31 October 2008

JFK's Energy Revolution

"The Big Ask" And The Climate Change Bill

Mobile Phones And War

Everyone's worried about Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand ... meanwhile, 50 000 people have been burned out of refugee camps in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Think the conflict doesn't matter to you? Do you own a mobile phone? 80% of the world's coltan -- an essential component in all mobile phones -- is being struggled over in the DRC.

Salt, Bread And Heart Disease

Salt = heart disease. The Independent checked 84 breads made by Warburtons, Hovis, Kingsmill, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. Warburtons bread has 20% more salt than Sainsbury's. Reducing salt in all our food (especially takeaways) is in our long-term health interest.

A National Asbestos Survey

My father has an asbestos problem in his lower lungs (he used to work in a pulp and paper mill in the 1960s). Ucatt and the NUT want government to survey all public buildings for asbestos ... and to remove any decaying material that might cause a risk. With 13000 buildings possibly affected, this seems way past time.

30 October 2008

The Herbert's Peace And Reconciliation Gallery

The Herbert is having its official expansion opening. The refurbished gallery will have a permanent exhibit on Peace and Reconciliation.

"The permanent Peace and Reconciliation Gallery will combine contemporary and historic strands and will explore conflict and reconciliation in local and global communities. Themes will include 'War and Forgiveness'-- exploring memories of the Second World War, and 'International Friendship' -- looking at different countries’ experiences of conflict and peace. 'Conflict and Peace Work' will focus on Coventry’s peace work and links to wider national and global movements. A live online forum will encourage global debate with communities around the world."

Obama's 30 Minute Informercial

If you're interested, here it is. He bought a half-hour on 7 US television networks (NBC, CBS, Fox, Black Entertainment Television, Univision -- the largest Spanish-language network, and MSNBC). 6 hours after its airing, over 320 000 people have already watched it on YouTube. I think it will come to what Dick Morris said back in June: if Obama managed to define himself as the defender of American values and individualism,he would win a landslide.

29 October 2008

Van Jones - The USA In Crisis

Van Jones is a very interesting man. In the same way that we can't impose democracy on other parts of the world down the barrel of a gun, environmental change will have to come from within the United States (5% of the world's population, consuming 25% of the world's resources). A green-collar economy in the US will benefit all of us. We have to figure out ways of supporting Jones ... and people like him.

"There is a mass pro-democracy movement in this country that has its origins back in Seattle that stood up to George Bush around the Iraqi invasion and put millions of people on the streets around the world. Not because of the party, but because people all across this country stood up and said they weren't going to take it anymore. The ones that suffered through the shame of Katrina, that propelled Al Gore to global fame and that Barack Obama saw and decided that its existence created a possibility for him. Barack Obama didn't create this movement. This movement created the opportunity for Obama. And we should never forget that."

Mandelson And Deripaska

Trevor Kavanaugh has a must-read piece on the Mandelson/Deripaska affair.

This is what happens when politicians don't keep their distance from shady business figures.

People focus on Mandelson or Osborne's judgement, but doesn't it say something about Gordon Brown's judgement? He brings Mandelson back into the Cabinet, and within a few weeks, this is what's happening?

Also see: US denied visa to Deripaska over alledged criminal connections

White Poppies

Wear a white poppy from now until 11th November. Or be like Jon Snow and don't wear any poppy at all.

Brussels sprouts, cranberries, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, and swede are now in season.

The number of data losses reported to the Information Commissioner has doubled in the last six months.

The 9th of November marks the 10th anniversary of the total abolition of capital punishment in the UK.

Finally, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust: "Young mothers are still going to jail for the same reasons they were in Victorian times: poverty, debt, addiction and mental illness."

The UK's Ecological Footprint

Another story that shows it's not all about the credit crunch ... the Living Planet Report is the work of WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network:

"In the UK, the 'ecological footprint' - the amount of the Earth's land and sea needed to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste - is 5.3 hectares per person. This is more than twice the 2.1 hectares per person actually available for the global population."

"The UK's national ecological footprint is the 15th biggest in the world, and is the same size as that of 33 African countries put together."

