Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Republican Rape

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Presidential election has been temporarily relegated from the headlines, although through the tour of disaster sites by President Obama and the charity drives of his challenger Mitt Romney, it is in truth never far from the surface. Only a very temporary outbreak of faux decorum has stopped the arguments between the two major rivals.

Yet we should not forget that by this time next week, the USA may have a new President-elect, as well as a new Congress. And the polls for the three major contest all show advances by the Republicans: Realclear Politics has Romney and Obama in a dead heat, one which could be disrupted if voters in predominantly Democrat-leaning states in the storm zone end up with a rather understandably low turnout next Tuesday. In the Senate, where a third of places are up, Republicans may end up short of a majority but are tipped to make gains, while they are 40 seats ahead in the forecast for the House of Representatives.

So what sort of men -as nearly all of them are - might these new legislators be? Aside from fiscal conservatives and defence hawks, one remarkably consistent strain throughout many of their pronouncements has been not merely an anti-abortion stance, but a rather warped view of rape as the quotes below show. These men are not some lonesome idiot sitting on a bar stool sounding off offensively (though who knows what some of them may get up to?). These are men already in prominent political positions in the most powerful nation in the world. These are men selected by the Republicans and endorsed by Mitt Romney, the man who may be the next President.

Judge for yourself - are people with these views fit to hold office anywhere in the world?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

To Serve and Protect...?

Just two weeks from now, England and Wales get the rather unwanted opportunity to elect Police & Crime Commissioners in 41 districts. These new roles, as covered in an earlier post, replace the somewhat more inclusive and democratic committees that have had oversight of the police service until now. The Home Office and the Coalition Government apparently believe that having a single "personality" in charge will somehow "restore trust" in the police system, according to its website.

Prescott running for Police Commissioner
Yet just precisely who are some of these personalities? As the Guardian showed, most are simply serving or former local politicians, with some ex-police and servicemen. Perhaps the most prominent is the former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who is standing in the Humberside region. Although now a member of the House of Lords, "Prezza" is still keen to make his mark in his native area. Given Labour's apparent inbuilt electoral strength there, he should be a dead cert; but with turnout likely to be the lowest in history, with predictions as low as 10 - 15% of eligible voters, any sort of upset is possible.

Facing Prescott is the UKIP candidate, one of their sitting MEPs, Godfrey Bloom. He has a checkered record in terms of his service as a Euro-MP for Yorkshire and Humberside, starting with all sorts of weird comments about women. In the police election, reducing the number of speed cameras and speed traps is one of his main concerns, in spite of their proven utility in reducing accidents and deaths.

But arguably one of the most controversial episodes for someone standing for a policing post was the film he made himself standing next to a Greenpeace boat applauding the bombing by limpet mines of the Rainbow Warrior by the French Secret Services back in 1985, a terrorist act which killed a photographer, Fernando Pereira, and sank the environmentalist ship. "Vive La France!" he intoned with a Eurosceptical smirk.

"Godders" seemed to think it was all a bit of a wheeze, though to be fair he had apparently forgotten about the fatality, which he found "extremely regrettable and indeed unacceptable" when I wrote to remind him back in early 2010. However, rather than go on to condemn the actual bombing, he wrote that

"The biggest threat to us today is not terrorism but eco fascism.  It is eco fascism closing conventional power stations, trying to stop the building of new ones that work.  Destroy whole communities with the ludicrous windmill fanaticisml Hundreds die every year of hypothermia, thousands more will join them after 2015.  Green taxes and significantly higher fuel bills will drive industry abroad and impoverish old age pensioners....." 
It seems that environmentalists ."..bear responsibilities for deaths on a much bigger scale than the IRA or Al-Quaeda, and all based on fraudulent and junk science of which ordinary people are now being made aware.
Yours sincerely
Godfrey Bloom"
So, if Bloom becomes PCC for Humberside, we may face some "interesting" new initiatives being proposed to the police in pursuit of his peculiar view of true crime. Voters beware.

And here, for the record, is Bloom's video:

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Revenge of Nature: the Closure of Wall Street

The world media is aghast at the prospect that Hurricane Sandy, the storm that killed 66 people in the Caribbean last week (nearly all of them poor and largely unnoticed by the world) is today combining with an Atlantic cold front to create the so-called FRANKENSTORM, a great two thousand mile weather force that is expected to hit the eastern seaboard of the USA in the next few hours.

It is to be hoped that the carnage in the West Indies is not repeated, although two lives have already been lost. Hundreds of thousands of people are seeking shelter, including tens of thousands of homeless people on the streets and in the tunnels of New York, which is in the centre of the storm's likely path. As well as 100 mph winds, a huge tidal surge is likely to bring floods of water far inland, and it is this which seems the most threatening element.

Climate scientists have long warned that global warming is already bringing more and more powerful changes in the weather. It is not purely about increasing temperatures, but about extremes: this summer saw the ice melt from the Arctic reach new record-breaking levels - and now a cold front from the Arctic is hitting a warm front from the Jet stream to produce what may be a record breaking "weather event" as the US media likes to title these things. It has been called Frankenstorm because it is close to Halloween, yet the unintentional irony is that, like Frankenstein, human actions may well have driven the life-force that is our biosphere towards this violent revenge on us, its unwitting but very culpable creators.

