John Oliver on Ferguson and Police Militarization

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Here’s John Oliver on his show ‘Last Week Tonight’ talking about the shooting of an unarmed 18 year old by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He reminds us of the events that took place before giving some quite jaw-dropping examples of how the police in the States are becoming more and more militarized. He manages to balance anger with just the right amount of humour to keep the audience with him.

I like this show. It’s just half an hour of Oliver talking and introducing news clips. Each week he devotes about 15 minutes of the show to a major news story – just enough to give the viewer a bit of depth without turning them off. It’s only shown on Sky Atlantic over here, but most of each show is put on Youtube soon after it airs. The nearest equivalent over here would be the 10 O’Clock show, which rarely devotes more than 5 minutes to a topic before cutting to Jimmy Carr wearing a false mustache telling a few tasteless jokes before shrugging. Oliver is British, so here’s an idea. Someone get him to do something similar over here.

Why are houses in Britain so small?

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Originally posted on :

We build the tiniest new dwellings in Europe, and yet more storage and living space is what people desperately want.

At 11ft x 5.5ft, this flat in Knightsbridge, London is smaller than a snooker table. Photograph: Rowan Griffiths

One left their kitchen bin in the middle of the kitchen, because there was nowhere else for it. Another said their cupboards were so small they stored shopping in the boot of the car, while Miriam and Matt from Liverpool were so short of space they kept their vacuum cleaner at their mother’s house, a good 20-minute drive away.

A report this week by Riba and Ipsos Mori found “long- and short-term storage space” – for everyday functional items such as ironing boards and bed linen, as well as seasonal or nostalgic possessions such as Christmas trees or a wedding dress – was one of the features people most wanted in their…

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Stafford protest camp sets vital NHS example – ignored by media

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Didn’t know about this. Interesting.

Originally posted on The SKWAWKBOX Blog:

If you don’t live in Stafford or the surrounding area, you won’t have heard that the people of Stafford have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to save their hospital. For some time now, a ‘Greenham Common’-style camp – started and entirely run by ordinary local citizens – has been pitched outside the hospital to protest against the relentless plans by the government’s ‘TSA’ (Trust Special Administrator) and to try to save vital health services.


You would think, all things being equal in a 24hr-news age, that such an unusual thing would have attracted the interest of all kinds of media – at the very least as ‘filler’ on thin news days. But apart from a few mentions in the local media and in the blog of local activist group SSH (‘Support Stafford Hospital), the existence of the camp has been conspicuous by its absence in the press and on…

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Taxation, Government Spending, the National Debt and MMT

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Originally posted on Fixing the Economists:


The other day my friend Rohan Grey — a lawyer and one of the key organisers behind the excellent Modern Money Network (bringing Post-Keynesian economics to Columbia Law School, yes please!) — directed me to an absolutely fascinating piece of writing. It is called ‘Taxes For Revenue Are Obsolete’ and it was written in 1945 by Beardsley Ruml. Ruml was the director of the New York Federal Reserve Bank from 1937-1947 and also worked on issues of taxation at the Treasury during the war.

The article lays out the case that taxation should not be focused on revenue generation. Rather, Ruml argues, it should be thought of as serving other purposes entirely. He writes:

MMT1Basically Ruml is making the same case that the Modern Monetary Theorists (MMTers) make: a country that issues its own sovereign currency and is unconstrained by a gold standard does not require tax revenue in…

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ONS provides new estimate for numbers of people on zero-hour contracts

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There have been a rash of data releases by various Government departments over the last week. I’ve put up blog posts already this week on housing benefit and universal credit stats, and here is another one, this time on zero-hours contracts (ZHCs). 

Before I start, I should say that I have had a job where I was on a ZHC, and it worked very well for me. Whilst at university, I worked in a bar. I was required to commit to three shifts a week, including one at the weekend, but was not guaranteed to get any work. For me this was great because I was reasonably well liked by the management so was always offered plenty of hours, while at the same time being able to pick and choose when I worked. Others were not so lucky, and were given few hours at quiet times. As the job was just to top up my student loan, if I didn’t get any hours one week, it was not the end of the world. So I am not wholly against ZHCs and think there may some limited cases where they have a place. 

Now to the latest data release. This comes from the ONS. After the uproar over ZHCs of the last couple of years, the ONS have tried to get a grasp of exactly how many people are on these types on contracts. They are still not quite there, but are now asking the question as part of the quarterly Labour Force Survey. For April-June 2014, they say there are 622,000 people on zero-hour contracts. Similar surveys asking businesses how many zero-hours staff they have suggests the figure could be as high as 1.4 million though. 

It is good that the ONS are starting to publish these statistics, which over time will mean it will be possible to get a feel for the trend, i.e. whether ZHCs are becoming more or less common. 622,000 sounds like a lot of people to be working for no guaranteed hours. 1.4 million even more so. The real issue is around choice. If the people working ZHCs are like I was at university, then ZHCs may be appropriate. If not though and people are being forced into them because no other work is available, it is very worrying, and it seems unlikely that all those (or even most of those) on ZHCs are happy with the arrangement. This new data and future updates will help us understand what we’re dealing with. 

The number of working households claiming housing benefit up by 63% since 2010

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In a blog for Inside Housing, Jules Birch summarises the latest housing benefit statistics which were published yesterday. This section in particular caught my eye:

The number of households who are in employment and receiving housing benefit increased from 650,551 in May 2010 to 1,058,569 in May 2014, an increase of 63 per cent. The housing benefit bill for people in employment has risen from £2.9 billion (14 per cent of the total) to £5.1 billion (21 per cent).


The total number of working claims continues to rise (and will carry on rising, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility) even as the number of claims from unemployed people slowly falls. This is consistent with yesterday’s figures showing rising numbers of people in employment and falling unemployment but it also shows the impact of stagnant and even falling earnings on the housing benefit bill. Despite all the government rhetoric about hardworking families and benefit dependency, the stats show the true cost of the boom in low-paid work or (as Joe Halewood points out) the true cost of the subsidy to low-paying employers.

It’s quite staggering that since the election in 2010, an additional 400,000 households can no longer afford to pay the full cost of housing despite being in work. What recovery?

8,500 people have now started on Universal Credit, we’re over 1% of the way there!

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Today the DWP released some statistics that show that during the period of rollout for Universal Credit which began in April 2013 and up to 31st May this year, only 8,500 people had started on the new benefit. Universal Credit is supposed to replace 6 existing benefits and tax credits with a single monthly payment. In principal not the worst idea ever; in the hands of Iain Duncan Smith, a total effing disaster. The target is to get 4.5 million households on the new benefit by 2017, but at current rates of rollout, the process should be complete sometime in 2540. It seems unlikely IDS will  still be around by then!

Meanwhile, Duncan Smith remains in denial, claiming everything is going to plan, and the glacially slow rollout is due to his own desire to see the programme rolled out gradually. He believes!

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