Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On the G20 march


Last Saturday's G20 march in London. Rachel Coleshill reports.

The march was a peaceful sort of affair organised jointly by a wide range of groups intent on airing their various grievances in advance of the G20 summit on Thursday. The group I am a member of is a collection of like-minded individuals sick of the way things are being run, a community of global citizens taking action on the major issues facing the world today.

Though we are still in our very early stages of development, we act for a more just and peaceful world and a globalisation with a human face.

However, the general philosophy is clear, it cannot continue to be business as usual. As a global community we need to find a more sustainable, community based way of living that will not lead to what we seem to have now, a wide gulf between the rich and poor, a global society ruled by centralised governments and large multi-national corporations and unregulated trading on the stockmarkets.

The demonstration itself was a great success. I met Avaaz members from France, Spain, Belgian as well as the English contingent and we all wore green hard hats to represent a new sustainable future. There were also representatives from all the major trade unions not just in the UK but Europe and even one from Africa. Amongst the more bizarre groups were "Bananas for Justice" and a group of very musical anarchists whose cyclist had a heath-robinsonesque speaker contraption attached to his bike and two guitarists either side of him. They had composed several songs opposing the Iraq war, the IMF, banking misdemeanours etc. I was impressed with the level of their creativity, the lyrics were clever and the songs had a good structure!

The march snaked round from Arundal Street on the North side of the Thames through to Whitehall, Pall Mall, then on to Piccadilly and finally ending with a rally in Hyde Park. The speakers in Hyde Park were introduced by Tony Robinson and consisted of the usual suspects. Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, global justice author Susan George, environmentalist Tony Juniper as well as comedian and activist Mark Thomas.

In a nutshell the speakers were saying that our future depends on creating a new economy based on fair distribution of wealth, decent jobs for all and a low carbon future. At around 4pm I headed off home as it was getting rather chilly in the park but on the way out met a friendly group of Friends of the Earth members from North London so we all went and cooked chick peas and chatted about world issues into the evening. All in all it was a very positive day, the march was peaceful, the police remained friendly and kept their distance and I made some good friends who I'll probably see again at the next demo.

The effects of hate crime


"We need to ensure that all groups vulnerable to hate crime can have their experiences recognised" says Peter Dunn, Chair of London's LGBT anti-violence charity Galop .

Last week Sarah from Same Difference drew our attention towards the shocking news that therapies to "cure" homosexuality are still being used in the UK. Coercive eugenics in 21st century Britain should be front page news material. However, word that "one in six psychiatrists" (most of whom on the NHS) have tried "therapies" that include electric shock to "turn gay men straight" was widely under reported.

Alas, that's not all. Last week also showed the staggering degree of indifference towards the brutal homophobic killing of 18-year-old Michael Causer in Liverpool, as well as the disturbing hostility towards proposals for the extention of anti-hate legislation in a way that would place homophobia on a par with racism or religious hatred.

Homophobia in Britain is still worringly present. The Crown Prosecution Service recently suggested violent crimes against LGBT individuals are on the rise again. And yet, a superficial look at the telly or Heat magazine may suggest growing levels of mainstream acceptance.

Peter Dunn, Chair of London's LGBT anti-violence charity Galop, is currently involved in a research project on the effects of homophobic victimisation on gay men (have a look at his website).

Here is what he told Hagley Road to Ladywood.

- What prompted your research on homophobic crime and homophobic incidents?

At the time I started my PhD research in 2005 I was employed by Victim Support's National Office as their Head of Research and Development. We were trying to improve services to victims of homophobic crime but there was quite a lot of resistance around - homophobic crime always seemed to be the lowest priority. I thought we needed more research on its extent and effects.

As a gay man who has been out since 16 I have been on the receiving end of homophobic violence several times: most recently in 2005 on a train from Sheffield to London when I asked a group of BNP supporters to stop making racist comments about the train staff. Their response was "what are you some kind of nigger-loving poofter?" and then the homophobic abuse, which included a bit of hitting and kicking, started.

The train staff (who I had originally been trying to help!) did nothing to intervene and all the police did was get them ejected from the train. It was striking how quickly the offenders switched from racism to homophobia. Most of the existing research about homophobic crime is quantitative, in other words it measures how many people have experienced homophobia, which doesn't tell us much about how people are affected by it and what they want in terms of policing responses and support. I wanted to explore the effects of homophobic crime, to fill that gap in the existing research, and that is what my PhD research has done.

I also wanted to understand more about the effects of the interaction of homophobic and racist crime, and how Black gay men experience it, as there is very little research on that.


- Campaigners say that nearly eight out of 10 homophobic offences still go unreported. In the wake of your study, what can you tell us about it and what can be done to reverse the trend?

The police now make great efforts to persuade LGBT people to report homophobic crime, but most of the 26 gay men I interviewed had very negative experiences of the police, being passed around from one unit to another, with witnesses not interviewed, and no tangible outcomes. Some were blamed by police officers for their own victimisation. Other people get to hear about these experiences. People won't report unless they think there will be a positive outcome and in many instances, there is no positive outcome.

People can accept that it might not be possible for the police to catch the offender, but they can't and should not have to accept being treated with insensitivity or being ignored by bureaucractic police processes.

Having said that, two or three people had a really excellent experience of the police when they reported a homophobic crime - which shows that the police are capable of getting it right - but the ones that were glad they reported were in a minority.

- 18-year-old Michael Causer's brutal killing was met by a shocking lack of media interest. Most national newspapers failed to report any news related to it. How do you explain that?

Gay men (and probably, lesbians too) are still not seen as 'innocent' victims in the way that other victims of crime are. Therefore, there is a covert attitude that if we are victimised we have probably brought it upon ourselves somehow - though that is not often openly expressed now - and that is why it is not reported, as that makes homophobic crime un-newsworthy. Also, the most newsworthy news is where a 'family' is affected, and gay men do not usually produce families (even though we all come from one!), so we are ignored.

- In May 2008, the Commons passed new legal protections against incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (later halted by the House of Lords). Can this make a difference?

It may make a very small difference as it sends out a clear statement that this type of incitement is unacceptable. Legislation of this kind is probably more effective at making the criminal justice system take homophobic crime more seriously than it is at actually securing convictions, as this means that police officers, CPS staff etc might get training, or follow new standards. The difficulty at the moment seems to be the House of Lords, who as usual are blocking the legislation's implementation. The House of Lords has always resisted legislation designed to help LGBT people.

- It's now over five years since Section 28 was scrapped. It feels almost impossible to believe that Britain had adopted such a horrible and backward piece of legislation. But how can we say that society's attitudes are changing if there are still such high levels of homophobic incidents?

Society's attitudes are undoubtedly changing but there is still a sizeable minority that are intolerant of same sex relationships. Some parts of the Church and other religions promote intolerance and / or hatred of gay people in a way that would never be tolerated if it was directed at a different minority group. Until they can be helped to change, there will never be complete equality for LGBT people. This is one reason why we need that law on incitement of homophobic hatred to be implemented.

- Recently the Independent dubbed homophobia "the forgotten hate crime".

Well it's not forgotten because as the reporting of Michael Causer's killing illustrates, it has never been fully recognised in the first place! But the same could be said of other hate crimes. Groups that represent gypsies and travellers would say the same about hate crime directed against them. We need to ensure that all groups vulnerable to hate crime can have their experiences recognised.

