Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Rule of Law

One of the things we are told by the great and the good who deign to rein over us is that western society stands as a beacon of hope and democracy in an uncertain and hostile world. Obama talks of the ‘City on the Hill’ and the BlairCameron melange talk about defending our values of ‘freedom and justice.’ All very good - but what does it mean in practice?

In short the inspirational words are worth less than a bucket of cold spit.

Judge them by what they do - not what they say.

Obama: Guantanamo. Came into his Presidency vowing to close it down. 5 years later it is still there. Well over two-thirds of the inmates turned out to be innocents caught up by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bounty hunters claimed their filthy loot and swanned off. The prisoners have been incarcerated without charge or trial for all these years. Tortured - yes BBC, waterboarding is torture - rendered far away from families and transparency, the inmates have begun a determined effort to kill themselves by hunger striking. Shame on you Obama. Shame on the U S of A too. And shame on our western media for having amnesia about the place.

Blameron: Camp Bastion. Not wishing to be behind our ‘special relationship’ buddies it turns out we too are running a watered-down version of Guantanamo in Afghanistan. Frightened squaddies and gung-ho Hoorays have been seizing folk they consider to be insurgents and locking them away in Camp Bastion. It was admitted by the egregious Hammond yesterday that between 80 and 90 have been locked up - some for as as long as 18 months - without charge and without trial. The limit is supposed to be 4 days.

The Daily Hate weighed in on behalf of the government and the daft this morning, having a go at Civil Liberties lawyers for exposing what is going on (and en route - having a pop at the BBC for airing the matter on ‘Today.’ ). Would the cretins responsible for the article still feel the same way if the journalists arrested for phone hacking and bribing public officials had been treated the same as the Afghans? Arrested and locked away incommunicado for weeks going into months then years? All without being charged or put on trial? No access to legal representation? How would Rebekkah, Andy and their chums have coped? At least they know that they will get their chance in court to defend themselves.

Ah! But that wouldn’t happen because we have such things as Habeus Corpus, civil liberties and the rule of law - the very things we deny our captives.......

Monday, 27 May 2013

Taking the piss

The news emerged tonight that Dave Hartnett, the oh so compliant boss of the revenue, who worked on all these sweetheart deals with corporate giants, has tonight got himself a job with one of said giants, Deloites. Fancy that.

Last weeks announcement that Amazon paid just £2.4 million in tax on a profit of over £4bn in the UK was bad enough ----but there was a further twist. Amazon received £2.5 million in grants from the taxpayer to help them locate a new warehouse in Scotland. Fancy that.

Yesterday the media gave even more airtime to Messrs Howard and Reid in their campaign to invade our privacy in the spurious hope it will improve our ‘national security.’ These men are corporate whores who represent security companies yet this was not made clear by the media. If they were engaged in local council business they would have to declare an interest and withdraw from the discussion. But as they are ex-MPs in the Lords they don’t. Fancy that.

Just like the 206 Lords and MPs who are on the payroll of various private medicine companies, yet who were still allowed to vote on the various sections of the Bill to privatise the NHS. Fancy that. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Lessons from Woolwich

What have we learned since the events of last week?

  • Media coverage helped terrorists: jihadists and other extremists around the world will have noticed the reaction and the ensuing backlash with great interest.
          Lesson learned: make your crime as brutal as possible and take plenty of pictures.
  • Ignore the siren songs of former cabinet ministers. Dr John Reid and Michael Howard have both been on the airwaves demanding that the communications bill aka ‘snoopers charter’) be revived. Not one presenter/interviewer made the point that both of these eminent upstanding chaps actually work for security companies. Reid is paid by that shining beacon of excellence G4S, and Howard is paid by something called ‘Diligence Europe’ - an organisation described on wikipedia as ‘a private intelligence and risk assessment company founded by former CIA and MI5 members.’

  • Keep a sense of proportion: a small letter in the Independent contained this nugget: “Last month, 75-year-old Mohammed Saleem Chaudhry was fatally stabbed returning from prayer, in what police believed was a racist attack. Theresa May did not recall Cobra, BBC News24 did not fill hours of air time asking local people if they felt safe (from whites). Newspapers did not print letters telling the ‘white‘ community to get its house in order.” Dr Gavin Lewis from Manchester. 
         Was it necessary for Cameron to abandon his European trip? Or Miliband? Or to recall   
  • The most effective way to defy terrorists is to continue working and living calmly and peacefully. 
  • While thousands of column inches have been devoted to the incident, other grave matters go largely unreported and unmentioned. For instance a small item in the Independent reported that members of the Met Police in North London seized the possessions of people sleeping rough in Redbridge. This included sleeping bags and food donated by concerned locals. The police confirmed that this was to ‘reduce the negative impact of rough sleepers.’ 

 A society under stress needs clear values and principles from its leaders. The despicable policies of our political elite to divide and rule is making the situation worse and increasing hatred.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Here we go again

A brutal murder in Woolwich and out come the slippery security slimeballs riding the outrage wave. Listen hard and you can hear the sound of security companies’ execs rubbing their hands in glee. More business, more fertile ground to develop even more business including eavesdropping on all internet accounts and very few in the media saying ‘whoa!’ 

Boris ‘Gonad the Barbarian’ Johnson declared there was no link between the attack ‘and British Foreign policy.’ Really? The ‘war on terror,’ Iraq, Afghanistan and drones slaughtering innocent men, women and children have nothing whatsoever to do with this crime? His penis may be potent - his brain isn’t. 

The media frenzy, full of speculation and reference to ‘Whitehall sources’ nudge nudge, say no more....Lots of opinions referring to ‘in the name of Islam.’ 

