Wednesday, 21 May 2008

If war criminals arrive at Gatwick, surely it's Sussex Police's job to arrest them?

Will they never learn? War criminals are not wanted here. George Bush will visit Britain Between June 9 and 16. The last time he was here, in November 2003, it provoked one of the biggest mid-week demonstrations in British history, with up to 300,000 on London's streets. Since then his war of terror has led to the loss of over a million lives and spread from Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan, Somalia and Kenya, with ever intensifying threats suggesting Iran is next.

When Condoleezza Rice visited in March 2006, it turned into a public relations disaster, with large demonstrations in Liverpool, Blackburn and everywhere else she went. Only last week the fanatical warmonger John Bolton, formerly Bush's ambassador to the United Nations and vociferous advocate of an immediate attack on Iran, cancelled a planned visit to Bristol for fear of the anti-war demonstration that was
planned to meet him.

I hope Sussex Police will feel able to arrest him should Air Force One choose to land at Gatwick. There is plenty of evidence that he is a war criminal after all, and the police do have powers to arrest those who have committed crimes abroad. Of course I doubt the Government will let them - but after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's insulting attitude at the Police Federation in Bournemouth today, I shouldn't think the police are feeling very well disposed to the Home Office's views at the moment...

On the other hand, maybe getting Sussex Police to arrest George Bush might just save things for Gordon Brown, and allow him to really lay the ghosts of Tony Blair and the label 'bottler Brown' to rest once and for all.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Government proposes biggest invasion of British privacy... ever!

I could hardly believe this at first, but it is The Times business section after all...

Apparently the Government is proposing the biggest invasion of British privacy ever: a single database of every phone call and email made, website visited and time spent online for everyone in the country - and all in the name of stamping out terrorism. Read the full story here.

Just imagine the amount of spam email and sales phone calls that will clog the system up before it even starts offering the government any genuine snooping opportunities.

This must be either a hoax - or a plan to create loads of work for IT and database companies in South East England (and therefore employment...). It surely can't have anything to do with terrorism, though?

If the Government is serious about reducing the risk of further terrorist attacks in the UK, perhaps it should start by ending its support for Israeli human rights atrocities, pull British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan - and instead spend some political capital stamping out starvation, political oppression and the rise of Christian and Muslim fundamentalism instead?

St James's Street 1 - Starbucks 0 (half-time score)

RESIDENTS and local traders in St James's Street are celebrating victory after local planners decided to reject an application to open a Starbucks coffee shop on the road.

Brighton and Hove City Council's planning department has agreed with more than 500 objectors that a Starbucks store would damage the unique character of the street by replacing yet another shop with a café.

Local planning guidelines say there must be a predominance of traditional shops in the area.

This is fantastic news and a victory for local democracy.

Many of the local traders we have spoken to as local councillors feel very strongly that a Starbucks café would threaten the viability of their businesses, and ultimately the unique character of the whole street.

More than 1,200 people have joined an internet campaign to campaign against the chain opening a branch in St James's Street.

But the campaign is far from over.

If Starbucks decides to appeal a decision will be taken by Government inspectors who could overturn local planners.

And flaws in the planing system meant the firm has already done much of the work – and already caused significant disturbance to local residents.

The building works have caused a great deal of disruption in the last few weeks, obstructing St James's Street and even closing neighbouring roads for Southern water to increase water supplies to the building.

That someone can commence building works, and even theoretically open for business, before they have permission to do so makes a farce of the planing system and undermines the power of communities and local authorities.

Monday, 19 May 2008

On the Verge

I have just watched the excellent Schmovies' film 'On the Verge'. It tells the story, sensitively (if a little one-sidedly) of the four-year SmashEDO campaign to close down Brighton-based arms manufacturer EDO-MBM. Lovely bunch EDO - the bits and bobs they make in Brighton are essential components of war planes and bomb mechanisms that have been responsible for the death of civilians and destruction of social infrastructure in Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia.

Pretty much everyone involved in the sustained attempts to halt the campaign and allow EDO-MDM to get on with its lawful activities making weaponry and murder weapons came in for severe criticism and ridicule, in pretty much equal measures. The firm itself, some of its key personnel, the private security firm hired to hassle the protesters, and especially the law and the lawyers responsible for drafting and interpreting it. But strangely, the police got off quite lightly, I thought.

