Inside the "sweatshop" terminally ill Britons must call to get benefits

An anonymous phone-bank worker at Britain's Department of Work and Pensions describes the cruel system under which call are handled, designed to purge the faintest hint of sympathy and to likewise deny callers access to basic, vital information without which their benefits will not be approved, or can be terminated. The DWP is who you call if you've been widowed and need help caring for your children, or when you get a cancer diagnosis, or when your organs fail. Read the rest

Parking-ticket bot will now help homeless people get benefits

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Stanford computer science student Joshua Browder, whose DoNotPay bot helps you fight parking tickets in London and New York (it's estimated to have overturned $4M in tickets to date) has a new bot in the offing: a chatbot that helps newly homeless people in the UK create and optimise their applications for benefits. Read the rest

The Ice Bucket Challenge did not fund a breakthrough in ALS treatment

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Yesterday's science-by-press-release announcement that a research team had made a "breakthrough" in treating ALS thanks to funds raised in last year's viral ice-bucket challenge turns out to be vaporware: the gene identified was already known to be implicated in ALS, but only affects 3% of cases, and the new refinement in the research suggests some avenues for further work, but has no immediate therapeutic value. Read the rest

Brexit's other shoe drops: austerity, deregulation, climate nihilism

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As Conservative grandees jostle each other in the looming contest to become Prime Minister of the UK, we're starting to learn more about their plans for governing UK without the constraint of the European Union's human rights, environmental and labour rules. Read the rest

UK Tories use Brexit as an excuse to slash corporate taxes to the lowest of any major economy

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Nearly 2 weeks ago, 17 million Britons (mostly poor) voted to leave the EU in what amounted to a plebiscite on austerity, finance capitalism, and the widening gap between the increasingly wealthy and the increasingly poor. In response, the Conservative government says it will tempt corporations to come to the UK by making the rich get even richer and the poor even poorer. Read the rest

Scarfolk's lost 1970s budget announcement lays bare the modern Tory strategy

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Scarfolk is a fictional English horror-town stuck in a perpetual loop, from 1970-1980, from which beautifully weathered artifacts escape onto our modern Web. Read the rest

NHS junior doctors show kids what's they do, kids demand better of Jeremy Hunt

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Junior doctors in the UK National Health Service have been attempting to negotiate a decent wage and decent working conditions in their new contract with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is a terrible person, and who has been publicly libelling the hardworking doctors on the front lines of the UK health system. Read the rest

Keep your scythe, the real green future is high-tech, democratic, and radical

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"Radical ecology" has come to mean a kind of left-wing back-to-the-landism that throws off consumer culture and mass production for a pastoral low-tech lifestyle. But as the brilliant science journalist and Marxist Leigh Phillips writes in Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry And Stuff, if the left has a future, it has to reclaim its Promethean commitment to elevating every human being to a condition of luxurious, material abundance and leisure through technological progress.

Councillor who voted to close all public toilets gets a ticket for public urination

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Last May, Jackie Burns, the deputy leader of the Labour Council in South Lanarkshire in Scotland, voted to close all public toilets as part of the Scottish government's £22 million cost-cutting programme; early last Saturday morning, police issued him a £40 ticket for pissing in public. (via Reddit) Read the rest

Voter suppression act two: closing driver's license offices in Alabama's Black Belt

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A favored tactic of Tea Party governors this decade has been the imposition of a poll tax in the form of voter ID laws that required voters to present a state-issued ID (usually a driver's license) in order to exercise their franchise. Read the rest

Playful, pacifist IEDs

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Sculptor Petros Eftstathiadiadis makes these "pacifist bombs" as a commentary on the Greek political/economic situation, constructing them from materials chosen to seem absurd, playful and harmless. Despite that, a few of these look somewhat alarming to me, possibly because of Eftstathiadiadis's (admirable) lack of knowledge about antipersonnel weaponry -- the soap immediately makes me think of jellied gasoline, for example. Read the rest

How Canada's Tories destroyed the country's memory, and its capacity to remember

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The Canadian Conservative government's war on science, statistics and evidence have been a great boon to its ability to create policy that helps its friends and destroys the country, but the deep and arbitrary cuts to science and statistics have eroded Canada's ability to know what is happening in the country to a terrifying extent. Read the rest

UK Open University plans mass closure of regional call centres

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I'm a visiting professor at OU, and dearly love the institution. It's a remarkable, multidisciplinary institution with a long history of educating people who've been excluded from the traditional university system.

The regional call centres are hugely important to the OU's success. They are the university's front line, staffed by dedicated, local people who help their neighbours to navigate the OU system, and connecting current OU students with alumni and prospective students, acting as a force for social cohesion in the OU's community.

My OU Computer Science colleague, Ray Corrigan, has written a stirring and important piece about the OU regional call centres' role in the OU system:

Understanding the OU deeply takes a long time. It is full of incredible people who care deeply about our students and who have repeatedly shown they will go to the ends of the earth for this place, even to the point of putting their own health and welbeing at risk. Staff in the East Grinstead regional office which was shut down by the University at the end of November 2014, worked evenings and weekends, even in the knowledge they would be unemployed by Christmas, to ensure the students were settled with experienced, well qualified-tutors for our courses starting last autumn. In the thick of all the complexity and accommodation of massive structural changes of the past few years, though, it's worth noting that fundamentally the OU is simply about putting people in touch with people, people who care.

Historically the OU turned a discredited education method - correspondence courses - into hugely effective supported open learning at a distance which, for over 40 years, has outstripped the personal support provided by most of the conventional university sector by a street.

Read the rest

Portraits of homeless people using libraries

Libraries, "the last bastion of democracy," are a haven for America's 500,000 homeless people, where literature, Internet access, and nonfiction can come together to provide respite from the relentless brutality of life on the streets. Read the rest

Anti-austerity parties soar in Spanish elections as Greece threatens default

Two new, anti-establishment parties (including one that grew out of the indignados movement -- a kind of Spanish precedent to Occupy) took key seats in regional and municipal elections in yesterday's Spanish election, which is a kind of dress rehearsal for the upcoming national elections. Read the rest

Piketty on the pointless cruelty of European austerity

The economist says that the US's post-crisis job creation record and the EU's lagging record demonstrates that austerity cripples recoveries. Read the rest

UK police watchdog: burglary and car crime "on verge of being decriminalised"

The Inspectorate of Constabulary says that police now tell victims of property crimes to "solve the crimes themselves," directing them over the phone to review CCTV footage and canvas their neighbourhoods for witnesses. Read the rest

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