28 December 2008

Israel Kills 250 In Gaza

Hardly any of the news broadcasts over the last two days mention the 6-month ceasefire by Hamas.

They hardly mention that wayward Hamas rockets, against a country with a world-class airforce and nuclear weapons, killed no one, and in response, 250 people get killed.

A few things to read:

- RandomPottins
- Madam Miaow
- Ewa Jasiewicz, in Red Pepper

Doctors at Shifaa had to scramble together 10 makeshift operating theatres to deal with the wounded. The hospital’s maternity ward transformed their operating room into an emergency theatre. Shifaa only has 12 beds in their intensive care unit, they had to make space for 27 today.

These attacks come on top of existing conditions of humanitarian crisis: a lack of medicines, bread, flour, gas, electricity, fuel and freedom of movement. There is a shortage of medicine – over 105 key items are not in stock, and blood and spare generator parts are desperately needed. Shifaa’s main generator is the life support machine of the entire hospital. It’s the apparatus keeping the ventilators, monitors and lights turned and the injured alive.

Shifaa’s head of casualty department, Dr Maowiye Abu Hassanyeh explained, ‘We had over 300 injured in over 30 minutes. There were people on the floor of the operating theatre, in the reception area, in the corridors; we were sending patients to other hospitals. Not even the most advanced hospital in the world could cope with this number of casualties in such a short space of time’.

An Extra Runway At Heathrow

Letters on an extra runway at Heathrow:
Will Hutton is wrong to claim that air travel has been democratised ("Travel is vital to halt prejudice", Focus, last week). Seventy five per cent of budget airline flights are taken by social classes A, B and C, while people in classes D and E occupy just 6% of all available seats ... Hutton wants more "mobility and modernity" - in the face of the evidence that all it achieves is harm to the global poor and vulnerable.

Prof Andrew Dobson
School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, Keele University

[SR - Andy was the 2005 Green Party candidate in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and came close to winning a seat in 2006 local elections]

Will Hutton thinks aviation should be encouraged because it will break down barriers and halt prejudice. Would such barriers and prejudice be lesser or greater in his globally warmed world, where hundreds of millions attempt to migrate from inundated low-lying lands to areas of heat and water stress, where agriculture is also in collapse? We all know the answer to that - humans have always fought to the death over limited resources and, if he gets his way, will do so in unprecedented scale in the future.

Jon Fuller

24 December 2008

Bishop Of Manchester On Credit Crunch

I'm in Manchester for Xmas (Worsley in Salford, to be precise). The Bishop of Manchester is wading in, as has John Sentamu, on the culture that led to the "credit crunch" ...

"What is happening globally to our finances threatens to disable our ability to use wealth in the right way. Desperate measures are needed to reverse the disasters of climate change, to cope with AIDS-related tragedies especially in Africa, and to end poverty across the world. The greed of the few who have corrupted our use of wealth becomes injustice for many."

"Health and happiness are, of course, aided by money. But in the end it is the things that money cannot buy that will rescue our economy and bring the joy and peace that we are currently much lacking."
Also read: The Bishops of Durham, Winchester, Carlisle and Hulme wading in to give New Labour a black eye.

21 December 2008

Labour, Bailiffs And Emergency Loans

Labour is considering offering workers who lose their jobs during the recession guaranteed work or a retraining place within six months. This would go hand-in-hand with the proposed mortgage holiday for those facing house repossession, deferring mortgage payments for up to 2 years if workers lose their jobs.

It sounds good, but ...

- Labour wants to remove centuries-old restrictions on bailiffs. If you have unpaid credit cards or loans, and the bailiffs see you move a curtain to peer out, or if they hear a radio, they'll have the right to force their way in, and the right to restrain or pin you down.

- Youth who don't go to university are facing an even tougher time than ever.

- When demand for emergency loans from government is up, Labour wants to shift these loans to credit unions. Instead of being interest-free, they'll be anywhere from 12.6% to 26.8%.

Labour simply isn't doing enough.

20 December 2008

Recyclable Waste Going To Landfill

Quite an incredible story in the Telegraph. 3 out of 4 councils are dumping recyclable waste in landfill or burning it in incinerators, rather than, er, recycling it. The hard numbers: 209 councils responded to the Telegraph. Leeds, whose local MP is environment secretary Hilary Benn, said it dumped 4% of waste earmarked for recycling every year. For people to buy into expanded recycling programmes, they need to know it's going to be actually recycled!


- If oil is replaced entirely with coal-based liquid substitutes (as opposed to renewable energy sources), we reach a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature 14 years earlier.

- A few more good-looking environmental appointees by Mr. Obama.

- A turbine in Northern Ireland has produced the highest power so far from a tidal stream system anywhere in the world.

