31 October 2007

Killing Of Journalists

ITN wants an amendment to the International Criminal Court, so that the targeting and killing of journalists in war situations is a criminal offence.

It's a welcome move. But, it would address only some of the journalists being killed around the world, not journalists, in the Phillipines and Russia, who are at severe risk of being killed due to investigating corruption.

World Vegan Day - 1st November

Compared to being a vegetarian, what is being vegan?

A vegetarian doesn't eat meat (no meat, no chicken, no fish).

Vegans don't eat any foods derived from living or dead animals. So, deep breath, no meat of any kind (no red meat, poultry, white meat, fish), no animal milk or milk products (cow milk, goat milk, cheeses), no eggs, no honey, no gelatin (gelatin in chewing gum) ... no animals, full stop.

Why is trying to be vegetarian/vegan important? It's healthier, it prevents animal suffering, and it's better for the environment. Meat-intensive diets of the developed world contribute to global warming, deforestation, desertification and water pollution.

In Birmingham, from 12pm to 2pm on the 1st, at the New St/High St corner of the Bull Ring (where the bull statue is), there will be Vegan Day street theatre, including, I'm not making this up, a cow called Belching Brenda.

The Warehouse Cafe in Birmingham (54-57 Allison Street, between Moor St Stn and Digbeth Coach Stn) is hosting a meal for World Vegan day at £10 for three courses. They also are giving 10% off for any vegan item on the menu.

Oh, and here's a recipe for Caribbean Bean Stew, from the Vegan Village website.

30 October 2007

Neil Young's Hybrid Lincoln Continental

The Independent:

"Immensely stylish with a wide front grille and neo-deco bumpers at either end, it is one the most polluting vehicles to have ever graced Route 66 ... Neil Young is taking the car he calls Linc-Volt to Wichita, where it will be converted into a 100mph diesel-electric hybrid running on renewable fuel. Motor enthusiasts say it is like putting a Toyota Prius on steroids."

Neil Young: "It works off the grid – you plug it in at night. So it has very low emissions and a lot more power. It's a lot faster – it does 0-60 in six seconds. It's part of the spirit of the country. America is never going to be frugal. It's too big; the roads are long, the people are big, they like big cars. So there's a challenge to figure out how to retain all those things and be clean."

Pay-As-You-Throw And The Conservatives

Vote blue, go green ... except when it's a policy that reduces our overall waste.

Pay-as-you-throw policies would go like this (at least this is how it works in Flanders, where they recycle 70-80% of household waste):

- The cost of rubbish collection and disposal is separated out from council tax, and people pay a seperate annual waste fee, say, £56. On top of that, you pay a variable charge based on the weight and volume of waste you leave for collection.

- So, keen recyclers would find that they pay £56 and then £14 for producing very little waste.

- Other households would pay their £56, and then £120 for producing a great deal of waste.

- People were given the chance to buy locks for their bins to stop neighbours dumping their rubbish in them, only 300 out of 40,000 households asked for one.

- As for flytipping, councils in Flanders quickly dealt with illegal dumps and put up warning signs.

Instead, Tory shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles said: "What we should be doing is increasing recycling. We can do that without doing it through a bin tax."

No. We need incentives to encourage less and less consumption, not more and more consumption that gets recycled. That will be driven by incineration and landfill taxes, reuse credits as well as recycling credits, and by increasing our amounts of composted waste.

29 October 2007

Some Recent Reading

- French, German and Swiss police want to expand the use of Tasers against anti-globalisation protesters, immigrant youth, and immigrants who resist deportation.

- The total area planted with genetically modified maize in Europe has grown by 77% since last year.

- The TUC is launching a website for Polish workers, in partnership with Citizens Advice and Polish trades union Solidarnosc. It will explain rights such as the minimum wage, holiday entitlement and sick pay.

- The Government promised to halve child poverty by 2010 (relative to 1998-1999, when Tony Blair made the pledge), and eradicate it by 2020. Save the Children, however, thinks that the government is as much as 14 years behind the 2010 target. The IFS estimates it will cost another £3.5 billion to £4 billion in tax credits by autumn 2009 to fulfil the promise – which the Chancellor is unlikely to be able to afford.

26 October 2007

Gordon Brown's Vision For Britain

The mainstream media are pushing this rhetoric that Gordon Brown doesn't have a vision.

Of course he does.

- He's the architect of New Labour's use of private finance (both PFI initiatives, and the slow motion car crash that is the PPP of the London Tube). He'll extend and deepen the part-privatisation of the public sector that he has led for the last 10 years.

- Brown's Britain will be unequal:

"To give the children of the well-off a £1.4bn inheritance bonus while the children of the poor only got another 48p a week in tax credits is symbolically far worse than that notorious 75p for pensioners. The halfway mark to abolish child poverty by 2010 will be missed by miles. Holding down public sector pay rises to 2% for three years, only half next year's expected private sector increase, will increase inequality."

