29 February 2008

Green Accomplishments In Yorkshire

Across the country, Green groups are showing their influence when councils decide their yearly budgets.

In Bradford (you can read about 244 things that Greens in Shipley ward have done here - MS Word file), Greens were able to win concessions such as:

- £300 000 over a year (with a hope to expand in future years), so that all over-60s can apply for free cavity wall and loft insulation

- £695 000 for a "Carbon Reduction Fund" -- council departments will be able to bid for funds for capital projects

- £700 000 for a variety of projects, such as biomass wood chip production, and low-energy lighting at transfer loading stations

- a reversal of proposed cuts to the Bradford Book Fair, and Bradford's specialist library service

In Kirklees (here is a link to information about solar projects in Kirklees), Greens were able, among other gains, to:

- £3 million capital for preventative road safety measures, prioritised by how many people have been killed on a particular road

- £4.5 million for insulation of public buildings, photovoltaics for all flat roof buildings, and renewable energy packages for schools

- a SMS text messaging service to remind people when bin day is, and what bin to put out

- feasibility studies into the anaerobic digestion of food waste, and local food production for school meals

28 February 2008

Obama And Iraq

Barack Obama's got a lot of mileage out of opposing the invasion of Iraq.

Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," has been looking at what both Obama would actually do, from where we are now.

Both of them intend to keep the Green Zone intact. Both of them intend to keep the current US embassy project, which is slated to be the largest embassy in the history of the world. I mean, I think it’s 500 CIA operatives alone, a thousand personnel. And they’re also going to keep open the Baghdad airport indefinitely. Who’s guarding US diplomats right now at this largest embassy in the history of the world? Well, it’s Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp; it’s these private security companies. Bill Clinton really gave rise to this phenomenon of the military contractors. We know that Dick Cheney was running Halliburton in the ’90s. Who was giving Dick Cheney all of those contracts? Well, it was Bill Clinton. There’s a reason why Hillary Clinton is the number one recipient of campaign contributions from the defense industry.

What Obama’s people told me is that we need these 90,000 troops desperately, because our troops need a rest. Some of them are serving three, four tours over in Iraq, and so we need to get them in there. But the reality is, you don’t get 90,000 troops and then be able to deploy them overnight. So, clearly, they’re thinking about this for years and years to come. I think the reality is that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton are actually going to be in the business of permanently ending the US occupation of Iraq. That’s a deadly serious issue, and it needs to be front and center on this campaign.

Everything Old Is New Again

Every Person in Health shall be kept to such Labour as they can well do, according to their several Ages and Abilities; that is to say, from Six of the Clock in the Morning to Six at Night; and if any grown Person refuse to work, to be kept on Bread and Water, or expell'd the House: The Children to be corrected by the Mistress. All Persons, who through Idleness may pretend themselves Sick, Lame, or Infirm, so as to be excused their Working ; such Impostors so discovered either by their Stomachs or the Apothecary, shall be carried before a Magistrate, in order to be punished as the Law directs.

- Laws of the Work-House of the Parish of St. John, Hackney, Middlesex, 1834

27 February 2008

Plane Stupid Protest At Parliament

Coventry Green Party And YouTube

We might start experimenting with videos on YouTube soon. It would be great to have five short (45 seconds) videos ready for the start of the local elections.

In any case, I've reserved a space for the Coventry Green Party on YouTube. For now, I've put as "favourites" the videos that I was able to find that were local and green and interesting (Uni of Warwick research on hybrid vehicles, etc). Elsewhere in the Midlands, you can look at Friends of the Earth Birmingham's page, or at the CWU's page for their efforts here in Coventry (post office closures). Nationally, there is the main page for the England and Wales Green Party (6000 channel views and rising), as well as the Liverpool Green Party's video blogging site.

25 February 2008

Clare Short At The Herbert -- 28th February

Clare Short, MP for Birmingham-Ladywood, will be speaking at the Herbert Art Gallery on the 28th of February, at 530pm.

Coventry Stop the War thinks it would be a good idea if we all attended to hold her feet to the fire over why she didn't resign from the cabinet before the Iraq invasion (a la Robin Cook and John Denham).

Short cited the decision of America, under British pressure, to publish the roadmap to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005 as a critical factor in her decision not to resign. Well, that worked out well.

"The targeting is enormously careful to go for the things that will help the military and not the people." Much of the military action would involve stabilising the country, keeping people fed, she argued. "It is highly likely that the military action will be over in a matter of weeks, [my emphasis] that the Iraqi forces will crumble very quickly because this is a very nasty regime and its people do not like it."
It's also interesting, looking back at BBC reports of the time, that major aid charities were urging her to stay in her post, to ensure a humanitanian focus to after-the-war aid efforts.

24 February 2008

Labour Cuts Back On Defra Spending

Friends of the Earth are demanding a government plan on fuel poverty by Friday, or they will ask for a judicial review. The government has cut spending on its Warm Front programme, whilst more than 4.5 million households suffer from fuel poverty (spending more than 10% of net income on electricity and gas), the highest since Labour has been in power.

Last month, officials from Benn's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) asked fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA), for which it provides more than 50 per cent of the funding, to draw up budgets for the next three years, assuming a cut in the government grant of 25 per cent. The NEA advises local and regional authorities and housing associations on fuel poverty, and tests insulation and other energy efficient devices. It also helps compile statistics for the government.
Tony Juniper also points out that £5 million is being cut from Natural England, funding for recycling is being cut by 30%, and that more money will be devoted to incineration.
In 2006, the GDP of the United Kingdom was about £1.16 trillion. Defra's budget this year will be a little short of £4bn, to cover all the different aspects of environmental protection, farming and rural affairs with which it is charged. We have one of the strongest and largest economies in the world. The proportion of our total wealth that is spent by this rather small organ of government is tiny, about 0.4% of GDP. Is that an adequate commitment to the future of our planet?

