Friday, 28 September 2012


Clive Stafford Smith wrote this in the Guardian 25/9/12

“Living Under Drones, a new report from Stanford and New York universities, was a difficult piece of fieldwork – I was with the law students in Peshawar as they tried to interview victims of the CIA's drone war. But it has made an important contribution to the drone debate by identifying the innocent victims of the CIA's reign of terror: the entire civilian population of Waziristan (roughly 800,000 people).
Until now, the most heated dispute has revolved around how many drone victims in the Pakistan border region are dangerous extremists, and how many children, women or men with no connection to any terrorist group. I have been to the region, and have a strong opinion on this point – but until the area is opened up to media inspection, or the CIA releases the tapes of each hellfire missile strike, the controversy will rage on.
However, there can be no sensible disagreement over certain salient facts: first, the US now has more than 10,000 weaponised drones in its arsenal; second, as many as six Predator drones circle over one location at any given time, often for 24 hours a day, with high-resolution cameras snooping on the movements of everyone below; third, the Predators emit an eerie sound, earning them the name bangana (buzzing wasp) in Pashtu; fourth, everyone in the area can see them, 5,000ft up, all day – and hear them all night long; fifth, nobody knows when the missile will come, and turn each member of the family into what the CIA calls a "bugsplat". The Predator operator, thousands of miles away in Nevada, often pushes the button over a cup of coffee in the darkest hours of the Waziristan night, between midnight and 5am. So a parent putting children to bed cannot be sure they will wake up safely.....

....So little changes. Current RAF doctrine tells us, euphemistically, how "the psychological impact of air power, from the presence of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] to the noise generated by an approaching attack helicopter, has often proved to be extremely effective in exerting influence …" Perhaps they mean "terror", as described by David Rohde, a former New York Times journalist kidnapped and held by the Taliban for months in Waziristan. Rohde, quoted in Living Under Drones, describes the fear the drones inspired in ordinary civilians: "The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death."

I hope that this report reminds us all what the US – with British support – is doing to the people of Pakistan. Maybe then there will be less surprise at the hatred the drone war is engendering in the Islamic world – and a chance that we will reconsider what we are doing.”

It is astonishing that anyone with half a brain should wonder why the west is hated in so many parts of the world. It has very little to do with crap inflammatory propaganda movies and far more to dealing out death in such an arbitrary way. It does not help when death and suffering are reduced to ‘collateral damage’ either. The use of ‘bugsplat’ is indicative of an attitude that renders human beings as sub-human. This is what the Nazis did to demonise the Jews. They were called ‘untermenschen’. And we know where that lead to. 

It is disgraceful that a man with a reputation for being clever (and holder of the Nobel Peace Prize) should utilise weapons which creates many more enemies. Perhaps he too is in the pockets of the arms dealers? Or is he following in the footsteps of so many ‘world leaders’ - think Blair and Bush - who suffered from little willy syndrome?

No-one in Britain should be under any illusion that this technology is exclusively American. We have spent £2billion acquiring our own, including the grimly named ‘Reaper’ drone. We have budgeted another £2bn to buy and maintain some more. 

All this has been slipped under the radar with very little analysis or policy discussion. 

It is time for a very heated debate.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

There is an alternative

With all three parties singing the same tune albeit with slightly different notes it behoves us all to look elsewhere for solutions to our economic woes. Politics is all about choices and we are being offered a very narrow range of options. Each spokesbod chants the mantra ‘there is no alternative’. 

But there is an alternative as Suzanne Moore pointed out in the Guardian today:

As party leaders congratulate themselves on the tough choices they make, not one will say we are slashing the NHS by precisely the amount the war in Afghanistan costs us. Not one will explain that stopping tax avoidance by the super rich would pay for a functioning welfare system. Instead, we are offered the choice only between who can cut most earnestly and most efficiently.”

Funny how silent all three parties are about making the very rich pay their taxes. It cannot have anything to do with them being in thrall and hock to the bastards can it?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Mitchell rides again

Here it is. What the coppers said. Thanks to the Telegraph 25/9/12.

