Thursday, 27 October 2011

St Pauls' Canon Resigns In Support of Occupy Protesters

Rev Giles Fraser, the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, has resigned as police and the City of London Authority prepare to take action to forcibly remove the tented protest encamped outside the cathedral. Rev Fraser has criticised the plans and refused to collaborate with them. The authorities have insisted on proceeding and, in the absence of any support from his superiors, Rev Fraser has stuck by his principles and given up his job. It is heartening to see him take such a stand, but at a dreadful and unfair cost to himself.

As blogged earlier this week (click here), the Trustees of the Cathedral are drawn heavily from big finance and stockbroking backgrounds and could be expected to be sympathetic to the banks which are the target of the Occupy demonstrations - they ended up at St Paul's after being forced away from the City itself. Rev Fraser would appear to have been surrounded by men and women whose views were alien to his own - none of the Trustees has so far followed him in resigning, so must be deemed to support the police plans.

It is a travesty that big business would appear to be calling the shots over a church which whose founder threw moneylenders out of the temple and warned people that they could not serve both God and Money. The City has repeatedly refused offers to meet and talk from the protesters, while the Cathedral Trustees have provocatively closed the building on highly spurious health and safety grounds, clearly as a ploy to demonise the protesters - notably, on BBC Question Time tonight, two speakers, the odious Nigel Farage of UKIP and Labour's Gloria di Piero, warned that it would be a national disgrace if the protesters are still there on Remembrance Sunday next week - after all, not even the Nazi Blitz closed the Cathedral.

Evidently, we didn't fight the Second World War to preserve freedoms such as being able to protest peacefully against Government policy.

Adolf Hitler, eat your heart out.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sacking with CONfidence - Part 4

Continuing an occasional, but all too frequent, series on the Coalition's "reform" of employment law in Britain.

Capitalism to "Inspire" - you really couldn't make it up!
Yesterday we were treated to a chilling insight on how the Conservatives view British employees and their rights. A report on employment laws and their impact on the economy, commissioned by Chancellor George Osborne and supported by David Cameron, was leaked. Written by Tory supporting venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, who has enriched himself to the tune of £85 millions in spite of the apparent encumbrance of UK employment law, it uses the most lurid and vituperative terms about British workers and the alleged need to bring us all the heel.

The report blames Britain's economic woes on the supposed inability of employers to fire people at will if they are underperforming. Beecroft wants a "compulsory no fault dismissal" system whereby employees can be fired without redress to an employment tribunal via a simple payment equivalent to the state redundancy payment (currently a maximum of £400 for each year of service). So, if after working for an employer for 10 years, your boss decided you were not performing well enough, Beecroft's view is that there should be no need to undergo any particular process of identifying and warning about the performance issues - if your company gives you £4,000, it is straightforward curtains to your career.

The report goes on further to make a list of complaints about employment protection given to the tens of millions of us who are employees (over 85% of the workforce!) which demonstrates lamentable prejudice, ignorance and pretty sloppy research (or lack of it) by Beecroft:

Beecroft donated £530k to the Tory Party: cheaper staff
could free up so much more!
- it demands  that employers should be able to have off-the-record discussions with employees with whom they are in dispute. They already can! Current employment law already allows without prejudice discussions in disputes which cannot be entered as evidence in tribunal proceedings.

- Beecroft complains that employers can't ask employees if they intend to retire and grumbles that this slows down recruitment and labour flexibility, apparently damaging the wealth of the nation. Again, employers can already do this! You can read the guidance from ACAS about how to do this in a fair and safe way HERE.

- Beecroft complains that the new rules protecting agency workers from summary dismissal and exploitative low pay arrangements will disadvantage Britain in the global economy. Yet he ignores the fact that the rules have come about as part of a European-wide directive and have to be the same in our nearest competitors.

All in all, it is a bigoted, ill-informed rant against the relatively low levels of protection enjoyed by British workers. And while some Lib Dems try to disassociate themselves from it, Nick Clegg made strikingly similarly ill-informed comments about performance and retirement only the day before - who knows what he's been reading lately?

It is easier, cheaper and faster for employers to fire British workers than in most western economies and it is disingenuous for employers and top managers to lay the blame for our woes at the feet of ordinary workers. While most employees have seen their pay static and reducing in real and even absolute terms over the last two or three years, Boardroom pay and bonuses have continued to climb relentlessly.

The Business Secretary, Lib Dem Vince Cable, has rejected the report today, insisting workers need protection otherwise their job insecurity will affect their spending and damage the wider economy. This sounds good until you reflect that Vince and his Lib Dem Minister, Ed Davey, are at the same time busy removing employment protection from millions of workers who will now have to work for two years rather than one before they will be protected from unfair dismissal. This is being done using very similar arguments as Beecroft does about labour flexibility. It was also Cable's department that rushed out a so-called Employer's Charter, quickly re-christened as a "sacker's checklist" last year to remind employers just how easily they can already dismiss staff. It makes the bad part of you wonder if the leak of the extreme Beecroft worldview was deliberately done to make Cable's current plans appear a little milder by comparison - but surely they wouldn't do that, would they?