- Road pricing? Shelved. Pay-as-you-throw? Running scared. Funding for microgeneration on household roofs? Starved of funding. 20% by 2020 as an EU target for renewable energy? Desperately wants to avoid it. So unless the tone dramatically changes, his vision doesn't include the environment.

- He's tough. Focus groups are asked if Gordon Brown is a machine, which one is he, and they say he's a bulldozer. He's a tough man in tough times, willing to make tough decisions. He has the Strength To Change Britain. When you combine this with his talks on Britishness, his apologia for empire, his support for the US on Iran, his funding for CCTV as Chancellor, his support for ID cards, extending the use of police stop-and-search powers, his support for doubling the 28-days detention without charge, and his attempts to attract defectors from the Lib Dems and Tories, it's an authoritiarian vision for Britain. Britain doesn't need to have an opposition, it just needs a strong top-down leader. And if you don't believe the show's all about Brown, ask where Harriet Harman has disappeared to.

Greens In The News

- Greens in Edinburgh have commissioned an ice sculpture of Tony Blair (that name is vaguely familiar) as part of a campaign on climate change.

- Greens in York have pointed out that when the A19 was resurfaced, 20 or 30 yards of cycle lane disappeared! Comicly, they left the "cycle lane" sign behind.

- Greens in Brighton highlight how the Sustainable Cities Index study, conducted by Forum For The Future, said the city needed to work on air and water quality.

- The Herefordshire Green Party recently sponsored the ninth Leominster Apple Fair.

- Finally, the Green Party in Switzerland gained in elections this week:

The Green Party fell just shy of 10% of the vote and surged to a new high of 20 seats in the 200-seat lower house, the National Council. The nascent centre-right Liberal Greens took three more. Helped by worries about climate change in a nation full of mountains and glaciers, and with a reputation for efficiency in several cities and regions, the Greens also gained their first seat in the Senate. Although the ecologists remain behind the four biggest parties—and therefore outside the government—they have a new role to play as kingmakers in parliament, where no party commands a majority.

24 October 2007

Iran and PMQs

Hansard today:

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): "Given the increasingly belligerent noises from the White House, will my right hon. Friend give a clear commitment that if there were a United States or Israeli commitment that if there were a United States or Israeli military attack on Iran he would not support it militarily, logistically or politically?"

The Prime Minister: "We pursue a diplomatic course of action. I believe that we will have to step up our sanctions over the next few weeks. I have already told other countries that we are prepared to lead the way to a third resolution of sanctions, and at the same time support tougher European Union sanctions. I will rule nothing out, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that both the diplomatic route and the sanctions are having an effect and, if stepped up, can have an even bigger effect in the future."

US Preparing For War On Iran

US President George Bush has requested an extra £22.5bn in emergency funds from the US Congress, including a single sentence requesting money to upgrade the B-2 "stealth" bomber.

The entire story is that the planes would be upgraded to drop the "Massive Ordnance Penetrator" -- a 30,000-pound bomb. It's six times as big as the US military's current "bunker busting" bombs. The bombs would be based at (that place again) Diego Garcia, where hangars are being specially upgraded.

Flight-testing of the weapon began at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., this September, and Bush wants his "MOP" funding by Christmas. Each week, Dick Cheney and Bush rachet up the rhetoric against Iran. Cheney said, on Sunday, that, "we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," and Bush recently warned that a a nuclear Iran could lead to "World War III."

Meanwhile, the US continues to be best buds with the nation whose nuclear scientists have opened the pandora box.

And the US rewards a country that refuses to join the NPT with a nuclear fuel agreement that frees up more nuclear material for weapons.


Film to watch on this: "War and Peace" by Anand Patwardhan

23 October 2007

Christian Aid's Pressurepoints Campaign

Luke eats social injustice for breakfast.

Kurdistan, Turkey And Iran

In acting against the PKK, Turkey would be upsetting the apple-cart of what is also going on in northern Iraq -- Kurdish militant actions against Iran, with the US turning a blind-eye/covertly aiding them, depending on whom you believe.

The P.K.K., about two years ago [2005 - SR] split into four parties in each of the countries where is the Kurds live. In Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. So the P.J.A.K. is the Iranian affiliate. In order to get to the P.J.A.K. interviews that I did, you had to go through two P.K.K. based camps with walkie-talkies and soldiers and guerillas and so on. Among other Kurdish groups that I spoke to, no one thinks that the P.K.K. and the P.J.A.K. are really separate organizations. At a minimum they very clearly coordinate their activities, get funding, weapons, et cetera. But I think in practice, their function is one organization.

On the one hand, the United States is very much opposes to the P.K.K.'s actions in Turkey. On the other hand they're supporting P.K.K.'s attack on Iran.

