Wednesday, 23 December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Focus of All Ignorance: The Final Republican Primary Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who could possibly disagree?

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

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

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Greens on the Rojavan Revolution

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

On The Eve of Destruction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But beyond this, what?

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

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

What will we do when this doesn't work?

Saturday, 28 November 2015

This Little Piggy Longs for the Abattoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caution: distressing footage

And now recall the marketing myth.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Guest Blog: Stuart Jeffrey - Urgent Action on the NHS Consultation. What YOU Can Do!

Tell Jeremy Hunt what to do with the NHS!

You need to do this tonight! Jeremy Hunt has sneaked out a consultation on the NHS without really letting people know - a great way of ensuring that you don't get an answer that you don't want. The consultation ends on 23rd November, so follow the link below to tell him what to do with the NHS.

38 Degrees have picked up on this and have set up an easy response system. Visit them here.

Feel free to use my responses in the text, or better still write your own if you have time:
  • £10bn still leaves 4% cuts required each year to 2020. This will not be possible without severe restrictions to services or a significant decline in the quality and safety of care.
  • The mandate should contain a commitment to increase funding in line with the £30bn that the NHS will need to provide safe, effective care by 2020.
  • It should contain a commitment to ending privatisation of the NHS.
  • There should be a requirement that all health ministers and their families have no interests in any private health care company.
  • There should be a buying back of PFI and a commitment to no new PFI contracts
  • There should be a commitment to end the health care market which costs billions to run.

Stuart Jeffrey is a Green Party activist and campaigner from Kent. You can read more of his blog here:

Thursday, 19 November 2015

We Can't Wait: Day of the Toilet

Today is (just) World Toilet Day. It's coincidence with International Men's Day has of course led to some satire about a combined symbol being an upright toilet seat, but Toilet Day has some very serious issues to raise.

2.5 billion people - over a third of the humans on our planet - do not have access to adequate sanitation and 1 billion have no access at all to toilets, instead having to relieve themselves in the open with all the abundance of bad consequences for their own and others' health. This is compounded by the fact that many people facing such circumstances live in cramped conditions alongside tens or even hundreds of thousands of others in shanty towns and refugee camps. With water shortages increasing across the world owing to a combination of overuse and global warming, the situation is likely to get much worse without rapid action - this on the same day as it was revealed that superbugs resistant to the most powerful "last ditch" antibiotics have been identified in China.

Growing stress on water supplies
In the West, we take being able to use Thomas Crapper's invention for granted, complaining when it gets blocked or if the water runs out on a crowded over-filled outdated commuter train. Yet for so many of our fellow humans, it is a constant problem hour after hour, day after day.

Learn more about the purpose of World Toilet Day on the website here and in the videos below.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Polymath of Revolution: Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson is more often than not remembered by mainstream white culture as the deep, melancholic voice of American musicals, though sometimes in roles that ultimately pandered to white stereotypes of black people. But there was much, much more to this remarkable radical whose life straddled so many of the defining struggles of the 20th century.

He was born in 1898 in New Jersey to a mixed race mother and a black father who had been born a slave before escaping and eventually becoming a pastor. In spite of facing a barrage of racism in his early years, Robeson won a scholarship to Rutgers College where he excelled at sport and played in the National Football League. At the same time, he studied and qualified in law from Columbia Law School, but on graduation, he was faced with patronising racial barriers to progressing in the profession. Encouraged by his new wife Essie, who supported him financially, he switched instead to theatre in Harlem where he soon worked with a range of radical bohemian artists. His performances were widely praised, but the subjects of many of the productions he appeared in challenged prevailing norms about race and society, and led to death threats.

This didn't stop him and he was soon singing as well, presenting concerts of slave spirituals, arguing against the prevalent trend among middle class blacks to eschew their history and culture. Later, while working in theatre in London, he enrolled in courses at the School of Oriental and African Studies to understand African languages and dialects more deeply. Yet as he appeared in more films, he soon encountered racial stereotyping - and appalling treatment where what directors like Alexander Korba assured him were roles taking a more progressive slant on race were twisted round on the editor's floor. This soon sharpened and heightened his political awareness and thirst for social change.

While keen to foster African Americans' pride in their culture and identity, he also deeply believed in the universality of all humanity and through this was drawn to communism. In 1929 in London he encountered striking miners who had marched from Wales and learned of their poverty. He raised funds and travelled to the Valleys with food for their families and supported trade union activists. Later, he met socialist thinkers like H G Wells and this inspired him on his return to the USA to hold concerts to fund raise for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. A couple of years later he became Chair of the Council on African Affairs, a left-wing body advocating for black rights in the USA and against imperialism and colonialism globally. Although tolerated during the war because of the alliance with the USSR, it was listed by the FBI as a subversive organisation in 1946.

