Sunday 31 January 2010

No Side Effects From Mass Homoeopathic Overdose

At 10:23am yesterday, more than four hundred homoeopathy sceptics nationwide took part in a mass homoeopathic 'overdose' in protest at Boots' continued endorsement and sale of homoeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homoeopathic remedies have nothing in them.

Last year, Boots admitted that they don't believe homoeopathy works. They said they stock it because "customers believe it works". But these products are not just ineffective, they can also be dangerous. Patients may delay seeking proper medical assistance because they believe homoeopathy can treat their condition. Until recently, the Boots website even went so far as to tell patients that "after taking a homoeopathic medicine your symptoms may become slightly worse," and that this is "a sign that the body's natural energies have started to counteract the illness". Advice such as this directly encourages patients to wait before seeking real medical attention, even when their condition deteriorates.

All participants yesterday appeared to suffer no ill-effects following the 'overdose'. The following video is from Manchester - more here.

Concert for Haiti - This Wednesday

The TUC-sponsored Concert for Haiti takes place this week on

3rd February

7pm – late
(doors open 6.30pm)

Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS | Tickets: £10

Featuring Son Mas and Omar Puente with Billy Bragg and music from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, plus poetry from Jean Binta Breeze and Benjamin Zephaniah and contributions from Tony Benn, film director Ken Loach, actors Tom Wilkinson, Alan Rickman, Frances and Andy de la Tour and from Haitians in UK

Leaflet available here (PDF) - see here for more information on the TUC Aid Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Livingstone Gathers The Desperate For Career Relaunch

Remember Ken Livingstone? Yes you do, the ex-Mayor of London who had his head stuck so far up Sir Ian Blair's arse that he might actually have discovered the whereabouts of the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner's mythical conscience? The politician who spent a significant proportion of his time in office jumping on every bandwagon, projecting London as a ‘world city’ built on the very finance capitalism that screwed the world economy, endlessly smoozed self-described 'community leaders' like some Tammany Hall boss and both defending the indefensible and insulting the memory of Jean Charles de Menezes after the young Brazilian's public execution?

The man, lets not forget, who ultimately was so successful and so popular that the people of London felt they were better represented by Etonian toff Boris Johnston, for fucks sake?

After his humiliating defeat, Livingstone continued to believe he was the "once and future mayor", so sadly there was little chance he would just bugger off and write a biography. Almost immediately in 2008, he announced his intention to run again at the next mayoral elections and set up Progressive London, Livingstone's own 'big tent' and platform for his future ambitions. It claims to be a "a cross-party, multi-community forum involving politicians, artists, trade unionists, bloggers, community activists and campaigners to promote social progress in the capital," but as James O'Nions said at the time of its launch:

"The best chance that Ken had to establish a progressive coalition in London was eight years ago in the wake of his first mayoral election victory as an independent. Having pulled both the Labour left and many other activists into his election campaign, and proved it was possible for the left to win outside the Labour party, Ken had all to play for. A 'progressive coalition' for London (rather than a new political party) would have fitted the mood exactly and would have been more conducive to grassroots-led innovation in local government."

But it didn't happen, almost entirely because of Livingstone himself, the manner in which he governed and his desire to return to the Labour fold. And yet today, the flaps of the big-top have opened once again at the TUC's Congress House for a Progressive London conference purportedly aiming to "Stop the Right in 2010", but which is really an attempted relaunch of Livingstone's career.

The agenda is a classic example of the way Livingstone operated as Mayor. It includes all the usual suspects: a sprinkling of trade union bureaucrats, some celebrity friends, 'community leaders' and some pals from Stop the War, a fair number of his Socialist Action camp followers and, now that he is safely back in the fold, some Labour Party figures and a few former parliamentary colleagues. Some Lib Dems and Greens were even persuaded to turn up. But the conference was also so completely broad in its range of issues, far beyond 'stopping the right', that many of the workshops seem to have been devised primarily to provide speaking opportunities to people in Livingstone's address book who might one day turn out to be useful political allies.

It's also a measure of how weak and desperate most of the non-Labour Left is, from the liberals to the organised Trots, that a number agreed to participate in this circus. A few people I recognise must have choked on their mid-morning coffee at the prospect of Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, talking about how little he has done on tackling climate change - or a plenary from Labour's Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, for crying out loud. But it's a sign too of the desperation within Labour's ranks (particularly those around the pressure group Compass) that some already have the smell of electoral defeat in their nostrils, are maneuvering for the aftermath of this May's general elections and thinking about their position in 2012, when the London mayoralty will again be contested.

But do 'progressives' really want to used as election fodder for Labour in this way again? After witnessing Livingstone's failures last time and the Labour Party's comprehensive abandonment of progressive politics, is the only alternative really doing the same thing all over again?

Of course it is, that's what the liberal and Trotskyist left have spent a lifetime perfecting and by all accounts, the turnout at today's conference has been quite high. But it also seems like a very old-fashioned event - one focused on finding another saviour, another cobbled-together alliance, not the start of a new kind of specifically anti-capitalist politics that rejects the way things have always been done before. For that reason, I very much suspect that what Josh Garman from Greenpeace apparently calls 'the civil society movement' will stay as far away as possible.

Friday 29 January 2010

Tony Blair - Yesterday's Man

As predicted earlier this week, the giddy excitement about Tony Blair's 'Judgement Day' at the Iraq Inquiry turned almost inevitably to disappointment today.

As expected, the level of forensic examination by the mild-mannered members of the inquiry was poor, even on the basics. Pulling their punches repeatedly, they allowed Blair to once again misrepresent the text of UN resolution 1441 to justify his decisions, even though it required Security Council endorsement for military action that was never forthcoming. They failed to follow up on alternatives to invasion, even though we know there were back-channel discussions about the prospects of exile for the Iraqi tyrant. They even allowed him to repeat without real challenge his preposterous exaggeration about the level of threat from Saddam, long discredited by what we know now about intelligence failings and by the absence of WMDs.