Whilst on duty at *** tonight (Wed 19th Sept) on a 1400-2200 hrs between the hours of 1800-2000 I had to deal with a man claiming to be the chief whip and who I later confirmed to be such and a Mr Andrew MITCHELL.
Mr Mitchell was speaking to PC ******** demanding exit through the main vehicle gate into Whitehall. PC ******** explained to Mr MITCHELL that the policy was for pedal cycles to use the side pedestrian exit. Mr MITCHELL refused, stating he was the chief whip and he always used the main gates.
I explained to Mr MITCHELL that the policy was to use the side pedestrian gates and that I was happy to open those for him, but that no officer present would be opening the main gates as this was the policy we were directed to follow.
Mr MITCHELL refused. Repeatedly reiterating he was the chief whip. My exact explanation to Mr MITCHELL was "I am more than happy to open the side pedestrian gate for you Sir, but it is policy that we are not to allow cycles through the main vehicle entrance".

After several refusals Mr MITCHELL got off his bike and walked to the pedestrian gate with me after I again offered to open that for him.
There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: "Best you learn your f------ don’t run this f------ government...You’re f------ plebs." The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official. I can not say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole.
I warned Mr MITCHELL that he should not swear, and if he continued to do so I would have no option but to arrest him under the Public Order Act, saying "Please don’t swear at me Sir. If you continue to I will have no option but to arrest you under the public order act".
Mr MITCHELL was then silent and left saying "you haven’t heard the last of this" as he cycled off.
I forward this to you as all officers were extremely polite to Mr MITCHELL, but such behaviour and verbal expressions could lead to the unfortunate situation of officers being left no option but to exercise their powers.
I write this for your information as Mr Mitchell’s last comments would appear to indicate that he is unhappy with my actions.
I have recorded this fully in my pocket book.”

Sounds very credible. Not only is he an arrogant and nasty piece of ordure, he apparently tells lies. A perfect representation of our governing class. It also transpired that part of Mitchell’s ‘tiring stressful day’ was spent in an exclusive Indian restaurant having a leisurely lunch. The poor diddums.

 “The Chief Whip has damaged himself, his party and his government.” Guardian 26/9/12

In the immortal words of Sarah Palin, “You Betcha”

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

I’m Sorry

Over two years after he broke his pledge not to raise tuition fees, Clueless finally apologised. His party of assorted clots gave a muted response to his Conference presentations. They did not rebel. They have tied themselves to the mast of a sinking wreck drifting towards the rocks. Inside the conference bubble occasional shafts of reality glimmer briefly. A female activist claimed that when they go ‘on the knocker’ they are being received as Tories. Well well well. Fancy that!

It is not the tuition fees that has sunk them - there are plenty of other things to quote at them if the LibDems come a knockin. Here are a few more thanks to  ‘Bullingdonknob’ who commented on the Guardian website today. 

“Here's 26 apologies he owes the country:
Broken promise 1 No frontline cuts
Broken promise 2 Protecting the NHS budget
Broken promise 3 3,000 more police officers
Broken promise 4 Keeping VAT at 17.5%
Broken promise 5 Keeping the Future Jobs Fund
Broken promise 6 Keeping the Education Maintenance Allowances
Broken promise 7 Preserving tax credits for middle earners
Broken promise 8 Removing the "couple penalty"
Broken promise 9 Scrapping tuition fees
Broken promise 10 No bonuses for bank directors.
Broken promise 11 Provide 3,000 more midwives
Broken promise 12 Three more army battalions
Broken promise 13 Pupil Premium additional to the schools budget
Broken promise 14 Keeping Child Benefit universal
Broken promise 15 Stopping A&E and maternity closures
Broken promise 16 A Post Office Bank
Broken promise 17 No cuts to the Royal Navy
Broken promise 18 Cutting rail fares each year
Broken promise 19 Keeping the Child Trust Fund for the poorest families
Broken promise 20 No more top down NHS reorganisations
Broken promise 21 Creating more than 150 new public bodies despite pledging to hold a “bonfire of the quangos”.
Broken Promise 22 "You can read my lips. That is a promise from my heart." Cameron in Opposition promising to look after the elderly, frail, poor and needy" and protect pensioners' benefits
Broken Promise 23 Protect the vital Sure Start service
Broken Promise 24 NHS funding to be reduced by nearly £20billion – despite a vow to increase health spending
Broken Promise 25 The PM promised to give energy regulators more power, but failed to act as Scottish Power announced a £175-a-year price hike.
Broken Promise 26 Pledge to protect the NHS unravelled even further when it was revealed hospital waiting times have soared.”

