Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Don't See This Film

Just a friendly warning. Don't make the same mistake I did earlier this week....


Original art located HERE

28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is more than generous.

I guess not having seen Man of Steel didn't help, but this latest issuing from the lucrative Marvel Universe appeared to be a sort of mash up of sequences from all the other Superman and Batman films ever made, inserted in entirely random order. Jesse Eisenberg impersonates Heath Ledger visiting what looks like Sydney Opera house but is actually a Kryptonite spaceship (I think) to get something important in order to do something bad. Meanwhile Ben Affleck tries his best but not so good take off of Christian Bale, growling deeply meaningful phrases like "My parents taught me life only has meaning if you make it." (a sentiment equally applicable to this film).

It is never clear why the two superheroes dislike each other so much - some sort of misunderstanding between Batman's habit of branding paedophiles and Superman's involvement with a rendition programme on the face of things. It culminates in a chaotic fight where Batman is set to bash SuperQuiff to death with a toilet cover. How the mighty have fallen!

Into the middle of all this, for no clear reason, someone arrives who I thought was meant to be Xenia the Warrior Princess but turns out to actually be a leather-togged version of Wonder Woman. She has some gurning friends, one of whom lives in a sunken ship and prods anything that comes close to him with a trident. Who knows why? We never see him again.

The theme score by the omnipresent Hans Zimmer isn't bad, but does lend this mish mash of high speed scene changes the fullest sense of being a shot at the longest music video in history. Complete with moody Bat dreams and Super-brooding - who needs kryptonite to squeeze the franchise into senseless oblivion?

But, perhaps most implausible of all is the conceit that a committee of American senators would spend time agonising over the deaths of some Arab civilians. Utter fantasy if you ask me....

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

My Daddy Was A Tax Dodger

My daddy was a tax dodger
And he never paid the HMRC
He just loved to live that way
And keep the public's money

So I’m rich and you are poor
And that’s how it will stay
Cos my cheating accountant
Is the only one I’ll pay

So you’ve come to shake us up
And think we’re going to grovel
But instead we'll hammer you
With the judge’s gavel

My daddy was a tax dodger
And he never paid the HMRC
He just loved to live that way
And keep the public's money

You might think that you can
Bring our system to the ground
But we’ll put you in prison
And we’ll grind you right down

And we’ll never give you bail
Or let you work together
Cos the feral elite
Know that'd not be so clever

So we’ll charge for your rocking chair
Cos what we’re spinning
Is we’re all in it together
And that Britain's winning

My daddy was a tax dodger
And he never paid the HMRC
He just loved to live that way
And keep the public's money

Run bolshie run
Hide out in the hills
I can use the hole in the wall
But you poor never will

Vote Tory Vote Tory Vote Tory Vote Tory (repeat & fade)

"The Capitalist Guard" (1918, Netherlands)


With fullest apologies to The Clash...

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

We Can Export You Wholesale - the bitter future of Theresa May

The British Government is busy advertising on TV at the moment, promoting the idea that trade is automatically good - maybe a debate for another time.

But a centrepiece of this is an Indian man standing in a railway station, for some reason specifically seeking British partners to develop the rail metro network in his country. Here he is...

Often for the wrong historical reasons, India and Britain have strong links, not only in modern trade and (frequently violent) imperialist history, but in personal, human terms with 1,400,000 British citizens tracing their family back to South Asia. Their cultural diversity has enriched our country and somehow, in spite of all the prejudice spat out by so many on the right, you sort of hope that we are slowly getting to a point where the value, in so many different ways, of this and many other communities in the UK is being accepted.

And yet, today we find from the now online-only Independent newspaper that Home Secretary Theresa May used the flimsiest of excuses from a BBC Panorama expose of irregularities at one, single language school to deport some 46,000 students illegally - seven in ten of them from India. Apparently the tests used to decide on deportation were so flimsy that the Upper Tribunal for asylum and immigration has thrown out the Government's case. 

This of course follows on from May's other schemes to ban overseas students from working while studying here and force them to leave almost as soon as they complete their degrees - ignoring the economic, commercial and cultural benefits we gain from graduates who remain and work for some months in the UK. Coupled with a relentlessly hostile media, most of us don't realise just how damaged our country's image is abroad now, seen as we are as rather inward-looking, prejudiced and unwelcoming place - in sharp contrast to an increasingly confident, outward-looking India. Even before the myopia and sociopathic behaviour of the Tory Government, one assessment was that, for all its problems and all our past, India wasn't looking to Britain or anywhere else for ideas or help.

Now of course, with rightwing media hysterically and repeatedly claiming that no one at all is ever expelled from the UK, the figure of 46,000 illegal deportations in under two years may cause a degree of overload in Mail readers heads. Given the disinformation they read each day, they might be surprised to learn that in 2014 alone 38,000 people were deported from the UK, before the student case arose - over 7,300 were from India, and over 5,000 from Pakistan.

But it also represents yet again the deep, deep racism and prejudice seemingly at the centre of our Government and in the heart of Theresa May, assuming of course that she actually has one. (Notably, even the rightwing Daily Telegraph was moved last year to describe some of her plans for illegal migrants as "chilling and bitter").

It is ethically wrong, damaging to tens of thousands of people who came simply to study and learn our language - something more generous minds might see as both a compliment to us rather than a threat, and as something highly positive. Instead, Britain yet again is seen to be at odds with people because of their nationality, their colour and their race, and quite possibly religion too. Our Government's pathetically narrow-minded (and factually wrong) view of foreigners as scroungers out to double cross us will, in the end, damage us far more than them. 

It is their appalling mindset that leads to utterly disgusting tragedies such as that of Bhavisha Ben Patel and her husband Pinakin. This young couple arrived in the UK for a 10 day holiday in Scotland early last year, but were immediately whisked to Yarls' Wood detention centre. This was done because Mrs Patel, naively wanting to be sure she had all the right documents for passport control, had brought her education certificates with her. 

