Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Carbon Spike - time is running out to stop the human greenhouse

There is still time to act on climate change; but it is running out fast.

Figures released this week have shown carbon dioxide emissions have reached their highest level in human history, with a sharp rise last year in spite of the worldwide recession. Climate scientists now doubt that we will be able to keep warming to below the 2C increase which is seen as the tipping point towards runaway climate change, and other research this week has warned that the complete melting of the thinning Arctic ice shelf will lead to a new tipping point within two decades as the heat previously reflected back into space by the white ice instead gets absorbed into the seas.

Urgent action is required - Germany's target of 50% renewable energy by 2030 and Scotland's 100% renewable electricity by 2020 targets show that it is technologically possible. All that is needed is the political will to act - and we all have a part to play in making that happen, whoever we are and wherever we are.

We won't save the Earth - but it is not at risk. We are.

Killed Because They Are Black - The Racist Rebels of "Free" Libya

The terrified man is hung upside down as a mob chant abuse at him, many filming his torture on mobile phone cameras. After some time, a man steps forward and begins to hack off the prisoner's head, the mob cheering as his blood spurts to the ground. It is the latest of many videos to come out of war-torn Libya showing people brutally killed, homes destroyed and refugees expelled. Misery and death seem ubiquitous.

But the air forces of the coalition of western countries - France and Britain at their head, with an allegedly reluctant USA following up - were nowhere to be seen in their mission to protect civilians.

Why not? Simply because the people carrying out the lynch mob executions and torture are our allies, the so-called Libyan freedom fighters based in Benghazi to whom President Sarkozy and Premier Cameron have pledged apparently unending support. On so many levels, our intervention, originally sold as a very limited no-fly zone, has become a full-on support to a coup d'etat against the secular Gaddafi regime by a coalition of regionalists, tribal leaders and religious zealots. Within these groups, there is now also an increasingly racist streak, with Arab supremacists targeting Libyans descended from the black African slaves of previous centuries, as well as black African migrant workers.

Black Africans are targetted indiscriminately by rebels
Because of their slave history, just as blacks in America were denied rights for decades by the white majority, black Libyans have traditionally occupied the place of an underclass in Libya. Gaddafi's regime, violent though it has often been, did much to alleviate their position and oppose the traditional marginalising of blacks. Now, with the east of the country "liberated", this seems to be changing. Under the ruse that Gaddaffi has flown in black African mercenaries from the sub-Sahara, black people throughout Libya are being indiscriminately  targeted in their droves to be beaten, robbed and murdered by the rebels.

Britain's support for the rebel National Transitional Council has deepened continuously since the UN resolution permitting action to protect civilians was approved, both financially and militarily. Whilst the Gaddafi regime appears to have exaggerated some of the strikes by the West, it is very much the case that western intervention has gone far beyond its original claimed intent and the remit granted by the UN.

Yet throughout all this, the NTC appears to be far from the champion of democracy it is made out to be - it contains many former political leaders from the Gaddafi regime, as well as many military men - seven former regime generals were paraded before the cameras today as the latest defectors. Islamic fundamentalists from  the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition are also prominently involved - and as posted earlier, it was demonstrations they called to commemorate the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mahommed that sparked off the revolt against Gaddaffi's secular regime.

Ever since the Chavez Initiative back in April, the Gaddaffi regime has repeatedly offered to accept an internationally monitored ceasefire, an offer repeated last weekend during the visit of President Zuma of South Africa. Although this would, presumably, be the best means of ensuring the protection of civilians which is meant to be the purpose of western intervention, the rebel council has repeatedly refused to even consider a ceasefire and rejects out of hand the idea of peace negotiations with Gaddaffi. And this refusal is repeatedly accepted, indulged and even rewarded by the West, which has announced ever more powerful weapons and, in spite of our alleged age of austerity, financial support to the Benghazi junta. Attack helicopters are in the process of being deployed, and al-Jazeera has run footage of what appears to be European ground troops liaising with Libyan rebels - a flagrant breach of the UN resolution.

What is playing out here is an alarming example of rightwing revenge - Cameron and Sarkozy come from conservative traditions that have always detested the Gaddafi regime, recalling its sympathising back in the 1970s and 1980s with the Soviet bloc. That is why they have intervened so unquestioningly in support of his opponents while ignoring the brutality of the Bahrain regime (still enjoying the welcome of David Cameron when its Crown Prince visited the UK the week before last). Undoubtedly, they are also salivating at the prospect of the ill-gotten gains to be made by western corporations if the large state sector was to be privatised post-Gaddafi - in France's case making up for missing out in the huge public assets sell-off to American, British and even Israeli companies in post-Saddam Iraq.

As before, in the warped name of warped democracy, Britain is bunking down with some distinctly odd bedfellows. And the people who suffer are those driven from their homes and lynched by "free Libya" rebel mobs, for no reason other than because they are black. Where is the West's intervention to protect them? Or are they just the wrong sort, or wrong colour, of civilians in this very uncivil war?

The Evidence

Video of African Workers Hiding Out in Benghazi from Racist Mob Violence

The Ugly Face of the Benghazi "Liberation" - Racism against Black Africans

More links (warning; extremely graphic)Rebel lynch mob murders black African   

- Nigerian migrant civilian worker killed by rebels

Monday, 30 May 2011

Myth & Reality In The Land of the Free...

The Myth...

"In the Land of the Free, you can be what you wanna be..."

Holly Johnson's 1989 hit single "Americanos" was a paean to American consumerism and the concept of the land of opportunity and freedom. Tongue-in-cheek, it's snappy melody and mildly satrical lyrics captured the gauche optimism of the American Dream, an ideal sold to the world, with some success. Across the planet, other countries are shedding ancient cultures and beliefs to embrace the liberal economics that seemingly epitomise the USA.

Holly Johnson's American Dream
And yet, setting aside for a moment the domination of American society by huge mega-corporations for at least the last century, the last two decades have seen increasing assaults on freedom of speech and assembly. Rights which have allegedly been fundamental to the "American Way" for the nation's entire existence have come under assault through the all-embracing PATRIOT Act and its successors, and the Department of Homeland Security has a long reach.

And, as can be seen in the second video here, US authorities also have a quite ludicrous response to peaceful protest - rather adeptly making their opponents' point for them by arresting people for the dreadful crime of silent dancing.

The Reality...

An RT America television host Adam Kokesh was violently slammed and choked by police who arrested the host after he took part in a flash-mob at the publicly-funded Jefferson Memorial.

On May 28 Adam and other activists were arrested seconds after they started silently dancing in what they say was a celebration of the first amendment's champion.


Saturday, 28 May 2011

Baby P - Children deserve better

The decision by the Court of Appeal to reinstate Sharon Shoesmith, former head of children's services at Haringey Council, has been predictably met by a hail of criticism by Government Ministers, MPs and the press. But, unpopular as it may be to say, there is no doubt that she has been denied the natural justice that we would all expect if our jobs, and livelihoods, were at risk - and especially if the tragic circumstances of something as awful as the Baby Peter case were central to the situation.