The current Attorney General has tried to do this by establishing a declaration that all criminal justice agencies sign stating that they will treat all hate crimes seriously. Yet, many state agencies fail to comply with this. For example, local authorities, who will often ignore cases where people are homophobically harassing their neighbours.

A sole focus on one single type of hate crime, most often race, can cause other forms of hate crime to be given lower priority. As well as being discriminatory to LGBT people, this means that Black LGBT people's experiences are doubly ignored in that they have to deal with homophobia in Black communities and racism in LGBT communities. I think they are the truly forgotten people in all this: for some Black lesbians, gay men and transgender people, nowhere is safe.

Click here to find out more about Peter Dunn's research.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Service Guarantees Citizenship : Life Imitates Art


Mark Reed on former soldiers winning priority access to benefits, housing and the NHS

Critics of Paul Verhoven's 1997 Starship Troopers call it gratuitiously violent, and well, stupid. It is, by the way, both those things, but not only that, Starship Troopers is a savagely literate satire of the climate of war. In it, mankind is cast as a fallen empire, the final scenes of the film echoing Hitler's last pinning of a medal onto an army of schoolchilden, the plot a flimsy parable that can be interpreted to represent the raising of Gaia against an abusive Homo Stupidus.

And whilst the film echoes, in a futuristic setting, an arrogant regime reaping what it sows, it also predicts our current times. In it, only those who have served in the military are 'citizens', and only citizens can vote or access anything other than basic services.

I thought Starship Troopers was a parody. But, as today's Independent reveals, it certainly isn't.

“Four million former servicemen and women are to be given veterans' cards to ensure they get priority treatment for NHS healthcare and housing, and discounts for services such as transport.” Why?

So that there is no ambiguity on the position here, the military is proposing a segregation of public services: so that the military are the haves, and the rest of us, the great unwashed, are the have nots.

Why should veterans get fast-tracked access to health services and financial benefits? Or perhaps, to make it clearer, why should people who haven't been in the military be subject to second-rate and delayed access to health care? Why should I – because I haven't piloted a helicopter gunship through Iraq – be denied the benefits of society? Why should soldiers be treated any differently?

Sure, soldiers are brave, but put me behind a gazillion pounds of technology and bullet proof armour, and I would feel brave.

The role of Government is to serve the public. If it isn't, then Whitehall needs to quit its jibber jabber, and stop lying. Tell us what it really thinks. So far, though, the Government's contemptious attitude to the general public is only revealed through sleight of hand and stealth.

Let us examine another line: “The Ministry of Defence plans to introduce the cards at the beginning of 2010, The Independent has learnt, in an attempt to begin repairing the damage done to the military covenant between nation and armed forces under New Labour.”

Fuck on a stick, New Labour really are that dumb.

If the MoD and New Labour wants to repair the damage it should reconsider.

Firstly, the system should face the consequence of its actions. And apologise for murdering soldiers and civilians on false grounds. Something short and snappy : “We lied. You died. Sorry.”

Secondly, get the soliders out of there.

It may sound like a broken record, but ultimately, the military conflict is a collossal mistake and poor military strategy. The most effective way to correct faulty strategy is not to succumb to the stupidity of pride and plow on, but to reconsider and withdraw if necessary. People who admit they have made mistakes are smarter than people who don't admit that they have made mistakes. Firstly, if you admit you have made mistakes, you are willing to learn from experience. Secondly, if you think everything you do is automatically right because you've done it, you will never do anything wrong, and you will never stop making mistakes.

And thirdly, and finally, soldiers must accept the public opinion of many of them: they are hired killers. Those of us who have evolved beyond blowing each other up in gunpoint diplomacy see the military as willing participants. Soldiers know the risks. You accept the risks when you wear the uniform. Being in the military is a gamble: you risk getting your legs blown off. It is a tragedy and undoubtedly a horrific experience for all concerned – but don't be so na├»ve and stupid as to think joining the army means you can drive around doing wheelies in tanks. You will get shot at, and many of you will die. Being brave also means accepting the consequences.

Soldiers are not special. They are not better than any of the rest of us. They are not more deserving. They are not first class citizens, with the rest of us lilly livered cardigan wearing guardianistas as second class serfs put on the planet to provide for them. The principle of democracy is equality.

Unless democracy is just a word politicans throw around to confuse the populace.

This is not to say that the former military get fair or adequate post-combat care. They don't. Then again, the quarter of the population that experience mental health issues in society deserve better care as well. When I had my nervous breakdown, the NHS told me to take the pills and shut up. I reached out and was pushed away.

What if the whole of mankind just grew up and diverted the military budget into health care and social care?

The bottom line of this is that those who have served in the military deserve fair and equal treatment, and if that means being treated as shabbily as the rest of us cowardly proles, then so be it. The entitlement to access of care should apply to all of us, not just the few. We, the people are here to be served by the Government, and not the other way round. The tail don't wag the dog, and the military deserve fair and equal treatment. Those of us who chose not to serve in the military are not second class citizens, and we do not deserve second class treatment.

"Pornification of our kids"...

...is the warning in today's Sun. Seriously.

Accompanying picture: semi-naked busty woman next to a computer geek turning round to look at the camera. Comment by Anna Richardson: "Our kids are looking at images in the playground that would shock most adults". And then the Sun's own Emma Cox informing the readers that "today’s youngsters are desperate to CONFORM to the porn ideal of big boobs, thin bodies and little or no body hair. "

Coming up: Jose' Mourinho calling other football managers "arrogant"; David Cameron having a pop at "toff politicians"; Josep Fritzl accusing rapists worldwide of being "monsters".

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hello handsome!

In the wake of Quentin Letts' unbelievable piece of misogyny about the lack of "knockout lovelies" in the Commons, meet and greet the Daily Mail's hunks.

How can you girls have been so wrong all this time? Whenever the question "what type of man do you go for" is asked, it's always the Hollywood hunks that crop up. Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Ralph Fiennes, Jake Gyllenhaal and George Clooney. And the list goes on.

But if only you girls forgot Hollywood for a moment and simply paid heed to the journalistic charm of the Daily Mail's newsroom, you'd finally register that a stunning selection of studs has been hiding behind your favourite paper all this time.

Just take a good look. Quentin Letts, what a knockout inamorato he is, a face only a mother could love, with that Harry Potter-esque aura about him exuding the charm of a burnt-out medieval minstrel. I bet you'd love to see his fit self in his speedos this summer.

Then they say a nice pair of eyes is what does it for the women. Kevin Costner, I hear you say? That overrated Canadian? You've obviously never seen a picture of Peter Hitchens. Look at those piercing eyeballs, wooing the readers like a pair of sexy mermeids.

Or what about Max Hastings? Doesn't that suave parting just make your heart throb? The meticulous precision of the comb hitting the upper ear, a single swoop to the left and Bob's your uncle, he's parted his hair. A woman would kill for a piece of that.

If you like someone a touch more mature, then William Rees-Mogg is the one for you. Sod Sean Connery, Mick Jagger and those overrated OAPs, Rees-Mogg's appeal is like that of a fossil. You just keep staring at it.

