The Downside to Collective Amnesia

Ok so there probably isn’t an upside to collective amnesia, but still are we really so goldfish-brained that we, as a nation, have forgotten what happened the last time we let the Eton-elite get behind the wheel? They’re the ones that presided over, some might say created, the laissez-faire economic system that created the recession. A perfectly planned time-bomb that will allow David Cameron to sweep into power with a landslide and set us up for the next round. I may have been young when John Major lost out to Tony “the Butcher” Blair, but I have not forgotten who the Conservatives are and what they stand for. I was recently speaking to a young Conservative who told me that “In order for a country to operate as a competitive entity there must be an elite, educate class and the state system simply cannot provide an education system capable of teaching these people”. David may have the air-brushed clean features of a Vogue model but the the heart of the conservatives is in the back benches – a seething mass of elitism, racism, homophobia and exploitation for profit.

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Obama backs Nucelar, Biofuels & “Clean Coal”

Museum of Dumb Ideas by SkyBluePink

Last night US President Barack Obama pushed for agreement on the Climate Change Bill currently being re-re-re-re-written in the Senate, during his Sate of the Union address. It seems, however, that getting an agreement will come at a very high cost to the strength of the bill and, thereby, to the climate as well.

President Obama said he was “…eager to advance the bipartisan effort” indicated that he was willing to give some signifiant concessions to the Republicans in order to get agreement on the bill. So what has he agreed to? Obama opened the door for new nuclear power in the US and hinted that there will be more offshore oil drilling and has given his support to controversial biofuels and “clean coal”.

That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies

He also gave his support for a “comprehensive” bill which, according to The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg, means it will be broad and pave the way for a cap-and-trade system. This will likely leave plenty of loop-holes for clever fossil-fuel company lawyers to get stuck into.

Obama said “Yes we can save this world” well, not if he acts like this.

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Screengrab of the Day: Daily Hate

Yesterday marked 76 years since the article in the Daily Mail where Lord Rothermere, the editor at the time, declared “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, that being the front-page headline. The article praised Oswald Moseley and the British Union of Fascists for their “…commonsense conservative doctrine”. Rothermere was also a friend of Mussolini and Hitler, praising the latter as “Adolf the Great” and hoped he would become a popular figure in Britain.

Just out of interest I typed “Daily Hate” into Google and look what turned up as the top search result (more after the image):

Rather amusingly somone set up that auto-forwards to the Daily Mail’s website. Unfortunately after the threat of legal action from the afore mentioned rag it has been stopped.

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No Shock Doctrine for Haiti

A friend’s post on Left Foot Forward, definitely worth a read:

News stories about Haiti are full of tales of looters. There’s less talk of a bigger scale plunder to come. In Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine‘ she maps the rise of “disaster capitalism”. She describes how, over 40 years, The International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pentagon, and various mega-corporations have increasingly used (or created) disasters as an excuse to push through unpopular right wing economic policies, and asset strip vulnerable economies.

Read the full article

Join the No Shock Doctrine for Haiti Facebook group

Equator Principles: More what you’d call guidelines than actual rules

The Guardian today reported that campaigners have sent a letter to the banks that make up the signatories for the Equator Principles, a set of standards for environmental and social impact for project finance, stating that banks routinely ignore them and continue to provide finance to some of the most damaging projects. To which the banks collectively responded by saying “Aargh me hearties, the Principles be more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules“.

A few years ago I wrote a short case study on BP’s Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (pronounced Chey-han) pipeline, which was financed through a $1.6billion loan from 15 banks including 10 signatories to the Equator Principles. The pipeline is the second longest in the world and is capable of pumping a millions barrels a day from Baku on the Azerbaijani coast of the Black Sea to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. An independent report by a group of international NGOs found that the pipeline had more than 137 breaches of the Equator Principles including 90 breaches of the World Bank’s standards for social and environmental impact. This is just one of MANY projects that are financed every year by banks that pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to the Principles, they are simply used to boost corporate social responsibility reports.

Further reading:
Case Study: Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
Baku-Ceyhan Campaign

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Google Ditch China over Cyber Attacks

Google have announced that they may be closing their services in China following a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China”. They went on to say that the attacks, originating in China were directed at advocates of human rights in China.