- Leeds University students voted to ban bottled water last week! Slick website for the National Hydration Council, backed by Danone, Nestlé and Highland Spring.

- Watch the "Monbiot Meets" series of videos as soon as possible.

16 December 2008

Caroline Lucas On Heathrow

Caroline Lucas wrote an article yesterday for The Guardian's comment is free pages, on the direct action at Heathrow by Plane Stupid:

"It seems clear to almost everyone except the government that proposals for a third runway at Heathrow should have been scrapped months ago ... Expansion would lead to spiralling carbon dioxide emissions, unacceptable noise pollution and worsening air quality for millions living in London and the South-East – all at a time when the government says it is committed to substantially cutting the UK's carbon emissions."

Other things I've been reading:

- Amnesty International saying that only specialist police officers should carry Tasers (334 people have died since 2001, due to Taser use in the US)
- 1 million children in poverty in Britain don't qualify for school meals ... and this, supposedly, is the burning issue that motivates Gordon Brown each morning
- Nearly one in four children are obese by the time they start primary school

15 December 2008

The "Environmentally Unconcerned"

I found this article fascinating. It looked at the environmental attitudes of people in Redmond (inner-city affluent Bristol) and Basildon (one of the more deprived parts of urban Essex).

One group (Basildon) is behaving environmentally (cycling, using public transport, less likely to have a car), but not in traditional, council-measured ways (recycling).

The other group (Redmond) is doing all the tick-box activities (recycling rates, composting rates), so, on paper, they're doing great, but they fly more and drive more and have bigger homes to power and heat.

How do we speak to both groups at the same time, so they converge ... Basildon recycling more and becoming "environmentally concerned" ... Redmond consuming far less, a more simple green lifestyle?

14 December 2008

The Hooper Review And Royal Mail

Richard Hooper is a former deputy chair of Ofcom who was asked to look at the postal system (size and scale of distribution network, does it need to "modernise").

His report will be published this week, so look out for it.

Peter Mandelson is the minister who will make the decision. He's already told the Financial Times that he wanted to part-privatise the Royal Mail ten years ago, when he was head of the DTI. The current fear is that the government will take over the pension liabilities of Royal Mail (it has a £22 billion pension scheme), thus making it more attractive to buy.

Keeping the Royal Mail publicly-owned was a Labour manifesto commitment. Privatisation would also contradict the policy agreed by Labour’s National Policy Forum for a "wholly publicly owned, integrated Royal Mail group."

It's surprising that services that benefit everyone (the post, the railways, the buses) either remain in private hands, or may go that way, after 11 years of a Labour government.

Services that benefit everyone shouldn't be run for profit. If the Royal Mail is run for profit, there will be profitable parts of a city or a region and unprofitable ones. There will be profitable areas of postal delivery (next day business) and unprofitable ones. Large areas of the country (rural areas, more deprived urban areas) will lose out under part-privatisation, or a full sell-off.

How can that be a good thing at a time of economic instability?

12 December 2008

Martti Ahtisaari's Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

Given in Oslo, this past Wednesday, from Nobelprize.org:

"Wars and conflicts are not inevitable. They are caused by human beings. There are always interests that are furthered by war. Therefore those who have power and influence can also stop them."

"All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal. It is simply intolerable that violent conflicts defy resolution for decades causing immeasurable human suffering, and preventing economic and social development"

"In a conflict, one party can always claim victory, but building peace must involve everybody: the weak and the powerful, the victors and the vanquished, men and women, young and old. However, peace negotiations are often conducted by a small elite. In the future, we must be better able to achieve a broader participation in peace processes. Particularly, there is a need to ensure the engagement of women in all stages of a peace process."

Lush And Plane Stupid

Mark Constantine, co-founder of Lush, that cosmetics chain:

"Along with many other [businesses], we try to be responsible for our impact on the environment by cutting our dependence on air travel. We achieve this by reducing domestic flights and reducing the number of people travelling. We have also introduced an internal charge of £50 per tonne of CO2 emitted by our flights and are donating this to pressure groups such as the Campaign for Better Transport. It seems to me that as our government is trying to adapt its fiscal policies to get through the financial crisis, so it has a duty to reduce climate-changing gasses also ... Yet somehow unconstrained airport expansion seems to indicate a lack of any plan."

11 December 2008

Energy Infrastructure

What "Climate Man" and his sabotage of Kingsnorth, has demonstrated is that energy infrastructure is surprisingly unguarded. There are also "chokepoints" for energy infrastructure on a global level. Why should we deepen our attachment to unsustainable forms of energy (internationally-transported oil and gas), when the sun and wind and tides are here in Britain?