The storm has grabbed the world's attention because it is about to strike some of the wealthiest districts of the richest nation on earth - while hoping harm is minimalised, we can also hope that awareness is maximised: awareness of how human activity is driving climate patterns towards ever greater hostility towards our species and our way of life; awareness of how it is the poor - swept away in the tropical storms of last week and possibly washed away in the storm drains of tonight - who bear the brunt of the impact of climate change, but only for now.

And awareness, above all, that money can't buy our way out of this; wealth can shield the richest from the tempest for only so long before they like everyone else are swept aside by Nature's revenge on our wasteful, polluting ways, where profit-seeking has trampled and exploited the environment towards exhaustion, deeply disturbing the delicate balance that allows us to exist on Planet Earth.

Tonight, the US Stock Exchange has suspended business as climate overwhelms capitalism. The pompous, self-titled Masters of the Universe are impotent before Neptune's Rage; and Wall Street is closed.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Support Your Local Sheriff?

15th November sees an innovation in British law enforcement of a dubious nature. Thanks to some odd and expensive scheduling courtesy of the Liberal Democrat arm of the Coalition Government, electors across England and Wales will have the opportunity to vote for the newly created role of Police and Crime Commissioner.

This role  is charged with ensuring effective policing in its area and replaces the committees of Police Authorities. These consisted usually of 9 local councillors nominated by the councils in the Authority area, plus 8 members who were a mix of magistrates and independent appointees. These were a valuable means of oversight and governance but one where no one person was powerful enough to interfere overly with the operational activities of the police, which remained the provenance of the professional Chief Constable. Equally, having a range of views and interests represented meant that any cosy one-to-one relationship between a Chief Constable and a Police Commissioner was not possible.

The thinking behind Police Commissioners is supposedly to combine democratic control with a more directive approach to policing, just as elected mayors were once touted as the miraculous cure-all for local authorities - with decidedly mixed results (viz, Hartlepool and Doncaster). Given the choice in May this year of having more elected mayors, voters in all but two of the eleven areas voting decided against. Sadly, no such vote was ever taken on Police Commissioners and as the idea featured in the manifestos of both Coalition parties, this dreadful example of gesture politics has gone ahead.

So what do we have now that nominations have closed? Given the complete absence of any public funding for the election campaign - such as the free mailshot distribution in other elections - the only people capable of mounting a credible campaign across the large geographical areas involved will either be machine politicians or rich people with their own agenda. So we are left with a rag bag of local politicians eyeing up the significant pay packet attached to the post, along with a collection of ex-police officers possibly looking to get their own back on their former bosses and a smattering of former military people, which seems mildly worrying. Few inspire any confidence of offering any fresh start to policing. And how could they?

Effective local policing needs local input from a range of sources - community policing at its best encompasses a wide range of views and needs and while it varies in different parts of the country, there are a number of examples of good policing working well with local people and attendant reduction in crime.

None of that has involved some local would-be caped crusader offering instant salvation. Rather it has involved a lot of long-term, painstaking work by officers and communities getting to understand each other and working together in ways that defy the hot headed ranting of the likes of the Daily Mail about soft cops and ineffective courts. The result has been a steady decline in crime to its lowest level in over 30 years, but the fear of crime, thanks to the media, has grown so that the public perception is that it is worse than ever.

And this is the worry about these new posts and the election that goes with them: the candidates are just feeling their way into new campaigns for a new type of post. Most voters are unaware and quite disinterested - turnout is likely to be appallingly low (which begs the question why the Lib Dems were so keen to have them now rather than alongside other local polls in May next year). But longer term, forced to justify their tenure in office - or seeking to challenge an incumbent who will be blamed for all manner of ills - there is every likelihood of Police Commissioner votes turning into populist referenda driven by revenge-seeking stories in the press. Incumbent Commissioners will be more and more tempted to make headline-grabbing gestures, pressurizing the police into politicised agendas that can easily lead into extremely difficult territory in terms of social cohesion.

It is perhaps only because of their current organisational stasis that so few far right candidates are standing in these elections - the BNP is collapsing because of in-fighting, but the far right will not go away. There is every chance that future PC elections will become a gift-horse for their scapegoating agendas, and a Trojan Horse for those who think that this sort of vote somehow enhances democratic control of policing.

Time to stop aping America. We're not Gotham City just yet...

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Whale Who Talked

This has been getting quite a bit of coverage today - a white whale who, with incredible difficulty given the absence of a larynx, attempted to impersonate his human keepers. Humans have been known often enough to impersonate animals, usually either as a means of endearment to a pet or unpleasant mockery in less kind circumstances. It is a somewhat rarer phenomenon, outside the world of parrot-keepers, for animals to seek to return the gesture by impersonating us for whatever reason.

The whale in question was press-ganged into the service of the US Navy and after several years in captivity at its San Diego research facility, he came up with this speech to his captors, and continued to do so for four years before giving up in his attempts to make sense to them.