[The US is] playing a very similar game with the Mujahadeen al-Halb, another Iranian group and with groups in Baluchestan which is near the Pakistan-Iranian boarder where some revolutionary guard buses were blown up.

The Turks know exactly what's going on, they don't believe the disclaimers issued by the United States ... at a time when the U.S. is escalating the war in Baghdad, threatening to attack Iran, suddenly Turkey could get involved in clashes with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq. So what is now a mess, will become an incredibly bigger mess.

Destitute Asylum Seekers In Coventry

A letter in the Independent today:

A solution must be found to end destitution among refused asylum-seekers. Far from encouraging people to return home, destitution has had the reverse effect. The authorities have lost contact with asylum-seekers, who have entered a cycle of fear, hunger, and mental and physical deterioration. They've become caught in a "destitution trap".

One solution would be for the government to provide ongoing asylum benefits – or permission to work – to refused asylum-seekers until their case is resolved. In return, these asylum-seekers would be expected to engage in a case-resolution process, helping them work through the issues that prevent them from returning home. As well as reducing the numbers of refused asylum-seekers who become destitute, "disappear" or work illegally, such a scheme would also boost voluntary returns, reducing the costs of forced removal.

Asylum applications in the UK are at their lowest for 17 years, giving us a unique opportunity to reassess the way asylum-seekers here are treated at all stages of the process.

Sandy Buchan
Chief Executive
Refugee Action

22 October 2007

Environmental Taxis

"Mark Gruberg has been driving cabs for over 20 years. But these days, he's the new kid on the block. Mark, and a few of his cab driver friends, have started up San Francisco's first all-green taxi company, the appropriately named Green Cab."

Coventry And Peak Oil

The Germany-based Energy Watch Group is releasing a study on global oil production in London today.

Their report says that world oil production has already peaked and will fall by 7% a year. It also warns that extreme shortages of fossil fuels will lead to wars and social breakdown.

- Coventry doesn't have a plan to deal with peak oil.
- The draft climate change strategy, out for consultation, doesn't mention peak oil.
- The city council has a "risk register" with threats evaluated for impact (1 to 5 points, 5 being high) and "how soon" (1 to 5, 5 being more than once a year). Peak oil is not on the risk register at all.

Other cities (notably, Portland, in the US) have had citizen task forces on peak oil and peak energy -- holding 40 meetings and involving dozens of policymakers, experts, stakeholders and interested citizens in gathering information on peak oil and preparing a report for public comment.

It's the kind of thing that we need to do in Coventry, so we're ready when higher energy prices come.

The EWG study relies more on actual oil production data which, it says, are more reliable than estimates of reserves still in the ground. The group says official industry estimates put global reserves at about 1.255 gigabarrels - equivalent to 42 years' supply at current consumption rates. But it thinks the figure is only about two thirds of that.

Jeremy Leggett, one of Britain's leading environmentalists and the author of Half Gone, a book about "peak oil" - defined as the moment when maximum production is reached, said that both the UK government and the energy industry were in "institutionalised denial" and that action should have been taken sooner.

19 October 2007

Secret Prison On Diego Garcia

Months after a report by the Council of Europe, the all-party Commons committee on foreign affairs is going to investigate the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and whether it has served as a Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib type prison for the US in its war on terror.

Diego Garcia remains nominally British territory, but it has been leased to the US until at least 2016.

It's hard to overstate how important Diego Garcia is as a US base.

It's a naval refuelling and support station. It has a James Bond-esque submarine support facility. It has an air base that has supported B-52 and Stealth bomber attacks in Afghanistan, in the two wars on Iraq, and in any future war on Iran. It's a regular deployment site for US Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. Diego Garcia is part of the US "Space Surveillance Network". It's a Space Shuttle emergency landing site. It's not even subject to a nuclear weapons free zone for Africa, even though the rest of its archipelago is included.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's legal director, said he was "absolutely and categorically certain" that prisoners have been held on the island. "If the foreign affairs committee approaches this thoroughly, they will get to the bottom of it," he said.

Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star US general who is professor of international security studies at the West Point military academy, has twice spoken publicly about the use of Diego Garcia to detain suspects.

In May 2004 he said: "We're probably holding around 3,000 people, you know, Bagram air field, Diego Garcia, Guant√°namo, 16 camps throughout Iraq." In December 2006, he repeated the claim: "They're behind bars...we've got them on Diego Garcia, in Bagram air field, in Guant√°namo."

In 1984, a review by the US government's general accounting office of construction work on the island reported that a "detention facility" had been completed the previous December. British ministers have also disclosed that a building on the island was redesignated as a prison after the September 11 attacks.

