Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The X-Factorization of British Politics II: The Quickening

“We would have a red telephone in the middle…at anytime, someone from Number 10 could call in…”

Two months ago I wrote about what I called the “X-Factorization of British Politics” and now it seems that things are only going to get worse.

On the BBC programme, Newsnight, this week, Simon Cowell, the mastermind behind the pop-music show in question, X-Factor, revealed that in 2010 he hopes to bring a political version of the X-Factor format to our TV screens in a series of referendum-type shows leading up to the General Election.

In essence, the premise is simple: an important political issue would be presented to the voting public each week – immigration, the war in Afghanistan, knife crime, etc – and advocates from both sides of the debate – professional and public – would put forward their arguments.  The issue would then be voted on by television viewers and a “winning” position declared.

But the simple premise of the plan hides its equally simple flaws, especially when Cowell himself describes what he wants to see as a “bear pit” rather than an American-style formal debate. 

Complex issues require a serious level of argument and analysis if they are to be meaningfully discussed, and any real debate on controversial subjects must be first and foremost informed.  Hearing what “the public” thinks is all good and well – indeed, it is the essence of a functioning democracy – but hearing what an informed and educated public believe, in light of all available evidence and the substantiated claims of experts, is one thing.  Hearing what an un-informed and knee-jerk public believe, after hearing only the condensed and sensationalistic TV sound-bite versions of those issues, reduced to a simple “for or against” dichotomy is the ugly politics of mob rule.

Cowell himself knows this of course.  In perhaps a damning Freudian slip, when trying to explain his motivations for making such a show and saying that he was more interested in what the public think than what politicians think, what he actually said was: “what I’m always interested in is what the public fear…” before correcting himself and saying “…think on certain issues”.

Informed public debate on a popular Saturday night TV show would be a wonderful thing.  But after seeing Cowell’s work on the X-Factor for so many years – subtly manipulating the public into voting exactly the way that he wants them to and dividing the country up into fabricated tabloid outrages – the idea of this Cowell-conducted political “bear pit” occurring in the weeks before a hugely important election is very worrying indeed.

More on this one as it develops…

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Next Phase Is Beginning

In case there is any doubt that the latest phase of the murderous war on terror is a propaganda battle designed to prepare us for an inevitable invasion of some kind into Pakistan, check out this story about how Blackwater, and the CIA, are already there.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


On September 11th, 2001, just under 3,000 Americans were killed in horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. 

As a result, a decision was made to go to war against Afghanistan (and eventually, Iraq).  Wars that have cost the US tax-payers nearly a trillion dollars thus far, killed over five thousand US soldiers, and slaughtered over a hundred thousand Iraqi and Afghan civilians. 

A trillion dollars, and an estimated two trillion more to cover the rest of the post-war and ongoing costs, according to economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.  Nearly two 9/11’s worth again of soldier fatalities, and over thirty-three 9/11’s worth of innocent civilians killed – and all because, on September 11th, 2001, almost 3,000 people were killed.

Yet did you know that there are an estimated forty-five thousand premature deaths in the United States each year because of poor healthcare provision?  That, on that estimate, because of extortionate costs and profit-motivated private insurers, in the eight years since nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11, 360,000 Americans died because they couldn’t afford basic healthcare?

There is no denying that 9/11 was a tragedy, but how come we have torn the world apart, murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in retaliation, pissed away a trillion dollars, and created a whole new generation of America-hating terrorists because of the outrage of 19 lunatics killing 3,000 people one crazy day in September, and yet the systematic killing over 45,000 people a year is a crime that it has taken so long to get around to fixing?

Worse – how can we justify the ludicrous waste of resources and life that the war on terror has proven to be, and yet claim that universal healthcare coverage that could save the lives of fifteen 9/11’s worth of people a year is too expensive a proposition?

As a dual UK/US citizen who has sat from the pleasantly NHS-covered shores of Great Britain and watched America faff about so uselessly to come up with a viable healthcare plan for so long, the priorities of Washington politicians truly sicken me.

30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

A couple of billion dollars more pissed away into the wind.

Expand the war into Pakistan.

Rattle sabres at Iran.

Because the 3,000 people who died on live TV will always take precedence over the 45,000 faceless, nameless annual casualties on America’s unnecessary and immoral war on itself.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A Change We Can Deceive In…

So President Obama has committed 30,000 more troops to the unjustified and immoral war in Afghanistan, proving once and for all that it doesn’t matter who you vote for – the interests of power and business always rule the day.

Worse: this is just the 30,000 troops that he’s telling us about. 

Who knows what the true total will be once all the private military contractors like Blackwater (sorry: Xe, as they are called today) are added to the mix? 

It’s also only the 30,000 more American troops we are talking about here, exclusive of all the other additional surges the President has demanded from all other “allies” involved in the “Coalition of the Killing” currently fighting in Afghanistan (the UK, for example, will be sending at least 500 more too).

Of course, what we’re supposed to feel about this 30,000 number, is that it shows a tremendous restraint in comparison to the gung-ho, “kill ‘em all” approach of the previous administration.  Sure, Obama’s sending 30,000 new soldiers into a war we have no business being in, but the General McChrystal wanted him to send 40,000.  Even the media got it wrong when they spent the week predicting 34,000 – Obama has undercut the General’s demands by 10,000 soldiers, and the media consensus by 4,000 – what a guy!

He also spent a very long time coming to this decision.

We are supposed to feel – as has been repeated in every media report I have read, seen, or listened to since this decision was made – that this was a decision Obama didn’t want to have to make; that he struggled long and hard with his conscience over this one, but the facts, in the end, were just too convincing to ignore…

Perhaps that idea would hold a little more weight had Obama’s long and torturous soul-seeking not ended in the entirely predictable outcome of an Afghanistan decision that completely conforms to over sixty years worth of historically consistent US Foreign Policy?

I remember a girlfriend I had once.  I knew I needed to break-up with her, but when I told her about it she told me that maybe I just needed a little more time to think about things?  She gave me the night to re-assess our relationship and said she’d be back in the morning for my real, thought-out, answer.

I knew all along that my answer wouldn’t change – I wanted to break up with the girl and the relationship was done.  But I also knew that the appearance of deliberation was important to her.  So I stayed in my room – not really thinking things over at all; just playing on my Playstation whilst she waited in her room hoping I would come to my senses. 

When we met the next morning, the illusion of deliberation complete, my decision to end the relationship carried a lot more gravitas to the girl in question – this wasn’t just a knee-jerk decision I’d come to after one or two bad dates, I’d thought about it, damn it!  It had pained me to come to my conclusions…

The whole idea that Obama legitimately wrestled with this issue is an insult to anyone actually aware of US Foreign Policy since the end of the Second World War.  Obama has simply done what every President before him has done for nearly seven decades.  Namely, whatever is best for elite power and business interests; human rights, international law, and the domestic population be damned!