Sady, this was a sure sign, in Theresa-land, that she planned to work here illegally, in spite of having return air tickets and children back in India. Two months later, several weeks after they were due home, they remained in detention and Mr Patel died of a heart attack aged just 33 years. Mrs Patel remained incarcerated for several weeks longer, unable to bury her husband or get home to her family, and prompting a hunger strike in support of her from fellow inmates.

That man in the railway station may not wait for us much longer. After all, if we can't abide his daughter or son coming here to learn for a year or two and lock up compatriots who come for a holiday, why on Earth would he want us to go and work in his country? Soon, despairing of us, he may board one of India's brand new trains and, bound for the future, leave us behind in the dead end siding that is Tory bigotry.

And, of course, as with any Government, it is all done in our name.

Friday, 18 March 2016

"My Country Is A Company" - The Forgotten Genius of Jericho

Contemporary television is littered with half-remembered would-be masterpieces, some celebrated by ever-decreasing circles of knowing fan communities as secrets they share with each other in an ignorant world. Perhaps Firefly is the most well-known "lost" opus magnus, but currently showing on Netflix is the later offering from CBS Paramount Network, Jericho, a post-apocalyptic tale set in small town Mid-West America. I don't know if it has a fan community exiled in cyberspace, nor if it is held to be a cult by anyone, though it would be nice if both were true. Because on many levels this was close to perfect television - a combination of strong characters, everyday life, mysterious plots, plenty of action and a battle of ideas and ideals.

Set in the fictitious town of Jericho in northern Kansas after unknown terrorists have detonated nuclear bombs in 23 American cities, effectively destroying the federal government, Jericho takes the time afforded by TV as opposed to cinema films (which it was originally conceived as) to develop some complex, highly credible characters and plots. From  Skeet Ulrich as leading protagonist Jake Green and the mysterious Robert Hawkins, played by British actor Lennie James (currently appearing as Morgan Jones in The Walking Dead), to Easi Morales as a conflicted army Major and Pamela Reed as Jake's family matriarch, there are numerous powerful performances aided by scripts that flow naturally and with some humour alongside the nuclear night. Notably, the growing relationship between farmer Stanley Richmond, his sister Bonnie and girl friend Mimi Clark is one of the most empathetic subplots to have graced TV.

But underlying the series of disasters, threats and triumphs encountered by the people of the little town, the story is a powerful exploration of some major political themes that had already taken hold of the USA when it was originally broadcast a decade ago, and which are now coming to a possibly Faustian climax in the elections of this current year.

For, without giving the plot away, the terrorists who have nuked the USA are not the obvious post-9/11 suspects and the "Axis of Terror" involving Iran and North Korea is debunked early on. But looming large is the corporate takeover of democratic government and the corruption of politics by populist demagogues. In the 22 episode long first season, this is less apparent - it manifests itself mainly in the arrival in town of mercenaries from the Blackwater-style Ravenwood Security Company, which murders and loots in its wake. In the shorter, tighter and significantly more political second season, Ravenwood's parent company, the Jennings & Rall Corporation (see its fake website here!) emerges from the shadows as the moving force behind a breakaway Allied States of America.

Lennie James and Skeet Ulrich as Robert Hawkins and Jake Green
This entity, headed by President Tomaccio, a former J&R executive, has emerged west of the Mississippi and is vying for control of the former USA with the remains of the old Federal Government based in Ohio and a re-established Republic of Texas. J&R's doublespeak, preaching democracy and freedom while violently establishing corporate control over public services, the military and encroaching on, for example, Stanley's farm, is related back to contemporary American foreign policy. Jake's own backstory is as a corporate mercenary in Iraq and Afghanistan and his demons from his time there resurface as Fallujah comes to Kansas. Confronted by a soldier trying to impose the writ of his political masters, Jake retorts that the ASA is an illegitimate entity - "Can't you see my country is a company?"

But equally important is the small stuff - the way the townspeople pool their resources and support each other, and welcome refugees in spite of the shortage of food and power. And, conversely, when the chips are down, how an attempt by a young storekeeper to profit from scarcity is given short-shrift and money no longer matters. To be sure, in uncertain times, we do see a "well-regulated militia" understandably arm itself against the dangers of the unknown, but when the neighbouring town lapses into Tea Party vigilante-ism, the people of Jericho respond by downing their own weapons to stay true to civilised values. It is a survivalist tale, but it takes on the would-be survivalists and shows them to be nothing more than angry, hollow men, scared and empty of any true values.

The series was cancelled in the second season, but was given the chance to reach some endings and this becomes evident in the elevated pace of the final three or four episodes. However, this paradoxically heightens the urgency of the plot and doesn't particularly detract: the slower first season had built up both the story and characters well enough, and in many ways it ends at the right moment, although for true fans there was a brief continuation in the form of some graphic novels.

Jericho takes on both the corrupt realities of the contemporary neoliberal world and the fantasies of the libertarian alternatives - showing how completely each crumple into barbaric nightmares. Instead, the underpinning theme is that, deep down, most people want to do good by each other, and we do that best when we stand together - even, and perhaps most of all, in the worst of times.

Jericho is currently available on Netflix.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Sleepwalking the EU

The European Union referendum debate is sputtering slowly towards half-life. Still largely framed as a debate between two parts of the Tory Party, with echoing accompaniment from their familiars in UKIP and the remnants of the Lib Dems, it has to be so far the most turgid, depressive experience in recent political history. None of the aspiration and joy, or even the passion and anger, of the Scottish referendum or the US elections. Just a bunch of men in suits, accompanied by the odd woman in a suit, trying to outdo each other with predictions of our imminent demise if we leave, or if we stay.

In the Scottish referendum, the so-called Project Fear, where the Westminster parties combined to try to scare Scots into opposing independence, so insulted voters that there was a huge swing against remaining in the UK. In the final six weeks, support for independence grew by about 50% and the final result was infinitely closer than expected.