18 October 2007

The Threat Of Bird Flu

Once upon a time, the media was awash with concern over bird flu/avian flu/H5N1/1918 Spanish Flu. The threat hasn't gone away. An August 2007 summit of avian flu experts put the risk of a pandemic during the next year as between 5 and 20 per cent. The government's working estimate of the risk of a pandemic? 3%.

An article in the Times today highlights that the recent NHS spending review contains no reference to a possible avian flu pandemic or any indication of where funds could be found.

"In contrast to other developed countries, British stockpiles of the antiviral Tamiflu are less than half those of France and comparable to those of Slovenia and Algeria. To deal with the first wave of the pandemic, we need at least as much as France has. The Department of Health ordered 14.6 milion courses of Tamiflu in September 2006, enough for 25 per cent of the population ... We also need stockpiles of the antiviral Relenza, in case resistance to Tamiflu develops. But one disadvantage with Relenza is that, unlike Tamiflu, it does not penetrate the brain: in 1918 the virus left progressive, residual brain damage in some cases."

"When you insure your house you don't just go for the cheapest option, you go for the one that gives you enough cover."

"NHS contingency plans warn that a pandemic could kill as many as 750,000 people in Britain. Documents released alongside the risk assessment predict that hospitals would be overwhelmed, with one per cent of the population needing up to 10 days of intensive care. That would require 100 times more beds than are available."

17 October 2007

Coventry Peace Month

Events are continuing until the 14th November.

You can download the pamphlet of all activities here.

The next notable event will be tomorrow, Thursday 18th October, from 1030am until noon, at the Council House's council chamber. The British Pensioners' Trade Union Action Association welcomes Mehei Kia, co-editor of Middle East Review, to talk about the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

You can contact Dr David Spencer for more details on 02476 450 027.

Top 20 Green Blogs For 2007

(Rushing across a stage, kissing Halle Berry) I'd like to thank the Academy, my parents, my wife, and all the little people that helped me finish at #18.

There is an overall vote underway, amongst the top 20, to decide "the best of the best" -- feel free to vote for me -- but I think it should/will be won by "Transition Culture."

Transition Culture is looking for a full-time Office Administrator for the Transition Network ... 1% of your salary would be paid in Totnes Pounds, how cool is that?

16 October 2007

Women And Party Leadership

All the media chatter is about two candidates, perhaps three, to succeed Menzies Campbell. All three are male (Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne, and Steve Webb).

You look at the "front bench" leadership of the Lib Dems, and it's overwhelming male (4 out of 25).

Same with the "front bench" of the Tories (5 women out of 28), and the full cabinet of Labour (5 women out of 23).

20% of our country isn't women, so why is only 20% of political leadership made up of women?

By design, the Green Party has two principal speakers, one male, one female, to represent us in the media. Their mandate is renewed each year at our autumn conference.

The female principal speaker race this year was between two heavyweights: Caroline Lucas (MEP for the South-East, PPC for Brighton Pavillion) and Jenny Jones (Green member of the London Assembly, former Deputy Mayor). For 2007/2008, Lucas was elected with 77% of the vote.

Not by design, but it worked out that way, half of the Green Party's council candidates in Coventry were women in 2007 (in Binley and Willenhall, Foleshill, Longford and Wainbody wards).

I don't get a vote in the Lib Dem leadership race, but I hope that Susan Kramer (former president of the Oxford Union, former candidate for mayor of London) and Lynne Featherstone (short-listed in the "Rising Stars" category for the 2006 Channel Four Political Awards) take a shot at the title.

15 October 2007

David Cameron, Los Angeles And Gangs

David Cameron has just returned from a trip to California, hoping that Ah-nuld's political stardust rubs off on him. He talked with "senior officers from the LAPD, the mayor of LA, and former gang members" about "learning from their strategies."

Los Angeles has pursued decades of zero-tolerance suppression policies, and it's led to 11 gangs commiting 17000 violent crimes last year.

Now, the police are finally trying pilot programmes of "gang intervention workers" -- these workers try again and again – often at considerable personal risk – to stop one incident from blowing up into a full-scale street battle. Los Angeles is now on track to see its lowest annual murder rate since 1970.

What people did Cameron speak to -- only the police chiefs, or gang intervention workers as well? If he's serious about avoiding the decades of mistakes in Los Angeles, David Cameron will need to rein in David Davis and his talk of zero-tolerance, police expansion, and prison expansion.

Supermarkets In Coventry

Grocery markets across Europe are dominated by a handful of large supermarkets. We think we're bad with Asda, Saino's, Tesco and Morrisons accounting for three-quarters of all grocery sales (supermarkets + convenience stores). Finland is actually worst, with five companies making up over 90% of their grocery sector. This kind of dominance has led to less consumer choice and smaller players forced out of business.

One of Britain's two Green MEPs, Caroline Lucas, is putting what's called a "Written Declaration" before the European Parliament. She, and four other co-signing MEPs, are demanding that the EU Commission "examine whether supermarkets abuse their dominance, and propose tough new rules to protect rural economies and the environment." If half of all MEPs support it, it will become official policy of the European Parliament – and will be formally passed to the European Commission for action.