Football Violence In Earlsdon

A riot, and I think you can call it a riot if it involves 100 people with bricks and knives, happened yesterday on Earlsdon High Street, between rivals supporting the Sky Blues and Leicester City.

It was at 1130am, but I didn't find out until 1130pm (just by checking teletext). My in-laws were visiting from Manchester yesterday, and they arrived around 1030am, and noticed helicopters overhead (we wonder what this means in retrospect). We went out to shop on the high street around 4pm, and there was no sign that anything had occured!

I'd agree with the poe-leece in that "it is very unusual for disorder to break out in the Earlsdon area, and all indications at the moment suggest that the violence was planned."

That being said, if a 100-person riot had happened in Leicester Square at 1130am yesterday, it would have led the national media. Instead, I think the media wants to think football violence is a thing of the 80's and 90's.

23 February 2008

Women And Unpaid Overtime

A report by the Trades Union Congress has found that 24% of women without children do unpaid overtime - the highest number of any other group:

The Fawcett Society's Kat Banyard: "Women are forced to choose between caring for a family at home or maximising their career opportunities in a workplace that measures performance by the number of hours put in."

The TUC's general secretary, Brendan Barber, said this was preventing women getting the top jobs in their profession. "It is hardly surprising that the senior levels of most organisations are male and that the gender pay gap stubbornly persists," he said.

22 February 2008

News Roundup - 22nd February 2008

- Hamburg has its city elections on Sunday, and "The Left" party is expected to take 9% of the vote. Across Germany, their support is at 12%. With a platform of a minimum wage, renationalisation of the energy sector, a super tax for the rich, and troops out of Afghanistan, Die Linke is taking advantage of people disillusioned with the Social Democrats (in coalition with the right nationally) and the German Greens (who are split down the middle on German deployment to Afghanistan).

- The government has refused to publish the full report, by Deloitte and Touche, on the risk to security breaches of the £224m ContactPoint child protection system. ContactPoint would list the name, address and date of birth of every child in England and contact details for their parents, doctors and schools. In a five page summary, the Deloitte report said that: "risk can only be managed, not eliminated, and therefore there will always be a risk of data security incidents occurring."

- Johann Hari makes the case for strong government regulation:

Dispersed consumer choices are not going to keep the climate this side of a disastrous temperature rise. The only way that can ever happen is by governments legislating to force us all – green and anti-green – to shift towards cleaner behaviour. Just as the government in the Second World War did not ask people to eat less voluntarily, governments today cannot ask us to burn fewer greenhouse gases voluntarily . It is not enough for you to change your bulbs. Everyone has to change their bulbs. It is not enough for you to eat less meat. Everyone has to eat less meat. It is not enough for you to fly less. Everyone has to fly less. (And yes, I hate these facts as much as you do. But I will hate the reality of runaway global warming even more.)

Emerging Infectious Disease

Researchers have mapped the world's hotspots for emerging infectious diseases. The main hotspots were in South Asia and South-East Asia. These areas are not the financial focus of global funds to prevent the spread of emerging infectious disease. The research also found that conservation efforts -- that reduce conflicts between humans and animals -- could play a key role in limiting future outbreaks:

"We are crowding wildlife into ever smaller areas, and human population is increasing," explained Dr Marc Levy, a global change expert at Columbia University's Earth Institute. "Where those two things meet, that is the recipe for something crossing over."

21 February 2008

New GP And Dental Practices In Coventry

Coventry Primary Care Trust wants to open two new GP practices (in Stoke Aldermoor and Foleshill) and three new dental practices (in Wood End, Tile Hill and Stoke Aldermoor).

Men living in Foleshill are likely to die 10 years earlier than a man in any other part of the city - at an average age of 63. Coventry is one of 50 primary care trusts identified as having the poorest GP provision in England and Wales.

31% of us, in a recent study by Citizen Advice Bureaux, have not seen a NHS dentist since April 2006. "Lack of access" was the most common reason cited.

More provision for NHS dentistry and for GP surgeries are, obviously, good things.

The flip side of this announcement is that private companies could be brought in to run the new services. The three proposed GP health centres will be run by "Alternative Providers of Medical Services" (APMS).

Patricia Barnett, assistant director of Primary Care for Coventry PCT, said: "Currently doctors have a monopoly on surgeries. APMS means there can be a wider pool of potential bidders, not just GPs - public service bodies, voluntary sector, hospital foundation trusts and private bodies.

Dr Manoj Pai, chairman of Coventry Local Medical Committee, said: "While we welcome additional investment to enable long-needed expansion of primary care services in Coventry, we are disappointed. We do not believe that tendering out family doctor services to large private companies who will seek to make profits for their shareholders as their main aim is in the best long-term interests of our patients.
You can read more about the 2007 to 2012 "commissioning strategy" for the Coventry PCT here.

Spain And High Speed Trains

Spain has just opened a new high-speed rail line from Madrid to Barcelona. It's Europe's longest, and the third to have been opened in Spain in the past two months. By 2010, Spain will have the most extensive high-speed network in the world. By 2020, they want 90% of Spaniards to be within 50 km of a high-speed station. In terms of replacing air travel, more than 80% of travellers between Madrid and Seville already use the AVE.

"It is ridiculous that the country that invented rail travel now has only 80 miles of high-speed track between Folkestone and St Pancras for the Eurostar trains,” Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the TSSA transport union, said. “We have to follow the example of Spain and France by making rail quicker and cheaper if we are to meet the challenge of low-cost airlines.

20 February 2008

The Green Party And Unions

Peter Tatchell, on The Guardian's Comment is Free:

Last weekend's Green Party spring conference witnessed a further consolidation of the party's position as the largest and most progressive alternative to the big three grey parties - all of which are wedded, to varying degrees, to the corporate agenda of big business. The conference passed resolutions condemning the creeping privatisation of the NHS and calling for the railways to be returned to public ownership. In debate after debate, a recurring theme was the defence of public services and the public accountability of economic institutions.