Their time in government can be summarised as letting the Tories get away with right-wing policies. For all their talk - look at the facts and the impact on the poor and vulnerable. Look how little has been done to get more from the rich. They puff themselves up but they have been putty in the Tories hands - lambs to the slaughter. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

David Mil(lionare)iband

It wasn’t the denial of rendition flights. Nor the attempts to suppress information coming out in court that our American allies preferred kept secret. Nor was it the cynical creation of a marine ‘National Park’ around Diego Garcia to keep the Chagos Islanders from their home. It was none of those things (but they did help). 

Above all it is the fact that he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work. And a greedy bastard too.

Anyone in any doubt should read the latest issue of Private Eye*.

David Miliband is still an MP. He ‘represents’ South Shields - a rock solid Labour constituency. The brothers and sisters there may well be more than a little troubled by his recent activities.

May 2012: Paid £14,000 for three hours work speaking at a conference paid for by hedge fund investors including Tory donor Michael Hintze and Mitt Romneys former employer Bain Capital.

May 2012: Paid £12,500 for four hours ‘work’ speaking to Bridgepoint, a company who’s interests include NHS privatisation - it owns the hospital contractor, Care UK.

August 2012: Paid £4000 by Qatari government for addressing the Doha Forum Conference on Middle Eastern security.

£30,200 per year for advising Indus Basin Holdings which invests in Pakistani food crops.
£92,840 per year for advising VantagePoint Capital - a US technology investment firm.
£65,000 per year for helping the United Arab Emirates government host a high profile international conference.

At a time when jobs are scarce it is a wonder to see one man hold down so many. 

How much constituency and parliamentary work he does is another matter. Would that he were a lone example - sadly he is all too typical of the gravy-train mentality of so many of our MPs. David Blunkett of the homely homily is yet another toe rag who uses his position to feather his nest. He too represents a very economically depressed area. 

One of Mark Thomas’s contributors to his manifesto radio programme came up with the idea that all these MPs with other jobs should have to dress like racing drivers with the logos of the companies they ‘represent’ on them. At least that way we would have some idea who they really were working for.

MPs should not have to be saints ....but they should not be such egregiously greedy bastards either.

*Private Eye: essential reading for anyone wanting to find out what is really going on in the UK. 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Thrasher Mitchell

Mitchell got his nickname ‘Thrasher’ at Rugby public school where he was a prefect in the days when it was still legal for them to hit small boys. He is a wealthy man. He is the fourth member of his family to be an MP. He is a banker in a family of bankers. At one stage as a backbencher he had six directorships and a financial consultancy making him hundreds of thousands every year - in addition to his pay as an MP. 

The Daily Mail revealed: “Earlier this year he was revealed to be a major investor in a network of offshore companies (owned by a parent company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands) that, according to the authorities, was guilty of ‘aggressive tax avoidance’ by using a loophole to dodge paying £2.6million in stamp duty.” Daily Mail 22/9/12

In sum he is an arrogant, nasty, tax-avoiding tosser. 

The Daily Mail also gave details of his outburst:  “The police report into Wednesday night’s incident – already being called ‘Gategate’ – details how Mr Mitchell said: “‘I’m the chief whip. I’m telling you open this gate. I’m the chief whip and I’m coming through these gates. Best you learn your ****ing place. You don’t run this ****ing government. You’re ****ing plebs.’ (ibid)

The classic line of pompous buffoons everywhere, “Don’t you know who I am?” received short shrift from the special protection squad member. ‘Chief Whip’ probably rang bells from the ‘S & M’ part of their training. The remarks about being '****ing plebs' and 'Best you learn your ****ing place', fits into the picture of ‘them’ and ‘us’. 

Posh Dave and his toff chums did not need this. It reminds us all just how privileged and rich our rulers are. It also revealed the contempt that these rich tory tossers have for the great majority of the electorate. And it reminded anyone who cares to think about it that they have one rule for us and another rule for them - particularly when it comes to paying taxes. 

And it is yet another reason to throw them out of government as soon as we can.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Clueless Clegg

Having lied about the tuition fees pledge before the last election, the LibDems are in trouble. Clueless thought it would be a good wheeze to appear in a party political broadcast and give it the old mea culpa - straight to camera - using the vocal cadence of a sorrowful vicar. Well he was wrong. So very very wrong. It was not just his delivery, which was awful. It is that he has been wrong about several other political matters (Electoral Reform, House of Lords reform and especially the NHS). 

