Saturday, 18 April 2009

The Digital Detox Challenge

Our lives are, to a greater or lesser extent, mediated by the technology we use - everything from eating processed foods (or even using farmed ingredients in home-cooked food) to using tools at work, electric toys when we have sex and gadgets when we travel or communicate - makes us who we are.

Much of the meaning we find in our everyday actions was designed, in the first place, by someone else working for a company or corporate identity, not primarily to make our lives easier (though they often do) but to make money for someone.

And the reality is this is a distraction from our ability to form real relationships, understand the natural world around us - and celebrate the everyday magic of an unmediated life.

For some of us, computer screens, iPods, TVs, phones and the dozens of other devices we’re cybernetically attached to are so pervasive that we can’t escape them. We live them, we breath them, we need them ... Or do we?

Well maybe - maybe not. The always thought-provoking Adbusters - the self-styled Journal of our Mental Environment - is challenging us to do the unthinkable: unplug for a week.

Say good-bye to Twitter and Facebook. Turn off the TV, iPhone and Xbox. Reconnect with the natural world and the people around you.

I don't think I can do it. But if I don't 'blog until next Monday, or answer my phones or emails, you'll know why!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Satirical genius

I hope Lord Gnome will forgive me for reproducing it here, but frankly this sort of satirical genius needs to be disseminated as widely as possible; especially when it so judiciously skewers a police force that is increasingly content to break the law and then lie about it.

Show your appreciation and pick up a copy - it's available at all good newsagents, don't you know.

More police thuggery

Sometimes it seems you can hardly move these days without The Guardian or the BBC unearthing another video of police violence at a peaceful demonstration.

In this one we can see (or rather hear) a little provocation - but it's hardly proportionate, is it: a few angry swear words met by a slap in the face and a baton swipe to the legs from a well-tooled (and quite large) man to an upset woman wearing a, erm, floppy cap.

It's hardly a surprise. Anyone who regularly finds themselves a demonstrations will immediately recognise that this is the reality of how they are policed today, especially in London. All that's new is that they're getting caught.

How many times have peaceful demonstrators been told in court that if it's their word against the police then the police evidence is effectively unquestionable. If no-one caught it on camera, in other words, it just didn't happen, ok?

The only real surprise about this latest incident of official thuggery is that it challenges that nice cosy idea: that all demonstrators are anarchists thugs desperate to bring down civilisation as we know it and that all police are the peaceful voices of reason and order in any situation. We all know that when protests turn ugly, it's usually the police that kick things off. As this video clearly demonstrates.

The officer concerned has been suspended. Well, that's a start, but having two fall guys pushed in a week is hardly going to change the culture of policing protests. It really is about time the duty under the Human Rights Act to facilitate peaceful protest becomes coppers' number one priority in such situations, and that some heads at the top roll to make the point. Let's have someone take some political responsibility.

Mark Thomas says 'Vote Green'

I don't think he's joking this time.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

After two years... the lift is back!

So the Madeira lift is back in action - and finally Kemp Town beach has become fully accessible - without the need to round the gauntlet of traffic or the two-mile round trip to the Palace Pier and back.

Great news, yes, but I could hardly believe it when I saw Brighton Council leader Mary Mears trotting out her grandchildren in The Argus to celebrate.

Not only has she signally failed to learn from old Tory John Gummer (remember him, force feeding BSE burgers to his own daughter on TV?) that parading your own family for the media is an act of political desperation almost bound to fail, but she's got the bare-faced cheek to celebrate her own Council's failure to prioritise mending the lift in the first place.

Has she forgotten it's been closed for two years? That parents with children in buggies and wheelchair users have basically been forced to abandon Kemp Town beach for the whole of the last two summers?

I'm sure if the problem was a bit of long grass in Patcham - or anything, really, that wasn't about improving life for parents and the disabled, she'd have made sure it was mended when it broke, back in 2007.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Raising cash for Stonewall's anti-bullying campaign... please sponsor me!

Okay - ten kilometres is hardly a marathon - and we'll be walking, not running - but I'm delighted to be joining my Green Party councillor colleague Vicky to take part in this year's Stonewall Equality walk.

The walk takes place around the city on May 3rd, and we'll be raising cash to help pay for an anti-bullying DVD to be distributed in schools across the country.

We'll be collecting money for the charity to produce an educational DVD based on the play ‘Fit’, which tackles issues of homophobic bullying in schools.

Last year the walk raised £35,000. This year, Stonewall hope to raise enough money to pay for a DVD to be sent to every secondary school in the country.

Figures collected locally show that homophobic bullying is a huge problem – even here in cosmopolitan Brighton.

Raising awareness of the issue is vital – and this DVD will go a long way to doing that. It will prevent real suffering – and could even save lives.