Nowhere amidst all this churnalism was there any mention of what we have been doing to make people hate us and our military so much. The botched Afghanistan campaign followed on from the ongoing carnage unleashed in Iraq. Military personnel are being withdrawn and replaced by drones. In one attack alone 75 innocent people were killed. Where was the media outrage then? Poor unfortunates in foreign lands do not count. Nowhere do you read or hear in our media about ‘in the name of Christianity’ or ‘in the name of Imperialism.’ Instead they talk of ‘in the name of freedom.’ Orwell would understand.

Cameron comes back early from Europe and promises all those responsible will be brought to justice. Will this be the same justice that is being denied to so many in this country by the reduction in legal aid? Having made statements on camera these two men will not be easy to defend. They will get a trial. Unlike all those killed in surgical strikes which turned out to be more wrong place wrong time. No 'innocent until proven guilty' rule for them.

Not forgetting those currently on hunger strike in Guantanamo.



Drone missile attacks.




Wikileaks revelations -

Lies and cover up.

Moral high ground. What moral high ground? 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Lies, damned lies and George Osborne


Anytime you hear Osborne pontificating about closing in on tax evasion, bear in mind that he is talking complete bullshit. As Private Eye pointed out in a couple of small pieces in their recent edition, it is what he does – not what he says – that matters.

‘“The message is simple. If you evade tax, we’re coming after you.” So thundered George Osborne last week as HM Revenue and Customs confirmed it was examining a wealth of leaked tax data. 

The data demonstrated ‘the use of companies and trusts in a number of territories around the world including Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands.’ So how do tax dodgers come to use BVI companies and the like to shield assets? By employing the services of British banks like HSBC is one way. 

The Eye has repeatedly pointed out HSBC’s involvement in tax evasion services and three months ago told how a tax dodging HSBC client was sent to London where a special unit in HSBC’s private banking arm set up BVI companies for him to hide his money in Swiss HSBC accounts (Eyes 1333 and 1334). On the back of these services HSBC Private Bank Ltd’s chairman reported that ‘excellent teamwork with HSBC’s retail banking operation in the UK, Asia, the UAE and the Americas led to a significant increase in  client referrals from these locations.’ And who was the proud chairman presiding over blatantly criminal tax evasion? Step forward the Reverend Lord (Stephen) Green, now trade minister in David Cameron’s government and unlikely to find Osborne “coming after” him.’

             –––––––––––––– ---- ––––––––––––––––––

ActionAid Survey

“Under Green HSBC also ran a huge network of its own offshore subsidiaries, a survey from charity ActionAid this weekend showing it to have 496 such companies. As readers of Eye 1336 will recall, it had set aside £3bn for an HMRC inquiry into its offshore avoidance but settled the dispute last year for no more than £200m. 

Among the other big tax haven users identified was Tesco, whose Ireland-Luxembourg-Hungary-Switzerland scheme, centred on a company called Cheshunt Overseas LLP and exposed by the Eye in 2008, is still very much alive and kicking according to recently filed accounts.

More importantly, such arrangements have been enshrined in statute by George Osborne and will only ever now be taxed at between 0 and 5%. His response to ActionAid’s survey at last weekend’s G7 was that it is ‘incredibly important that the tax that is due’ but he failed to add that, through offshore tax breaks, he is slashing the tax due from Britain’s biggest multinationals.” (my emphasis)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

“Hardworking Families” v “Totally Relaxed”

One of the (many) dismal things about this bunch of ne’er do wells who claim to represent us is the way they misappropriate the language. Every Tom, Dick and Minister has managed to mention ‘hardworking families’ every time they grace us with their presence on the media. Funnily enough they do not mention that the average worker in the UK works longer hours (with many people working unpaid overtime) than any of our counterparts in Europe. Nor do they dwell on one of the reasons the swivel-eyed loons want to leave the EU is that the UK will not be bound by any working time directive which guarantees workers a fairer working week. Can’t have that can we? The Captains of the Call Centre Industry and all those companies falling in love with zero hours contracts would complain - and possibly not contribute to Tory funds. Jings.

On the other hand......

As the swivel-eyed loons plotted, schemed and connived with ever increasing chutzpah the PM was reported to be ‘relaxed’ about it all. As the screeching became shriller and shriller - it continued with the party of government having a significant number of rebels voting against the Queen’s Speech. Astonishing. 

Yet this was matched by an even more relaxed PM, or so we are told by the horde of ‘sources’ ‘special advisers’ and ‘inner think tanks’ surrounding the PM. By the time he left the States he was virtually comatose he was just soooo relaxed. Like hell he was.

Linton Crosby, the Aussie rotweiller brought in to savage the opposition, scare the UK public and win the next election for the Tories must be wondering what he has signed up to. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Lies, Damned Lies and Tories

The escalating coverage of the Tory party kerfuffle about an in/out referendum rarely mentions what lies behind all this. Iain MacWhirter, writing in the Sunday Herald put his finger on it: 

The EU is in the process of constructing a fiscal and banking union because of the eurozone crisis. Europe's central bankers have concluded the only way to stop any recurrence of financial turmoil is to create a central European treasury with powers to regulate banks and to issue bonds backed by the EU rather than simply member states. This would stop borrowing costs rising unsustainably as they did in Greece and Spain last year.
To finance all this and police the banks, the EU wants to cap bankers' bonuses and introduce a financial transactions tax on banks' activities. This money would go into an insurance fund to guarantee a future bailout is paid for by banks, not taxpayers. Many regard these measures as the very least needed to get banking back onto a stable and socially-responsible footing.
But the City of London's bankers are fiercely opposed to the tax. They don't want to lose their bonuses either. They say financial services is one of Britain's biggest earners and Europe simply wants to cut British finance down to size.”12/5/13

So there it is in a nutshell. The Tories are acting on behalf of their paymasters. The City pay over 70% of the Tories funds. Many Ministers and Tory MPs have a financial background or still work in the City. He who pays the piper calls the tune. The City are telling the Tories its payback time. Bonuses are at risk. The good of the nation can go hang. There are bonuses at risk. UKIP are a useful lever. Bonuses are at risk!