The absence of trade unions from most of the British workplace has never been more in evidence. Employees face a difficult time ahead as first their employment and, coming up next, sickness protection are whittled away by people who in many cases have never really held down a normal type of job.  Capitalism, yet again, is busy blaming and punishing others for its own failings - biting back, like the cornered rat that it truly is.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Democracy - Time for Starting Over?

"If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly found in democracy, they will be best attained when all alike share in Government to the utmost."  - Aristotle, philosopher, Athens (384 to 322 BC).
Democracy come to Westminster in "V for Vendetta"
Tonight, in the British House of Commons, a farce unfolded, the latest of many to besmirch the self-proclaimed Mother of Parliaments (the moniker itself an utter denial of historical reality). Barely two months ago, the Coalition Government, loftily proclaiming its desire for a new, open democracy and keen to show its embracing of the twitterati, created its E-petitions website. Aside from crashing on its first day as a stampede of would-be hangmen rushed to ask Parliament to restore the gallows, the idea of the website was to introduce a direct link between People and Parliament to counter the widespread cynicism and disillusion about the political process. If your petition gets 100,000 signatures, it "could" be debated in the House of Commons.

But today, this would-be return to the Agora (where the Athenian progenitors of democracy gathered in the citizens' assembly to debate and vote on anything they liked) has fallen at the first fence. Although tonight's debate on whether to hold a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the European Union was not a direct result of an epetitionit came just days after one calling for precisely the same thing passed the 100,000 signature mark.

E-petitions: how it doesn't work...
And how did our Masters respond? Why, they huffed that it was entirely the wrong time to discuss membership of the EU. Prime Minister Cameron, referring to the Eurozone crisis, today likened to proposal as akin to walking away from your neighbour's burning house rather than helping to put the fire out - although at least one neighbour would like Dave to keep his sand-buckets to himself. 

Ignoring opinion polls showing that two-thirds of voters want a referendum sometime soon, the three main party leaders imposed a three-line whip to compel MPs to vote down the motion or face serious consequences to their careers. And they duly did so, by 483 to 111 votes, albeit with a very large Tory revolt. So much for direct democracy - you can have it when we say you can. Socrates, a master of procedure himself, would have been given his cup of hemlock years earlier had he tried that out in the Agora.

And yet this doublespeak about reconnecting the rulers with the ruled is far from confined to the epetition scam. Cameron has played a clever game over the bloated cost of our MPs not by clamping down further on their expenses, which are back at pre-scandal levels, but rather by cutting their numbers from 650 to just 600 - approximately one MP for every 100,000 people. These must be in constituencies of nearly identical size, regardless, it seems, of the impact on the integrity of local communities and how their interests are to be represented.

On Saturday, I met with a Green Party colleague from our neighbouring city of Wakefield to look at how the boundary changes will affect us - my home town of Dewsbury, long represented in the Commons by its own MP, is being split up, with one part linked to Wakefield, which is split in three. Numbers count, not communities. And consequently, people will become ever further alienated from our legislators.

One underplayed feature of this supposed numerical rebalancing of representation is that the Government Cabinet is significantly strengthened in its hold over the Commons. The Government has the Payroll Vote - these are the 140 or so MPs who, as well as being MPs, also hold paid jobs in the Government as Ministers at one level or another. In votes like the one on the European referendum, they are considerably more reliable and loyal to the line decided by the Prime Minister as he has them by the money. If the Cabinet can start out with 140 votes it is nearly half way towards a majority in any vote in a Commons of 600 than one of 650. And so a measure presented as increasing democracy in Parliament is, in fact, one which centralises power even more in the hands of the Government elite and party leaderships.

Even more troubling are the Coalition's plans (steered by the oddly self-sacrificing Nick Clegg) to change electoral registration laws, relaxing the legal requirement to register and removing the obligation on local authorities to ensure that people sign up. It creates a situation where British electoral law will be similar to the pre-civil rights era in many American states, with fears that, as happened in the USA, many marginalised people, the poor, the disabled, ethnic minorities and elderly, will disappear from the voters' roll. Up to ten million voters, about 30% of the total, may drop off the register, MPs were warned - and guess which party will be least affected?

Demokratios - the rule of the people in Athens' Agora
The Coalition Agreement promises to extend transparency in political life and devolve power from central government to communities, but unsurprisingly, the political class is ensuring that any light that is shone on its murky hold over the rest of society is well filtered through the most opaque of prisms. The Liam Fox scandal showed how brazenly Ministers collude with fee-paying, contract-seeking lobbyists, yet the vigorous defence of Fox's behaviour by many Tories was matched only by the silence from Labour benches - no one rocked the leaky boat too much.