Of course the next argument meant to salve my outrage is that, at the same time Obama committed yet more troops to this ridiculous war, he unveiled a timetable for withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Well, first off, excuse me for not being tremendously overjoyed at the news that this murderous and unnecessary war is now guaranteed to continue at least one and a half more years.  We could pull every single soldier out of that country today and be no less safe than we currently are – if anything, an immediate withdrawal, along with a publically made apology for invading an innocent country in the first place and the prosecution of George W Bush as a war criminal, would make us far safer, because the massive al-Qaeda problem we allegedly have now in Afghanistan and Pakistan is entirely the result of our having invaded both there and Iraq since 2001, as consecutive National Intelligence Estimates have concluded – but by committing to an escalation of the war – even a limited one – instead of a withdrawal, Obama has committed himself to both the continued occupation and massacre of a previously innocent country, and the assured radicalization of the native population into the terrorists of tomorrow; a self-perpetuating war machine.

Secondly – how exactly does Obama know that we will be out in 2011?  Escalating the war at this stage is a completely unknown variable: will our escalation be met with escalation from the other side?  Will things get progressively worse – as they did in Vietnam – until yet more troops are needed, and more pseudo-justifications for continued occupation are explored?

Let us not forget what I said above – the problem we are facing in Afghanistan now, is entirely the result of the initial 2001 invasion.  That invasion was illegitimate.  At the time – and arguably still today – there was no evidence of Afghanistan’s involvement in 9/11 (only that its alleged mastermind, bin Laden, was “hiding” there).  The Afghanis agreed to hand bin Laden over as soon as they were given evidence to support the claim that he was culpable for the 9/11 attacks.  No evidence came, and instead the bombs started falling.

If we are already justifying our continued occupation of the country on the basis of a situation that we have created ourselves, what is to stop us from staying long past 2011 if the additional 30,000 troops in the region cause even more complications that we then have to deal with?

The answer is nothing.  As always: what elite power wants, elite power shall get.  I’m sure that, if troops do stay past 2011, Obama will explain that decision to us too, with all the gravity that accompanied this one.  He will dwell long and hard on it.  He will seek advisement from experts and Generals.  He will play his role perfectly, maintain the illusion of “change”, and then – with his fabulous skill at oratory – he shall spin us the latest eloquent version of the exact same line of bullshit the Whitehouse has been shovelling out since 1945.

And even if the troops do leave Afghanistan in 2011; where will he send them to next?

I said throughout the Obama campaign that my central worry about this President – despite the obvious fact that no President in history has truly brought with them the change that they have promised – was that he was being portrayed as a dove on Iraq whilst his tremendously hawkish position on Afghanistan was often ignored. 

Obama, wrongfully perceived as the candidate for “peace”, spoke a lot about getting the troops out of Iraq – but he did so only via the argument that Iraq was a “distraction” from the real problem at hand: Afghanistan.

Obama never once questioned the legitimacy of the war in that country, and often he spoke of his desire to see attentions turned more thoroughly to it.  Indeed, he was implicitly arguing for troop escalation all along: we need to get our soldiers out of the unnecessary war in Iraq, so that we can put them where they need to be: Afghanistan.  That, my friends, is escalation.  That is taking the troops out of Iraq not so that they can go home and see their families or return to civilian life, but so that they can be re-assigned to a different – less controversial –unjustified war.

So the troops may well leave Afghanistan in 2011…but will they be leaving Afghanistan because the war will finally be over?  Because it will be acknowledged – at long last – that they were only ever causing more harm than good by being there?


They will likely be leaving Afghanistan in 2011 because intelligence will tell us that al-Qaeda has now moved further into Pakistan, and the soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan would be much better served relocating over the border.  The US is, after all, already funding private military contractors in the region to fight the war in Pakistan…by 2011 the country should be nicely softened up for a full-blown invasion.

And if Pakistan won’t do, there’s always Iran nearby…or North Korea…or we could always give good old Syria a go.  You see, until we have a President who actually stands up and acknowledges that this whole bogus war on terror is a crime, our troops will never be truly “coming home”, they will simply be re-fuelling and re-focusing for the next phase of this seemingly endless bloodbath.

30,000 more troops to Afghanistan may not seem like a lot compared to the numbers already there fighting – or compared to the much higher number demanded by General McChrystal – and getting troops out by the end of 2011 might even seem like real progress.  But what Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan really means, is that Obama is just another in a long line of confidence-tricksters who have manipulated their way to the Oval Office and pursued the consistent and unchanged policies of American imperialism whilst pretending to offer us change.  It means that he endorses this war, he endorses its duplicitous justificatory principles, and the fundamental wrongs of the war on terror will not be addressed during his Presidency, if they are ever addressed at all.

President Obama committed 30,000 more troops to the war in Afghanistan this week, and by doing so he showed us that the Bush years are far from over, and that democracy in the twenty-first century is as meaningless as slogans for change.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Sacking of David Nutt…

Check out THIS LINK to Scanner E-Zine for the first proper "The Jail Where Terrorists Make The Rules" column I've written in about six years - thoughts on the sacking of Professor David Nutt, UK drugs policy in general, why I support legalization of all drugs, despite being straightedge, and why the sacking of David Nutt points to a much deeper problem in government (that has life or death ramifications) as time after time agenda-driven policy is put ahead of science and empirical fact when making legislation...

 The Jail Where Terrorists Make the Rules was my long-running political column that I wrote, first for Smokin’ Troll online ‘zine, and then for the print fanzine, Scanner, between 1997 and 2003.  I’m now glad to announce that it is back as a regular, bi-monthly feature, over at Scanner’s online home.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

If you liked Agent Orange…you’ll LOVE this…

Here’s some of the real legacy of our illegal and unjustified war in Iraq. 

It turns out: “Doctors in Iraq's war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting.”

According to the Guardian’s excellent (and tragic) piece, published on Saturday - Huge rise in birth defects in Falluja | World news | guardian.co.uk - “The rise in frequency is stark – from two admissions a fortnight a year ago to two a day now. ‘Most are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs,’ [Falluja general hospital's director and senior specialist, Dr Ayman Qais] said. ‘There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of less than two years [old] with brain tumours. This is now a focus area of multiple tumours.’”

Oh, and don’t forget about the “baby born with two heads”…

Where are the poppies for the “flipper babies”?

Monday, 16 November 2009

David Cameron’s (Empty) Pledges

So I received a hilarious (and glossy) newsletter the other day from my local Conservative councillors here in Birmingham, and on the back of this dull piece of dross about 20mph zones and anti-social behaviour orders was the most hilarious political “filler” I have ever seen.

Entitled “David Cameron’s Pledges”, this third of a page is, I assume, meant to be the early yawning-signs of an ambitious party coming to life before a general election, but all it really is, once they are actually thought about, is a collection of empty platitudes that are as hollow as they are meaningless.

If you save money your whole life, …you will be rewarded” goes the first one.  Well, great.  But that’s not really David Cameron’s pledge is it?  That’s the pledge of basic economics.  If you save money your whole life, the reward is all that money you saved.  End of story.