Then there's chief scorcher Richard Littlejohn. Oh calm down now, girls. Flushing in public is not the done thing. With the cool of an embittered grannie and eyes close together like those of a mongoose, you bet this slightly ageing, long-faced, handsome devil has got queues of admirers in bikinis outside his Florida home.

None, however, can compare to pasty-looking editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, the man who ultimately gave the nod to Quentin Letts' stunning piece of journalism. Beauty is a quality of the soul, and Dacre's virile views of the world are simply irrestistible to most people of the female species.

So, time for an apology, ladies. You just aren't good enough for the Daily Mail hunks.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Film Misunderestimated



"W" is Oliver Stones masterpiece. You may not think it, but it is. Stone is known for taking his subject and bludgeoning it in the back alley with a Truth Hammer. Recently, though, after historical epics and his Vietnam exorcisms, as well as his obsession with American presidents, Stone tackles the most controversial subject yet.

You might expect a blunt blunderbuss of a movie with a Make Up Gun set to "Whore". But W is something far more than that. You might expect a rampaging damnation of a mispresident who misunderestimated the times and made colossal errors of judgement and arrogance.

Instead W is a small, relatively subtle film. It isn't a comedy, or a damnation, and it isn't aimed at anyone, neither offending nor agreeing. Instead what it is a character study based upon a public image. The most important question it asks is not "How did this guy screw up so bad?", but "How did this guy become president?"

Ultimately it's a tragedy ; about a man who found himself in a position far beyond his capabilities, unafraid to break every rule where the ends justify the means, and surrounded - one might say even directed - by his aides until he became a bare mouthpiece. Even though he says at one point "I'm the decider", all he decides is who gets to push him around.

And the tragedy is not for "W", who gets to succeed the ambitions of the rest of his family, but for everyone else who gets to live in a world he shaped. A lazy, and workshy sarcastic and insensitive drunk who uses God as a crutch to become President. What is frightening is that this is probably beyond parody. It would be unlikely this would be seen as plausable were it a work of fiction, and the terrifying thing is that less than 100 days ago, this man had the codes to launch the missles.

Having lived the times of the film, as indeed many of us have, it is odd to see our memories being remade as fiction. There are well known quotes from Bush himself that pop up with far less viciousness or frequency than you might expect, but in strange places. All the classic howlers are there, but in new and strange contexts.

From a film point of view : the cast and performances are stunning. Not exact embodiments (the Tony Blair is brief, and resembles some kind of vague underling who never carries the authority of office). The editing is non-linear, following a thematic exploring of parts of Bush's personality, and Josh Brolin simply is George Bush. Same with most of the rest of the cast. They are obvious not the people themselves, but as a representation of spirit, they become the characters.

Ultimately this is a sympathetic film about a man so far out his depth he doesn't even realise how far out he is. And the message of the film, if there is one, is that when Bush went out of his depth, he dragged us all down with him, and the tragedy is not the mistakes he made, but the mistakes of the system that allowed him to rise to the top. A subtle, unjudgemental film about a man beyond his abilities and a nation dragged behind his wake.

The Sun lied over Alfie

Last month's biggest tabloid story was based on nothing, as it turns out.

Another humiliating development for 'the best press in the world'. You may remember last month's Sun front-page story about babyfaced 13-year-old Alfie Patten becoming a father. Without bothering to collect further evidence, the Sun jumped on the case like possessed hyaenas, prompting an investigation from the Press Complaints Commission about allegations that money had been paid to Alfie's family in order to secure an 'exclusive'.

Before you could even say it, the usual army of columnists were all out in force, Shaun of the Dead-style, wailing about 'Broken Britain' and 'the cracks in our society'. David Cameron had an excellent chance to be quiet but he too chose instead to "applaud The Sun for bringing this to public attention". Needless to say in the meantime the tabloid's circulation benefitted considerably, with The Sun's website jumping from number 5 to number 1 in the online charts and who gives a monkeys about any code of practice or Alfie's family.

Fast forward to the last 48 hours, and it's officially emerged that Alfie was never the father anyway. A DNA test proves that the whole fuss had been over nothing. The Mirror were the first to report it, but a gag order forced them to pull the item from their website, perhaps to spare The Sun and David Cameron some hefty embarrassment. However, look at the Mirror's URL you'll get the general idea. And, like it's often the case with the net, by the time the injunction came to pass, the news had already reached all parts of the world.

From the US, Thailand and Australia, there are now plenty of reports that a 'DNA test proves babyfaced Alfie not the dad'.

So here's what Cameron should have said. "Let's applaud the Sun for bringing their greed and ineptitude to public attention".

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Max Hastings: "nihilist of the Left"?

Gall, hypocrisy and ridiculous contradictions in the wonky world of the Daily Mail.

In the wake of Tuesday's attack against Fred Goodwin's property in Edinburgh, Stephen Glover writes in today's Daily Mail that "we should all beware of the nihilists of the Left... itching to reduce this country to anarchy". "The potentially violent minority", he carries on, "[...]has been whipped up by people who should have known better", adding that "the publicly funded BBC" was particularly responsible for goading the public against Goodwin, to the point that "the Austrian Joseph Fritzl, who raped and imprisoned his own daughter, was scarcely portrayed as a more detestable creature". "Lay off the bankers. Stop exciting the mob", he concludes.

Indeed one article in particular-written by journalist and historian Max Hastings only FIVE days ago- did look like a seriously inflammatory rant. Titled 'Seize their Porsches and throw them in jail!', it lashed out uncompromisingly at bankers, derivative traders and the likes of Goodwin. "This is why we must stand outside their homes throwing rocks through the windows until they [acknowledge responsibility for the crisis]", was his clarion call, with the conclusion that "[m]orally, the Great Train Robbers, Heathrow bullion thieves and suchlike were more impressive. Although they were crooks, at least they knew it".

And guess which paper published Max Hastings' call to arms? The Daily Mail.

Related articles: Fred Goodwin and Situationism;

Fred Goodwin and Situationism

The most surprising bit about the attack at the banker's home was the public reaction.

The attack on former RBS boss Fred Goodwin's home in Edinburgh may be a one-off or it could even mark a watershed in the current downturn. If there is something history taught us is that deep economic slumps often turn a more confrontational leaf.

An anonymous group issued a statement, claiming it was behind the attack: "We are angry that rich people, like him, are paying themselves a huge amount of money, and living in luxury, while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute and homeless. This is a crime. Bank bosses should be jailed. This is just the beginning".

That may have surprised some, but nowhere near as much as the reaction of most Sun readers. A look at the tabloid's comment page suggests that the old Angry Brigade, an anarchist situationist group who carried out a spate of similar attacks in the early 70s, were simply thirty-five years too early. If it's true that The Sun hold the national pulse, then it appears that the national pulse have finally caught up with the Angry Brigade.

Just look at some of the comments from the Sun's page: "Nice to read good news for a change"; "Well, what a shame!"; "Fred you brought it all on yourself..."; "no worry got loads off money to get new widows" [presumably meaning 'windows' here- ed]; "one word: KARMA" and, the most upfront: "This could be just the start. Peoples own justice will be handed out to those who have robbed us. Next time it could be something more damaging. Others should be worrying".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

All the News That's Fit To Print



Despite what The Guardian pretends, this is not an apology. It is vague, fluffy, unaccountable waffle drowning in management bullshit, wanting to be seen to do the right thing without actually doing the right thing.