Bizarrely, the same parties that instigated the negative campaigning in Scotland have now adopted the same tactics for the Eurovote - the big difference being that this time it is being used by both sides. Consider tonight's Guardian debate which pitched Labour's Alan Johnson and Lib Dem Nick Clegg for "Remain" against UKIP's Nigel Farage and the Tory Alison Leadsom for "Leave".

The messaging was as appalling as the last few weeks' worst:

- Brexit will justify the break up of the UK with a new Scottish referendum (Johnson)
- The UK Government won't allow the Scots to have another vote (Leadsom)
- Britain's security is at threat if we don't leave because of a combination of a European Army and poverty-stricken Turkey being allowed to join (Farage)
- Nigel Farage is "deeply, deeply dishonest" (Clegg)
- Nick Clegg has made a living out of telling lies (Farage)

Even the options on the paper - Remain or Leave - are somehow uninspiring. Should I remain or should I leave?  as the song never went.

The polls are bouncing around, and this is not surprising - voters are unclear of the issues because the politicians and the media are so used to simply printing and echoing horror stories about abroad that there is little ability to have any informed debate. The most progressive elements of the Remain camp, especially the trade unions, talk about the EU granting workers rights, and this is correct in the sense that a lot of employment law such as equal pay, anti-discrimination and health and safety rules is derived from EU regulations and directives.

However, implicit in the agreement signed up to by Cameron is an even greater ability than before for Britain to opt-out of many of these (as we have already over swathes of the working time regulations, for example) as well as a commitment to sign up to the appalling TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership treaty (TTIP). Both provisions significantly threaten the rights we have gained.

But on the Leave side there is equal dishonesty - they say we can leave and have a trade agreement with the EU which will somehow inevitably continue to trade with us, ignoring the fact that, as with all trade agreements, we would need to sign up to many of the same rules we apparently detest now but without having any say in them at all. Norway even pays billions a year to the EU for the privilege of trading with it while not a member.

Neither side to date has either given a compelling argument. The remain side largely ignores the positives - such as the record-breaking length of time the Continent that started two world wars has now enjoyed peace; we may haggle over budgets but no one is shooting at each other. Or the fact that freedom of movement has allowed millions of Britons to live in the EU as well as permitted Europeans to come to Britain. Some half million UK pensioners live in Spain and enjoy its free health service as a right. Similarly, the urgent international action required to tackle global warming has a headstart with an international institution like the EU acting as a springboard for action.

Equally, the Leave side could talk about Britain out of the EU developing more localised economies and strengthening rather than diluting workers and consumers rights - except that its leaders are pretty hostile to these things and detest the minimal rules the EU requires now.

So, in the coming weeks, it has to be hoped that the campaigns improve, lift their sights and provide some vision of the future that might get people along to vote - and more than that, think about the future. The Scottish referendum was noted for its massive engagement of people, on both sides, in an unprecedented way. But as things stand, it is not impossible that the biggest group in the EU vote will be the non-voters and, whatever the result of the ballot, the issue will remain unsettled.

Corbyn's Labour Party is silent as it increasingly turns inward. The Greens, by contrast, have produced a fairly optimistic video in support of remaining, though perhaps they could be doing a bit more to talk about the sort of EU they would like to build rather than fairly uncritically lauding the pretty messy and undemocratic structures we have now. The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon, meantime, has been a constructive voice for a more informed debate, but even she is talking more about the benefits of the status quo than what needs to change to benefit citizens' rather than big business interests.

Sleepwalking in or out of the European Union may not be the issue - the neoliberals and the banks remain the winners. The issue, as ever, is how we break past them and start to build a new, fairer, sustainable society - nationally and internationally. The different Europe of Varoufakis, not the corporate straight-jacket of Cameron, or Farage.

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Triumvirate of the Damned; Or Jesus Lives, But Satire Is Dead

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to what appeared to be a shocking statement by Republican Senator and would-be Presidential candidate Marco Rubio. In it Rubio held forth on his opposition to abortion in virtually all circumstances, even, when challenged by the interviewer, if Martians invaded and assaulted American women. Zika virus meantime was possibly God's way of punishing babies, so no legitimate ground for a termination.

Eventually by looking at other items on the "news" site, I ascertained that this was, in fact satire - the giveaway article was one where President Obama was reported to be angry about internet porn, but only because it was costing him so much to view.

Yet it was a close call - because the thing is, it isn't so difficult to imagine Rubio saying what was attributed to him. His party, after all, boasts a range of lawmakers who see rape as the woman's fault and have been prepared to legislate to enforce this warped view, inspiring memes such as this one, where each statement is not satire, but hard-fact comments from elected (male) American representatives.

And, of course, somehow, on some distant planet, Rubio is seen as the "moderate" member of the Triumvirate of the Damned composed of himself, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

Satire works when it takes the most ludicrously extreme position of a public figure and then stretches it to a logical but far-beyond-feasible horizon. The humour is in the warning - this is where you are headed if you take their dogmatic stupidity to its furthest but nigh-impossible conclusion.

But satire dies if it is no longer a humorous warning and becomes instead an all-too likely forecast. Because, in this era of post-factual and post-reason politics, anything at all really is possible.

Back in 1980, the British satirical TV programme, Not the Nine O'Clock News, included this sketch:

People were amused because, under the early days of the Thatcher Government, the Tories were imposing swingeing cuts on welfare spending. If they kept on this path, the satire held, the next thing they would indeed do would be to tax white sticks and wheelchairs. Except, of course, no one thought for a moment that they actually would, even if we knew a good number of them might like to - because it was simply too far, too outrageous. So, even under Thatcher, even under the greed-inducing, society-denying Iron Lady, they never did - indeed, latterly, they even encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to classify as disabled in order to reduce the official unemployment figures.

Whizz forward thirty years and now we have headlines like these:

Now, Government ministers with six figure expenses claims extol the need to cut disability benefit by £30 a week and utter statements chillingly close to Hitler's arbeit mach frei (work sets you free),  while a Tory councillor recommended euthanasia by the guillotine for disabled children with little rebuke. There is no longer anything to joke about. Anything, it seems, really is possible.

And so to the Republican Presidential race.