Of course, our leaders smugly think that all this will work, that people will buy it. Maybe even some politicians buy it in their own heads, reassuring themselves that they are still beloved of the nation. "Hey, what's up, I'm with you guys," a thoroughly deluded Colonel Gaddafi allegedly told his captors this week, moments before they shot him. Maybe he had listened to too many focus groups.

Our politicians may sneer at demonstrations like Occupy London Stock Exchange. They may think if they suggest the tents put off tourists or (as the dreadful Louise Mensche attempted) claim the protesters are hypocrites if they buy a Starbucks latte that somehow the status quo will prevail. Perhaps, for now, it will, but it may be a Pyrrhic success, a hollow victory which will leave the Commons as nothing but a teetering house of cards. Perhaps St Paul's and the open meetings of Occupy show we can yet return to the Agora and leave behind the jaded, gauche Victorian monstrosity that is the Palace of Westminster.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Occupy London - Update on St Paul's Cathedral and its Trustees' links with Big Money

News on Twitter and other websites tonight that St Paul's Cathedral is threatening legal action to evict the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters encamped outside the building. This comes after a weekend of claims by the Church authorities that the protesters represent a health and safety threat that has forced the building to be closed to the public - although a wedding went ahead uninterrupted. An Observer newspaper informal survey of tourists visiting the area found that nearly 75% felt the tents added to the ambiance of the Cathedral and provided some contemporary meaning to the site.

However, in spite of their claims, the Cathedral authorities have refused to provide Occupy LSX with any information or advice about how they are creating a health and safety threat, although notably they have confirmed that the protest is not affecting their financial or commercial situation.

In addition, and very troubling, is the revelation that the City of London Health and Safety Manager has told Occupy LSX that the Cathedral has had no recent contact with her - a flat contradiction of the claims by the Church that they had been advised to close on safety grounds.

The organisers had previously taken full advice from the Fire Brigade about how to set out the camp, both for their own safety and the Cathedral's, so increasingly, the Church's insistence on being closed becomes more and more mysterious and their explanation increasingly seems to be rather "economical with the verite". But there again, the Cathedral Trustees are in large part a bunch of bankers, brokers and financiers of one sort or another, so their decision to close the House of God may just possibly not be purely based on some risk assessment by a Safety officer.

The Anglican Church may be at a crossroads of its own making - if it ends up using deceitful means to undermine the protesters, it may finally divorce itself from what reduced links it still tenuously holds with the populace of England. As protesters, speakers, bloggers and others have repeatedly cited, the Christian message in large measure talks of social justice and the iniquities of societies where the rich hold sway. If at this time of crisis and this moment of mass awakening, the authorities inside St Paul's throw their lot in with the pro-bankers, pro-finance speculator Government, they will be isolated for good from their former flock, and deservedly so.

THE BANKING CONNECTION: St Paul's Cathedral Foundation - Trustees

Sir John Stuttard  - former Lord Mayor of the City of London; Chartered Accountant; former partner of PriceWaterhouse
The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul's
Dame Helen Alexander DBE - deputy Chair of the Confederation of British Industry; Chair of the Port of London Authority; adviser to Bain Capital, a global asset management company.
Lord Blair of Boughton - former Chief of the Metropolitan Police
Roger Gifford - UK head of SEB, a major Swedish-based bank
John Harvey - American entrepreneur in the media field; founder of the Personalized Media Communications Group
Joyce Hytner OBE - London Theatre Director & Arts patron
Gavin Ralston -  Head of Product at Schroder's Bank
Carol Sergeant CBE - senior financier; former head of risk at Lloyd's Bank (to 2010)
John Spence OBE - senior banker; has occupied various key roles with Lloyd's Bank; senior member of the British Bankers' Association; Chair of the Audit Committee of HMRC.

Malachi 3:5
The Lord Almighty says "I will appear among you to judge, and I will testify at once against those who give false testimony, those who cheat employees out of their wages, and those who take advantage of widows, orphans, and foreigners - against all who do not respect me...."

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Occupy Heaven! Protestors take on the Jesus Business Model

"Don't believe the Church and State
  And everything they tell you.
  Believe in me,
  I'm with the High Command."

St Paul's Cathedral yesterday announced that it was closing down to worshippers allegedly on health and safety grounds owing to the presence of the Occupy London demonstration's tents outside the hallowed place, about as close to a national church as we have. "It's worse than the Blitz," opined one commentator yesterday and the BBC dutifully reported this under the headline -
Occupy London: Demo forces St Paul's Cathedral to close
Good old Auntie, dutifully doing the Establishment's work for it, along with the Church of England, which as the established church, with Bishops sitting as unelected legislators in the House of Lords, is at the core of our ruling elite.