Who knows what he was trying to say? Given humans' willing slaughter of all manner of sentient animals in the course of man-made conflict (and apart from Boudicca and Thatcher, it nearly always is "man" made), perhaps his was a plea for peace, or at least to be left alone. Whales and other highly intelligent marine mammals, especially dolphins, have been dreadfully abused by the military around the world.

- the US Navy, as well as keeping these creatures in long term captivity, have sought to use them, amongst other things, as mine-detectors and even trained dolphins and sea-lions to catch enemy divers - this programme stretches back to the First World War, and the Soviet Union ran its own until the 1990s. Even more appallingly sinister have been unsubstantiated reports to use them as substitutes for torpedoes by teaching them to respond to directional signals and then strapping bombs to them to send them towards enemy vessels with no chance of a return swim.

She's in the programme; but who asked her?
- in other circumstances, there has been much evidence to suggest that sonar signals from submarines frequently confuses the signals whales send each other, often over hundreds of miles. This appears in at least some cases to have led to them getting lost and beaching themselves - or, in one tragic case, becoming disoriented and swimming up the River Thames into central London, where it died. There is also evidence that sonar, especially the increasingly powerful and long range systems used by the British Royal Navy, damage whales eardrums, potentially disabling them and causing slow, lingering deaths.

- and more generally, both military and civilian human activities are both emptying the seas of the fish that whales eat and poisoning the plankton that might substitute for them. Slowly, with the seas turning acidic and "dead zones" stretching for hundreds and even thousands of square miles in the seas, our species is threatening not only its own survival but the habitat of the whale as well. And all this is before we even begin to discuss the so-called "scientific research " carried out by some countries involving harpooning whales and eating their meat as an allegedly accidental by-product of the research. Or of the apparent desire of some American citizens to sail out into the Gulf to shoot or even, remarkably, pipe-bomb bottlenose dolphins, using their friendly curiosity as the perfect bait for their cruel "sport".

These are magnificent beasts - their longevity is attested to by an example from 2007 of a whale being killed and, buried in its flesh, was the remains of a harpoon that was last used in the 1890s. They have been here much longer than we have; we can only hope that if we don't save ourselves perhaps at least we can spare them the extinction we have lined up for all too many of our companions on the planet.

Listen to the whales. Whatever he was saying, his song is older and deeper than ours, and deserves our respect.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

On the Right Side of History? - Christianity and Homosexuality

The debate on rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people has not been so prominent as it is now for several years. The breakthroughs of a few years ago, with civil partnerships and gay marriage being legalised by more and more places around the world, at least appeared to put to rest much of the old bigoted arguments that in so many respects made LGBT people at best second class citizens - perhaps no longer outlawed for their sexuality, but by no means enjoying the same rights as heterosexuals.

But in the last couple of years, something of a backlash has emerged - parts of the Christian church have become ever more shrilly vociferous in their condemnation of gay people; and in Uganda, driven on by the urgings of evangelical zealots, the Government has even been debating whether or not to make homosexuality a capital crime. In the USA, the rightwing of the Republican Party has been complicit with this agenda, seeking to drive back President Obama's support for greater equality - one of the few areas where he has worked hard to deliver on his original promise of genuine change.

That 2,000 year old Scripture is invoked in determining the laws and rights of 21st Century people in so many parts of the world is a depressing commentary on how narrow and pernicious supposedly democratic politics have become - and how diversionary: the rightwing especially is happy to indulge in debates about sexuality, welfare and migration, portraying all three as threats to civilised society, as it shifts the focus of public debate away from the real issues of social inequality, poverty and unsustainable economics. It also shows how, in so many ways, old arguments are rehashed to provide supposedly eternal principles - old wine in new bottles, to use a biblical analogy - and to coat with a fake respectability arguments against one progressive agenda that were previously used against another, but would be deemed out of order now.

In this video, we see a powerful speech by a Christian pastor calling for legislators in the US city of Springfield to stand on the right side of history when it comes to laws on gay and lesbian people - but which side is the right one? Please watch to the end to see.

(With thanks to Michael Emperor of New York Green Party for highlighting this video.)

Friday, 19 October 2012

Dragonfly In Oil - a study in "humanity"

From the Tar Sands of Canada - this is how we power our way of life, our cars, computers, holidays, homes...

Alberta in Canada once boasted one of the most beautiful wildernesses in the world. But then came the exploitation of the Tar Sands, part of the dirty oil drive which, by the appropriately named process of fracking, has made North America energy independent for the first time. The remains of millennia of decay, the matter of the carbon fuel now extracted and burned to power the world's greatest polluters - the human species - spew into our air and silently, invisibly poison our future. 

But earlier, much earlier in the process of extraction and refining, the spills and detritus of drilling and fracking the oil from the virgin soil have already claimed the most delicate of creatures, in the pursuit of profit and human profligacy happily destroying as mere "collateral damage" the precious, living and vibrant children of nature. Forests have been felled, ground stripped of its topsoil and heated water flushed deep down to force millions of barrels of oil out the ground: coating and trapping the once free and beautiful dragonfly in a shroud of black.

