling to just a double decree?

It isn’t just the Torah that needs fulfilling in that way, but our own statutes. It wasn’t just the time of Magdalene or – my other woman, Anne Boleyn – the bringer of the English Reformation out from the distortion of the Catholic church. We have again slipped, as much as their times. Our own world, secular or religious, is filled with laws, some of them arbitrary. I note the repeat of that word in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: no-one shall arbitrarily be [deprived of a right]. I’ve noted how law based the church of England is – which has a set of laws all of its own. I’ve seen churches elsewhere – such as the LGBT focussed Metropolitan Community Church – create hefty legal and policy documents. And yet their byline is ‘Love Liberates’.

As I said in February, I believe it’s time for another reformation, for church, and society: new wine into new wine skins.

My priestess sisters speak of the divine feminine which Mary embodies and brings to us which we and our world so need – this year more than ever. For centuries, we’ve lived away from or matriarchal roots in the distorted masculine, for men and women. It’s created inequality, injustice, division, exploitation.

It values money and power and productivity over being and making for its own sake.

It values what we can get over what we respect.

It values what we can count over what we feel.

It values obedience over co-creation and debate.

It rules by coercion over respectful free will.

It is governed by what can be monetised, owned and contracted.

It’s rule-based rather than principle based; thinking comes before intuition.

Love and spirituality come an embarrassed second to empirically evidenced ‘facts’ – even though we know that facts are malleable and fakeable.

And it’s that which allows me to link this Biblical Goddess to a very different myth…

WONDER WOMAN

Yes, I know. If Magdalene to Boleyn was a jump for you (it was to my PhD supervisors) then to a 20th C American comic superhero is a leap that even Princess Diana – of that unspellable Greek island [Themyscira] – couldn’t make. Well, have more faith in Wonder Woman and your own imagination, because the link to me is clear.

Wonder Woman has also become significant to me: she was one of the first entries on this blog, 9 years ago. In a way, she too has been downplayed behind her male counterparts, and early Wonder Woman and her polyamorous controversial creator were dragged across decency boards, pushed out of jobs and neighbourhoods. Yes, Wonder Woman was involved in sex scandals, and if you follow the early cartoons, and event the 1970s TV show (happy 69th for Friday, Lynda Carter), she’s often as bound as those first century demoniacs. She also binds with a lasso, and there are even spanking scenes in the 40s comics. The link to kink is not an accident or an oversight.

The week before, I finally felt constrained to watch the DVD I’d had sitting about from the library all lockdown – Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women. I saw it at the cinema in 2018 – the story of Wonder Woman’s professorial creator, who saw his wench in a bathing suit as a psychological tool to influence his young readers. Writing in the Second World War, William Marsden (pen name Charles Moulton) believed that women were the future and that it is their leadership which the world needs.

He saw women as men’s equal, and when not held back by them, that women could be even as physically strong, as we see in Princes Diana of the legendary Amazons, whose raising in an extended all girl school island makes her more powerful than the male citizens of even mighty America. The key to women’s great leadership was their tenderness. Her real, essential weapon is love. For the first time… not even just truth and justice, like her older ‘cousin’… but love.

It’s how Wonder Woman stops wars – Make A Hawk A Dove…

 

Marsden also proposed a psychological theory called DISC:

Dominance

Inducement

Submission

Compliance

(Note that I, S and C can stand for other things: I’m going by what was in Angela Robinson’s film)

 

I’d look at that and assume that the top was the worst and that it improved – not very greatly – as the list descended. But Marsden saw it as the other way around. The worst for him was compliance – the begrudging going along with orders. Inducement is about persuasion, but it’s still another finding a way to put their will over yours. But, said Marsden, dominance is about the voluntary submission to a loving authority. (Hence the spank parties and lasso in his comics).

But why impose your will on others at all?

Isn’t that broken patriarchy still?

Sounds more like a sexual preference than a way to run a country… although perhaps these subjects are not so far apart. I’m often hearing about the essential need to reclaim sacred sexuality via my priestess sisters, and how this benefits the collective.

DISC feels relevant as much of the world have ceded their authority to WHO and we, as individual citizens, runners of businesses, communities, are asked to cede ours to our country or state. We are told to put others first – but the double commandment says ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Note the AS. We have mostly kept to lockdown, but there are differing views as to whether this and other measures are necessary or helpful. In England, we’ve a new face covering law (see last and forthcoming post), and I’m wondering: how many are doing this because we think it’s right, and how many are doing it because noncompliance involves punishment? We also have rules imposed on businesses and – worse – places of worship. You are invited to attend a socially distant masked ball mass, no singing, try not to use the toilet. Prebook or come early to avoid disappointment. I wonder how many are in C of DISC because they need to reopen, not because they agree. And so we’re in a state of resentment and vigilance because we’re doing unfair things and perhaps having to pass our pressure onto others because if we don’t make them do what we’re told to, we’re in trouble. Or do some really believe the ‘necessary for your safety’ rhetoric?