The Justices did not overrule the findings of the Ofsted Report into the circumstances surrounding the death of Peter Connelly, who was abused and murdered at the age of just two by his mother, her partner and her partner's brother. Social services and other health care workers had placed Peter on the child protection register and  saw him on a number of occasions but failed to challenge his mother about the evident injuries he had suffered.

Following the conviction of Peter's murderers, an enquiry was launched by Ofsted into the failure of Haringey Social Services to intervene in time to save the child. When it was published, it was highly critical of institutional and communication failings in the service headed by Shoesmith and, after then Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, taunted Prime Minister Gordon Brown about the case, she was relieved of her duties by the direct instruction of Education Secretary Ed Balls and sacked by the Council.

What yesterday's ruling says is that Shoesmith was denied any opportunity to respond to the Ofstead report or defend the criticisms made of her own handling of the situation. It does not comment on whether or not she should have been sacked - rather, it simply states she should have been given a proper opportunity to defend herself rather than simply being summarily sacrificed by a Government that was feeling the heat of public outcry.

It may be difficult to feel sympathy for Shoesmith given just how damning the Ofsted report is - but at the heart of her situation is the need for anyone in employment, no matter how senior their role or how tragic or negligent the case in hand, to be given the same rights as anyone would expect in defending themselves. David Cameron has announced the Government will appeal the outcome as it challenges the right of Ministers to be "responsible for their own decisions" - a rather surreal argument as what it actually means is that he wants them to be unaccountable when their actions break the laws on employment protection and natural justice.

Ed Balls - hasty
The rush by Ed Balls to sack Shoesmith without due process was a dereliction of his own duties - one to follow the laws which as a member of the Government he was bound to uphold; secondly, to reduce the cost to the public purse of facing a successful legal challenge on the grounds of failing to follow due process (to date, the case will have cost around £1.5 million to the taxpayer); and thirdly, to provide a more thoughtful approach than the one adopted in tackling the difficult environment social workers operate in. So often they are automatically castigated where something goes wrong in the care of vulnerable people - as with previous cases of child abuse, suspected and proven, they are frequently damned if they do and damned if they don't remove a child from their parents.

Governments have to be bound by the same laws and conventions as anyone else. The Shoesmith case is a striking example of how, increasingly, politicians are completely paranoid about responding to the shifting mood, not of the public, but of the tabloid press as it claims magically to represent "middle England". They end up making unsound decisions with serious consequences for the individuals affected and the public purse. Shoesmith may well have been dreadfully negligent of her responsibilities, but, as with anyone else accused of even the most heinous crimes (including even Peter's killers), she had a right to be treated as innocent until found guilty.

As a result, we are left with a situation where the focus is now on Government process, Ministers' decisions and the status of a very well paid senior manager rather than on ensuring that real lessons are learned from the awful death of little Peter. Instead of swifly but calmly reviewing how to improve child protection, the headlines are a circus of arguments about adults, money and the constitution.

Vulnerable children deserve better than this.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Indicting Mladic - for Srebrenica, Sarajevo...and London

Former Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic has amazingly been "found" by the Serbian authorities living in a house owned by his cousin, also called "Mladic", and is now on a fast track extradition process to the International Court at The Hague to stand trial for war crimes. He is likely to have a combined trial with his old boss, former President of the rebel Republic of Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, who similarly enjoyed many years of refuge in Serbia using one of the most obvious and unconvincing disguises in history - a big beard.

We should be glad the pair have been finally brought to justice, but they are not the only culpable parties. The Bosnian civil war was a dreadful stain on European history, one which our media, leaders and publics feigned to find "too complicated" to do anything about while it was happening and then rushed for the exit of history to forget about it as soon as it was over.

Bosnia had been one of five republics which made up Yugoslavia (the Union of Slavs) - Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and the largest, Serbia (which included three autonomous areas, Kosovo, Montenegro and Vojvodena). This area, like the rest of the Balkans, has a long history of migration and conquest by competing powers from the Dark Ages onwards over the years as empires rose and fell in lands with often uncertain geographical boundaries.

The five republics of former Federal Yugoslavia
Bosnia is unusual among the former Yugoslav republics in that its largest component - about 45% of the population - is Muslim. Of the rest, about 30% are Serbian Orthodox Christians and about 20% Croatian Catholics - with tiny Romany and Jewish populations making up the balance. The Muslims, who call themselves Bosniacs, are mainly descendants of indigenous people who, when the Ottoman Turks conquered the area in the 15th century, gradually converted to Islam. Although the Muslim Turks were in their time almost uniquely tolerant of other faiths, being a Muslim was a requirement for anyone wishing to serve in the Government. Consequently, over several centuries, many converted either pragmatically or through genuine belief - contrary to western mythology, there has rarely been forced conversion in Islamic history anywhere.

The Ottoman Empire, which stretched from the Danube to the Euphrates and from Istanbul to Ethiopia at its height, was organised into different millets, self-governing communities based on religion. As a result, for several centuries, people of different faiths lived physically alongside each other, with a degree of separation, but in peace and even with some slow social integration and sharing. However, with the rise of 19th century liberalism, unscrupulous politicians in the Balkans whipped up nationalist feelings. People were encouraged and even forced to think of themselves along ethnic lines - Serb, Hellenic, Turk - rather than as Ottomans, with religious differences used to buttress the desire for national independence from the Empire.

In such a potent mix, rivalries over land and resources inevitably led to conflict. The creation of Yugoslavia in 1919 went some way to suppressing nationalism - and after 1945 under the Communist regime of Tito a balance was created between the semi-autonomous republics listed earlier and the central Federal Government. But the collapse of Communism soon unleashed ethnic tensions again.

From 1989, the President of the Serbian republic within Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic advocated the break up of Yugoslavia but with the creation in its place of a Greater Serbia taking in neighbouring lands. He and his cronies set up a process that soon led to violent attacks on non-Serbs across Yugoslavia. In Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic emerged as the spokesman of the Serb minority and in October 1991, just after a national vote overwhelmingly in favour of independence, he chillingly warned his opponents:
"In just a couple of days, Sarajevo will be gone and there will be five hundred thousand dead, in one month Muslims will be annihilated in Bosnia and Herzegovina"

With massive quantities of weapons, troops and supplies provided from the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav Federal Army and with Ratko Mladic appointed to head up its army, Karadzic established the Republic of Srpska, which he intended to unite with Serbia proper. Along with a similar breakaway territory in Croatia, the Krajina, a Greater Serbia would be fashioned from lands seized from its neighbours and, even worse, ethnically cleansed of non-Serbs.

Troika of terror: Mladic, Karadzic & Milosevic

The next three and a half years saw repeated belligerence by the Serbs, joined at times by nationalist Croats. The Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, was surrounded by Serbian paramilitaries and subjected to the longest siege in modern history. Mladic vowed to bombard the largely unarmed inhabitants "until they are on the edge of madness" and over 10,000 people, including 1.500 children, died. Elsewhere, Serbian paramilitaries moved through villages and towns, identifying and expelling or slaughtering Muslims and Croats. Rape camps were set up where tens of thousands of young Muslim women were taken and raped repeatedly by Serbians. Muslim men were incarcerated and worked, starved and tortured to death, their bodies then being tipped into old coal mines which were dynamited to hide the evidence.