In case you missed what it's all about, click here
.

This is what the Daily Express should have printed.

"We're sorry.

Major British newspapers should have realised with The Sun's disgraceful coverage of the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, is that a newspaper – no matter how big or how small – does not dictate the views of its readers.

We are truly sorry for the hypocritical, and insensitive article about the survivors of the Dunblane massacre. A newspaper should hold as its cornerstones honesty and integrity. When Paula Murray befriended the victims of our article on Facebook, she was dishonest to them, and dishonest to us, and dishonest to Facebook, and dishonest to you. By lambasting the actions of our victims for indulging in common recreational activities such as drinking alcohol, she also acted without integrity.

Scottish Sunday Express readers expect us to shine a light on the wrongs in our society, to expose the crooks, and highlight the hypocrites. Today, we must shine that light on ourselves. It was hypocritical, dishonest, and wrong. It was clear that the intention of the journalist was to dishonestly intrude upon the private lives of individuals who suffered horrific experiences, and did so deliberately with spiteful intent and a malicious compliance to the letter but not the spirit of the law respecting privacy in this country.

We are sorry that neither Ms Murray, not the sub-editor, nor the chief editor Derek Lambie demonstrated appropriate judgement in this instance. It will not happen again. There was a wholesale instuitutional failure of the paper to uphold the principles and codes of the industry. As a result of this gross misconduct, a wilful ignorance of ethics and codes of practice, and thus an embarassingly public display of gross misconduct, those responsible have had their employment terminated with immediate effect.

We, The Express, have let down the public and undone the good work of the our colleagues nationwide in the rest of the industry. We are sorry and have learnt our lesson. It will not happen again."

"Stay poor!"

Envy, spite, shit-stirring. How the Daily Mail is covering the news of a 2% pay rise amonst the most ordinary workers.

Yesterday's figures confirmed that consumer goods and services keep going up. Whatever the cause, the fact is ordinary people are paying more for transport, clothing, food and drinks. Utility bills may have remained stable, but last year's hike was so spectacular that electricity and gas companies will have enough money coming out of their ears for years to come.

The Trade Unions' view is that the families whose purchasing power was already terribly low (to the point of having to use credit cards for ordinary supermarket shopping, cue analysing why the crisis took place) shoud not be penalised even further. In the words of TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, "a generalised wage freeze across the economy will make the downturn worse not better", adding that: "'The last thing our precarious economy needs would be a further collapse in consumer confidence caused by a standstill in household budgets". David Prentis of UNISON also noted that "Low paid workers already know that the cost of living is running high. They have the proof every time they reach the supermarket checkout, or when another red bill comes through the letterbox".

So the modest wage rise (just over 2%- for most that's £20 a month) amongst public workers that is currently being negotiated, should be saluted as a step in the right direction. Amongst other categories, nurses, care workers, binmen and teachers, not particularly known for enjoying lavish lifestyles, will receive a little help.

Not in the opinion of the Daily Mail. Their logic isn't that everybody should enjoy a pay rise. No. They argue that nobody should enjoy one, however marginal. The Daily Mail doesn't point towards the benefits of union-led negotiation and union membership. It doesn't mention the importance of helping all workers, private sector ones included, to combat the recession. Instead, our favourite tabloid is doing what it does best: stirring dung.

"The deal which caused outrage amongst business leaders", is how the Daily Mail brands it, quoting John Philpott (from the bosses' organisation CIPD) arguing that "Cash-strapped private businesses are asking staff to make sacrifices to save jobs. The Government should put a clamp on public sector pay rises".

Let's remind the Daily Mail that public sector workers have not had pay increases equal or even slightly above inflation for many years, which meant taking a real term pay cut during the binge years of Cool Britannia and you've-never-had-it-so-good. Of course, it's easy for the Mail to do a strawman and focus on the good deals enjoyed by top managers in the public sector, but I don't recall the Mail and friends ever arguing for Soviet-style wage differentials.

The oh-so-scandalous 2% pay increase is mainly aimed at some of the country's lowest paid workers (29 per cent -that's 389,814 people- working in local government do not even earn the basic amount estimated by the Joseph Rowntree Trust to have a decent standard of living), so rather than spurting bile over them, the Daily Mail should wonder why its editor and chief columnists seem to have only just discovered the scandal of city bankers' pay and bonuses.

Also on the subject:
Speak your branes!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A chance to outlaw homophobic hatred

The Parliament is one step away from finally placing homophobic hatred on a par with racism or religious hatred. Fergus Shanahan in the Sun doesn't like that.

Some may recall the homophobic campaigns run by the Sun in the not-so-distant past, including that of labelling HIV 'the Gay Plague' and the one about the 'Gay Mafia running the country' in 1998. You may also recall the Sun's false allegations about Elton John. They only stopped when they were forced to pay £1m in damages. Overall, they did more to stigmatise gay people and those with HIV than any other publication in Britain.

It's no surprise then that Fergus Shanahan, their most right wing columnist, is lashing out at the currently debated Coroners And Justice Bill. Some MPs are lobbying to include Clause 58 - which would extent the offence of incitement to hatred to the area of sexual orientation, placing homophobic hatred on a par with the areas of racism or religious hatred.

Shanahan is being deliberately misleading. Even though the promoters of the Bill have repeatedly clarified that Clause 58 will not be aimed at those who tell jokes, Shanahan dribbles that "Labour are bringing in a law to ban comedians from any politically-incorrect behaviour that might offend gays", with the added populist touch that "[f]or Matt Lucas, there will be NO more gays in the village".

Except that Shanahan is talking bollocks. Unison and Stonewall, both campaigning for the legislative protection against homophobic hatred, explain that the new offence "will only refer to acts of serious hatred against individuals" with regard to their sexual orientation and "with a high threshold for prosecutions which must be approved by the Attorney General and heard before a jury".

The Crown Prosecution Service recently confirmed a new rise of homophobic hate crimes across the UK.

Look at the words spouted by some fundamentalist Muslim hate preachers like Abdul Muhid or Arshad Misbahi who openly call for the murder of homosexuals. Look at all the ‘murder music’ songs inciting the killing of 'queers' by individuals like Buju Banton, Beenie Man and Bounty Killa, all encouraging and glorifying the shooting, burning, hanging and drowning of gay and lesbian people. They are sold in record shops and aired on the radio.

Would the same approach be allowed if people incited violence against black or Jewish people? Would Shanahan and his Tory mates in the House of Lords cry foul on the basis that innocent jokes and "gentle comedy" were at danger of being banned? Would they clutch at 'freedom of speech' in the same way?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Class (Entre les mures)

"The classroom as a reflection of society", writes Antonis about one of the best films of the year.

"The Class" is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. Subtle, nuanced, and human, it leaves you with a feeling of disillusionment and wonder about the inherent contradictions of an education system which reflects society at large.

It’s also very much about human nature, and what gives people a sense of purpose, self-justification, and the confirmation of their moral high ground. It’s the kind of film that you can take as simple story, yet it is packed with messages which go far beyond the narrow limits of the storyline.