The Nanny State, or as Indian investigative journalist Ramola D said last week, Nanny World, is not a D kind of nanny. It may hope for it, but mostly it’s getting a C from us.

I’ve said our world leadership is becoming a Duckula sized nanny – that’s another British kid’s TV reference. The vegetarian vampire is towered over by a large chicken parental figure. But the young Count’s carer is ditzy but endearing. She means well, and her affection is genuine. She calls her charge ‘the master’, for she sees that it’s her job to serve him – not the other way round. She is not tracking him and taking his temperature and swabs from his orifices. She is not asking him to open his bags and his electronic mail. Nanny has no sinister design on the Transylvanian teal teenager. (Can this be said of Igor?) They guide, advise – but he chooses and learns for himself.

In short, Duckula has freewill, as God gives us. So why not our government?

We’re getting a Nurse Ratched kind of nanny (ie that awful psychiatric matron from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). And we know that mental health is not always about our own health and best interests, as that novel and film attests. We are seeing that now physical health is a reason to incarcerate. We need to be vigilant against this, for this is becoming the worst kind of C… and Marsden didn’t put down downright tyranny on his model. This is dominance in the way that most of us would view it.

However, I don’t think that D is what Magdalene brings forth. D of Marston’s DISC theory does not stand for ‘divine’ or ‘desirable’. This is not the Goddess energy that Magdalene brings forth.

The Christian God is often asking us to trust, but it’s different to human authority; and I query that kind of God too.

Submission and voluntary surrender to someone that you’ve learned to trust is quite different. Such surrender can only be divine, and interpersonal. Freewill remains.

I will cede that the Magdalene I’ve heard proclaimed many times via my priestess sisters (and brothers – she’s for men too) is hard to see in Gospels, just as the Wonder Woman of early comics is not a heroine I’m always impressed by… but something transcends their male scribed stories. I know that their essence stands for a larger truth. It’s time to unveil that truth.

Lauri Ann Lumby sees the seven demons of Mary as a full initiation into Christ consciousness. This made me think of the dance of the seven veils, stripping away the layers and coverings of untruth that mask the true nature of God, Mary, and us.

It’s time to take off the veils that separate us, the veils based in hierarchy and law, not in love and mutuality; to rebuild using new values, not resurrect the old paradigm; to love ourselves as much as those around us; and to not need a commandment to love our divine maker, but to enter into that relationship freely and joyfully, knowing that Spirit is love beyond measure, wisdom unsearchable; who has beaten all invisible enemies and is our invisible, but palpable, Friend.

The next planned sermon is for 13th September: truth telling day

LISTEN AT  https://yourlisten.com/BetweenTheStools/wonder-women-magdalene-day-sermon-2020

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You’re spreading fear more than germs – spread love instead

THIS IS BEING TWEAKED AS EVENTS UNFOLD

I take a break from my church of England [sic] series to speak out about the spread of fear via disease. I’m not going to even name that virus…

My fear is not of the disease, or dying, but how it’s handled and what it means.

Someone aptly said: what are they hiding or wanting us to look away from?

When wide outbreaks of disease occur, it is during times of unrest. I thought this when visiting the Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh regarding the C17 plague. This was a dramatic century. I question the official story of the start of the plague and the fires that wiped it out, and note that it coincided with new religious groups and the restoration of traditional power who persecuted those groups.

V for Vendetta is a fictional story about a disease that spreads, and a new fascist leader has the antidote…

This virus has come amid so much turmoil, at a time when we’re already being watched.

I’m concerned at calls to curtail the net. This means that censorship can come in through a back door. There’s a difference between unhelpful advice and stopping people from writing who might disagree with the official version. What matters is being discerning about the source.

I wonder if, beyond the biological causes, that people are simply more prone to disease during times of war, faminine, austerity, dictatorial leadership. Just as spiritual people see the environmental crisis as more than banning plastic and fracking, mass illness is also a symptom of gross imbalance and injustice.             It means we’ve lost our alignment.