If you are frightened, …we will protect you”

Well…I hope so.  That’s kind of the government’s job.  The State provides police, armies, social services…you know, all the things that we use to protect ourselves against the things that we fear, and these same protective social institutions have existed under twelve years of a Labour government too.  Last I heard, I don’t recall Gordon Brown saying that a re-elected Labour government were not going to protect us in the future?  Do you?

If you want to raise a family, …we will support you.”

Yeah, because for twelve years the Labour Party have been doing their level best to dissuade us from raising our families.  Since 1997, prospective mothers and fathers have become social pariahs all across the country, spat at for wanting children, reviled for keeping a pet…  And all those various tax credits and benefits that Labour have implemented for working families (and that the Tories want to take away come 2010), they have been designed specifically not to support families under a Labour government. 

Meanwhile, let us not forget, it was eighteen years of a neo-liberal Conservative government between 1979 and 1997 that brought us to our current situation, where it now requires two wages per family to bring home the same amount of real-term money that just one wage would have brought in during the 1970s.  Ah progress, don’t it taste sour? 

If you risk your safety to stop a crime, …we will stand by you.”

Because the running theme of the past twelve years has been the Labour government jailing and condemning those who risk safety to stop a crime?  Under David Cameron’s new government, I can only assume that this means he is condoning carte blanche for Watchmen-style vigilantism. 

“I injured my arm hitting a cricket bat into the hoodie’s skull after he terrified our neighbourhood by…gasp…riding his bike!”

“We will stand by you!  No jail!  More cricket bats!”

If you start your own business, …we will be right behind you.”

Ignoring how sinister that sounds (right behind you…lurking; right behind you…ready to skim off our 10%), again, we have the false impression that somehow the Labour government are not right behind small businesses.

Every government in living memory has paid lip service to the idea of being “behind” small businesses whilst, in reality, helping to finance the mega-corporations that crush them.  The Tories did just this from ‘79 to ‘97, and Labour have continued from ‘97 to the present. 

The stuff about high taxation, etc is all a misleading red herring – the real reason small businesses often fail is not because of the overheads they couldn’t afford, but because of the monolithic competition they have no feasible means to defeat!

If you risk your life to fight for your country, …we will honour you.”

Great.  Because Labour have spent the eight years of the war on terror publically spitting on soldier’s graves, haven’t they?

Any idiot can honour the dead (Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, and John Major all did it last week – callously placing poppies in “honour” of the innocent people they knowingly sent off to die in unnecessary wars to protect the economic interests of a small minority of powerful elites); the trick is keeping these people alive, not unnecessarily sending them into harm’s way.    

Yes – the war on terror transpired under Labour’s watch.  But let’s not forget, it was with the full, unwavering support of the Tories.  And as for Iraq – we would not have been there in the first place had it not been for the Tories’ original invasion back in ‘91.  A war which, technically, never ended until the 2003 invasion.

A lot of dead soldiers have been “honoured” by Conservative and Labour governments alike over the years…few have been spared their unnecessary sacrifice in the first place, and that’s the real missing pledge.

We will reward those who take responsibility, …and care for those who can’t.”

If you’re interested in how this pledge pans out, see UK History, circa 1979 – 1997.  At its heart, the guiding Conservative philosophy is simply incapable of achieving this goal.  A more likely scenario, therefore, is: “we will reward those who take responsibility, …and demonize those who can’t.”

Remember kids: those who don’t remember their past are condemned to repeat it.  And those who are taken in by David Cameron and his empty, meaningless pledges, will be condemned to experience a brand new, 21st Century version, of one of the 20th Century’s last great living hells.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Close…but no Cigar…

I’m still struggling to see how the American people can be happy with a lousy and complicated (not to mention entirely retrograde, vis-a-vis abortions) healthcare bill that will extend coverage to only 96% of the population, when covering 100% through a simple, government-run, universal healthcare system, akin to the British NHS, is not only possible, but the demonstrable norm is most of the developed world?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Evolution is a Mystery

As evolution gains another victory for sense and reason against the superstitious forces of ignorance and religion, with the announcement that the theory will soon be added to the primary school curriculum here in the UK, I feel it’s finally time to dispel a ludicrous myth that has been doing the rounds under the guise of "journalism” over the past few weeks.

"Teach both evolution and creationism say 54% of Britons" ran a headline in the Guardian on Monday, October 26th, followed by the worrying first paragraph: “More than half of British adults think that intelligent design and creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons – a proportion higher than in the US”, and for the next 24 hours, you couldn’t move online without seeing a link somewhere to this report, citing it as some kind of evidence of our intellectual downfall as a nation.

54% of people in favour of teaching creationism?  What are we – America?

Well, what people didn’t seem too keen on exploring was the actual details behind this misleading headline.  Namely, that the question within the Ipsos Mori survey which led to this supposed conclusion did not actually ask British adults whether or not they thought that creationism should be taught in schools alongside the theory of evolution.  Rather, it asked if participants agreed or disagreed with the statement: "Evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism."

Of the 973 people polled, about 54% said that they “agreed”.

So really, the headline is that the majority of people polled believed that evolution, not creationism, should be taught in schools, alongside theories such as “intelligent” design and creationism, which the wording of the question makes it appear are already being taught there, with evolution pitched as the interloper.

Maybe as well as adding evolution to the primary school curriculum, we might do well to add a little critical thinking and philosophy in there too, to prevent any further misunderstandings of relatively simple poll data?

Sunday, 8 November 2009


Today is Remembrance Sunday, and for the first year ever, I have – intentionally – not bought a poppy.

For those who do not know, the “poppy” which I am talking about is the red, black and green, paper and plastic representation of the flower, sold each year in the UK by the British Legion, in commemoration of those killed in war.  Started in 1921, following the end of the First World War, the British Legion is a charity dedicated to providing financial, social and emotional support to current or former servicemen and women, and their dependants, in the British Armed Forces.  The remembrance poppy takes its symbolism from the poem of Canadian soldier and physician, John McCrae, In Flanders Field:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


The idea is simple: by wearing a poppy in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day on November 11th each year, we honour the memory of those who have died in war.  Further still: by buying our poppies exclusively from the British Legion, this exercise acts as a great fundraising opportunity to collect money and look after those soldiers injured, or otherwise in financial need, after the multiple horrors of war.

In previous years, I have grudgingly worn the poppy because, although I oppose all unnecessary wars, the idea of remembering how many people have died in war seemed as good a way as any to remind people that war is a murderous and unconscionable evil that is far too often invoked by our leaders to sort out petty power squabbles and economic battles, at great and unforgiveable human cost.  If wearing a stupid symbol on my jacket made a few people remember that war actually kills real people, and the couple of quid I threw into the donation bucket helped out some poor amputee soldier recover from their heinous exploitation at the hands of an uncaring government, then why the hell not?

But as eight long years of the unjustified war on terror have repeatedly shown me the same despicable spectacle each November – the very same leaders who knowingly send these manipulated and unquestioning young men and women off to needless and unnecessary wars, feigning grief and sorrow as they disingenuously lay poppy-wreaths at Cenotaphs for the fallen – I have finally decided that there are plenty of reasons why not.