Listening to spokesblokes like Simon Hughes and expenses cheat David Laws does not diminish the anger. It adds fuel to the flames. They are trying hard to construct an image of themselves as the good guys working hard to make Tory policies more reasonable. A quick glance at the story so far shows just what twaddle that is.

Clueless and his clots are going to get a doing at the next election. Such a doing as has not been seen for many a year. It will not be the tuition fee debacle that will slay them - although it does not help - it will be their support for Tory policies. In particular, privatising the NHS. 

Clueless will no doubt move into a bureaucratic, very highly paid job within the European Union when he is booted out. They like a bi-lingual man in a suit in Brussels. Eurocrats do not appreciate appreciate just how loathed clueless is.  For him to move to the EU will cause them collateral damage. However, being even more out of touch with the commonality than our own bubble-dwellers, they probably will not give a monkeys.

In Scotland a Clegg is the name given to a biting insect which is also known as the horsefly. It is a stupid painful nuisance. Stupid because it makes no attempt to disguise it’s bite and is frequently bashed as it bites. In the great scheme of things it serves no useful known purpose. 

                        Thanks to Northeast Wildlife for the image.

Sounds familiar.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Police Killers

What happened to two Women Police Constables was rotten and appalling. Many questions await answers. The suspect was apparently out on bail while awaiting trial for a murder. There was a reward posted of £50,000 which had been in existence for over a month. Those two facts do not tally. The Assistant Chief-Constable named the suspect in a press conference and to these ears sailed very close to prejudicing the trial. The media furore was way over the top. Why? 

For the families and friends of the two women there is only the deepest sympathy. They had no idea when they went out yesterday morning what they were heading into. Every policeman or woman must have the thought that they may not return in the same condition as when they set out. Many of our police are decent and honourable. But there is a ‘but’ and it is a big one.

There were moments in the media firestorm when it felt like the Police PR Machine had been cranked up to full power. It is hardly surprising although it is barely a week since the revelations about Hillsborough finally surfaced. And what revelations they were. 96 football fans died because of police incompetence. They were then besmirched and tarnished by a smear offensive which was largely accepted by an uncritical media. This smear campaign was orchestrated at the very top of the force. 

There are 43 Police forces in England and Wales. At the moment (not counting Hillsborough) there are 9 senior officers (Chief Constable/Assistant Chief Constable) suspended. That is serious.

Leveson and the initial inept (corrupt?) investigations into hacking have unearthed a very unhealthy relationship between tabloid journalists and the police. Another three people have been arrested today. 

Far too many people die in police custody. And each time it happens the inept Police Complaints process finds that no-one did anything wrong. In many cases that may be true - but in all of them? 

The death of Ian Tomlinson is an example of a culture that is dedicated to covering up the truth. The first inquest completed by Dr Patel - who has since been sacked, ruled that Tomlinson died of ‘natural causes.’ This verdict was subsequently overturned when a visiting businessman passed on to the Guardian footage of Tomlinson being hit by a baton and then pushed to the ground by PC Harwood. His id badge had been removed and the three officers with him at the time said they did not know who he was.It eventually emerged that Harwood had a history of rage-related incidents, had left the Met prior to being disciplined, joined the Surrey police and then transferred back into Met. 

When Jean Charles Menezes had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was killed on a tube train by an over-zealous officer. Bad enough, but there was worse in the synchronised accounts by officers involved to paint a rosier picture. The first investigation into the death of Steven Laurence was  ruined by a senior officer’s corrupt relationship with known villains involved. 

Chuck in governments of all persuasions using the police to repress demonstrations and free speech, including the use of ‘agent provocateurs’ or undercover officers - to the point of trials collapsing and miscarriage of justice claims - and it is not a pretty picture.  

A civilised society needs a decent police force to help it maintain its decency. Many of our police officers are just that but there are rotten apples who not only have not been weeded out but they have gone on to higher positions. 

After the court cases into corruption, denigration, cover-up and tabloid payments for info have been heard, there needs to be a public inquiry into our police. We need a decent force to police with consent. They are not agents of the state. They are friends of the citizen ......aren’t they?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Justice and Security Bill

The timing could not have been better. Coming after the Hillsborough revelations reminded us of the extent to which ‘the authorities’ will cover up serious wrongdoing, we are told to take on trust plans to make our security services and our government ‘above the law.’ The Justice and Security Bill is about to head to the Commons. It is a bad Bill.