And Blair was entirely predictable too - still convinced that he always does the right thing, still repeating his 'rules of the game have changed' routine and saying yet again that he had no regrets. His was like a voice from the past, with a message that Blair will probably still repeat to himself as he one day shuffles around an expensive American retirement home in his dressing gown. The only thing that was a little new was expanding his new-found public embrace of the benefits of 'regime change' - never the justification when rallying supine Labour MPs back in 2003 - to include threats to Iran, which is well beyond the remit of the Inquiry. Quite how Blair intends to step back into his supposed role as Middle East 'peace' envoy after today's performance is a mystery.

We knew before today's hearing that the only way that Blair will ever face genuine scrutiny will be under the interrogation of a prosecution counsel - and let's be honest, that's incredibly unlikely. Whilst I entirely applaud the efforts of George Monbiot in setting up the website Arrest Blair and offering a a reward to people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister, even George recognises this is largely symbolic. I suspect that Flying Rodent over on Liberal Conspiracy is right to say that Blair will "continue shambling around the world jamming great fistfuls of dollars into his pockets in the full glare of the public eye", hopefully jeered as a war criminal at every turn. But spending huge amounts of time and effort trying to get him into a courtroom in The Hague seems like a enormous waste of energy.

Whether he likes it or not, Blair's historical legacy has already been written, whatever the justifications he came out with today. The Iraq Inquiry is likely to do little more than add further damage to his reputation. But with war grinding on in Afghanistan and the possibility of new military conflicts in Iran, Yemen and even possibly Haiti, the anti-war movement also needs to be prepared to move on.

Don't get me wrong: in the event that Blair is picked up at an airport in some distant part of the world and incarcerated, I'll crack open a bottle and celebrate. But if he ends his days still forlornly proclaiming that he was always right, ignored and largely forgotten, an embarrassing reminder of a discredited and misguided era, then that too will be a satisfying punishment for a politician who so obviously adores the limelight.

LAZY FRIDAY - Iraq Was Always About The Oil

To mark Tony Blair's appearance at the Iraq Inquiry today, here's John Bird and John Fortune with yet another brilliant Friday lunchtime distraction:

Fox News Favourite Arrested For Illegal Phone Tapping

Thursday 28 January 2010

Fortifying Airplot Against The Police and the Bulldozers

One year ago, just as the government announced that it was pushing ahead with plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, Greenpeace unveiling the 'Airplot' - a small but significant piece of land on the site of the proposed runway. Its aim was to create a legal block, because 66,515 supporters as of today (including yours truly) have signed up to be beneficial owners of the plot.

The Airplot has become a focus for cultural resistance, with artists, actors, and even the poet laureate down on the site, helping to create allotments, orchards, raised beds and herb gardens on the land - resources for the community which will still be producing food and fruit when the plans for the third runway are long gone.

Yet one year on the government is still determined to go ahead with the runway. And so Greenpeace has announced their intention to build something a little more solid - a structure, a fortress, call it what you will - which will help protect the Airplot site. They are now running one open public competition to find the best ideas for fortifying the site and a separate one specifically for architects and architecture students, to design the fortifications. They say:
Whatever we build, the structure needs to be able to protect the site from the police, as well as the bulldozers. It will need to house several activists for days, weeks or even months. So it needs places to sleep, a place to cook, maybe even a vegetable patch. We'll also need somewhere we can work, see what's going on outside and talk to the rest of the world about why we're there. And it goes without saying that it has to be as green and zero carbon as possible.
Judges include the architects Peter Clegg and Martha Schwartz, engineer Neil Thomas, the artist Rachel Whiteread, Greenpeace UK's Campaigns Director Sarah North, environmental activist Oli Rodker and comedian and Airplot co-owner Alistair McGowan. The closing date for all entries is 5.30pm on Friday 23 April 2010.

Charges Against Space Hijackers Dropped

In September last year, I mentioned that members of the Space Hijackers faced charges of impersonating police officers, after turning up at the G20 protests in a six-wheeled armoured personnel carrier. They had been offered cautions by the police but had refused to accept them. These ridiculous charges made up a substantial proportion of the total prosecutions resulting from events on 1 April 2009, which also made it seem like they are being made an example of for the public relations disaster that the police faced following the protests in the City of London.

The good news is that, as Sky News reported this morning, their trial was due to begin next week, but yesterday all charges were being withdrawn by the Crown Prosecution Service. The blog of former Sky journalist Leah Borromeo, one of those arrested, quotes the defendants' barrister Michael Wolkind QC, who said:

“It was a great surprise when Keir Starmer, the DPP, took time off from the investigation of the death of Ian Tomlinson, personally to confirm the absurd decision to pursue this prosecution. His judgement has been exposed by the late decision to discontinue the case”.

Raj Chada of solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen added:

"In light of the numerous allegations of violence and misconduct against the police that have marred the event, perhaps the biggest joke is the decision to prosecute those peaceful protestors playing loud music and wearing fancy dress."

That's prioriitisation in the criminal justice system for you. In November, the DPP had indicated that a decision on charges over the death of Ian Tomlinson would be made before Christmas.

We're still waiting.

UPDATE - in a statement the Space Hijackers have said:

We would like to thank the Metropolitan Police for this amazing team building exercise they have put us through. At the cost of tens of thousands of pounds to the tax payer, the Space Hijackers as a group are now much more numerous, organised, brave, focussed and optimistic in what we can get away with. We look forward to their continued, if slightly fanatically eager interest in our work; getting our tank back, our compensation and using our new found team skills, to take our forms of protest up to the next more outrageous and cunning level...

... In other news, the Space Hijackers now have a whole free week which we’ve all booked off work and therefore intend to spend it causing as much chaos as possible.

