30 September 2008

Doug Henwood On US Bailout

Tory Conference - Education Plans

The Tories want to drastically expand the independent sector, run by charities or profit-making companies and fuelled by vouchers, following Sweden's example. And the teachers could easily be ex-Army. On the bright side, they want to abolish the Counterpoint database.

"Still Human, Still Here"

- A two week protest camp about the destitution of thousands of asylum seekers has begun outside Parliament. The protest is in support of the Still Human Still Here campaign, a coalition of refugee agencies, human rights organisations and church groups.

- US election: McCain might be in trouble over his gambling (a once-a-month binge habit with $100 chips) and fundraising links to the gambling industry.

- You can find Carbon Trust posters to put up in your workplace here. Examples include: "Office lights left on overnight use enough energy in a year to heat a home for almost 5 months" ... "Leaving a computer on overnight for a year creates enough CO2 to fill a double-decker bus"

Shortselling - Labour and Lib Dem Donors

Guido Fawkes has been helpfully pointing out the links between high finance short-sellers and the other two main parties as well:

- Paul Marshall, one of the biggest donors to the Lib Dems (his firm, Guido whispers, has "a reputation amongst City brokers for having a particularly high churn.")

- Derek Tullet, Gilad Hayeem, and Paul Myners for Labour. Myners is director of GLG, a firm with $25 billion under its management. Myners has funded Brown's leadership campaign and the Smith Institute, and was appointed to the Treasury's pension review.

The main three parties, and how they are funded, are part of the global financial problem, not part of the solution.

29 September 2008

Tory Conference - Short-Sellers and Perks

New charges of cash-for-access-to-politicians, but it's the Conservatives this time.

The Tories have also taken hundreds of thousands of donations from people involved in the short-selling that has destablised the banking system. Paul Ruddock (Lansdowne Partners) donated over £210,000 since the start of 2006. His firm short-sold to drive down Barclays and Anglo Irish Bank share and is said to have made £100 million betting that Northern Rock would collapse. Michael Hintze (CQS Management) took out short positions on Bradford and Bingley. He has donated to the costs of running George Osborne's office. He's paid for two drinks receptions held by Cameron's office. His company has made loans of £2.5 million to the Tories. He has also supported David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, and donated money to support the "childhood review" being carried out by David Willetts.

With all this fundraising talk, it's time to remind ourselves about the Midlands Industrial Council.

Andrew Lansley also presents the Tory plans for health at their conference today, but he's been criticised for backing down on the traffic light labelling guide which helps consumers easily avoid unhealthy foods.

28 September 2008

Mark Serwotka On Labour's "Workfare"

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union:

"James Purnell's green paper, No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility (pdf), proposes to abolish income support."

"By withdrawing benefit from parents and carers you also withdraw support from their children ... The government is already preparing to withdraw income support from lone parents whose youngest child reaches age seven. It is claimed there is sufficient childcare provision to enable these parents to work. But, in outlining the government's next steps on childcare, Gordon Brown has acknowledged that key pieces of the jigsaw may not be in place for some time."

"What we are seeing is an adoption of "workfare", a policy that Labour explicitly rejected in 1997. The government may say that this only applies to those who have been on jobseekers allowance for two years, but their proposals will mean the biggest group on such a scheme would be lone parents, resulting in a carbon copy of the appalling US menial labour schemes, that have failed women and their children in poverty. It was absolutely right that the TUC voted unanimously to oppose the proposals. The adoption of Tory slogans, such as "work shy Britain", still less Tory policies, offer no way forward in the fight against poverty."

27 September 2008

Jamie's Ministry Of Food

"Jamie's Ministry of Food" .. or ... "How Jamie Oliver Realised How Non-Millionaires in Rotherham Live", Tuesday at 9pm on Channel 4:

"'I've seen kids in Aids orphanages in Soweto with better diets than that,' says Jamie after meeting Natasha, sitting in his Range Rover, clearly upset."

"Natasha's family never cooked, she never went to school much, therefore Natasha is bewildered by the kitchen and recipes if Jamie isn't there."

"She has no car and two kids, while the supermarket is on the outskirts of town and the takeaway is next door. She gets £80 a week and she's drowning in unpaid bills; she's got nothing left to sell, she's crying a lot and the kids want cheese-chips so she's bloody well giving them some."

"She's not a bloody idiot, she's just totally poor with no confidence. News just in: these two things are different."

"'The thing with you, Jamie,' another woman tells him, 'is you live in a bubble. You've got no bloody idea what it's like for us.' Well, if he didn't, it's dawning on him now."

Dame Stella Opposes 42-Day Detention

- Now playing for the anti-42-day-detention team, in holding midfield, on a free transfer from Real MI5, number 21, Dame Stella Rimmington.

- "Honey, I'm just popping out to get some packs of rotting teeth and diseased lung."

- The cabinet is split on Kingsnorth.

- Labour women are split on taxing the rich.

26 September 2008

Al Gore - Direct Action Against Coal

"If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration." - Al Gore, 24 September 2008

Letter To Editor -- The "Triple Crunch"

I've had a letter published in the Coventry Observer and Coventry Telegraph this week:

"We are facing not just a credit crunch, but two other crunches as well (global warming and peak oil). You can read about a plan -- the Green New Deal – to address these crunches at the website of the new economics foundation."

"Among other things, we need a low-carbon energy system that makes every building a power station. We need a 'carbon army' of workers. We need a windfall tax on oil and gas companies. We need local authority green bonds, green gilts and green family savings bonds. Instead of mega-banks (the new Lloyds HBOS) making mega-mistakes, we need to break up discredited financial institutions."

"In short, we can’t just tinker with the system. We need a sense of purpose to restore public trust, and to refocus on using capital on public priorities and sustainability."

Scott Redding
Coventry Green Party

"Backyard Sustainability"

25 September 2008

Ruling Against Lib Dems On Direct Calling

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has issued an enforcement notice. I wonder if an apology will be forthcoming on their national website. The enforcement notice gives them 30 days to stop using the calls, and any breach of the notice would be a criminal offence.

See also: Radio 4 calls the Lib Dem office with an automated call

Influences

Jim, Adrian, and Matt, over the last few days, have put together lists of books - on socialism, on environmentalism, on radicalisation -- that influenced them.

I've studied Antonio Gramsci, Ed and Dave's father, Nicos Poulantzas, Robert Cox, Bob Jessop, and Leo Panitch about the state in capitalist society, but I'm not sure how that really affects month-to-month activism.

It helped me to realise that the state isn't some mysterious black box. It's not just a parliament and an army, but education, the media, the church -- the extended state. I can hold my own if we want to have a chinwag about neo-Gramscian organic intellectuals and their role in exploiting the fissures and contradictions in the local apparatus of the state.

But, it's not the language I'd use when I'm drafting up a Green Party ward newsletter.

