Saturday 23 February 2013

Moody's - AAA Evil Capitalists

There will be much recrimination today about the move to downgrade the British governments 'AAA' credit rating to an AA1 status - but I think it is a good time to downgrade our assessment of companies like Moody's.

Since 1909 Moody's has been making these assessments, firstly on railway investments in the US, then soon into the rest of the world. It has always played a political role in its work, not a neutral role as it like to portray. Socialist countries that don't obey the rules of the neo-liberal world view that the big three credit rating companies hold, are viciously downgraded, making it much harder for them to compete internationally.

But even when countries are doing what Moody's want them to do, such as in Osborn's Britain, if they are seen to be failing, or wavering in their neo-liberal approach, the credit ratings companies will happily give them a kicking. Obama was seen as being too socially orientated, so the US was downgraded. France began to lean to the left, so they got knocked back last year. Cameron looked like he might weaken his austerity approach as we get closer to the next election - so Moody's are happy to remind him which direction his economic policy should be going.

These companies are designed to aid the multi-millionaires who make their money speculating (betting) on the international financial markets. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

We shouldn't simply ignore them (they got the subprime market in the States so wrong, they nearly tripped up the entire global economy) - we need to understand the political nature of these parasites, and hound them out of of the economic equation. We cannot allow them to give Osborn and his chums any more reasons to be more vicious than they already are.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Why we 'ashed' a Starbucks

Ash Wednesday is an important day in the Churches calendar, and it has always been the focus of one of the most powerful symbolic acts that Christians partake in. It heralds the beginning of Lent, 46 days of preparation for Easter. The tradition is to use ash from the palm crosses of the previous year and put them on your forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance from sin.

The symbols are powerful - but for me as a liberation theologian, I believe we have to get away from simply individualising sin and repentance. Society and its institutions are equally sinful at times - causing poverty, inequality and violence, and equally in need of 'repentance'.

This is not to ignore ones own responsibility for the problems of this world - we are all connected to the seductions of power, greed, selfishness, which lie at the heart of the perils of our day. It was important to me to 'Ash'  myself first before taking part in an act of direct action, recognising my own acceptance and compliance with corporate greed, pollution and institutional violence.

I am part of the problem, and I need to be part of the solution.

However, if the focus is Ash Wednesday is simply on my own individual role, then we miss much of what went on in the biblical story of Jesus in the desert - the 40 days of temptation that the Lenten period is based on. Luke 4:

5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Jesus is tempted by the ways and powers of the world - the metaphorical Devil takes him to the roof of St Paul's Cathedral, takes a look at the corporate power around them and says 'one day all this can be yours'. Part of our Lenten journey is to resist the seductions of corporate and capitalist power.

So a few of us, after a simple service in the Minster, went out and put ash on the shop front of the main Starbucks branch in Sunderland. A small act, but a powerful symbol. These corporations need to be resisted, these powerful companies need to repent of their ways. They can make their profit - fine. But they need to contribute to society as well. Those that avoid paying taxes, are effectively avoiding their moral responsibility. Corporate taxes help us pay for our NHS, our schools, our street lights. When those companies making big profits don't make big contributions, it is often the poorest in society who end up facing the consequences. Cuts to services often affect the most vulnerable first.

Starbucks, (and Amazon and Barclays) have come to embody much that is wrong with corporate greed. We need to change how our whole society operates, turning it into a place in which individuals, companies and governments strive to serve the common good. There needs to be a revolution, and that is what repentance really means (literally, to 'turn'.) Society needs to repent, so do many of our corporations, and, for our compliance and silence at the oppressions that these corporations encourage, so do we.

We need repentance, we need a revolution, and we need it now.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Tax Justice Fast for Lent!

It's that time of year again, and for the next forty days, many will be giving things up or taking things on for Lent. Each year, I try and take on a different theme; 'Eco-fasting'; 'Count your blessings with Christian Aid; etc etc.

This year, the pressing issue is clearly Tax Justice, so that is the Lenten theme for me over the coming weeks. Please join me if you can - you might want to make a few variations, but here is my plan:

1) The Amazon Fast. This company has been so disruptive to the British economy and highstreet but is simply hard to avoid. Amazon, with its aggressive tax avoidance policy, can easily out-compete British based highstreet firms and has been responsible for the loss of highstreet book, film and music shops. For lent, there will be no more cheap second hand books for me from this tax dodger!