Howard Zinn - The Passing of the People's Historian

The Boston Globe has confirmed the death of Howard Zinn, the socialist historian and activist who wrote the brilliant People's History of the United States. He was 87.

Zinn was hugely important to the political education of radicals around the world and there will inevitably be many tributes in the coming days (see these already by Though Cowards Flinch and Alex Snowdon) but the words of such an eloquent polemicist are probably tribute enough. There is an archive of interviews that Zinn gave for Democracy Now! that is worth visiting: meanwhile, here are some typically brilliant quotes:

I think people are dazzled by Obama’s rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.
From Howard Zinn's final article about the first year of the Obama presiodency, written for The Nation.
I wanted students to leave my class not just better informed but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence.
If the gods had intended for people to vote, they would have given us candidates.
Remember, there are some people who cannot be educated. They must be defeated.
There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.
Historically, the most terrible things -war, genocide, and slavery - have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.
Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own. That age-old lesson – that everything we do matters – is the meaning of the people’s struggle here in the United States and everywhere. A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back.
Any humane and reasonable person must conclude that if the ends, however desireable, are uncertain and the means are horrible and certain, these means must not be employed.
The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.
Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.
Hat-tip for image above: Antagonista

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Anti-War Protesters Told To Keep Off The Grass - Again

Let's face it, the government has form when it comes to using excuses to try and prevent anti-war protests. Who can forget that in February 2003, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell tried to ban the massive two-million strong rally in Hyde Park before the outbreak of the Iraq war, using the excuse of 'damage to the grass' and hiding behind advice from the Royal Parks - an executive agency of Jowell's Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Everyone knew it was political - and it is hard not to believe that the same is true of the decision by the Metropolitan police to refuse to allow protesters to demonstrate this Friday immediately outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, when Tony Blair gives evidence to the Iraq Inquiry.

Previous protests have been held on the conference centre's grass forecourt, but the police are claiming that, whilst protests "would be manageable", the final decision "lay with the management of QEII and not the Metropolitan police". However, the centre's chief executive Ernest Vincent has told the Morning Star that it had had little input in negotiations, adding, "we are a commercially run organisation. The Iraq inquiry is but one event taking place on Friday and we have to respect all our occupants." This is of course incredibly disingenuous, for the QEII like Hyde Park is not private land but government owned and as the centre's website makes clear, it is another executive agency, this time of the Department for Communities and Local Government. Furthermore, as massive security has been laid on for Blair's appearance, costing as much as £250,000, the idea that other occupants of the QEII centre aren't likely to face a far from typical day on Friday unless protesters are kept as far away as possible is frankly laughable.

Theoretically, the final decision lies in the hands of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, John Denham - ironically, one of the few ministers to resign over the Iraq war. CND and Stop the War are both blaming government interference but it does look suspiciously like the decision to ensure that Friday's anti-war protest is kept out of sight of the QEII centre originated within Scotland Yard.

Channel 4 News
reported yesterday on the decision by protest organisers to pull out of negotiations with the police and added that events on Friday are "the first major test of public order policing since the 'Adapting to Protest' review by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary". As I suggested when the first part of this review was published in July 2009, it is precisely because protesters have become disillusioned with the 'self-kettling' that comes with the severe restrictions imposed by the police that they have switched tactics, recognising that the Public Order Act 1986 does not make a protest without prior notification unlawful – its organisers may be guilty of an offence, but participants are not.

The HMIC review made much of the need to 'facilitate peaceful protest' and 'improve dialogue with protest groups' but it seems, as Stop the War have now discovered, that little has changed and severe restrictions are still standard practice for the Met. The SWP's Chris Nineham must be wondering whether it was worth all the bother - and worth the prospect too of shouldering all the responsibility.

Moreover, as long as the police choose to borrow heavily from the Tessa Jowell Book of Bullshit Excuses, it is hard to see why anyone else will do so either in the future.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

I Really Need A New Camera

I'm thinking about buying one of these - a Kodak Z980 High Zoom Digital Camera. Any views?

Change We (No Longer) See

The Labour Party has set up a page on its website called Change We See, asking for supporters to upload photos its "historic achievements" since 1997 - mainly buildings, by the look of the contributions so far.

However, it has been precisely the oppressive use of stop & search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act against photographers taking pictures of buildings that has proved so controversial recently. Nobody can accuse the Labour Party of lacking a sense of humour I suppose, but in the wake of recent protests, others have rather different ideas about the draconian 'achievements' of the Labour government.

Photographers have been mischievously attempting to upload photos of their stop & search record forms to Labour's 'Change We See' Flickr group pool. The Party has responded by locking down any discussion and removing some images, although at the moment it seems to be struggling to keep up.

Expect a flood after the unpaid interns at Labour HQ have gone home for the night - and a well deserved lesson for deeply unpopular political parties on the dangers of crowd sourcing.

Poll Tax Riot Twenty Years On - 31 March 2010

Doesn't time fly by? The end of March sees the twentieth anniversary of the day when an anti-poll tax rally in Trafalgar Square, at the end of a 150,000 strong demonstration, turned into major confrontation with the police in central London.

Those of us old enough to remember that day will recall that with the square almost full, the police closed the top and bottom of Whitehall and then at around 4pm, mounted riot police charged the crowd in Trafalgar Square. After four shielded police riot vans drove into demonstrators and fires started at the South African High Commission, rioting spread to Charing Cross Road, Regent Street and Covent Garden (where I had headed with my then-girlfriend). Four tube stations were shut and there were 391 arrests, many of whom were later acquited thanks to the efforts of the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, who used video evidence to show that the police had fabricated or exaggerated charges.

Over on Ian Bone's blog is news of a Poll Tax Riot Reunion at 3pm on Wednesday 31st March, the first event in a 'coherent anarchist intervention' in the forthcoming general election.

Coherent? That would be a first. But I think I'll pop along anyway if I'm near the WC2 area.