I say strangely, because after a clumsy-seeming attempt to prevent 'On the Verge' being shown at the Duke of Yorks independent cinema last month, Sussex Police attracted ire in the local, national and international media, generating a level of interest in the film Schmovies can hitherto only have dreamed of. The whole saga was told particularly well in The Guardian. I'm sure the police's actions must have boosted audiences for the film enormously: I certainly wouldn't have found out about it so quickly without all the coverage. And everyone, myself included, assumed all the fuss must have been because the film contained hard evidence of police wrongdoing: harassment of peaceful activists, perhaps, or collusion with EDO-MBM's own security goons. But no - they were made to look a bit silly, of course, but on the whole they were seen to have acted fairly within the confines of a ludicrous legal system that is designed to stifle peaceful protest against lawful activities, like making weapons used to kill children. It's not the police's fault the law's an ass! Anyway, having seen the film I can only conclude the real reason the police tried to suppress the Duke of Yorks' showing was to generate some media coverage, boost support for the campaign accordingly and therefore hasten EDO-MDM's closure - freeing officers up to do something more useful instead, like dealing with alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour.

But don't take my word for it, the film is now available as a download.

so watch it and make your own mind up (there are certainly worse ways to spend 90 minutes of your life!)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

International Day Against Homophobia marked in Kemp Town

LGBT and human rights campaigners are holding a rally to mark 'IDAHOBIT' (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia) on the Kemp Town beach this Saturday, May 17th, next to the Volks' railway half-way station and 'Peter Pan's playground'.

There are still 77 countries across the world where homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment or even execution - a direct affront to international human rights law, which guarantees everyone's right to life, privacy within the family and freedom from discrimination in the eyes of the law.

We shouldn't put up with this. Our government, and others in the so-called 'Liberal West', should make respect for international human rights law a central plank of an enlightened foreign policy.

The trouble is our own record isn't so squeaky clean. We can hardly demand everyone else respects international law fully when we are breaking the same rules in Iraq, Afghanistan - and even Berkshire, where the Government has given the go-ahead to building the next generation of nuclear weapons in clear breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So not only do we not speak up about human rights abuses and homophobic discrimination elsewhere, we are actively complicit. Take the case of lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh. The Home Office wants to deport her to Iran, where she faces arrest and, possibly, being stoned to death, for her sexuality.

It's no surprise that conservative and neo-fascist regimes in Iran, China, Eastern Europe and even Berlusconi's Italy, continue to harass, abuse and discriminate against their citizens on the basis of their sexuality. That our Labour Government is up to its neck in it and refusing to campaign against it daily is much more shocking.

It really is time for a renewed international campaign on human rights. In the last century nations came together after the Second World War and developed a network of treaties, UN bodies and other international legal mechanisms to make sure its horrors were never repeated. Every new protection was hard won, and the system was far from perfect. Many nations (including those mentioned above who sill criminalise homosexuality) simply ignored the law.

But it was still considered a universal system, with broad support from around the world. The first decade of this century though has been marked by a weakening of the international legal system. Every breach - an invasion of a sovereign nations like Iraq or Somalia, for example, or a public statement of support for new nuclear technology - makes it that little bit easier for everyone else to ignore it too.

Green Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas (who pollsters have predicted will win the Brighton Pavilion MP contest at the next general election) will be speaking at the rally (alongside Michelle Bridgeman of the Gender Trust and Melvin Hartley of Broken Rainbow). She will be using her speech to call for genuinely ethical foreign and asylum policies in the UK, and just such a renewed campaign for international human rights. I think she's spot on.

As well as the speeches, the IDAHOBIT rally will feature music from the City of Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus and the Rainbow Chorus, and a visually spectacular display of 77 stunning sky lanterns, one for every nation in which homosexuality remains a criminal offence.

It really fills me with pride to live in a community that cares enough about discrimination and human rights to even host such an event. I hope there'll be a good turnout.

Monday, 12 May 2008

What a waste! Britons throw away £10bn in food every year...

I have just read an incredible piece in last Thursday's Independent, reporting that we in Britain throw away as much as £10 billion worth a year of food -that's £610 for an average family with children. This is staggering, and would be at any time. That these figures have come out while thousands starve in Burma as its government carries on exporting rice to the west, some of it perhaps destined to eventually end up in a Sussex landfill site, really sends a chill down my spine. Read the full story here.

Natural disasters: in the south they die, in the north they don't.