Marco Rubio perhaps does slide into some faint degree of distant reason set against his rival Ted Cruz, who happily lets his preacher father go on TV to declare that God has sent his son to make America great again while, in his own appearances, Cruz himself claims God is helping his campaign. In the Republican debates he has declared he will bomb Syria until the sand glows - an aspiration unlikely to have been approved by Jesus though Ted at least claims to be in the know on that score, with his direct-line to Heaven. But in case things aren't absolutely certain, just for sake of clarity, Cruz has welcomed the support of a rightwing Pastor who claimed God sent Hitler to hunt Jews.

And then, of course, there is Trump. And what can you say? From the satirical to the surreal, and back to the only too real. Prayed over and blessed by Christian and Jewish faith leaders, he wants to build a "beautiful" wall and make Mexico pay. Ban Muslims from entering America and make the ones already there wear special badges so people can identify them in the street. Torture for freedom. Wage war for peace.

This is a man who mocks the disability of a reporter and just gets more popular. A man who talks about the size of his genitals at a political rally and is cheered to the rafters. A man who leads a baying mob in roaring applause of the choke-slamming of a photographer he didn't like . A man whose speeches have allegedly inspired white rightwingers to commit acts of violence against minorities. A man who boasts he could kill someone, but his supporters would just keep voting for him...

You can point to the parallels with Hitler and the Jews. To Stalin and the Berlin Wall. To any number of dictators. Or psychopaths. But you can't laugh.

Outstretched arms for the Trump Pledge in Florida

Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was released in 1964 against a backdrop of the Cold War. Yet while it satirized the doctrine of mutual assured destruction that was central to military planning and the politics of the time, the characters so powerfully and humorously portrayed were nevertheless parodies: ludicrous extensions of the appallingly unpleasant but nevertheless limited-by-some-faint-degree-of-reason individuals the story lampooned. Major Kongs existed for sure, but they wouldn't really get to ride the Bomb.

But now, with it almost a dead certainty that one of those three will win the Republican nomination and have at least an evens chance of actually becoming President, while nearly everything becomes ludicrous, anything also becomes possible.

And the joke is over.

In the twisted minds of the Triumvirs, Jesus is alive and working through them.

If he is, he might wish himself dead.

He could be entombed alongside the stone cold corpse of satire.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Magical Algorithms of Abracadabra Osborne

"Do no evil" is Google's motto, but as you may have noticed, the last week has seen a couple of queries rise about its activities in the United Kingdom.

Chancellor George Osborne
First Chancellor George Osborne eagerly flourished his announcement that he had finally got the internet search giant to cough up £130 millions in back tax after a decade of negotiation (and non-payment). Which was spoiled somewhat when Labour (who to be fair extracted nil from Google in their final term in office) pointed out that this represented a tax rate of just 3% compared to the 20% paid by most businesses (well, apart from Facebook, Amazon, Starbucks and a host of other big ones). "Mates rates" one commentator declared.

Bad enough, but then a curious item was highlighted raising a new query - as part of the tax deal, had the Tory Government done a deal on Google search algorithms to put them in a better light than their rivals?

This was what prompted this debate - Google search has an autocomplete facility on search terms. If you type words in, it suggests further words, presumably based on the most frequently searched terms, to suggest what you are looking for to save you time.

So, for the Opposition parties, it comes up like this:

Labour are not very positive:

Lib Dems are in trouble:

Greens do better, but may be being muddled with the veg counter:

UKIP - you can see both supporters and opponents have been searching them:

While the poor SNP have been thoroughly stalked by unpleasant online trolls, whatever the Unionists try to claim to the contrary:

But the Tories? The Government party that may have its supporters but has so polarised opinion with its extreme policies... well, you'd imagine there's be all sorts in there. But...

Complete, utter BLANK, BLANK, BLANK! Not a sausage is suggested, unlike all their opponents.
Now, when you put in the "Conservative Party is" , you do get a more plausible result.

And indeed, Google insists the results are altered by an automatic algorithm which may have removed popular suggestions because they were obscene. Possibly true - after all, who wouldn't want to stick some pretty nasty terms in when searching out the Tories' crimes? Yet given the tax row, Google might have been advised to pay some manual attention to this term at the moment rather than leave it to the software.

However, what is even more suspicious, is when you try to search out party leaders' personal names.

Cameron comes off neutralish..

Corbyn... not so positive, is it? Although he might be pleased with the final suggestion.

However, the oddest and most telling search autocomplete comes out with the Chancellor himself, the man who agreed Google's deal (and pays them tens of millions to help collect tax from other people for the HMRC).

Yes, it seems Google thinks Curious George is a first degree sorcerer, a master practitioner of the dark arts. And who are we to disagree? Certainly for Google, it must seem like he's been sprinkling a fine coating of fairy dust all over their account books.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Exit Humanity: COP21 - Historic Agreement, or Homo Sapiens' Suicide Note?

Sandstorm from Syria hits south eastern Turkey, 2014 - global warming sparked the Syrian civil war and is set to multiply conflict worldwide

The UN climate change negotiations at COP21 in Paris culminated in the hailing of the resulting treaty as a great breakthrough in human history. As 195 nations signed up to the Paris Agreement, world leaders hailed their own deeds as planet-saving; Francois Hollande, the French President and host, wiped tears from his eyes as he declared "History is now!"

And yet, what has been signed up to at this, the end of the warmest year in recorded history? In the warmest December ever? And in a year when, yet again, human emissions of greenhouse gases have grown yet again to a new record?

Well, frankly, not much, if anything at all.

195 nations have signed a non-binding declaration to reduce their carbon emissions "as soon as possible" in order to keep global warming at no more than what is seen as a critical threshold of no more than 2 degrees centigrade abover pre-industrial levels. A secondary target is to try to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees, but as this year we have reached 1.2 degrees, this seems like a pie-in-the-sky objective at best; at worst, a shocking deception.