The one concession to the usual suspects that I'll make is The Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson.

What I would consider as radical turning points (whether it's film or video or books or theatre) is that you experience something, and you can't go back. You see things a different way. You have new mad skillz to re-interpret what you've already experienced and what you will experience.

1) Manufacturing Consent is a documentary about the ideas of Noam Chomsky (notably on East Timor). The War Game is a mock documentary by Peter Watkins about a nuclear bomb dropping on Kent (after a NATO/Warsaw Pact confrontation in Berlin led to a nuclear exchange). I couldn't watch or read news media the same way against after seeing "Manufacturing Consent." I couldn't vote for any politician who supported nuclear weapons after seeing "The War Game."

2) Audre Lorde's non-fiction, notably "Sister Outsider" and "Zami: A New Spelling of my Name" was very influential: "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives." I'm not a Caribbean-American lesbian, but Lorde was key in highlighting that class, race, age, gender and even health are fundamental to the female experience.

3) I spent hours in the library at university, looking at the videos of Marlon Riggs (Tongues Untied; Black is ... Black ain't). What is difference? How have African-Americans been represented in media over the 1960's, 70's and 80's - that is, how are racial images constructed in each and every newscast and TV programme? What does being a gay positive African-American mean?

4) Reading about places like China 10 years after the Cultural Revolution or about Iran on the cusp of the Iranian Revolution stand out. "Homage to Catalonia", and its vivid description on revolutionary inspiration and civil war, was an eye-opener.

5) "My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During The Reagan/Bush Years" by Sarah Schulman helped me to understand not just AIDS activism, but activism full stop. She was one of the first writers on AIDS and homelessness in the world. She's written 9 novels (check out "Rat Bohemia"). She disrupted Congressional hearings on abortion on live TV. She co-founded the Lesbian Avengers, as well as the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival.

24 September 2008

£6 Million To Police Kingsnorth

The poe-leece spent £6 million to corral 1500 non-violent protesters at the climate camp at Kingsnorth - that doesn't include future costs to the police if they are sued by people who were injured, intimidated or falsely imprisoned during the camp.

US election: Chris Rock's a funny guy. The 12 lies of Palin.

Professor Trelawney and Girlguiding.

Alice Miles today: "Labour needs a wand to make Gordon Brown disappear."

Greenpeace vs John Hutton: round one. Also on energy. all of our nuclear reactors have been sold to the French.

It doesn't seem like 5 years since the Hutton Inquiry.

Tariq Ali on the Marriott bombing in Pakistan.

And last but not least, Matt Simmons in Fortune talking about $500 barrels of oil.

Seasonal Recipes For Autumn

- honey-glazed pumpkin wedges
- spiced carrot and butternut squash soup
- stuffed mushrooms with cheese, honey and spicy kale
- pasta with pumpkin and chesnuts (you can substitute veg stock, and drop the bacon)
- honey-glased parnsips, buttered kale, and roast potatoes

Organic Veg Box Report

This morning, we received our fortnightly organic veg box -- 1 yellow pepper, 1 broccoli, 1 cauliflower, 7 potatoes (5 huge, 2 small), 3 onions, 9 carrots, 3 leeks, 5 tomatoes, and a bag of lettuce. That costs £9.95. We also order an "extra" each fortnight - 3 big mushrooms. We get ours from Flights, but Down to Earth here in Coventry do boxes for their customers.

23 September 2008

Brown's Labour Conference Speech

The full transcript:

"What angers me and inspires me to act is when people are treated unfairly."

- Unless they are people inconvenienced by my 10p tax changes. Or those in an immigration detention centre. Or the people I've cut loose at Lloyds and Halifax Bank of Scotland branches around the country by not subjecting a merger to competition scrutiny.

"When I speak to victims of crime I get angry - because like them I know the difference between right and wrong."

- I'm going to expand our prison system to create even more schools for crime. More laws and more prisons and less retraining within prisons and less drugs treatment within prisons means a safer Britain, since they never have to come out, right?

"What happened with 10p, it stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn't on the side of people on middle and modest incomes - because on the side of hard-working families is the only place I've ever wanted to be."

- I thought you wouldn't notice.

"I want to give the people of this country an unconditional assurance - no ifs, no buts, no small print - my unwavering focus is taking this country through the challenging economic circumstances we face and building the fair society of the future."

- Since we've been funding peak oil resiliance projects around the country since 1997 (oh, we haven't), and since we've been funding flood defence preparation around the country since 1997 (oops). And since I put in place a robust regulatory framework for the financial services sector that has seen us through the first real test in our first 10 years in office (dang, missed that one too).

"Just as those who supported the dogma of big government were proved wrong, so too those who argue for the dogma of unbridled free market forces have been proved wrong again."

- Both myself and Ed Balls have put a "soft touch" regulation of the City front and centre in our policies for years and years. We now want you to forget this. Go to sleep, Britain, everything is ok.

"First, transparency, Second, sound banking, Thirdly, responsibility, Fourth, integrity, And fifth, global standards and supervision."

- I thought about Sixth, "not having banks have more debts than money in their vaults" or Seventh, "rolling out local currencies to reinforce local economies" or Eighth, "the Bank of England should put unemployment first, and incorporate house price inflation into its target," but those would be just wacky.

"When it comes to public spending you can't just wave a magic wand to conjure up the money - not even with help from Harry Potter."

- Infant mortality rose in the first 10 years of Labour, but don't tell JK.

"I know that this can be a British century and I'm determined it will be."

- Hold on, what about the rise of Asia a few minutes ago?

"When we talk about three million more people in work since 1997"

- Apart from immigration and the increase in public sector work ...

"When we talk about the 240,000 lives that are saved by the progress Labour's NHS has made in fighting cancer and heart disease"

- How many families will lose out on medical care when the never-never of the PFI-NHS nexus starts to constrict, like a python, around medical finances in Britain?

"For me, fairness is treating others how we would be treated ourselves. So it isn't levelling down it's empowering people to aspire and reach ever higher."

- Fairness is more brand-friendly than equality or redistribution.

"Fairness is why Harriet is introducing the first ever equalities bill. And let me thank her for her tireless work as deputy party leader."

- Yes, the grassroots are doing so well after her year as deputy leader that the party is 25% behind in the polls. Plus the 42-day compromise with the DUP may lead to an abortion compromise that will really tickle her.

"Our whole party is leading the fight against the British National Party."

- For the two weeks leading up to local elections ...

"Ed Balls and I will never excuse, explain away or tolerate low standards in education. So we will keep up the pace of reform: more academies, trust and specialist schools."

- This puts me in the same category as Campbell and "bog-standard comprehensives" ... only privately-invested academies (with control over staffing and curriculum) are the way forward.

"In just one year in the fight against hospital infections, we have doubled the number of matrons and achieved a 36 percent reduction in MRSA."