Echoes of Auschwitz - Bosnian Muslims in Serbian custody
The most notorious incident came in July 1995 at the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. In late June, the Serbs overwhelmed the lightly armed Bosniac defenders and ordered the entire population to leave. Over the next few days, men and women were separated and put onto different buses to take them to Sarajevo. But at the other end, many did not arrive and over the next few weeks it emerged than nearly 9,000 Muslim men and boys had been driven into the countryside and massacred by their captors.

Some European leaders did call for action - including French Socialist President Francois Mitterand, who at one point undertook a personally highly dangerous trip to Sarajevo to express his solidarity with its citizens. But the likes of British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd - who later went on to make a fortune out of helping Milosevic privatise Serb state telecommunications - prevailed for all too long. The Bosniacs were repeatedly implied to have a similar agenda to the Serbs, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary and in spite of the Bosniacs being in fact a relatively mixed group of people fighting for their new democracy.

Particularly in Sarajevo, thousands of ethnic Serbs and Croats joined the Bosnic Muslims in defence of their city and in 1992 the Bosnian Army included 18% Croat and 12% Serb components. Ethnic Serb General Jovan Divjak was deputy commander of the Bosniac army, while Croat General Stjepan Siber served as second deputy. Although, as happens all too often in the barbarising furnace of war, there were atrocities carried out by Bosniac individuals against Serbs, this was never a policy of the leadership. There were no acts of mass ethnic cleansing, no work camps and no rape camps in Bosniac territories.

The end of the war following American intervention and the long and troubled restoration of a still uncertain peace are other stories. But what is certain is that by late 1995 the atrocities committed by Karadzic, Mladic and their acolytes had done untold, lasting damage not just in their country but across the world. The figures speak for themselves - in the conflict, according to the International Criminal Tribunal, nearly 70% of the 100,000 dead were Muslims -over one in every thirty were killed. Among civilians, Muslims accounted for 88% of all deaths. And all this happened on Europe's doorstep, little more than two or three hours drive from Venice.

So Mladic has plenty to reflect on as he is is taken to The Hague. Sarajevo, Srebrenica and a host of other places in Bosnia were transformed by his work. Thanks to our leaders' fawning acquiescence to these thugs, London has felt the dreadful impact too, albeit comparatively lightly when set against the massive atrocities of Bosnia - the 7/7 bombers in 2005 were, like many younger Muslims, radicalised by the Bosnian war. And, unnoticed by all too many, the London bombings themselves took place on the tenth anniversary of the massacre of all these defenceless men and boys in the forests and fields around the ghost town of Srebrenica.

Milosevic died during his trial on war crime charges and now Mladic and Karadzic look likely to spend the rest of their lives in jail.Their malign influence is nearly gone, but they leave behind them a terrible, poisonous and far-reaching legacy that touches us all.

The tragedy that changed history: when President Bill Clinton saw this photograph of a young Muslim refugee who had hanged herself, he determined to over-rule repeated European opposition to his attempts to intervene. After a week of air attacks on Serb paramilitaries, three and a half years of brutal civil war came to an end.

Monday, 23 May 2011

John Hemming MP and The Lives of Others

Goethe said, 'Talent is developed in privacy, ' you know?And it's really true. There is a need for aloneness which I don't think most people realize for an actor.
                                                                                                                   (Marilyn Monroe)

Ok, so Ryan Giggs, footballer, has been playing away from home in more ways than one. After days of speculation and Twitter leaks, the cat is finally out the bag and his "super-injunction" has been washed away. Heading the charge to sweep it aside was a Liberal Democrat MP - claiming that because of the amount of commentary in social media, the legal constraint on publishing Giggs' story in the mainstream media was superfluous, a rather self-fulfilling statement. 

"Super-injunctions", so emotively nicknamed "gagging orders" by the totally impartial media, prevent the media from revealing someone has taken out an injunction to stop publication of information about themselves. These have been used because reporting the mere existence of an ordinary injunction has been used by journalists in the past to spread an atmosphere of "no smoke without fire", defeating the purpose of the process.

We should of course seek to have a country where the public interest is indeed protected from any legal instrument that frustrates the real public interest. Governments of all hues have in recent years been more than happy to introduce all manners of exemptions to the freedom of information laws and cover up their actions where these might embarrass the governing party. Unexplained decisions have denied the public information such as the 70 year ban on information from the inquiry into the death of Iraq weapons inspector Dr David Kelly. Likewise, large corporations and businesses have sought to use legal action or the threat of it to prevent disclosure of information that should undoubtedly be made public. But, in the name of personal privacy, the other side of an increasingly one-sided coin, surely there has to be a limit to what can be placed in the public domain about people's private lives? There is a big difference between the public interest and what the media tell the public it is interested in (which rarely includes the genuine transgressions of the truly powerful).

A Lib Dem MP declaring in the Commons that a footballer has had an affair does not seem to me like a particularly valid or worthwhile use of the important right of Parliamentary privilege. Whose business are Ryan Giggs' sleeping habits but his own and his wife's? So he is in the public eye because he kicks a ball up and down a pitch; but why does that lay his personal life open to intimate examination? Doubtless, some screamingly hypocritical tabloid journalists have already penned screeds of stuff about how he is an example to young people and have squashed it in between a pile of articles about the best sexual positions and which pop singer's blouse came undone at an awards ceremony. But Giggs and other celebrities are famous because they sing or play sports or act or whatever. They don't make public policy, they don't spend our money, they don't run our schools. So why are their private lives not to be respected?

The retort to that might be that only the rich and famous can afford super-injunctions, disadvantaging less well off people. And true that is. The law should be more accessible and rather than anyone having to rely on injunctions, there should be a proper law of privacy, applicable to all. Far too often, 24 hour news media and tabloid journalism (and sometimes serious journalism too) revel in the sensationalism of people's private grief - divorces, illnesses, affairs, whatever. Celebrities are the main target, but less well known people can equally find themselves dragged through the mud for no reason other than selling papers, as was the case last Christmas of the entirely innocent landlord of a murder victim in Bristol.

There can be times when there is some justification - mainly politicians who perhaps preach family values and decry adultery in public while siring second families behind their partners' backs. Or MPs who rail about transparency and honesty while covering up their leader's alcohol problem for years before ratting on him as if they never knew about it.

The only bodies with a genuine interest in doing away with the injunctions and stopping any new privacy law are the media, especially the tabloids. With titles like "The Sun", "The Daily Star" and a host of magazines existing on a constant diet of other people's misery, being able to get their hands on the private lives of anyone even remotely well known is key to their profits. Now, with reality TV (often owned and promoted by the same people who own the newspapers and magazines) they create new stars famous for nothing but being famous, and then drag them through all sorts of publicity scandals - drugs, fights, sex, sickness. Like the parasites they are, they live off their victims before finally discarding them when their brief celebrity is sucked dry and their lives often ruined.

So the MP who claimed today that revealing Giggs was in the public interest should take a long hard look at himself. Perhaps he wanted to make a point about the legal system, perhaps he just wanted to make some headlines for himself - not unlikely given his party's currently dismal standing. But perhaps he might want to ask himself, however much this was already Britain's worst kept secret, will Stacey Cooke, Giggs' wife, be thanking the MP tonight? Is the personal pain and humiliation he has added to what must already be an incredibly difficult time for her and her family worth getting his little known name and face in the news today?