" 'The events in the last few months have served to show us how it's foolish in the extreme to live beyond our means,' said WWF's international president, Chief Emeka Anyaoku. 'Devastating though the financial credit crunch has been, it's nothing as compared to the ecological recession that we are facing.' The more than $2 trillion (£1.2 trillion) lost on stocks and shares was dwarfed by the up to $4.5 trillion worth of resources destroyed forever each year."

28 October 2008

Growing Labour Opposition To Heathrow

More than 50 MPs, including 23 from Labour, have signed an Early Day Motion against a third runway at Heathrow. Ann Keen, who is the MP for Hounslow, Osterley, Gunnersbury, Brentford, Isleworth and Chiswick, did a survey of local people. 90% of respondents opposed a third runway.

Interestingly, the Tory shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers is among the signatories of the EDM. Villiers is on record as being opposed to a second runway at Stansted as well.

"The Uncontrollable Fury Of Nuclear Weapons"

It's World Disarmament Week.

"It is my firm belief that the infinite and uncontrollable fury of nuclear weapons should never be held in the hands of any mere mortal ever again, for any reason."

- Mikhail Gorbachev

My 1000th Post

To honour the milestone, I thought I'd take a trip around green blogs here in the UK:

- Jim, at the Daily Maybe, has an interview with Jean Lambert, one of our two Green MEPs

- Peter talks about why we need more Green councillors

- Stuart is disappointed that Maidstone Borough Council has decided to prioritise economic growth over carbon emissions reduction

- Natalie describes an arts performance in St Pancras

- Croydon Greens look at the development of roof gardens

- Sue has two posts about trees in Lewisham

- Molly, at Gaian Economics, talks about the IMF, aka, the International Monetary Farce

- Charlie blogs about street lighting in Bristol, Philip highlights the Indie's story on GM in Britain, and Rupert shines a light on the new Green councillor on Mid Beds District Council

Finally, something we're all interested in, Adrian makes us aware of an upcoming conference on eco-retrofitting of housing in Brighton

The Vet Who Did Not Vet

27 October 2008

Chatting About Incineration With Liz

I'll be on the Liz Kershaw breakfast programme tomorrow morning (BBC Coventry and Warwickshire), as a guest to talk about the incinerator.

Hazel Noonan (Con-Cheylesmore), the cabinet member for City Services, and the PPC for Coventry North-East, will also be on.

It's hard to exaggerate how much of a mistake a PFI-led incinerator project would be.

- they want to build it on urban greenbelt land ... on a flood plain ... on former allotment lands

- they're assuming that waste will grow each year, but waste in Coventry fell by 1.5% last year, and it's drastically down this year so far

- the council wants to spend an extra £500 000 a year on recycling ... which sounds good ... until you hear that they want to spend an extra £4.5 million a year on incineration

- a PFI project locks us in for three decades at £90 per tonne of waste, and we'll have to keep feeding it and feeding it and feeding it ... diverting money away from recycling projects that could provide much more local employment than a PFI which drains money away to the financiers

- there are better proposals in for the same pot of PFI money, and they don't have a plan B. The plan B that should happen is a Mechanical Biological Treatment plant (MBT). There are 50 MBT plants in Germany. This is not new or untested technology. Here in the UK, Leicester has a MBT which is relatively primative, but there is a better one in Norfolk, and two of them in Lancashire. The Lancashire one works like a coffee percolator on leftover waste (after we reduce, after we reuse, after we recycle), and such a MBT can be built in 2 years ... unlike a long commissioning process for an incinerator.

Iraq's Environmental Damage

Amidst the wreckage of the credit crunch, we continue to ignore Iraq. Iraq will be suffering an environmental catastrophe for decades:

With help from the UN, the Japanese government and local efforts, Iraq has reflooded and restored 55 percent of the marshland since 2003. Such successes are important, but a host of other environmental issues have yet to be tackled. Iraq is planted with 25 million land mines. Chemical weapons and depleted uranium munitions have created 105 contaminated areas, the minister said. Sewers need attention and more than 60 percent of Iraq's fresh water is polluted.

US Election Update - 27th October

- Obama is literally spending McCain into the ground. This article looks at his buying of TV advertising.