Well the first thing to say is “About f**king time!”. As an activist in the Tibetan freedom movement I have received numerous attacks on my email account, as many as 10 in one day during the Olympics! Some of these are more sophisticated than others – the vast majority are VERY easy to spot as they use broken English and contain attachments from people I don’t know. Others are much more clever. One I received during the Olympics appeared to be from a colleague, they had cloned her email account and had written the email in fluent and clear English. It just so happened that I was sat in the office with that particular colleague at the time. In another instance I received an email appearing to be from a former colleague and friend who had recently left. The email address was right and the personal facts in the email – they knew where he worked and that he had recently left – were also right. They also knew our most basic security procedure – not opening attachments unless they were expected – and said in one email that they would send a document in the next. To be sure I rang the person the email was supposed to have come from and he had no knowledge of it at all. The attachments in both these cases were sent to an expert in computer viruses who did some analysis and found that the emails had some very sophisticated zero-day viruses and had originated in China. Though it cannot be definitively proven, it is widely believed that the attacks come from civilians in China who are recruited by the military specifically for this purpose, often from leading computer science universities.

It is telling that Google has gone public with this before talking to Chinese officials. This will have pissed the Chinese government off no end (always a good thing in my book), but also meant that unless there is a serious commitment to more openness from the Chinese government it makes it more likely that Google will leave.

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British Police Equipped With Thumbcuffs?

I was filming a protest a couple of weeks ago outside the International Chamber of Commerce where some activists had come along and locked/superglued themselves to the entrance in protest to the ICC representing corporate interests at the Copenhagen climate change talks. Whilst there I noticed one of the officers had on him what looked like thumbcuffs. I asked one of the officers, whom I presumed was the most senior officer on site at the time as the others were defferring to him, what they were, after a short conversation about whether the Met uses thumbcuffs during which he said “I shouldn’t think so, I haven’t seen them for years” (when did the Met use thumb cuffs?) he told me that it was a device for cutting seatbelts. Hmm, here’s some photos, decide for yourself.

I passed this on to a friend, who passed it on to a colleague who passed it on to a journalist who did some investigating. He contacted Scotland Yard for comment on this and an explanation into the thumbcuffs. Scotland yard said the unit these Police staff (not officers) are from are called the Method of Entry unit and are specialists in removing activists and entering locked premises. They had been on a training exercise that morning that had been about removing protesters that had locked themselves together using thumbcuffs when they were called to the action at the ICC. The officer should probably not have had these on him, but they are not used in normal service.

So there we are, not a scandal about British police using torture equipment on protesters, but a mistake by a specialist police unit and an interesting insight into the Met’s structure and training systems.

**Update 13-01-10**
The activists arrested during this demonstration were yesterday found guilty of aggrevated tresspass and fined £200. Their protest against the biggest corporate lobby group in Copenhagen highlighted the influence of corporates over the climate conference. If you can, please help them to pay their fine and legal fees, join the Facebook Group.

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Charter Schools in the UK are a VERY BAD IDEA

I was listening to Women’s Hour this morning and they were discussing the introduction of a 10 hour school day in the UK, as has been tried in some schools in the US, specifically aimed at lower income families. They start off discussing the virtues of this, the extra hours enabling time for reading, art, music etc, the types of non-traditionally academic subjects that children from lower income families are more likely to miss out on. They then give a startling figure that the schools where this has been tested in the states college admissions has risen dramatically from 10% to 80%. At first this seems absolutely incredible however what comes out in the discussion is that this is a deeply flawed statistic.

The schools that have introduced the 10 hour day in the US are a type of private school called a Charter School. They receive funding from the state (through a voucher scheme), but are run by private sponsors that can control the curriculum and management of the schools (anyone familiar with Academies in the UK will recognise this). A huge number of Charter Schools have recently been set up in the US, particularly in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina. The reason that the 10 hour day system has been successful in increasing the percentage of people going on to college is quite simply that they are highly selective. They either only take very bright kids or, as is talked about on Women’s Hour, it is only the particularly active and engaged parents that will send their kids to these schools ie. the ones most likely to go on to college anyway.

Private education is such a bad idea already, the Conservatives plan to increase the number of Academies, or as they have imaginatively re-monickered them New Academies, will only make it worse. Allowing private companies to sponsor education, to effectively run the schools will increase the cost of education for the state and take decent education away from lower income families. Imagine if your school was sponsored by Coca Cola, or even worse BAE Systems – they’re slogan could be “Your child’s education, paid for by 392,979 Iraqi civilian deaths since 2003“).

Francis Beckett explains how private sponsorship of Academies works in the UK (taken from the Guardian extract of his book The Great City Academy Fruad)

Back in the dying days of city technology colleges, the Conservative government invented a system of smoke and mirrors which the academies programme has been swift to build on. In Lewisham, south London, the sponsor, the Haberdashers Company, a city livery company whose charter goes back to the 16th century, did not actually part with a single penny. Since it was already running a state school on the site, it “gave” the site to the new CTC. The CTC Trust valued a new 99-year lease on the land and buildings at more than £2m, and, magically, another generous and public-spirited sponsor had come forward.