And yet how accurate is this assertion in this headline, almost implying the Cathedral rather than the City was the target of the demonstration?
Firstly, the demonstrators are at St Paul's as they were banned from protesting where they wanted to go - to the financial centre of the City of London. Secondly, the demonstrators themselves have by any account kept the area very tidy, with eyewitnesses phoning Any Answers on Radio 4 yesterday  afternoon to decry as false statements on the BBC that the area was full of trailing cables and badly positioned tents. Occupy co-ordinators had asked the Cathedral to stay open and kept the entrance clear to help.

Thirdly, and perhaps the most telling, although the dean declared the closure to worshippers as unavoidable on safety grounds, it seems he still took the risk of holding a wedding there on Saturday afternoon - and no, the bride did not wear a hard hat. In fact, she told the Observer newspaper that the demonstration had added to the drama of her Big Day and that "I love the drama!"

Sadly, it seems that when people demonstrate peacefully, carefully and creatively, perhaps because of the particularly difficult threat this poses to the Establishment and its dark propaganda about its opponents, our rulers more than ever have to come up with something to make the protesters appear like threatening animals. No shops have been looted, no police injured, no fire extinguishers thrown - so what is left to the elite to come up with? Ah yes, these anti-capitalists are stopping decent civilised people from worshipping. After all, God is a Tory and in some evangelical circles, especially in the USA, the free market is seen as coterminous with Christianity, while socialism held to be inherently and irredeemably evil. Quite seriously, check out the Jesus Business Model here.  Less full-on, but perhaps more disturbing, is this defence of capitalism from a Judeo-Christian perspective (here), suggesting that opposition to the free market is indeed some form of latter-day heresy.

So little wonder that our leaders might like to find some way to literally demonize their opponents, and what better than to portray them as having silenced the prayers of the Tory Faithful? After all, Blessed are poor, as long as they stay that way.

This of course defies the fact that many people of all faiths, including a wide spectrum of Christians, are taking active part in these global demonstrations. This includes many Evangelicals, motivated by their belief in Christian stewardship into calling for social justice in place of the rank capitalism that is damaging our world. And so the assertion by one commentator that Christian religion and capitalism are natural allies is denying the validity of the beliefs of others of his faith. Difficult, even dangerous days indeed.

What, in Heaven or on Earth, would Jesus do?

A Europe for People, Not Profit

On Monday, the British Parliament will debate and vote on a motion sponsored by eurosceptic Conservative MPs to hold a referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union. In the midst of the Eurozone crisis, while David Cameron has insisted on a three line whip to keep his fractious right-wingers in line and the Lib Dems will vote against, even although their leader proposed an in-or-out referendum in 2008. But with as many as 85 Conservatives predicted to be ready to break that line, the Coalition will almost certainly need - and get - Labour Party support to vote the proposal down.

And so it is very unlikely that the British people will get a referendum - even although most of them want one. So much for democracy and so much for the three parties that dominate our political world continue to disconnect further and further from the electorate they govern.

The European project was born in the aftermath of the two world wars that dominated the Continent during the first part of the 20th century. The worst conflicts in human history originated in her heartlands. From that perspective, for now at any rate, the EU has played a positive role - with the dreadful exception of the former Yugoslavia, the hot air of Presidents, Prime Ministers and bureaucrats has replaced the guns of Krupps and the Birmingham Small Arms Company.

Yet the absence of war cannot in itself justify the failures of the behemoth that the European Union has become - while its bureaucracy is not quite the bloated gravy train so beloved of the British tabloid writers, the Eurozone project has brought misery to millions of ordinary people as the European Central Bank, like banks everywhere, continues to put the interests of international finance ahead of the needs of European citizens. In other respects too, EU policy focus is very much on encouraging and protecting big business and its decision-making processes are remote and unaccountable to ordinary citizens.

Of course, listening to the Tory and UKIP eurosceptics railing about Europe taking over Britian, including  blatantly lying about straight bananas (why does no one ever wonder where these are?), their reasons for wanting a referendum soon become clear. They accept that Europe is a vital trade partner for Britain, plus perhaps they worry about having to accommodate the half a million or so angry British pensioners who would lose their right of abode in Spain, plus the 200,000 Britons in France who would be heading back to our shores.

Euromyths - according to legend, all our bananas should look like this.
So what do they want instead? A renegotiated relationship - some of them argue for a sort of club class membership, while others want to be completely outside but with special privileges of access.

What these people object to are the regulations that ensure some degree of common social protection and health and safety rules around Europe, so that one country can't undercut another by paying its workers miniscule wages and forcing them to work in dangerous conditions. The EU has for two decades been the main proponent of new safety legislation in the workplace - if it wasn't for the EU, British workers would have no entitlement to a 20 minute unpaid break after six hours of working; pregnant women would not be entitled to protective arrangements for using computer screens; and employers would not have to consult their workers before moving their jobs out of the UK. Small protections and far from ideal, but better than nothing. This is what the right-wingers in the Tories and UKIP are really fretting about - the impact on capitalists profit margins of the marginal improvements in workers conditions through European legislation.