Anything and everything the Tories say on the European issue must be treated with the utmost scepticism. They are  a bunch of unscrupulous liars and spivs who put their self-interest before the interests of the nation.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Lies, Damned Lies and Tory Ministers

Duncan Smith

When Iain Duncan Jokeshop quoted 8,000 jobless being helped by his latest wheeze he was making it up. He has had his knuckles rapped for telling porkies by the Office for National Statistics. 

“Duncan Smith's belief that the welfare state holds down the very people it is meant to serve is pleasing to Conservative ears. To maintain his supporters' illusions, he has to lie. Last week, the UK Statistics Authority gave him a reprimand that broke from the genteel language of the civil service. The work and pensions secretary had claimed that his department's cap on benefits was turning scroungers into strivers – even before it had come into force. "Already we have seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs." How sweet those words must have sounded to Conservative ears. The government was forcing the feckless to stop sponging off hard-working taxpayers. (Taxpayers are always "hard working" in British politics, in case you haven't noticed. We never try to get by doing the bare minimum.)

The figures did not show that, the statistics authority said. More to the point, they could not possibly have shown that. Duncan Smith's claims were “unsupported” by the very statistics his department had collected.

If this were a one-off, I would say Duncan Smith "misspoke" or "lacked judgment" or, in plain English, that he was an idiot. If every politician who spun statistics were damned, after all, parliament would be empty. I would use stronger language; indeed,Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the statistics authority, is thinking about sending his inspectors into the Department for Work and Pensions because Duncan Smith is a habitual manipulator.

As journalists know, Duncan Smith's modus operandi is well established. His "people" – all of them scroungers, not strivers, who sponge off the taxpayer from their Whitehall offices – brief reporters with unpublished figures. The Tory press uses them, and, as the Financial Times explained, when his spin doctors meet an honest journalist, who asks hard questions, they end the call and never ring back. By the time the true figures appear on the DWP Website , and informed commentators can see the falsity, the spin, the old saying applies: "A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on."

Before the benefit cap, it was the work programme, which is meant to provide training for the unemployed. The statistics authority criticised the "coherence" of Duncan Smith's statistics and, once again, the manner in which his department presented them to the public. Far from being a success, the programme found work for a mere 8.6% of the desperate people who went on it. Meanwhile, Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and a former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, has convincingly demonstrated that the Tory claim that "more than a third of people who were on incapacity benefit dropped their claims rather than complete a medical assessment" is false and demonstrably false.” Nick Cohen, Observer 12/5/13


The latest to find his claims hold less water than a colander is the disgraceful Gove, who made the following claim in the Sunday Wail. “"Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58% think Sherlock Holmes was real."

This disturbed a retired teacher so much she used the Freedom of Information Act to contact the Department for Education to establish which surveys he had used. One was from a Premier Inn survey who were pushing local history to boost usage of their hotels. Another was from UKTV Gold in 2008.

“None of the pieces included links to the original research, and none of the articles cited stated whether the research was commissioned by professional polling companies, or met the standards of the British Polling Council.

The current history curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds states students should learn to "evaluate the sources used in order to reach reasoned conclusions", while the draft curriculum for history from 2014 notes students should "understand how evidence is used rigorously to make historical claims".

Dozens of people have taken to Twitter to criticise the sourcing for Gove's claims as weak, including the poet and former children's laureate Michael Rosen,who tweeted: "When Gove said: 'Survey after survey' showed teenagers' historical ignorance he meant to say: 'I'm making this up.'" Guardian online 13/5/13

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Ferguson the best manager ever?

Judging by the fuss and all the extra newsprint, a person could be forgiven for thinking the Messiah had just left the building. However, among all the hagiography there were odd revelations which cast a dark shadow on the mass grovel.

The Hair Dryer

This aspect of his character was reminisced about in a very forgiving and humerous series of interviews. Victims of ‘the treatment’ along with observers and commentators adopted an ‘ah well, what do you expect in the high-pressure world of football’ with reference made to when he had turned round the performance of his team in the second half. Hitting David Beckham with a football boot was mentioned in a similar vein. The man is a professional bully.

Banning journalists

Many people report that Ferguson is wonderfully helpful behind the scenes and with other managers. In his professional life he behaved more like a mafia boss. For instance it is not just his players who were belittled and shouted at. Any journalist who displeased him would receive a ban from Old Trafford. This did not just happen to the press. The BBC ran an expose of how his son was involved in very dodgy dealings acting as an agent for several United players. Ferguson refused to speak to the Beeb for seven years. And was allowed to get away with this. Several national papers were banned at times for writing things Ferguson did not like.  Press relations were carried out on the North Korean principle. All news whether written or said about United has to be better than rose-tinted - it has to be sanitised, and reflect only glory on United.

Compare this craven approach from those who collude with bullying with what happened in Italy.  Jose Mourinho banned a journalist when he was managing Inter Milan. At his very next press conference, as he began to speak all the massed ranks of journalists stood up and left the room. 

Listening to a profile of ‘Pep’ Guardiola, the brilliant ex-manager of Barcelona, it emerged that he did not believe in the hair dryer approach to player management. It was enough for a player to know that he had disappointed the manager for improvement to take place. For the record Barcelona embarrassed United each time they met in the European Champions League final. Although Manchester United have a great domestic record it has not translated into European Cup success. Yes they have won the Champions League twice and the Cup-Winners cup once but there are several pundits who believe they should have won more European titles to justify all the adulation. 