Monday 25 January 2010

If There is Nothing To Hide, What Do They Have To Fear?

Hopefully my nephew and niece, who are seven and five respectively, may live long enough to witness the release in 2079 of the medical reports and photographs relating to the apparent suicide of Dr David Kelly, the UN weapons inspector found in July 2003 in woods near his Oxfordshire home. But I have serious doubts that I'll make it to one hundred and eleven years old.

Up until now, I've assumed that whilst we haven't heard the full story about Dr Kelly's death, the conspiracy theories - that he was killed by MI5, or the Iraqi intelligence service, or that he was one of many micro-biologists linked with germ warfare research who were being bumped off - were at best fanciful nonsense and at worse, evidence of a paranoid willingness to believe in almost anything.

But, to paraphrase the government's primary argument over ID cards, if they have nothing to hide, what do they have to fear? Why keep secret the post-mortem records of a sad but self-inflicted death for the lifetime of everyone not currently at primary school?

Blair's 'Judgement Day' - Expect Nothing But Trouble

Make no mistake - when Tony Blair walks into the Iraq Inquiry at the end of this week, it will seem as though the room temperature has dropped a degree or two.

There is a growing hype about this Friday's appearance of the former Prime Minister and it has started to remind me of another public inquiry that seemed to promise so much and ultimately deliver so little. The public ballot for seats and the fact that 3000 people applied for tickets has undoubtedly raised levels of anticipation. But I still feel there is a great deal of wishful thinking in some sections of the press, who believe that because "the pressure on Blair will be intense", suddenly the long-cultivated mask of hubris will fall and his testimony will produce some great revelation.

Onlookers may feel a sudden chill because the inquiry's main attraction on Friday has ice-water in his veins. If there has been a common thread running through Blair's personal statements on Iraq ever since the outbreak of the war, it is this: he has convinced himself that he always does the right thing. Blair told his party conference in 2003 that "he had no regrets and would do exactly the same again" and was still insisting that "I have no regrets about removing Saddam" in 2007, even after the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the carving up of the country into sectarian factions. Absolutely no regrets? None at all? In 2009 the message remained unchanged: in his now infamous interview with Fern Britton, Blair made it clear that he would have invaded Iraq anyway, even knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

I would expect a less combative presentation than the one given by Alastair 'Comical Ali' Campbell in early January, but Blair is defending his reputation as much as answering questions about policy and decision-making. What we should expect is a reappearance of his “pretty straight kind of guy” routine, what Ben Macintyre of the Times in 2005 described as "implicitly asking his listeners to set aside notions of objective truth and believe in his sincerity". On the basis of inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot's refusal to ambush witnesses, this should lead to a great day out for the media but almost certainly little else. I wish it were otherwise, but for once I think Matthew d'Ancona in the Telegraph is right about something when he says:

Blair is many things, but a stumbling, easily foxed witness is not one of them. There is not a single question the committee can throw at him that he has not answered in his head a thousand times.

The other area of hype is around the protests outside. The Times has gone into full bullshit-mode in reporting that "the demonstration will be the biggest test for Scotland Yard since the G20 protest in April last year when protesters caused millions of pounds of damage in the City" (we wish!) and is almost gleeful in its assertion that "Scotland Yard is preparing to use the controversial 'kettling' tactic". The Telegraph reports that intelligence officers (such a source of reliable information) "have picked up 'domestic chatter' suggesting his appearance warrants a high state of alert", whilst inevitably the Mail goes even further - Friday is potentially "a target for Muslim extremists raging at his decision to invade Iraq".

Even after the fallout from the G20 protests, the mainstream media has learnt little from its own role in stoking expectations of confrontation during public protests and helping to create an atmosphere of heavy-handed policing.

If the inside of the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster on Friday turns out to less of a test than many have hoped for, events outside most certainly are for the Metropolitan Police. For the first time, we get to see whether the pledges made in last year's 'Adapting to Protest' review amount to anything but platitudes.

End the Vulture Culture

Vulture funds are private companies that try to scavenge profit from some of the world's poorest countries, by buying up their debts at a cheap price and then trying to recover the full amount, often by suing through the courts.

At least 54 companies, many based in tax havens, are known to have taken legal action against 12 of the world's poorest countires in recent years, for claims amounting to $1.5 billion. This means money released by debt relief is going into the pockets of wealthy investors, not spent on health and education.

Just this month, US courts ruled in favour of vulture funds, giving authorization to freeze Argentinean assets in New York. The dispute is over debts dating back to 2002 when severe economic problems forced Argentina to default. Despite the fact that an agreement was reached over the debts in 2004, with the majority of bondholders agreeing to accept around one third of the price, some of the remainder was sold at a discount to the vulture funds. An increase in the debt burden would have serious impacts on the Argentinean economy and its citizens’ welfare.

Support the Vulture Funds Bill

Tomorrow, Andrew Gwynne MP's Private Members Bill to tackle vulture funds has its second reading in Parliament. If passed, the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill would limit the ability of vulture funds to use UK law to prey on the poorest countries in the world. It needs 100 MPs to vote for the bill in order for it to pass and no objections. Although the government and the Liberal Democrats have already stated their support for the bill, it needs the vote of as many individual MPs as possible to ensure there is a good chance the bill will become law. Otherwise, campaigners will have to begin again after the general election.

Although not perfect, the bill is currently the best chance of curbing vulture activity - and that could mean tens of millions of pounds is protected for development.

For more information, visit the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Just Walk Away From the Democrats

Drew Western in the Huffington Post had this to say before Christmas:

Somehow the president has managed to turn a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process.