Announced in the wake of high-profile and embarrassing litigation and media investigations which revealed the UK Government’s shameful involvement in extraordinary rendition, torture and indefinite detention without trial, the Bill seeks to limit public scrutiny of the Government and our security services and public bodies and avoid further embarrassment by sweeping aside a centuries-old justice system in favour of one that is deeply flawed and unfair.

The two key proposals in the Bill are:
  • To introduce the controversial and highly flawed system of Closed Material Procedures and Special Advocates into the ordinary civil law. Secret evidence – never disclosed to the claimant, let alone public or press – would be used to defend serious allegations in cases where the Government felt there was material which if disclosed,  would be damaging to national security. The only people allowed to be present would be the judge, the Government itself and the Government appointed Special Advocate.
  • To put the Security Services – and potentially other public bodies – above the law in civil actions involving the wrongdoing of the UK Government and third parties.Liberty website

Underpinning all of this is the issue of trust. Recent grim experience has given us much evidence to doubt our leader’s motives. 
Do we trust our politicians? Do we trust our security services? Do we trust our police?  Do we hell as like. 

If in doubt, read the following from The Guardian (12/9/12)
The justice and security bill is the direct result of evidence that emerged in court supporting allegations that MI5 and MI6 knew about the torture or inhuman and degrading treatment meted out by the CIA to terror suspects, including British citizens and residents, notably Binyam Mohamed.
The high court, later backed by senior judges in the court of appeal, ruled that information the CIA had passed to MI5 and MI6 should be disclosed. Washington was furious. The British government, and in particular David Miliband, the foreign secretary at the time, was deeply embarrassed.
There was a danger of further incriminating evidence emerging in court as UK citizens and residents who were held at Guantánamo Bay demanded compensation. To avoid disclosing what MI5 and MI6 may have known about the secret transfer of the detainees to the US military prison on Cuba and about their treatment, the government offered them expensive out-of-court settlements.
Under pressure from the security and intelligence agencies – and the US – the coalition government decided to introduce a statute designed to prevent any intelligence information from being disclosed in civil court hearings ever again.”

Nice to know we live in a democracy where our leaders are in control of the security services and not the other way round....

If you are not happy at these proposals there is still time to have your say. At the very least contact your MP and let them know what you think. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords and is due to go to the Commons next month.

Five reasons why Liberty oppose these proposals:

The Government is attempting to set itself above ordinary people and the law
They will fundamentally damage our centuries-old system of fair trials
They are not only dangerous, but unnecessary
They represent a serious threat to freedom of speech and the media’s ability to report on Government actions 
They pose a significant threat to public scrutiny and accountability 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Neil Cowley Trio play Islay

Sitting 1.25 metres from the ball of energy that is Neil Cowley, was a fabulous experience last night. He pounded the piano to great effect and mixed percussive playing with moments of great delicacy and beauty.  No discrete foot-tapping for this man. His right leg in particular bounced and pummelled the floor as he produced one hell of a sound. Often the playing was visceral, powerful and startling. Good use of soft/loud and intricate rhythms mixed with repetitive thumping beats made for a thrilling experience. He was excellently supported by tight drum and bass playing which showed the players at the top of their game. Clearly happy to be on Islay and enjoying the unique atmosphere of the festival, the trio were greeted with delight. The tunes were introduced with humour and this continued within some of the pieces.  

Appearing at the Islay Jazz Festival for the first time, they showed just what a range of talent and approaches this festival provides. The Neil Cowley Trio’s set was a long way from the tune-solo-solo-solo- tune format favoured by too many of their contemporaries. This concert was one more to add to the list of top class performances we have had the privilege of seeing at the Gaelic College. 

Memo to the College. You may need to check the fabric of the building - it took some hammer. And as for the poor piano....

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Free Speech, the US and the Muslim world

A crap, nasty film made by crap, nasty people to provoke trouble has achieved its aim. Thanks to a rabid TV channel dedicated to maintaining a fierce level of indignation among its viewers (think Daily Mail times 100) a clip of the film has stirred up antiAmerican and anti-western sentiment across the Middle-East. Embassies are under attack and mobs demand revenge for perceived ‘insult’. 

There are many thousands of better reasons to get angry with the US and its lapdog chum  the UK. Try all those innocent victims who died uncounted in Iraq. Or those regarded as ‘collateral damage’ from ongoing drone attacks. Or even those who were shot from on high in that revolting clip exposed on Wikileaks - for which revelation the messenger is now facing real and present danger. 