We already have a Green Party Trade Union Group (GPTUG) with its own dedicated website and blog. It supports workers' rights and is working with union members to advance a green agenda that is social as well as environmental.

Profit-maximisation and the free market imperatives of international capital threaten the future of life on earth. They put economic growth, materialism, consumerism and money-making before quality of life and human welfare. A green-union alliance is more urgent and relevant than ever before. Many union members already share our green critique of the ever-expanding, profit-oriented, market-driven nature of the globalised economic system. Unions are potential allies for the green movement. We should work with them, in solidarity.

Soft Authoritarianism And Going Green

ICM has done two recent polls, one for the Telegraph (field research done 30th/31st January), and one for the Guardian (15th/16th February). My advice is to always look at ICM's extended PDF files (on their website) to see how every question breaks down by age, gender, region and class.

The Guardian poll looked at taxation and the gap in incomes:

The good news: 75% feel the gap between high and low incomes is too wide in Britain, the highest ever level found by ICM.
The bad news: Only 36% agreed that taxes make society fairer - 51% amongst Lib Dems and 48% for Labour voters.

The Telegraph poll in late January asked about various Tory policies, and if they would make respondents more likely, less likely, or no difference, to vote Tory at the next election.

The good news: 60% of 18-34 year olds said that "forcing people to change their behaviour to reduce greenhouse gases" made them "more likely" to vote Tory.

The bad news: 69% of people or more, across every social group, said that "allowing police to hold terrorist suspects for longer than 28 days without charge" would make no difference, or make them more likely to vote Tory. Large majorities (for make no difference, more likely to vote Tory) were found for "reducing people coming from overseas to live in Britain" and "more police on the streets."

The Green Party's vision looks at redistribution, equality, libertarian views on holding terror suspects and prison, and open immigration/asylum. We may have 60% of younger voters buying into the idea of rough justice to achieve a sustainable society, but two-thirds of society also agree with rough justice, in the form of soft authoritarian policies. As well, it's unclear how people think the massive rich-poor gap is going to be resolved, if it's not through redistributive tax policy.

Upcoming Events - 20th Feb To 2nd Mar

1) All this week is the "Go Green Week" at the University of Warwick. More information can be found here. There is a "Green Question Time" event on Thursday night, which involves Ian Davison (the Green candidate in 2005 in Warwick/Leamington) and Michael Meacher (former Environment minister for Labour).

2) I'm giving a talk to Coventry University's International Relations Society next Tuesday, the 26th February, 5pm for a 530pm start. It's part of Cov Uni's Environment Week. It'll be at Meeting Room 1 in their Students Union building, in Priory Street, by the Cathedral.

3) On Saturday 23rd February, from 1230pm to 330pm, the Herbert is having a drop in session called "Queering Coventry" as part of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) History Month. The Herbert is launching a project to collect the LGBT history of Coventry. As they say: "Whether you remember the Christmas lights at the Stonebridge 'magic' roundabout, Chris Smith MP coming out in Rugby, or the founding of Lesbian Line and Coventry Friend – or if you want to help collect this history – please come along."

4) Garden Organic Ryton is having a short course on Saturday 1st March, 130pm to 430pm, on "Planning an organic vegetable garden", £25 for members, £30 for non-members. It's their beginners guide to organic vegetable growing -- basic organic principles, plot planning and design, assessing soil type and fertility and planning a crop rotation.

5) There will be a Palestinian brunch, and talk, on Sunday 2nd March, 1pm to 4pm, at Habibi's on Far Gosford Street. Taysir Arbasi is a founder member and project director of Zaytoun in Palestine, who works with marginalised farming communities in the West Bank. You can find Zaytoun olive oil at Kendall's Deli on Earlsdon High Street. If you're interested, contact Ann Farr in advance (for numbers for the food, I suppose) on annfarr@phonecoop.coop, or 02476 679 398.

19 February 2008

"The Terror Dream" - American Men and 9/11

Susan Faludi's most recent book, "The Terror Dream," sounds interesting. It looks at the redefinition of American masculinity in the aftermath of 9/11:

When al-Qaida attacked their country, Faludi writes, the humiliating shame felt by American men watching helplessly on TV was experienced, at a subliminal level, sexually. "The post-9/11 commentaries were riddled with apprehensions that America was lacking in masculine fortitude." America's media fell back in love with the manly man - an old-fashioned hero strong enough to defend his nation and rescue his womenfolk. If he did not exist, he would have to be invented. So firemen had to be superheroes, widows had to be helpless, unmarried women had to be frantic to wed, and working mums had to want to stay at home. Crucially, strong men had to protect weak women - a desire vividly dramatised by the Rambo-style rescue in Iraq of Private Jessica Lynch, who found herself reconfigured by the media from professional soldier to helpless damsel.

18 February 2008

What's Easier?

- Doing a twice-weekly shop at a supermarket that you have to drive to ... or receiving a weekly veg box from an organic box scheme?

- Shopping for milk ... or having it delivered to your door?

- Walking or cycling to work (knowing exactly when you're going to arrive, no matter what the traffic) or driving to work?

- Worrying about fuel bills two-three years from now ... or subscribing to a green energy tariff now, and insulating yourself from fossil fuel price rises?

Northern Rock

After the PQ won their first election in Quebec, a cartoonist drew the winner, Rene Levesque, with the bubble above his head saying, "Ok everybody, just take a Valium."

At a time when we have a personal debt crisis, and at a time when we have to retrofit millions of homes for an era of renewable energy, the government has taken a major mortgage lender into public ownership.

Poorer citizens need access to affordable credit. All citizens need access to mortgages that promote sustainable housing and sustainable communities.

Does it occur to anyone else that, with Northern Rock, the government now has a powerful lever to promote local investment, energy efficient housing, ecological renovation, and ecological enterprise?

Miliband Urged To Curb Mercenaries

David Miliband, and the Labour government, is facing a legal challenge from War on Want.