He visted the Soviet Union in 1948 (although as with many on the Left at the time he was largely uncritical of Stalinism), worked for Progressive Party US Presidential candidate Henry A Wallace in the same year and supported the American Communist Party, all of which led to him being blacklisted during the McCarthy repression. Along with other CAA leaders, he was charged with subversion in 1953 and denied a passport for five years, seriously damaging his international career as well as cutting his domestic earnings. Surviving this, however, he staged a moderate come back in concerts in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

After the lynching of four black men by a white mob in 1946, Robeson had secured a meeting with President Truman to petition for action to protect black people. However, when he warned the President that failure to stop lynchings would lead to a violent backlash from African Americans, Truman had angrily terminated the meeting. This did not stop Robeson from continuing to campaign, but it was to be another 15 years before the rise of the civil rights movement was to see any real progress. Robeson was for a while active in the movement but ill health compelled him to retire from public view. He died in 1976.

Paul Robeson was a deeply intellectual, multi-faceted man, a true polymath but one even now frequently relegated to a stereotype by white dominated culture.  It is an insipid, patronising and even self-defeating racism in so many ways similar to the "genteel" racial barriers that he had encountered during his brief foray into the legal profession. That he nevertheless held to a politics which, while celebrating cultural difference, fostered the underpinning unity of humankind is consequently all the more impressive.

Here is a full length film biography of Paul Robeson and, below that, his rendition (in a rare English version) of the Soviet National Anthem.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Ancient Art of Industrial Action: the World's First Strike

Our society, with its arrogant belief in our modernity, often looks back at our ancestors with a mixture of disdain towards their supposedly primitive, superstitious nature yet, paradoxically if sometimes patronisingly, stares in awe at some of their (literally) monumental achievements, from the Great Wall to the Colosseum, or from the polished marble statues of the Hellenes to the giant pyramids of Egypt.

And yet, while we may look back at seemingly distant, lost landscapes of elusive societies and long dead beliefs, in truth, far more commonality stretches across the centuries than we often realise. So many of the norms and values and challenges we face now are the very same that those who were here aeons ago also encountered.

The very earliest human societies, back in Palaeolithic times, had all the hallmarks of equality and co-operation: archaeology almost universally has excavated village after village of similarly sized houses, commonly used tools and shared fields and livestock. Contrary to the Hollywood version of savage tribes led by psychopathic cavemen, the earliest humans, who dominated our world for as much as ten times as long as the so-called civilised world we now inhabit, were an egalitarian lot, with men and women working together and sharing their resources communally, leading Marx and Engels to name them "primitive communists".

However, a combination of climate change and the innovation it spurred in agriculture and technology led increasingly to specialisation: the development of the plough, the domestication of the horse, irrigating and fertilising fields and the advances in metal work all led to the need for workers with specialist skills. Trade developed too as materials were sought from further afield. Finally, and most powerfully, village life became transformed into urban as the first cities grew - not, as traditional history would have it, from one place (Ur) gradually spreading out, but quite spontaneously in different places across the planet where humans encountered similar situations.

Subsistence economies began to produce surpluses - by 2,500BC, crops in the Fertile Crescent (modern Iraq) had yields of 86 times the sowing and with these surpluses came the rise of the first ruling classes. These initially consisted of men selected by their communities as protectors from outside threats or as priests directed to foster the surplus for the common good.

While at first both depended on the consent of their communities, in time, through what Neil Faulkener (A Marxist History of the World) has described as "force and fraud", they gradually "usurped the power of society to become power over society". Archaeology from around 4,000BC on shows increasing gaps in wealth with some houses four or five times the size of the norm, while early records show temple property gradually passing into the hands of priests and other officials appointed to administer public services such as irrigation and building. Sometimes, as in ancient Sumeria, the priesthood held sway and appointed the military; in others, such as Pharaonic Egypt, it was the opposite way round, although the militaristic Pharaoh was always proclaimed a living god as well as commander of the army.