The local education authority had put a lot of money into those buildings over the years, but they got not a penny to spend on Lewisham’s other schools. While the CTC was given £5.5m from the government for further improvements, Lewisham’s other 16 schools had £1.2m to share.

Today, that city technology college is to become a city academy, owned and controlled by the Haberdashers, benefiting from another large dollop of taxpayers’ cash, and taking over another local school. Just before Charles Clarke left the Department for Education, the new academy went up on the department website. “The main sponsor,” it said, “is the Haberdashers’ Livery Company.”

So how much, I wondered, was the sponsor putting in this time, in return for control of two schools instead of one? The council told me it did not know; the school said no one there could discuss it; the Haberdashers’ Company said only the school can discuss it. The relevant paragraph in the funding agreement is secret, and the government successfully blocked a request to see it under the Freedom of Information Act. Local rumour puts the figure somewhere in the region of peanuts. Lawyer Richard Stein managed to get it. Haberdashers is putting in just £295,500 out of a total cost of just over £38m.

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Filmmaker Sentenced to 6 Years in Tibet

Dhondup Wangchen

I suppose one more year would have been too much to ask. But seriously, Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen has been sentenced to 6 years in prison for crimes as yet unknown. His trial was held behind closed doors and he was not allowed independent legal representation as the Chinese government stopped his lawyer from being able to attend. His family was not told of the trial nor of the verdict.

Leaving Fear Behind

Dhondup Wangchen was originally arrested in March 2008 after making his film Leaving Fear Behind, in which Tibetans inside Tibet spoke out against the occupation and how they believed the Olympcis being in China would imapct on Tibet. It is a very powerful and moving film which you can watch on Free Tibet TV.

If you want to do something about this, Students for a Free Tibet have a campaign calling for his release.

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Sea Shepherd Trashes the Bat-Boat

Ok, I am not exactly a huge supporter of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) (I am in fact a member of their mortal enemy, the Judean People’s Front, sorry, Greenpeace), I agree with their aims but I’m not sure I entirely agree with way they carry out their tactics. I am not opposed to direct action, I have been arrested more than once for protesting myself, but I do take issue with the way they take action.

I don’t particularly agree with their interpretation of the non-violent part of non-violent direct action, this is, however, something that activists will argue about until the end of the earth (doom-laden irony intended). I don’t disagree that property destruction, in and of itself, is a valid tactic for non-violent direct action; Greenpeace cut through chains and locks to access sites and Swoopers at Ratcliffe pulled down sections of fencing in an attempt to shut down the power station. My issue with Sea Shepherd is that they consistently come across as reckless, childish and often incompetent, and these are very dangerous characteristics for people in their position and characteristics that will be attributed to other activists and protesters.

Let’s have a look at this recent incident. Fully 16 days after arriving in the Antarctic on its first mission they, by all accounts willingly, put their 26 ton, $1.5m fibre-glass powerboat the Ady Gil in the path of the 491 ton, steel Japanese security ship the Shonan Maru 2, and failed to act to move out of the way. Now whether the Shonan Maru 2 actually deliberately steered into them or not becomes somewhat a moot point, theirs being the smaller, faster, more maneuverable boat, they should have been able to move out of the way preventing the Ady Gil’s total destruction. This seems the equivalent of a fly playing chicken with a rhino, of course they were not going to come out of it well. The fact that they did this really has to make you wonder about how much is planned and how much is them acting on reckless impulses. And of course there is no place for reckless impulses at sea, especially not the in Antarctic. Advocates of SSCS will always argue that yes they use drastic tactics and yes it is dangerous but they get results. Well yes, they do get results, despite nearly killing several crew members in this recent incident, despite the numerous accidents shown during their TV show Whale Wars where someone almost died every episode due to incompetence and despite the fact that Cpt Paul Watson seems to value human life less than those of whales (evidenced by the incident during Whale Wars where when his first mate failed to lower a RHIB properly he nearly drowned 4 crew members Cpt Watson took no action against the First Mate but alienated those who complained about this). And as if to add insult to injury, each of those people whose lives Cpt Watson is so ready and willing to risk, has had to pay $100 for the privilege (to ‘volunteer’ on the boats one must be a member of SSCS, minimum donation to be considered for the crew: $100/year).

The issue about Japanese whaling in the Antarctic is a complex one. SSCS say that methods of Greenpeace – applying pressure for socio-political change in Japan – is not stopping the death of hundreds of whales every year. They are right, but by only attacking whaling fleets and saving a few whales every year they are not addressing the problem in any comprehensive way. Both tactics are needed, but only legislation from Japan itself will actually solve this problem once and for all, and maybe put an end to this ridiculous bickering between GP and SSCS.

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