Or should he just have kept his self-serving trap shut?

BELOW: "A Culture of Fear", a powerful video about the impact of the sensationalist media in its many damaging ways. Click through to Youtube for more on this.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Apocalypse Not Now: Nothing to be Rapturous About

It is all too appealing to have a laugh at the expense of the followers of Harold Camping, head of the Family Stations Christian radio network, who has predicted that the "Rapture", the first stage of the biblical Apocalypse set out in the Book of Revelations, will take place today. Revelations, traditionally written by St John, but more likely by a number of different authors, is a confusing, dream like book packed with allusions and illusions, mostly relevant to early Christians who were themeselves expecting the world to end imminently over nineteen centuries ago.

According to the Gospels, Jesus spoke of a Day of Judgment , predicting it would happen in the lifetimes of his followers, and couching it in suitably fiery language subsequently used to justify all sorts of atrocities:
"The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13, 40-43)  and "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12, 49)

By the Rapture theory, created by a Church of Scotland Minister Edward Irving around 1830, all true believers will be taken up to Heaven just before all this nastiness begins. The rest of us who are "left behind" will then be subjected to great tribulations and violence as the so-called End Times gather pace up to Judgement Day, when Jesus Christ will return and judge those who can go to Heaven (after first living with Jesus on a restored Earth - the New Jerusalem) and those due to suffer the eternal torments of Hell.

It is tempting to dismiss these as wacky ideas on the fringe of religion, easily rebutted by a range of sarcastic activities such as the Post-Rapture party organised on Facebook, or music concerts across the States peppered with "subject to change" notices for events on Sunday. Likewise, some people are ready to make a point - such as non-believers advertising "Gone with the Rapture on Saturday? Can I have your stuff please?" while, more exploitatively, some are making a tidy sum out of offering to look after cats and dogs that are "Left Behind" when their owners ascend.

But this sort of phenomenon can not be set aside so easily. Not only is it tragic that some clearly vulnerable people are taken in by this - the pregnant woman grieving that her unborn child may not be saved; the man who cashed in his life savings to warn others of the impending apocalypse; the terrified mother who slit her children's throats and wrists - it is also the case that, according to one Newsweek poll, as many as 55% of Americans believe in the Rapture at some point soon. Most of these believers also firmly think we are now in the End Times and the consequences, given the well-organised machinery of the wealthy and profoundly conservative American evangelical movement, are deeply political and deeply damaging to the struggle against the very real threats to our species and planet.

As the world faces genuine resource depletion and environmental degradation, many evangelical Christians warmly embrace the destruction, seeing it all as proof of their prophecies and the culmination of their hopes. And these beliefs are transmitted into policy through many in the US Government - as far back as the 1980s, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, testified to the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant as, given that Judgement Day was imminent, they would not be required anyway. To the incredulity of listening Congressmen, he declared that, 'After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.' 

This is a far from isolated example, with evangelicals deriding many attempts to conserve the environment or seek international peace and disarmament. Ever since the Moral Majority of the late 1970s promoted Ronald Reagan as a "born again" Christian candidate, it has been almost impossible for a non-evangelical to get anywhere in Presidential politics. Some, like Clinton, have exaggerated their beliefs, but Bush Jr held close to evangelism throughout his Presidency, by his own account believing that he received the instruction to attack Iraq directly from God. Barak Obama's more relaxed approach to his faith was infamously used by his evangelical opponents to make a range of assertions from his being a secret Muslim to being the anti-Christ. And these have had an impact - with 18% of Americans believing he is a Muslim according to one poll last August, a figure that rose to one in every three Republican voters. 

And as for the Anti-Christ rumour? It may seem bizarre, but it has been covered and analysed by national news networks, used by the Republicans to whip up Christian votes and, of course, been plastered all over the internet.  Take a look at the video at the end of this blog - Americans live in truly superstitious times. Exchange even the briefest messages with US Evangelicals, as I have done through this blog, and you will soon be told Obama's policies on healthcare, tax and the environment are the work of Satan and yet more signs of the truth of apocalyptic prophecy.

Not all dogs go to heaven after all....Evil puppy!
Especially in the Middle East, the evangelicals are at work, desperately undermining any attempts at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Believing the Al-Aqsa Mosque should be demolished and the ancient Jewish temple of Jerusalem rebuilt on its site as part of the Apocalypse prophecy, the Christian Zionist movement within American evangelism has advocated and even contributed to funding the appalling wall that has been constructed around the Palestinians on the West Bank.
Many additionally believe a range of supposed prophecies which identify the restoration of Israel to its Biblical age borders and a great conflagration with its neighbours as important steps on the path to Rapture and Judgement, things to be helped along rather than guarded against. Consequently, they lobby hard and generally successfully for American political and military aid to Tel Aviv.

So this extreme mode of religion closely informs the politics of the most powerful and destructive nation on the Earth. With one in twenty of the world population but gobbling up almost a third of the Earth's resources, the USA is absolutely critical to the survival of our planet as a place habitable by humans and other species of life. It needs to take the lead in environmental action, on cutting pollution, recycling, reducing consumption and distributing fairly.

What those who oppose them struggle to get our heads round is that, in the Evangelicals' Universe, environmental collapse, wars, terrorism and disease are not to be eschewed or regretted. Rather, they are to be embraced, full-on as we race towards what they see as the glorious destiny of all true Christians. Nearly 40% of Americans in a recent survey believe the Japanese earthquake and tsunami were visited on Kobe because Japan, to them, is a godless nation. With nearly 50% of Americans believing they are a special people in God's eyes, Evangelical America is a real threat to all of us, particularly as the USA's inevitable economic and military decline in the coming decades will clearly challenge this deeply held belief.

So, as those of us who deride the nonsense of Mr Camping smugly sip a glass of wine or two this evening, we would nevertheless do well to keep a relatively sober view of the power of the belief in the Apocalypse, and both the ardent desire and all too real ability of many Americans to make one happen, whether God is ready or not.

Friday, 20 May 2011

UK Government wants to deport 5 year old disabled girl with cerebral palsy: Rania Must Stay!

Rania Abdechakour came from Algeria to Britain to live with her aunt and uncle in Bolton, Lancashire, on a six-month visa in 2008 as a toddler, to give her mother a break and help her condition. As it emerged just how ill she was, her stay was extended so she could seek more medical help.

Rania has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and has a number of medical conditions including epilepsy, is partially sighted and more recently diagnosed with reflex and anoxic seizures in which her heart stops beating.

The British Government has now ruled that she must be sent back to Algeria, even although the treatment she has had here and which has significantly improved her condition, is not available there and indeed Algerian society is even more prejudiced against disability than our own. Rania's aunt, Jo Taleb, and her husband Moussa, had begun adoption procedures so that they would be legally recognised as her parents - Rania regards them as her mum and dad - but the deportation order has cut across this.

Rania Must Stay!
Rania's deportation is being appealed, but if it is lost, she will be sent back to a country and people who she does not know. Her aunt fears she is so ill, having had to personally resuscitate her, that she will die if she is sent back.