“It is hard not to notice, and be disturbed by, the vastly different reactions whenever innocent Americans are killed, as opposed to when Americans are doing the killing of innocents.”  ‘The Tragic Consulate Killings...’ Glen Greenwald

Obomber decides what Muslim innocents live or die on a daily basis, sans a shred of due process. Where's the outrage? Where are the bio's of these people? Where's the sadness? Where are the headlines?
US media reaction to this attack is institutionalized racism at its worst. ChicagoDaveM,
article and reaction, Guardian Comment 15/9/12”

Salman Rushdie, who has more reason than most to understand the Muslim Fatwah mentality, expressed concern at the closing down of free speech in large swathes of the world. It frequently places defenders of free speech in uncomfortable places. As a member of Amnesty International for many years it has not been uncommon to support one set of oppressed and then watch them as they eventually achieve power -  and duly become the oppressors. 

Nevertheless, the principle of free speech is an absolute in a free society. 

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ - often misattributed to Voltaire, but actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in a biography of Voltaire - stands as a cornerstone of free speech.

The realities of free speech are more nuanced. Before we condemn free speech deniers in the arab world we should look at the more subtle ways in which free speech is denied in ours. An excellent example has been the (un)coverage of the Duchess of Cambridge’s assets. Was this really number one news item yesterday? And why have our media been so soft on the bankers and financiers who have caused our distress? It could not have anything to do with our ridiculous libel laws could it? Or how the mainstream media collude with our elite to put out an ‘austerity’ view with no other alternatives getting an airing, thereby keeping the self-serving 'elite' in place.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Karachi Fire

The next time you hear a Tory MP (and it will almost inevitably be a Tory MP, corpulent, florid and ugly) bemoaning health and safety ‘nazis’, think of this fire where hundreds were trapped in a building without any fire escapes and bars on the windows. A death trap. Any half competent official should have spotted it. In a country with rules and regs the likelihood of this sort of event happening is almost non-existent. The company would have been told to fix it - or else face closure. But in Pakistan they weren’t. 

Chuck in a little corruption with poorly paid inspectors eking out their meagre salaries by taking bribes to look the other way. A result of the race to the bottom, where people scrabble around, desperate to feed their families and prepared to accept lower wages than their neighbour to gain at least some income. Another value of our corpulent Tory - they love the race to the bottom. It means their chums in the City make even more squillions. And some of those squillions will head to their trousers! No shame there.

We have not reached our so-called ‘over-regulated’ society by chance. Every measure, every regulation and every stipulation came about because someone somewhere died through the prioritisation of wealth over welfare. Behind every rule there is a heartbroken family.  

Should the corpulent Tory ever get the courage to speak in public and spout his rubbish, he should be vigorously challenged. Do not expect the BBC or mainstream media to do this - they are tied into the same culture. It falls upon us, as concerned members of the common herd, to do what we can to expose these self-serving creeps. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Lessons will be learned: Hillsborough

The tired mantra of those in authority over us was chanted several times during this morning’s Today programme. We hear this after every disaster - social, financial or ‘accident’ - to the point that it is now deeply insulting to hear it trotted out again. 

“This is how our society works folks. People in power do what they like, confident that they are above the law, outside the reach of democratic scrutiny and accountability, confident that by the time the truth is allowed to slip out they will be long gone. Twenty/ thirty years later a Minister will stand up and apologise for the actions of their predecessors.
No doubt in thirty years time the Prime Minister of the day will apologise for the British Government and Security Services complicity in the extraordinary rendition programme and the lies, evasions and cover ups involved in suppressing the truth for so long.
The only way of addressing this, is to keep pushing for greater transparency, less official secrecy. The Freedom of Information Act was a start, but the pressure for ever more open government must be kept up. Note Blairs recent comments expressing his regrets at allowing the Freedom of Information Act to see the light of day.”
Time2Retire writing on the Comment section of the Online Guardian

One thing is very clear. Lessons are not learned

The actual litany from our betters goes something like this: 

1) Do not get found out.

2) Do not get caught.

3) Do not admit anything.

4) If you do get caught - then lie - and lie big and often.

5) Only at the point of dying can you admit to having a few ‘regrets’.