Each country will have a target to reduce emissions until at some point, far enough away for today's politicians to not worry a jot about, the world will be carbon-neutral with a big move away from carbon fuels to nuclear and renewable energy. However, the agreement is non-binding until 55 countries producing at leat 55% of the world's cabon emissions formally ratify it; and even then there is no enforcement mechanism and no sanctions against any non-adhering nation. £100 billions is earmarked to help developing nations to bypass the dirty fuel industrialisation that plagued western nations in their development, but again this is notional and non-binding. And no emission reductions at all are required for another five years.

And as with previous climate conferences, Paris did not include in its scope the airline and shipping industries, in spite of their substantial contribution to the problem, nor agriculture, which by some estimates produces as much as 55% of anthropogenic carbon emissions (largely down to the dairy and meat industries).

And of course, once the press conferences are over and the stage set for COP21 was dismantled, it seemed that the political leaders who had lauded themselves so loudly immediately suffered a bout of amnesia. Amber Rudd, the British Environment Secretary, returned to the UK and within a week had pulled the plug on the UK solar energy industry and approved fracking in British national parks. The only contribution Britain has offered for disinvestment in carbon fuels was the closure of the last deep coal mining pit in the UK, a product of global market forces rather than any phased switch to clean energy and a tragedy to a community now left without employment.

World leaders gathered for collective backslapping in Paris
Some Green leaders were surprisingly muted about their views, perhaps keen not to be seen as doom-mongers. England & Wales Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said it was useful albeit just as a set of first steps, while Green MP Caroline Lucas was more cautious with nuanced criticisms of its absence of detail, and former US Vice-President Al Gore declared it acceptable if in rather lukewarm terms.

Other environmentalists were somewhat more scathing - former NASA scientist Professor James Hansen, known as the "father of climate change awareness" in particular savaged the agreement as "bullshit" and "fraud", and far from enough to prevent runaway global warming. The Green Party of the US was overtly critical and The New Internationalist magazine meantime analysed the outcome on the basis of the four key steps required to halt global warming: (a) implement immediate and massive reductions in emissions; (b) provide effective support for transition to new forms of energy and economics; (c) deliver justice for communities impacted by global warming and (d) take genuine effective action rather than conjure up false solutions (such as the racketeering of carbon markets or the mirage of carbon capture techno-fixes).

It judged the agreement to have failed on all four counts. Completely.

Time, or lack of it, is as much an issue as lack of any concrete action - the bottom line is we cannot wait any longer to act. For while politicians have nosily signed us up to aspirations with decades-long timescales attached, we are already now in what many environmentalists call DECADE ZERO. In other words, given that many aspects of climate change have a lag of several decades between cause and effect, it is what we are doing right now that matters, not what we might get round to in 15, 25 or 35 years time. What we are experiencing now - record temperatures and more and more extreme weather events - are the products of what we did back in the 1980s. Since then global carbon emissions have grown exponentially at well over 3% per annum -and we will reap the product of that in the next 20 to 30 years regardless of what we do now.

The dangers are multiplied by what are called potential tipping points: events where human-caused global warming impacts on the planet in such a way that global warming jumps exponentially. One potential tipping point is the melting of the Arctic tundra to a point where there are mass emissions of subsurface methane gases. These are many times more thickening than carbon dioxide and would shunt warming into another level. There are already many instances of methane releases on a large scale in the northern hemisphere: another two or three decades beggars belief about what levels it will reach by then, making the pious, self-serving backslapping of the authors of the Paris Agreement utterly redundant.

And the consequences? Immense. We have already seen the first conflicts and mass migrations caused by global warming: according to a study by the University of California, the Syrian Civil War was largely prompted by the collapse of the agrarian economy in the Tirgis and Euphrates basin, driven by prolonged drought and exhaustion of water supplies. The result was mass movement to the cities by disaffected young people, who became hostile to the government, many were radicalised and the civil war began and, with it, the displacement of 12 million refugees. As the US Military has already gameplanned, as warming intensifies competition for water and decent land, conflicts will grow wider and deeper, and the current refugee crisis will look like a cakewalk by comparision to what is to come.

But beyond, if warming rises significantly over 2 degrees, as it almost certainly will now, the future is bleak indeed. Not for the planet - the planet does not need saving. It will endure. But in our global economy and interconnected world, with capitalism fighting to its and our last, what passes for civilised order will collapse in fits and starts and, as large swathes of our world become uninhabitable, our species itself will be at risk of extinction. Water sources and food supplies will come under ever-growing pressure and we will face constantly increasing dangers from extreme weather events, biohazards and new patterns of disease, and from each other. A four or five degree increase would see humanity more or less extinguished from the face of our world.

COP21 was a cop-out, not a breakthrough. And the people who stood and blithely pronounced it a historic occasion were right only in that it quite possibly marked the moment homo sapiens signed its suicide note. Greens cannot and must not soft-pedal or downplay the urgency of the emergency we face.

This is Decade Zero. We are not out of time just yet. But the clock is ticking and midnight is close.

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Focus of All Ignorance: The Final Republican Primary Debate

If you have time to kill and feel like being scared, why not tune into an online repeat of the final Republican Presidential debate for the primaries that start in Iowa and New Hampshire in a few weeks' time? Because, as you listen to the jostling cacophony of prejudice, pomposity and shallowness, it is a truly terrifying prospect that

(a) one of these people will be the Republican/GOP nominee
 and that
 (b) as things stand, barring a late swing to the insurgent Bernie Sanders for the Democrat nomination, only that pillar of the Establishment, Hillary Clinton, stands tenuously between them and the Presidency (and the US nuclear arsenal).

When race outsiders Jeb Bush and Senator Rand Paul end up sounding like the only sane voices on the stage, this is the reality - men (and one woman) to whom you wouldn't entrust the temporary care of your dog now stand on the threshold of the most powerful and dangerous office in the world. And this is not the narrow prejudice of a leftwing blogger - there are perfectly credible rightwing politicians we can debate with, however deep our differences - but rather a reflection of just how terrifyingly ill-informed and blind to reality most of these candidates are. 