Another aspect of the bullying is his effect on match officials - whenever United are losing, extra minutes are mysteriously added to the time allowed for injuries etc. Why does this happen? Most of his fines and touchline bans are for comments made about officials. He lets them know in no uncertain terms what he thinks of their decisions. It takes a brave official to award a penalty to United’s opposition. The FA have regularly ducked confronting him with the effect him and his players have on the lower reaches of the game. His players too reflect their managers approach to officials. The sight of his team ganging up on referees does little to encourage good behaviour in amateur and school football.

Role Model

Is Ferguson the best manager ever? The glowing tributes about his record ignore the dark side of his methods. Imagine a Head teacher treating colleagues to the Hair Dryer. Or a Personnel Manager? In fact anyone dealing with human beings on a daily basis. We are more aware of just how bad bullying can be for the victim. Thanks to the media coverage of Ferguson’s departure there will be a few more bullies who think it is ok to make their workers and colleagues lives a misery.

Thanks Fergie. For a strong labour supporter and union man that is quite a legacy.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

MP’s Expenses

Oh no – they still haven’t got it

Twenty MPs pocket up to £180,000 each on taxpayer-funded second homes

Almost 20 ministers and MPs have pocketed up to £180,000 each after selling their taxpayer-funded second homes for a profit.

We have been assured that MPs have ‘learned their lesson” and that the expenses scandal is all behind them as they act with total probity and honesty. Well some of them may have done but there are others who continue to regard the House of Commons as a train full of gravy. 

“David Gauke, the Tory Exchequer Secretary, made a £67,000 profit from the sale of his flat in Kennington, south London, but has only been asked to repay £26,762.
His main home is in Chorleywood, Herts, which is a 45-minute commute to London. Mr Gauke bought his Kennington flat in 2007 for £285,000, and claimed more than £13,000 in mortgage interest between 2010 and 2012.
He sold the flat in August last year for £352,000. A spokesman said he had "abided by the rules" at all times. Mr Gauke previously said it was "morally wrong" to pay tradesmen cash-in-hand.” Torygraph 9/5/13

A picture of said Gauke in the paper was not exactly flattering. He resembled an enforcer in a criminal organisation. He clearly adjusts his morals to suit his bank balance. He is not alone.

“Martin Bell, the former MP who has campaigned for greater transparency, said that MPs should repay any profit they make on the properties.He said: "It's an open and shut case, of course they should pay it back. There is the spirit of the law, why are they making a personal profit from allowances which they receive from the taxpayer? In this case they very clearly are." However one MP said that as he was not required to pay the money back he would not be doing so. Another said that she had used the money to reduce the mortgage on her family home, while a third said he was investing his profit for his grandchildren.

A total of 29 MPs have been asked to repay profits made since 2010, under new rules that came into effect after the expenses scandal, according to figures published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Only one of them, Stewart Jackson, a Conservative MP, refused to repay the money. He is now being sued by the expenses watchdog for the £54,000.” ibid

There has been a massive leak of tax avoidance details, “200 lorry-loads” according to the Guardian, which will have set some hearts a fluttering. As these were leaked in 2009, it seems there is a determined ongoing effort by our unscrupulous elite to suppress any news of this emerging into the light. How many of these identified will turn out to be very wealthy politicians? Cabinet Ministers even? And will we ever get to know?

It is ironic that the story was covered in the Guardian - who utilise offshore tax havens themselves.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Our Political Elite Assessed....

......and found wanting

Two writers from very different eras encapsulated what is wrong with our self-serving elite, whether they be politicians, bankers, hedge-fund managers, tax-avoiders or their mates in the media. 

A pithy paragraph by Suzanne Moore summed up the current political state of play yesterday. Her article was principally about UKIP and how their 'policie' are not the answer.

“But in order to respect the current political establishment I would have to think the Iraq war was a good idea; that these people are economically literate; that Afghanistan is going great (though producing higher opium yields than ever); that Trident is a fine investment, as are aircraft carriers with no aircraft; that to talk about decriminalisation of drugs is disgusting, even though doing just that has reduced heroin use in Portugal. I must also accept that Cameron recruits the best and the brightest, who just happen to be his schoolmates, and that education should be overhauled by a nostalgic zealot who has never taught and dismisses evidence.
All of this, of course, is propped up by the media establishment and the cliche of the Westminster bubble. I wish it were a bubble as it would take one prick to burst it. It is a pretty solid forcefield. I know there are some good people in politics who really want change. But then we see Tony Blair and his "vocation". He now has to be sneaked into the country, but, hey, he is worth £65m. Farage and his merry men could but dream of such respect.” Suzanne Moore, Guardian 9/5/13

In the same edition online, was a gem from 90 year old Harry Leslie Smith. He had served in the RAF during the Second World War and lost many friends and colleagues in the conflict. 

“We were a world at war, and for those of us in Britain the cost was enormous in lost and ruined lives. But it didn't matter because we believed that the cause was just and that, whether we came from humble or refined stock, we were all in this war together. It was that common and shared faith in ourselves and in the notion that everyone's contribution, large or small, was important to the war effort that saw us through those dark hours. It was what kept us buggering on until our fortunes turned and the war against Nazi Germany reached its bloody end in the spring of 1945.....

.....We have somehow broken our solemn bond with those warriors of yesterday and forgotten that when the survivors of the Second World War returned to their homes, they were like a tide that raised all boats. My generation's shared experience of suffering, of witnessing genocide, ethnic cleansing, and enduring unspeakable privations as both soldiers and civilians made us vigilant when it came to demanding our peace dividend. We knew what we deserved and that was a future that didn't resemble our hard-scrabble past. The Green and Pleasant land was for everyone after the war because we had bled for it and died for it. We demanded a truly democratic society where merit was rewarded and no one would be left behind because of poverty, poor health or an inadequate education....