The opening sequence is the reversal of roles: first day at school for the teachers, and like a bunch of schoolchildren, you see their excitement and awkwardness, a sense of a new beginning, gossip about who’s good and who’s bad, what to look out for, etc.

The whole film is about the power dynamic between the teacher and his students. It is an interaction of constant struggles and antagonisms, where both students and teacher compete for each other’s respect and understanding. There are moments of empathy and when some sort of mutual understanding appears, which however is utterly lost by the subtly paternalistic attitude of the teacher, endowed to him by his authority as the educator.

The classroom is a reflection of society, and as such the same social tensions are constantly in the air. The elephant in the classroom is race and class, but it is only the students who talk about them. The teacher, in true white Frenchman-style, never addresses these issues, and is amused when his students do. He feels self-justified when the few exceptions of hard-working immigrant kids manage to do well or keep out of trouble. Rather self-indulgently, when a Chinese boy (who for them is proof that the system is working and that they’re good at their jobs) is facing trouble because his family is threatened with deportation, the school’s teachers feel obliged to help out. But they are only willing to go the extra mile when nothing is at stake for them – when something is, they won’t.

Interestingly, the teacher is no Manichean-kind of guy. He is no dislikeable character. He is neither a racist old fart, nor an upper class snob. But elements of both are subtly part of the character. I truly believe that he’s doing his best – but it’s not just that this is not enough, he is also unable to do any better, constrained by a very elaborate system of power that he is (actively) part of.

There are many other elements that turn the school a microcosm of society. For example, the silly, meaningless structures of transparency and accountability which serve no purpose whatsoever than to project an image of dialogue and participation. But there is little substance to them and they are at place simply to justify the arbitrariness of the decisions taken. This rings a bell, in Labour Britain.

It’s not all gloom however. There are many funny incidents, and students are masters in being witty in order to make their voice and opinions heard.

Admirably, the protagonist is also the author of the autobiographical book on which the script is based. Such deep self-criticism is indeed rare. Highly recommended.

From Hammersmith to Westminster

Workfare to work? For our MPs it's called something else.

Imagine your job, whatever that may be. You're entitled to an Allowance for a second home, or a hotel room, or whatever, in case you don't live right next to work. Even if it's just three miles away. Thousands of pounds thrown at you to make up for those awful bus rides, packed tube journeys or pesky taffic lights. So odd that it's difficult to picture, isn't it?

Well, there is one one category of workers that are entitled to that: Members of Parliament. Yes, them, the same people who tell you to get your arse into gear, those who say "get on with it or you'll lose the State's generous help". OK, fair enough those travelling from as far afield as the North, Wales or Cornwall. But the thing is, they're all entitled to it, even if they live next door to Westminster.

Labour MP Tony McNulty, the ultra-Blairite former Immigration Minister who used to rant in favour of "a robust ID card scheme which will help tackle illegal working and immigration" has been milking this Every Little Helps scheme. He's admitted he's been claiming £60,000 in Additional Costs Allowance on a second home (which happens to be his parents'), even though he revealed that doing that made him "feel discomfort".

Tony McNulty lives in Hammersmith.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The killing of Michael Causer

He and every other victim of homophobic hate crime deserve better than to be ignored in favour of more "newsworthy" stories.

An innocent teenager was brutally battered in his sleep. A group of lads stormed into his room and proceeded to kick and punch him, used a cigarette lighter in an attempt to burn him and threatened to rip his body piercings out with a knife. They hit him with a copy of a hardback book so hard that the book itself split. They dumped him in the street and left him with multiple injuries, a broken skull and extensive head haemorrhaging. This was the brutal death of 18-year-old trainee hairdresser Michael Causer of Liverpool.

You'd have thought that such a true tale of ferocity and inhumanity would get Paul Dacre to dispatch a couple of his Daily Mail reporters to Merseyside with a front page story about Labour's Britain losing its moral bearings. You'd expect the Sun to start one of their moral crusades on the back of it, with a column by Fergus Shanahan arguing that the perpetrator should never have been born. The Express would bang on the drums that it's all Gordon Brown's fault that the nation's going to the pits.

Tony Parsons in the Mirror would tell you that this is yet more evidence that the death penalty is needed and it's needed now. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian too. She'd write that it's such awful news, but if it's any consolation, in the years since 1997, crime against people in their sleep it's gone down by 2,3% and that's according to the latest figures from Crime Survey UK.

Yet, aside from three pieces on BBC Merseyside online and some from the local press, the Independent was the only national paper that showed some interest.

Michael's murder happened in July 2008 and its ensuing trial ended last month. I only just found out. Tomorrow, the only man pleading guilty will be sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court. But when I started reading about it online I was blown away by the disproportion between the brutality of the killing and the lack of reporting from the press.

Perhaps it's because Michael Causer was openly gay and right from the start the police treated the case as a homophobic hate crime, citing overwhelming evidence and witness statements.

Or maybe it's because, at the time of Michael's death, editors didn't have time to express outrage as they were too busy dealing with the national emergencies of Sonia from EastEnders piling on the pounds or Amy Whinehouse popping out for a McDonald's.

But when you think of the national coverage that was (rightly) devoted to the racially-motivated murder of Anthony Walker in 2005, or the recent campaigns spearheaded by the many young people stabbed to death in London, a question crosses your mind.

In the words of Simon Edge from Gay Times (hat-tip Peter Tatchell): "will any non-homophobic news editor explain why Causer’s murder mattered less than that of every other teenager killed last summer?"
****
Last year, in London alone, 1,062 homophobic hate incidents were reported. The police estimate that 8 out of 10 homophobic crimes go unreported.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saving the country

The growing queue of Britain's self-appointed saviours

First it was Gordon Brown who said it. Now it's Deva Kumarsiri's turn, the Nottingham postmaster who got himself into a small media storm for banning people who can't speak English from his post office.

Amidst rumours that he may now face the sack, the self-professed Jeremy Clarkson fan retorted: "I'll carry on fighting for the working people. Now I've started trying to save the country, I suppose I'll just have to carry on", he told the Daily Mail, without a shred of irony.

This afternoon it was confirmed that Mr Kumarsiri has left his job. Perhaps the busybody could join the 800,000 Britons who live in Spain. Most of them have been there for years and still haven't bothered to pick up a single word of Spanish. Go on, Mr Kumarsiri, show them how it's done.

Credit Crunch: The Directors Cut

The economy has been running on an illusion of money for years. Subsidised by debt – the good old never never – capitalism's central ethos – growth, more, More, MORE! - has stretched from the unlikely into the impossible. By Mark Reed.

Money is a cruel and unforgiving mistress. In these times of economic terrorism, though, everyone is talking about the current circumstances as a 'credit crunch'.

This is the work of spin doctors, and liars. There is NO credit crunch. No recession. What society is facing now, is that we are reaping what they have sown. They? There's always a 'Them'. But make no mistakes about this, society is currently victim of cruel financial instruments. Words such as 'fractional reserve banking' are more powerful in our lives than blasphemy.

What there is is a credit hangover.
Banks became drunk on money, and we were their date rape victims. They plied us with free booze all night, and now we have the headache. It was a rare week I didn't find a cheque addressed to me for £4,000 or a credit card with £7,000 sent to me unprompted, just waiting for me to spend spend spend. If I took up every offer, I'm fairly sure I could've borrowed £100,000 in a couple of years on an income a mere fraction of that. (Those letters have dried up recently. I wonder why).