Whatever views people may hold on migration, are we really prepared to say that Britain has no room for this little child, even when there is a loving, working family looking after her now and who want to continue to do so?

Please support keeping Rania in the UK. Write to your Member of Parliament and sign the online petition by clicking here. Thanks!

Please share this and encourage people to sign.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Rape Is Rape - DSK, Kenneth Clarke and the Congress of Misogynists

The last few days have witnessed two very telling issues about how women and sexual violence continue to be viewed by the so-called Great and Good in some quarters at least. Depressing is not quite adequate enough a word to describe the misogynist streak that continues to run through the outlook and thinking of policymakers at the highest levels of our allegedly modern society.

First came the admirably fast response of the FBI in arresting the (now former) head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as he waited on a flight out of the the USA, following allegations from a hotel maid that he had locked her in his room, indecently assaulted her, tried to rape her and then departed the hotel in something of a rush. What has followed has been a curious and often disturbing outpouring of Gallic remorse, not about the alleged harm to the victim, but about the damage to the national reputation, followed by a gradual leaking of more and more stories about how this man has behaved extremely inappropriately towards women in both his social and work circles for years.

One allegation, from 9 years ago, concerned his alleged attempted rape of a then-22 year old god-daughter of his wife, who was persuaded by her Socialist politician mother not to make a formal complaint against him for the sake of their political party - and Strauss-Kahn's ambitions to become President of France. A second comes from within the IMF, where a Hungarian-born economist has alleged she found him putting increasing pressure on her to sleep with him after his attempts to woo her with discussions on African economies did not provoke his desired response.

Aside from his own perceptions of what he was doing, however, what is truly disturbing is the behaviour of those around him who, while on the whole not quite rushing to his defence, have at least equivocated, resorting to the old excuses of his being a bit of a ladies man, a seducer not a rapist. Aside from any alleged violence on his part, it is clear his colleagues and peers were aware of his misuse of his powerful position and still they apparently said nothing and did nothing. Instead, they cleared his way to become the leading contender for the highest national office until the rather bold action of some policemen last weekend. (Though would they have been as fast were he not French, who knows?)

The mythical male excuse: Eve the Temptress
Meantime, the British Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke MP, yesterday ran into a storm of protest after comments he made during a radio interview about his proposed reforms of the penalties for rapists. After some confused rambling about underage sex and rape, he declined to agree to the proposition that "rape is rape", suggesting that "date rape" cases, where the woman knows her attacker, were not necessarily as serious as other types of rape. Unable to comprehend the criticism he then came under, he very troublingly commented that those protesting were focusing on rape in order to "add a bit of sexual excitement to the headlines".

He has now apologised, insisting rape is always a serious crime, but the incident raises major concerns about how fit for office he is - his comments at least imply a belief that rape can somehow be non-violent, or that, by their actions, women can somehow be responsible for being raped or, yet worse still, even be willing to be raped. This latter view is not entirely uncommon - predicated as it is on the biblical myth of Eve the Temptress and Adam the Uncontrollable Phallus and crystallised into the old rubbish propounded by predominantly upper-class oiks that when a women says "no" she doesn't really mean it. It is a deep insult to both women and men, creating the dangerous lie that the former is the willing victim of the latter, who, beyond an apparently pretty low threshold, becomes so sexually aroused that he cannot control himself because of the tempting signals exuded by the unthinking woman.

It is, of course, a total lie, a calumny created by miosgynist societies and enshrined in the three main Abrahamic religions via the Eden Serpent myth, and it is utterly appalling that such ancient prejudice should continue to even vaguely inform the thinking of lawmakers and the judiciary in 21st century Britain. And elsewhere - as covered in an earlier post, it is only a few weeks ago that a similar proposal was put to the US Congress by rightwing Christian politicians to make a legal distinction between "forcible rape" and the rather contradictory notion of non-forced rape. It is a view used in all too many societies to alternately exploit and suppress women, to strip them bare in thousands of news media pages or to shroud them in wimples and burkas to prevent them tipping supposedly helpless men over the edge by a glimpse of a lock of hair. By this men are relieved of responsibility for their actions, while women become charged with causing the actions of others in harming them - a pretty unique way of looking at a crime.

So, while he is indeed innocent until proven guilty, whatever the outcome of Strauss-Kahn's case, and whether or not Clarke resigns (which he should, or be sacked), the past week shows more than ever the need for both laws and culture which make much clearer the rights of women to go about their daily business unmolested by the sneering, laddish and loutish behaviour of men who know better. It should not be left to the courage of a solitary, low paid hotel worker to bring a complaint against the highest ranking banker in the world to make the case for change.

But there again, perhaps these different cases from across the western world simply typify the apparent sense of impunity the political and corporate classes hold in their dealings with the rest of society. And just as we need to tackle the dreadful misogyny apparent in these cases, so too we need to challenge the very existence of the power structures that permit and even encourage such stratified views of other humans, female and male, to exist in the first place.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Staring at The Sun

The beleaguered Environment Secretary, fast-driver Chris Huhne revealed the Government's much debated Carbon Budget today, ostentatiously declaring that it will become a legally binding requirement for the Government to achieve a 50% reduction in carbon emissions on their 1990 level by the UK by 2025 to tackle global warming. He has done so in spite of bitter opposition from his fellow Lib Dem, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, as well as from the climate sceptics who inhabit the Tory benches like a horde of neanderthals.

On the face of it, it is a significant achievement and it has been welcomed by some environmental campaigners. But, on closer inspection, the announcement raises more questions than it answers.

1. How will the 50% by 2025 impact on the current plans by the Government to abolish the Climate Change Act on the grounds of it creating too much "red tape" for business and the legally binding target of an 80% reduction by 2050 (which general scientific consensus says is necessary to prevent run-away global warming)?

2. Although the plan includes scope for renewables, recent Government decisions will make it much harder to obtain funding to install community and large scale solar farms. So will the focus move to building new nuclear power stations on the dubious grounds that  nuclear energy is carbon-friendly?

3. The plan allows Britain to trade emissions credits with other countries that have lower carbon emissions - mostly poorer ones. This will at least involve some transfer of money to these countries, but given that their emissions are always among the lowest, will it genuinely achieve any reduction in carbon emissions?

4. Why have we kept that wonderful opt-out card that, if other countries don't do enough, we can stop doing anything? Who on earth came up with that idea?

Of course, in the Tory press and blogosphere the announcement has brought forth a chorus of criticism of how this will damage British manufacturing. And of course the sceptics have been out in force - the Daily Telegraph readers were particularly perplexed by it all:

For the 12 months of last year, I had a subscription to Scientific American. Month after month, there were articles about global warming. In every article, it was taken as read that Global Warming is A FACT. It seemed to me, as I read the articles, that anyone who wanted an article published had to adhere to that basic tenant. 

and this:
The whole climate change debate shoukd be quietly slinking away into oblivion. Don't you get it... We were all conned! The politicos won't admit it as they might be lynched.

and very bizarrely:

None of us KNOWS whether the CO2 science is categorically right or wrong.
But we do know that £13M to reopen the McCann kidnap case is an utter waste of money....