In 2002, the Foreign Office published a green paper on how mercenaries (sorry, private military and security companies) could be regulated. Nothing has happened since. The Commons foreign affairs committee has called for action, recommending that:

"private companies be expressly prohibited from direct participation in armed combat operations, and that firearms should only be carried ... by company employees for purposes of training or self-defence".

More than 100 MPs have also signed an early day motion urging the government to move towards binding legislation to bring private military companies under democratic control.

14 February 2008

Spring Green Party Conference Blog

For the next few days, I'll be away at the Green Party's spring conference in Reading.

You can keep track of the conference at a special blog for Red Pepper, Green Despatches, with news from the conference (emergency motions, plenaries, fringe meetings, how comfy our beds are, etc).

740 000 People In The EU Have HIV/AIDS

In a EU survey, 24% of people thought AIDS can be contracted by kissing someone on the mouth, and 30% are not sure.

For the record, only five biological fluids (blood, sperm, male pre-seminal fluid, female vaginal secretions, and mother's milk) have enough HIV to infect, not saliva.

Here's a link to NHS information on sexual health, and where to get free condoms in Coventry.

See also: HIV testing in Coventry (THT)

News Roundup - 14th February 2008

- An engineer has come up with a car which runs on compressed air and gets 120 miles to the gallon

- "The increased cost of going to university means that students unable to, or unwilling to, build up huge debt levels may have to abandon their dreams."

- In Europe last year, there was a 77% growth in biotech crops with more than 100,000 hectares cultivated - most of which was maize grown in Spain.

- At a board meeting next month, British Energy will discuss splitting in two: one half will oversee its eight existing nuclear power stations, with a new company focusing on building the next generation of nuclear power plants.

- Nick Clegg may have to deal with Lisbon Treaty referendum rebels, like Labour and Kate Hoey/Frank Field.

The Demonisation Of "Islamists"

There's an interesting comment piece in the Guardian today by Seumas Milne:

Serious debate about equal rights for Muslims or integration as a two-way process is becoming impossible in an atmosphere of growing Islamophobic intolerance. In a climate in which denouncing "Islamists" has become the polite way to attack Muslims, and a literary figure such as Martin Amis can rant about the threat to Europe from the Muslim birthrate and still be treated with respect, public opinion has become inflamed.

Detective Inspector Bob Lambert, who retired six weeks ago as head of the Metropolitan police special branch's Muslim Contact Unit: "The government approach is increasingly to lump all Islamist groups together", the special branch veteran says. "But Islamists can be powerful allies in the fight against al-Qaida influence. Our experience shows they can be the levers that help get young people away from the most dangerous positions. Issues that are most troubling to people like the oppression of women and gays mustn't be swept under the carpet, but they also shouldn't be treated as a block on engagement."

Lambert also highlights the importance of Islamic activists' cooperation with the anti-war movement and radical MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway in offering Muslim youth a way to channel their political grievances into peaceful political action.

We've Been Quangoed!

A quango is a "quasi non-governmental organisation." Examples of a quango would be the Environment Agency, the Learning and Skills Council, or the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. There are about 405 quangos across the public sector.

Quangos spend £123 billion in public money each year. That's more than what is spent by democratically-elected local government!

The New Local Government Network has an interesting report out today on the transparency of quangos, and specifically, on who sits on the boards of quangos. It's very London-dominated (Rutland, intriguingly, is over-represented too). The West Midlands has only half of the representation on the boards of quangos that it should have, vis-a-vis our population.

The NLGN makes four recommendations:

- a more democratic approach to nominations and appointments is overdue
- the location of public sector bodies is critical and needs review
- applications for posts should be particularly encouraged from under-represented parts of the country
- each Cabinet Minister should publish annually the residency statistics of appointments they make

The 2nd point doesn't affect Coventry as much (we already have the HQ of the Learning and Skills Council; the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is relocating to Coventry), but the other three should be immediately acted on by the government.

Bodies that spend £123 billion a year should be transparent, representative and accountable.

13 February 2008

Suicide Ratings For Prescription Drugs

The Times reports that the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), which regulates all drugs, is planning on giving a "suicide rating" to new drugs licensed for use in Britain. 10 years ago, Roche swore up and down that Roaccutane, an acne drug mentioned below, had no link to suicide. 26 people are now said to have killed themselves in Britain whilst taking Roaccutane.

European regulators are also to require pharmaceutical companies to include a comprehensive suicide assessment into trials of new medicines.

Medicines to treat acne, swelling, heartburn, pain, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol, bacterial infections, smoking and insomnia have all been associated recently with psychiatric problems.

There have been warnings about the potential side-effects of Acomplia, an antiobesity drug, Roaccutane, an acne treatment, and Champix, an antismoking medication, which together have been prescribed to more than 60,000 patients in Britain.

Steve Bell On Guantanamo Tribunals

My Next Few Days

I'm going to go to the Abortion Rights protest against the Widdicombe speaking tour tonight.

Tomorrow, I'm giving a talk to Coventry FoE. I'm shaping it around the idea of a "Great Moving Green Show" -- how do we seize the agenda back from greenwash? People will need to buy into a bottom-up sustainable society, rather than a Green Party making "Transition Towns" mandatory, or imposing it through regulation/green taxes. We need to focus on themes like taking control, local economies, empowerment, radical democracy, and equality -- and contrast that with a right-wing social policy that signs up to The Big Ask (David Cameron) or loads of off-shore wind farms but British Jobs For British Workers (Gordon Brown).

If it's Friday, it must be Reading Town Hall, for the spring conference of the Green Party. Admission is by sliding scale, and you can go for one day to sample debate, or buy a four-day pass (Thu-Sun). I always look forward to fringe meetings at conference, and this year, there are a number of interesting ones (on biomass burners, integrity in public life, animal rights/vegetarianism, films, and campaigns for press freedom).