Will this get media coverage, compared with incessent calls for an EU referendum? C'mon, do newspapers want to lose all the supermarket advertising in their glossy weekend magazines?

14 October 2007

The Attack On "An Inconvenient Truth"

So, Stewart Dimmock was the school governor who challenged Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," in court.

His funding came from a Scotland-based political party, The New Party.

The Observer has found that the New Party has received nearly all of its money - almost £1m between 2004 and 2006 - from Cloburn Quarry Limited, based in Lanarkshire.

Clobrun Quarry Ltd's owner, who is also the chair of the New Party, is Robert Durward.

- With Mark Adams, a former private secretary to Tony Blair, Durward set up the Scientific Alliance, a not-for-profit body comprising scientists and non-scientists, which aims to challenge many of the claims about global warming.
- The Scientific Alliance advised Channel 4 on the Great Global Warming Swindle.
- The Scientific Alliance co-authored a report with the George C Marshall Institute, a US body funded by Exxon Mobil, that attacked climate change claims.
- One of Durward's letters to newspapers stated: "It is time for Tony Blair to try the "fourth way", declare martial law and let the army sort out our schools, hospitals and roads."

The recent court case on "An Inconvenient Truth" is part of a co-ordinated international attempt to sow confusion about climate change, to get people thinking that there is "two sides" to the issue, rather than an overwhelming consensus.

13 October 2007

Tin Angel And Taylor John's House

There's a fundraising auction tonight at Taylor John's House, in the canal basin. The Tin Angel and Taylor John's are under threat of closing.

The loss of the Tin Angel's entertainment licence in the summer has led them to a dire situation. They want to raise sufficient money, so that they can restructure and become a not-for-profit enterprise.

Free recording sessions guitars, paintings, and photos are all on offer. Bids can be made online on their website, http://www.thetinangel.co.uk/, up until 6pm today.

To outbid the online offers, you have to be at Taylor John’s (before the Gilad Atzmon jazz gig, £8 in adv, £10 on the door, he's great!) from 7pm when the items will be awarded to the highest bidder.

If you're on Facebook, more info on the auction can be found here, and Taylor John's has a site of its own here.

11 October 2007

Talking Therapy On The NHS

Credit where credit's due. Labour has announced an extra £170 million in new funding for "talking therapy" -- non-drug psychological therapy to address the mental health crisis in Britain.

6 million of us (1 in 10) suffer from depression or anxiety. There are more mentally ill people on incapacity benefits than the total number of unemployed people on benefit. Only 18% of those with mental health problems are in work, the lowest employment rate of all disabled groups. Only a quarter of those who are ill are receiving any treatment – in most cases medication.

Therapy can be as effective as drugs, and often more successful in the long-term. Under the plans, over the next four years, all GP practices will have access to nondrug treatments.

Lord Richard Layard, co-author of the London School of Economics Depression Report, said: "This is great news and just what we have all been waiting for. Mental health is the biggest social problem in our country. This new service will bring relief to millions."

10 October 2007

Drop Dead Racist?

"I can't remember being sent a model who wasn't white," said the former fashion manager. "I don't know if it's racism, or just the fashion industry languishing in the doldrums, but it needs to change. Agencies only seem interested in leggy white blonde girls."

Pre-Budget Report And King Review

The vast majority of media attention has focused on Alistair Darling's theft of Tory ideas on inheritance tax, capital gains tax changes, or his plans for health/education spending.

I find it odd that the Home Office is creating six new sexual assualt referral centres (the nearest one to Coventry being in Gloucester), but that:

A new target of reducing serious violent crime - the 19,000 cases of murder, grievous bodily harm and death by dangerous driving last year - is to be introduced, but it will exclude a measurement of serious sexual offences.
The King Report On Low-Carbon Cars is also not getting any press.

Brown announced, in his final budget earlier this year, that Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University, previously at Rolls-Royce, was going to examine how to "decarbonise road transport" over the next 25 years.

Part one was released with the Pre-Budget report yesterday, with part two coming in 2008.

Traffic is growing at the rate of about 1 per cent per year. If this continues to 2050, the number of kilometres driven each year would almost double. So, in order to reduce car emissions to 20 per cent of 2000 levels, we need to achieve a 90 per cent reduction in per-kilometre emissions by 2050 to offset the effect of traffic growth.

King touches on the main problem, in my view, on pages 44/47 (Modec, here in Coventry, gets a name check on pages 50/51). Clean vehicles will only become commercially viable when people start putting environmental impact first, before leather seats and speed and "can I pull in this car" considerations:

"New technologies will only succeed commercially if consumer expectations of range, comfort, safety and speed continue to be met ... many UK buyers discount heavily, and some do not consider, vehicle efficiency benefits at the point of purchasing a car.