In the olden days, geed on by obscene bonuses and outrageous targets, redundant bankers would buy houses because they didn't know what else to buy. Routinely, in the mega-bonus culture, these overpaid investors would buy houses and rent them back to the poor to ensure a steady income. Paying for houses in cash meant that, for the rich, a £260,000 flat would cost them £260,000. For the affluent poor – that is, those lucky enough to get a mortgage – that flat would, including interest cost £520,000 over a quarter century.

That £260,000 flat (probably bought at half the cost years ago), would ensure a relatively steady income of say £80000 per annum for life at a £100k-ish investment years ago. Of course, I see a conflict of interest here. It served the interests of the bankers to push house prices up, in many ways, and the underlying problem that society now faces is fucking outrageous house prices that are slowly being corrected. Because first and foremost, when house prices go up, that steals money directly from the rest of the economy. The money doesn't disappear, but is moved from the incomes of the many (businesses and individuals) into the channels of the few: the Super-Rich.

The proportion of income directed to maintaining something as fundamentally basic as somewhere to sleep leapt up. Where mortgage payments took 50% of two peoples post-tax incomes were commonplace. The other 50% had to go on everything else. Food, water, air, travel, clothes, mad ex-wives/husbands, you name it. And, of course, student debt. The average student – as of a few years ago – would graduate with an average of £30,000 in debt. Society is now geared to seeing debt as not only a legitimate lifestyle chocie, but mandatory if you want a degree or a home. The stigma of debt became marginal. After all, if it cost £30,000 to get a degree, when it came to a mortgage, the fraction of debt – an extra £10-20-30k – was inconsequential. Everyone needs somewhere to live. Why not pay a little more for somewhere you own instead of a little less for somewhere you will never own?

The economy has been running on an illusion of money for years. Subsidised by debt – the good old never never – capitalism's central ethos – growth, more, More, MORE! - has stretched from the unlikely into the impossible. The money never existed, and was all on a promise that they never thought might actually be kept. Even the Bank Of England are printing money now. Crazy, unrestricted, greedy loans and unrealistic targets made banks soft. Banking institution employees are often targeted with making a certain amount of profit per day. That is, selling a loan with a profit margin of a certain amount on it. Take your big bankers and your mortgage suppliers, and they have to make a certain amount of money to remain employed.

The easiest way to remain employed is to target the basic human need: a home. Justified and incentivised by enormous bonuses, the banks became soft. They became stupid, and lax. They relaxed guidelines for a 3.5 factor on mortgages to enable people to borrow up to six times their income. And not only did they allow a six-figure growth, they also commeneced 'self-certificated' mortgages.

A 'self-certificated' mortgage is where you tell someone how much you earn, and they don't check it: they just believe you. To extrapolate it out, let's take some simple maths. Now, this grossly exaggerates the numbers, but it is only a matter of scale, not ratio. For example, let's say I want to borrow £1,000,000 to buy a property. If the bank operates on a six-multiple, I need to earn around £178,000 at minimum to get that mortgage. Let's say my income is £100,000, but it has an impressive title. “Finance Director for Blah Blah Blah Dot Com”. That could earn £180,000. But I still earn £100,000. And I think that in five years I will earn £180,000. Let's gamble on the future. So, I self-certificate. I say I earn £180,000. And I promise myself that I'll just pay – say – 70% of my disposable income to the mortgage. That still gives me a couple of grand a month to live on, and a million pound house. These two factors mean that due to lax financials and careless application, I got a mortgage for ten times my income.

Banks didn't just do this for the big hitters. They did it for people on miniscule incomes. Under the 'right to buy' scheme, for example, American Social Housing Tenants took out mortgages for amounts they couldn't afford thinking they could afford it (due to 'trickledown economics', everyone thinks they'll be earning more money in future). They got their mortgage, the banker hit his target and got his bonus, and everyone was happy. Until people couldn't pay anymore.

And so Gordon Brown is extremely fucking clear on it, it is not 100% mortgages that are the problem. If they hadn't introduced a 100% mortgage, people on £40,000 a year would – in all probability – not have been able to get a mortgage on a £160,000 home, as they would have to save – say at 10% - £16,000.

So banks pushed up house prices by relaxing lending, easing controls, and lending high multiples. It didn't increase sales or the amount of homes available (though now there are dozens of abandoned, unfinished land developments and skeleton housing estates across the country). Not only that, but people in arrears find themselves homeless.

Due to the complex and fractional nature of reserve banking, a mortgage may be with Joe Bloggs Mortgages, but that mortgage has been sold by Southern Dock to Jimmy Twizters Investments. If you default, the bank can't simply recalculate the best way to keep the money. The Investment firm may simply kneejerk 'take the house'. The property is then resold at an auction for say £120,000 instead or the mortgage total of £360,000 (due to the loss of value in house pices, and also the loss of interest generated income). So a family lost their home, and the house sold for say half of what they paid for it.

Now, what if say, the family were to offer the bank the average auction price of the home, and the family don't get made homeless? Given the marginalised nature of shareholders, it would be impossible, and impractical to gain consent to revalue the moribund mortgage and enusre a family to keep their house. So you're homeless, someone else bought your dream home for less than you were offering to pay for it, and well... you're still homeless.

In one article, I read how a family said they felt bad for buying a repo auction home and thus 'benefiting' from the misfortune of others. The misfortune is not that the family could afford a house in a repossession auction, but that a family lost their home due to being financially abused by greedy bankers chasing bonuses. They made stupid decisions, lent money on 'self certificated' incomes, and a storm of circumstances made the house prices absolutely fucking crazy. Staff were incentivised to hit targets and took irresponsible risks. Everyone and their dog found themselves pelted with letters by banks granting instant credit limits, and encouraged to spend spend spend. And those who were responsible and able to control this didn't. They failed their responsibilities and have brought ruin on the nation and the lives of millions.

It is not 100% mortgages that destroyed the economy. It was when a normal two-up two-down terraced house in London cost £400,000 that destroyed the economy. The economy was built on an illusion of money that simply didn't and never would exist except as an invented figure on a balance sheet. After a while, a LONG while, it became apparent that someone telling lies would be caught out. This is where we are.

Gordon Brown found £500,000,000,000 to bail out the banks. Comic Relief raised £60,000,000 for the starving and dying of Africa. Imagine, if you will, thirty solid years of Comic Relief. Every night until 2038. Thats how long Comic Relief would have to run, were it Bankers Relief.

Gordon should not have rewarded failure, incompetence, greed and recklessness. Their imaginary bonus-driven economy has rained a flood of misery on us all. The banks gambled on our futures, and when they lost, we lost.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Having a Barclays

You may remember the recent news about Barclays dodging tax to the tune of £1m a year. A whistleblower passed some internal Barclays documents to Vince Cable, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Today, however, the bank obtained a court injunction, stopping The Guardian from publishing those documents exposing the intricate “tax-avoidance” measures - scamming tax-payers out of over £1bn.

Too late, however. Ha ha. Their tax avoiding schemes are all over the net. The Wikileaks website is one. Click here to view.