- Of course, we wouldn't have had to do that if MRSA and c.diff hadn't got out of control in the first place.

"I've always found it unfair that we cannot offer on the NHS the comprehensive services that private patients can afford to buy."

- But now, Alan Johnson will allow top-up services on the NHS.

"Providing free nursery care for more children is a cause worth fighting for. Providing better social care for older people who need it is a cause worth fighting for. Delivering excellence in every single school is a cause worth fighting for."

- Publically-delivered? Private-PFI delivered?

"And so let's hear no more from the Conservatives - we did fix the roof while the sun was shining."

- Eee-ernnnnnt. No. You save money whilst the sun is shining, so you can spend money whilst the times are tough. You spent the bank whilst the sun was shining, and now you have to borrow more in perilous financial times when you need to keep spending public money.

"The Conservatives say our country is broken - but this country has never been broken by anyone or anything. This country wasn't broken by fascism, by the cold war, by terrorists."

- Do you know your neighbour? Does your community do things together to fight climate change? Do you have enough community-focused police on your streets, enough programmes to keep youth employed/trained/busy/interested in their communities?

"David Miliband, Douglas Alexander and I will do everything in our power to bring justice and democracy, to Burma, to Zimbabwe and to Darfur."

- Finally, we could have some democracy in Britain -- with proportional representation for our elections (not just in Scotland's locals, or Euro elections, or Wales/Northern Ireland/Scotland/London). We could have some gender democracy in Britain, with 50% of the cabinet being women.

Coventry's Waste Strategy

- The film screening last night, of "The Power of Community", went well. About 20 people showed up at Pride. Meetings for Transition Earlsdon will be fortnightly, with the next one two weeks from yesterday. Jo Rathbone (02476 678735 or jorathbone@phonecoop.coop) is the person to contact. If you're interested in the wider Transition Coventry activities outside of Earlsdon, Ervin Menyhart (07850 045799 or ervinsmac@mac.com) would be the fellow to ring or email.

- I've been invited to a "Special Waste Summit" on the Coventry draft waste strategy later today at the Council House. My invitation letter tells me it's an "excellent opportunity" to have a "proactive discussion" thereby "further enhancing the consultation process." At least they'll feed me lunch. I think real consultation would be having this kind of meeting before a draft strategy is released. I want to find out how much of the "waste" budget will be devoted to reducing waste and reusing products.

- I'll also be attending the ward forum meeting tonight in Cheylesmore. It's from 7pm to 9pm, and will be at the Cheylesmore Community Centre, on Arundel Road (CV3 5JX).

Green Jobs In The USA

In the US, on 27th September (the day after the first US presidential debate), there will be a Green Jobs Now national day of action. So far, over 500 events are being organised in all 50 states in the US -- teach-ins, house parties, service and work projects and living room discussions. Van Jones, the founder and President of Green For All, is the moving force behind it. He's an interesting guy.

"We will have a special focus on low-income communities, communities of color and indigenous people. This will send a message to our leaders that, when it comes to creating green jobs for a more sustainable economy, PEOPLE ARE READY!"

"Right now, there are millions of people ready to work and countless jobs to be done that will strengthen our economy at home. There are thousands of buildings that need to be weatherized, solar panels to be installed, and wind turbines to be erected. There are communities that need local and sustainable food and people ready to farm the crops. There are public transit systems and smart electricity grids in need of engineers and electricians. Americans are ready to build the new economy. It's time to invest in saving the planet and the people. It's time for green jobs now!"

22 September 2008

Full Steam Ahead For ID Cards

Labour is pushing ahead with its plans for national ID cards. Suppliers for the design and production of ID cards could be shortlisted in the next few months.

You can read about some of the problems behind the entire idea of ID cards here.

And Meg Hillier, a Home Office minister, said today that children as young as 14 could be required to carry one. Referring to the entire scheme, Hillier said: "It is full steam ahead ... In fact, the prime minister wanted me to do it quicker than it was possible."

See also: Youth revolt against ID card propaganda website

Electric Cars In Coventry

Coventry is going to be one of only six towns and cities to have funding to pioneer electric vehicles. The vehicles will have a range of 50 to 70 miles, with a top speed of 60 mph.

The Coventry Telegraph continues the story:

City council transport and supplies manager Dilip Chauhan: "We don't know the exact amount of funding yet but this year we've identified 12 vehicles we want to replace with electric models and we've identified another 40 vehicles for the year after."

The council hopes to use electric vans made by Coventry-based firm Modec for street cleaning, road maintenance, meals-on-wheels and grounds works in parks. It will source electric minibuses to take children to school, elderly people to care centres and disabled students to college.

Civilisation Is Like A Jetliner

"Civilisation is like a jetliner, noisy, burning up enormous amounts of fuel. Every imaginable and unimaginable crime and pollution had to be committed in order to make it go. Whole species were rendered extinct, whole populations dispersed. Its shadow on the waters resembles an oil slick. Birds are sucked into its jets and vapourized. Every part, as Gus Grissom once nervously remarked about space capsules before he was burned up in one, has been made by the lowest bidder."

"Civilisation is like a 747, the filtered air, the muzak oozing over the earphones, a phony sense of security, the chemical food, the plastic trays, all the passengers sitting passively in the orderly row of padded seats staring at Death on the movie screen."

"Civilisation is like a jetliner, an idiot savant in the cockpit, manipulating computerized controls built by sullen wage workers, and dependent for his directions on sleepy technicians high on amphetamines with their minds wandering to sports and sex."

"Civilisation is like a 747, filled beyond capacity with coerced volunteers - some in love with the velocity, most wavering at the abyss of terror and nausea, yet still seduced by advertising and propaganda. It is like a DC-10, so incredibly enclosed that you want to break through the tin can walls and escape, make your own way through the clouds, and leave this rattling, screaming fiend approaching its breaking point."

- David Watson, Fifth Estate, Winter 1983, "Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections," 2005 (under the pen-name "T. Fulano")

Greenpeace - The Case Against Coal

21 September 2008

Gordon Brown And Government Debt

One of Gordon Brown's legacies -- whether he survives as Labour leader or not -- will be how he chained the public sector to paying for building new schools and hospitals on the never-never. It's a cosy "big three parties" consensus on PFI (the Tories began it; the Lib Dems just think it needs to be fine-tuned).

Fraser Nelson, in the Spectator's Coffee House blog, points out factual error after factual error in what Brown keeps saying about Britain's debt levels:

Brown: "In 1997 we came in and… the debt of the United Kingdom was 44%, 45% of national income, we cut that and it is now about, I think the figure yesterday was 37%, so that is a major cut in debt."
Coffee House: This is – how you say? – untrue. HM Treasury says net debt was 41.3% in 1997-98 Yesterday the ONS said net debt was 43.3% (report here, ONS here) and no you can’t wish away Northern Rock. What strikes me is the straight poker face with which Brown delivers his made-up figures.