"Let us not, however, flatter ourselves  overmuch on account of our victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes its revenge on us.”
                  Blake & Engels, quoted in The Rise of the Green Left (Derek Wall)
(with thanks to Calvin "Spiralling" Smith for drawing attention to this)

Thieving Gid...eon: Obsorne the Fare-dodger

So, rather than sit with the Plebs in Standard class, it emerges that Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Gideon Osborne, multi-millionaire (and  allegedly highly "tax efficient" with it) sneaked into First Class on the Wilmslow to London train earlier today - without paying the proper fare. Unfortunately for him, the ticket inspector refused to recognise the "natural order of things" and made him cough up £160 to stay seated in the First Class carriage after an argument with the Chancellor's aide, who argued that he should be allowed to sit there with just a standard ticket.

The Good Old Days...
But even more unfortunately, the whole event was witnesses by an ITN reporter, Rachel Townsend, who provided a blow by blow account of Osborne and his official's argument with the rail official about why he should not have to pay full fare. The farrago is now running the rounds on social media, complete with photo. (Twitter -  #classgate )

The current Tories are beyond belief and their behaviour is often far beyond even causing any surprise at all - their coarse disdain for the rules when it comes to themselves and their wealthy friends, while crushing down on the slightest transgression by the poor and vulnerable (and, indeed, by a combination of welfare cuts and black propaganda, turning the very fact of being poor and vulnerable into a transgression itself), is more than evident. They are without doubt smugly supreme in their self-proclaimed superiority over their social lessers, their view on the need to comply with the rules applying only to one half of society is redolent of the Georgian and Victorian hypocrisy that saw violence, corruption and promiscuity rife among the upper classes while public morality kept the lower classes in check by ostracizing and even imprisoning those who did not comply with the strictures of religion and social deference.

And so we have Gideon, hot on the heels of Andrew Mitchell, whose tirade of f-words and "pleb" taunts at police simply doing their job came from the man who was meant to ensure good order and appropriate behaviour among Tory MPs. It recalls too the Tory Cabinet Minister of the Thatcher era who wouldn't travel on the Underground because it was "full of ordinary people" - and Thatcher herself is rumoured to have only gone on a train once in her life; so to be fair Gideon is a positive man of the people by comparison.

These attitudes are de rigeur among our ruling class - a deeply ingrained sense of entitlement that sets them above the rules, above the norms of society. Little wonder so many Cabinet members were schooled at Eton and then reached political maturity (if that's the right word) under the rabid individualism of the Thatcher era, a trait barely reined in by New Labour under Blair - Peter Mandelson of course was intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich. Filthy and rich indeed, and in more ways than one.

All in it together? Of course not - some of us are riding it out on the comfy chairs in first class...

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Watch the Flag: Putin Comes to the American Elections

The media has been full of commentary on President Obama and Governor Romney's "aggressive" debate last night at Hofstra University. But as these two mouthpieces of corporate America squared up in their pseudo-boxing contest, the real aggression was taking place outside the gates of the University.

There, Green Party Presidential nominee Dr Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala, wrapped in the US flag, attempted to gain entry to the debate. Dr Stein pointed out that as she is on the ballot in 85% of states (local nomination rules in the remaining 15% make it virtually impossible for non-Democrat/Republican candidates to gain ballot access) she has satisfied the rules set by the League of Women Voters, which originally ran these debates. At least in theory she could win enough electoral college votes to become President and so, like John Anderson in 1980, and Ross Perot in 1992, she should be allowed to take part in the televised debates. But of course Anderson was a Republican Senator and Perot a multi-millionaire businessman.

Multimillionaire Perot made the 1992 debate
However, as the video below shows, the response of the authorities was not to open up the debate to the Greens, or any of the other "third party" candidates running. Instead, while Obama and Romney posed in their testosterone-fuelled debate as candidates for the alleged "leader of the free world", their Green rivals were arrested and handcuffed, driven to a special facility prepared to hold debate protesters, tied to chairs for eight hours and only finally released in the dead of night. 

This then is American democracy in the 21st century.

Last year, when the Russians staged-managed democracy led to protests on the streets of Moscow, Obama criticised President Putin's handling of the parliamentary elections. After last night's blatant suppression of free speech and democratic protest, America has finally been exposed for its utter hypocrisy in ever castigating other countries (and most especially Venezuela's exemplary elections) for the conduct of ballots and for daring to refer to itself as the Land of the Free.

Watch the video and as the two women are led away by police, one officer hurries to pick up the Stars and Stripes they were draped in when it falls on the ground. "Watch the flag!" he intones urgently.

Yes, indeed, Watch the flag.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day, founded in honour of the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation, which was set up to develop food security for the people of our planet. Yet, while securing some advances in its 67 years if existence, its objectives are as far from being fulfilled as ever. And the outlook is not good.