But these motives aside, it is time to have a proper debate on the EU and vote on whether Britain remains in it. It is welcome that the Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas MP, has put forward an amendment to the referendum proposal calling for a national vote on whether the EU should become more democratically accountable and economic powers be devolved back to nation states. By default, this should mean the ending of the ludicrous straight-jacket that is the Euro - if Greece still had the drachma, the current financial crisis would have far less impact.

We need multinational institutions like the EU to be able to tackle the global crisis of climate change - no one country can fight that alone. And in a globalised world where so many international corporations operate above and beyond the writ of any national governments, it is only international public and democratically accountable bodies that will ever have any hope of taming the damage they are doing. But in parallel, the Union needs to focus on the needs of its member societies rather than the desires of  international capital.

The European Economic Community emerged from the gound breaking coal and steel community forged between the former enemies France and Germany just months after Hitler's demise. If its founding purpose of ensuring that European will never again fight European is to be secured, the Union must be one for the people of our Continent and the wider world. If it is run instead for the rich, for the owners of the multinationals, then there will be no social peace and in the absence of a democratic, social Europe, as competition over increasingly scarce resources becomes ever fiercer, the gun factories may soon be taking new orders once more.

Europe past, or Europe future?

Friday, 21 October 2011

For Whom The Bell Tolls

WPC Yvonne Fletcher, killed outside the Libyan embassy in London,  1984, aged 25
Lt-Col Moammer al-Gaddafi, killed Sirte, 2011, aged 69

“Any (one's) death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

John Donne, 1572 to 1631

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Death of a Dictator

Moammer al-Gaddafi is dead. Trapped near his hometown of Sirte by a combination of NATO drones and Libyan NTC fighters, a storm drain was his final refuge as his bodyguards fought to the death around him. Then, filmed as ever these days by mobile phone cameras, he was dragged to a truck, pleading for his life and brutalised to death. His bloodied corpse was then dragged around, still filmed, before being taken to a hospital in Misrata for crowds to come and stare, and photograph a bit more.

The photographs and video footage have been transmitted around the world already - shown on websites, TV channels, newspapers and even described in some detail on the radio. And as the world has gawped and Libyans celebrated, western leaders like Obama, Cameron and Clinton have hailed the moment, declaring their pride.

Gaddafi's regime was a harsh one, no doubt, although many others are worse and to the end the Leader clearly retained the loyalty of many of his compatriots. Thousands died or were tortured in his prisons; his agents killed his opponents at home and abroad (although it remains exceedingly unlikely that he had anything to do with the Lockerbie bombing); and he was one of the few African leaders to launch an invasion of a neighbouring state - attacking Chad four times in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He showed little mercy for sure.

And yet, in these final moments, bloodied and humiliated, pleading for his life in front of the cameras, the overwhelming sense was that here was a small, frightened and helpless old man, a human being like all the rest of us, deluded perhaps by his long years in power, but flesh and blood still. In the hands of his captors, he was no longer a threat to anyone. In the frenzy of the moment, after years of persecution, it is perhaps unsurprising that those who seized him killed him. But it does not make it right - and it certainly is nothing for David Cameron to feel proud about, or for Hilary Clinton to breathe a sigh of relief as she claims she did.

No international pariah after all...
These are the same people who happily did business with Gadaffi right up until the uprising against him began., who bought his oil and sold him his weapons and, in Britain's case, trained his security services. While it does seem to stretch incredulity given today's heated incidents to suggest any conspiracy to kill Gadaffi, Clinton's relief may well be as much to do with being spared the embarrassment of a trial and the evidence that would have come out about the West's involvement with the old regime as anything to do with an end to the fighting.

And, yet again, the western media have outdone themselves in lurid excess - the graphic pictures of Gadaffi's final minutes should make any vaguely compassionate person retch: and while in a country as inured to state propaganda as Libya has been, showing his body may serve some purpose in convincing the population that he really is gone, it raises yet more questions about how the international media use the now so readily available means of recording and transmitting the most gruesome and humiliating images to sell copy.

When Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were killed by Italian partisans in April 1945, most newspapers did not print the now infamous photograph of their dead bodies hanging upside down at a petrol station in Milan - that Il Duce's trousers were firmly buckled on and Petacci's skirt carefully pinned up was surrealistically tasteful in comparison to today's Saharan gore-fest. Even as late as 1989, when Ceaucescu was executed by a hastily organised firing squad as he tried to flee Romania, the cameras turned away as he and his wife were shot. But perhaps it was Saddam Hussein's execution in 2006 that showed at once the power of mobile technology - an initial, official video of him walking to the scaffold in apparent calm was soon superseded by several mobile captures of a baying mob remonstrating with him as he tried to pray, and then more of his body falling through the trap door and then his corpse in the hospital. of course, the media just couldn't resist...