With all eyes on Burma, now is perhaps the perfect moment to reflect on the injustice of a world in which natural disasters cause widespread death, disease and homelessness in the developing world but not to anything like the same extent in the richer north. Last year 149 natural and man-made disasters hit Asia, causing 13,748 dead or missing. By contrast, 82 freak weather events in Europe and North America killed only abut a sixth as many.

The figures are from The Economist. To me they are absolute evidence of the links between international economics and climate change - and that our moral duty to prevent its worst impacts should be seen as protecting the most basic Universal Human Rights (to life, housing and health) of some of the world's poorest.

At last, some good sense over house price rises

Well, I can't help myself this morning: I have to say 'well done BBC News' for bringing us the news that more people would like to see house prices fall than rise. According to pollsters ICM only 22 per cent of people want to see house prices rise further, the remainder want them to stabilise or fall.

In the months since the media began to use the 'credit crunch' phrase, coverage has focused on the impact rising prices and interest rates will have on car drivers and home-owners across Middle England.

The stories of the thousands of families for who rapidly-increasing fuel, food and housing costs are forcing them to choose between them as they are pushed into real poverty, are less often told.

The 'crisis' has been described as one of lower-profits for second home owners, falling share portfolio values and the rising cost of foreign holidays as the value of the pound plummets. Where its impacts on the poor have been mentioned, it's in the developing world and, as usual, tells an all too familiar story of starvation and riots in the face of food shortages.

But we're hardly hearing about the quiet majority, those who are barely able to keep themselves warm in winter (a plight soon forgotten by the media when the sun comes out), or those who are having to scour supermarkets for bargains just to make sure there is food on the tables.

Why? It's not because the media don't consider them important (they need to sell newspapers and advertising space, after all). Maybe it's actually because reporting the reality that a boom and bust economy is so much worse, for so many people, than an alternative based on economic stability and social justice, is just too threatening to the handful of businesses and institutions that control so may of the public voices we hear.

We are repeatedly told that our interests are fundamentally the same as those of the corporations and the world's wealthiest few individuals: economic growth at all costs. But it's just illogical to suggest that we could break one of the most fundamental laws of physics and create something from nothing - let alone that we could keep on doing it forever.

Unless, of course, we cheat, and discount the value of all the natural resources buried beneath our feet, and pretend that the damage done by, say toxic pollution, wars over scarce water resources, and slavery, is impossible to measure in terms of financial cost. And the social impacts of permanent price inflation, too, of course. And so that's exactly what the economists and the governments and media they advise have done.

Which brings me back to house prices. Exactly the same economic logic lies beneath the media's obsession with rising house prices, property speculation programmes and the over-consumption of the goods and services they advertise.

A great swathe of people across the country (but by no means evenly spread out across the regions) have made more money from increased property prices over the last decade or so than they have from work, and paid more tax in stamp duty than income tax.

This is plainly a perversion of the reality that most people's lives are completely dominated by the work they do, and the time they spend doing it, and that income tax is the single most important tool for creating a fairer society by making the better-off pay their way in the treasury's armoury.

But as house prices rise, it becomes harder every day for those who don't currently own their own home to ever do so. The problem is especially severe in areas where house prices have risen fastest, like Brighton and Hove, and it means the gap between the haves and have-nots is yawning ever-wider. The benefits are mainly enjoyed by the banks and money-lenders, the biggest five of which made £40 billion profit in 2006, the last year before the 'crunch' started to take hold. Owning your home isn't like owning a second car - you just can't realistically sell it unless you buy another, and if prices have risen everywhere it's only by 'moving up' the property ladder that you can enjoy any of the boons of boom.

On the other hand, when prices fall, that is no longer possible, so demand drops and prices fall further, with the most expensive homes falling in value fastest. Those who have gambled most heavily, and financed their homes and social mobility on debt, fall first. Most of them end up living in a slightly smaller house - or having to actually work for a living rather than simply speculate and gamble, but the media is full of their stories.

But its those for who doubling mortgage payments mean repossession and homelessness (almost 40,000 families in the first quarter of this year, according to official figures), and those in social housing (whose landlords, mainly housing associations, as more council housing stocks are effectively privatised, are being denied access to credit just like everyone else) who are bearing the biggest brunt of the credit crunch.

Reporting that more people recognise their interests are best served by stable house prices than rising ones is real progress towards changing the way we think about the economy - and that of course is a fundamental first step to delivering real change.