.....Today, however, in a world where our reservoirs of wealth are as deep and enormous as all the mighty rivers of the world combined, our politicians, financial institutions and megalithic industries tell us we can no longer afford these human rights that men sacrificed their lives for: the freedom to live with dignity in a compassionate society. We are told by those in charge that we can no longer live with luxuries like healthcare, proper state funded pensions, decent wages, trade unions and most aspects of our social safety network.

At 90, I am too old to take up the fight, too old to stand in demonstrations with a placard denouncing this madness. All I can do is bear witness to my times and our heroic struggle fought so long ago against Hitler and against men who would wreck the foundations that made civilisation tolerable and decent for its inhabitants.

The problem with society, today, is not lack of money or debt but lack of ideas, lack of commitment by our government to realise that its constituents are the people, not city bankers and hedge fund managers whose loyalty is to their ledger books rather than to the community. I don't know if we will come out of this present darkness. Perhaps humanity will simply retreat into the caves whence our ancestors came because we were cowed by self-serving political parties and dubious leaders of business. I hope not, for the sake of the generations to come, but there is one thing I am certain of: had the politicians and business mandarins of today been in power in 1939, they wouldn't have had the bottle to fight Nazism. There would have been no Dunkirk, no Battle of Britain, no Finest Hour. Our leaders today on either side of the house would have allowed the lights across Europe to grow dim, because after all that would have been the cheapest and most prudent solution to Hitler's tyranny.” ‘Is Cameron’s Britain what we fought for in the war?’

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

3D Plastic Guns

The possibility of creating 3 dimensional objects with a glorified printer is astonishing enough. Really. Deeply astonishing. The news that the invention has been used to create – and fire – a plastic gun stretches credulity beyond amazement to despair. Why oh why do we have to devote so much time, resources and ingenuity to thinking up fresh ways to kill each other? 

Discussing this with the local postmaster, who has political ambitions on the right of the spectrum, it became clear that on this issue there are people in the UK who make the Tea Party look tame. He was firmly of the belief that every citizen in this country should be able to bear arms; further that an armed citizenry would act as a check on ‘Big Government.’ It is odd that many on the right are not keen on ‘Big Government,’ until it comes to bailing out banks and financial institutions.

Thanks to the internet it is possible for anyone so inclined to spout nonsensical arguments,   however such arguments serve to provoke further research. “Armed teachers would have prevented a Columbine style massacre” and “that guns keep people safe.” Collateral damage does not enter the equation.

It is not too difficult to refute the pro-gun propaganda – in the UK, Europe, and the rational world but seemingly impossible in the good ole U S of Eh! 

Try these stats:

  • In 2010, 19,392 people killed themselves in the United States in ‘firearms related suicides.’ 
  • In the same year there were 14,078 firearm homicides - the great majority of them by handguns. 
  • There are over 310 million weapons in the United States for a population of 305 million. 
  • This excludes any weapons held by the military.
  • In the US in 2005 the average rate for gun related deaths per 100,000 citizens was 6.1.
  • In the UK the figure is 0.07 per 100,000.
  • In US cities the rate is 12.1 per 100,000 with Washington DC having the highest rate at 35.2.
  • Canada has a range of gun control laws which they strengthened. They reduced their gun-related homicide rate from 1.15 per 100,000 to 0.5 between 1977 and 2012. 
  • This refutes the argument from the pro gun lobby that most gun crime occurs in States or Countries with strict gun control. 

The thought of the BNP and the Anti-Nazi League meeting up in Bradford or Leeds with both parties armed to the teeth does not bear thinking about. Yet that is what our aspiring tyro politician seems to think would keep both parties safe.....

As for plastic guns created by warped geniuses.....Why? And having the instructions for making the guns available online? There are a few thousand more positive items which could benefit mankind ahead in the queue –– aren’t there?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Michael Rosen’s letter to Gove

The following appeared in the Guardian Education section yesterday.

“In a few years' time, my eight-year-old will have to sit your spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) test and my 12-year-old will sit your new exams at 16. My oldest children, now adults, often asked me why they had to study a particular part of a course. I always did my best to think of a good reason so that they didn't feel that they were wasting their time. With these younger two, I'm going to be hard pushed to keep these explanations coming, and to tell the truth, I think you and your colleagues have had the same problem.

Starting with the Spag test: very few people seem to know about the extraordinary conjuring trick that produced this exam, though I guess you can't believe your luck at how easy it was to impose such a piece of hocus-pocus. I'll run through it: you set up a committee under the auspices of Lord Bew to look into assessment and accountability. In April 2011, the committee produced an interim report which was well researched and well referenced, drawing particularly on the work of Prof Dylan William. In June 2011, the committee produced its final report with most of the interim report intact, but there was now appended a brand new section, which proposed that at key stage 2 there should be tests in spelling, punctuation and grammar. The justification given was that questions in these areas have "right and wrong answers". This new section contained no references, no evidence, no accounts of research. It was just a bald assertion.

It was also completely wrong. So, for spelling, many children read American texts, which are right but "wrong". In my lifetime, several so-called rules about the placing of commas have been revised so that what was wrong slowly became right without anyone saying it was. In grammar, there is lively disagreement among linguists about terminology and the functions of words in the context of real writing and speech. Sometimes children are given competing terms for when they're writing: eg "connectives", which, when they're doing grammar, they will have to unlearn and call conjunctions or adverbs. The assertion about right and wrong answers must have been plucked from mid-air, sagely agreed and passed unanimously in ignorance.