Steve Bell in The Guardian has his own take on who was responsible.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Big Time Charlies

After recent heroics the lacklustre performances from the Home Nations is a reality check for football fans. Wales getting a gubbing in Serbia, England playing poorly at Wembley, Scotland drawing again and even Northern Ireland, playing tiny Luxembourg, could not force a win.

It would have been a different story if the result depended on how much each respective player was paid. England would have stormed it. Maybe the possibility of our so called ‘stars’ being overpaid may cross the mind of even the dimmest fan. 

One of the joys of the last few weeks has been to see genuine heroes in action. Sports people who are brilliant role models. People to admire and to look up to. They are not ‘celebs’ famous for being famous. They are not footballer’s wives. They are not false-breasted women from Essex. They have not belted out an overblown karaoke number on prime time tele. 

They have talent and they have worked hard to achieve their goals. Very hard. 

What an indictment it is of our recent values that young women aspire to be an overpaid numpty’s missus. What an indictment of our popular media who revel in tittle tattle about their shopping and affairs. What an indictment of the morons who buy the papers and watch the crap.

If there is a shift towards valuing talent and hard work then great. 

But do not get too excited.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

76 Years

It is 76 years since Fred Perry - one of the few good things to come out of Stockport - won the US Tennis Championship. Since that time a succession of ‘Great British Hopes’ have come and gone. With each non-champion the weight of expectation and history has become heavier and heavier. The more realistic the expectation - the heavier the weight. 

Andrew Castle, Jeremy Bates, John Lloyd, Buster Mottram and Andrew Cox were all in the second tier of world tennis and were not overburdened by being rated as British Number One. Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski however were better players and as such they had a glimmer of a chance. That glimmer was more than enough to fuel a hype machine in the media matched by a public desperate for success. Henman got close. So close he had a hill at Wimbledon named after him. The best he achieved in a major tournament was to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon four times in the early 2000’s. Henman Hill became Heartbreak Hill. Rusedski was a British Canadian and as such never really captured the hearts of British fans. He made one appearance in a slam final, losing to Pat Rafter in the US Open.

A scrawny Junior Champion called Andy Murray turned up at Wimbledon in 2005. He has gone from strength to strength and on top form he could (and did) beat the top players to reach a top four ranking in the world. He struggled to win major finals though. He played the finest stars of his generation at the top of their game. Nadal, Djokovic and particularly Federer are among the all-time greats of the sport. With each defeat in four slam finals  pressure mounted. For him to throw off the burden of history and the weight of expectation last night in New York was a remarkable achievement. That he did it the hard way in a match of roller-coaster fortunes was not a surprise. Just when he thought he had Djokovic on toast, the Champion roared back, raising his game and leveling the match at two sets all. 

Even Murray’s most ardent fans back in his hometown of Dunblane must have been worried. It was time to dig deep. And he did. Winning the Olympic Gold must have helped him and his self-belief. Having Ivan Lendl as his coach was another significant factor. Lendl won his first major after four failed attempts. He went on to win eight slam titles.

In a post-match interview he said his main feeling was one of relief. There will be pressure next year at Wimbledon but nothing like the pressure he has been under. He can now play the event and not the history.

Andy Murray has just capped a summer of extraordinary achievements.  

Monday, 10 September 2012

John Humphrys and a General Strike

During a discussion with Brendan Barber, the outgoing head of the TUC, on the Today programme this morning, Humphrys poured scorn on the possibility of a General Strike.

This at a time when food banks are increasing across the country; when reports of children going without food apart from what they get at school, and with the knowledge that only about 10% of the proposed cuts have happened. It is also a time when dissatisfaction with politics and the political system has never been higher. Frustration and anger is increasing at the insouciance of the wealthy who tax avoid and escape any form of retribution for their financial crimes. Calls for direct action and campaigns of civil disobedience grow.

In this climate the BBC, and especially its very well paid presenters, need to be careful. Humphrys is paid £2500 for each edition of Today and is contracted to make 150 programmes a year. This gives him an income from that alone of £375,000 a year. Add ‘Mastermind’ and a Daily Mail column plus speaking engagements at £5000-£10,0000 each and he clearly is a very wealthy man. Is he worth so much for what he brings to our society? Hardly.

His tone was dismissive and derisive as he described strikes as being so old-fashioned. He is not alone in this - many BBC presenters reflect similar views. These same presenters however praise strikers taking action in authoritarian regimes as happened frequently in the ‘Arab Spring’. 