US Elections - Obama Eating Into Clinton Base

It's not as much that Obama is winning state-after-state from Clinton (22 of the last 30 states), but how he's starting to win them:

A few striking numbers - some of them stunning numbers - from the Virginia exit polls. Obama carried white men with 55%. He carried Latinos with 55%. He carried voters with incomes under $50,000 with 59%. He carried Catholics with 52%. He carried independents with 62% - and far more independents voted in the Democratic primary, for Obama, than in the GOP primary, for McCain. And he carried Republicans who chose to vote in the Democratic primary (they constituted 7% of the vote) with 70%.
Clinton is focusing on Texas and Ohio (two more states between now and then, Wisconsin and Hawaii). The way Texas selects delegates might not favour her, and Obama is already running TV and radio ads in Texas.

Announcer, in Spanish: Barack Obama is talking to me. He’s faced many of the same challenges that we’ve faced in my family. His parents weren’t rich, but through hard work, he earned a scholarship and found his way — graduating from Harvard Law School. And instead of accepting job offers that paid a lot of money, Obama decided to work with churches, giving a helping hand to those less fortunate in his community.
It's looking grim for Clinton. As such, it's time to start taking a hard look at what Obama is policy-wise, or how he's shifting policy-wise, for example, on Gaza.

Knickers for Valentine's Day

60% hemp, locally-made knickers, organic fairtrade cotton knickers, they have the lot ...

"We started GreenKnickers to prove that ethical choices can be funny, beautiful and sexy. The logical place to start was obviously knickers!"

12 February 2008

Tribunals For Detainees Charged with 9/11

Human Rights Watch is calling for trials of "enemy combatants," accused of organising the 9/11 attacks in 2001, to take place in federal courts, not military tribunals. US federal courts prohibit the use of coerced confessions.

Instead, the tribunals will accept statements and evidence obtained through the catalogue of what's become "common sense" in the war on terror.

This has included sleep deprivation for weeks, attack dogs, threats to the families of detainees, waterboarding (mock drowning that has been prosecuted as torture by the US for more than 100 years), forced enemas, detainees being forced into painful physical positions (known as stress positions), forced exercises, dousing naked prisoners with ice water in rooms chilled to fifty degrees Fahrenheit, forced standing for 40 hours, and sexual humiliation.

David Miliband talks a good game about "creating a consensus around a set of rules, norms and shared values that reflect our common humanity ... It starts with universal values of human dignity and human rights, democratic accountability and checks on arbitrary power."

If Miliband wants to talk about "universal human dignity," we can't have the US as our "special relationship," with no conditions, no matter what they do to their prisoners.

Flowers For Valentine's Day

We spend £50m on flowers on Valentine's Day ... far more than that all year round.

Do you think about the use of chemicals, worker rights or air miles at the local florist or supermarket?

The Shropshire-based Organic Flower Company was ranked top of 20 companies (in a survey by Ethical Consumer magazine).

Teleflorist does not offer Fairtrade-certified flowers on its site. Flowersdirect and Flowergram do not offer locally grown, Fairtrade or organically certified flowers through their sales centres.

"All of the large supermarkets are now offering Fairtrade flowers, so we were horrified to note that the relay companies don't seem to prioritise ethical flowers," said Hanna Backman, the report's author. "We would like to see a range of locally grown, organically certified and possibly even seasonal flowers for sale at the flower relay company websites."

11 February 2008

Supermarket Waste Hits New Highs

What you have to understand about supermarkets is that they want to keep doing what they've always done, and also sell enough organic lentils and organic milk and organic coconut milk, and museli, to put independent health food shops out of business:

Retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste each year. A study by Imperial College for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, found that supermarkets preferred to throw away food that was approaching its sell-by date rather than mark it down in price. "The cost of staff time is greater than the money made on the reduced items," the research found, citing a supermarket executive who said it cost the chain £11m a year in labour and lost margins to slash prices.

Equal Pay For City Council Contracts

Women in full-time work earn 17% less than men. It gets worse for part-time women workers (nearly 36% less).

Currently, Coventry City Council's procurement policy states that "equal opportunities" must be observed by companies bidding for contracts. Perhaps it should be explicit that if you want the council's work, women must be paid the same as men.

"Speed Of Deployment" Of Nuclear Power

The independent safety regulator for any new generation of nuclear power plants, is using "speed of deployment" as one of its main criteria for new designs.

Shouldn't safety and security come first, rather than political considerations?

Law Lords To Rule On Iraq Inquiry

Rose Gentle and Beverley Clarke, the mothers of two 19-year-old soldiers killed in Iraq, are asking the Lords to set up an independent inquiry into whether the Iraq war was legal before the invasion in 2003.

The case is being brought against the prime minister, the defence secretary and the attorney general.

It's a three-day hearing, and they will hear it with nine law lords, instead of the usual five.

Their lawyer, Phil Shiner, will argue that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights obliges the government to take reasonable steps to ensure that its service personnel do not face the risk of death, except in lawful military activities. Article 2 is the section used in cases like Jean Charles de Menezes, or ordering inquiries into Hep C deaths.

A little-noticed clause in the Counter Terrorism Bill would enable the Home Secetary to remove juries, or the coroner, from these kind of independent inquiries. The Home Secretary could order the changes if it was deemed to be in Britain's national interest, if it would affect the UK's relationship with another country, or "otherwise in the public interest." So, whenever the Home Secretary wants!

09 February 2008

Lent Endurance Challenge

Church Action On Poverty is having a campaign during Lent for people to live as someone made destitute by the Government's policy for people refused asylum.

People taking part will exchange their weekly food budget for a food parcel & £3.50 cash which they will live off for one week of Lent. In an "Endurance Journal", participants will record if their budget stretches to turning on the heat, or using a phone or a car.

In Coventry, the local churches group for refugees is working on a scheme for next month. More on this as it comes in!