This from Ron Jacobs over at the excellent Dissident Voice offers a solution:

I can’t be emphatic enough, there is no reasonable reason to waste a dollar or a moment of your time campaigning for the Democratic Party. Barack Obama’s campaign based on false hope and promises and the subsequent reneging on almost every promise of change should be enough to convince any left-leaning or progressive person in the United States who voted for Obama in 2008 that the time has come to end this relationship for good and forever. Like the cheating and lying spouse that keeps asking for one more chance after you find them in bed with your enemy once again, there comes a time to end the relationship. Not only have the occasional moments of bliss and the crumbs that say I care become fewer and fewer, they are no longer enough. The denial so many left-leaning Americans have lived with in their relationship with the Democrats is causing more harm then it is worth. Walk away, close the door behind you and begin the work required to build a real force for progressive change in the United States.

Mass Gathering Demands Right To Take Photos Without Harassment

Like thousands of other photographers, both amateur and professional, I attending yesterday's mass photo gathering in Trafalgar Square, organised by I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist!

It was cold, it was distinctly weird at times and there was one idiotic Police Community Support Officer harassing a young woman, in an attempt apparently to issue a fixed penalty notice, who found himself the subject of many hundreds of photos. At first I thought it was a stunt but Cilius, inevitably, was straight in there, remonstrating with the 'plastic policeman'. Here are a couple of my photos from the day - more are here:

There is a pooled Flickr group with many more photos here and a good piece on Sky News:

Saturday 23 January 2010

Tories Finally Embrace "Self-Defence Is No Offence"?

This story is from 1992, the year I first became actively involved in Newham Monitoring Project (NMP).

MM and his family had experienced persistent racial harassment, including serious assault, by white neighbours in Plaistow for many years. In July 1992 he was attacked in front of his home and his brother came out try and rescue him, whilst other family members called the police. A passing off-duty police officer kept the attacker at the scene until the arrival of his uniformed colleagues, but when they arrived, MM and his brother were arrested and their attacker let free. Both brothers gave statements, including details of the repeated harassment of their family. They were released, two months passed and then, to their astonishment, they were asked to return to the local police station where they we charged with actual bodily harm. No action was taken against their racist attacker.

For black communities around the country, this will be an all too familiar story. Grass roots organisations like NMP have argued the principle that 'self-defence is no offence' since the 1970s, which is why it is almost gratifying to see that the Tories have finally caught up and embraced this as their own.

This week the Telegraph reported the Conservative Party's new crime policy commitments:

So-called "have a go heroes" who act reasonably and in good faith will not be arrested or charged if the suspect makes allegations against them.

The draft manifesto proposal runs alongside a similar promise to give householders who defend their homes against intruders better protection in the law.

One option under consideration is that residents who confront a burglar will not face prosecution unless they use "grossly disproportionate" force.

The move comes amid concerns that innocent members of the public are being too readily charged with offences after stepping in to help others or when trying to defend their home.

It has led to fears that Britain has become a walk-on-by society with the public too frightened to intervene against crime in case they are the ones who end up being arrested.

In some cases individuals who have held offenders while awaiting the police have been charged with kidnap while others have faced assault offences.

Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "We will put a stop to the situation where malicious complaints by troublemakers can put a law-abiding citizen into a police cell.

"We will change the police rule book so that they aren't allowed to arrest someone acting in good faith to prevent a crime or apprehend a criminal suspect and we will make sure that police have the freedom to apply common sense when they are faced with absurd allegations."

In a double safety net, the Tories will amend the codes of practice for both the police and prosecutors so that anyone acting reasonably and in good faith will not face arrest and/or a charge.

The idea of ending malicious complaints that "put a law-abiding citizen into a police cell" has to be welcomed. But I guess you have already spotted the obvious problem - the notion of the police exercising "common sense when they are faced with absurd allegations".

The reality that the police have always had the option to do just this - but if you are black or Asian, forget about hoping for any common sense... or equal treatment. The Tories' policy proposals are quite clearly aimed at white middle class residents confronting burglars - not black people defending themselves from racists.

But Christopher Grayling needs to understand this - you make this law and believe me, we intend to use it...

Thanks to my friend Cilius (on the megaphone in the photo above) for pointing this story out to me - and for lunch at Gabi's Deli on Charing Cross Road today. Photo: Harpymarx

Chris Morris' "Four Lions" At Sundance

Chris Morris is responsible for many moments of fearless comic genius - the brilliant Brass Eye, Radio 1's surreal Blue Jam, his Guardian article comparing Martin Amis to Abu Hamza...

Now his 'suicide bomber comedy' Four Lions is due to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival tomorrow and the festival programme guide describes the film as "the story of a group of British jihadists who push their abstract dreams of glory to the breaking point". Here's a flavour of what to expect:

Friday 22 January 2010

Noam Chomsky Interviewed in Belfast

VBS’s Kate Albright-Hannah interviews Noam Chomsky in Belfast in October 2009.

Hat tip: Pickled Politics

LAZY FRIDAY - Perfectly Safe Airlines

Another brilliant Friday lunchtime distraction: Gordon Brown may think that full body scanners will keep us safe from terrorist attack and the police may offer behavioural screening as the way forward, but cartoonist Mark Fiore recommends an airline that really cares about security...

The Antiwar Movement Should March in Wootton Bassett

Writing in 1941, George Orwell argued in his essay 'England, Your England' that "the mass of the people are without military knowledge or tradition, and their attitude towards war is invariably defensive". Whilst this is probably still true today - levels of opposition to the war in Iraq and more recent scepticism about British policy in Afghanistan suggest that it is - Orwell also added:

"In England all the boasting and flag-wagging, the ‘Rule Britannia’ stuff, is done by small minorities. The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious."

But can we really argue that the same is true in 2010? Indeed, doesn't the reaction to the shameless media stunts by Anjem Choudary’s Islam4UK, culminating in the banning of the organisation that conveniently coincided with its alleged plan to march through the town of Wootton Bassett, suggest that flag-wagging patriotism and an intolerance to those who refuse to participate in it is now very much in the mainstream?