2012 has seen yet more terrifying changes to our global climate – the entire Greenland ice sheet melting, to wildfires across Europe, floods in Asia and the worst drought in the central USA since the 1930’s “Dustbowl”. It is this last event that may, for now, be the one with the greatest impact – the Obama Administration expects that production of wheat, maize and soybeans will be the lowest for decades. With the USA the largest producer in the world of these staples, this environmental disaster is set to drive global food prices sharply upwards. In the last two months alone, cereal wholesale prices have risen by 60% and the FAO has warned of a return to the shortages of 2008, when the cost of US staples rose by over 120% on 2005 prices.

The effect in 2008 was a 12.8% increase in UK food prices and lurid speculation in the gutter press about hoarding tins and buying a shotgun, but in many poor countries, with food costs already far higher in real terms, scores of people were killed when riots ensued. Burkina Faso saw food prices rise by 65%, while impoverished Haiti saw a 50% increase. Worldwide, several hundred millions went hungry for the first time.

Climate was one of several causes: but other factors included the impact of “food futures” speculation by the international City traders, whose betting on higher future food prices led to many physical food traders hoarding stocks in anticipation of a price hike. This was a self-fulfilling process and one which no action at all has been taken to curb. Speculation has also led to a modern land grab in Africa and Latin America, where the Chinese and Arab governments compete with the likes of Richard Branson and Nicola Horlick in snapping up millions of acres of prime agricultural land, anticipating food shortages as the gold rush of tomorrow. And so, with the next 12 months likely to see more malnourishment and starvation, the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe may shed crocodile tears at best as children’s development is stunted and the corpses of the starved are committed to the dust.

Few deny that with increasing competition for dwindling resources, the coming decades will see a perfect storm which will seriously disrupt and even destroy the Earth’s ability to feed humanity. Yet food supply projects, current among them work by the Government BIS and the Chatham House think-tank, still predicate the solution on elusive and likely counter-productive technological fixes such as genetic modification. Moreover, they specifically exclude fostering national self-sufficiency in food supply, quixotically clinging to the alleged virtues of a globalised food chain. Needless to say, land ownership is not even contemplated as an issue.

In “The Enigma of Capital”, David Harvey has characterised the impact of humans on the environment as “creative destruction”, which has hastened exponentially under capitalist industrialisation with irreversible damage to our biosphere. But he warns, “The Revenge of Nature signals the existence of a stubborn, recalcitrant and unpredictable physical and ecological world that, like the weather, constitutes the environment in which we have our being.”

Our species is sleepwalking towards disaster – yet the coming food crisis could serve as a wake up call. In a world where so many are chemically addicted to superficially cheap “food“ peddled by McDonalds, KFC and our grasping supermarket chains, ecosocialists will have to work hard and loud to expose the vested interests at the root of the problem. But our message of self-sufficiency is one with which many people may increasingly identify. If we can demonstrate the multiple benefits of local, sustainable food production and just distribution, we can show that a better world is still possible.

This bulk of this article originally appeared in the Green Left "Watermelon" Autumn Green Party Conference print edition.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Fixing It For Jim

Just like everyone else suddenly, I never liked Jimmy Savile. I was always mildly upset each week it turned out he was hosting Top of the Pops when I was a kid - the hair, the specs, the faux good humour...I was never into Glam Rock and to me he epitomised its shimmering nonsense, its near-pantomime-like quality.

I remember him as well on Jim'll Fix It - for those too young to recall a programme where kids (usually) wrote to him and asked him to fix their dreams - driving a bus, feeding lions in a zoo, meeting Gary Glitter, that sort of thing. And how innocent it was sold as being. Occasionally someone's Gran got in on the act, being suitably patronised by the Great Man, who usually gave the old lady a peck on the cheek as she cooed about how lovely he was and how much work he did for charity.

It is of course being suggested that it was his charity work that protected him from the allegations now swarming around the British media, one year on from his death, about his being a serial child abuser and rapist of vulnerable young women. Not only did he use his celebrity status to overawe (and over-power) too-young fans; he also used it as a means of deflecting claims that he physically forced himself on scores if not hundreds of women, and at least one man, often people in hospitals or wheelchairs who could not possibly fight back. As one person who was in Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital when Sir Jimmy groped her has pointed out, no one in a mental health unit is believed at the best of times, let alone if they made a complaint against a national icon - a British treasure as one middle-aged man told me when I discovered he was on his way to Savile's funeral in his adopted home of Scarborough.

The claims against him are deeply disturbing - the people he assaulted have been silenced victims in some cases for four decades and even with the catharsis of disclosure, they may never completely get over what he did. Possibly for many the sudden exposure of his activities now may create new traumas as they relive what happened - in their own memories even if they decide not to come forward to the glare of the public and the prurient media so apparently ready to "sympathise" with their plight.

And yet...

Was this media not the same one that built him up in the first place in spite of, we are told now, many, many people in the BBC and other parts of the media being very aware of, at least, rumours if not outright accusations of misdoing by Savile? We are supposed to believe that, when some newspapers were ready to expose the claims against him, he would threaten to stop doing his charity work and that would damage the reputation of the newspaper - which has to be one of the most spuriously tenuous lines of defence ever offered.