That things went even further today with Gaddafi should perhaps be no surprise and it would without question be wrong to ban footage - but the use of frame by frame images of his treatment by his captors on tabloid websites is little more than publishing torture porn to gain an audience. Saw 7 or 8 would struggle to compete with the Daily Mail's series of snuff photos.

More will mourn Gaddafi's passing than the West will ever admit to: his regime was violent and repressive, but it was not without its supporters and in the context of the Maghreb, his government led the way in provision of free health and education services, massively reducing illiteracy rates, and greatly improved the position of women and black Africans in a traditionally patriarchal, Arab society. Many Libyans were sent to the West for their higher education - I recall meeting several at both Glasgow University and Bradford University, all of them proud of their nation's achievements and complimentary of their Leader even in situations where they had no need to be. That, in time, Gaddafi so perverted the dreams of his popular revolution that he brutalised his nation is the truly enduring tragedy for Libya - because today, the violent men who have replaced him, including their western sponsors, by their eager celebration of his killing augur no better future at all for the people of Gaddafi's battered nation.

No page has been turned, no new chapter begun. There is nothing to be proud of - no refreshing rain falls on the deserts of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica tonight; only spilled blood mixes in the Saharan sands, a legacy of the hubris that has been and an omen of the hubris still to come.
In better times: the Libyan Leader with the G8 Heads of State, including his nemesis, President Sarkozy of France

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Adolf Hitler's Day Out At Dale Farm

Today has seen the violent eviction of some 80 Irish Traveler families from their homes on the unapproved portion of the Dale Farm settlement. Police and bailiffs used tasers and riot batons to force their way through barricades to seize the site from the people who have lived there for over ten years. Basildon's Tory Council, carefully stewarding council taxpayers money to avoid any waste of public finance, have spent over £18 millions pursuing their "final solution" (their words) of evicting people and leaving them with nowhere to go.

A wide range of political, rights and faith groups had campaigned to keep the site, but the Conservative Council with the aid of the baying right wing media have hounded them out. Children attending local schools who lived there will not be able to complete their education; sick people have to leave their homes, while one family with a baby barely a fortnight old are tonight on the nowhere.

Why has this been done? What on earth has possessed this Council to expend so much time, money and effort on removing people from half the site? Why has it been so important for them to reclaim what they have decided to be "greenbelt" land, but was in fact previously a scrapyard filled with rusting metal car wrecks, a site greatly improved by the travellers who made it their home? Indeed, why have the Council been prepared to risk the people they evict ending up in far less suitable locations across their district, rather than let them be where they were? Why, when half the site is fully legal and will remain in place, has it been so necessary to remove these families? When 90% of retrospective planning permission applications in National Park areas are approved and the Conservative Government has just proposed new planning laws which automatically presume in favour of development of greenbelt, why has it been so important to reclaim the Dale Farm scrapyard?

How to get retrospective planning permission in Basildon
The Council and the local MP vehemently deny that anti-traveller feelings or incipient racism were anything to do with it. On the BBC news Channel this evening, local MP John Baron (Conservative, of course) spluttered that in Basildon, they are "used to living with travelers" - indeed, they have almost 120 legal pitches for caravans (perhaps, at a push, 450 people out of Basildon's population of 175,000!), ignoring the fact that over half of these are in the legal part of Dale Farm. The Travellers would be welcome to live anywhere legally, he declared (ignoring the refusal of the Council to grant permission to a new site although one had been identified and would have been fully funded at no cost to local people). Pressed as to where they might go, he proposed Liverpool, at the other side of the country.

Dale Farm Scrapyard - the "greenbelt" in 1998
Take one look at that doyen of right-wing raving prejudice, the Daily Mail, and you soon see the true reason for this and who the Tories are trying to appeal to as the economy reels from the impact of the recession - read the frothing readers' comments under the article about today's evictions and you see how truly skin-thin civilised attitudes and values are among some of our compatriots, and how totally ostracised as "The Other" Travelers are in the eyes of "middle England" (the spelling mistakes are the Mail readers', not mine by the way!) :

I thought the definition of Romany is to roam ? ..Not pitch for 10 yrs ........ Fancy a nice drop of Tarmac on that there drive ?
If you need someone to open the gate....
At last the stupidity of the courts has ended and we can fnally put the rubbish out, funny that we have still not seen the men of Dale Farm fighting for their alleged rights, leaving it to their big mouthed wives as usual? As for the activists stick them 10 to a cell as they like being with each other so much, bunch of half wits with no jobs fighting lost causes and using state benefits to fund their actions.
I must express my indignation at the police brutality at DaleFarm. There just isn't anywhere near enough being dished out...........
Dale Farm before yesterday - home to 80 families
And so on...These are the most popular comments of over 1,500 posted in just the last few hours, nearly all dripping leaden poison about people most of them have never met but about whom the loaded prejudice of journals like the Mail and the Sun have legitimised as targets of stereotypical hatred.  The violent evictions at Dale Farm also come just days after the Conservative Mayor of Prestatyn in North Wales told a council meeting that Adolf Hitler's Nazis, who exterminated over 1,500,000 Romanies in the Holocaust, "had the right idea about how to deal with gypsies." 