- Young voters in Colorado.

- Conservatives for Change (a YouTube video of people who vote Republican, but who now favour Obama). You might also want to read Andrew Sullivan's "Top 10 Reasons Conservatives Should Vote Obama."

- Nate Silver has become the pollster/analyst to watch. His website, FiveThirtyEight, is worth a read over the final days of the campaign. It uses the demographic composition of each state, plus the various state and national opinion polls, plus 10 000 "WarGames" style simulations each day, to try and predict the outcome of the US presidential election.

- Christopher Hitchens hates Sarah Palin. Things are getting weird when I'm on the same side of an argument with Hitchens.

21 October 2008

Spain's 1 Million Electric Cars

Spain is aiming for 1 million electric cars by 2011, If only our government had ambition, not rhetoric.

Greenpeace urges Italy to quit coal.

The future of newspapers is local, and the future of newspapers is investigative journalism.

Jacqui Smith wants to search your hard drive.

Finally, a good article on Coventry's multi-faith Peace Walk.

Location Of New Coventry Incinerator

The Coventry Telegraph's front page today was the location of the proposed new mega-incinerator ... right over land that has been, and could be used, for allotments. At a time when councils are considering mining landfill to find profitable material, we're thinking of locking ourselves into a 30-year contract to burn our refuse. At a time when peak oil is threatening global food supply chains, we should be growing more food in urban settings.

Mark Easton's Blog

Mark Easton, the BBC's Home Affairs reporter, has had a series of interesting posts on his blog: on the growth, decade-by-decade, of births outside marriage , on heroin, heroin, where's Afghanistan's heroin, and on drug treatment programmes in the UK:

The National Treatment Agency prefer to focus on the number in treatment and the number retained for 12 weeks - the government's measures of success. There is no target for getting people off drugs. [Scott -- with the Blairite focus on targetting, doesn't this say everything, the one thing they haven't set a target for?] If pressed, they will argue that the data shows that those who left drug-free represent 11% of those who were discharged from treatment. That looks a bit better. But do you see what they've done? They have ignored the tens of thousands of people who are in drug treatment but were not discharged.

20 October 2008

Stop Talking About The Environment!

Facebook Groups In Coventry

- Coventry Green Party

- Felicity Norman For Green MEP for the West Midlands, and the West Midlands Green Party

- Arts-wise, there is the Warwick Arts Centre, and the Belgrade Theatre

- CRACIN (Coalition for Recycling and Against Coventry Incinerator)

- Coventry Local Food

- Coventry City Centre's redevelopment consultation

- Love Music Hate Racism Coventry

- Green and Ethical Networking in the Midlands

- Save The Coundon Wedge

- Stateless, a campaign begun by the Coventry Peace House

- and finally, plenty of groups at the University of Warwick: Warwick Young Greens, Dissident Speakers (a Uni of Warwick speaker series) , Women's Campaigns at Warwick 08/09, Warwick Anti-Sexism Society, Warwick People and Planet, and Weapons out of Warwick

People Predicted The Credit Crunch

We don't have enough nuclear safety inspectors. Naturally, this leads the government to want more nuclear power.

Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, knew about the Abu Ghraib torture seven months before it became public.

The Home Office and GCHQ are disagreeing over a new mega-database which would further threaten our civil liberties.

Green Party councillors, around the country, have been trying to get youth engaged with democracy this past week.

Terry Mancour, in the Guardian: "A pickup truck of early 1990s era was in the carpark, and scrawled across the side of it in big, carefully-lettered permanent marker were the words "Southern White Hard-Working Beer-Drinking Gun-Owning White Man In His 50s FOR OBAMA!"

Finally, at least 10 people predicted the "credit crunch":

Aka Dr Doom, Dr Roubini is an economics professor at New York University. On September 7, 2006, at an International Monetary Fund meeting, he announced that a crisis was brewing. He said that the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession.

Homeowners would default on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities would unravel worldwide and the global financial system would shudder to a halt. These developments, he said, would cripple major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

As Mr Roubini stepped down, his host said: “I think perhaps we will need a stiff drink after that.”