Yet, even as once free, equal people were pressed into hierarchical and patriarchal societies where the overwhelming majority lived as slaves or peasants, ancient notions of equity and the public good persisted, ingrained deep in the human psyche, our mental DNA. And in 1152BC, during the construction of the pyramid of Pharaoh Rameses III, a combination of failure to pay rations and corruption by priests and public officials led, remarkably, to the first verifiable recorded strike*, which is preserved in the so called "Strike Papyrus" in the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy.

After their due rations of beer and grain had been delivered intermittently for some weeks, skilled stonemasons downed tools on 14 November and over the next week staged a series of protests first at the local town hall and then, it seems, in various places within the pyramid itself. This astonishingly included a sit-in in what was to be the sacred chamber where the Pharaoh himself would be laid to rest for his voyage to the after-life. In a show of sisterly solidarity, their wives joined them after the first couple of days.

The police attended, including the Chief of Police, who tried to reason with them, while the Mayor of Thebes did a Blairite "I'm an honest guy" turn with the disbelieving workers. Completely at a loss, on the seventh day, management caved in and provided the strikers with:

Year 29, second month of winter, day 17
Giving the ration of the second month:
1 foreman: 7½ sacks
the scribe: 3¾ sacks
8 men, each one: 52/4 sacks, making 44 sacks.
Left side:
1 foreman: 7½ sacks
the scribe: 3¾ sacks
8 men, each one: 52/4 sacks, making 44 sacks.
The two gatekeepers, the four washermen ...

Although they returned to work, the stonemasons were back on the picket line just four weeks later and this time called a scribe to set down their grievances to go to the Pharaoh himself (as with many later examples, such as the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 in England, ordinary people, saturated by the propaganda of the irreplaceable efficacy or even the fraudulent divinity of the ruling class, still saw the king ultimately as The Benefactor, unknowingly let down by corrupt or incompetent officials). However, it wasn't failure to pay rations that was on their minds, but corruption by temple administrators (priests). As well as accusing one Weserhat of unpriestly activities with a Lady Menat, they charged the holy-man and his colleague Pentaweret with stealing building materials and oxen which were meant to belong to the communal religious site.

The outcome of the second dispute is not clearly preserved but further strikes are documented and they apparently became a feature of pyramid building. It seems the skilled craftsmen grew aware of their value to the ruler as he needed them to construct what was intended to be a powerful totem of his alleged supremacy, a hallmark of his god-given dominance over his people and all the lands of Earth.

However, whatever the Pharaoh's delusions of grandeur, the first strike was a success for the workers and a powerful reminder that, whatever system of power is in place, our species is rooted in values of fairness, justice and solidarity.

*It is to be noted this is the first strike that is verifiable by contemporary documents. The "Father of History", Herodotus, refers to one that may have occurred as much as 400 years earlier, also in Egypt, by workers building the Great Pyramid of Cheops, who were angry when their garlic rations were late.

The Strike Papyrus

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Capitalism Kills The Truth - Fox Buys National Geographic

Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox Corporation has bought up the prestigious National Geographic magazine and its associated TV channel. Within 24 hours of the title exchanging hands, 180 staff (about 9% of the total) were "let go" and although Murdoch's spokespeople have insisted that the editorial board and writing staff are largely intact, the Digger's reach is likely to go beyond the frozen staff benefits pot.

National Geographic, first published in 1888, has long been prized as an impartial and highly reliable source of news about the world. Although with a heavy focus (literally) on wildlife and wilderness landscapes, it has also contributed massively to the mainstreaming of the debate on climate change with leading articles on global warming, resource depletion and environmental damage. Its photo-journalism has sometimes been the conclusive proof of corporations' damage of rainforest, pollution of the seas and assault on indigenous communities.

Click through to a few National Geographic pieces:

"Yes, We can take action to fix climate change!" 

The Climate Change Special Issue

Weather versus Climate change

Learning from Indigenous Peoples About Climate Change

It has a website devoted to explaining climate change: HERE

By contrast, take a look at Murdoch's Fox News Channel's output on this major issue of our times:

 Fossil Fuels are no catastrophe: they have made our lives better.

Weather Channel founder blasts climate change (as fake)  

 Climate change is "Superstition"

Many commentators have criticised Fox for its lax standards of verite, not only on global warming but on a wide range of issues. But it's obsessive traducing of the climate crisis is creating serious damage to the fight to save humanity from self-destruction. The widespread scientific consensus on global warming being caused by human activity is denounced as fraud perpetrated by a Protocols of Zion type world-wide conspiracy by universities in search of grants, while every flake of snow is pronounced another nail in the coffin of the "liberal" myth of a warming planet. Although happy to trouser millions from the biblical climate change epic Noah, Murdoch himself crassly pronounced modern, scientifically proven climate change false after he flew over 300 miles of ice - in the Arctic!