They are therefore less inclined to adopt efficient vehicles than the financial incentive from fuel economy savings might suggest. In addition, the majority of buyers tend to rate the environmental impact of vehicles relatively low in their purchase criteria."

09 October 2007

Gambling In Tennis

Concerns have been rumbling on since August about gambling's influence upon pro tennis.

The fear is that, "it is obvious to anyone with some experience of the normal Betfair market behaviour and the appropriate odds for a tennis match that certain low-level ATP matches are being fixed, with corresponding irrational market patterns."

The highest ranked player to admit to being propositioned with a bribe has been the current world #3 Novak Djokovic. He was offered $250,000 to throw his first-round match at the St. Petersburg event in Russia last year, with the offer alledgedly coming from the Russian or Ukrainian mafia. Djokovic skipped the tournament.

Okay, it's two men hitting a yellow ball back and forth, but it's a symptom of a much wider disease. The annual takings of criminal gangs around the world are roughly equivalent to Britain's GDP, or twice the world's combined defence budgets.

"Gambling on Tennis - the usual suspects" will be broadcast tonight from 7pm on Radio 5Live.

Hatred Against Gays And Lesbians

Jack Straw has announced new plans to make inciting hatred against gay people a crime.

A recent YouGov poll, by Stonewall, found that 89% of people would support such a move. The full report from Stonewall, "Living Together," can be found here.

Stonewall welcomed the announcement, with chief executive Ben Summerskill saying: "A new offence will help deter extremists who stir up hatred against lesbian and gay people ... We refuse to accept any longer that there's no connection between extreme rap lyrics calling for gay people to be attacked or fundamentalist claims that all gay people are paedophiles, and the epidemic of anti-gay violence disfiguring Britain's streets."

08 October 2007

The Equality And Human Rights Commission

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, does the "Ask The Questions" feature in the Independent:

Q: Isn't there's a real anti-intellectualism in black culture in this country?
A: Are we talking about the high culture represented by Black Britons like Chris Ofili, Steve McQueen, Zadie Smith, Courtney Pine, Grant Marshall (aka Daddy G), Thandie Newton, Lola Young or Stuart Hall? Or the deeply felt belief, strong families and vibrant music of the popular black majority churches? Or do you mean the degraded borrowings from the US which the entertainment industry peddles as "black culture", and which too many white liberals embrace as the "authentic" voice of black communities? The first two voices are seldom heard; the latter is always amplified to paint black people as violent, misogynistic and ignorant.

Q: How will your new combined agency be able to represent the interests of the largest disadvantaged group of all: women?
A: First, by using all of the tools and experience inherited from our predecessors at the Equal Opportunities Commission. Second, our overlapping mandate will help us to focus on some of the specific equality deficits disproportionately facing some kinds of women more powerfully. Third, by focusing on the destructive effect of domestic violence. Fourth, by not treating women as a quasi-minority group who have to be appeased. Instead we will look for ways of making our communities and workplaces genuinely gender-neutral.

A Day Of Protest

1) Thousands of protesters, marshalled by the Stop The War Coalition, are to march on Parliament Square today. Three meetings with police over the march went well, then last week, organisers were told that the protest would not be allowed into Parliament Square under 19th century sessional orders passed to protect the passage of MPs and peers against radical mobs.

2) From 730am this morning, twelve protesters from Plane Stupid have been preventing passengers getting into the departure lounge at Terminal 3 of Manchester Airport.

3) Sixty protesters from Greenpeace are trying to shut down E.ON's Kingsnorth plant, which could be the site of Britain's first new coal-fired station for 20 years. More than 13,000 objections have been sent to Medway Council. Protesters "climbed up coal conveyors, pressed the emergency stop buttons and chained themselves to the belts."

06 October 2007

05 October 2007

Poorer Pensioners and Pension Credits

A survey conducted for Age Concern suggests that 60% of poorer pensioners find the pension credit system is too daunting to submit a claim.

They don't know what benefits are available, they might not like filling in forms, they might find the system too complicated, or they simply don't like the idea of having to apply for something perceived as a handout.

Age Concern argues that to improve matters, pension credit should be paid automatically rather than having to be claimed.

Earlier this year, the Commons Public Accounts Committee estimated that 1.6 million people were not getting the money to which they were entitled.

Age Concern is launching a campaign booklet, "More Money In Your Pocket," to encourage older people to claim what they are entitled to.

Places to contact for information: Coventry Law Centre or Age Concern Coventry (024 7623 1999)

Alistair Darling On PFI

The Financial Times has a transcript of a lengthy interview with the Chancellor today. His ideas on PFI (which has bedeviled Walsgrave Hospital) and city academies stand out.