And, assuming he is still in office, it is this sort of pseudo-scientific garbage, propounded by Tory MP after Tory MP, that will probably do for Huhne's attempts to put these proposals into legislation. As was evident in a variety of surveys and stories up to the 2010 General Election, Conservative Party candidates were the least concerned of all parties about global warming by a very wide margin indeed - some described it as a "scam" with ludicrous claims of a vast leftwing conspiracy to use climate change as a means of destroying industry. In addition, the Telegraph itself reported in January last year, a meagre 6% of the top 250 Conservative candidates expressed any desire at all to reduce the UK's carbon footprint in a Conservative Home survey.

All this stands in the face of all the evidence: that the Earth is losing 25 billion tonnes of oxygen each year; that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have risen by 50% since the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, and that month after month, year after year, new records are being broken in the extremity of our weather patterns. Last month was the warmest UK April on record and this month is likely to be the warmest May. The USA has just had the largest set of cyclones recorded in decades, while British nature goes to pot - hibernating animals emerge early with the risk of dying again if there is a sudden change, while the strawberry crop has ripened so early that there will be none left for consumption during the Wimbledon tennis competition.

The objectives announced today require a lot of detailed explanation about what they will actually mean and to prove they are more than just a stunt. But as important to its success or failure will be what support will be salvaged from among Tory MPs.

Meantime, the forecast is for another heatwave.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Uganda Update

The Ugandan Government appears to be backtracking on the proposed law to execute gays and lesbians in their country. A massive campaign which led to tens of thousands of phone calls to the Ugandan Parliament and the delivery of a petition of 1.6 million signatures led to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill being withdrawn in spite of a last minute attempt by Christian groups to have it passed.

The struggle is not over, however - the Bill could return to Parliament in as short a time as eighteen months to be debated again, and gay people still face constant harassment and violence in the country, where homosexuality remains illegal under laws dating back to the days of British administration.

More here on The Ecosocialist's blog, which has followed this issue closely and supported strongly the campaign to block the Bill.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sacking with CONfidence (Part 3)

On the morning after the beginning of the latest series of The Apprentice, it was somehow ironically appropriate that Lib Dem Business Minister Ed Davey announced that the Government have now moved on from their plans to reduce individual employment protection (see Sacking with CONfidence Parts 1 & 2) to signal an assault on collective redundancy rights.

Currently, employers can make staff redundant as long as they put up a pretty simple business reason for doing so (which can be about as straightforward as just wanting to make some basic changes to the way they do things); where 20 or more people are affected by the same proposal, there are some timescales which are applied - if 20 people are affected, there must be at least 30 days consultation on a scale rising to 90 days consultation for more than 100 people. (Lower than 20, there must be "adequate" consultation, which ACAS have indicated should normally be around two weeks). The need to consult does not remove the employers' ability to proceed - it simply means that where a significant number of people may lose their livelihoods, there is an obligation to consult on alternatives to redundancy and on the process being undertaken (such as the criteria to be used for selecting precisely which staff will lose their jobs).

You're Fired! A bit more flexibility needed for Lord Sugah!
The Government today has decided that this is no good - in the free market profiteers lexicon that informs their thinking, consultation on people's livelihoods reduces industrial flexibility and so it is up for a full review, along with long established protection where jobs are transferred from one company to another (the TUPE - Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment regulations). TUPE is intended to fit with the European-wide Acquired Rights Directive, which provides protection to employees throughout the European Union. Under this, if their employer's business is merged with another, their employment rights and terms and conditions must be at least as good as before. Britain may struggle to amend TUPE and still meet the legal requirements of the ARD, but it looks like our plucky ConDem masters are up for it.

How any of this will help the Government claimed objective of making it easier to employ staff, who knows? At present, you have to work two years to qualify for a maximum statutory redundancy payment of precisely £800 or 2 weeks pay, whichever is the lower - what a massive cost! The bankers must quake in fear when they think about having to shelve out so much to their cleaners. see what you'd get by clicking HERE, because who knows, one day it could be you.

It will be interesting to see how the new shout-out-loud Lib Dems face up to this: they have never been particularly sound on employees rights (really weird, given that by an overwhelming margin, most workers are employees) and they have been itching for decades to get rid of the Working Time Directive (in spite of being all in favour of it back in the early 1990s when they were so in favour of the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty). And of course, faux rebel Vince Cable, Business Secretary, will be ultimately responsible for the review of the legislation. Now doesn't that just so fill you with confidence?

God bless Blighty, land of the low paid and the maximum profit shareholders...

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Joy of Cuts

"I say Tristan, fancy going up to Town on Saturday?"
"Gosh, why not? What's on? Something good at the Opera?"
"Hmm, maybe later on, after we've been to the...rally..."
"Rally? Rally what?"
"No, the Rally. The Rally for the Cuts."
"Rally for the Cuts? What's that then Boris? Better cuts of prime sirloin from Ashbys? Haw haw!"
"No you silly...The Cuts, the Government cuts. I mean, we had all these students last year rallying against the tuition fees - can't see the problem, I mean Daddy paid far more than 9k for my degree. Then we had these union oiks back in March setting fire to Trafalgar Square. Poor Nelson must have thought it was the froggies back. Then just the other day some bunch of pseudo-disabled carping about not getting their wheelchairs oiled for free by the DSS. So we thought... if they can do it, why can't we?"
"Why can't we what?"
"Why can't we protest too?"
"Ah, I see...I..see..."
"Do you Tristan?"
"Er...no...What..what are we protesting against Boris?"
"Oh, you don't have to worry. It's not that sort of protest. We're protesting in favour of the cuts. We're going up to Town to give David C and George a jolly good thumbs up for getting these malingerers off disability whatsit and ending gold plated pensions for council cleaners. I mean...it's ridiculous isn't it? Why does a cleaner need a pension? As if they're ever going to retire? I mean, ours is 84 and she still works a 7 day week for Cynthia and me. She's a bit wheezy some days, but like I say when we give her her Christmas sherry, it's all jolly appreciated. I mean, she doesn't even take holiday, so why would she need a pension? These council wallahs could learn a thing or two from our Gladys. Salt of the earth, she is. Hard work never hurt anyone."
"Hear! Hear! So who's on your rally?"
"We've got that splendid Farage fellow from the UKippers...Did I tell you he was Head Boy in my cousin's Form Class in Upper Sixth? And, in fact, he still is! And he'll be joined by Norris Mcwhatshisface...you know...Guinness chappie...It'll be a blast."
"I hope there won't be any trashing the War Memorial again?"
"Absolutely not...Who knows, we might trash a restaurant after, but we can pay for the damage..just like the old Bullingdon days, eh?"
"Well, it all sounds jolly good fun. But I was looking at the Telegraph earlier..."
"Was it supportive?"
"Not really I'm afraid...It said it might rain."
"Ah, well, if that's the case Tristan...let's send our Men to march for us! If they shout loud enough I might throw in a little overtime even. Don't say I'm not fair to the staff!"
"Yes, that'll show these bolshies. Now, Boris, fancy another round? My tax rebate just came through..."
"Tax rebate?"
 "Yes, bloody bureaucrats! HMRC cocked up again. My accountant had a rather long argument with them before he managed to get my Tuscan villa set aside as business premises, so I got a £15k rebate on the business taxes..."
"My God! You mean...you actually pay some tax?"
"Well, er..touch embarrassing I know, but just a little. Not much...My gardener still pays more."
 "I...I'm sorry Tristan...Concierge! I think this...this Guest is leaving the Club now. Can you get his coat...He's going to need it. I hear it might rain..."