10 December 2008

1948 - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Listen up, people, it's Morpheus:

Also read: What the UDHR Means To Me, Nazanin Boniadi, "Over 190 nations have ratified this declaration; and yet surveys show that more people can name 3 members of the Homer Simpson TV Cartoon family than they can name three of their basic human rights. You can’t defend what you do not know."

US Weapons At War 2008

This is an annual report, co-authored by William Hartung and Frida Berrigan, of the New America Foundation.

Hartung and Berrigan are calling on Barack Obama, and the next US Congress, to endorse/ratify treaties on landmines and cluster munititions, and to develop a new arms transfer policy that includes human rights and nonproliferation objectives.

Some choice facts:

- The United States accounts for 45% of all weapons transferred globally in 2007.

- During 2006 and 2007, the United States provided weapons and military training to over 174 states and territories, up from 123 states and territories in 2001.

- Of the 27 major conflicts under way during 2006/07, 20 involved one or more parties that had received arms and training from the United States.

£9 Million In City Council Cuts

Coventry City Council is considering £9 million in cuts in services.

They blame the rising energy/fuel prices for council buildings, the downturn in the housing market (a six-figure drop in revenue from planning application fees), and the need for 3% government efficiency savings.

- If we had shifted council buildings to having their own solar panels, and their own micro-CHP units, they would be "insulated" from energy price rises.

- I've sent an email to the council's head of "Finance and Legal" to see if their "corporate risk register," as of 1st Jan 2007, and as of 1st Jan 2008, had assessed the risk of a housing collapse. 5 times earnings, and 120% mortgages, were not going to go on forever.

- If central government can bail out corporate banks, why can't they give a "holiday" for a year to efficiency savings made by local government? Do you cut the fat when you're starving?

09 December 2008

Global Corruption

I worked for a year at a think-tank, looking at military corruption and military-run business. As such, stories like this one leap out at me. Today is the UN's International Anti-Corruption Day. Corruption adds up. $1 trillion is estimated to be spent each year worldwide on bribes, by firms and ordinary individuals. Christian Aid has issued a report on what the UK could do.

This would include:

- full compliance with the OECD's Anti-Bribery Convention,
- full implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC),
- more resources to investigate and prosecute domestic firms accused of bribery overseas,
- the return of the billions in stolen foreign assets held in British banks,
- the freezing of assets of people in the UK, including foreigners, who are under investigation for corruption.

08 December 2008

What I'm Reading

- The Coventry Telegraph's latest Go Green supplement, 24 pages, in today's paper

- A market-led approach for "Next Generation Access" broadband may lead to 40% of the country being excluded -- "almost all of Scotland, most of Wales, much of Northern Ireland, large parts of south-west and north-east England, and rural areas throughout the length and breadth of England."

- Ann Pettifor, about the credit crisis myth: "The global economy is now sinking under a vast strain of debt, and the priority must be to deal with that debt. We are not faced with a savings crisis ... We are faced with a massive debt crisis."

Plane Stupid's Stansted Protest

On BBC Five Live's morning broadcast, they interviewed people who had "saved up for months for a girly day out to Bremen" ... when the average income of people using Stansted Airport is £48 340 per year (CAA; 2007). This was a peaceful direct action protest ... one morning of disruption to highlight the impact for decades of short-haul flights within Europe.

- The aviation industry creates a "tourism deficit" of £7 billion pounds each year ... this is the amount of money spent abroad by Britons flying out of the UK for leisure and holiday trips, compared with the spending by visitors to Britain

- Airlines receive over £9 billion in tax breaks each year because of tax-free fuel and VAT-free tickets and planes. That's the same as the tuition fees for 3 million students.

- In 2004, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said that the government foresees the need for another Heathrow-sized airport every 5 years. Does this sound sustainable ... on carbon emissions grounds, on noise pollution grounds?

Why does one industry get to expand and expand and expand, when the rest of us will have to drastically cut our carbon emissions?

Also see: BBC video of the arrests
Also read: Leo, from Plane Stupid, chatting with the Guardian
Also read: Jess Worth, New Internationalist
Also read: Paul Kingsnorth, commenting on an article on the Guardian's website (616pm, 8 Dec)
Also read: Johnny, from Plane Stupid - Scotland, in his comment in a Telegraph article (624pm, 8 Dec)

07 December 2008

UK Youth Delegation In Poznan

You can follow a group blog of the UK Youth Delegation to the Poznan conference here.

One of the delegates, Casper ter Kuile, who is a student at the University of Warwick, gets interviewed here:

You can also see other videos from youth participants:

- Dian, from China
- Josh, from Canada
- Line, from Denmark

06 December 2008

"Poznan Needs To Head Off The Collision"

Kevin Watkins, senior research fellow at Oxford University's global economic governance programme:

"Put starkly, Poznan must head off a collision between the energy systems that drive our economies, and the Earth's biosphere. Ambitious targets must be at the heart of any agreement. But we also need a new institutional architecture for cooperation between rich and poor countries ... Over the past few months, rich governments have moved financial mountains to protect the integrity of their banking systems. What price the ecological integrity of our planet, the wellbeing of future generations, and our commitments to the world's poor?"