Like war, a disease is a form of central population control by fear. Compliance seems a duty to assist with a common cause. It allows people to be contained and tracked – and worse of all, to be isolated and deprived of care and contact at the time we most need it.

Forensics should never mean we forego farewells.

It’s disturbing when a hug becomes an act of defiance. But as a graffitist wrote, defiance is an act of hope.

I question whether isolation and vaccination are the only and best responses.

The answers to an epidemic are not ultimately found in a lab – which is why I didn’t like the film Contagion. It worries me that this disease, 9 years on, has several similarities.

The problem is that the medical model works on only one level of understanding – what those in woo woo circles call lower energies/vibrations. It’s from an empirical, logic base – although this isolation has issues on that level, for it affects the economy and mental health in favour of physical, and means that resources and services could run out, causing greater panic and more deaths. What we need is a deeper, higher response that truly sees beyond face value and biology.

When a newspaper prints fearful headlines, encouraging us to panic over our health, fear strangers, and comply with unreasonable measures; when you post anxious social media about the topic, use health mask emoticons, or make a xenophobic quip about separation of certain peoples at a meeting – or cancel these unnecessarily, you too are spreading fear. When you call on your government to ‘do something’ you are encouraging them to take controlling action – even when they don’t want to.

It can mean we endure bullying in the name of healthcare.

It isn’t just hand washing that will truly stop this spread. Our real enemy is not germs, or foreigners, or other people generally.

I encourage people to think what they are washing with – over harvested palm oil, chemicals that are not good for us either – whilst making someone else a profit (as do drugs and facemasks). I only use natural toiletries and I read the labels very carefully. I encourage thinking about labels and ingredients in more general terms. We must ask carefully who we trust – and if we trust WHO and other official channels, rather than assuming we must.

Love, not fear – and also awakening. That’s what we should be spreading.

 

Here are some perspectives that you won’t see on the news…                          [inclusion doesn’t imply mutual or complete endorsement]

Comfort in the Face of the Covid-19 Pandemic

from Priestess Lauri Ann Lumbi (this may not be viewable for nonmembers now but you can read her next pieces)

Spiritual teacher and healer Jo Dunning sent a lovely message: her website is https://www.jodunningevents.com/portfolio-items/divine-chaos-of-creation

Here’s the most recent message https://www.jodunningevents.com/portfolio-items/inspire-message-by-jo-quick-pulse/

https://www.soulfulworkconsulting.com/blog/2020/4/12/happy-day-of-awakening-and-truth

by Rachel Horton White, also on the site below

Wake Up World on a different model of germs

https://consciouslifenews.com/expert-advice-from-an-herbal-immunity-pro-herbs-to-consider-for-coronavirus/11183331/  Herbs for immunity

Here’s one you did:

https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/18/coronavirus-frightening-shown-us-community-matters-12413057/  Green MP Caroline Lucas “Disaster can bring out the best in us if we let it”

 

Since publishing this, many countries have gone into lockdown, but I remain concerned about the necessity and efficacy of that move and what is happening…

 

 

 

 

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Why the AO and HMRC need calling to account

I’ve written before about the failings of ombudsmen and adjudicators, the latter being Trash Heaps (think Fraggle Rock). In fact, they both could be, as are the organisations we bring to them.

The Nottingham based Adjudicator’s Office is a hive running round the Queen – and yes, it’s been a woman for six years: currently Helen McGarry.

Like her predecessor, she’s no Wincey Willis (think 1980s gameshow Treasure Hunt).

There’s a hunt with obscure words and a deadline, but the treasure is all the treasury’s. For the AO deals with complaints about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and The Valuation Office.

I’ve long had issues with HMRC – the tax office – and it’s not hard to find others who feel the same. They especially like to pick on self employed people and small businesses. Their compliance checks can mean hours, as well as pounds – photocopying and scanning, buying cloud software to upload… and then HMRC ungraciously deciding that they won’t accept your offering. All of course at your own expense. Often their drawn out investigations are because of their own misinformation.

May of us are deemed to have not paid enough tax or paid it too late, or that we have received too many tax credits and they will not only cease, but be demanded back.

I’ve been bullied for some years – I won’t give personal details, but I’ve had to spend much energy on fighting HMRC and learning what hard hearted bullies they are, and how the system is designed for you not to be able to easily recover from it, in any sense. I have strong evidence of collusion but also misuse of law. I think they want compliance or cessation. In any sense.