Prejudice? More than a little evident. Racism? Absolutely. Justice? Absent. Basildon Council's insensitive (though perhaps revealing) reference to a final solution for Dale Farm may not involve the utter horror of Nazi Europe, but in truth how far removed from the sentiments of that time are the motives of many of those behind the eviction? And how important indeed it is for progressives and decent people of all hues to stand against such appalling bigotry and inhumane prejudice as has been unleashed by the removal of people from an old metal scrapyard which they had tidied up and turned into their home.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Murder On The Cheap - America's B-Movie "Bomb Plot" Plot

"It reads like the pages of a Hollywood script," FBI Director Robert Mueller conceded yesterday as his officials outlined what is fast becoming a widely debunked and ludicrous set of claims that the Iranian Government was involved in a plot to hire Mexican drug runners to bomb a Washington, DC restaurant and kill the Saudi ambassador to the USA, along with a very precise 100 bystanders.

The handler of this plot, the alleged deep-sleeper (comatose, it appears, for the last 30 years), is Manssour Arbabsiaran American-Iranian car salesman from Texas, who was allegedly given $100,000 by Iran to set up the plot, the idea being that if Mexicans carried out the attack, no one supposedly would point a finger at the Middle East, let alone Iran.  The Quds Force, a unit within the Iranian military that has been involved in military activities in neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan, has been accused of planning the operation - except that commentators around the world have quickly pointed out that the amateurish nature of the plot and the high risk step of involving Mexican drug dealers would be totally out of character for this highly professional organisation.

It would be out of character, too, for Quds Force or indeed Iran itself to be involved in any terrorist activities against the USA. Quds, set up during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s (when Saddam Hussein was the West's favoured belligerent), has a history of involvement beyond Iran's borders - but only just. It has been active in Kurdistan, Lebanon and Yemen. Its main focus over the years has actually been in its troubled neighbour, Afghanistan, where Iran long opposed the Taliban regime, and actively supported the American invasion of 2001. Indeed, Quds operatives fought alongside the Americans in the attack on Herat, a key point in the ousting of the Taliban regime. Of course, as blogged last year, America was quick to turn on Iran in spite of then President Khatemi's repeated attempts at reconciliation.

With many in the international diplomatic community sceptical of the US claims, which Tehran hotly denies, the story may begin to unravel, though today President Obama appears to be clinging, Bush-like (or Bush-lite) to the ludicrous claims about a bomb plot. Not only would Mexican drug runners appear to be a strange choice of operative for Quds, the alleged price of the deal, $100,000, frankly seems a bit on the cheap side for such an important operation. On the other hand, it might have sounded like quite a large amount to the drug dealer the FBI co-opted to sting the car dealer in return for immunity from prosecution. That said, he turns out to have been a drug dealer with a heart - worrying about bystanders being killed, to which the wild-eyed crazy car salesman reportedly told him “They want that guy [the Ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him f**k ‘em.” 

Iran claims the whole thing is a plot by Obama to distract Americans' attention from the Wall Street protests and bad economic news. While this may well be a side-effect the White House will eagerly wish for, it seems unlikely. The truth may lie somewhat closer to Iran's borders, with the beleaguered Saudi kingdom. The Sunni regime in Riyadh has been nervous of growing restlessness among Shia Muslims in the Gulf states, not least in Bahrain where earlier this year they sent their military to crush the pro-democracy protests. With America very gradually courting other regional powers, the House of Ibn Saud has increasingly needed a perceived Iranian threat to provide the counter-balance and keep America on side with the Saudi regime. And so, if we discount the car dealer simply being an affluent fantasist, we are left with the real possibility that sabre rattling Saudi Arabia, which Wikileaks showed has repeatedly lobbied the USA to go to war with Iran, has been doing a spot of conjuring. President Obama might want to reflect on who his bedfellows are before killing any Persians.

It is possible some rogue individuals, possibly Arbabasiar and associates, have planned something on their own initiative, but Iran itself would have nothing to gain from the alleged plot other than to be confirmed as the bogeyman the American media and political establishment repeatedly portray it as being. Again and again, US sources vaguely imply Iranian sponsorship of terrorism. But the truth is very different - Iran does fund Hizbollah in the Lebanon, but the nature of its support is as often in the form of funding for building reconstruction (especially after the pulverising of tens of thousands of civilian homes by Israel during its 2006 invasion) and health services as any military support. Hizbollah itself, while maintaining a lot of fiery anti-Israeli rhetoric, is now in effect a relatively normalised political party, elected as part of a multi-faith coalition, the March 8 Alliance,  including Catholic and Maronite Christians and Druze, in the Beirut Parliament and part of the governing coalition since January this year.