However, far from you rejecting this peculiar brainstorm, you went straight ahead and "accepted the recommendation" that Lord Bew's committee had come up with.
Now, you and I know why there were no references and no evidence cited in this part of the report: no one could find any. There is no evidence that teaching 10- and 11-year-old children the kind of grammar questions that they will face in next week's Spag test will help them to do anything better. The reasons are obvious: the work involved is highly abstract; talking about bits of grammar separately from the children's reading, speaking and writing is almost meaningless.

It's not just me saying this. Two of your own advisers, Ruth Miskin, who has been such a stalwart supporter of some of your other ideas, and grammar expert Prof Debra Myhill, of Exeter University, have told you that too. If you think you can claim precedent from your favourite era, the 1950s, I can tell you that this Spag-style grammar wasn't introduced until we went to secondary school and then it was restricted to the 20% or so of pupils at grammar schools.

With GCSE English, we're still at the draft stage, but we can already see that there is a pincer movement going on. A narrowing of the subjects that are to be used in the evaluation of a school's performance will hit schools from one side, and a drastic reorganisation of the exam itself will hit them from the other. Subjects such as drama and media studies, which build on the language and culture that the students are immersed in, will count for nothing in the league tables. In English, speaking and listening have been eliminated from the fixing of the final grade. The argument that over-generous teacher assessment was disguising poor writing skills could be overcome by following the old system of marking foreign-language O-levels: a double-grade, one for written, one for oral.
If I were generous of mind, I would think that all this has come about by coincidence and oversight, but I'm a highly suspicious parent, so I suspect that you have introduced these reforms in order to simplify the process of failing more of our children. You have manipulated the Department for Education so that it serves ever more tightly the demands of a low-wage economy. Pumping out an increasing number of young people with "failed" written on their CVs will certainly contribute to the honourable job of keeping people poor.

Michael Rosen”

Friday, 3 May 2013

British Bullying Corporation

Let us be clear. The BBC is funded to a large extent by us, the license payer. Admittedly they do sell programmes around the world and sell advertising on their world tv station. The seed-corn from the license fee which underpins so much of what they do comes from us.

In that context it is quite appalling what was revealed yesterday in the Dinah Rose Review report. The review was set up in the light of the Jimmy Saville revelations. It does not make pleasant reading. The fact that this report emerged on the same day that the news about Stuart Hall broke left the revelations somewhat overshadowed.

In sum, sexual harassment at the corporation is an issue but not as big an issue as bullying which was described by several contributors as ‘institutional.’ In particular, there is a perception among many of the BBC’s employees that those known as ‘the talent’ are considered untouchable. There are also managers who are known bullies who are not only still in post but have actually been promoted.

“A total of 35 people were involved in 37 cases of alleged sexual harassment at the BBC over the past six years, according to the Rose review. Two individuals were dismissed, while a third received a written warning. More than two-thirds of the cases resulted in the perpetrator receiving a final warning or their contract terminated.

In a "very small" number of examples, the alleged offender had gone on to be promoted despite having a sexual harassment complaint upheld against them – while in "only a few cases" the alleged perpetrator had been suspended or redeployed to another part of the BBC after the complaint.

The report said concerns about bullying and "other forms of inappropriate behaviour" were "much more prominent". "Often this behaviour appears to go unchallenged by senior managers," it said. "Some individuals are seen as being 'untouchable' due to their perceived value to the BBC."
But broadcasting unions criticised the corporation, attacking the "toxic" problem of bullying and harassment at the BBC. "It is quite clear that bullying has become an institutionalised problem at the BBC, one that has taken hold over many years," said Michelle Stanistreet, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.
"Our submission [to the BBC inquiry] was eye watering stuff – people have been bullied because of their sexuality, or their race; women have been subjected to the most awful sexism; journalists have been openly attacked about their age and there are many others whose lives have been made unbearable for no discernible reason, people have been picked off simply because their face doesn't seem to fit."
The NUJ submitted more than 70 pieces of testimony to the Rose review, including multiple accusations of bullying against a single senior executive who was named in a collective complaint by more than 20 people. 

Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of the BBC's biggest union, Bectu, said bullying affected "several hundred" people at the broadcaster with complaints made daily to his representatives. "It is not physical intimidation, it is people who lose their temper, are shouting, the impact on people can be demeaning and humiliating," he said.” Guardian 3/5/13

Having worked in an institution where bullying by a small number of managers was allowed to go unchecked, the comments about people losing their temper, shouting at and humiliating staff, rang a lot of bells.  The effect on a large institution is pernicious. Most people prefer a quiet life and do not want to put their head above the parapet. To watch the few who are prepared to do so get shouted at or belittled for expressing genuine concerns has a deleterious effect on the watchers. Contributions to meetings become guarded and ‘safe.’ Alternative thinking rarely happens. People become very defensive. For some, week-ends were a welcome break, but all too soon Sunday night would herald another Monday morning. A colleague would wince when he saw a particular car in the car park knowing that at some point there was a good chance that he would be subjected to a tirade.

What should have been a vibrant happy workplace, full of creativity and energy, became a place where getting by and not being noticed was the norm. Expressions such as ‘tin hat day’ were shorthand for staff to be particularly careful. To work in such an atmosphere is soul-destroying. For those who were on the receiving end it was bad enough. For those who colluded, it was also very bad as they had to live with the compromises and consequences of their inaction.

For senior managers to ignore, collude with or even perpetrate bullying is awful. These are very highly paid executives at the BBC. 

In the light of all the recent revelations they are not earning their money.

There needs to be a cull of anyone at the beeb who has either bullied, or colluded with bullying. They should be sacked forthwith. 

The BBC should be a shining example of creativity and best practice. It has a long long way to go to get back its reputation. There are many sharks circling who would dearly love for it to be broken up and sold off.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The reality of Drones

The following is reproduced in its entirety. It is the opening statement to the US Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The statement comes from Ibrahim Mothana, a 24 year old Yemeni writer and activist. 