My case returned to the AO for the 3rd time – a different part, they won’t reinvestigate old ones. They also don’t award for their own failings. And they know that the next tier – the PHSO – is useless. I obtained figures of the tiny percentage of cases which are ever upheld, let alone given compensation. They elongate and annoy, and you need your MP to apply to them. Mine, Clive Lewis, messed up by not sending the supporting documents and he refused to resend the case, even when the PHSO asked me to. Hence Helen McGarry thinks she sits safe, knowing she’ll rarely be called to account by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The recent investigation seemed to be no such thing. Even the bit about frustration and sympathy was a cut and paste job. It was condescending and had little or no back up. I’d reapplied for tax credits a year ago, but they claim that my area’s roll out for Universal Credit had begun just after, so it was too late. If I’d had a quicker response from HMRC, I would have gotten the award, worth a few thousand. I note the statements which make me look unreasonable: “if [I’d] chosen to…” – utterly inappropriate; the ones that make them sound fair… it’s a school of writing that I see throughout bureaucracy and sometimes in personal emails. McGarry claims the law is on her side; nothing can be changed now. But I’m well aware of law being bent or ignored or even created to suit governments.

I am tired of these organisations not being accountable, of not righting wrongs and even acknowledging them. I am tired of Trash Heaps whose rather ill-judged pronouncements become binding, and who do not expect comeback. I am tired of governments who bully, not work for their people.

If you are too, then let’s stand together against it. We need an AO who’s fit for purpose and a tax office that’s fair – it’s supposed to be collecting for the benefit of the people. We need reform. We need leaders who listen and laws that benefit and protect us, not the few. We need different values that aren’t about greed and control, but respect and fairness. And yes, love, even in politics. And that means love of justice, a fierce love that stands up for ourselves and others and doesn’t take no for an answer.

 

 

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Ombudsmen watchers and academia

Dear Dr Creutzfeldt

I have found your report of last December Critics of the ombudsman system: understanding and engaging online citizen activists regarding ombudsman watchers and would like to comment on it.

I am someone who has had many poor experiences of different ombudsmen over a long period.

I have several grave concerns with the study:

(i) It is taken on by an institution seen as much part of the establishment as the ombudsmen themselves – namely, Oxford University.

(ii) Your colleague is a former ombudsman employee

(iii) You “partner” with the PHSO, one of the most criticised ombudsmen

(iv) You had public money from a government funded council to look at government funded bodies; the Economic and Social Research Council has government staff (as well as business people) on its board, both of whose interests are vested in the status quo of ombudsmen

(v) You had to find watchers who were willing to attend a workshop – this may be seen as even a trap and many ombudsman whistleblowers would be wary of coming, especially given the above. Those who run watchers websites are a small proportion of those contributing to them or reading them, so this doesn’t feel very representative.

(vi) Your report is full of statements like “one said…”, “some felt…” – never anything substantial or specific. No cases and facts are mentioned.

 

(vii) Your remit was for the ombudsmen to understand how these groups work so that they can be “managed” and effectively, it’s implied, not allow them to interfere with the status quo, or “legitimacy”(para 2, p3).

 

Some comments on the summaries provided:

You summarise that the watchers “raise lack of clear themes”, yet in the same piece, note how detailed the watchers are in their ideas for ombudsman reform.

The watchers sites are full of details of cases and therefore strong first hand evidence of what is going wrong. Ombudsmen are a big part of so called just and equal society, publicly funded, so their abject failure should be of very great concern and a cause for immediate action.

I quote from p11 of your summary:

“Individual issues and unrealistic expectations. One participant (from a

scheme whose ombudsman watcher did not attend the workshop described

above) said there were no themes arising from the website concerned with his

organisation because it was focused on the personal experience of a single

individual. He said that as a result of the very individual nature of the criticisms

and the fact that these related to historic practices, there was little scope for

learning lessons in relation to possible service improvements.”

 

Why was this person’s views allowed to be recorded and take up half this section when they didn’t attend? Nothing here is substantiated. Of course the motivation to set up such sites is likely to be from personal experience; the high counts of hits shows that these resonate with a large number. What is the keenness to undermine the individual?

Perhaps the academic/social science aspect does not recognise individual experience, but it is that experience which is most poignant – the very real distress, suffering, anger, frustration, sense of not being heard, that there is no accountability and justice – is the heart of the problems that complainants have with ombudsman and with individuals have large organisations generally. The lack of humanity is one of the biggest criticisms.

That the ombudsmen felt that the effects of the watchers is ‘slight’ is really to be expected – it is in their interests to proclaim that these watchers do not do them any real damage.