There is this long-standing idea that Gordon Brown will put right all the problems from the Blair era, whilst ignoring that PFI/PPP projects were Brown's brainchild.

Financial Times: "One question which arises from the Tory Conference, I guess, is the extent to which you’re still committed to using the private sector in the public services and whether the brakes have applied to health and education."

Darling: "No, I don’t think so. For us what matters is how it works. I don’t think there’s an ideological hang-up here at all ... having some of the private sector disciplines, in both health and education is hugely advantageous, and there’s no doubt that if you take the city academies, for examples, they made changes which actually make it a bit more flexible than it was, and similarly in the health service, or, you know, I mentioned Welfare to Work, you know, a few minutes ago, you know, we are pragmatic, you know. It’s not a matter of ideology for us ... The fact that the building is owned by somebody else and is repaired by somebody else, isn’t actually something that is of great concern to me."

04 October 2007

David Cameron's Speech To Conference

Straight from the horse's mouth ....

What Cameron said: "I have always believed in Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. And when Labour came forward with plans to replace Trident, I am proud of the fact that we marched our members of parliament through those division lobbies to make sure that vote was won."

Translation: I’ll criticise Russia and Iran for retaining/pursuing nuclear weapons, but we’re going to keep ours, thank you very much, even if it costs £70 billion. I want to keep the power to kill millions of people on my orders.

What Cameron said: "We need to scrap that early release scheme in prisons; 24,000 released on our streets that David Davis spoke about yesterday."

Translation: We imprison more people per capita in England and Wales than anywhere in Western Europe, and we’re going to imprison even more people.

What Cameron said: "This Party never wants to punish of hold back the aspirations of people who want to get on in life and have a good life. And what we must be in the Party of sensible, Green leadership, and that is exactly what we are going to stay."

Translation: I’m going to talk about climate change for 360 words out of 9000 in my speech. Sensible leadership means avoiding taxing out of town parking at supermarkets. Sensible leadership doesn’t involve telling Britons they have to start consuming less energy, less resources, and less oil.

What Cameron said: "We need business to be responsible in the way they market to children, treat their employees, in the way they encourage family life - all of those things will help us to get tax and regulation down for the long term good of our economy."

Translation: We won’t regulate business on marketing to children, or on employee rights, or family-friendly practices, we’re just going to ask them very nicely. Asking nicely didn’t work in the US South over segregation, nor when the suffragettes said pretty please, can we have the vote.

What Cameron said: "There's a man in my constituency called John Brooks and he's got cancer. He spent 40 years working for the same company, paying into his pension fund, it was a blanket factory in Witney. He was told his pension fund was copper bottomed and guaranteed - the business went bust, the pension scheme went bust and he was left with nothing."

Translation: see above on asking companies nicely nicely and no need for pension regulation.

What Cameron said: "Nothing matters more in terms of opportunity and our economy and our future than education. Falling down the European leagues in terms of educational performance. 23,000 young people leaving school without any qualifications whatsoever, we are not doing enough to prepare young people for this world of freedom."

Translation: We won’t follow the example of Finland, ranked #1 in the OECD in literacy among 15-year olds, as the Finnish system is fully comprehensive, and I’m hostage to my party on the issue of grammar schools. Besides, those wacky Finns also have free school meals to all pupils, and there are no university fees.

What Cameron said: "The government has got its academy programme. It's a good programme. But I feel that Gordon Brown is putting his foot on the brake when he should be putting his foot on the accelerator and we should be making it easier for these new schools."

Translation: I want more and more of our education system dependent upon £1m and £2m donations from people who gain a say over curriculum and hiring of staff.

What Cameron said: "The way we'll get a really personalised NHS is make the changes that are necessary. Giving people a real choice of GP's, giving GP's control over their budgets and allowing GP's to choose between whatever hospital they like. Public or private or voluntary not just some limited list."

Translation: I will expand private healthcare in Britain.

What Cameron said: "All of the Shadow Cabinet here they can tell the same story of young people who come to our surgeries, they show you their salary, they talk about local house prices and they just say I don't see how I can achieve that dream. And George showed how we going to cut stamp duty to show that we're on their side and we will help mend the housing ladder and get on their side."

Translation: Stamp duty is only levied on homes above £125 000. Stamp duty is currently charged at 1% of the sale price of properties worth between £125,000 and £250,000. If you’re earning £22 000, even on 4 times your income, and a £20 000 deposit saved up, you can afford a house or flat valued at £108 000, so you won’t have to pay stamp duty. I'm not talking to first time buyers in most of the country, I'm talking to first time buyers in the East of England, London and the South-East (where 73% of the stamp duty is collected).

Registering To Vote

The current electoral roll is correct, as of 1st December 2006. 91% of people do register to vore, but young people, minorities, inner-city residents and people who move house often are the ones likely to miss out.