08 February 2008

A Referendum On The EU Constitution

Frank Field and Kate Hoey, two Labour MPs, continue to be persecuted by their party on supporting a referendum on the EU Constitution.

The group "I Want A Referedum" is holding mini-votes in ten marginal constituencies (including those of cabinet members, e.g. Jacqui Smith in Redditch, here in the West Midlands).

On the group's website, a Green MP in Sweden, Max Andersson, points out that:

The EU does not need a constitution to fight global warming – it needs the political will to develop policies that work, but that has nothing to do with the Lisbon Treaty. Yet the promotion of global warming policies is but one of the inconsistencies and half-truths propagated by EU leaders in their efforts to mislead the public and bypass democratic processes for ratification.

It seems as if the political elites are afraid that if they let the people have a say in the future of the EU, they are not going to like what they will hear. The distance between EU leaders and their 490 million constituents will only continue to increase if citizens do not make their voices heard.
Back in September 2007, the Green Party backed the TUC in calling for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty:

Caroline Lucas, Green MEP and advisor to the pro-European Centre for a Social Europe think-tank, said: "It's clear that the proposed EU Reform Treaty is substantially the same document as the EU constitution, on which Tony Blair promised the British people a referendum. Now Gordon Brown wants to deny us a say on whether to adopt it or not - and that's fundamentally undemocratic, whatever you think about the rights or wrongs of the treaty."

Local Coventry Food For Lent

Living Simpler is Joe Turner's blog of eating local (everything within 100 miles of Coventry) for Lent. If you're on Facebook, there's also a page for it here.

(Big Brother Geordie accent) It's day 3 of Lent, and Joe is in the kitchen, making butternut squash soup.

Joe's also behind the Freedom Clothing project for ethical/environmental clothing.

Lenny Henry And Media Racism

Lenny Henry, in an address to the Royal Television society last night, said scriptwriters and producers still bandied around offensive terms too readily:

"Words like wog, Paki and coon back then, and chav and pikey today, have a profound effect on our communities," he said. Henry hit out at the lack of progress in employing staff from ethnic minority backgrounds off screen, and called on executives to set specific targets and reach out to young people. "To walk on set and find a black DOP or an Asian boom operator is as rare as seeing John McCririck on the front cover of Vanity Fair."
After spending some time on Google, this from 2003 stands out, not for Henry's comments, but for a few others:

Bectu, Britain's biggest broadcasting union, recently branded UK television "institutionally racist", accusing programme-makers of excluding ethnic minorities and ghettoising them away from mainstream shows.

Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow has also claimed that when black and Asian trainees enter the newsroom they are encouraged to become reporters so they can be seen by viewers. This gives the impression the media employ more people from ethnic minorities than is really the case.

07 February 2008

Big Oil Is Getting Twitchy

If cigarette companies can get sued for suppressing information about the harmful health effects of smoking ...

Red Cross Urges Ban On Cluster Bombs


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Wednesday for urgent conclusion of a global pact to ban cluster weapons even if big powers like the United States, Russia and China were not ready to join. “We need a strong, legally-binding treaty urgently, in 2008, that would ban the use, development, stockpiling and transfer of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions,” said Peter Herby, who heads the ICRC’s Arms Unit.

Cluster munitions were used by Israel in its battle against the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Campaigners say hundreds of Lebanese civilians were killed or maimed during and after the conflict because of what they call indiscriminate use of the weapon.
Meanwhile, back in September 2007, after Gordon Brown became Prime Minister:

The UK government has been accused of trying to reclassify two kinds of cluster bombs so they can still be used after a proposed global ban begins. Landmine Action said the government wanted to make use of its current stocks of the controversial bombs which open up to scatter smaller bombs. The government says its position was backed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). However the ICRC says this has never been discussed with them by Britain.

Restriction On Police Stop And Search

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has a comment piece in today's Telegraph:

Thankfully, we left many things behind in the 1970s - tank tops, ghastly Blue Nun wine and hairy-chested medallion men. None should be allowed to see the light of day again.

There was also the serious stuff. That decade was stained by the grossly prejudicial behaviour of police officers directed mostly at young Asian and black men. It was what we used to call "sus" - stopping people because you suspected their motives.

70 per cent of crimes are solved by what the police call "community-led intelligence", that is local people telling them stuff. In our effort to save young people today, let's not turn the clock back to the days when police and young people in some parts of our country could see each other only as combatants in a war in which both sides are bound to lose.

Pro-Choice Protest In Coventry - 13 February

Next Wednesday, at 645pm, outside Coventry Cathedral, Abortion Rights have called a peaceful pro-choice protest against a speaking tour by Anne Widdicombe, Lord David Alton, and others.

Anti-abortion activists are attempting to use the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to attack the current time limit (24 weeks) and grounds for legal abortion.

Anti-abortionists are fundamentally anti-woman. Their goal is to control women and women's sexuality. They argue for cooling off periods, but when you think about, that's like saying women make abortion decisions lightly, and implicitly says that women can’t be trusted to make such a fundamental decision about their lives. If women are deprived of any way to control when (access to birth control; comprehensive sex education), or if they get pregnant, they revert back to chattel and the property of men.

An opinion poll commissioned by Abortion Rights in October 2007 to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act showed 83 per cent support a woman’s right to make her own abortion decision. This finding is in line with previous polls over a number of years.

If anything, 40 years on:

Current unfair barriers to accessing abortion should be ended. Specifically that doctors’ effective right of veto of over women’s abortion decision should be ended and that abortion should be allowed in more settings and by trained nurses to end delays.

90th Anniversary Of Women's Right To Vote

The Guardian has a collection of photos to mark the 90th anniversary of the suffragette movement. What's striking about the suffragette movement, especially the WSPU, is the degree of direct action, especially violent direct action against property. Among their tactics: breaking the windows of government buildings (including Downing Street); trying to enter the House of Commons; throwing themselves under horses; slashing paintings with meat-cleavers; hunger strikes; and attempted arson against cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses. By the summer of 1914, over 1,000 suffragettes had been imprisoned for destroying public property. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women over the age of 30 (who owned property) the right to vote. It took until 1928 for all women to have the vote.