Brown: "We have the lowest levels of debt of any of the major countries."
Coffee House: Really? The Maastricht-definition debt (ie, standardised) collated by the OECD puts Britain’s debt/GDP ratio at 47% for this year. Netherlands (43%) Sweden (35%), Finland (34%) Spain (34%) Ireland (28%). Outside Europe: Canada (22%) Australia (6.7% surplus).
Guido Fawkes chips in with:

Gordon Brown's Sky interview, where he blamed investment bank's off-balance-sheet liabilities for the credit crunch, was an unconsciously revealing moment. What is the trillion pounds of debt in PFI contracts and unfunded state pensions if not Gordon's very own off-balance-sheet liability? Gordon and Ed Balls designed the world's biggest off-balance-sheet structure ... it will have to be paid down by generations to come. Brown's legacy will be that British children, and their children also, will be paying off Gordon's debt bubble.
A bit more on this from Martin Bright (political editor, New Statesman) in March 2008:

Then there is the looming shadow of the government's Private Finance Initiative schemes, which were designed specifically to keep borrowing off the Treasury's balance sheet. These projects, which use private funding for large public projects such as schools and hospitals, will soon be included as part of the national debt to bring Britain in line with International Financial Reporting Standards. At the same time, liabilities from public sector pension schemes, which have been badly hit by the international credit crunch, will also contribute to the growing debt.

Some estimates suggest that the combined liabilities of pension and PFI schemes would bring the proportion of debt to 100 per cent of GDP.

What really matters is the attitude of global financial institutions to such profligacy, and investors' preparedness to put their money into new projects. In the new period of economic uncertainty, the British public would certainly begin to notice if plans for a shiny new hospital or school were put on ice. Already concerns have been raised about the slow progress of the government's PFI-funded Building Schools for the Future programme.

The real issue is that we don't know the full consequences of the slowdown for the public purse. New Labour has never been here before. A recent article by Paul Gosling in Public Finance magazine put it succinctly: "Underlying everything is a fog of uncertainty. The use of 'financial engineering' and the complex hedging of financial risk means there is very real confusion about exactly who has lost what from the sub-prime crisis - and that is affecting almost everything on the world's financial markets."

Weekend War On Terror Reading

- Waziristan was the scene of Britain’s longest 20th-century counter-insurgency campaign, with fighting going on for 11 years from 1936-47 -- "I never imagined it would be in the news all these years on," he says. "It's very odd to see those familiar barren hills on TV."

- The man who could be the next head of MI6 - Charles Farr, the director-general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, the part of the Home Office that oversees RIPA, among other things.

- An innovative study by UCLA about the "surge" in Iraq:

"If the surge had truly 'worked,' we would expect to see a steady increase in night-light output over time, as electrical infrastructure continued to be repaired and restored, with little discrimination across neighborhoods," said co-author Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor of geography at UCLA. "Instead, we found that the night-light signature diminished in only in certain neighborhoods, and the pattern appears to be associated with ethno-sectarian violence and neighborhood ethnic cleansing."

20 September 2008

Universal HIV Testing

This is an amazing idea. As Michael Franti once sang, it's better to know than to not know:

All 15-59 year olds in some areas of England should be offered a HIV test by their GP, new recommendations say. In 42 trusts with more than two HIV cases for every 1,000 people, everyone should be offered the test when they join a GP surgery, experts said. Around 20% of the population would fall under the universal testing policy. Most of the high-prevalence areas are in London, but others include Brighton, Manchester, Blackpool and Birmingham.
See also: HIV testing in Coventry (THT)

19 September 2008

Labour Leadership Crisis - Part XIV

"Gordon Brown is like a Damien Hirst sheep ... Trapped in formaldehyde, he lacks the qualities needed for a bold leap that would free him from his own goo." - Alan Simpson, Labour MP

"Mr Brown was never loved, but he was respected and, to some extent, feared. Today, he’s not even laughed at. It’s worse than that. He’s started to be pitied, as the terrible strain of doing a job for which he is intellectually and emotionally unsuited creases his face. Labour is now so far behind in the ratings, the Tories will soon be hiring telescopes to locate the enemy. Much more of this and it will not be just the BNP that’s overtaking Labour in by-elections. Bananaman, who ran them close in the Henley poll, must fancy his chances at the next one." - Jeff Randall, Daily Telegraph

Transition Town Earlsdon Film - 22nd September

The growing Transition Town network in Coventry will be having a film screening in Earlsdon on Monday, the 22nd September.

It will be at the Pride fair trade shop, at 730pm, and the film will be "The Power Of Community" about how Cuba survived peak oil:

"The evening will start with an introduction to what Transition Earlsdon is about – how to empower the local community to move toward a low carbon, sustainable way of life. After the film there will be a discussion to explore how the Cuban experience is relevant to the Earlsdon community, and what Earlsdonians can do to bring about a more connected, healthy, fulfilling future."

"When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba’s economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half – and food by 80% - people were desperate. This film tells the hardship and struggles as well as the resilience and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Cubans share how they have transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens."

"It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call ‘The Special Period’. The film opens with a short history of Peak Oil, a term for the time in our history when world oil production reaches its all-time peak and starts to decline forever. Cuba, the only country that has faced such a crisis – the massive reduction of fossil fuels – is an example of options and hope."
To book places, please contact:

Jo Rathbone 02476 678735, jorathbone@phonecoop.coop
Ervin Menyhart 07850 045799, ervinsmac@mac.com

More info: Transition Coventry website

Urban Traffic And Quality Of Life

- The Council of Europe warns that changes to Britain's asylum and immigration controls could breach human rights.

- Just ban junk food advertising before the watershed.

- An interesting endorsement for Obama -- a former organiser of "Youth for Barry Goldwater" who was also a publisher of National Review. A snapshot of New Mexico in the US race. A video about Obama and Native-Americans - "a government-to-government relationship to nations across this country." Andrew Sullivan, in the Atlantic, is worth reading every few days.

And finally, new research from Bristol which confirms that traffic in urban areas largely determines people's quality of life: "people who live with high levels of motor traffic are far more likely to be socially disconnected -- and even ill -- than people who live in quiet, clean streets."

18 September 2008

Financial Unknown-Unknowns

Two days ago, I wondered what other unknown-unknowns were out there, banking-wise. Turns out, it was the 10th largest UK takeover in any sector in history (Lloyds TSB absorbing Halifax Bank of Scotland). And the US government spending $85 billion to rescue AIG, once the world's largest insurer. And another co-ordinated £100 billion from central banks to grease the fearful wheels of finance (the overnight borrowing markets, to be precise).

When did Gordon Brown "arrange" the Lloyds-HBOS deal? At a drinks party on Monday night.