John Turner, from the Association of Electoral Administrators, has used a series of interviews (BBC radio, Scotland on Sunday) to warn that only people who were registered in 2006, or who decide themselves to add their details near the start of an election, will be able to vote in a snap general election.

Remember: If GB the PM calls an election, and you weren't registered in 2006, you have six days to request and return a "rolling registration" form from the elections folks at the Council House in Coventry. Make sure you can vote, as if it returns a majority government, you only have this chance every 4 years!

Anti-GM Campaign In Italy

In hundreds of marketplaces and food fairs across Italy, anti-GM campaigners have been handing out forms that look like ballot papers.
They are trying to secure 3 million signatures by the 15th November, and are inviting people to answer "yes" or "no" to whether food production should be "genuine ... founded on biodiversity and free from GMOs".

David Cameron "didn't have an autocue, he only had a few notes," but there was no mention of protecting Britain from GM agriculture in his conference speech, so does he realise what really matters to you and your family?

02 October 2007

Stephen Fry - HIV And Me

An interesting programme on BBC 2 tonight at 9pm.

Stephen Fry, a patron of the Terrence Higgins Trust, presents the first of a two-part documentary on how HIV infections are rising, particularly among three groups: the young; black African communities; and heterosexuals.

He was interviewed about the programme for the Northern Echo:

Stephen believes the only way to fight the global battle against the HIV virus is to destroy the deeply entrenched stigmas through frank and honest dialogue. "Talking about Aids is precisely what helps to dispel the myths," he says. "At the moment HIV is a bit like Voldemort and we all have to be Harry Potter and be brave enough to say his name, and then it will get less and less powerful the more we do. However, if we continue to privilege it with this huge power and mystique and make out that it's best not talked about, then it will flourish."
See also: HIV testing in Coventry (THT)

Health Outreach For Youth In Coventry

The local NHS primary care trust is launching a scheme called "Clinic in a Box."

They will target "schools, colleges, youth clubs and other 'young-people friendly' locations throughout the city" to offer advice on drugs, smoking, chlamydia, alcohol, contraception, diet and exercise, stress and bullying.

If you have more questions, you can reach the project's coordinator, Mary Martin, on 02476 961326.

01 October 2007

Conservatives Backtrack On Environment

The lead headlines from George Osborne's shadow Chancellor conference speech is the abolition of inheritance tax up to a ceiling of £1 million.

Less focused on is the dropping of plans to charge people to park at out-of-town supermarkets.

More people driving out to the A45 to Saino's and Tesco means less people shopping on high streets like Earlsdon.

Meanwhile, David Cameron, has said, both to the Times, and to Andrew Marr this past Sunday, that:

We've decided the right option is to not do VAT on domestic flights, not to have some sort of air-miles allowance and instead to tax the pollution that planes cause. That is very sensible approach. And every penny, this is vital, every penny, of any new green tax will go back to families in a family tax cut.
This translates as: we will tax planes that are flying empty between London and Manchester, whilst we won't tax planes that are flying full from London to Milan.

It ignores the fact that Hilary Benn's announcment at Labour conference of phasing out high-energy lightbulbs year by year would be wiped out, carbon savings wise, by adding a runway at Stansted. The only way to restrict the growth in carbon emissions from aviation is to reduce airport capacity.

As for green taxes going into a "family fund" for future tax cuts, wouldn't it be better to take all the monies raised from green taxes and put them towards green improvements? Taxing cars, so that we can invest in public transport, so people don't have to use cars as much? Taxing cars, so that we can invest in cycling infrastructure/rent-a-bike programmes, so people don't have to use cars as much? Oh no, Cameron has to blow the dog whistle to Tory voters out in the heartland, I'm really a tax cutter at heart, not a loony greenie.

I bet Zac Goldsmith is starting to wonder what he's got himself into, with many of his key recommendations being dropped day-by-day.

Making Domestic Renewables Easy

Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun on the incentives people need to go green:

"People only feel green when they are prosperous. When they have got a mortgage crisis, the last thing they are going to think about doing is putting windmills on their roof."

Britain only produces 2% of our energy from renewables.

What we need is a national programme to make it easy as pie for people to install renewable power technology in their homes.

Instead, since the relaunch of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme in May, the grant money available has been reduced from £15000 a home to £2500 a home. The rules under which money can be claimed have also been tightened up.

The result is sadly predictable. In the six months to 21st September, only 113 households have jumped through red tape hoops for far too little money.

Lynne Jones: "Now the level of the grants has been pitched too low, and applicants are dropping out once they discover what funding they will get. We have gone from one extreme to the other ... Ministers need to ensure that the LCBP is functioning properly before the market for domestic microgeneration is killed off. In the long run, we should switch to the system operating in most other European countries of a favourable feed-in tariff for local energy generation, as recommended in a recent environment, food and rural affairs select committee report."