With one analysis declaring 93% of its output as "misleading" on climate change,   the enduring tragedy is that more Americans trust Fox News thant President Obama on the issue - not that, with his own addiction to fracking, Barak has not exaclty covered himself in glory on the environment.

But Fox is critical in slowing and blocking the crucial opt-in to global action on greenhouse gas emissions by the USA without which action by other countries will have limited impact (It is worth noting here that Chinese coal use is now falling and China, doubtlessly in thrall to liberals!, is investing more in clean energy than the rest of the world combined).

Murdoch has of course already insisted there will be no loss of editorial independence, but anyone following the British satirical magazine Private Eye's regular tracking of tie-ins and cross-selling between his UK Sky, Times and Sun media brands will know differently.

Like any good global capitalist, for Rupert Murdoch, global warming, even at its now accelerating pace, is of far less concern than his year on year profits. His poisonous legacy - and those of hundreds of similar global magnates - will exact a huge price from his grandchildren's generation. But of course, by then Rupert will have long since gone to the Corporate Boardroom in (the) Sky.

Below - Spoofs abound already: but is the future bleak for National Geographic?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Keep Left

Over the last three weekends, I have taken a tour of the left landscape of England. First a weekend on the south coast at Bournemouth for the Green Party's first conference since its moderate advances at the General Election and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader. The following weekend it was the People's Assembly co-ordinated Anti-Austerity march outside the Conservative conference in Manchester, complete with eggs and pig masks. And last Saturday afternoon, at a smaller gathering in Leeds, a couple of highly insightful lectures on Marxism from Red Flag, a new leftwing grouping in the Labour Party.

There was an underlying theme at all three - change is in the air. As covered here a number of times before, the last few years have seen a gathering ferment of unpredictable change, from the BNP bubble and the rise of UKIP, to Cleggmania, the Green Surge, the remarkable Scottish independence referendum and the backwash that swept away the once unassailable Scottish Labour Party; and now to the rise of Corbyn. These developments are seemingly mirrored elsewhere in the western world - whether on the populist right such as the USA's Trumpism or Greece's Golden Dawn fascists; or on the left by the Hellenic Syriza and Hispanic Podemos or, across the Pond, by the insurgency of socialist Democrat Bernie Sandars as he challenges for the Democrat nomination.

Police outside "1984: the Musical" at the Manchester protest
The Establishment is under assault in a way it hasn't had to handle since the Depression Era. In growing numbers, tens of millions of people are searching for alternatives to the desperate inequality and insipid greed of de-regulated capitalism as it destroys the lives of individuals and communities, turns its own nostrums on their heads and bares it rapacious teeth so nakedly that it threatens to devour our entire habitat within a generation.

And yet, while there is progressive hope as not for sometime, with the stakes so high, the decision-point grows ever sharper. Especially when the so-called centre-ground is actually far to the right of the political graph, the time for compromise is over. If there ever was a chance of some "moderate" resolution to the conflict in our society, a dubious proposition at the best of times, it is long gone as we encounter a sea of existential threats - just this week, the IMF predicted a high chance of  serious recession within 18 months, much deeper and more persistent that the 2008/9 crash. And beyond, with resource depletion accompanied by exponential demand, capitalism's response to the growing range of crises will not be to support people and conserve what we can - rather it will be to seek out ever more obscene forms of money-making.

Where then is the response on the Left? And what is it?

Pigs need justice from the Tories too!
Jeremy Corbyn and the leftwing movement supporting him in the Labour Party launched on a platform of opposing austerity and tackling inequality. Labour under his stewardship and the economics of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell seems set to move towards a more socialist take on solutions to the current crisis and on developing a future society that is fairer and kinder. After years of "Nu-Labour" dissimulation, this is a powerfully refreshing change and one that finally offers real hope of genuine, radical reform of how our society works and what its values are.

Yet, while socialism potentially offers a more responsible use of resources and Corbyn's environmental platform was powerfully akin to the Green Party's own proposals back in May, there remains a commitment to an economy based as much on growth as on egalitarianism. Similarly, while the plans to extend public ownership over railways are welcome, it does not take the capitalist bull by the horns and wrestle down the inherent threat of a system that is not and can never be sustainable.