06 February 2008

Tesco Cuts "Standard" Chicken Prices

The Independent:

Tesco slashed the price of a whole chicken to £1.99 yesterday, in a move that critics warned would heap financial pressure on the poultry industry and make it harder to the improve welfare of factory-farmed animals.

Dr Lesley Lambert, Compassion in World Farming's director of research and education, said: "£1.99 doesn't reflect the real price of producing a chicken. At the moment, farmers make only 2p per chicken, so this will push them to the limit."

She said that Tesco should be cutting the price of its higher-welfare chicken rather than its bottom-of-the-range birds.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said yesterday: "I'm very surprised [at Tesco] because everybody is selling out of free-range chicken. To launch a £1.99 chicken is in direct contradiction to a statement [the chief executive] Sir Terry Leahy made last summer when he said he didn't want to get into a food price war on chicken."

Coventry And London 2012

The city council's website has a small bit about London 2012, saying that the "Culture and Leisure" part of the council, with CV One, will explore hosting countries/teams in Coventry for the games.

As of today, Alice Davey (the head of culture and leisure at the city council) confirms that the council hasn't put any specific guidelines in place for the process.

I think it would be good to encourage the council to court certain countries, based on ethical criteria, i.e. we don't want Burma or Sudan to train at the University of Warwick, what with monk repression and Darfur.

New Zealand is officially non-nuclear, and Norway hosts the Nobel Peace Prize?

Our February Meeting

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, the 12th of February, at 730pm. It will be at the Coventry Peace House, on Stoney Stanton Road, just north of the canal.

Here is a map to the Peace House.

Members of the Warwick Young Greens have said they'll try to make it. We'll be discussing the results of our 7000 leaflets in Earlsdon in January, and our door-to-door canvassing from now until the election.

Super Tuesday Results

The NY Times interactive maps show not only which states, but which counties, the candidates won. It's fun for ages 9 to 99.

Interestingly, the vote in the US South, especially the white vote, is shifting towards Obama (15 percent better than predicted in Alabama; seven percent higher than Missouri polls were showing; eleven points better than he'd polled in Georgia). In Georgia, Obama won 43% of white votes -- almost double the share he captured in South Carolina.

Clinton won New York (every county except the one with Cornell University) and California, but Obama strung together a wide variety of states, including Missouri. Missouri has picked the November winner in every election since the 1950s.

There are a number of videos on the US election, especially foreign policy differences on Iran and Iraq between Clinton and Obama, at The Real News.

CIA Admits Waterboarding

Talk about burying bad news: on Super Tuesday when people were voting in two dozen states, the head of the CIA finally admitted that they had used waterboarding on terrorist suspects:

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today, General Hayden stated that the CIA had waterboarded three al Qaeda suspects – Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaydah, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – while holding them in secret custody in 2002 and 2003. Waterboarding, a torture technique in which a prisoner is made to believe he is drowning, violates both the federal anti-torture statute and the War Crimes Act. "General Hayden's acknowledgment that the CIA subjected three detainees to waterboarding is an explicit admission of criminal activity," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. Waterboarding has been prosecuted by US courts as torture since the Spanish-American War. After World War II, US military commissions prosecuted and severely punished enemy soldiers for subjecting American prisoners to waterboarding.

05 February 2008

US Elections - Super Duper Tsunami Tuesday

24 US states will vote today in the US elections, among them big states like New York and California.

Each of these state-by-state contests decide delegates for a national convention, for each party. The Democrats will have their convention in Denver (25th to 28th August). The Republicans will have theirs in Minnesota (four days later).

In some states (Florida for the Republicans), you win the state, you get all the state's delegates. In others, usually Democratic races, it's proportionally split (9 each for Obama and Clinton, 4 for Edwards, in New Hampshire, despite Clinton winning the popular vote). It can get pretty arcane. Somehow, in Nevada, Obama won 13 delegates to Clinton's 12, despite losing the popular vote.

Gathering enough delegates to be 50% plus one can go right down to the nominating convention (e.g. the Republicans in 1976, with Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan even putting forward a vice-presidential nominee each, and then the convention voting on their party's candidate for President).

The Nation has an interesting series of blog postings, including this one on how an Obama victory might look like on Wednesday morning. They also have articles on barriers to youth registering on the primary day to vote, on the environmental positions of Obama and Clinton, and Obama's remarkable online networking.

Democracy Now! has an interview on Hispanic voters and the Democrats.

It's not just Republicans and Democrats who are having primaries tomorrow. The Green Party in the US has a number of potential nominees -- Jesse Johnson, Kat Swift, Kent Mesplay, Ralph Nader is "exploring" a run -- but there have been a few articles on Cynthia McKinney's campaign for the Green nomination lately.

Carbon Fasting For Lent

Hard on the heels of the "Buy Less, Live More" credit card, the Bishops of Liverpool and London are partnering with Tearfund to have a carbon fast for Lent.

The "fast" involves a simple energy saving action each day, including insulating your hot water tank, avoiding plastic bags, and checking your house for drafts.

Bishop James Jones (Liverpool), who is vice president of Tearfund, said:

"When I was in India with Tearfund, I saw the effects of climate change on poor people first-hand. For me it went from theory to reality when I sat with village elders whose village had flooded and I saw that people’s lives had been totally devastated. It is right to be concerned about aid, trade and debt, but it is no use if you negatively impact the climate and then do nothing about it. It is like giving with the one hand, and punching with the other. You might as well not give at all. We have to cut back on carbon. If we don’t, we will be ruining the harvest of those we say we are trying to help."

04 February 2008

Baghdad Drowning In Sewage

AFP reports that, nearly five years in, reconstruction is going great:

One of three sewage treatment plants is out of commission, one is working at stuttering capacity, while a pipe blockage in the third means sewage is forming a foul lake so large it can be seen “as a big black spot on Google Earth."