“Remembering” our war dead means nothing if that remembrance does not also mean learning.  Learning that war is the single most terrible thing that the state can involve its citizens in; that it must only be used as a last resort, and even then, with as much protection for non-combatants and the innocent as is possible under kill-or-be-killed conditions. 

Every time I see killers in government, hypocritically wearing a poppy in remembrance of those soldiers they have essentially murdered by sending them into harm’s way for no good reason – or for all those soldier-deaths still to come, as long as our troops remain in Afghanistan – it makes me sick, and tells me that any meaning the poppy might once have had, is now gone. 

Like a serial-killer who still attends church on Sunday and kneels before the cross, these empty symbols become meaningless in the absence of meaningful action.

What does “remembrance” even mean these days?  For those who have friends or family who have died performing military service, the answer is obvious.  But then, these people no doubt grieve and mourn for their loved ones each and every day, and do not need to be told that their tears and sorrow are somehow more appropriate on November 11th than they are on any other day of the year.  For the rest of us, “remembrance” must mean learning, or else it is simply a mawkish and pointless exercise in group depression.

After the first world war, why did we remember?  Well, we remembered because there was something there to learn: by remembering those who died defending our lives, we honoured the sacrifice these soldiers had made.  Hopefully, we learned that our lives were precious; that their lives had been precious, and that no generation of people should ever have to go through that kind of death and destruction again.

Even then, however, the lessons – the poppies – were ignored.  Twenty years later, we had the second world war and yet more precious lives were lost again.

Of course, there have arguably been no more “world wars” since WWII, and certainly none with as great a death toll, both of soldiers and civilians, so perhaps we finally did learn that lesson?  On the other hand though, what has transpired in the interim decades has, perhaps, been even worse: a normalization of small-scale wars to the point that their political use is now barely even questioned anymore.

As I’ve said a hundred times: to go to war with Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks on the United States was not simply the “strategic mistake” it is acknowledged to be today, it was an unjustified and immoral attack on an innocent country which had not – as a nation – committed an act of aggression against the countries which now invade it.  It was the moral equivalent of, say, Russia going to war against Italy after a group of nineteen French, British and Spanish extremists flew planes into the Kremlin under orders from a lone lunatic who once took a holiday to Venice!

But even without all the faulty arguments which led us to war with Afghanistan, what was important was that, following the 9/11 attacks, the question wasn’t: “oh my god, why would somebody do this to us; how can we stop it from happening in the future?”, it was: “who are we going to kill for this; where are we going to war?” 

The reason for this, is because war, in the twenty-first century, is simply what you do when some foreign country is giving you trouble: you invade (or you pay others to invade for you).  So we invaded Afghanistan in 2001 the way we’d done in Iraq back in ‘91, the way we’d done in Kosovo back in ‘99; the way we’d done in the Falklands back in ‘82, and the way that America has been doing since 1945 in Korea, Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Haiti, Vietnam, Ecuador, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama…to name but a few!

Year after year, following that second world war (the lapsed sequel to that infamous “war to end all wars”) our governments continue to treat the lives and limbs of our soldiers as their personal geo-political playthings, and here, in Britain, every November 11th, they put on their poppies, bow their heads in silence, and they claim to “remember”.

So this year I have decided to opt out of the empty charade. 

I honoured the fallen soldiers when I marched on London back in 2001 in opposition to the proposed war in Afghanistan; I honoured them again in 2003 when I marched with millions of other real patriots to oppose the proposed war in Iraq; I have honoured them for the full eight years of the hateful war on terror by continuing to spread the truth about our unnecessary and unjustified occupation of a country that bore no responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and I honour them still today, all these years later, as I continue to fight against these illegal and unjust wars and do my best to bring these soldiers home

And I do all of this without a poppy.  Because putting a pound into a charity box and pinning an empty gesture onto your lapel isn’t doing anything to help our soldiers.  Nor is standing silently for two minutes at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month every goddamn year; such “remembrance” is futile so long as we continue to treat our living soldier’s lives with contempt and disregard.

Importantly, until we also have a day of remembrance for the true victims of war – the non-combatants; the innocent corpses of “collateral damage” our governments refuse even to acknowledge, let alone record the numbers of – then our remembrance remains incomplete.  Because when soldiers aren’t truly fighting to defend us – when they are simply being used as tools by our government to carve up the world and its resources into profitable fodder for power and profit-hungry corporations – can we really call these people “heroes”?  Do they not then just become killers, or, at best, misguided and manipulated manslaughterers, with innocent blood on their hands?

Where are the poppies for the hundred thousand Iraqi civilians killed since 2003?  Why do the families killed in Afghanistan, for no bigger crime than having an unfortunate country-of-residence, not deserve to be honoured too?

I shall not be wearing a poppy this year, and I shall not be wearing a poppy in the future either, until this supposed day of remembrance becomes more than a photo opportunity for politicians, absolving their shame and culpability in the glow of blood-red flowers, and becomes a truly meaningful day of learning: no life should be murdered by the actions of a rapacious and blood-thirsty state; not a citizen’s, not a soldier’s, and not a civilian.  War is hell.  War is always hell.  There is rarely any justification for this grotesque act of human hatred, and there are never any heroes; war leaves us only ever victims.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Undercover at Royal Mail: The Army Comes to Town…

Intriguing to see the Guardian’s Steven Morris going undercover and getting a job via Manpower as one of the new Royal Mail casual workers supposedly not hired to counteract the effects of the postal strike. 

Undercover at Royal Mail: parcel basketball, scabs and yorks | UK news | guardian.co.uk

More intriguing, however, is the information passed on to me from some postal worker friends: in some branches across the country, the ARMY are making visits this week to offer “employment advice” to striking workers.

Hmmm, the government supports the intentional self-destruction of Royal Mail, mass redundancies masqueraded as “modernization” and now, when the workforce is finally used up and spat out, intends to ship all the able bodies off to Afghanistan. 

Is that what they call “balancing the budget” these days?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Moving The Goalpoasts of Modernization

The following was sent to me by postman, Adam Brazier, for anyone wanting a real insight into what has led to the current dispute between the CWU and the Royal Mail. One man’s story of what “modernization” really means…


By Adam Brazier

I have worked for Royal Mail for well over a decade. In that time, I’ve seen some changes, gone the extra mile, and entered into the spirit of the change I was sold. The first was what they described as ‘The Way Forward’. This tagline soon ended when they realised the nonsensical ‘Consignia’ name-change was commercial madness. If the management had bothered to ask any of us, we would have told them, when we weren’t laughing. The Consignia thing, always struck me as a clear sign of management intentions; privatisation. After all, they wouldn’t really be able to use the ‘Royal’ bit if they were in the private sector would they?

Then they invested millions in a computer system for post office benefits payments, that didn’t work. More money wasted (and one of the real reasons they couldn’t turn a profit for years). Then attention began to turn to us, the humble donkeys, who had it easy... doing all the work. The new tagline ‘modernisation’ came into being, and we were all convinced, over a period of years, by more and more ‘team talks’, ‘briefings’ and ‘huddles’. Week on week, we were sold the big new idea, along with phrases like; ‘the way the business is going’, repeated ad nauseam as justifications for every necessary evil.