The Ignorant Nine: Republican candidates at the Las Vegas debate
In the debate from Las Vegas, which focused on immigration and foreign policy, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush several times complained businessman Donald Trump could not be a serious candidate because of declarations that, for example, he would "build a Great Wall" along the border of Mexico to keep out Hispanic migrants he has previously denounced as predisposed to commit rape and murder. But it is Mr Trump who stands at 34% nationwide for the Republican nomination while Bush languishes at 7%. The only challenge to the artificially hirsute billionaire businessman is the equally odious Ted Cruz, who joked that he would build a wall too and make Trump pay for it.

Contemplating the nine candidates participating in the debate, it was difficult not to reflect that it must be rare that so much ignorance could be gathered in the one place at the one time. Consider a few gems:

- the repeated confusion of Saudi Arabia with Iran. Several times candidates, Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Ted Cruz especially, seemed to think that Iran somehow backs or at least is responsible for ISIS while Saudi  Arabia fights ISIS. The reality is the opposite: while Saudi finance founded and continues to support ISIS in its murderous activities, Iranian troops and volunteers have been taking to the field in Iraq for over a year to fight against ISIS. Rubio and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorino imagine a Sunni army taking on ISIS - from where? ISIS are Sunnis fighting Shias in Iraq and Syria. While many Sunnis live in fear of them as much as anyone else, they have no army.

- Ted Cruz implied that all terror attacks are carried out by Muslims. In truth, the FBI's own figures put the Islamist involvement in terrorist incidents within the USA at just 6% of the total and Europol puts the current rate in Europe at just 2% of terrorist incidents. The vast majority of terrorist acts have been committed by Hispanic groups in the USA and by separatist organisations in Europe.

- Governor John Kasich complained about the Europeans "holding a climate conference in Paris when they should have been talking about destroying ISIS". Where do you even start?

- Donald Trump, backing away from his previous call to close the internet, just wants to ban ISIS from using it (perhaps a strong word with their internet provider in downtown Raqqa and slapping on some family control filters?). At the same time, Donald thinks it would be a good idea for western intelligence agencies to hack into ISIS websites to watch what the terrorists are doing; something that presumably he believes they haven't been doing for some time already.

- Trump also wants to set out to kill the families of ISIS members. Suicide bombers while not bothered about their own lives are apparently family guys who will think twice if the US military are instructed to seek out and kill their non-combatant wives and children. Great American values, although he later seemed to contradict himself by complaining about the futility of past US interventions in the Middle East (and, for fairness sake, he did oppose the Iraq War back in 2003).

Dr Ben Carson, a neuro-surgeon and Christian leader, talked bizarrely of his willingness to blow up Muslim children as "an act of love" via a tortuous analogy with his operations on sick kids. Better to get it over with, he seemed to be saying, than death by a thousand cuts. He also started his presentation by calling for a moment of silence for the people killed at San Bernardino, leading one critic on social media to blast him "we can hardly hear you already, why turn up the volume with a moment's silence?"

- Meanwhile, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, boldly vowed to win back the trust of King Hussein of Jordan. Unquestionably, it will be an amazing achievement of historical proportions if he fulfils this promise as Hussein has been dead for over sixteen years now - but perhaps I am just a pessimistic leftist. Christie also said he wants to shoot down Russian planes in Syria rather than be seen as a "weakling" like Barak Obama. ("The candidate for World War Three", Rand Paul wryly observed).

So, depressingly but unsurprisingly, the Republican field is about as narrow-minded and foreboding as ever, and the narrative darkly extreme. We saw nearly all candidates bantering over how much carpet-bombing is enough, relaxed about deliberately killing innocents, openly advocating a war with Iran and military confrontation with Russia and China, joking about the efficacy of building a wall thousands of miles long ("Just like the folks in Israel", quipped Trump) and purposefully tarring all migrants and refugees with the same brush of terrorism. Perhaps back in 1941 they would have applauded the decision to bar Ann Frank's family's desperate claim for asylum in the USA for pretty much the same reasons of possible latent sympathy for the enemy.

We might like to comfort ourselves with the thought that the two lead candidates - Trump and Cruz - are so divisive and maverick that they will alienate so many Americans that they won't win. Except that the evidence stands to the contrary: tracking polls for RealClearPolitics show a close race indeed between them and either Clinton or Sanders for the General Election itself. The mainstream of American politics has become so dumbed down, so hysterically uninformed and quick to knee-jerk violence, that one poll this week found that 30% of Republican voters would support bombing the city of Agrabah, with only 13% opposed.

Agrabah is an entirely fictional place, the setting for the fairytale story of Aladdin.

All this, of course, is perhaps a symptom of America's long, slow decline, an empire in gradual retreat. Abroad it is reduced to an ever-increasing reliance on projection of military power and violence to shore up its fading influence; at home, to a dependence on raising up scapegoat after scapegoat to neutralise a dislocated and restive citzenry. And with this in mind, the final word must go to Trump. He highlighted perhaps the greatest fear of all when candidates were asked about nuclear weapons. His incisive analysis is about as articulate a summary as anyone could possibly provide:

"The biggest problem we have today is nuclear...nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. In my opinion, that is the single biggest problem our country faces."

Who could possibly disagree?

(Learn more about all the candidates - including the Green Party's Dr Jill Stein - in the US elections HERE)

Biased, unfair socialist commentary? Watch the whole debate here and see what you think ...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Greens on the Rojavan Revolution

Last week saw the British Government get its way in proposing that UK jets should join in aerial bombing in Syria. Since then, the litany of bad news from the area has continued - ISIS continue to murder and oppress; Russian bombers attack Syrian rebels but not ISIS; Turkey continues to weave a devious path through the maelstrom, allegedly buying cheap oil that finances ISIS and blocking Kurdish attempts to seal off the self-styled Caliphate's trade routes; British planes attack the Assad regime, which was not part of the debate in Parliament; millions of people continue to flee, thousands are killed and whole affluent cities are brought to dust.