‘Unrealistic expectations’ is a somewhat angering and again ironic response to the millions of people over a couple of decades who come to ombudsmen as the only reasonable way to fight their corner. They leave, some time later, with great frustration and disappointment.

As ombudsmen’s cases consist of individuals and small groups against large organisations, it is understandable that the people seek a champion. It seems that what actually is in place is a supporter of the large body that they have complained about.

I have known cases to be elongated which cause danger and even demise. I have seen one such case thrown out by an ombudsman for “insufficient suffering”!

I would like to ask if the researchers are aware of what it is like to bring a case to an ombudsman, the way the complaint process works, the responses of the ombudsman staff. The obtuseness or deliberate deflection and dishonesty is beyond belief. At every stage, the complainant is disadvantaged, controlled and kept at bay. I’d even say it’s deliberate dehumanising and demotivating.

Of course those who have not felt justice and closure will be unhappy, and yet you seem to agree that this somehow dilutes and disqualifies these complainants – who are the increasing majority.

This all seems to be missing from your study.

In your summary you took care to say “again this is not to suggest agreement with [the watchers’ critique” – implying, as throughout the piece, a greater solidarity with the ombudsmen.

Your summary spoke of ways that the watchers misunderstand the ombudsmen, yet it is far easier to level the opposite critique at this study, which discovers more about the people and workings of these groups. I note you speak of the “ombudsman community” – telling – but not of the watchers’ groups as a community.

Also, watchers are endeavouring to make grassroots changes as well as information and solidarity for the public; they are aiming for reform from outside, not within the ombudsman system, so that questions the rationale of the workshops.

I note this is one part of a three year funded project closing this year.

ADR is often not “alternative dispute resolution” for there is no sense of resolving for the individual, only an unsatisfying ending made by the other side. Those who attempt judicial review find further fault there – and those problems again lead back to ombudsmen.

This could’ve been an opportunity for change and scrutiny, but it really says little and feels on the side of the ombudsmen. I would like to ask that the remainder of your project and further research utilises the opportunity to reform and for a fairer society, not a reinforcement of the already unpalatable status quo.

Please note that this is an open letter.

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Ombudsman Watchers

This is one of the matters that the aforementioned Healing With the Masters don’t address: bureaucratic injustice.

The British grassroots websites about the wrongs of ombudsmen receive many hits. I’m sad that the one I named in the title, which focusses on the Public Services and Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), is no longer running, but the site and its related blog remain for now.

There is also one about the Financial Ombudsman (FOS) who claims over 120,000 hits.

I have experience of ombudsmen’s shortcomings myself and note that the ones protecting (yes I think that is the right word) the establishment’s favourite things – law, finance, and government – are the worst to deal with. I’ve noted over time that they allow less cases and that if they do investigate yours, they will not come out in your favour.

The CEO of the FOS told me that they often displease both sides.

However, I think that ombudsmen are not independent, as they are meant to be. They are not publically accountable or equal between the individual citizen complainant and the corporation they complain about.

Most of us use the ombudsman because there’s not really another option; once you’ve exhausted the company’s own complaints procedure – easily done – this is the only path open. I think many firms tell customers to use the ombudsman because they know that nothing will happen. If we’re unhappy with their handling, the Ombudsman glibly suggest we can go to court, but much of the time our situations do not merit the heaviness and expense of judicial review.

It leaves us with a sense of frustration, unfairness, crushed hope, of not being heard, of lack of justice in an increasingly unaccountable administration .

That is because:

Ombudsmen ask for a quick turn round from individuals – 5-10 days, but can disappear for months taking to the other side.

The Local Government Ombudsman makes you apply online by filling in specific boxes and can only upload one document, which is meant to be the other side’s final response. (Note, no forwarding emails or your summary of the whole case which would give a better picture). They give no email contact details until someone has provisionally reviewed your case. That means that they’ve gone to the other side and got all their information but without fully hearing yours. And they’re incredibly rude – and thick.

I have frequently had cause to wonder about the comprehension of ombudsman staff. I’ve sent back a complaint summary 4 times because it misrepresented me and would damage my case. The way they address matters and what they leave out shows they are both blinkered, lacking in intelligence beyond the machines they work for, and guided by unknown principles.

The ombudsman systems feels like being asked your opinion in a survey which will largely be ignored. It’s a show for stats, lipservice to democratic transparency and voices.

The ombudsman “services” – all with gov.uk web addresses, even the ones that scrutinises the government – can take up to two years, even when the issue is something urgent as having home your home at risk, or no income.