Then came the time when they took away your second delivery and Sunday collections, not to mention changing mail delivery times to long to after you’ve all gone to work. The carrot on the stick, to accept taking up to half an extra workload for zero remuneration, later in the day, was the next mantra; ‘job and finish’. The concept of job and finish, was that we would accept all this, and in return, management would turn a blind eye to us getting half hour here, or half hour there, as an incentive to get the new increased workload done, in a speedy and efficient manner. The agreements were signed. We were moving towards the future and there were to be four phases.

Before the ink had dried and while we were struggling with our new workload, a new phrase came into being; ‘we just want you to work the hours you are paid’. We never heard ‘job and finish’ again, which now gets used to somehow portray us as lazy, work-shy, corner-cutters, eager to swan off down the boozer at midday complaining that we have to work our hours. Since the revision about four years ago, when we had an extra half of our workload added on top, we have had two further ‘revisions’ in our office. And each time, we get extra work, same pay (there’s been a freeze for a while now, but we understand, these are tough times). The latest revision happened to us this last spring, I willfully took on the new round, and signed the new contract, in the spirit of change which I had been sold. A month later, I took the family away and on my return, I was called into the manager’s office; “While you were away, we had some teething problems. We’ve added two streets to your walk, trialed it, and it works.” “How can it not work?” I thought, “you’re just giving me more to do”. I now deliver to going on 500 houses 6 days a week.

As well as the threat of instant dismissal if we forget to put our cycle helmets on in the early hours (‘health and safety’ or insurance claim worries?), there are other things that have happened recently. There’s a certain TV guide that we have always delivered monthly, and ever since I have worked there, we have had three days to deliver them unless they are late and it’s near the end of the month. Last month, I was again summoned to the manager’s office. A pile of these TV magazines were in front of me. It was what I had left from the day before, and was due to finish that day, a day ahead of schedule. My contract was waved at me and I was told I could be sacked on the spot, but they would let me off this time. Apparently the rules had changed, and from now on I had to deliver them all in one day, and if I did it again I would be sacked. I asked why I hadn’t been told, but apparently I had, and I must’ve not heard it. A common occurrence in our workplace. I guess the manager’s must walk down the aisles whispering our new diktats for that week. It got to the point a while ago, where I started joking to my workmates on a Monday morning; “So what’s new since last week? What are we doing differently today?”

Very recently, a new imposition came into being. If we fail to get a Special Delivery signed, we now have to phone the office by 1:30pm so they can tell the computer ahead of it’s return by the van driver. I had some difficulty remembering when I got home (probably due to being a bit tired), and last week I phoned in 45 minutes late. Yet again, I was whisked into the manager’s office and told that as a punishment, they had no choice to make me report back to the office every day at 1:30pm. My round is a couple of miles from the office and I cycle. The reason for this is apparently that for every failure to report Special (non) Deliveries, the boss gets £15 docked from his bonus. Management go to great lengths to repeatedly tell us about ‘bullying and harassment’. Maybe this is what they are on about. These constant changes in rules and regulations brings to mind my favourite Ayn Rand quote: "There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws."

A few months ago, I couldn’t take the pressure and the backbiting culture of the letter sorting anymore and decided to buy my hours down. In return for cutting my hours to 30 a week, I got a pay-off and took the kids on that holiday I mentioned. I take home £200 a week (as well as being a regular Royal Mail customer too, putting a fair chunk back). I don’t consider myself lazy. Like my workmates, most days I work like a dog. We don’t have breaks. We don’t sit down at all from the time we walk in the office to the time we walk into our houses. And we definitely don’t get to sit on the internet in offices posting about how lazy workers in other jobs are. Of course, we are entitled to breaks, but if we take them, there is no way we will finish on time, and then questions will be asked, and punitive measures implemented.

What about the ‘volumes are falling’ mantra you ask? Well, we’re delivering more than ever. You’re getting more junk, more bills and many many more packages, and that’s good for the company surely? They just do to the mail volume figures what is done to crime and unemployment figures. Reassign certain things, give other things different names, and then, as if by magic, they aren’t counted in the figures anymore. Check the postmarks on your mail. All those non-Royal Mail logos are companies that ‘deregulation’ allows to make a profit for sorting, only to hand back to Royal Mail to deliver for peanuts. The internet is like a golden goose for a company like Royal Mail. I’ve always wondered why, apart from delivering the eBay packages, the management didn’t really go to town with the possibilities of the web for a company positioned like it is.

Doublespeak is also a common managerial tool. This last few months we’ve had a spate of people apparently ‘talking out of school’ where we’ve been called into meetings to be punished by being made to watch videos before we are allowed to deliver the mail due to people apparently doing this. ‘Talking out of school’ is apparently one of our number talking to postmen from other offices about working practices in our office. The line we are sold is that we have it better than other offices, and therefore ‘loose lips sink ships’. Somehow, I see this as simply divide and conquer. Each office is isolated and encouraged, by threat, not to communicate with others. And by the way, as soon as there were murmurs of this strike months ago, our boss announced in a meeting about it; “I just so happen to be reading a book on the miner’s strike at the moment, and this is the way I see this going, to the bitter end.” Dressed as an observation, I believe this was a briefing, and quite a lot of manager’s ‘happened’ to be reading that same book. The implied threat. The invisible stick. That same observation is now getting regular airplay in the media, including The Sun’s feature on how the police are being prepared to deal with us. Isn’t Mr. Murdoch a shareholder in TNT? Isn’t Mr. Mandelson too? I’m sure I read that somewhere. Funny how that company name keeps popping up as the favoured buyer. You, the public, are being primed.

A dark chapter for me was before the last general election, when, as usual, I refused to deliver the racist BNP leaflets. Something which is getting harder and harder to do, even with the CWU’s ‘conscience clause’ (this last local election my bosses words were ‘f*** that’ in response to my citing said clause). As usual, I left the leaflets on my work fitting, then one morning I came into work and someone had graffitied it with the words “You F***in’ C***!” with three swastikas underneath. I was shocked. The room span. I don’t know if you know what it feels like to be surrounded by people and not know who would do something like that, but it’s not pleasant. I told my line manager at the time. He laughed and mumbled something about it being childish. I asked him if there was anything that could be done as I’d photographed the graffiti. He told me to write a letter and he would put it on the notice board. I told him that advertising it would hardly solve the problem. I then asked him; “What about the CCTV cameras you are always tell us are watching us?” He replied with a wry smile; “They’re not on.” I lost a little bit of faith right there. I didn’t tell the union as I just felt like no-one would help me at that point, and I didn’t want to attract anymore attention to myself.

Another great moment was being put on a stage one disciplinary (three strikes and you’re out) for nearly dying, but being saved, within hours, by a lifesaving operation. This operation meant I had to take six weeks off to recover. It was the only blemish on a spotless sick leave record, but I was treated the same as if I’d pulled a sickie and just felt like some time off. Hauled in the office on ‘unavoidable’ disciplinary charges. This was after six weeks of daily phone calls asking me when I would be back in work, when I could barely move to pick up the phone.