The prime minister promised that the deal would not be investigated by competition authorities -- if the enlarged bank continued to provide funds to would-be homeowners. Note the lack of conditions over job cuts and losses at the newly merged banks. In July 2001, Patricia Hewitt (remember her?), as the DTI secretary, vetoed a merger of Lloyds and Abbey National, on the grounds it would have cost at least 9000 jobs, as well as the closure of branches across the country. With Lloyds-HBOS, up to 40 000 jobs could go.

A few things to read:

Dave Osler asks if the Left has any answers to the financial crisis.

Molly, at Gaian Economics, argues that "we should not allow control of the most fundamental structures in our economy to be in the hands of privateers."

Nic Clarke of Charles Stanley (quoted in the Guardian) said Lloyds is making it riskier to hold its shares:

"Not only has Lloyds TSB tripled its exposure to UK mortgages in a period when the UK economy is about to go into recession but more importantly in the short term it has significantly increased Lloyds TSB exposure to potential short term funding problems. HBOS's loan to asset ratio is markedly higher than Lloyds TSB's and it has significant funding requirements in the near term. This was precisely why the short sellers had targeted HBOS for such harsh treatment early yesterday."
The BBC's website has a handy Q&A, along with a video of Paul Lewis (Radio 4's Moneybox) being interviewed on News 24.

Obsolete asks how it will affect football.

Finally, Robert Peston has an ominous blog post about a new world banking order:

"It's a world in which the Chinese state, if it co-ordinated the investments of its cash-rich institutions, could end up owning more-or-less the entire financial system of the US and the UK."

"A Thing About Machines"

You might want to check out the "A Thing About Machines" audio/visual arts festival in Coventry this weekend. Their focus will be on "musicians and artists using technology and electronic media (but not necessarily digital or “new” media)."

Nick Clegg And The Information Commissioner

Nick Clegg's calls to 250 000 people may have been illegal.

The "Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations" forbid the use of automated unsolicited direct marketing calls to any individual who has not previously given their consent to receive such calls.

The Information Commissioner's Office acted against the SNP in 2005 after a Lib Dem complaint over an automated message recorded by some guy named Sean Connery. The Lib Dems, at the time, were urging voters to complain if they received an unsolicited party call, and also tabled a Commons motion describing unsolicited calls as offensive.

Yesterday, the Lib Dems failed to provide the ICO with a script of the Clegg-call. They also did not give give details of the target audience. Such information would help the Commissioner decide whether the exercise was for market research purposes or for the purpose of promoting the Liberal Democrats.

Michael Crick, last night on Newsnight, put the view that normal market research would be 1000 or 2000 people surveyed for a poll, not 250 000 calls by a political party just after their leader's convention speech.

See also: Rufus' Blog

17 September 2008

Climate Camp FOI Requests

Harvey Temple wants to know about helicopters and the Climate Camp:

"I'd like to know how much was spent on fuel, what type of fuel and how much fuel (in litres or gallons) was burned by the Essex Police helicopter under the auspices of "Operation Oasis" at the 2008 Climate Camp."

"I also want to know the type of helicopter and any details that you have as to its fuel efficiency and the distance it flew. I want to know this information so that I can work out the amount of carbon dioxide that was dumped into the atmosphere by the helicopter during your operation. I trust that Kent Police Authority concerned as it is with the health and safety of the public is considering offsetting the considerable pollution that it must have created for example by replacing routine city centre car patrols with bicycle units."

"I'd also be interested in seeing the environmental impact assessment that was carried out into the use of the helicopter and other police resources. At nighttime, Kent Police's disruption of the life of the local community due to noise pollution as well as by the burning of fossil fuels was very serious - I'm sure that a proper assessment must have been carried out, if not I believe that this is an issue that should be addressed in future operations."

Felicity Norman For MEP

Felicity is #1 on the list of Green Party candidates for the European elections in the West Midlands.

You can see a new Facebook page for her campaign here.

Geoffrey Robinson And Censorship

Harry's Place explores allegations that Gordon Brown tried to get Martin Bright, the editor of the New Statesman, fired.

The New Statesman's publisher is our MP for Coventry North-West, Geoffrey Robinson, one of Brown's oldest friends:

[Charlie] Whelan duly gave Thorpe and listening hacks a rambling monologue in which he insisted her husband and the father of her two children should be fired. "I'm no fan of Livingstone, but Martin Bright should not be political editor after what he did," he said. "I'm going to talk to Geoffrey ... He can't allow criticism of Gordon. If Geoffrey's got any sense, he’ll listen."

Lib Dems To Phone Poll 250 000 People

Good evening. I'm Paddy Ashdown. Are you sitting comfortably? Then, we'll begin.

Food Waste Collection

Britain bins nearly £3 billion in fruit and vegetables each year. That's £342 000 an hour.

WRAP's pilot project of household food waste collection, in 19 local authorities, has gone splendidly:


WRAP had thought people might refuse the extra work involved in separating the waste or object to the smell of the special bins, but they said most people participating reported high levels of satisfaction with the service.

Phillip Ward, director for local government services at WRAP, said: "We throw away 6.7m tonnes of food every year in the UK - £10bn worth - and most of that goes to landfill. We are delighted by the results of these trials, which show that if consumers are given the right tools and are provided with a good service, they will participate in initiatives to cut waste sent to landfill."

16 September 2008

Resignation Of Labour Junior Minister

David Cairns has resigned. Of course, with a junior minister, a Labour vice-chair, and a former Home Office Minister asking for them, Labour's National Executive Committee has rejected calls to send nomination papers out to MPs.

John Hutton, on Andrew Marr this past Sunday, kept repeating that Gordon Brown had been elected leader.

No.

Brown gathered the requisite signatures to run for leader, and then kept hoovering up MPs until no one else could mathematically gather enough nominees to run against him. The Labour Party didn't want an internal debate about where to go after 10 years of Blair, and now, they're paying the price.

A Government Resignation After Rumours?

Radio 5 Live is reporting on a possible first resignation from the government-- David Cairns, junior minister in the Scottish office, who was one of the folks involved in the Glasgow East by-election debacle.

Lehman Brothers And The Apocalypse

It's not front page news, but Lehman Brothers (as part of its general meltdown) has shut its carbon trading desk.

Better minds than mine don't quite understand the complications that Lehman Brothers enmeshed themselves in:

What little faith I had in financial wizardry was blown away 10 years ago when Long Term Capital Management, a hedge fund set up by a couple of economists with Nobel Prizes in the cupboard, went pop. Lehman, I'm afraid, went the same way: bamboozling itself. Over lunch at its Canary Wharf offices, you could feel the heat from all those first-class brains, working out how to make billions from financial products that only an expert in nuclear fusion could comprehend. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. The trouble is, it turns out, neither did they.
Christopher Wood, who predicted the 2003 US housing crisis, says that the leverage on Wall Street was "ludicrous" and that the credit crunch will now have an "inevitable toll on real economic growth." Wood estimates that total writedowns and losses at the world's largest financial institutions will be $1.5 trillion.