Still, Greens could carp too much, though so far only a few have done so. Corbyn's slightly bizarre suggestion that some Welsh coalmines might be reopened if carbon-capture technology can be developed to effectively nullify emissions (something pretty much from the realms of sci fi) has been seized upon to denigrate him as some sort of climate change denier.

Karl Marx saw capitalism as a threat to the planet.
Similarly, a handful have growled hostilely at any Labour plans to grow the economy, forgetting that just a few months ago, Greens were arguing for just that, with massive investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport at the core of our manifesto. And for all that Corbyn may have work to do on taming the capitalist monster, Greens are on the whole still committed to some sort of undefined market system, albeit localised and regulated by as yet unclarified means.

Both these strands, of Corbyn's Labour and the Greens, are clearly of the Left. If, in the finest traditions of the Left, there was to be any sinking into tribalism, calling out every policy difference as a fundamental point of departure, it would be a tragedy. The ground would be left open not only for the Tory incumbents to continue their dire project, but also for populists like UKIP to monopolise any pseudo-challenge to the status quo.

Sectarian division over what to the wider electorate can be quite opaque differences is a dangerous tendency. It is sometimes seemingly inherent among progressives who, perhaps because our politics are rooted far more deeply in principle rather than the pragmatism of the right, can struggle to compromise. Often that is not a bad thing and the Greens' role may well be to act as the ecological conscience of the Left as a whole, constantly reminding the materialists of Momentum (the Corbynistas' new grouping) that social justice and environmental sustainability are inevitably and irrevocably co-dependent.

But Corbyn faces a big enough challenge seeing off the Blairite remnants who still occupy most of the Labour Parliamentary benches as well as a number of other key roles. As we have seen by the behaviour of some of them this last week over the Fiscal Charter debate, the Blairite rump is quite happy to trundle into TV studios and bare their "souls" to journalists if they think it will wound the new leader's attempts to transform his party and the wider political landscape. Sniping at him from a platform of verdant moral superiority will do nothing to help foster real change. Greens can assert a confident identity by positively advancing our beliefs without any need to join in the chorus of ill intended media barons and neoliberals keen to stop any effective challenge to the Establishment in its tracks.

The Green Left meeting in Bournemouth took the general view that Greens must work in a genuinely plural way; as indeed Jeremy Corbyn has a track record of doing with Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett, both of whom have welcomed his election and expressed hope for a wider alliance. This will be vital both to infuse the progressive movement with a genuinely green outlook and also, in the event Corbyn fails inside Labour, to ensure there is a viable political machine able to carry on the struggle for a fairer, more egalitarian society. A Green Party with a generous stance towards kindred spirits in the Labour movement might be where Corbyn supporters will feel able to come if their current party turns on them, although possibly the rather meagre scale of the much touted Labour MPs' "revolt" last Tuesday perhaps makes this scenario a little less likely.

A wide movement looking for change outside the Tory Conference
A society based on the twin pillars of social justice and environmental sustainability will be vital for the survival of both people and planet. Ecosocialism, the synthesis of ecology and socialism that is espoused by leftwing activists across several Left parties, provides a sound philosophical basis for this. It is a rationale explored by Green Party International Co-ordinator Dr Derek Wall in his new book, "Economics After Capitalism", which is well worth a read by anyone interested in what sort of longterm society we can and must develop.

And so, as we face a winter of continuing austerity, of further war in the Middle East and the continued dominance of the media by an increasingly unbound Conservative regime, it is vital more than ever that those on the progressive left put relatively small policy differences aside and work together. As the mantra said, it's For the Common Good.
Greens on the march in Manchester

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Real Corbyn Speech: "The Hope That Lives In All of Us"

Jeremy Corbyn delivered his first speech as Labour Party leader today. It was passionate though reasonable, showing him as an authentic person, caring and decent. On a Sky TV survey designed to pick holes in him, 53% of those watching reported that they could see him as Prime Minister, while an ITN News online survey chalked up an 89% approval rate at one point.

Needless to say, the media were quick to ignore these figures. Instead, the BBC's Danny Savage spent the afternoon in a pub in Leeds where he found a man who said the liked Corbyn but he "is far too decent." Shocking.Clearly he prefers to be ruled by men capable of gross indecency, perhaps committed while joining a millionaires' mutual appreciation society at university.

Similarly, Sky decided to wheel on a PR "specialist" to look at some photos of Corbyn in his office. Breathtakingly, she managed to invent all sorts of meanings into meaninglessness - his white shirt apparently was to show voters he was organised, while a fruit bowl on his table was supposedly planned to portray him as hard working (eating on the go, no lunch!). To be fair, she did concede that maybe in fact it was all just genuine stuff, especially when she looked at his red socks and sandals, before she toddled off, perhaps for her own expensive lunch.