The problem with Royal Mail is not the workforce, the problem lies with the people who’ve spent the pension I’ve been paying in for years. Those with a vested interest in running this all into the ground to get their hands on the loot before the Tories do when they get into power. Chairman Allan Leighton has gone now. He used to run the Royal Mail, the UK’s largest employer, from Canada a couple of mornings a week for a million quid while running his real businesses over there before going on the telly to tell us that we needed to get ‘significantly more motivated’ than we were. Adam Crozier seems to be doing alright. He gets bonuses for closing Post Offices. Good money if you can get it I guess. Although a practice reminiscent of making us stand by our work fittings every day, waiting to be allowed to leave and deliver the mail. Sometimes we wait for an hour, sometimes it’s half an hour. Either way, how many companies do you know that rewards inefficiency? It’s like a race to the bottom. A race to the bottom for a reason. It’s the same class of people who stand to gain in this, as the bankers and the politicians caught with their hands in the till.

And that’s why I personally think that ‘modernisation’ is simply a buzzword for preparing the company for a sell-off. It’s the same old story: Get public finances to buy all this shiny new machinery they keep talking about, while destroying public confidence. Demoralise the workforce, sideline the trade union, and get everything positioned perfectly for a bargain price quick buck for government debt, and then all the private profit can go out un-noticed once the deal is done. A deal that will miraculously see the private sector sort out all the problems and turn the company around. The old ‘the rich take the credit and the poor take the blame’ axiom. Next in line once they’ve sold Royal Mail will be the NHS, once they’ve convinced you that the ‘filthy hospitals’ need ‘modernisation’.

Do you know what the fourth phase of ‘modernisation’ is? It’s supposed to be the last phase, but something tells me that this is a permanent revolution, until it gets sold. Apart from the automated sorting machines to again increase the amount of mail we can deliver a day, the next phase is to take the postman’s bike away and stop those postal workers who use their own vehicles (at their own cost). The postmen will then go out in teams of four in vans, and be tied to those vans, returning back and forth to get mail for delivery until everyone is done. These four postmen will not take out four rounds, they will take out five, and the fifth will be split between the four in the spirit of one of the many new buzzwords ‘Flexibility’. Why? To slow down the postal service so that we ‘work our hours’ and you get your mail even later, and in an even more disorganised manner. Why? Because when they come over the tannoy every day asking if any of us want EVR (Early Voluntary Redundancy), those of us who leave, will not be replaced. Every full-timer who leaves, his or her round is ‘absorbed’ into the surrounding postal worker’s duties. The only people coming into ‘the business’ now are on 20 hour contracts. What is the end result? A part-time workforce with no rights, no pension and no union. This is what they really mean by ‘modernisation’: death by a thousand cuts. Their vision for the future is a mail service akin to working at McDonald’s. How much will your privatised ‘postman’ care about ‘the service’? I don’t know, as I doubt any of us will be working there by then.


For more interesting reading check out:

John Pilger: The New Statesman

Victoria Coren: The Observer

Friday, 23 October 2009

Intelligence and Decency Won Last Night on Question Time…but at What Cost?

So the Question Time BNP debacle has now been and gone.  By all accounts, including my own, Nick Griffin was well and truly trounced.  He was shown to be cowardly, evasive, manipulative, disingenuous, grimly unfunny, racist, ignorant, and, surprise surprise, a homophobe as well.

All week long the BNP have, quite rightly, been demonized in the British media.  As speculations grew about exactly what questions might be asked of the racist party leader come Thursday night, the press was filled with reminders of the veritable catalogue of repugnant thoughts, quotes and deeds that might come back to haunt Nick Griffin, exposing him and his views before he’d even stepped foot on the Question Time stage. 

Another leak of the BNP membership data added to the embarrassment, exposing the charlatan methodology the party uses to fix its numbers – as the Nazi Party did before it – in order to create the false appearance of a party much bigger than it really is.

This morning, reflecting on last night’s broadcast, a smorgasbord of offensive and dull-headed sound-bites have played across the media, further exposing the hollowness and toxicity of the BNP and it’s leader: Griffin’s shady use of language in claiming that he was not “convicted” of holocaust denial; his refusal to explain his position on the holocaust on the basis that such talk would be illegal, despite Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s repeated assurance it was legal to do so; his ridiculous cartoon image of “indigenous” British people that had no basis in either history or reality; his outright admission that he was courting the support of former Ku Klux Klan leaders, with the ludicrous added caveat that this particular Klan was a “non-violent” one; his ignorant denunciation of Islam on the basis of selective passages from the Qur’an that have near-identical (and just as explosive) corollaries with passages from the Christian bible; his inability to disavow statements he has made in the past claiming that the only way to get the real agenda of the BNP across would be by first presenting a facade of electability to the British public in order to get voted; and, amongst other obnoxious incidents of evasiveness, idiocy and outright racism, the declaration that homosexuality is “creepy”.

Oh yes…Nick Griffin and his BNP have been well and truly exposed this week, and every single person in the Question Time audience and Question Time panel made sure that the feelings of the majority of the British public were made clear: you are a racist, your party is a racist party, and we reject your views and your politics of hate entirely.


I’m still not sure that Question Time was the right place to do this.

The reason is: last night what I saw on TV was not Question Time.  What it was, was what I said it always should have been: a live television debate about the BNP’s legitimacy and politics, wherein their views were expressed and then routinely exposed and destroyed.

The usual Question Time format went completely out the window – although, ironically, it was only because of the BNP’s appearance on there that it was: Question Time usually spends its hour asking its panel questions about the week’s politics.  As the decision to include Nick Griffin on the panel became news in itself, the story dominated the week’s news, and thus also, logically, dominated the Question Time questions.

The facts are though (and they have been at the root of this controversy since the decision was first announced): including someone as poisonous as Nick Griffin on a show like Question Time, as if his views on the week’s most pressing issues were as valid as anybody else’s, is an incredibly dangerous game.  It absolutely gives his parasitical party of hate – self-admittedly putting on a front of false respectability in order to become electable first, and then enact their true agenda later – the appearance of a legitimacy that they not only do not deserve, but that they simply do not have as a political organization in this country.

Taking previous week’s Question Time questions: do I want to hear an unashamed racist’s opinion on Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton Du Beke calling his fellow dancer a “paki” backstage and the controversy sparked by Bruce Forsythe’s radio comments on the subject; do I want him adding anything to the debate about MPs expenses, from which the BNP have currently benefitted under the false narrative that they are an “outsider” party who can save us from “elite” expenses-swindling politicians; do I want Nick Griffin’s thoughts on how we can best cut public spending in this country and sort out the growing deficit, when I know that the BNP’s position is that “foreigners” are “coming over here” and “stealing” all our money in benefits?

No.  Because it is not adding anything to these debates other than age-old lies and propaganda; lies and propaganda that have long been rejected and dismissed as illegitimate. 