“Written testimony of Ibrahim Mothana for the United States Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Cruz, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide my written testimony on the critical issue of the increasing US targeted killings in Yemen.
Yemen and the United States of America
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I would like to tell you about my country. The people of our two countries share many of the same dreams although many Americans may not realize this, in part because of a media that focuses on terrorism to the exclusion of a broader understanding of Yemen. Al-Qaida and its associates in Yemen, at the most extreme estimates, number a few thousand members, no more than a tiny fragment of our 24 million people who hope and dream of a better future — one that offers them dignity, freedom, and economic stability.
We are the poorest country in the Middle East with over 50 percent of our people living on less than 2 dollars a day. We are running out of water and out of oil, our major source of foreign revenue. Our nation has been troubled by decades of conflicts and an irresponsible, corrupt governments. A lot of my childhood friends are unemployed and live a daily struggle to maintain their basic human needs. In 2011, millions of Yemenis who lived decades under one autocratic ruler rose up in a largely peaceful revolution calling for democracy, accountability and justice, the very values cherished in American democracy.

Many young people like me grew up looking to America and its people for inspiration. Among many other things my teenage years were enriched by Carl Sagan's Cosmos, Martin Luther King Junior's speeches, Mark Twain's sarcasm and American TV shows. The promise of equality and freedom seemed fulfilled when America elected its first black president. With an upsurge of happiness, many Yemenis celebrated the inauguration day and, at that point, President Obama was more popular among my friends than any other Yemeni figure. I was inspired by President Obama's promise of "a new era of leadership that will bring back America's credibility on human rights Issues and reject prioritizing safety to ideals."
But happiness and inspiration gave way to misery. My admiration for the American dream and Obama's promises has become overshadowed by the reality of the American drones strike nightmare in Yemen.
The Impact on Yemen and its People of the US Targeted Killing Policy
In the past few years, I have visited and worked in areas of Yemen that are the forefront of what the United States views as a global conflict against Al-Qaeda and associated forces. I have witnessed how the US use of armed drones and botched air strikes against alleged militant targets has increased anti-American sentiment in my country, prompting some Yemenis to join violent militant groups, motivated more by a desire for revenge than by ideological beliefs.

We Yemenis got our first experience with targeted killings under the Obama administration on December 17, 2009, with a cruise missile strike in al-Majala, a hamlet in a remote area of southern Yemen. This attack killed 44 people including 21 women and 14 children, according to Yemeni and international rights groups including Amnesty International. The lethal impact of that strike on innocents lasted long after it took place. On August 9, 2010, two locals were killed and 15 were injured from an explosion of one remaining cluster bomb from that strike.

After that tragic event in 2009, both Yemeni and US officials continued a policy of denial that ultimately damaged the credibility and legitimacy of the Yemeni government. According to a leaked US diplomatic cable, in a meeting on January 2, 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi joked about how he had just "lied" by telling the Yemeni parliament the bombs in the al-Majala attack were dropped by the Yemenis, and then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh made a promise to General Petreaus, then the then head of US central command, saying: "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours." Such collusion added insult to injury to Yemenis.

Animosity has been heightened by the US use of so-called "signature strikes" that target military-age males and groups by secret, remote analysis of lifestyle patterns. In Yemen, we fear that the signature strike approach allows the Obama administration to falsely claim that civilian casualties are non-existent. In the eye of a signature strike, it could be that someone innocent like me is seen as a militant until proven otherwise. How can a dead person prove his innocence? For the many labeled as militants when they are killed, it's difficult to verify if they really were active members of groups like AQAP, let alone whether they deserved to die.
In Yemen, we know that the reliability of the intelligence the United States uses to launch and report drone strikes is questionable. For instance, the Yemeni authorities have claimed three times that Saeed al-Shiri, the second-in-command of Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed by a drone strike. According to Yemeni and international media, at least 30 other suspected militants were announced to be killed in these strikes. But as recently as April 8, 2013, Shihri appeared to be alive. So who were the dozens of people killed in the three strikes that allegedly killed Shihri?
In the majority of cases, we Yemenis receive no explanation about why suspected militants are killed and what threat they posed to the United States. If the intelligence misidentified Shihri, the suspected militants who were killed in these incidents might just be random people who were in the wrong place.
We Yemenis are deeply worried that the Obama administration appears to be avoiding the Guantanamo dilemma of indefinite detentions without charge by killing suspects in Yemen rather than trying to capture them. An example is the November 7, 2012 targeted killing of Adnan al-Qadhi, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Yemeni army and reported to be a suspected al-Qaida militant in Sanhan, a district 22 miles east from the Yemeni capital and a 15-minute drive from where I live. Sanhan is near to one of the biggest bases of the Republican Guard, at the time one of Yemen's most powerful military units. According to his family members, Yemeni authorities could have arrested Adnan any time. Adnan's brother Hemyar al-Qadhi told me, "Adnan was arrested and released by the government in 2008 and we would've taken him ourselves to the authorities if they requested him again."

We Yemenis ask ourselves, how many more of our citizens were killed without any attempt at capture instead? Why is it that in the four years that John Brennan was the top counterterrorism advisor, only one so-called "high-value target" was arrested anywhere outside the United States?
More Human Costs and the Consequences of US Targeted Killing Policy
During my visits to Abyan, Shabwa and Radaa, three areas of central and southern Yemen where the US has carried out targeted killings, I was overwhelmed with sadness meeting families of drone victims suffering a miserable combination of personal loss and devastating economic burden. Many of the children of strike victims that I saw were severely malnourished and families who lost their main financial provider had little hope for the future. For many of the youngsters, death seemed an easier burden than life so, with this bleak outlook, they joined the fight against the government.
With drones flying overhead 24/7, people are living in constant fear and anxiety over the possibility of another strike. During my visits to these areas, I shared their fear. I felt as Adel al-Jonaidi, a high school student living in Radaa did, when he told me, "Whenever drones are hovering in the area, it's like being in a state of waiting endlessly for execution."