Despite its miniscule membership, Islam4UK's particular brand of incendiary provocation was bound to provoke a enraged reaction - it had, after all, already spawned the creation of the English Defence League following its exploits in Luton last March. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine, in a climate that demands unconditional support for 'our boys' in Afghanistan, how anyone would be able to question the way that Wootton Bassett has become sacred ground without a similarly violent reaction.

Those close to the town have tried to deny that the way locals have turned out as British war dead are repatriated to nearby RAF Lyneham is political: explaining why he opposed to the idea of Islam4UK marching in Wootton Bassett, local Conservative MP James Gray said:

Our repatriation ceremonies – and I have attended perhaps two thirds of them – are absolutely apolitical. No comment is made about the war, either in favour or against. We simply turn out in all weathers, and often twice a week, to pay our respects to soldiers who have fallen in service of Queen and country.

When the BBC decided to film an edition of Question Time in the town in December, local mayor Steve Bucknell went as far as expressing concerns about Wootton Bassett becoming increasingly politicised, saying, "I hope they don't concentrate on the war any more than they would if they were anywhere else." But as Deborah Orr in the Guardian has rightly, I think, pointed out:

The Wootton Bassett tributes may have pretensions towards political neutrality. But they are inherently conservative, or at least inherently in tune with the needs of the establishment. They suggest that the role of the public is not to question the decisions of government, but merely to honour without complication the sacrifices of those who carry them out. All citizens of Britain have the right to support such humane passivity, or reject it. Choudary's showy rejection was hardly a surprise, despite all the expressions of shock and anger that it inspired.

In this respect, the government can claim it has managed at least one successful military strategy in recent years, despite its failings in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has undoubtedly managed to orchestrate a shift in the public's perception of the military, a process that began with the review conducted by Labour MP Quentin Davies in 2008.

In doing so it has also managed to skilfully muster the 'independent' media to assist it. The BBC's special Question Time in Wooton Bassett was just one in a series of events that have included the first Armed Forces Day in June 2009, complete with parades and "community events", and the annual Military Awards or "Millies" that are co-organised by the Ministry of Defence and the Sun newspaper and that that were broadcast just before Christmas on ITV.

Whilst these events purported to show nothing more than respect for individual service personnel and their families, both were in fact intensely political, designed to suggest national endorsement for the wars British soldiers are fighting in and how they are defending 'British values'. For example, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth described the Armed Forces Day thus:

Every day the men and women of our Armed Forces are risking their lives for the defence of our country. They are the guardians of our security and our values.

whilst Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, said of the Military Awards:

The Sun Military Awards enable the nation to say thank you to our brave men and women and to their families for their dedication, courage and sacrifice. It means a huge amount to them to know that the nation is behind them.

Quite where this puts the 64% of Britons in November 2009 who believe the war is "unwinnable", up from 58% in July, or the 63% who favour withdrawal from Afghanistan as quickly as possible, is uncertain - presumably this majority is against 'our' own security and values and not really part of the 'nation'.

If it was right to condemn the space cadets from Islam4UK deciding to march for their own agenda, it is also right to do the same for the flipside, the wingnuts behind the MoD campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion.

So I have a serious suggestion: the anti-war movement should organise a march through Wootton Bassett this year, reclaiming popular protest from the lunatic fringe and reaffirming that real respect means demanding that all military personnel are repatriated alive and well, not in coffins and with mourners. Oh, and making it clear that the majority of the nation are squarely behind this demand.

Unfortunately, I am almost 100% certain that this will never happen - I can't imagine the Stop the War Coalition daring to call such a protest. Can you imagine the shit-storm from the press?

That's how far "all the boasting and flag-wagging" has succeeded over the last two years.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Haiti - Shock Doctrine

A quick roundup on Haiti from today:

Newsweek has an interview with Naomi Klein, whilst an excellent article by Andy Kershaw in the Independent calling on the media - and the BBC's Matt Frei in particular - to stop treating the Haitain people like savages is matched by Indigo Gilmore in the Guardian on the myth of the country's lawless streets . The Times reports that the French have issued a formal protest to Washington after US controllers refused landing permission to a French Airbus with a field hospital on Saturday.

Meanwhile, whilst Reuters reports that the World Bank has announced it will waive payments on Haiti's debt for the next five years and the IMF has said its proposed loan would be interest free until 2011, an international petition has been launched calling for the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s $1 billion debt and that any emergency earthquake assistance is provided in the form of grants, not debt-incurring loans.


A Spanish newspaper, ABC, quotes Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accusing the United States navy of launching a tectonic weapon capable of inducing a powerful earthquake off the shore of Haiti. No confirmation that this report is based on a reliable source - but the conservative newspaper's report is here in Spanish and here in English (a Google Translate version)

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Flashpoint 2010: Mass Photography Shoot Out

First one protest about the misuse of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 against photographers and then along comes a second one...

Just a week after this Saturday's Mass Gathering in Defence of Street Photography in Trafalgar Square, organised by I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist!, there's an announcement of another, this time it is organised by the collective that ran the former autonomous social space the rampART Creative Centre, now moved to the Lift n’ Hoist in Walworth SE17.

Flashpoint 2010 takes place on Saturday 30 January and calls on photographers to "bring still/video/digital cameras and mobile phones for a mass photography shoot-out to challenge the use of Section 44 to detain and arrest photographers shooting so called 'iconic' buildings".

Further details are sketchy but there is banner-making this Sunday at 2pm and plans for a 'Domestic Extremism' exhibition in London in February.

To find out more contact:

The World's First Open Source Car?

Now this sounds intriguing. Most of us have heard of 'open source software' but The Ecologist has news of that a small UK-based company called Riversimple is aiming to produce the first hydrogen fuel cell powered electric car whose design and development is open source rather than proprietary - and that as well as a fuel consumption equivalent to 300 miles per gallon, it will only be available for lease, not for sale. Here's the story:

Cars are evil, right? But what if they ran on hydrogen, did 300 miles per gallon, were leased rather than owned, and were produced under an open source business model...