19 October 2008

Phil Woolas On Immigration

Phil Woolas is signalling that the government will play a blame-game in a time of economic crisis. I think we saw where scapegoating led in the 1930s. The government can't restrict EU migration, and his "move will target Black and Asian workers from former colonies - despite many having family links to the UK."

Negative Equity

2 million households will be in negative equity by 2010. Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter points out that "dumping thousands of repossessed homes on an already depressed housing market is far less financially sustainable than finding ways of keeping owners in their homes until they, or the market, have staggered back onto their feet."

Sunday Reading

The Observer has a must-read article on Britain's wind industry.

The US helps India's civilian nuclear programme ... so, China helps Pakistan.

News just in ... dirty surgical equipment is bad.

Martii Ahtisaari, the Finnish winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, wants to focus next on global youth unemployment. Here in Britain, 56 000 of the 164 000 who lost their jobs between June and August of 2008 were under 25. That rise of 56 000 is the biggest since youth unemployment started to be measured in 1992. And, amongst youth in education, they are increasingly reliant on EMA grants to make a go of it.

Seymour Hersh: "It was stunning to me how many good, rational people - people I respect - supported going into war in Iraq. And it was stunning to me how many people thought you could go to war against an idea."

17 October 2008

"A Pilgrimage On Wheels"

It seems our new Bishop of Coventry's a cycling bishop: "I want to get to know the diocese of Coventry by seeing its sights, breathing its air and meeting its people. Most of all I want to pray as I go. It will be a pilgrimage on wheels."

Credit Crunch Reading - China

The UK government now owns 2.5% of a state-owned, state-controlled and state-run Chinese bank. Pakistan is also turning to "the guys with the money." The President of ICBC wades in with his view. The Spectator thinks that how the Chinese political system copes with the credit crunch" will be help determine the global balance of power for the next fifty years.

An 80% Cut That Includes Aviation

Caroline Lucas on Ed Miliband's announcement of an 80% cut by 2050 ... that is, an 80% target which doesn't include aviation nor shipping emissions:

Early indications suggest Miliband faces exactly the same problem as former, non-cabinet, climate change ministers – he has a room full of colleagues who do not believe it is practical to care about the environment in which we live, and he is stuck with the job of green-washing their half-hearted stabs at the issue ... If Miliband is going to make a success of his historic appointment to cabinet as the first climate change secretary of state, then he has to be straight with us, and straight with cabinet. He has to get through to his colleagues that business as usual is not only environmental suicide, but also economically unviable.

New Head Of Armed Forces - David Richards

If the name is familiar, he was the UK commander in Sierra Leone, and, from 2006 to 2007, Richards was in charge of 35 000 troops in Afghanistan, the first UK general to command US troops since WWII.

In a Guardian interview in January 2007, he expressed frustration with DFID not working enough with the military, saying that the Army's relationship with NGOs in Afghanistan should be "symbiotic." I suspect he was talking about PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams). In this NATO document (section 3, # 17), Richards criticises "the lack of co-operation between foreign humanitarian agencies, NGOs, and private security companies which has created a situation 'close to anarchy' in the area of reconstruction."

Is that the future of NGOs, British, Afghani or in other countries, to work symbiotically with the military and private security companies?

Wave And Tidal Power

"The resource is clean, renewable and vast. In fact, it covers 70 percent of the planet. It can be harnessed to create electricity with zero carbon or particulate emissions. If logistical, environmental and efficiency challenges can be overcome -- a big 'if' -- this could be a major clean energy source for the half of the world's population who live within 50 miles of coasts."

16 October 2008

Mike Davis - Obama And The Credit Crunch

Mike Davis, tomdispatch.com:

"Let me confess that, as an aging socialist, I suddenly find myself like the Jehovah's Witness who opens his window to see the stars actually falling out of the sky. Although I've been studying Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I'd actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide. Or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent systemic meltdown."

[...]