05 December 2008

Climate Change March On Saturday

The London event will start at Grosvenor Square at 12 noon. Beforehand, there will be a climate protest bike ride starting from Lincoln's Inn Fields at 10.30 am.

The march this year is part of a global day of action. You can read more about it here.

Speakers at Parliament at the end of the march will include Caroline Lucas (our party leader), Michael Meacher (ex-Environment Minister) and George Monbiot (Honorary President, Campaign against Climate Change).

The March on Parliament has four main themes:

1) No to a 3rd runway at Heathrow (the cabinet has postponed a decision on this until January 2009)
2) No new coal-fired power stations
3) No expansion of agro-fuels (which have a negative impact on climate and the world's food supply), and,
4) Yes to a renewable energy revolution and green jobs - a "Green new Deal"

Pilot Projects For Free School Meals

Green councillors in Brighton have won a vote to ask the Government for funding for a pilot scheme to provide all young people at the city's primary and secondary schools with free school meals. It would be a big help for low income families facing rising food prices.

04 December 2008

Copenhagen - UN Climate Head At Poznan

A climate change conference is underway in Poznan to begin a year-long process for an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. 10,700 delegates – from 187 nations – are gathering in Poznan. Kyoto only lasts until 2012, and the hope is that an agreement will be reached at a 2nd conference, in December 2009, in Copenhagen. Within the EU, Poland (93% of its electricity comes from coal) and Italy are opposing an agreement with tough new emissions standards.

Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate official wants the right path to be taken for the next 15 years:

"What concerns me most is that the financial crisis will lead to a second set of bad investment decisions ... I hope that the second financial crisis is not going to have its origins in bad energy loans. We must now focus on the opportunities for green growth that can put the global economy onto a stable and sustainable path."

Copenhagen - EU Emissions Permits

This was the same process that preceded Kyoto ... water down and water down the agreement, and then still claim for the subsequent decade that Kyoto was too stringent and harmful:

Oxfam says that in tomorrow’s [5th December] Environment Council meeting in Brussels, European decision-makers must resist industry scaremongering if the EU is to lead the way at global talks. If the EU buckles, it will fail to deliver on its own objectives of avoiding global warming above 2°C and send the wrong signals to the UN Climate Conference now underway in Poznan.

In general, business groups are strongly opposed to the auctioning of emissions permits, saying they should continue to get them for free. They argue that paying for carbon permits will lead to higher costs, a loss of competitiveness and ‘carbon leakage’ as firms facing global competition will shift their operations to other countries which will not face a carbon price. In particular, the iron and steel, cement, oil refining and chemical manufacturing sectors have been lobbying intensely for continued free allocation – and they seem increasingly confident of winning concessions.

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam’s Brussels office: “Poor countries need at least $50 billion a year to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change and much of it could be raised by earmarking the revenues of auctioning carbon permits. This would be one of the most decisive contributions that rich countries could make to engender good-will and progress at the Poznan talks."

The Plan

After a good 90-minute group leaflet tonight, we only have 1500 leaflets to go in our first ward-wide effort at Cheylesmore. After meeting our two other signatories, I'm off to cut a cheque to pay our printer tomorrow at Nationwide. Then, I'm down in London for the climate change march on Saturday.

Our next meeting will be on Thursday, 11th December, at 730pm, at the Cheylesmore Community Centre.

We'll have a guest speaker, Anne Harris, on supermarkets and obesity in Coventry.

We're going to try and have speaker meetings once a month at various venues in Cheylesmore, and then have socials (both canal walks and other get togethers) apart from this.

In the new year, 2009 seems like such a big number, January and February will be devoted to following up our leaflet with some door-to-door canvassing in Cheylesmore.

01 December 2008

World AIDS Day - 1st December

I didn't want there to be a 20th anniversary of World Aids Day.

73 000 adults have HIV in the UK. 5000 more contract HIV each year, with Coventry having a higher rate than the rest of the West Midlands.

HIV prevention is straight-forward. If you're at risk of HIV transmission through drug use, there are a number of needle exchange projects near to Coventry. In straight or gay sex, men need to wear condoms. Women need more self-respect and confidence, so they can ask a male partner (whether for the night, or longer-term) to wear a condom. We need to value and protect ourselves.

If you need help and advice, you can phone THT Direct on 0845 1221 200 between 10am and 10pm on Monday to Friday, and from 12 noon to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. Emails can be sent to info@tht.org.uk

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