What is key to understanding the entire "credit crunch" is the idea of securitisation.

Normal bank debt (your mortgages) was packaged into "marketable instruments" and the risk of that debt (some of it based on people who can't afford mortgages, but were given ones anyway) was spread across a wide base. In English, last autumn, everyone realised that they had became infected with bad sub-prime debt.

We didn't hear anything about this, on a mass level, before last September. A month ago, no one was talking about Lehman Brothers share price being down 90% on August 2007. A month ago, no one was talking on the front page of newspapers of the fragility of the Lehman business model. Now, 24 000 employees are redundant, and it's portrayed as a sudden event.

Banks treated loans for house mortgages on the assumption of ever-rising prices. That's just silly. Houses are something you live in. They aren't casino chips. Banks bought into the entire idea of "Location Location Location" house porn.

The most spooky thing about the collapse of this bank here, this investment bank there, is that people don't seem to know what happens next. Certain banks are far more exposed to Lehman Brothers than others. Regulators and policymakers seem to be crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

What else aren't we being told about? What are the other unknown-unknowns, to use Rumsfeld-ese?

15 September 2008

Tory Lap Dancing At Conference

In July, the Conservatives called for communities to be given stronger powers to block the opening of lap dancing clubs. Now, delegates to their autumn conference in Birmingham are getting discount vouchers for "an exclusive gentlemen's entertainment venue" nearby.

This comes only two years after the Tory party chair, Francis Maude, was revealed to be an investor in a condoms-optional "leading international provider of high quality adult entertainment."

Am I anti-sex? No. Am I anti-hypocrisy? Yes.

See also: Cruella-Blog

12 September 2008

Stats and Figures ...

- More than 13 million people live in poverty in the UK. A poll by Get Fair showed 51% of people - across gender, age group, social class and region - would be more inclined to vote for a party that takes "serious measures" to eradicate poverty.

- The BNP's bank accounts do not compute.

- 44% of people, across the EU's 27 countries, would be willing to pay more for energy from low-emission sources.

- 36% of boys think that they might personally hit a woman or force her to have sex. Actors from Hollyoaks have been enlised by Women's Aid to combat teen domestic violence.

- In June 1997, there were 18.1m "UK-born" people (The Spectator's phrase, not mine) working in the private sector. In June 2007, there were 18 million working in the private sector. Their argument is that without immigration and state sector expansion, there are fewer "UK-born" people in work after 10 years of Labour.

Obama, McCain and Framing

It's all about the framing:

"The Obama campaign just put out an ad called "No Maverick". The basic idea was right. The Maverick Frame is central to the McCain campaign and, as the ad points out, it's a lie. But negating the Maverick Frame just activates that frame and helps McCain."

"You have to substitute a different frame that characterizes McCain as he really is. There are various possibilities. Let's consider one of them. Ninety percent of the time, McCain has been a yes-man for Bush. Think in terms of questions at a debate. If the question is, is McCain a maverick?, you are thinking about him as a maverick, even when you are trying to find ways in which he isn't. McCain wins. If the question is whether McCain is a yes-man for Bush, you put McCain on the defensive. People think of him as a yes-man 90 percent of the time, and try to think cases when he might not have been. This is not rocket science. It's the first principle of framing."

"The McCain campaign has been very active in prepping the press to ask his questions with his frames: The Maverick Frame, the Country First Frame, The Surge Is Working Frame, the Victory Frame, The Drilling Frame, the Change Washington Frame, and so on. McCain can answer questions based on these frames easily and forcefully, as he did at the Saddleback debate, which he won handily."

11 September 2008

Statewatch -- "The State Of Things To Come"

"Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record. This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations, and create huge opportunities for more effective and productive public security efforts." (EU Council Presidency paper)

Liberal Democrats In Coventry

In the 2008 local elections, the Greens were head-to-head against the Liberal Democrats in 13 wards. The Lib Dems won Upper Stoke. In Earlsdon, we have finished 3rd for three straight years, each time beating the Lib Dems into fourth.

In Cheylesmore, Longford, Lower Stoke, Radford, Sherbourne, Wainbody, Westwood and Whoberley, the Greens came within 150 votes of the Lib Dems.

Let's look at some of the differences between the Lib Dems and the Greens:

- Microsoft is one of the sponsors (see page 8) of the Lib Dem autumn conference this year; the Greens support open source software to help reduce the "digital divide" in society.

- The Liberal Democrats have 8 MPs (out of 63) who are women. Of the 19 different people who ran for the Lib Dems in Coventry in 2007 and 2008, only 6 were women. In contrast, half of our slate in Coventry, in both 2007 and 2008, have been women. The Greens have our new national leader, Caroline Lucas, and we ran Sian Berry as our candidate for London Mayor.

- The Greens favour bringing the train network back into public ownership; the Lib Dems have a "vision of the railways to 2050" that includes keeping the railways private

- The Greens have prominent out politicians, such as Darren Johnson (London Assembly), Patrick Harvie (MSP) or Peter Tatchell (PPC for Oxford East); the Lib Dems have gay/lesbian friendly policies, but you have to wonder about them internally, when there are these firestorms around Simon Hughes coming out as bisexual, and only one MP (Stephen Williams) who is out.

- The Lib Dems are having the same money problems (inadmissable donations) as Labour; in Q2 of 2008, the Lib Dems had 5 donors who gave more than £30 000 each, whilst total donations in the quarter to the Greens was £9300. The Green Party is more independent and can stand up for you without worrying about our corporate funders.

- The Liberal Democrats are in favour of retaining Trident. The Green Party rejects any reliance on nuclear weapons. We will decommission our own nuclear weapons. We will insist on the removal of US nuclear bases. We will have no further research into nuclear weapons. The export of nuclear technology will be stopped. We're pretty clear on nuclear.

If you like what you've been reading, take a close look at our other policies, and see if you agree with them too.

Curriculum Packs And Nutritional Advice

£151 million for food technology" areas, a free cookbook for students to tackle obesity, and compulsory cooking lessons for all 11- to 14-year olds by 2011.

It sounds great.

But what Labour giveth on one hand, it letteth in the private sector on the other.

Labour hasn't taken action on a "range of potentially misleading claims and poor nutritional advice" contained in so-called curriculum packs sent to schools by food companies and trade associations ... advice such as bakers saying pupils should eat six slices of bread a day ... or the British Soft Drinks Association telling pupils that refilling water bottles was unsafe and "can lead to contamination."