So it is fine to strike somewhere else but not in the UK which may inconvenience these well paid mouthpieces. What is seen as bravery in those countries comes across as a nuisance and an irritant in ours. Striking costs cash. People do not like doing it. It is a sign that things are getting very serious. It is also enshrined in a democracy that people have the right to withdraw their labour. Sometimes it is all that is left to a citizen to register just how bad things are. From their comfortable perch in a cosy studio it is easy for these overpaid talking heads to dismiss these real concerns.

Before they challenge any union leader or striking worker it would be helpful if Humphrys,  Allen or Paxman of the BBC declared what they were paid. 

After all, we pay their wages.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The LibDems and the NHS

The em pea for Islay is a LibDem. He has been quite touchy about the LibDems getting into bed with the Tories - particularly their support to ‘reform’/sell off the NHS. He had been challenged in the local organ of repute about said support.  

The day after he declared in The Ileach (the Independent Newspaper for Islay and Jura) that, “the NHS will remain free to all who live in England based on need and not ability to pay,” his words were undermined by an article in the Observer. It emerged that, “Jeremy Hunt, the new Health Secretary had personally intervened to encourage the controversial takeover of NHS hospitals in his constituency by a private company, Virgin Care.

Hunt, who replaced Andrew Lansley in last week's cabinet reshuffle, was so concerned by a delay to the £650m deal earlier this year that he asked for assurances from NHS Surrey officials that it would be swiftly signed.

Virgin Care, which is part-owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, subsequently agreed on a five-year contract in March to run seven hospitals along with dentistry services, sexual health clinics, breast cancer screening and other community services. The takeover took place despite concerns being raised in the local NHS risk register about the impact on patient care following the transfer of management from the NHS to one of the country's largest private healthcare firms, until recently known as Assura Medical.”
The Observer 9/9/12

Describing his critics as scaremongers will not stop the storm of opprobrium heading his way. 

Mr Reid and his LibDem colleagues must have known the tories have a privatising agenda running through their very core. Why then did they march through the lobbies in support of a policy which enables the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS? What will they get out of the arrangement apart from a really good kicking at the next election? Have the dizzy heights of power rendered them senseless? Or have they too been promised access to the gravy train?

Labour cannot say too much either. It is worth remembering that this process of the “marketisation” of the NHS was given a massive boost by New Labour in the 2006 Health Act under Blair and Hewitt.  It is interesting to note that upon leaving her job as Health Secretary, Hewitt immediately became a non-executive director at Boots. She also swiftly had another position as an ‘adviser’ with a major private health care company. She was also toe-curlingly caught on camera (alongside sleazeballs Hoon and Byers)  flogging access to Ministers at £3000 a pop. Such is the corruption in our system. Watch out for Lansley/Hunt getting a job with similar companies. 

All three parties are absolutely in it together. 

In the meantime all we can do is begin to organise to throw out as many of these self-serving creeps as possible at the next election. Democracy 2015 is one place to make a start.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Honourable Members

Shabby, shameless and chauvinist are just some of the words used to describe Cameron’s reshuffle. The reduction of women in the cabinet has been accompanied by allegations of tears and wine. The removal of an obstacle to the third runway at Heathrow has not gone down well with suburban tories in SW London, which includes several marginal seats....Replacing the Caroline Spellman as Environmental Minister  with a climate-change denier and  fracker belies every claim to be ‘the greenest government ever’. Getting rid of Lansley despite supporting him fulsomely on many occasions is one thing - replacing him with the slimy sleazy Hunt (aka Minister for Murdoch) is quite another. That he also believes in homeopathy adds further incredulity.

Cameron is reported to have sacked Cheryl Gillan in the Commons while he swilled a glass of red wine. He did not offer her a glass to soften the blow. 

And what of those who have walked the plank? Deemed unfit for office, four of the men are to be rewarded with instant gongs to soften their departure. A much derided system is brought further into disrepute by this sop to the male ego. It is reported in today’s Independent that Cameron has broken his own rules for awarding gongs to politicians. He recently announced the creation of a cross-party Honours Committee that would review and recommend awards to politicians who had demonstrated “selfless commitment for the good of the nation”. Hmmm, that begs an awful lot of questions. 

The Independent has just launched a move to reform our rotten politics - Google Democracy 2015 for further information.

“What did you get your knighthood for grandad?”  

“I got it for being a useless and incompetent minister.”