Let's suppose that Savile did get away with groping and raping to his heart's content through the 1970s and early 1980s because, as we have heard, attitudes were different then. Yes, they were, and rape victims especially had to fight to be taken seriously. Many lies about male "needs" were accepted then where now they would not be given a second of credence.

The great and not-so-good
This may well have been the case in 1977 - was it still so in 1987 or 1997, or in 2007? The fact is that there was a revolution (albeit it still unfinished) in attitudes towards women's rights, child abuse, rape and protection of vulnerable people during that time. Yet Savile died, undisturbed and unquestioned about his deeds, in 2011.

So why the silence? So many people apparently knew at least something, but did nothing - or worse, they even passively colluded by allowing him to carry on unfettered. Was it really because they didn't believe the rumours or the handful of accusations that were made but dismissed out of hand? Were hard-bitten journalist hacks really cowed by his threats to stop working for the very charities whose clients he was abusing?

Or was it more a case of our Establishment not wanting to expose one of their own? Of worrying that if they had to own up to their mistakes with him, their own authority might be questioned? Given we are told everyone at the BBC and elsewhere knew, while you might forgive his OBE in 1972 before the rumours became widespread, what is the story behind his knighthood - granted in 1990? Or his admission to the Order of Saint Gregory the Great by Pope John-Paul II in the same year? Possibly an insurance policy for him, and perhaps a hope by others of letting sleeping dogs lie - yet it seems he was far from asleep as the last alleged assault took place in 2006.

So, more sociopathically, did some take the view that vulnerable people in hospitals and asylums didn't really count against Sir James Savile OBE, KCSG, friend of Royalty and Popes, and Maker of Dreams? After all, if these women were needing mental health treatment at 14 and 15, well, perhaps they didn't really matter and certainly why should anyone bother with their hysterical ramblings? Pop them another pill and tell them to shut up.

Even if there was no grand conspiracy, no meeting of some secret Masonic Lodge to sanction Savile's protection, the whole issue reeks of the stench of moral decay that lies at the heart of our civic life - a strand in the thread of corruption that winds its way protectively through our political class, our bankers, media, "celebrities" and the increasingly obscene wealthy. I've seen it asked before - if he had been plain Jim Savile, Lollipop man at the local school with an over-fondness for "helping" children cross the road, would he have been as fortunate as Sir James? Or would the tabloids have rushed to out him as a "nonce" complete with his address and photos of him running from a baying crowd before the police had even laid a single charge?

The answer goes without saying. But there again, perhaps that's what they hope. Who fixed it for who?

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Desert Called Peace

Not for the first time, the Norwegian Nobel Committee have courted controversy in their choice of laureate for the Peace Prize: this year, it has been granted to the entire European Union for promoting the cause of peace

Now, for many who support the European Ideal of a Continent living in peace and harmony with itself, its nations linked fraternally rather than in the constant combat which is much of Europe's tribal history, the EU was once favoured as a potential vehicle for bringing this aspiration to life. But reality has not in truth borne such hopes to fruition and now of all times seems perhaps the least appropriate moment to laud this institution.

Consider that in just the last year:

- leading EU members France and Britain lobbied hard and took the lead in the bombing of Libya, causing literally billions of Euros-worth of damage and killing unknown numbers of Libyans (no count was made). The bombing/missile campaign was at one point so intense that the Britain and France ran out of munitions and had to borrow more from Germany. (Notably, although not part of the EU, Norway also took part in this along with Denmark).

- in spite of the Arab Spring, EU states continued to send Government Ministers and officials out to arms fayres in the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi one in particular being the largest in history, selling weapons indiscriminately. France and Britain are both in the top 4 countries for arms exports in the world. Got the cash? get the guns! Who doesn't remember British PM Dave Cameron's sickeningly hypocritical visit to Tahrir Square in the midst of the protests against the Egyptian military regime? There he was, pathetically hailing the calls for democracy while, in his entourage, arms merchants were busily proffering their business cards to the same military who continued to undermine progress to democracy until President Morsi just a few weeks ago finally asserted some control over the wayward armed services.

In 2010, the European Parliament debated arms exports from the EU - their main findings centred not on the need to curb these revenue earning sales, but rather on the need for greater co-ordination between European arms manufacturers who apparently have not been co-ordinating sales properly with each other. So the EU, supposedly the paragon of free trade, appears to want to stitch up some sort of arms selling cartel to maximise the financial benefits of peddling weapons around the planet.