But while his speech today, importantly dwelling on his values, was a good start, perhaps the speech he made in the video below during his barnstorming leadership campaign is The Speech that sums up what Corbyn is about, and what all of us in the anti-austerity, pro-equality movement are about. Passionate, angry at times, dissecting the gross inequality of the betrayed democracy we live in, and the desperate world around us, this is his Political Testimony, a cri de coeur which powerfully expounds on what is wrong and what could replace it.

Watch it, share it, then go and work for it, "the hope that lives in all of us."

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Capital Crimes: Honesty Doesn't Sell Cars

Volkswagen, the so-called "Peoples' Car" company originally created by the Nazi Deutsche Arbeitsfront in 1937, is in crisis.

Once an apparent byword for trust and reliability, it has been revealed to have been deliberately falsifying the level of emissions from its diesel cars by a factor of up to forty times (yes, that's 4,000%) in US Environmental Protection Agency tests. Special software designed to identify when their cars are subjected to pollution tests alters emissions to mislead the regulator - and the buying public. Over 11 million cars are affected worldwide and VW in the USA are setting aside over $6.5 billion to pay anticipated compensation, with fines expected to be two to three times that. Half a million cars - Volkswagen and Audis sold between 2009 and 2015 - are already being recalled with many more to follow.

The company's European vehicles are likely to be just as polluting, but European tests are less rigorous so, in the view of one commentator today, there is less need to falsify outcomes. Europe may be just as badly affected by the deceit though - one early analysis suggests that over half the additional one million tonnes of emissions released by the rigged vehicles will have been on this side of the Atlantic.

With its shares falling 23% in value in one day as predatory investors anticipate lower profits as customers desert the brand, the company is rushing to shore up its battered reputation with about as devious a statement as you might expect:
"Volkswagen is committed to fixing this issue as soon as possible. We want to assure customers and owners of these models that their automobiles are safe to drive, and we are working to develop a remedy that meets emissions standards and satisfies our loyal and valued customers."

  their automobiles are safe to drive
  their automobiles are safe to drive

...except of course, they are not safe at all. That's the whole point about falsifying pollution emissions.

Save the planet - and its people!
Sure, they won't crash or blow up or anything so blatantly dangerous. Rather, insidiously, invisibly, they are helping to kill the life on our planet, poisoning our atmosphere, sickening our kids and killing our elderly.

All carbon fuel emissions are damaging to the environment and the creatures inhabiting it, which includes human beings - all of us. But while petrol is bad enough with its carbon dioxide outputs, diesel is even worse. Although marketed as "clean" because its particulates are largely invisible and it produces less carbon dioxide, it produces much more nitrogen oxide. This is a far more damaging gas when it comes to global warming as well as highly carcinogenic and as such a serious threat to human health. Many British cities, including most of London, Glasgow and Manchester have higher than legal levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions under EU regulations, but no decisive action has been taken to stop this in spite of the impact on people.

Bear in mind that around 60,000 early deaths in the UK are attributed to pollution every single year with about a quarter of these linked to diesel exhaust emissions and you can see the scale of this problem. But we have a UK Government which is subsidising carbon-packed fracking at the very same time as imposing new taxes on clean, renewable energy (now ludicrously and cruelly subjected to a carbon tax in spite of having nil carbon emissions).

That's right - it's really not safe to drive.
Put into this mix the drive (no pun) of VW and all private companies to maximise their profits (legally their sole objective) and wheezes like the US emissions falsifications become routine.

We are often told of course that capitalism is an engine of creativity, that it will find the solutions to all our problems and if nothing else consumer power will force companies to clean up their act and the planet. Yet isn't this just another marketing ploy, this time to sell us the concept that there is no alternative? Nothing works allegedly other than a system that commodifies everything and extracts surplus value from the work of the mass majority of people in order to maximise the profits of the few (owners).

The reality?
Capitalism pushes its participants to exploit, not conserve; to compete not co-operate; and to lie rather than be open - VW's crime in this context is simply to be caught out rather than doing what it did. Because, under the imperative of maximising the return for its shareholding owners, fixing the testing mechanism rather than investing millions in real fuel efficiency becomes the logical thing to do.

We've never trusted vehicle sales reps for a reason. It's because, in our economic system, honesty doesn't sell cars.