We have often been introduced to the car of tomorrow, but one company has now created a car with the future in mind. But it is about far more than just a car, it’s about a business model that is challenging the very architecture of the auto industry.

Riversimple’s network electric car is a hydrogen fuel cell powered car, with unique technologies that enable it to run on a 6kW fuel cell, with a fuel consumption equivalent to 300 miles per gallon and greenhouse gas emissions at 30g per km, well-to-wheel - less than a third of that from the most efficient petrol-engine cars currently available.

It also the potential to be 10 times cleaner still if the hydrogen is produced from renewable energy.

Open source

But what is extraordinary about Riversimple is that their business model is trying to move away from the current auto industry practice that has left us with the inefficient, one-size-fits-all car.

The first departure from the conventional business plan is that the designs of the car will be released under an open source licence. This allows people to freely build on ideas and designs, speeding up innovation and enabling technologies to be quickly improved, meeting the needs of people rather than markets.

'There is such a yawning gap between the environmental performance of cars and what is sustainable, that I don’t believe a purely competitive world can ever get us there,' says Hugo Spowers, the brains behind Riversimple.

'[open source] really does produce this constant and very rapid drive toward absolute excellence, which I think is needed in the current circumstances. I have precious little faith in regulation ever pushing us in that direction.'

Shared learning

To aid the development of the open source hardware community, Riversimple has set up the 40 Fires Foundation, an open-source hardware group that anyone can join to share expertise and develop technologies.

Before any official launch, the foundation has already registered over 300 people with expertise in various areas, showing the huge potential for an open-source technology community.

And this potential can be far reaching:

'Open source allows [developing] countries to build their own technological capacity without having to be liable for any cash fees to the first world,' says Spowers. The foundation can also take briefs from other countries, adapting technologies as required.

Small-scale production

Complementing the open source philosophy, the manufacturing requirements of the car mean that the size of production plant will be greatly scaled down.

The low component count of the cars and their carbon composite bodies, means that smaller plants will be needed. Riversimple expect one plant to manufacture around 5,000 cars a year, unlike the production of the conventional pressed steel bodies, where a factory will spit out about 300,000 a year of the same model - necessary for the economies of scale.

'When you are doing it at that scale,' says Spowers, 'the breakeven volume at which a model becomes commercially viable is 100 times lower. So you can genuinely build cars that suit people's needs, rather than the opposite extreme which is the lunacy of the "world car".'

As a result, the industry can become more distributed: it will be possible to have smaller plants in different places, making different models that are more suitable for different geographies or cultural needs.

Cars will not be sold

Another significant departure from the conventional business model is that the cars will be leased, not sold. The leasing will include the maintenance of the car, the fuel and the recycling of the car at the end of its life.

The idea behind leasing the cars is primarily to bring the incentive of making the cars more sustainable in their production, maintenance and use, back to the manufacturer.

'There’s no driver for resource efficiency if we sell the car,' says Spowers. 'If we sell the cars… we have a direct incentive to sell as many cars as possible, so there’s absolutely no commercial sense to build in longevity, low running cost or fuel efficiency – the opposite in fact.'

In providing the opportunity to produce niche specific cars, Riversimple will also be paving the way for a wider cultural shift in car use. The leasing of the cars will undermine the 'commodity value' of the car, leaving drivers only with the use value of the car and, as designs develop and specialised cars are produced, people will - in theory - lease the right car for the right job, rather than the right car for their image.

Car clubs

With this in mind, Riversimple expects car clubs to be major customers.
'Car clubs tease apart the functionality of cars,' says Spowers.

For most people, he says, '95 per cent of their [car] requirements will be covered by a certain set of needs, but they buy a car to meet 100 per cent of their needs, and that’s dictated by the last 5 per cent. If 95 per cent of their requirements is on their own, commuting a 20 mile distance and then every couple of weeks they’ll go away with the family, they’ll buy an estate car for that one journey every couple of weeks.

'If you have car clubs – and they really have mushroomed recently – it means that people can buy the car for 95 per cent of their needs and rely on the car club for the 5 per cent. I think that is a really crucial element in moving towards much more niche, specific, appropriate vehicles for appropriate uses.'

Riversimple cars are expected to be on trial in the UK from 2012. Around 50 cars will be leased in one or two cities, supported by the local authority.

Several local authorities have expressed interest including Oxford and Leicester.

Hydrogen fuel

One of the major challenges for the Riversimple concept is getting the hydrogen to the cars. In partnership with BOC and participating Local Authorities, Riversimple hopes to overcome this by starting small and building the infrastructure as demand grows.

Hydrogen refuelling stations will be built in the participating cities, and, as the cars and their hybrids become more popular, the network will build and eventually become extensive enough to support intercity travel.

The efficiency of the Riversimple car is expected to make the transportation of enough hydrogen to fuel stations feasible.


Spowers himself conveys an infectious sense of urgency.

'There’s a window of opportunity of about ten years in which I think we’ve got a chance of establishing this,' he says. 'In about 10 years time, people will have a steel bodied fuel cell car with probably a 60 KW fuel cell system in a commercially viable, ordinary five-seater family car.

'The problem with that is that it will require about four times as much fuel than a car built on the principles we are advocating. And once fuel cell cars are available in the conventional steel bodied platform, then it will be very much harder to ever go back and re-address the fundamental architecture. I don’t think you’ll be able to do it.'

If the opportunity is missed, says Spowers, cars will be made for the mass market, people will depend on one-size-fits-all and innovation will remain slow.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

'The Unbroken Thread' (ft. Attenborough, Goodall, Sagan)

I completely love this - it's from the The Symphony of Science, a musical project headed by John Boswell designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. More videos here.