- and within Europe itself, while there may be little real prospect for the foreseeable future of a war between nations inside the EU, the rising social conflict brought about by the straight-jacket that is the Eurozone austerity programme and the overweening, neoliberal European Central Bank hardly makes Europe a region of tranquillity. Just this week in Greece, the cradle of democracy, we have seen scores of leftwing protesters tortured by the authorities for protesting against the extreme right Golden Dawn party (now the third largest in the country) and in one appalling incident, a young woman protester shackled and marched through Athens by the police to be used as a human shield against protesters demonstrating against the visit of the cuts-wielding German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

This woman was handcuffed and used as a "shield" by Greek police.
On peace, the EU has a mixed and unhappy record: it is true it has at times found just about enough unity to strike out on mildly different initiatives from the USA on the Palestinian question, but to little avail. And when there was a major conflict on its doorstep in Bosnia and Croatia from 1992 to 1995, it seemed paralysed or, even worse, covertly encouraging of the Serbian leadership as it "ethnically cleansed" towns and cities of Bosnian Muslims. Over 100,000 lives were lost and although Europe did fund and participate in the still shaky reconstruction of the country, it failed totally to stop the conflict and we live to this day with the geopolitical consequences - it was there in the Balkans rather than anywhere else that many young Muslims first became attracted to the Islamist claims about the West's hostility to their faith.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been given to surprising recipients in the past - Henry Kissinger received it while he was bombing Laos (though at least he was doing so in secret!) and President Obama was handed it before he even took office in what must be a unique instance of giving a prize in anticipation of some success - given his track record, you might think they would want it back. But then, they hand it to the EU (it feels troubling that this is now seen as a "person" - the prize is meant to be given to a human being under its remit).

Alfred Nobel of course was no man of peace - he invented dynamite and owned the huge arms manufacturing company Bofors, which profited immensely from the First World War. So the whole thing reeks of hypocrisy and we probably shouldn't be too surprised that as the EU sinks further into its current socio-economic mess, the international Establishment may see the award as something to buttress its tattered reputation.

Europe's history has for centuries been one of conflict - interestingly, the only two periods of apparent sustained peace before now have striking parallels to the EU's current dilemma of crisis at home and war abroad. In the eleventh century, the only international institution on the Continent, the Catholic Church, proclaimed crusade and directed the energies of warring nobles towards the Muslim states on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, giving Europe some respite from their constant quarrelling and fighting. The people of the Middle east, however, including many non-Catholic Christians, would have had a rather different experience, far from peaceful.

And earlier still, the Romans conquered almost the entire Continent. They imposed a single currency; they created a single government; they homogenised city society; and they exported their wars into the forests of eastern Germany and the mountains of Persia. The Pax Romana held for several centuries, albeit often turbulently, before collapsing before the German invasions.

And yet when it happened, few mourned Rome. For, as even the Roman historian Tacitus acknowledged, the Pax Romana was not to the benefit of all; it crushed and damaged and imposed a false unity that forever belied its claims of Universal Triumph and Benefit. Rome was an authoritarian regime, its armies and spies crushing opposition when not fighting each other - and so the "peace" achieved was more than a little hollow.

Similarly now: what may appear to be an amazing achievement of decades of peace in Europe needs to be tempered with the fact that this was for a long time set against the context of the Cold War, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and a lot of bloodshed via proxies outside of the Continent. The European Ideal is a wonderful one - but, a bit like the myth of the Pax Romana, it perhaps remains just that - an ideal, not a reality. And so perhaps we should view the Nobel Peace Prize award for the EU as being of the same level of hubris as the Emperors' when held their Victory parades in war after war in supposedly Eternal Rome.

When he recorded the history of his father-in-law Agricola's expedition to Caledonia (now Scotland), he attributed to an enemy chief, Calgacus, the chilling words in which he described the Roman Mission to his warriors: words which echo chillingly through the centuries to whisper in the ear of Europa Moderna:

"Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant" - They make a desert, and call it peace.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Jape Number 54: Gideon tears up the Magna Carta

"Workers of the world unite!" Gideon, son of privilege, gassed to his baying blue hordes in Birmingham this afternoon.

A couple of weeks ago, appearing on the US programme the Letterman Show, British PM David Cameron guffawed as he failed the UK citizenship test by, among other things, failing to explain what the Magna Carta, the document widely seen as commencing constitutional government in England, translated as. He later feigned that he did know but didn't want it to seem he has Latin seeping from every pore and orifice.

But today, when his school pal and multi-millonaire Chancellor, George Gideon Osborne, gave his annual talk to the blue rinse and the Sleeping Dead at the Tory conference in Birmingham, it became swiftly evident that the Coalition Government is utterly ignorant of the contents of the said document, especially Clause 29 which states that "we will sell to no man...either justice nor right."

What a jolly jape this Flashman of Finance had to unveil for the chavs - give up your rights to unfair dismissal and get £2,000 of tax free shares, allegedly making you an owner of your company (though apparently one that the other owners can fire with impunity). On top of that, if your a gel, well, if you get a bun in the oven, you will need to tell your company two months sooner than now that you need to take time orf to have the kid - makes you wonder why you ladies really bother working, what, what? Unless of course you live in rented; then having a kid is just your benefits meal ticket and you know what we think of that!

Torn up by Tories - the Great Charter
Oh, how they laughed at Little Piggy as he mocked the Marxists, turning their cri de couer on its head. He had been up all night preparing for it and he really was most excited...
This has to be the most twisted, sick-minded notion to emerge yet from the Coalition, all in the name of supporting the multitude of would-be entrepreneurs poised to enrich our country, if only they can do so without paying decent wages or settling their tax bills. All so they can piss some of their trickledown wealth onto the cracked streets of impoverished communities and vulnerable people.