90% tax on big bonuses in the US

Now how's that for a windfall profit tax?

For years humongous bonuses were defended with the fable that "the best have to be rewarded" and "otherwise our best executives will fly elsewhere".

The recent AIG scam, where the ailing insurance giants awarded themselves bonuses of $165m the moment they pocketed $170bn in aid from the government, confirms that a load of bollocks was being fed to the public.

Those big corporations really are the biggest scroungers on earth. You wave some money in front of them and they act like a paedophile in a playground. Luckily though it looks like the tide has turned, at least in the US. Following the AIG scam, yesterday the House of Representatives voted to introduce a 90% tax on big bonuses from firms bailed out by taxpayers.

President Obama had previously dubbed AIG's bonuses "an outrage", adding that they are a symptom of "a bubble and bust economy that valued reckless speculation over responsibility and hard work". "It's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165m in extra pay," he said, noting that "all across the country, there are people who work hard and meet their responsibilities every day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multimillion-dollar bonuses" (incidentally: I never thought I'd live to hear a US President ever saying that!).

However, like in the UK, why the Government didn't set strict conditions when they pumped gazillions into big corporations as part of the bailouts remains a mystery. Well, not quite.

Governmental ignorance

Check out this piece by Matthew Norman in yesterday's Independent.

Mr David Lammy MP, indicated by many as "the rising star in the Labour Party" and "the new kid on the bench", the man who cannot answer a straight question (on tuition fees he blabbered: "Well, I think the universities have done a piece of work which is about scenarios... within that piece of work... actually one of the scenarios is that it remains the same") is also officially a man of extraordinary ignorance.

Which would be perhaps acceptable in normal circumstances. Except that this chap has a Masters in law from Harvard and is the Higher Education Minister in the Government. Norman points to Lammy's abysmal record on John Humphrys' Celebrity Mastermind, and in particular the one question about politics: "Which country's Rose Revolution of 2003 led to the resignation of President Edward Shevardnadze?". the Higher Education Minister's reply was "Yugoslavia".

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Condom on the brain

These days Benedict XVI is courting more controversy than Morrissey. But his views on rubber johnnies didn't go down well.

Ratzinger strikes again. On his official visit to Cameroon, the Pope blasted the use of condoms arguing that they're not the way to fight HIV/AIDS. "Handing out condoms will only increase problems", he said, adding that: "abstinence is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease". The irony of that statement followed by his criticism of the "growing influence of superstitious forms of religion" was too much to escape.

With 22 million AIDS patients in sub-Saharian Africa (according to 2007 UN figures), Ratzinger is behaving more irresponsibly than a randy teenager incapable to keep his knob at bay. Sexual health advice from an aged celibate virgin? At your peril.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Misleading headlines


The tabloids' habit of egging people on.

The Daily Mail is famous for a load of things. One of them is the habit of sticking inflammatory headlines that have very little to do with the actual article content.

Today the bullies are picking on a BA pilot from Scotland, Douglas Maughan. Here's the Mail's headline: 'The Scots pilot suing for racism after being told: 'Your country's a welfare state paid for by the English middle classes''.

As you spot the headline, you can't be blamed for feeling a little peed off: "Kuh!", you may think, "these people really are taking the piss. Get a grip, Scottish pilot, it was just an opinion!"

But then you read the article and it's a totally different story. Far from what the Mail's headline indicates, Mr Maughan was suing over being victimised after he reported several episodes of racism to BA's management, including the use of the words "coon" and "ragheads". He was repeatedly threatened by letter and over the phone and was also sent a note that read: 'Come Separation, will all Jocks f. off to that Welfare State (paid for by English middle classes)??? Please say yes.'

In the meantime, thousands of people who just flick through the Daily Mail without reading the stories in full will be left with the subliminal message that "political correctness has gone mad" and the Scots take exception to everything the English say.

The Mail's contribution towards a society of love, peace and harmony is outstanding.

"Ten ideas for Labour"

Wealth tax, electoral reform, green cars, public housing and much more. Can Labour be rescued?

There is an interesting debate on the Guardian online. Several writers and columnists are putting forward ideas and concepts that, if taken on board, would probably reverse the current opinion polls. As it stands, all recent surveys suggest the Labour party is way past its sell-by date and fresh ideas are sorely needed.

Some of the suggestions from the Guardian writers come from the same hymnsheet as this blog. You get John Harris proposing a "wealth tax", Polly Toynbee arguing in favour of electoral reform (as she calls the FPTP "derelict", right on!), and Jonathan Freedland calling for the ID card scheme to be scrapped "and the money spent on a 'Manhattan Project' to develop the world's greenest car". In favour of a massive public housing programme there is Seumas Milne.

You can read it all here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

They want higher fees


Universities are looking at banks for inspiration. They want more dough.

According to the BBC today, "many universities in England and Wales want a sharp increase in tuition fees". They're starting to sound like the banks. By the look of it, £3000 is not enough already. Five years after the massive debate over the increasing cost of university (that was won courtesy of the ever zealous Labour Party whips), it looks like we're at it again. And if David Lammy, the current Education minister, says "there's an important debate to be had", then it means the government have already made up their mind.

Yet if the law of supply and demand was to be applied, given how far degrees (don't) get you these days, the cost of higher education should be going down, not up.

The National Union of Students (NUS) have launched a campaign for "an alternative higher education funding system for England", stating that charging students even higher fees would plunge them "into over £32,000 of debt". Not an ideal situation, with a recession galloping.


Also on top-up fees: "Forking out £3,000".

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Left and the irredeemable Back Foot Syndrome

The dominant rhetoric over the Luton protests highlighted the way the 'Liberal Left' feels it's got to justify every single one of its moves.

I don't know if the British left is doomed, but they most certainly look terrified. Whether it's the economy, the welfare state or the military, large swathes of the self-appointed 'Liberal left' in the UK are plagued by the Syndrome of the Back Foot. Last week's major overreaction over the Luton events at a parade of troops returning from Iraq highlighted the Left's depressingly defensive approach.

Let me explain. Few now can deny the political discourse is increasingly set by Fleet Street. The tabloids hiss and diss and shout at every corner, rolling out story after story against 'political correctness', the foreigners, 'social workers', 'welfare scroungers', the Muslim or any of the usual targets.

But instead of challenging the right's myths and suffocating narrative, instead of regaining the initiative, the cornered liberal left appear permanently on the back foot, lest they cause an all-out conflict with the right wing media or get branded as 'loony', 'traitors' or similar.

Yet you'd have thought that, given the spectacular failure of the neo-conservative 'Us and Them' approach (enthusiastically backed by the British tabloids since 9/11), at least on Iraq the Left would have a field day, grab hold of the initiative and push back the tabloids' oily concoction of ignorance, opportunism, jingoism and goldfish memory that has caused this and other countries so much grief.

Dream on. Following the Sun's vicious onslaught against 'sick Muslim extremists' who "hurled abuse" at Our Boys, left-wing politicians have been queuing to show that they too can spell out the words "Our" and "Boys" and more generally ape the tabloids' jingoistic tone. But if hardly any better was to be expected from the Labour government (for it was them who actually started the war), the reaction from a number of journalists and bloggers has been remarkably disappointing.