So please sponsor me and help make sure Stonewall meet their target and are able to get the message out across the country - you can do so here!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

UK heading for malnutrition

Children are in danger of starving to death here in the UK, charity Save The Children has warned.

Speaking to the BBC, the charity said 'We are heading for malnutrition in the UK', after The Grocer magazine reported food prices have risen by a staggering 18 per cent in the last year.

They then call on the Government to honour its 1997 pledge to half child poverty by 2010, by spending an extra £3 billion on struggling families.

Meanwhile, the Child Poverty Action Group warns many families are buying less fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, and consuming more affordable tinned and packet food that was often higher in sugar, salt and fat.

I think what we really need is a radical shift in the way we produce and distribute food. There's plenty for everyone, if we all reduce the amount of grain-hungry farmed meat we eat, grow more food locally and switch, as far as possible, to s3easonal produce.

Then we can eliminate child poverty everywhere. But the Government is far too focussed on preserving its reputation as the defender of business as usual to even think about reducing the influence of supermarkets and food producers on farming, the environment and the very fabric of our society.

So we won't see starvation eliminated until we see a fundamental change of direction, whatever Tony Blair promised.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Green Party pledges £165-a-week state pension

The Green Party has marked Pensions Action Day by announcing its plan to increase the basic state pension to £165 a week.

The pledge is possibly the best action a political party could take for British pensioners: a policy that would lift all our pensioners out of poverty.

The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) has been calling for a pension at or above the official poverty level, which is defined as 60% of median population earnings less housing costs.

For 2007/8 this would have meant a single person’s pension of £151 per week - compared to the actual full state pension of £90.70 and a pensions credits guarantee level of about £120 a week.

According to the NPC, the number of people living in severe poverty – defined as living on less than 40% of median population income – has increased by 600,000 since Labour came to power in 1997.

Pensioner poverty in the UK has risen in the last year by 300,000 - equivalent to 822 people a day - and now reaches 2.5m (1 in 4 older people). Two thirds of these pensioners are women.

As Jean Lambert, London Green Party MEP and the party's spokeperson on Social Affairs:

"If the other parties are unwilling to lift pensioners out of poverty, then it's clear pensioners will need to elect Greens to fight their corner.

"Voting Green is about building a better future - and that includes a secure economic future for older people."

Is this what British troops were fighting for?

I've just appealed to Sussex MPs to use whatever influence they've got (some, surely) to get the Government urgently step in and prevent the execution of 128 LGBT people in Iraq.

I could hardly believe it at first: the only pro-war gong-banging that even remotely made any sense was the notion that we should be intervening to protect the human rights of Iraqis.

But last week Amnesty International reported that some 128 people faced imminent execution in the new Iraq.

The death penalty is not prohibited in International Law. Though the universal human right to life is protected in several treaties applying to Iraq, exceptions are made for so-called 'judicial killing'.

But today it has emerged that these condemned prisoners are guilty of no more than expressing their sexuality - and will lose their lives in a bloody show of anti-LGBT discrimination.

If these executions go ahead they won't just be terribly wrong - it'll be a grave crime against humanity. Is this what are troops were fighting for?

Living in Kemp Town it’s easy to forget how something as natural as falling in love is still a capital offence in countries around the world.

At last count there were 77 countries – more than a third of all nations – in which ‘homosexual behaviour’ is punishable by imprisonment, torture or even execution.

We all must champion tolerance and human rights by insisting the British Government steps in to prevent these - and all future, state-sanctioned murders - and call on our MPs to do so on our behalf.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Mass Street Party, Mayday, Brighton

I promised more details on the May 4th Mass Street Party in Brighton. So here they are.

Starbucks are the dregs, says Private Eye

I thought this report from Private Eye was a timely reminder of why local councillors have consistently opposed the new Starbucks on St James's Street.

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, bought the premises of a former bookshop in Brighton’s kooky Kemptown last May and applied for change of use from retail to cafĂ© despite loud opposition. The council threw the application out... but Starbucks opened regardless and is still open nine months later.

This is despite a petition signed by 2,500 residents and traders; a council enforcement notice requiring it to take out all tables and chairs; and a weekly protest from determined campaigners.

However, Starbucks has appealed against the original planning decision and the enforcement notice. A company spokeswoman insisted the new store “has helped its community by creating around 14 new jobs”.

Now Starbucks faces a public inquiry on 10 June, which could have wider implications for the company – which has a habit of opening shops without planning permission. Starbucks believes it has found a legal loophole, whereby if the status of a store is unclear under planning law, catering outlets can open in former retail premises without obtaining a change in classification.

The chain uses this loophole regularly, then appeals against planning decisions that don’t go its way at the last possible moment, thereby gaining six months’ trading grace until a hearing is held. With subsequent appeal hearings against council enforcement notices, the process drags on, leaving it free to trade for anything up to two years.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Getting to the truth - a call to demonstrate

This may be of interest: from Indymedia London, a call to demonstrate on Saturday, in commemoration of Ian Tomlinson, and against police brutality throughout this week's demonstrations.