Hat-tip to Chicken Yoghurt via Graham Linehan

Monday 18 January 2010

Spiritually Transformed Firearms Of Jesus

Over in the States, ABC News' Nightline programme has a fascinating story: that a company with a multi-million dollar contract with the US Department of Defense has been adding secret biblical references onto the sights for high-powered military rifles.

In August of 2005 Michigan-based company Trijicon started to provide up to 800,000 of its Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG) to the U.S. Marine Corps. According to Trijicon, the ACOG is "ideal for combat due to its high degree of discrimination, even among multiple moving targets." At the end of the scope's model number has been added "JN8:12", a reference to the New Testament book of John, Chapter 8, Verse 12, which reads: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." The ACOG is widely used by the U.S. military.

The company's Reflex scope, meanwhile, is imprinted with the marking "2COR4:6", a reference to the second book of Corinthians in the New Testament, Chapter 4, Verse 6: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

The discovery of these 'bible-coded sights' is now the subject of inquiries by the US Army and the Marine Corps and has been condemned as making it seem that the US miliary is engaged in a religious "Crusade" in Iraq and Afghanistan - and that the Jihadists are not the only 'holy warriors'. Which, it has to be said, is exactly the conclusion that many are likely to draw...

See the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's press release for more.

Billy Bragg To Withold Tax In RBS Protest

Billy Bragg has launched a Facebook campaign, NoBonus4RBS, calling for UK taxpayers to withold taxes unless Chancellor Alistair Darling limits bonuses for RBS investment bankers to £25,000. The Press Association have reported the story thus:

Billy Bragg is refusing to pay his taxes unless the Government curbs the "excessive" bonuses at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The singer-songwriter and political activist is urging the public to withhold tax payments to "convince the Treasury to act".

RBS, which is 84% owned by the taxpayer following a string of bail-outs, is expected to pay up to £1.5 billion in bonuses to its investment bankers.

Bragg, 52, has launched a Facebook campaign, urging people to fire-off letters or email Chancellor Alistair Darling over the issue of bonuses at the part-nationalised bank.

He wrote on the social networking website: "I understand that the Treasury had little choice but to use taxpayers' money to safeguard savings and stabilise and restore confidence in the financial system.

"What I don't understand is why, now that we taxpayers are the majority shareholders of these banks, we seem totally powerless to curb their excessive bonus culture?"

Bragg, who released the hit album Talking With The Taxman About Poetry in 1986, said: "I believe that the Government have their priorities wrong. I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, to inform him that I am no longer prepared to fund the excessive bonuses of RBS investment bankers. Unless he acts to limit them to £25,000, I shall be withholding my tax payment on 31st January."

Referring to the Facebook campaign which stopped X Factor winner Joe McElderry reaching the top of the charts at Christmas, he wrote: "If nothing else, we may discover if people in this country care more about banker's bonuses than they do about who will be the Xmas No 1."

Asked about the prospect of going to jail for refusing to pay his taxes, Bragg said later: "I'm hoping it won't come to that. This is to draw attention to the issue. Either we own 84% of the company or the entire thing is a sham. I'm fed up of no-one doing anything about it."

A Treasury spokesman said: "We can reassure Mr Bragg and anyone else that there will not be big bonuses paid with taxpayers' money at RBS. Taxpayers' capital will be completely protected."

Twitter Joke Led To Terrorism Act Arrest

As well as making sure you don't look suspicious on the way to work, now you need to to think twice before venting your frustrations on Twitter when you get there. This report is from today's Independent:

When heavy snowfall threatened to scupper Paul Chambers's travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter by tapping out a comment to amuse his friends. "Robin Hood airport is closed," he wrote. "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Unfortunately for Mr Chambers, the police didn't see the funny side. A week after posting the message on the social networking site, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat. After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and has, he says, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life. "I would never have thought, in a thousand years, that any of this would have happened because of a Twitter post," said Mr Chambers, 26. "I'm the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine."

While it has happened in the United States, Mr Chambers is thought to be the first person in the United Kingdom to be arrested for comments posted on Twitter. His ordeal began on 6 January when, after hearing that extreme weather had forced the closure of Robin Hood airport, he posted the ill-advised message – frustrated because he was to fly to Ireland from that airport on Friday 15 January.

On 13 January, after apparently receiving a tip-off from a member of the public, police arrived at Mr Chambers' office. "My first thought upon hearing it was the police was that perhaps a member of my family had been in an accident," he said. "Then they said I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act and produced a piece of paper. It was a print-out of my Twitter page. That was when it dawned on me."

Mr Chambers said the police seemed unable to comprehend the intended humour in his online comment. "I had to explain Twitter to them in its entirety because they'd never heard of it," he said. "Then they asked all about my home life, and how work was going, and other personal things. The lead investigator kept asking, 'Do you understand why this is happening?' and saying, 'It is the world we live in'."

After the interview, Mr Hale was returned to a cell for an hour then released. But, he said, not before the police deleted the post from his Twitter page. He has been bailed until 11 February, when he will be told whether or not he will be charged with conspiring to create a bomb hoax. In the interim, detectives have confiscated his iPhone, laptop and home computer.

The civil libertarian Tessa Mayes, an expert on privacy law and free speech issues, said: "Making jokes about terrorism is considered a thought crime, mistakenly seen as a real act of harm or intention to commit harm.

"The police's actions seem laughable and suggest desperation in their efforts to combat terrorism, yet they have serious repercussions for all of us. In a democracy, our right to say what we please to each other should be non-negotiable, even on Twitter."

A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police confirmed the arrest and said: "A male was arrested on 13 January for comments made on a social networking site. He has been bailed pending further investigations."

Nobody from Robin Hood airport could be contacted last night.

UPDATE - 5.20pm

This from MTPT is worth reading, whilst the Guardian reports that Paul Chambers' tweets are locked, so only those following him ever saw the offending comment. So who grassed him up, or are locked Twitter accounts still accessible to police and security services?

I particularly liked this comment on Twitter:

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.