COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”

An almost entirely deserted Liverpool Street station on April 2, 2020 – a previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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In Sunday’s Observer, the paper’s chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley related how, a few weeks ago, a group of civil servants at the Cabinet Office were “told to find a way of re-opening nightclubs in a coronavirus-safe way.” Although they were, in Rawnsley’s words, a “bright group”, they couldn’t overcome the fundamental  — one might say fatal — flaw at the heart of the exercise. “The socially distanced nightclub is a contradiction in terms”, as Rawnsley put it, adding, “Nightclubs, by their very nature, are all about social intimacy.”

Rawnsley proceeded to explain that he was telling this story “to illustrate just how very desperate the government has been to release Britain from every aspect of lockdown and return us to something that resembles the pre-coronavirus world as closely as possible.” Our leaders, as he put it, “dreamed of returning to that prelapsarian age in which you could eat out with your family, go drinking with your mates, commute to work, celebrate a religious festival or jet off to a holiday somewhere reliably sunny without having to worry about catching or spreading a deadly disease. While never quite saying it explicitly, their ambition has essentially been to get everything open again.”

This indeed seems to be the case, and it is typical of a government made up largely of inadequate ministers who are only in place because of their enthusiasm for the insanity of Brexit, and who are led by the laziest example of a Prime Minister in living memory, that the nuances of the challenges facing us — and the unexpected opportunities for a less chaotic and more environmentally sustainable world — are being ignored.

Read the rest of this entry »

Criminal Bankers Are Not Above the Law

That’s an optimistic headline, obviously, as, to date, bankers have demonstrated that they are in fact above the law, and that they can do what they want — wrecking the global economy, for example, and being bailed out instead of being punished, as happened in 2008. However, in the wake of the inter-bank rate-rigging scandal that became public knowledge last week when Barclays were fined £290m in the US and the UK, the time may have come for there to be a reckoning — one which, appallingly, was avoided four years ago when the global crash happened that has poisoned our economic health ever since.

This time, perhaps, the odd high-profile scalp — Barclays CEO Bob Diamond, for example, who finally walked on Tuesday — and the promise of some sort of toothless inquiry may not be enough to quell the growing calls for the entire financial sector to be thoroughly overhauled and regulated, and for those who have committed crimes — in the many banks other than Barclays which are still being investigated — to be prosecuted.

Certainly, as Yves Smith explained on her Naked Capitalism blog, there are reasons to believe that this story has only begun in the US (where £230m of Barclays’ fine was imposed), because price fixing — of the type uncovered at Barclays, in which many other banks are also implicated — “is a criminal violation under the Sherman Antitrust Act.” As Smith noted, “The Department of Justice stressed that Barclays had been the first bank to cooperate with the investigation and had been extremely forthcoming, and for that reason it would not be prosecuted if it complied with the settlement terms for two years. The implication is that the DoJ will not be as generous with other banks involved in the price-fixing scheme.” Read the rest of this entry »

When Will Immoral, Unprincipled Bankers Be Held Accountable for Their Crimes?

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
Bob Dylan, “Sweetheart Like You” (1983)

The record-breaking fine of £290m to which Barclays was subjected this week for financial crimes committed from 2005 onwards sounds significant, until you realise that Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond was paid £17m for last year alone (and that the bank also paid £5.7m to cover his tax bill), that he has been paid almost £100m since 2006, and that the amount of the fine (£60m in the UK and £230m in the US) is basically peanuts — just 10 days’ worth of profit for Barclays, as Paul Lewis of Radio 4’s Money Box programme explained to the BBC.

The first thing that occurred to me was that, however much bankers are caught committing financial crimes, they always seem to get away with it, as Bob Dylan explained back in 1983. Moreover, Bob’s recognition of the disparity between the rich and the poor when it comes to crimes involving money also rings horribly true still, as is clear from the punishment for Barclays — a slipped wrist — and the punishment for those involved, however peripherally, in last August’s “riots” in the UK, when judges decided to “make an example” of the mostly unfortunate young people who came up before them. The most shocking example I came across was described in the Guardian as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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