Getting to the truth

We are taking to the streets to express our compassion with the family of Ian Tomlinson who tragically died during the 1 April protests at the Bank of England. We are calling for an independent public inquiry into the instances of police violence that occurred though out the week and to establish to true circumstances of
his death.

Assemble 12pm
Saturday 4 April
Bank of England

Morrisons coming to Kemptown - will the 60 new jobs last?

It’s great news that Morrisons will bring 60 much-needed new jobs with them when they take over the St James’s Street Somerfield supermarket (Argus, Friday, April 3).

Research has demonstrated though that supermarkets take trade away from smaller, usually independent, stores – sometimes pushing such local businesses to the wall – to the detriment of both consumer choice and local jobs.

Worrying, the big supermarkets also have a tendency to whisk their takings away to head office, while profits from local shops tend to be spent here in the community.

I hope the new Morrisons will be the store that bucks these trends, and I look forward to working closely with its management to try to make sure that happens.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

A tragic death - but why no news?

Well as the dust settles on the G20 summit - and the demonstrations - I'm left feeling deeply saddened.

Not just because world leaders failed to agree on a really green new deal that would have given us a fighting chance of tackling climate change and world poverty rather than just getting back to business as usual, but because of the tragedy that a protestor died while inside a police 'kettle' - or cordon - outside the Bank of England yesterday.

No-one seems to know yet exactly what happened - and watching the BBC's News at Ten certainly didn't bring any clues. Obviously the death of a demonstrator whilst he's penned in by police lines just doesn't make the BBC's news criteria. But it isn't just the BBC - even Indymedia is only publishing a holding statement and call for witness information.

Meanwhile, the news vacuum is being filled by speculation about the extent to which the police were to blame for this tragedy. I've already received appeals to ask Sussex Police to make sure they learn from the Met's aggressive tactics and pledge not to use cordons - or so called 'Section 60' powers - during a Mass Street Party planned for Brighton on May 4th (watch this space for more details soon).

I just want to know what happened. I'll keep asking - meanwhile my thoughts, of course, are with the family and friends of the dead man.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Proud to take to the streets

Well as news filters in, mediated to the point of being nonsense of course, about today's G20 protests in the City of London.

Personally, I am proud that I marched today, calling for urgent action on climate change to be adopted by the G20 leaders.

Reading all the warnings of riots in the media - and some of the inflammatory statements made by police - I knew I should go, as a pacifist and a democrat.

The leaders of the 20 largest nations meeting in London tomorrow must realise that the clear majority of people want a Green New Deal that puts tackling climate change and poverty ahead of bailing out the banks that got us in to this mess in the first place.

It's too important a message to be hijacked by extremists, in the ranks of the either the demonstrators or the police.

Green leader Lucas in Shoreham tomorrow

I've just heard that Green Party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP hopeful Caroline Lucas is to speak at an event in Shoreham by Sea tomorrow.

Speaking at an event entitled 'Transition to Resilience', Caroline will be at the Ropetackle Centre from 7pm to talk about the Transition Town Movement, which she has described as “… the most exciting, most hopeful, and most inspirational movement in Britain today”.

Unfortunately it's £4 to get in - but I'm sure it'll be going to an excellent cause: supporting the the spread of the Transition Town idea - and some real work on moving towards a zero-carbon economy!

St Luke's swimming pool to get £250K modernisation

I've just heard that St Luke's swimming pool is to receive a £250K modernisation.

Great news - and not before time!

The community pool at St Luke's (in St Luke's Terrace) is exactly the kind of community sporting facility we should be supporting, and building more of.

We know that better access to modern and affordable sporting facilities improves people's health and quality of life.

Two-homes Des spends even more of your money than you thought...

MPs expenses are certainly generating a lot of steam at the moment - and that's hardly surprising given recent reports.

It beggars belief. Porn films, jobs for the boys, second homes - they are all paid for by the taxpayer, at a total cost of £93 million last year.

Locally, The Argus has reported that Des '2 Homes' Turner - our Labour MP here in Kemptown - has claimed more than £12,000 for a second home in London.

I think that's disgusting. Why can't he commute between Brighton and London like thousands of others have to?

In my view, he has a duty to use public transport. If it isn't good enough for him, he should be fighting hard to improve it, for everyone.

Why should a public servant have two homes when some here in Brighton have none?

But even if he doesn't agree, however he chooses to organise his work-home balance, he shouldn’t be asking the taxpayer to foot the bill on top of his £64,000 salary. Isn't £64K enough?

Let me be absolutely clear: if I am elected as MP for Brighton Kemptown I will not claim a penny of expenses to pay for a second home in London.

I will live in the constituency, and commute to work on the train like thousands of others.