Liberal Conspiracy is a case in point. Most (though not all) on their website expressed the opinion that protesters shouldn't conflate the troops with the political decision to go to war, which was basically the line given by the oh-so-authoritative Ross Kemp in the Sun. Nevermind conscription ended a long time ago. Nevermind the fact that thousands of new recruits joined after the first allegations of torture and WMD-related lies were already coming to surface. 'Our Boys' are never to blame.

Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy and Guardian writer, wrote that rather than the troops, as far as Iraq is concerned, "we are even more responsible as voters" and, as such, we shouldn't "take an antagonistic attitude towards [the military]". So check this out. It is not the soldiers who are responsible for this. It's the voters, presumably even those who - repulsed by the Iraq war - did not back Blair in 2005.

Meral's musings and Obsolete also take it as a given that the Luton protesters were "extremists" and "idiotic". "Look", they seem anxious to point out, not all anti-Iraq war people are like them and only 20 people joined the protest.

Then there's the Independent. Their article is called The Enemy Within?, and in case you hadn't grasped the tone, it quickly describes the eerie background of "identical black tunics" and "long full beards".

So what we say is: come on, 'liberal left'. Challenge those myths. Tackle that empty rhetoric. Say it loud and clear: clutching at the "extremist card" will not deflect from the fact that the Iraq war was illegal, a murderous disgrace, a disaster, a massacre, a military aberration that seriously undermined Britain's reputation in the world and made us all less safe in the process.

Grab the initiative with both hands. Post this video everywhere. Stop being defensive. Stop having to justify yourself. Make it clear that the sickening 'Our Boys' rhetoric is exactly the type of crap that is at the root of most of what is going tits-up with this world. Don't let the tabloids turn it into something to be taken for granted - that chavvy concept that because they're 'ours' they can't do no wrong.

Stop whimpering that those banners were "bad taste". How about this for bad taste? And this? Or this? Don't hide behind the flimsy "but the Conservatives too" or the trite "but the politicians...".

The British Army went to Iraq to invade and did so on the basis of a lie. And in doing so they killed people. And in the process a number of soldiers got also tangled up in barbaric episodes of torture. That was wrong. Full stop. And I don't care if al-Muhajirounn also happens to be against what happened in Iraq. That doesn't make our position any weaker. You don't see the Tories mincing their words about the Euro because the BNP are also barking against the single currency, do you?

Like solicitor Phil Shiner said with regard to some of the evidence of abuse, "We do not want to be talked about in the same vein as the Japanese in the second world war or the Americans at My Lai, but unless we stand up and say as a nation that this cannot happen in our name, that is where we seem to be headed."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Properly attired

How can we criticise the swelling numbers of people who "despise politics"? Look at this for further indication of Westminster's inept sense of priorities.

Yesterday Graham Allen MP, who was wearing a suit but not a tie while speaking in the Commons, was offically rebuked with the words: "it is not appropriate to address the House without being properly attired".

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A New Just Iraq


Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who hurled shoes at Bush, was given three years to be enjoyed in the humane, pristine and hospitable new prisons of the peaceful and democratic Iraq. There's a lesson to be learnt here. If you drop bombs over a school or a hospital, you earn prestige, badges, awards and lucrative contracts. You hurl a shoe or two and all you get is a 3-year sentence. Mr Al-Zeidi lacked ambition.

Democracy Theatre

According to some newspapers, anyone who disagrees with the illegal occupation of Iraq is a Sick Muslim Extremist. If that is the case then I am a Sick Muslim Extremist.

One of the great things about democracy is that we have rights. Since this is Britain, not America, we can't go around saying things like "I'm An American!" as if it means something. Knowing Britain, if one of us said "I'm a British!", the rest of the brits would shrug and sigh in a knowingly sympathy, before turning back to our copy of The Metro.

Anyway, there is the right to protest. Albeit, not in the zone around Westminster. In certain parts of the world there are what are, rather disgustingly, things known as Free Speech Zones. Designated protest areas. It is not unusual for these to marginalised and placed in underground carparks.

Democracy is great, but let's not beat around the bush here, we live in what I call 'Democracy Theatre', an illusion and perception of democracy. The will of millions is routinely humilated and ignored. Those in power and influence may breathe the same oxygen as us, but we are cordoned away from them. The world is shaped by what can make rich people richer, and not what is good for us.The food we buy exists only because it is profitable to sell. And to be profitable to sell, it has to be manufactured cheaply.


(Free Speech Zone, 2004 Democratic National Convention, USA)

One of the things that is important in Democracy is that other human beings have rights. Rights to do things we may not agree with. And also we have the rights to do things others may not agree with.

For example, whilst I would dearly love the electrocute wankers who listen to shitty tinny rap music on their silly phones, I'm aware that it isn't socially acceptable to do so yet. And whilst some of us may be tempted to liqiuidise hunt supporters with gyrocopters in James Bond executions, I'm more inclined to suggest that if you want to hunt foxes, you should pass a test : the test being parachuted into the countryside dressed in a lifesize fox suit and being chased by people with tasers set to 'kill' on cross country mopeds. If you enjoyed it and didn't get caught, well... you're probably some kind of Robocop prototype.

Nonetheless, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And whilst, according to some newspapers, anyone who disagrees with the illegal occupation of Iraq is a Sick Muslim Extremist. If that is the case then I am a Sick Muslim Extremist.

What is sick, and sickening, is the blind, unquestioning acceptance that whatever our country does is right, because our country does it.

The issue here is that Democracy is so arrogant, that capitalist countries wear it as a badge. Like colonial evangelists, we go into other countries and try to impose upon them by force and invasion our way of life, such as democracy. This is not to say that dictatorship is cool and groovy, because dictatorship is shitty. But realistically, at least in a dictatorship there is no 'democracy theatre'. Here, we get to vote for two indistinguishable puppets two and a half times a decade and a protest by 2,500,000 people - that is 5% of the entire population of this country - is ignored and sidelined as the work of a few mad nutters and not the democratic right to protest by civilised human beings who believe that blowing foreign people is not very clever.

Nobody seems to ask why 9/11 happened.

Nobody cares why. All the press does is paint the Muslims as mad nutters, without trying to understand them. If you do not understand other people, they will always outwit you. Because you do not know what they are going to do, and cannot predict how they will respond. It is bad military strategy not to understand the ideological oppositions way of thinking.

Ultimately, the freedoms democracy holds dear include the right to protest. To say things other people don't like. The right to hold differing opinions. Attempts to censor and silence dissent are undemocratic. It makes hypocrites of any proclaimed nationalism. The Sun should be ashamed of itself. I support the troops: I want them out of there. They should be ashamed that they unquestioningly followed ignorant and uninformed orders and enforced an illegal occupation, invasion, and genocidal mass murder on fabricated evidence. The Nuremberg Defence does not apply in this day and age. Human beings were given intelligence, brains and cognitive powers so that they could be used. Blind, unthinking support of our government is shameful, and debases the dignity of humanity. Protest is not only a right, but also a duty that all human beings should honour when they find themselves facing immoral behaviour. The war is undemocratic, and an insult to the principles our country holds dear. If The Sun believed in democracy, it would not insult those who protest against war criminals and war crimes.



"If we had not won the war, we would have been tried as War Criminals" - Robert S McNamara

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty" - Edward R Murrow