The more unjustified the drone strike victim, the more rage it creates within local communities. Angry reaction followed in Hadramout when Salem Ahmed Bin Ali Jaber, a moderate cleric who often denounced violence and publicly opposed al-Qaeda, was killed in a drone strike on August 25, 2012. Such strikes call into question US claims of tidy surgical strikes and explain why the number of AQAP estimated fighters increased from a few hundred in 2009 to a few thousand in 2013, according to Yemeni and US government estimates.

In another botched strike, a missile struck a passenger van in central al-Bayda governorate on September 2, 2012, killing 12 civilians, 3 of them children. Local and international media initially quoted anonymous Yemeni officials as saying the strike targeted militants, but state-run media later conceded the killings were an "accident" that killed civilians. During a recent visit to Radaa, the city near the attack site, I met Mohamed Mabkhoot, a relative of one of the civilians who was killed. Mabkhoot explained how months after the attack there is still mounting rage at the apathy and inability of the Yemeni government to bring justice for those affected by the strike.
"Our lives are not worthless and it's common sense that people start hating America when their innocent relatives and family members are killed. Young people here are desperate and will fight to die if they don't have anything left for them to live for," he told me.

Drone strikes and US military intervention are the rallying cry that al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen use to recruit more fighters. In a country like Iraq, al-Qaeda was created from scratch after 2003, seizing on the existing local grievances the war created. Something similar is happening here in Yemen. During my visits to different parts of my country, even though I hear broad opposition to AQAP, I also hear objections to foreign intervention by the United States.

Even natural allies of the United States like young leaders, intelligentsia and the upper middle class feel that the targeted killings infringe on Yemen's sovereignty. Many of us ruefully repeat a line from one President Obama's press conference on November 18, 2012: "There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders."

Moreover, it's vital to grasp the intricacies of our society's reality, where tribal dynamics and laws are vital in largely under-governed areas. In Yemen, killing a person without trial is not only extrajudicial, it also violates the sovereignty and dignity of the entire tribe to which the slain person belonged. Each tribe is responsible for defending and ensuring the safety of its members. Understanding the tribal system and traditions is key to winning hearts and minds of the local populations and to gaining their support. The lack of any apology, compensation or damage control-mechanisms, outrages tribes and local populations in the affected areas.

In one case, a drone strike exacerbated my country's already serious political and economic difficulties. On May 25, 2010, a US drone strike killed Jabr al-Shabwani, a prominent sheikh and deputy governor of Marib province who was a US counterterrorism ally After Sheikh Shabwani was killed by the strike, his tribe carried out retaliatory attacks on my country's main oil pipeline, which runs through Marib, costing Yemen billions of dollars. This is no small matter when you consider that 70 percent of Yemen's national budget relies on oil exports. The strike also erased years of progress and trust-building between the US and other tribes who had helped fight Al Qaeda in their areas; they considered the killing a betrayal.
The Targeted Killing Policy is Counter-Productive
Many of us in Yemen believe that even strikes that kill AQAP leaders can be counterproductive. The short-term military gains are miniscule compared to the long-term damage that the targeted killing program causes. In the place of one slain leader, new leaders swiftly emerge in furious retaliation for attacks in their territories. And with each strike, it becomes ever easier to belong to a militant group in the region where your tribe lives.

As Khaled Toayman, a young Sheikh from Marib and a son of a Yemeni member of parliament told me, "We are against terrorism and we seek to live in peace and dignity like anyone else in the world. I don't hate America or Americans. I just want to know why my relatives are killed."

In my visits to the areas affected by drone strikes, I observed an increasing sentiment that America is part of a problem and not a solution, something that is hard for diplomats to feel while living disconnected from Yemenis in the emerging Green Zones of Sanaa. In Yemen, it's impossible to win a war with drone strikes where basic services and human needs remain unmet. For a loaf of bread, you can push a hungry, desperate and angry young man to fight for al-Qaeda, possibly regardless of his ideological beliefs.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, we Yemenis are the ones who suffer the most from the presence of Al Qaeda and getting rid of this exhausting plague is a top priority for the majority of people in the country. But we also see that there is no easy way to end terrorism. Only a long-term approach that strengthens democracy, accountability and justice, together with programs to address structural economic and social drivers of extremism can bring about security in my country.
When I think of solutions, I think of our common ideals. The drone program is far from these. Edward S. Herman offers us a critique and an opportunity in his reflection on Hana's Arendt concept of the Banality of Evil: "Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on 'normalization.' This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as 'the way things are done.' "
As a Yemeni citizen, I urge the US government not normalize crimes committed under the name of your great country. I call on the US administration to be transparent regarding the strikes it has authorized in Yemen and to compensate affected civilians. I call on the United States to critically reflect on using targeted strikes and the existing counterterrorism policy in Yemen and to see that, it is insecurity and not security that these are creating in my country, the region, the US, and the entire world.”
[Document reproduced in Guardian Online thanks to Glenn Greenwald, 1/5/13]
Powerful testimony of the stupidity and futility of the drone approach to counter-terrorism. The question always worth asking in circumstances similar to these is, “Who benefits?” Certainly not the Yemeni people. Certainly not the US, who confirm their reputation in the Middle East as the ‘Great Satan.’ And certainly not the cause of world peace as more and more angry young people seek revenge. Which leaves us with the arms manufacturers.....
Wherever the US goes, the UK is never far behind. The government have recently admitted that our drones are being ‘piloted’ from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. 
Not in my name they are.