Bikes Not Bombs Ride - 22nd March 2008

Bikes Not Bombs are planning a bike ride from London to the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment. The bike ride is expected to take 3 days (22nd March - 24th March 2008).

Fifty years on from the first Aldermaston march, anti-nuclear campaigners need to work quickly to halt the replacement of Trident. Aldermaston is now building research facilities for the next generation of nukes, despite this being illegal under the non-proliferation treaty. More than 5000 people are expected to attend the surround the base event at Aldermaston on the 24th March.

If you would be interested in attending, please email: info@bikesnotbombs.org.uk or 07929 123 314.

Monday News Round-Up

The first phase of London's Low Emissions Zone comes into force today. All lorries over 12 tonnes entering London will need to meet EU exhaust limits or pay a £200 fine per day. Buses and coaches will be the second phase (July 2008). By 2010, it will also cover some vans and smaller lorries. Cars and motorcycles will be exempt.

An interesting article on the culture of thrift/make-do-and-mend in the 1950's and 1960's:

When petrol reaches £5 a litre and goods no longer move around so freely, when we put our foot through the last Egyptian cotton sheets, or shortages remind us that plastic too is made from petrochemicals, we're all going to have to be a lot more like my mother.
An odd ally, but the ex-chair of Shell, and currently the chair of Anglo American, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, is calling for a total ban on the sale of cars which don't make 35 miles to the gallon.

The MOD could always invent a new type of radar. That way, clean energy that won't cook the planet would come first, rather than military priorities.

The greening of music festivals: PaleoFest (Switzerland) was entirely powered by sustainable energy and recycled 41% of its waste. Roskilde (Denmark) had 90% of its drink containers returned for recycling and festival-goers got free beer in return for handing in their rubbish. Meanwhile, Michael Eavis is going potato for tent pegs at Glastonbury 2008.

Red Pepper reports on the continuing legal struggle of the Peace Tax Seven.

Sir Jonathon Porritt is interviewed in the Independent, among other things, on nuclear power:

It is the view of the Sustainable Development Commission that this Government has got it completely wrong on nuclear power. Despite the fact that it's going to cost UK taxpayers at least £75bn to clean up the legacy of our current nuclear programme, that we still have no solution to the problems of nuclear waste, that nuclear power remains very expensive, that the risks of proliferation and threats to national security remain high, and that the contribution from a new nuclear programme (if it ever materialises) to total energy needs and CO2 abatement will remain relatively low, ministers are now putting more effort into encouraging nuclear power than they have devoted to the entire field of renewables over the last 10 years. As they see it, this is the only manageable mega-fix available to them, the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. But this is a sad and extraordinarily ill-judged illusion.

03 February 2008

Bugging Of Sadiq Khan, Labour MP

Gordon Brown's staff are saying "we didn't receive David Davis's letter about MPs being bugged by the security services", but that misses the point.

Say Brown didn't know this was happening. Why not?

Shouldn't the PM know if the Wilson convention (no bugging of MPs) was out the window? To paraphrase the Watergate hearings, what did Brown know, and when did he know it?

What did Jacqui Smith know, and when did she know it? Or did she not know, and Sir Ian Blair had not told either of them? Or maybe the anti-terrorist squad at Scotland Yard didn't even bother to tell Sir Ian?

It's all very Rumsfeldian -- "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

Police Bugging Of MPs

Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist unit should not bug MPs during private meetings with their constituents.

Small Business and Coventry

Small businesses help create diverse high streets that we enjoy shopping in.

Locally-owned businesses mean profits doing good within the local economy, rather than being whisked away into shareholders' pockets. We need politicians to put vibrant local enterprise firmly ahead of predatory multinationals. As such, the Green Party does not support planning permission for any more out-of-town shopping developments.

Small businesses find it difficult to get timely access to investment at affordable interest rates. The Green Party supports the creation of "community banks" to supply funds for local activities. Small business cash flow would be improved by legislation that required invoices to be paid within 30 days.

The Green Party wants all new large business developments providing affordable premises for small enterprises, amounting to at least 50% of the total trading space.

We will work to increase the number of businesses that serve the local market and use local materials, offer repair services, or specialise in alternative energy production and energy conservation.

Green councillors will work to encourage more social enterprises – companies whose social or environmental purpose is central to what they do (e.g. Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen, Cafedirect, or The Big Issue).

We will work to support self-employment and business start-ups by under-represented groups. One local agency that does this is the Women’s Business Development Agency, which promotes, supports and develops female-run businesses.

"Rouleur" At Coventry Transport Museum

Coventry's Transport Museum already displays the largest collection of British road transport in the world, including 200 cycles.

The "Rouleur" exhibition was a huge success in London in 2007.

It features the best work of six photographers who create a personal and intimate image of the sport of cycling -- the places and experiences, illustrated through landscapes, portraits, incidental details, and captured moments.

The exhibition will be on display in the Museum from 31st January to 29th February 2008. Admission is free and the Museum is open everyday from 10am – 5pm.

01 February 2008

US Defence And Climate Change Spending

They are our greatest ally, so we can't question anything they do:

The US government has budgeted 647.5 billion dollars for the defence budget in 2008 — more than the defence budgets of the rest of the world’s nations combined — compared to 7.37 billion dollars for climate-related programmes.

Only 212 million dollars is devoted to helping poor countries obtain clean, renewable energy sources that do not contribute to global warming — less than what U.S. military forces in Iraq spend each day on operations there.

Last May, a group of retired US generals and admirals issued their own report, "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change" , which found, among other things, that the consequences of warming were likely to promote inter-state conflict over vital resources, such as fresh water; political turmoil and extremism within nations; food shortages and mass migrations.

“Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world,” according to the report.

Julie Christie And Diamonds

A good reason to hope she wins another Oscar for her role in "Away From Her" ...