But in one part of Syria, there is good news. In the three Kurdish cantons of the northeast, collectively known as Rojava, not only has ISIS been pushed dramatically back, but the inhabitants have embraced an incredible, egalitarian revolution that is transforming their society and offering a model for sustainability and social justice to the whole region and beyond.

In the UK, perhaps because endorsing Rojava in the battle with ISIS would mean endorsing social revolutionaries, the Cameron Government has largely ignored what some refer to as the "stateless state". But on the Left, many have come to see it as an entity needing our backing and none more so than many in the Green Party, which some months ago formally voted in favour of calling for British and international support for Rojava's struggle.

Here are links to three pieces by Green Party members on Rojava and the hope it provides in winning hearts and minds as well as battlefields from the pernicious fascism of ISIS, but without yielding to the twisted agendas of self-styled Great Powers which have to date caused so much deep seated and lasting harm to the entire region of the Levant.


- Derek Wall, Green Party International Co-ordinator in "The Morning Star" (published 2/12/15)

THE media and political class pre-frame debates so we are left with limited choices. Often a simple analysis of the situation shows that the positions advanced are nonsense.The current debate over how to fight Islamic State (Isis) in Syria is a typical example. The debate is framed as bombing Isis versus a pacifist position. We are set up to agonise over intervention. 

On the one hand Western intervention in Iraq and Libya has created the chaos which led to the birth and growth of the so-called Islamic State. On the other, after the bloodshed in Paris, to do nothing is not an option, so many of us reluctantly are tempted to support British bombing of Raqqa and other areas controlled by Isis.

However even a cursory examination of the facts on the ground suggest that, far from opposing Isis, the British government is actually campaigning against the most successful of its opponents — the revolutionary Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and organised in the Peoples Protection Units (YPG).

Also see a comment piece for the Green Party of England & Wales by Derek Wall in October 2014 on "Western Blindspot: the Kurds' Forgotten War in Syria."


- Martin O'Beirne, Ecosocialist blogger  (published 28/11/15)

Contrary to what I think I should probably think - I don't agree that there should be no bombing/air campaign at all in the fight against Da'esh ever by anyone.

I disagree with Cameron's crude strategy of UK airstrikes and heavy bombing of Raqqa. What I do agree with is the following 1. Political intervention (in particular pressuring Turkey to reconsider its increasingly blatant support for ISIS) 2. A complete reassessment of our arms trade with Saudi & Israel 3. The left doing several things that broadly come under the rubric of 'defending the greyzone' including, supporting Corbyn and attacking the media and messages it is portraying. The Sun and Daily Mail have by any standards been vile. The Caliph the conductor and we the conducted and finally 4. Being very mindful indeed with the use of the Prevent program. Administered in any other way could be counterproductive and there are reports that this is so.

I strongly disagree with the drive for militarization over the next decade, billions planned for new aircraft and trident renewal. A pillar of neoliberalism that has inevitably created this situation. This money could pay for a million climate jobs several times over, amongst other things. But I do agree with one thing. Despite playing a major role in birthing ISIS in to this world, they, ISIS, should be stopped. If the left acknowledges this, a strategy is lacking in much of the discourse, and the above mentioned strategies are only mitigation.



- Adrian Cruden, former Green Party Parliamentary candidate in "The Point" (published 6/12/15)

Political delusion reached some sort of tragic apogee last week with the British Parliamentary debate on bombing the Islamist ISIS/Daesh “Caliphate” straddling eastern Syria and north-western Iraq. Responding to the complaints that bombing alone would do little, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned up 70,000 “moderate” Syrian fighters who, although currently invisible, were apparently ready to take on the 30,000 soldiers of the Caliphate and battle their way to the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa, there to bring the conflict to a dramatic conclusion.

The Government has admitted the figure is a totalling of small groups of rebels primarily focussed on fighting the Assad regime (and each other) and the provenance of many is questionable: a good number have links with both al Qaeda and Daesh. Reportedly, officials warned Cameron not to use the figure, but he ignored them, a decision he may come to regret.

The Prime Minister’s wishful thinking, however, excluded one real source of potential military power which other pro-interventionists have been quick to point to as his Army of Moderates has sunk into the desert sands. Maajid Nawaaz of the Quilliam Foundation, speaking on BBC’s Question Time, referred to them portentously as “The Kurdish Warriors” and seemed to suggest they could be Cameron’s troop against Daesh. However, his assumption that the Syrian Kurds might be co-opted into Cameron’s military strategy demonstrates a misunderstanding of both the Kurds and Cameron but, for those of us on the non-pacifist Left, the issue does raise some serious questions about what robust alternative we can offer to the aerial bombing campaign.


Below: Rojavans in Efrin go to the ballot box as democracy wins through...

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

On The Eve of Destruction?

The hours are going by as our MPs debate whether or not to approve Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to join a number of other countries such as the USA and France in bombing the so called Islamic State in Syria - UK jets have been attacking IS in Iraq for some time already. After the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris (though with little mention of similar ones in Beirut a few days before), Cameron insists that the only way Britain can defend itself against IS/Daesh is to join in an aerial campaign in the Syrian parts of the would-be Caliphate.

How this will achieve anything is a puzzle. The UK is likely to contribute at most 8 bombers from bases in Cyprus - a third of the current French force and tiny compared to the US input. It is highly unlikely to lead to any significant change in the balance of the fighting but, in the crowded skies over Syria now that Russia is also mounting a bombing campaign, who knows what scope there is for another international incident between the West and Putin, quite apart from Daesh? What possible calamity could develop out of that given all the recent sabre-rattling against Russia over the seemingly forgotten Ukraine crisis?

And as for bombing making us safer in the UK - is this the same David Cameron who warned that Russia's bombing campaign would make it more likely to suffer an Islamist terror attack? And in that, wasn't he for once correct as we saw with the subsequent downing of the Russian airliner above Sinai? And how did the aerial bombing by France, now going on for some months, make the poor people slaughtered by jihadi butchers on the streets of Paris a couple of weeks ago in any way safer?