The "Great and the Good" won't take it any more...!

nb - while many regional and smaller theatres and arts groups face closure owing to cuts in public support, the 2011-12 settlement for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, preserved intact the £26 millions of taxpayers money that subsidises an institution largely patronised by the wealthier components of British society. Let's hope the Pro-cuts demonstrators take their banners to the steps of the Opera House itself. No, I'm not holding my breath either.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Man who saw Tomorrow

The man who saw tomorrow...

12 May 2010, the Rose Garden, Downing Street, and something flashes in front of Nick's eyes...

Global Warming - There is Still Time for an Answer

Buried among the headlines about Obama and Osama today was a report from the International Panel on Climate Change which, for once, was positively optimistic about humanity's prospects in the age of climate change - as long as we make the right choices.

For some time, international capital, big business and governments wedded to "business as usual" give or take the odd recycling bin and catalytic converter have alternately argued that either climate change is a myth or the alternatives to our carbon based economy are not practicable. At the very least, they have argued, any move from carbon fuels must have a large nuclear energy component - renewables alone just wouldn't cut the mustard in terms of meeting the energy demands of humanity.

The IPCC report, however, fundamentally disagrees with these assertions - wind, water, solar and bioenergy could make up 77 percent of the world's energy use by 2050, if given sufficient public support.On its own, this would reduce carbon emissions by 33%, still far short of the 80% reduction scientists argue is needed by then to stop runaway global warming, but a massive contribution nevertheless. Coupled with genuine energy efficiency measures (we waste up to 50% of our energy in the UK alone), the IPCC argues that a decisions to invest massively in renewables would be a huge step towards limiting the rise in global temperatures and the massive disruption to weather patterns this is increasingly causing.

The report is theoretical, looking at the potential in projects that have not started in many cases, but some large scale undertakings are already underway - like Desertec in the Algerian Sahara. With the intention of covering 0.3% of the desert with a huge solar array, the intention is to generate 100 gigawatts of energy, enough to supply clean energy to all of Europe by as early as 2015. Complementary projects, such as large wind farms in the North Sea, have been reduced or put on hold by Governments like the British one, but Desertec shows the possibilities.

Solar arrays can power the earth safely and cleanly.
Coupled with energy saving schemes - some as simple as removing the standby facility in new electrical gadgets, which generally continues to use about half the energy the equipment burns in actual use; while others could be along the lines of the "Green New Deal" promoted by various Green Parties and pioneered in Kirklees in England, where free home insulation was provided to both private and rented homes to cut costs, cut carbon emissions and create jobs.

So there is cause for optimism, given the poltical and public will to make the right choices. But a battery of vested interests - the oil and gas industry, politicians and media magnates - will be ranged against the necessary progress, dissembling about the extent of climate change, exaggerating the costs of renewables, and portraying the advocates of clean energy as green fascists. With a tight grip on information and the levers of power, these are no small obstacle. But as we have just passed the warmest April in history and Britain begins to face the prospect of drought (relatively speaking), the need for action has never been more urgent.

Urgent Uganda - 72 Hours to Stop Homosexuality becoming a Capital Crime

Ecosocialist reports that the Ugandan Parliament will debate the anti-homosexuality bill within the next three days. As it stands, it will bring in the death penalty for gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals, enshrining in law the reality of Church-led and inspired persecution of the LGBT community in the country. The law is the brain child of MP David Bahati, who was educated at the University of Wales up to 2003, leading to the unintentionally ironic claim of the former Bishop of St David's that, "Wales' influence often stretches further than we realise."

Gay people in Uganda have faced assault and murder for some years, while the authorities have turned a blind eye to the assailants. Lesbian women have faced so-called "corrective rape" by gangs of men and exorcism by Christian priests. Criticism of these practices and the planned law by among others President Obama have been rebuffed angrily by religious leaders and the legislators have ridden on a wave of bigotry to reach this week's debate.

Some religious groups, particularly the Anglicans, have been prominent in opposing the proposed law and welcomed a recent human rights award granted to a Ugandan gay activist. But populist politicians seem to have no scruples in pressing the law forward and so it is up to the international community to pressure President Museveni to not sign the act into law if and when it reaches the stage of Presidential ratification.

Please sign the petition on Ecosocialist's page to call on the President to say no to this appalling act of repression, or link by clicking HERE.

LGBT people face appalling persecution in Uganda even before the new law.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

"I've Been Expecting You, Mr Obama."

As somebody wrote to the Guardian this week, it didn't take much to get the Royal Wedding off the front pages. From the restraint of "Osama Bin Laden is Dead" in the UK Guardian to "We Got The Bastard" in the Philadelphia Daily News, the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden dominated the headlines - with the notable exception of Britain's Daily Telegraph which just couldn't quite let go of that wedding. As the week wore on, we were treated to all sorts of diagrams of the assault on his hideout, fake photos of his bloody corpse and, perhaps uniquely, the photograph of President Obama and his closest aides watching the attack live via a miniature satellite camera mounted on the helmet of a US Navy Seal.

In spite of the supposedly impartial evidence of the camera, the official version of the attack changed several times - first, there was a firefight, culminating in Bin Laden using his wife as a human shield before both were shot dead. Then, later, the wife emerged alive and relatively well. She had run at his attackers, but he hadn't hidden behind her. Indeed, it turned out that only one person shot a couple of rounds at the Navy Seals as they landed in the compound, only to be quickly killed by them. Bin Laden was found in minutes, by which time his unarmed son had been killed. The Sheik himself was also unarmed and, by some accounts, naked. But after making a "threatening move" was shot twice - once in the chest and once above the eye.
So why was he killed? Why not instead arrest and arraign him for the murders of 9/11?

The reasons are infinitely more complex that the claim that he made a threatening gesture towards his attackers. They are rooted in the complicity of the USA in arming the antecedents of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the hills of Soviet occupied Afghanistan back in the late 1980s. They cover too the link between the Bin Laden family and the American Establishment - while the conspiracy theories that George W Bush was somehow involved in 9/11 remain seemingly far-fetched, a few incontrovertible facts do raise questions, not least that the only plane permitted to leave the USA after the attacks that day was a private jet chartered by and containing members of the Bin Laden family. Would even the Obama Administration have wanted this mutuality to be exposed and highlighted in any trial?

The death of Bin Laden of course also makes better headlines - and doubtless in due course better movie films - than his capture. And of course the opinion polls already show a huge bonus for President Obama.

And yet, longer term, what does it mean? What about all the hubris of the crowds chanting "USA! USA!" outside the White House following the announcement? What of the fact that the US Government appears to now sanction an illegal policy of assassination?  What of the illegal disposal of his body at sea, in breach of all the domestic laws of the USA and international rules around casualties of war? What still distinguishes western policy and actions from the actions of our declared enemies? If we do genuinely believe and wish to be different to the likes of Bin Laden, don't we need to behave and judge ourselves by our own standards rather than by what we perceive to be his?