2) Starbucks. I can't pretend I am giving them up for Lent, because like any sane person, I've been avoiding them since their anti-union and anti-tax paying policies came to light years ago. But I will start making sure that I publicly denounce Starbucks as much as possible for the next 40 days - starting with an 'Ashing' of a store on Ash Wednesday. Boy, does this company need to repent! Not only has it evaded millions of pounds of corporation tax over the last few years - but then it tried to publicly bribe the government a few months ago, instead of simply paying its tax!

3) Encourage people to move banks away from Barclays. Barclays has been revealed to have been at the heart of helping tax cheats in the UK, especially during the Bob Diamond's reign of profiteering. Last nights TV documentary cemented the Banks evil recent legacy. They say they have changed, and pledge to be different, whilst at the same time axing nearly 4000 jobs (mostly in Asia) whilst leaving many who were responsible for the Libor scandal untouched.  Move your bank accounts during Lent - try the Co-op instead - you'll sleep much better at night!

4) Buy local. For 40 days, I'll avoid the Boots and Tesco's of this world, companies who avoid taxes and kill the local highstreet. I'll be looking out instead for that local bakers (Muller's in Sunderland!) and family butchers, they often give people much better working conditions and generally contribute much more to the local economy.

Join me, and let's support those who pay their taxes so that our kids get a decent education, bins are collected, and brother's in law can be looked after by the NHS.

Make up your own version of the Tax Justice Fast for Lent!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Same Sex Marriage will be the new 'Europe' for the Tory Party.

I completely failed to see it coming. I was convinced that Tory Party supporters would manage to persuade David Cameron to kick the policy of supporting same sex marriage into the long grass. Yet, determined to put the image of the 'nasty' party behind him, Cameron pursued the matter, and has done the unthinkable.

The result is a 'win win' for those of us who support equality, and would also like to see the demise of this government of millionaires. The marriage bill was passed (400-175) overwhelmingly, and the first step towards the right of Gay people to call their life long commitments 'marriages' has been won. A real victory for equality has been achieved, and at the cost of a vicious internal war in Tory ranks. As I said, win win.

Gay rights has always been a struggle for the Tories, and they have always been an instinctively homophobic party - Cameron's modernism will not sweep that historic prejudice aside easily. This issue will become a running sore for the Party, just has Europe has been in the past. I for one do not mind watching them tear themselves to pieces over this. Same Sex Marriage may well be the Tories next 'Europe'.

But there is still so much to do. The barriers that the Church of England's hierarchy has imposed means that it will be a long hard struggle before priests like me can conduct such weddings in our churches. Before being able to preside over a same sex marriage, I will need to seek permission to use the premises of more forward thinking Churches such as the Methodists and Quakers.

Justin Welby will have to risk doing a 'Cameron' and take the Church of England to a place of fierce division if he wants to modernise the Anglicans, and stop us being associated with the 50% of Tories who still represent the 'Nasty Party'. I fear he is not inclined to take that risk, and will happily sacrifice another decade of Anglican decline for the sake of 'evangelical purity'.

It is up to us; forward thinking evangelicals; dyed in the wool liberals; compassionate Anglicans; we must all keep struggling for equality and justice within our Churches. Today we should be optimistic - even the most unlikely of scenarios can actually become a reality.

Same Sex Marriage - Sir Tony Baldry MP does not speak for me!

Looking on the BBC coverage of the marriage bill, I became incensed by the following comments made by someone I had never heard of before:

"There is absolutely no doubt that once marriage is re-defined in this very fundamental way, a whole number of new legal questions will arise, and no one can be quite sure what the outcome will be," warned Sir Tony Baldry, a Conservative MP and the Church of England's representative in the Commons.
"The government believes that this is a risk worth taking; the Church of England believes that it is not."

Sir Tony Baldry does not speak for me, or the vast number of Church of England clergy and lay people who support same sex marriage. He does not nuance his comments, by admitting that there is an ongoing debate within the Church of England. I'm not sure he is a neutral enough MP to be representing the breadth of English Anglicanism!

I hope and pray that this legislation is passed today, and that the Church of England has the courage to join the Tory Party in addressing historic prejudices and injustices.