Nationally, and internationally, we need to move away from the economic language and logic of the 20th Century, towards a true-cost economics, a way of making tax and spending decisions based on their true social and environmental costs. Locally, we need an urgent summit between social housing providers, politicians, homelessness charities and tenants' groups to work out how to keep a roof over everyone's head during the inevitable economic 'bust' we ae now witnessing. What about it Mary Mears?

Thursday, 8 May 2008

St James's Street under multinational attack...Part II

I've just heard unconfirmed reports that Tesco wants to open a Tesco Express store on the site of the qs clothes shop on the corner of Dorset Gardens and St James's Street. This is awful news in so many ways: it represents an assault on the unique character of St James's Street, and threatens to force rents up, profits down and, ultimately, drive local independent businesses to the wall.

There's loads of facts and figures describing the way Tesco has attacked and undermined local communities and independent traders around the world at Tescopoly - it's well worth a read, not least for the encouraging news of successful community-led efforts to say No! to Tesco elsewhere.

No planning application is required this time - but we can still oppose this.

Perhaps a good first step is to go along to an informal meeting exploring plans to resist Tesco in the London Road area - and trying to broaden the campaign to include St James's Street too. It has been called by Green Councillor Keith Taylor, and takes place at Community Base Conference Room, South Wing, Queens Road tonight at 7pm.

If you can’t come, but would like to keep abreast of developments, watch this space!

Making it up as they go along...

Question: What does the Labour group on Brighton and Hove Council have in common with the Labour Government?

Answer: they both make it up as they go along, ignoring independent expert advice whenever it suits them.

Locally, Labour councillors ignored the Independent Remunerations Panel and voted to give themselves a fat pay rise: doubling the 'special payments' to their two deputy leaders and shelling out more than £2,000 for a Labour member of the city's Arts Commission, which only meets four times a year (that's more than £500 a meeting!)

Nationally, The Government has said it will ignore the findings of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and reclassify cannabis from a 'Class C' to a 'Class B' drug.

The council recognises some of the dangers of cannabis use but doesn't think a regime of five-year prison terms is the right way to prevent these ill-effects.

But Government ministers are insisting on ignoring the scientists and making it up as they go along.

Does anyone remember the original debate over downgrading the classification of cannabis? It had nothing to do with the dangers of cannabis, or recognising that the harm it causes is so much smaller than that caused by alcohol. Rather, it was based on the irrefutable logic that the criminalisation of cannabis was hoovering up police resources and not actually working in terms of preventing cannabis-related harm.

But the tabloids have run scare story after scare story about cannabis use, and been baying for tougher punishments for smokers - a battered and bruised Labour Party is panicking, and letting them set the agenda in the name of Middle England.

So why on earth did we bother having an independent review in the first place? And don't we care about wasting police time anymore?

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

We don't just need new light bulbs. We need a new Government!

Don't you sometimes get sick and tired of worthy greens and governments asking you to change your light bulbs, skip your hard-earned holiday or do a bit more recycling, as though that's going to be enough to avert the most devastating impacts of climate change? I know I do, and most residents of Kemp Town and Peacehaven do too, if my mailbox is anything to go by.

The fact is the social disaster of climate change is already with us: and it's NOT OUR FAULT! Every time someone asks us as individuals to change our behaviour, they're asking us to take responsibility for a problem that isn't of our making.

Climate change is being fuelled by human induced greenhouse gas emissions. End of story. Of course there are a few nutters and naysayers out there, but I'm with the overwhelming scientific consensus on this one. And these emissions are produced mainly by corporate activity under an economic framework established and supported by governments the world over - not least here in the UK. Tackling them means changing the way we run our economy, and that's a job for governments, not individuals.

Of course it's important to 'do our bit' - but we mustn't fall into the trap of thinking that's enough. If we are going to do anything, it should be the the best 'bit' we can do: elect politicians who understand this, or at least make these arguments in parliament. That's why whenever a newspaper or green campaigner gives a list of tips for living a greener life the number one should be 'Vote Green'.

Ann Pettifor, executive director of Advocacy International, formerly of the Jubilee 2000 anti-debt campaign, makes a good stab at this argument in the latest BBC Green Room article. She argues: 'The reason [green organisations fail] is that they focus on individual or community action, while failing to highlight the need for the kind of structural change that can only be brought about by government action. Governments helpfully collude in this atomisation and fragmentation of action and reaction.'

Not for the first time, she's absolutely right.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

When did we become a terrorist target?