The Department of Health, dieticians, and the Food Standards Agency have dismissed many of the statements as not based on independent evidence, as highly selective, or plain ol' misleading.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary, the National Union of Teachers: "We are concerned that children are not exploited or misled by marketing of food products which make claims that are at best ambiguous or open to interpretation."

10 September 2008

Jeremy Kyle And Labour

This week, it was revealed that the government wants to spend £400 000, so Jeremy Kyle can "highlight the role of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and explore how government policies can help people get jobs."

Meanwhile, in the real world, Elaine Peace, children's services director at the charity NCH:

"I think [Jeremy Kyle's show] is exploiting vulnerable young people ... But because of the extent of their problems, are they really able to consent to it rationally; are they really aware of the repercussions? It seems that these vulnerable people who are bullied and humiliated in their own lives are then bullied and humiliated on screen. The audience jeers, shouts, stamps. It's like a grotesque gladiatorial combat, watching people abuse each other."

Sounds like a perfect match for the DWP so far ...

And today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that Kyle's show:

"could be viewed as a rather brutal form of entertainment that is based on derision of the lower-working-class population ... The inference to be drawn is that (those experiencing poverty) are not like us and are not deserving of what we have. Public support for anti-poverty measures is that bit more difficult to achieve when programmes such as the Jeremy Kyle Show continue to present those less fortunate in society as undeserving objects to be used for the purpose of public entertainment."

It's hard to take Harriet Harman seriously when, today at the TUC Congress, she talks about tackling the gap between the rich and poor.

Compass found, in 2007, that life expectancy had worsened under Labour, and that infant mortality in the working class had grown under Labour. The share of wealth owned by the top 1% rose, and the share owned by the bottom 50% fell. 1 in 7 children lived in bad housing after 10 years of Labour. Two-thirds of ethnic minorities lived in the 88 most deprived wards after 10 years of Labour.

For 11 years, Labour has maintained the pro-war, pro-privatisation, status quo. It hasn't changed society to benefit working people in Britain. If you choose Jeremy Kyle as your DWP messenger, it just confirms what people are experiencing in the 11th year of a Labour government -- Labour isn't working for working people.

See also: Chicken Yoghurt

A Series Of Fundraising Concerts

Our monthly meeting last night went well.

We had reports back from three members who went to the autumn Green Party conference in London, as well as an update on the CRACIN anti-incinerator campaign. CRACIN is beginning an online survey about the council's waste strategy. If you want to help us collect signatures door-to-door against the incinerator, give me a ring on 07906 316 726.

Looking to the long-term, we agreed to have a series of fundraising concerts (with each one having two acoustic acts, and one rock act). Hopefully, two of these can take place before Christmas. If you're a local act, and would be able to volunteer a performance at one of these gigs to help us fundraise, get in touch!

Blogging Is Not A Crime

Mohammed Erraji is a blogger who has been thrown in jail for 2 years. His crime? Writing a post that claimed the Moroccan King's charitable habits were encouraging a culture of dependency.

This isn't just Morocco. It's happening again and again in Egypt, in Russia, in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, and with anti-whaling bloggers in Japan.

You can take a look at Reporters Without Borders's handbook for cyber-dissidents here.

Smart Food Packaging

Tim Lang has a good idea: food packaging that is embedded with computer chips to instantly link your mobile phone to an online sustainable food guide.

"Do I eat green beans from Kenya, because they are good for me, or do I say no because there are four litres of water embedded in each stem of green bean?" asked Professor Lang, from City University, London. He outlined a number of criteria that consumers should consider when buying food: how much energy and water are used to produce each calorie of food; what is the impact of the food item on climate, biodiversity, and the labour-force of the country it was grown in, and what are the health and financial costs of food.

09 September 2008

Local Currency To Help Local Economies

I think ours should be called the Coventry Kroner.

The iconography for each note:

5Ck = Elephants
10Ck = St. George
20Ck = the Whittle Arch
50Ck = that woman who rode through town naked
100Ck - the 1987 FA Cup.

"Virtual Water" and Food Crisis

Khaled Diab, The Guardian's commentisfree:

"With the depressing torrential rain and flooding at the weekend, water shortages are the last thing on our minds here in these wet, northern climes. Despite the misery, we are fortunate, as more and more areas in the world are beset by water shortages. Over the past week alone, the water table in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, has fallen to dangerous levels (a common problem across the subcontinent), Kyrgyzstan has cut electricity production to save water, and Californian farmers have complained of lower yields due to water rationing."

"Water-rich regions may have an abundance of water but they are already sailing pretty close to the wind in terms of food output. While growth in Middle Eastern agriculture is crippled by the absence of water, it is highly unlikely that largely temperate regions, such as the EU, will be able to translate their water abundance into significantly higher agricultural production, since most of their arable land is already in use."

"The current food crisis may be an early indication that we are slowly approaching an agricultural ceiling. In addition, the energy crunch suggests that the kind of globalisation of trade required to shift virtual water effectively may be unsustainable."

08 September 2008

Blogging -- Some Modest Proposals

The final fringe that I went to at the Green Party conference this weekend was one on green blogging. It was organised by the Rt Hon Rt Rev Jim Jepps (The Daily Maybe), and Sunny Hundal (Liberal Conspiracy, Pickled Politics) was a guest speaker.

The discussion was interesting, but it focused a bit much on the pitfalls (people going grrrr, to the point of legal action, about things you blog about).

As a start, some tips on what makes/creates a good blog:

- Generate original content -- Content is the only reason people will keep coming back to your blog. Talk about community meetings you attended that the media didn't cover ... or covered the wrong way. Break news. Do email interviews. Be the first to post up a video from Christian Aid or FoE.

- Write a post that could be the definitive one on the subject in the country, e.g. something on the "Right To Rent" motion at this weekend's conference, and then turn it into how that could be applied at the local level, compare it to "Right To Buy", look at why people rent most of their lives on the continent, etc. I've found that two of the posts in my archive that receive the most attention are on sex workers in Coventry and David Cameron and the EU Social Chapter.

- "Voice" in your writing -- Use active words. Use "plain english" and short-punchy sentences. People absorb information in bite-size pieces. A lack of specialist "in the know" terminology is going to ensure a wider readership for your blog. Read writers that you like, and ask why their prose works.

- Intimacy -- I did three years of community radio news in university, and the trick (especially for someone like me who had a severe stutter as late as age 18) was to speak to one person when in front of the microphone. Write as if you're writing for one person out there reading it on their screen.

- Find a balance between being spontaneous and being your own editor -- Write 300 words ... walk away from the computer and have a sandwich ... come back, edit it ruthlessly down to 200 words. Post it. Make each post exactly what you want to say. This is also the key to good letter-writing to newspapers.

- Mix it up -- Write short posts. Write long posts. Learn how to use audio and to embed video.