By contrast, repeatedly under-reported in the west is the ongoing terror campaign against Iran, and especially against its scientific community, by Israel with at least the tacit support of the USA. This "decapitation" strategy was launched in 2009 in the dying days of the Bush Presidency, when Dubbya's hopes of attacking Iran were stymmied by a CIA report that declared Iran was not developing nuclear weapons. Reported in the UK Daily Telegraph, the Israeli Government then sanctioned the use of hitmen to kill Iranian scientists and academics involved in the country's development of nuclear energy.

Since then, they have been busy. Three top Iranian scientists have been bombed to death - the last just a month ago - and a fourth narrowly escaped assassination along with his wife. Claims that the Israeli secret service, Mossad, is behind this have met with silence from Tel Aviv. Given the heavy funding and support the USA provides Israel, paying for nearly its entire armed services (a cost of $8.2 millions of US taxpayers' money every single day) and funding a huge chunk of its economy, there is no possibility that any such activity would go on unless Washington approved. So who, then, are the terrorists?

We are in difficult days: the neocons in America have long hankered for a military assault on Iran, which is still one of the world's largest oil producers and which sits starkly independently of the USA compared to the Saudi kleptocracy and the fiefdoms of the Emirates. As you can hear in the video below, people like John Bolton, who was Bush's ambassador to the UN, keenly want to provoke confrontation, expressing disappointment at Iran's relatively moderate tone in reply to western sanctions. (It seems Bolton was actively hoping Iran would leave the nuclear non-prolilferation treaty (NPT) to make it easier to garner support for action against Iran).

Somewhere, the scriptwriters are hard at work on coming up with the plot twists and turns (the more bizarre it seems the better) to begin production of the biggest disaster movie yet.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Trials of Doctor Fox

Tories in trouble - always a time to celebrate
More - click here

So Conservative Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, has a tangled web of arrangements and business dealings with a range of Conservative Party donors who just might be seeking Government contracts, brokered by a pal who is/was a business partner in a company that had other Tory MPs as shareholders and was involved in lobbying for big business clients.

Yes, it all stinks to high heaven. But tell us something we didn't already know.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

From The Wall to Wall Street: Learning to Say "No"

(Note - Spoiler)

I've already posted on Rise of the Planet of the Apes; but, as a self-confessed and unashamed  Apes addict since the age of 12, having seen it a second time, I was moved to post this scene. It is one of the most powerful moments in the film, when the lead character's awakening self-consciousness (and his larynx!) reaches a fear-driven crescendo as he faces yet more cruelty from his captors. And once the genie is out the bottle...

The Power of NO - pretty clear in the clip above; but one of the hardest things people often find to say, usually for some fear of consequence. As a result, all manner of injustices and wrongs are tolerated beyond reason and the Powerful know this. Education, media and authority are combined sometimes incredibly subtly to create a zeitgeist where dissent does not (always) need to be physically crushed - rather it is simply isolated and neutralised. A phony consent is manufactured where the status quo is accepted because anything else seems ridiculously impossible.

Just as the Soviets used to treat their dissidents in mental hospitals for failing to evolve obligingly into homo sovieticus, so capitalist societies drive people to the belief that the work ethic in the service of profit-seeking corporations is not only their preference, but indeed the only sane or feasible choice - in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Say otherwise and at best you are a hopeless dreamer, and at worst a potential terrorist poised to wipe out civilisation as we know it (hence the police targeting of completely peaceful environmentalists via use of the anti-terror laws).

The Arab Spring, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, has shown the world some of the potential when people, no matter how oppressed, decide to refuse the dictates of their rulers. Their bravery has shown that, ultimately, those in power depend on the unspoken compliance of those they govern - no matter how pervasive or brutal a system is, it is operated by humans, ultimately as vulnerable as those they oppress, whether by the terror of the Cairo police, or by the restrictions of the US Patriot Act. From the taking of the Bastille to fall of the Berlin Wall to the thousands of Americans currently camping at Wall Street and in the financial sector of Boston to protest against the power of the bankers, ordinary people can make a difference when they finally refuse to accept the threats, lies and abuses of the Establishment, whose power ultimately is no greater than that which we collectively grant it.

So whether the trailblazing Bryant & May strikers of the 19th century, or Spartacus the Slave or even Caesar the Ape, the act of saying "No", while learned with great difficulty and often requiring great bravery and even supreme sacrifice, can be one of the most positive things any sentient being can do.

"A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble." 
                                                                                     - Gandhi
Caesar as Che