Not content with the carnage it has brought to Iraq and Afghanistan, the US government turned its attention last week to Somalia, where dozens of civilians - most of them women and children - were killed when US missiles struck the town of Dusamareebnorth. Half the town's population turned out to protest against the mass murder, which once again was a violation of international law. According to one report, 13-year-old Nour Ahmad spoke at the protest rally: "The US strike killed my brother, my sister and also wounded my grandmother. We are refugees and fled from Mogadishu. When did we become a terrorist target?"

Ethnic minorities suffer most from climate change, says new report

As the eyes of the world are on Burma and the true scale of the most devastating cyclone to hit Asia for 15 years trickles out through the military junta's reporting restrictions (latest: 22,000 dead, 40,000 missing, one million homeless, US aid offers refused - and a 48-hour warning from Indian meteorologists ignored) now seems as good a time as any to ask the question: who really pays the price for climate change and increasingly frequent and severe weather-related disasters?

It's long been well-argued that it's those in the developing world, and the poorest in those societies, that suffer most, but according to a new report it is as likely to be ethnicity as much as poverty that's the relevant factor. Climate Change and Minorities, a study by the excellent Minority Rights Group International, shows that it is in fact minority and indigenous groups that have been worst affected by changing weather patterns.

Looking at a range of diverse examples including Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, melting Arctic ice in northern Scandinavia and deforestation in Columbia and Indonesia (driven primarily by the environmentally and socially catastrophic rush to bio-fuels production to fuel thirsty car engines in Europe and the US as oil hits $121 a barrel), the briefing paper is, remarkably, the first ever produced in English to even look at the issue.

It found that disadvantage and discrimination against minorities is rife throughout both immediate disaster relief programmes and during planning at local, national and international levels for coping with current and future impacts of climate change.

Further, it reports that ethnic minority populations tend to live in the places that are worst affected by climate change,that official and unofficial discrimination against them makes it harder for them to cope with its most devastating impacts and influence political debate over how to deal with it, and that in most cases when a disaster strikes help and relief reach them last.

It's too soon to tell who has paid the heaviest price for the Burma cyclone, but I wouldn't bet against it being the hill tribes and minority communities across the region.

It really is about time that Western governments wake up to the fact that climate change isn't just an environmental, or even a developmental, issue - but that tackling it is about respecting fundamental human rights, social justice and the principles of anti-discrimination.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

It's not all bad news...

Yes, London may have a mayor Boris, which is a horrifying thought, but there is a little good news that you might not have heard: the two Greens on the London Assembly, Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson, held their seats, with an identical percentage of the vote to last time, which means 43,000 more people voted Green on the Assembly list. It was the Lib Dem vote that got caught in the two-party crunch, and they lost two seats on the Assembly, their vote falling to 11.22% (from 18.09%).

(With thanks, and apologies, to Natalie Bennett's Philoblibon. A full breakdown, and analysis, of the London vote can be found over on The Daily Maybe)

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Great new information service for dads launched today

I bet you thought I'd be blogging about the local and London elections today, eh? Well I am, sort of. This morning I rose nice and early to head up to South London and help out the Lewisham Greens who are running a full election day operation, seeking to maximise the vote for mayoral candidate Sian Berry, local London Assembly candidate Cllr Sue Luxton - and the Green Assembly list, in the hope of returning Darren Johnson to the Greater London Assembly. I was met off the train by a woman handing out leaflets and campaigning for the Socialist Alliance candidate. She had the bad luck to pick me with her lie - 'the Greens in Brighton voted for privatisation, the councillors there wanted to see the council housing stock transferred to the private sector'! As someone who campaigned hard - alongside other Greens - to defend council housing when tenants were balloted on stock transfer here in Brighton last year, I was able to hold forth for some minutes, until she promised not to repeat the nonsense to any other potential voters! I bet she hadn't counted on meeting a Brighton Green councillor...

Anyway, there's nothing much else to say except let's wait and see. Results are due tomorrow (or even Saturday - counting six million odd votes is a Herculean task, whether it's in Zimbabwe or London).

Meanwhile, completely overshadowed from the mainstream media agenda is the launch today of a fantastic web-based resource for dads. 'Dad's Info'. Why does it matter? Well, as I've said before, being a good parent is my number one priority. It's what all the politics is about really, and it's services like this that make it a little easier. There's loads of excellent links, stories and features - I found some of the stories about separation quite heart-tearing. It's great though, as a single dad, to know I'm not alone... So, all you Dads out there, check it out!