It is not simply another opinion in a wide spectrum of differing opinions, that deserves an equal hearing; it is an intentionally malicious and misleading opinion that remains as disreputable and dangerous now as it was when it was first rejected after the Second World War seventy years ago.

Now, again - and this distinction is important – I am not saying that these opinions should therefore be banned from TV and repressed entirely; I am simply saying that there is no more place for them on a show like Question Time than there is for the opinions of a man with severe brain damage who can answer questions on the politics of the day, only by linking every answer he gives to the imagined betrayals of his wife.

Should a man with weird brain damage who blames his innocent wife for all the world’s evils be allowed on TV?  Yes, of course he should.  But should he be up on the Question Time panel debating the issues of the day with prominent politicians as if he is their equal?  Probably not.

The BBC clearly began to realize this, however, for, as I said, the Question Time that was on last night was not the usual Question Time format.  All the questions were directed at the BNP and its policies, and all four of the other panellists couldn’t help but demolish Griffin and his ignorance.  Even the one “non BNP” question – about Jan Moir’s appalling Daily Mail article about Boyzone singer Stephen Gately’s death – was really about exposing more of Nick Griffin’s intolerance and homophobia; continuing the attack that reduced him to a hate-fuelled and preposterous clown rather than a serious political threat.

Now, all of this was to the good, and it made for excellent viewing: but it wasn’t Question Time, it was something else.  So why not call it something else?  Why did the BBC insist on “putting Nick Griffin on Question Time” instead of fulfilling its self-professed commitment to give air-time to all elected officials by airing a one-off special debate about the recent rise of the BNP and what it means for British politics?  The results would have been the same: racism and stupidity simply cannot hold up under scrutiny.  But there would have been none of the bad taste in our mouths about the staining of the Question Time legacy, nor the ready-made spin for Griffin and the BNP this morning where they – almost rightly – claimed that the Question Time appearance was an ambush.  Indeed, I worried as I watched Griffin get pounded time after time with truth and exposure that left him floundering and useless against the sheer force of his four fellow panellists’ denunciations, that some people might even begin to feel sympathy for the man.

With the BNP already positioned as the “outsider” party for “indigenous” (white) Brits who feel alienated by the political establishment; did the appearance of that political establishment, and the BBC, throwing away the usual Question Time format to gang up on their leader not add to that narrative marvellously?

Will it not be used for months, or even years, to come as propagandistic evidence that Griffin is some sort of courageous underdog, standing up to the system that wants to keep “people like him” down?

For someone like me; last night was like pornography.  An idiot racist was getting eviscerated by intelligence and fact in the face of his ignorance, evasion and lies. 

But I could have happily watched that same pornography in another time-slot and left Question Time to be Griffin-free late…discussing things like the postal strikes; bonuses for bankers; why the 10:10 bill was defeated in Parliament; suicide bombers in Iran, etc.  The usual Question Time fodder.

Instead of that, we had a week in which the BNP dominated the news, Question Time, and everything else. 

Sure: for most of us, it just proved what we always knew: the party is racist, disgusting and vile.  For some though, perhaps this week of exposure has been like an ongoing advert for a party they never realized existed.  A party who share their racist views; who are saying the things the other parties aren’t saying; a party who they will choose to vote for next time…

Freedom of speech should never be abandoned, and Question Time, though arguably the wrong venue for this debate, acted admirably and successfully in letting the British National Party have just enough rope to hang itself…  But only time will tell if, by doing so, it has also allowed the party to expand its poisoned message, increase its visibility and legitimacy, and simultaneously generated sympathy for its hideous party leader.

Last night we anti-fascists certainly won the battle, but the war, I fear, is still very far from over…

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Why Small Businesses are (Apparently) More Important than Postal Workers…

Why is it that we’re supposed to feel sorry for all these small businesses that might go under because of the postal strikes, but not for the postal workers themselves, whose jobs are equally at threat?

The answer is obvious – one set of job losses is a long-planned component of official government and Royal Mail policy, whereas the other set of job losses will come as a result of industrial action which opposes that official government and Royal Mail policy.

Jobs are clearly only worth saving when they assure no threat to power.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Yet More Change We Can Believe In…

Thanks Obama…while we’re still waiting on that healthcare, the end of the war on terror, and the real economic recovery for working people that you promised, why don’t you go and allow some offshore oil drilling in the Arctic to pass the time.  Oh you did?  Fantastic…

US gives Shell green light for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic - Guardian - 20/10/09

Dispatches: Ready For a Riot

I couldn’t help but thinking as I watched Channel Four’s Dispatches documentary last night, Ready For A Riot, that when the police spoke of there being only two ways of dealing with “public order offences” (protests) – containment or crowd dispersal – they were forgetting secret option number 3: do nothing and let the protest run its course.

I have not been to a single protest yet where the police presence has helped keep the peace; yet almost every protest that I have attended in which the police have been involved has ended in either a riot, or running violence.

The assumption made – at least in public, where the admission of plain and simple oppression of dissident opinion would be too damaging – is that protests need policing, or else they might get out of hand.

How about we start making a new assumption though, one actually based on evidence: police turn peaceful protests into riots time after time after time.  Protests do not automatically need to be contained or dispersed, they need to be listened to and embraced – without any policing at all – because they are the cornerstone of any functioning democracy.

Now I would be perfectly happy for police to come in – riot vans and all – and restore law and order after an un-policed protest erupted into a genuinely threatening riot (were that ever to happen), but until the citizens of a country are trusted enough that they can voice their political opinions without fear of threat or violence from the State, then we will never truly live in a democracy.

Working for the Royal Mail: An Insider’s Perspective…

I was pointed in the direction of this anonymous diary entry from the London Review of Books after making some enquiries about the impending postal strikes.  I wanted to know what life was like these days for the average postman/woman working for Royal Mail.

London Review of Books - Diary by Roy Mayall - 24/09/09

  From what I’m told, this is a pretty accurate picture.

  Something for us to think about when we don’t get our post this Friday.

How To Tackle Climate Change (Without Tackling Climate Change)

I read this weekend that if the Tories win the next general election they are thinking of privatizing the MET Office

One has to wonder what will happen if the findings of the MET happen to conflict with those of their new private owners?  Is it too crazy to imagine a company who might buy the MET Office in order to make a lot of money selling business-friendly weather forecasts, but who aren’t so interested in the work the MET are also doing on Climate Change that might mean re-thinking other business interests the owner company might hold.

Once that information becomes the property of a private company and no longer belongs to the public, then it becomes information the private company can publish or suppress as it sees fit.

Don’t be surprised then, if the Tories get into power, to see Global Warming start to disappear almost overnight… 


Thanks to the good folks at FAIR for passing this bit of information on…

FAIR Blog » Bon Jovi Is News?

  It appears that Jon Bon Jovi is going to be saturating the NBC network soon, in order to promote a new movie…including appearances on the news. 

  First it was Starbucks on Morning Joe on sister network MSNBC…now this.

  Whatever happened to real news?