- Tag your posts -- I didn't tag my posts for at least the first year. I just blogged and blogged, and then when it came time to organise 500 posts into a few tags, they had organically emerged (i.e. a fair amount of posts on mental health led to "health" ... a number of posts on prisons led to "crime"). I have 20 tags, and I think even that is too much. The tags will show people what the focus of your blog, over the past year, has been about. If you have 200 tags, what focus is there?

If people want to add other suggestions through comments, feel free!

I'm Reading This Morning ...

- The Federation of Small Business campaign - Keep Trade Local

- Iraq's juvenile prison system (75 boys in a cell about 5 metres by 10 metres, on double bunks or the concrete floor)

- How climate change will affect the Spanish wine industry

- A survey by Great Ormond Street about young people's lack of knowledge about mental health

- The Brave New World of the Premiership -- Manchester-City-branded mopeds, restaurants, energy drinks, and Tata cars

04 September 2008

Green Party Autumn Conference

I'm off to the autumn Green Party conference, from tomorrow afternoon onwards. It'll continue to Monday, but I'm returning to Coventry on Sunday night.

It's being held at SOAS in London (near Russell Square tube). Non-members can attend as observers, on a day by day basis, so feel free to come along!

It's historic, since (for better or worse, for richer or poorer) we will be electing our first leader/deputy leader team (for a 2-year term). This replaces the practice of having a male and female "principal speaker" who were elected for one-year terms. The "leader announcement" will be Friday evening at 520pm, and the new leader will give a keynote on Saturday early afternoon.

You can keep track of blogging activity at Green Despatches during the conference.

You can find some more information here. You can read also the timetable (what fringe meetings are happening where) here.

Sarah Palin And American Polarisation

Andrew Sullivan, in The Atlantic, got it right: "Reality television has become our politics." Policy positions (heck, any foreign policy knowledge) isn't important, since Sarah Palin is a hockey mom who eats mooseburgers and can read a teleprompter.

It isn't about policies, it's about white women in focus groups saying she reminds them of Hillary Clinton.

Palin wanted to ban books when she was a local mayor. She's fine with creationism being taught alongside evolution. She left a town of 8000 people with $20 million in long-term debt. Two weeks ago, she sat in church, and listened to a man say that terrorist attacks on Israelis are God's "judgment of unbelief" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity. 115 000 people voted for her as Governor of Alaska in 2006, but she doesn't hesitate to pour scorn on Barack Obama who received 18 million votes in the Democratic primaries.

Pregnant teens are bad, unless they're Palin's daughter. A town with a meth lab for every 200 people is bad, unless it's the town where she was mayor. The Republicans have been in control of the White House from 1980 to 1992, and from 2000 to 2008, and in control of the US Congress from 1994 to 2006. Yet, all of the problems in America are down to "liberals" and "big government" - which they have had nothing to do with. The entire crowd chanting "USA" -- becoming a term of defiance and division: "We're real Americans -- and you’re not."

Obama's not a saint, but the kind of politics that he's trying to put in place (bringing people together, rather than polarise and hate and divide), that patriotism isn't owned by one party in the US, makes such a contrast to the spectacle in St. Paul.

02 September 2008

Nacro Running Prisons?

It's interesting that two consortia, involving charities, are bidding to run prisons in England. The two groups are:

- Turning Point (social care), Rainer Crime Concern (young offenders), and Serco Group (bidding for one jail)

- Nacro, Group 4 Securicor, an unnamed drugs charity, and an unnamed construction company (bidding for two jails - Maghull and Belmarsh West)

Nacro's head, Paul Cavadino, admits that they are "odd bedfellows" with Securicor, but that:

"If we're both involved in working together on the design, planning and regime of a new prison, it increases the chances that regime will be one which helps to reduce re-offending by resettling prisoners effectively."
I'm confused how Nacro will retain credibility from a few points of view. One, it puts them in bed with private prison operators.Two, how can it criticise Titan jails, whilst simultaneously running part of the prison system?

The news of these joint bids comes only days after Cavadino said that "resources should be used to improve the prison system, not expand it" -- if Nacro believes that, why not bid to run existing prisons, rather than new ones that expand the prison estate?

Trescothick And Mental Illness

Marcus Trescothick, a cricketer with Somerset, has written an autobiography, Coming Back to Me. Trescothick pulled out of the 2006-7 Ashes tour due to what kept being called a "stress-related illness." It turns out that he has been having anxiety attacks since the age of 10.

We hear far more about psychologists whispering in the ears of cyclists at Olympic velodromes just before their ride. It's very rare for a professional sports player to speak out on mental illness:

"I struggled mostly with the nerves and the worrying that goes with it. It doesn't matter what you do, anybody can pick it up whether you earn £1m a year or £20 a week. It strikes when it wants to and there's not much you can do until you take pills or seek help and get back on the road to recovery."

"People try and hide it all the time. I hid it for weeks, months and a couple of years before saying I don't want to run from this any more."

"Anxiety problems are seen as a weakness. People tell you to pull yourself together. But it is an illness, it's not something you make up."

01 September 2008

Coventry - City Of Sanctuary

"City of Sanctuary" is a movement of local people, community groups, organisations and businesses who share a common aim of ensuring that their city is a welcoming place for people seeking sanctuary from war or persecution.

Sheffield is the first City of Sanctuary in the UK, and Coventry aims to be the second.

For many years, Coventry has offered a home to people whose lives were in danger in their own countries. Many have lost their homes and families, but they have brought new skills, music, food - contributing to our vibrant and diverse community.

In order to achieve "City of Sanctuary" status, Coventry has to show that our city, and its services, are welcoming and accessible to people seeking sanctuary, refugees and all vulnerable migrants.

There will be a public meeting on the 25th September at 730pm, at the Council House (Earl Street, CV1 5RR).

For more information, please contact Penny Walker on 024 7666 4616 or email: coventry@cityofsanctuary.org.

Richard Schiff On John McCain

I know he was just an actor on "The West Wing" but Richard Schiff makes a few interesting points about John McCain:

"Here is a man who had his moment in history already pass him by. After being eviscerated and politically castrated in the 2000 Republican primaries by the Bush PR machine; accused falsely of fathering an illegitimate and racially mixed child, he was given a chance at redemption and a chance to save the world from a man he considered at the time to be dangerous and untrustworthy. He could have run as a third party candidate and taken enough votes away from George W to seal the election for Al Gore. He passed."

"Four years later, John Kerry had talks with McCain about running as his Vice-President; a dream ticket that would surely bring down the Bush regime. Again he passed."

"When I ask Washington insiders why, they can only conclude that the reason was simple, unadulterated ambition to be President. But what a price to pay. This is a man who could have saved the world from the last eight years of disaster and instead is content to inherit the aftermath. But the other half of the divide chooses to imagine the younger McCain, the independent, free thinking, iconoclast he may very well have been once, long ago."