Encouraging workers to sell their rights takes us into new realms of modern slavery; indeed, it may soon be that smaller, start-up companies will use this approach as the default one - soon it may be standard for people working in smaller companies to have no employment rights; and then the larger ones will argue that this makes them competitively disadvantaged so they need to strip out protection as well, all for a bag of transient tax free cash. What a wheeze indeed, one apparently endorsed by that waste of space Vince Cable - yes, the same guy who attacked Tories for getting a kick out of firing people.

Somehow, with the Coalition, just when you think that it couldn't possibly get worse, it does. We plumb new depths of inhumane, perverse politics. Just how much worse will this get?

Will workers be offered a bonus if they sign waivers on using dangerous equipment? After all, having to maintain safe stuff is just such a drag on our budding entrepreneurs. How soon before single parents can sell their kids off to save the state benefits money? How long before the deeply indebted can "redeem" what they owe by converting their loans into serfdom?

Boundaries are crossed with this latest initiative from the Party of Privilege and their delusional fags Cable and Clegg - boundaries not even Mrs Thatcher neared in her wildest fantasies. We are going back, beyond even Victorian "values". King John (yes, the bad guy from Robin Hood and signatory of the original Magna Carta) would be proud of little Gideon. The Tories like to preserve traditional values - but it seems these are traditional values that go even further back than we suspected.

At least King John had the grace to get dysentery and die after running up a huge deficit to fund his wars; we seem likely to be stuck with Gideon's verbiage until at least May 2015 - just one month short of the 800th anniversary of the great revolt that forced John to sign the Great Charter (yes, Dave, some of us paid attention in Latin class...)

We can only hope that if history repeats itself in one direction, it can do so in the opposite as well.

Workers of the world unite! Chains for sale...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Real Choice for the USA

Jill Stein - Green Party candidate for President of the USA
Throughout the western world, more and more people are switching off to politics as the mainstream becomes ever more centrifugally clustered around a narrow, pro-free market, capitalist consensus. At best, the choice of leaders and parties is about the same as choosing your corporate bank: variations on a theme. There may be a pseudo-democratic process of voting, but in truth there is no real choice. For all that the western media castigates the "managed democracy" of Putin's Russia, there is little effective long-term difference between Labour and Tory/Lib Dem in Britain, between CDU and SPD in Germany, or Republican and Democrat in the USA.

Sure, there is a lot of noise - a lot of anger and boiling debate - but the dissonance mask the ever smaller and smaller real differences. Tax policy, ownership, banking arrangements, the trade system, energy, outsourced and privatised state services...the practical differences are fewer and fewer. And with big business funding the parties (in some cases, companies even give money to more than one party), it is clear whose agenda is prioritised by the political elite.

But there are choices: the system is stacked against them, whether because of their exclusion from the mainstream media, or by the first-past-the-post voting system in Britain or the huge obstacles to democratic ballot access in many US states. But they are there.

This November, while the media and the money focus on Obama and Romney, Americans do have a real and very different third choice. A politician who stands for a very different, democratic system, one that challenges and tames the corporations, breaks down the influence of big money and big business, brings services back into public hands and takes action on clean energy.

Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate for President of the USA. Thanks to the undemocratic nomination system, she is not on the ballot in every state, even although it is a federal election. But she is mounting a challenge on the ballot in 38 states, as a write-in in a further 5 states and is litigating for access in 6 more. In only 2 - Oklahoma and Nevada - have the Greens no prospect of being a choice for voters.

Jill Stein is a physician, from a Jewish background and is a former candidate for Governor of Massachusetts. She advocates a return to public service and values, a "Green New Deal" to get ordinary people back to work in a more sustainable economy and a redistribution of wealth. She has marched with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, supporting its rebellion against the power of the 1% and criticised the brutal police crackdown on the protests. Last month, during a sit-in at a Philadelphia Bank to highlight housing repossessions, she and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested along with other Green activists. She has characterised Barak Obama as "a wolf in sheep's clothing" and Mitt Romney as "a wolf in wolf's clothing" - so similar are their agendas.

Cheri Honkala, VP candidate
In foreign policy, she has called for a big reduction in US military spending (which is currently more than all the rest of the world put together), and dialogue rather than confrontation with America's opponents. She opposes the drone strikes which have been used so massively and counter-productively by the Obama Administration in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. On Palestine/Israel, she has criticised the USA's favouring of Israel and called for diplomatic action to respect human rights, bring down the Separation Wall built by Israel, restore free movement for Palestinians and commit Israel to getting rid of its huge nuclear arsenal and banning its policy of assassination of its opponents. In the event of lack of action on these, she believes the US should apply economic and political sanctions.

In one mock election, at Illinois University, Stein polled 27% of the votes cast to 33% for Romney and 39% for Obama. In national surveys, over 90 million Americans have said they do not intend to vote for either Romney or Obama - if rather than sitting at home they came out and chose Jill Stein, they could really make history. 

Interview with Jill Stein here.