But on Cameron goes, ludicrously but chillingly denouncing anyone who does not toe his line as "terrorist sympathisers", a tactic that assaults the right of Parliament to have free debate, of citizens to have freedom of speech and calls into serious question whether Cameron is actually fit for office. For if anyone is doing Daesh's work for them, it is Cameron, ignorantly failing to see that by his words he is both destroying the values he claims to defend and forcing the very polarisation that the jihadis seek: Daesh want this reaction, they want to be bombed. Given their death-cult beliefs, the more bombs that fall, the better - each piece of ordinance will blast away a bit more of what Daesh deride as the "grey zone", the places where Muslims and non-Muslims coexist peacefully.

But when our bombs fall on Raqqa, ISIS's capital city, however well targeted, they will fall not only on the 30,000 or so ISIS troops and their supporters. They will also fall on the 300,000 civilians who were captured in the city when it fell to Daesh. They will fall on schoolchildren, and on ordinary families with nothing to do with Daesh other than have the misfortune to be their prisoners. They will fall on the Yazidi women Daesh keeps as sex slaves, on the prisoners they have seized from among Shia, Allowite and Christian communities and on the western hostages they continue to hold.

Tory MPs, most of whom have only pointed guns at defenceless animals, fantasize about precision weapons that somehow won't explode on the wrong people. Similarly, their leader has seemingly assumed the magical powers of Gandalf to summon up an Army of Moderates - 70,000 currently invisible soldiers who will appear from the mountains and deserts of Mesopotamia to sweep the Islamists away after British bombing allegedly clears a path for them.

So much is at stake tonight. For once, in speeches by Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP's Angus Robertson and the Greens' Caroline Lucas, we have heard strong arguments against the Government's plans. Several Tories, including David Davis, have also made clear their opposition and it may be that if Cameron carries the day it will only be with the help of the extremist DUP and the tattered and pathetic remnants of the Lib Dems, whose Christian leader seemingly feels "reluctantly" drawn to dropping bombs.

But beyond this, what?

As David Davis has said, any bombing, whatever damage or casualties it inflicts, will be largely "symbolic" in the wider scheme of things. It will not destroy ISIS - it may in fact make it stronger. And meantime, Cameron plans to continue to trade and sell and work with the Saudi regime whose scions have planted and carefully nurtured the seeds of Daesh. He has repeatedly rebutted any complaints or calls for him to act, for example, on the young democracy activist the Saudis plan to crucify for daring to question their absolute monarchy. This is because they apparently give us "valuable intelligence" about threats to our national security - yes Dave, that's the very same threats they have themselves helped to create, so they probably do indeed have valuable information.

There is no strategy, no forward plan, no collaboration with effective local forces like the Rojavans. And while apparently £1 billion is earmarked for post-conflict reconstruction, who is going to do the reconstruction? Have we learned nothing from Libya, where UK-US-French bombing caused over £20 billions of damage and left the country in anarchy with the Black Flags of ISIS and al Qaeda fluttering over half the land?

What will we do when this doesn't work?

Saturday, 28 November 2015

This Little Piggy Longs for the Abattoir

This little recently born and clearly exhausted piglet had slipped through the cage bars and was left stuck under the cage its mother was locked into.
Last year, two of Britain's most annoying TV "personalities", Ant and Dec, made a series of adverts for the supermarket chain Morrisons. In one, they were seen visiting a farm to meet some cows and talk to a beaming manager who told them that all their meat was British and the supermarket was so committed to it all that "we even have our own farm", etc, etc. The animals were seen in an outdoors byre before cutting back to an all-smiling in-store counter complete with banter about pork crackling.

Red Tractor logo
I've blogged before about the fakery of supermarket chains on the origins of their food, but here is some evidence to make you stop taking any bacon or pork from them ever again, were you so minded to do so to begin with. Below is a video taken at Poplar Pig Farm near Hull, which supplies Morrisons. It is part of the Red Tractor Scheme which supposedly guarantees some sort of minimum (or perhaps more accurately minimal) standard of animal welfare. The kite-mark is used by over 2,000 UK pig farmers (and thousands of others) as well as by Morrisons and other retailers to flog their meats to the public. The footage was taken by Viva, a charity campaigning for animals.

Watch it if you can - see piglets born and living in near darkness, in tiny cages, standing in their own excrement. See mother pigs locked in metal cage-harnesses that prevent them from moving for five weeks, unable to reach their dying piglets a few feet away. See a stunned piglet lost underneath the cages, while another one chews manically on the only moving object near it - a metal chain. In the corner, a dead piglet disappears under a mass of flies, consuming its briefly living little corpse.

The farmer has refuted the charity's charge of cruelty, though notably does not deny the footage or claim it is fake - rather he has simply questioned how it was obtained and the legality of that. Viva insist they have not broken the law.

Of course it is a disgrace. No animal should ever be treated in this way - and pigs of all creatures are the species closest of all to humans in terms of DNA. They are observed as intelligent, empathetic and above all else CLEAN creatures, the reputation of pigsty dirt being wholly caused by human animal husbandry methods. Never good, never free of cruelty at some level, these have reached a further depth with the factory farming for supermarkets relentlessly seeking maximum profits on cheapest possible production costs.

Consume at your own risk: just as we are what we eat, so are these poor creatures, literally born, living and dying in pools of shit. More reasons to shop at Morrisons, indeed.

And the biggest scandal of all?
This is the norm, not the exception.  For example, while the natural weaning period for a piglet is 12 to 15 weeks, the supposedly high care Red Tractor kite mark allows for just 3 to 4 weeks, with the sow locked immobile in a body cage throughout. Even after the expose by Viva in October, Morrisons and the Red Tractor scheme have simply asked for some changes at the farm rather than stopped using it.

The bottom line? This is how supermarket meat - and indeed most meat in our mass produced system - is created. Out of sight, out of mind and out of control.

"More reasons to shop at Morrisons" the jingle went.
No. Not really. In fact, every reason not to.

Caution: distressing footage

And now recall the marketing myth.