Perhaps we have to ask what the values we claim to defend actually are. One commentator on the BBC last night vituperatively described the latest video of Bin Laden, seized from his compound by the Americans, as useful to America as it portrays Bin Laden to be "pathetic". Why? Because he was living in a pretty bare house and the video showed him sitting with a blanket over his shoulders

Of course, what we had been led to expect was more that Bin Laden would have been set up like a latter-day Ernst Blofeld, safely screened off from the world in some amazing super-technological fortress under a  mountain, surrounded by hordes of fanatical followers ready to die for him. The spartan compound in a Pakistani town was not quite the SMERSH complex the media had in mind. Yet this in itself betrays the lack of understanding of what Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are about.

Read some of Bin Laden's speeches, and they could have been made by any left-of-centre politician. He calls repeatedly for social justice for the poor, a resolution of the Palestinians' miserable condition and for the disengagement of the USA from its unhealthy relationship with corrupt Arab dictatorships like Egypt's pre-revolution Mubarak and the Saudi King. Unlike these men, the success of al-Qaeda for many Muslims was centred on the fact that Bin Laden, like many Arab leaders in history, was motivated by belief rather than self-gain. He came from a rich family - the easiest thing for him to have done would have been to have embraced their fortune and, as his other family members have done, enmeshed himself in the oil-soaked kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia.

Instead he chose jihad, although in the end it was one which the Western Establishment grossly exaggerated and used to promote its own interests via domestic encroachment of civil rights and foreign military adventures into Iraq,and now Libya. Bin Laden by contrast can be seen to have risked and lost his life for the cause of ordinary people, downtrodden and repressed by regimes largely put in place and sustained by the West (and lauded by the British Royal Family).

And it is by not understanding this that the Americans have made a crass and long term error in killing him. Indeed, given everything else, being killed in precisely the manner he has been was perhaps the only part remaining to be written of the Osama bin Laden narrative. Like Abu Ayyub, the companion of the Prophet who died before the walls of Constantinople in 674, the sacrifice of bin Laden will do nothing to diminish his standing. And that he lived such a simple life will likewise raise his legend higher still.

While the thousands murdered on 9/11 by the dreadful actions of Bin Laden's associates were slaughtered in such a dramatically awful manner, what we forget are the thousands who perish, unrecognised and unrecorded, at the hands of the agents of the West in wars, famines and through the injustice of our sponsored puppets in scores of countries. Notably, in one tract from 2004, Bin Laden talked of how seeing the bloody aftermath of women and children killed in tower blocks bombarded by the US Sixth Fleet in the Lebanon in 1982 was the seminal moment he first thought of an attack on the iconic Twin Towers.

30,000 Lebanese, many, many of them civilians, were killed in these days by the US and its Israeli allies during their invasion of that country, a fact conveniently forgotten in the West, just as we are contentedly moving on from the carnage of Iraq. It is this ignored, invisible war of attrition against the impoverished of our planet that gives rise to the likes of Bin Laden, that shaped his ideological justification of jihad and which the grasping leaders of the West continue to ignore at the peril of us all - because this is the real War without End.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Lib Dems: Checking out of the Last Chance Saloon

"Clearly what happened last night – especially in those parts of the country, Scotland, Wales, the great cities of the north, where there are real anxieties about the deficit reduction plans we are having to put in place ... we are clearly getting the brunt of the blame," (Nick Clegg) told reporters.

What in God's name did he expect?

The results in the batch of elections last night - in Wales and Scotland for their national assembly and Parliament and in England for a slew of local councils, confirmed what many progressives warned the Lib Dems about when they entered their Faustian Pact with the Conservatives almost exactly a year ago. Liberal Democrat voters did not vote for a rightwing government, wedded to monetarist economics and some pretty nasty, rightwing social policy chucked in to boot.

It is not just about the turnaround on tuition fees - its about economic slash and burn, the complete abandonment of decades of (Liberal) Keynesian thinking about investment-led recoveries with a social consciences; its about the destruction of the NHS with the introduction of GP fundholding, bonus schemes and profit-making; its about the ludicrous, Kafkaesque welfare review which is terrorising disabled people and the long-term unemployed; it is about the privatisation of the few remaining public assets, such as the post office and, in spite of a much-publicised apparent but highly misleading climbdown, the sale of large chunks of the national forests.

I could go on. But the bottom line is this - the Liberal Democrats naively think that their own and the Tories' fates in the Coalition are by necessity intertwined, gently nurturing each other, standing and falling together in the claimed partnership that the Lib Dem leader regularly trumpets. And yet they could not be more fundamentally wrong.

Because the Coalition is essentially delivering a full-on Conservative regime. It may be true, as they claim, that the Lib Dem Ministers do manage to moderate some of their wilder ideas, but thinking that somehow excuses their betrayal of their electorate simply demonstrates their naivete, as do their bold claims now that they will assert themselves within the Coalition - given their disastrous starting point, this will simply emphasise the extent of their climbdowns when they still reach some agreement with the Tories; and also the extent to which they badly underplayed their negotiating strength last year. Conservative voters are pretty much getting what they wanted - (ex) Lib Dem ones quite the opposite.

So the Lib Dem options now? With a collapse in Scottish support to barely 5%, and virtually eliminated from scores of local authorities - trailing behind the Greens in many wards in my own area of Kirklees - and with their prized referendum on the alternative vote overwhelmingly rejected  by 69% to 31%, they are now on a political life support machine. The clock is ticking and the plug will be finally pulled on the first Thursday in May next year if they don't quickly discharge themselves.

This is because the Lib Dems have taken decades to build up their stength through local government powerbases. The core of the party is their 3,600 councillors. Today, of the  1,600 up for election, nearly half are gone, in many cases decisively. By this time next year, the cuts agreed by the Coalition will be biting hard instead of just being in prospect as at the moment - the Lib Dem bloodletting will be potentially even worse and at the end of another night like the one just gone, there will effectively be nothing left.

And so they have only one realistic option - to ditch Clegg and ditch the Coaliton. Now. It may force an October general election, which on present showing Labour would probably win. That would involve a substantial decrease in the Lib Dem Parliamentary party, but in opposition again it might be just in time to shore up their desparately damaged local base next year.

But already it seems deeply improbably that they will do this - Clegg has reiterated the apparent need for the Coalition in the national interest, a sentiment echoed by past leaders like Paddy Ashdown and David Steel, and by Ministers like Chris Huhne. They seem set to recommit, rather like lemmings desperate to reach the sea cliffs.

And on that basis, as posted before, they are full set to become nothing but a virtual party - bereft of local councillors and activists, a head without a body, a zombie party.

Meanwhile, as he dismantles the welfare state, Nick Clegg perhaps can dust down his cv and begin the application process to become a formal Tory candidate, the only way he is likely to remain in the Commons, let alone power.

The third party is neutralised now pending its final rendering. Mission accomplished, Mr Cameron.

Zombie Liberals, focus-less near you now...