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Monday, 19 October 2009

US Chamber of Commerce falls victim to 'fraud' over climate hoax | Suzanne Goldenberg | Environment | guardian.co.uk


US Chamber of Commerce falls victim to 'fraud' over climate hoax | Suzanne Goldenberg | Environment | guardian.co.uk

Questioning Question Time…

On Thursday, Nick Griffin, MEP and leader of the racist British National Party, will take a seat on the much-hallowed panel of BBC Question Time…and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

The BBC’s argument for including the party on the show is that, having recently won two seats on the European Parliament, the BNP are now a legitimate UK political party, with undeniable voter support, whom they cannot simply ignore.  Just as they occasionally allow members of UKIP and the Green Party to sit on the Question Time panel, it is only fair, they say, to offer the same courtesy to the recently elected BNP, no matter how reprehensible their views might be to the majority of the British public.

But are the BNP really the same sort of entity as UKIP or the Greens?  Should an illegally constituted and inherently racist, white supremacist political party really be sharing a podium on national television with members of the Labour Party, Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats?

On the one hand, my dual beliefs in both freedom of speech and in the inherent paucity of substance that lie at the centre of idiotic far-right views lead me immediately to an I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death your right to say it kind of position: the only way to deal with deplorable and fascistic points of view is to expose them to the glare of public scrutiny and watch them shrivel and die. 

Once Griffin and his followers receive a loudspeaker from which to publically hurl their hate, reasonable people, it is hoped, will then hear their assorted nonsenses and see them for the empty-headed fallacies that they are. 

It is only by repressing and hiding vile and unsustainable philosophies such as these that we give them their power.  They become the “truths the powers-that-be don’t want you to know” instead of what they really are: hollow ciphers of ignorance and intolerance that manipulate political confusion and prey on the intellectually vulnerable.

By taking away the cloak of mystique and and disallowing fascists to hide in the shadows of their marginalization, we educate the public and expose racist scoundrels for what they are.  We see that these unjustifiable intolerances have no viable foundations on which they can be defended logically, rationally or morally, and that, under the most basic line of questioning, their positions indubitably fall apart. 

The issue vis-a-vis Question Time, however, isn’t so cut and dried.

Although I agree that the best way of destroying the BNP is by exposing their heinous views to public scrutiny and convincingly discrediting them through argument and debate, it does not necessarily follow that Question Time is the correct platform on which to do that.

Whilst, say, a documentary-style feature that demolished BNP positions one by one – allowing people like Griffin to defend their poisonous views as much as possible, only for them to inevitably fall victim to the vastly superior arguments and indisputable facts put forth by their opponents – (or even a one-off live debate special between BNP leadership and a collection of anti-fascist campaigners, human rights advocates, and members of the general public) would be a possible way for the BBC to acknowledge the depressing fact that two of these racists now have seats on the European Parliament, Question Time is a different beast altogether.  Question Time is not meant to be about putting each individual panellist on trial, but rather about answering the political questions of the day with a distinguished panel of politicians and cultural figures; the underlying assumption being that everyone on the panel is similarly qualified to answer the questions being put to them.

By appearing on the Question Time panel, your political voice becomes inherently legitimized.

Question Time is not a show designed to dissect BNP policies and Nick Griffin’s personal racism, but a show where the panellists are supposed to give their opinion on all the issues of the day – tax, immigration, law and order, foreign policy, the NHS, postal strikes…whatever.  When we sit there and ask someone like Nick Griffin what he thinks about the ongoing dispute between the CWU and Royal Mail, or what the BNP’s position might be on the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, we are not exposing the British National Party to the glare of public scrutiny – we are accepting them into British political establishment as equals, whose views are as legitimate as those of the current Cabinet, or the major opposition parties, and something about that gives me a slightly sick feeling in my belly.

It is one thing to recognize that, unfortunately, a small minority of the British public voted for the racist British National Party in the European Elections this year, and to want to create a dialogue about that fact instead of sweeping it under the rug…but it is quite another to pretend that this is a political party like any other.

The BNP are, without a shadow of a doubt, a white supremacist party, who have only now, under the threat of legal action, started looking into changing their constitution of their party to allow non-white members.  Not because they want non-white membership (or because they actually think there are any non-white people who would want to join once the constitution is changed), but because they must either do that or face drastic criminal charges that will end their political life.

Let’s just say that again for those who are hard of hearing: in 2009, the same year that the United States voted in the first African American President in history, the BNP quite literally do not allow people who aren’t white to be a member of their party.

Whilst I still do think that exposing people like Nick Griffin and the racist British National Party to public scrutiny is the best course of action, and that no view, no matter how reprehensible, should ever be censored…I remain unconvinced that denying a guest-spot on Question Time to the BNP is censorship.  There are many other television-based platforms and many other ways in which this discussion about the BNP could have been constructively held, but the one which gives these unashamed racists the appearance of political legitimacy leaves a very sour taste in my mouth indeed.

Still, I think it’s wise here to remember the words of John Stuart Mill:

the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Though Question Time might well be the “wrong” platform on which the BNP should be trounced, it is still as good a place as any for Nick Griffin to have his litany of errors collide with the shining light of truth.  The BBC could have handled this better, sure, but either way the conclusion is the same: we can only defeat ignorance by exposure and education, and it is my hope that on Thursday night, the BNP will be exposed.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Royal Mail hires 30,000 workers to crush strike | UK news | The Observer

Well…yesterday I speculated about whether the recent job ads I had received from Royal Mail might be an attempt to hire a union-busting replacement workforce…it appears my speculations might have been bang on the money…

Royal Mail hires 30,000 workers to crush strike | UK news | The Observer

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Queen is a Patron of Terror!

With a week that has seen one environmental activist arrested for suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage, and four other climate activists detained for attempting to travel to Copenhagen in advance of the UN climate talks being held there this December, I was amused to see a flier today in my local library advertising the huge “The Wave” event planned for December 5th in London.

My amusement was not at the event itself; in fact, my wife and I are planning to attend the protest ourselves, and I highly recommend anyone reading this who cares about the environment to do the same.  For those who don’t know, it’s a mass march planned in London on December 5th (dress-code: blue), starting at Grosvenor Square at 12pm, and ending at Parliament by 3pm, with the aim of encircling Parliament and forming, quite literally, a human wave of change.


My amusement was because this particular flier was on behalf of the RSPB, a charity whose Royal Patron is none other than Queen Elizabeth II.

As eco-activists are more and more being treated like criminals and terrorists in this country, being arrested under Prevention of Terrorism laws and conspiracy charges – indeed, as protest itself is being increasingly repressed and criminalized – it will be interesting to see what happens on December 5th. 

If “The Wave”, like every other radical mass-protest on London before it, is deemed in any way criminal by an over-reactive police force, or if any of its organizers or participants find themselves arrested on yet more jumped up charges of conspiracy-to-reduce-climate-change, one has to wonder: as Royal Patron of an organization involved in these allegedly despicable acts, will Queen Elizabeth herself now be culpable as a sponsor of radical eco-extremists?