I would welcome comments from those that also have had problems – we are many – and like the film of the same name released tonight, we can unite to be heard.

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Creative Maladjustment Week

This is based on a Martin Luther King speech who said “Here is a list of horrible things in our world which I’m glad to be maladjusted to, and I won’t be changing that”. He resisted being “normal” as officially defined (especially by psychiatry) and said we need a new group to improve our world, the creatively maladjusted. This international week celebrates that spirit, and here’s its website.

Here’s what I am proud to be maladjusted to:

– Benefits claimant hating, as incited by media and certain political parties; the belief that your worth comes from how much taxable income you generate

– Banks that can create theoretical money and make actual debts to chase you for, even or especially when you’re poor, and cause global crises that others both suffer and pay for

– a health system that’s as much about supply and demand and control as it really is about wellness, and which sees other forms of healing – often older and more universal – as a threat to be derided and blocked; a system that can make decisions on your behalf for ‘your good’ which affect your life and body and mind

– a world where governments and corporations try to own and control people and pry and don’t treat people as people and where other forms of life are only given value by what they profit other humans

– a world where we have judgment and fear, not acceptance, towards those who are different from us, whether that be due to nationhood, skin colour, beliefs, sexuality, gender, bodily ability

– a world where we are disseminated to and encouraged to ridicule or silence those who don’t agree with and expose and question the beliefs that those in control would like us to absorb

– a world of secrecy and control of the few, often masquerading as a people led open advanced society

– invasive customs control based on exaggerated threats; wars on terror justified through fear but which really have some hidden benefit for the few whilst causing more terror for those who we claim to protect

And campaigns to glorify and justify war, past and present

You know my flags by now – justice and liberty for all! And most important – Love.

Here is a big wave of them along with all those other CMs!

 

 

 

 

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No axes, no strikes – listen to Hegel

I am very much opposed to the cuts that the government are attempting to put into place.

But I am also opposed to the response and remedy to them.

I am nonplussed as to why a general strike is being proposed. You will make those suffer whom you have pledged to support. Striking is like hostage taking: make a third party suffer so much that the first will do what you demand. Without food, energy, water, money, or even able to enjoy anything as it will all be closed down – how will any one benefit?! Some may even die in your attempts to save them.

I have just heard a speech asking for strong leadership – and then talk of trade unions. Trade Unions are not the alternative government, any more than a military leadership. It was the trade unions dictation that caused Thatcherism to rise.

I am not happy to be seen standing with those that cheer at her death. While I shed no tears for Margaret this week, I will not be rejoicing at an old, ill woman’s demise. I think the Independent’s editorial this week was spot on – that we should be using our energies in far more positive ways, to stop her legacy continuing, not to denigrate her.

I am against party politics, in that councils and governments should not be comprised of ruling parties all adhering to a group agenda who choose their cabinets, not the people. Our current voting system makes it hard for independents to get in, when we need more of these. It also means wasting too much energy on being elected before any good can be done. The low percentage of voting turn out is because many feel parties are too similar – yes, even the Greens.

Though I am for a system which champions the poor, not I do not want a reverse of the current system. Otherwise we are in for a history that is a game of ping pong between right and left, rich and poor.

We should embrace all people as part of our society, and not shun our opposite. Rich people can be philanthropists and finance good projects. They are not all bankers and toffs, but people in arts and sports, and some of those give pleasure and important contributions to the world. I am not for making enemies of the rich or Tories. Nor am I for a remedy which supports only one ‘class’ and type of person – hence I am not for those for the ‘workers’ only, making narrowly defined labour our raison d’etre and mode of worth.

Hegel the philosopher spoke of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. We have had enough of theses and antitheses; we now need to move towards synthesis, in peaceful, ethical way.

My suggestion is to lobby those who would implement the cuts (eg your local council and landlord associations), and also other bodies who many left wing extremists demonise – the house of Lords and the Royal family. If you think they are not in touch with ordinary people – and you’d be surprised, I think – make sure they are. They have more influence than we are led to believe – let them use it for good.

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Further thoughts on forced labour for claimants

After reading today’s Observer (not my usual paper but more me than most others) I feel I should repost this, as further workfare for jobseekers is being proposed. I’m interested that the Observer’s view is that it’s a backlash against government reforms not working. Hardly a logical one!

And I’d also like to comment on what I think of employers who are taking on staff without paying them. You don’t need me to spell that out, do you?

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/eco-echo/ – a response to an article in favour of this practice.

See also my thoughts on “Hatred of Housing benefit claimants” and “Government gripes”

 

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