"The third problem with the New Deal analogy is perhaps the most important. Military Keynesianism is no longer an available deus ex machina. A bigger Pentagon budget no longer creates hundreds of thousands of stable factory jobs ... although both candidates have endorsed programs, including expansion of Army and Marine combat strength, missile defense (aka "Star Wars"), and an intensified war in Afghanistan, that will enlarge the military-industrial complex, none of this will replenish the supply of decent jobs nor prime a broken national pump. However, in the midst of a deep slump, what a huge military budget can do is obliterate the modest but essential reforms that make up Obama's plans for healthcare, alternative energy, and education. In other words, Rooseveltian guns and butter have become a contradiction in terms, which means that the Obama campaign is engineering a catastrophic collision between its national security priorities and its domestic policy goals."

Early Day Motions - Veredus And Academies

Ken Purchase is a Labour MP in Wolverhampton. He has an interesting Early Day Motion underway. EDMs are like straw polls amongst MPs, and they sometimes lead to pressure on the government through media attention, or private members bills.

His EDM is about the Department for Children, Schools and Families employing "the headhunting firm Veredus to recruit headteachers to work in academy schools under a completely separate procedure from normal recruitment processes."

Veredus has been part of the academy project for a while. Back in 2000, Sir Bruce Liddington was appointed by the Department of Education to give professional advice on the development of academy projects, while also a "freelance associate" for Veredus.

Purchase wants a moratorium, while an assessment of the impact of headhunting on neighbouring schools is carried out. Up to 1 000 schools around the country have started the new school year without a permanent head, and the government is employing a private firm to drain even more talent towards academies. Crazy, isn't it?

Thomsonfly Ends Coventry Services

BBC News. The airport is blaming the court case loss over the passenger terminal, but if there was enough demand, they would keep the services.

You can take a look at train connections from Coventry to the continent here.

- Trains to Paris take 5 hours from Coventry (8 connections each day).

- There are three connections each day to get you to Cologne: leaving at 0756, 1120 and 1220, arriving at 1645, 1945, and 2145.

- You can leave Coventry at 1250pm each day, and wake up in Venice for 9am. Same with Berlin (350pm departures, arriving in Berlin for 8am). With night trains, you're saving one night's hotel costs as well.

15 October 2008

£1 Billion For A PFI Incinerator

Coventry Telegraph: Taxpayers could be facing a "billion pound blunder" if councils push ahead plans for a new incinerator:

"Anti-incinerator campaigners claim the scheme hasn't been scrutinised enough and fear the council could end up burning valuable materials instead of recycling them. Keith Kondakor, waste management spokesman for Nuneaton Friends of the Earth, said: 'This report shows a massive waste of money and a total lack of ambition. The sums of money are frightening and the amount of scrutiny is very small. The number of people looking at the strategy and understanding it and asking whether it's a sensible thing to do is virtually none. And it's almost too late to correct it.'"

"Green-Collar Jobs"

Ecological Mortgages

The Ecology Building Society specialises in funding green mortgages for properties offering an ecological payback. They lend money to people who want to build energy-efficient new homes.

As well, in 2004, 39% of the society's mortgages were for the repair and restoration of run-down property. You can read about a windmill restoration project in Worcestershire here.

Refurbishment and restoration is key to lowering carbon emissions. 80 per cent of the homes that will be in use in 2050 have already been built.

The Green Building Council is calling for a “pay as you save” system. A homeowner or landlord would borrow the costs of improvements (new windows and insulation) from a council or bank. We would then pay the money back, over a number of years, with the costs covered by lower energy bills. This would virtually eliminate up-front costs to the consumer. It could also lead to tens of thousands of "green-collar" refurbishment jobs.

In contrast to the tsunami unleashed by financial speculation, we need to get back to investing in the real economy.

14 October 2008

"Credit Crunch" Reading - 14 October

Larry Elliot on the slaying of sacred cows:

"Last week's fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average was the biggest in its 120-year history. Even during the Great Depression, the Dow never fell by 18.2% ... Structural adjustment plans for the poor have involved privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation. Structural adjustment plans for the west, it seems, comprise of nationalisation, subsidisation and re-regulation. The one-size-fits-all model of development is just one of the many sacred cows to have been slain over the past 14 months ... Gerard Lyons, the chief economist at Standard Chartered, believes the loss of output next year could be close to 2%, which would make 2009 a contender for the toughest year Britain has suffered since the second world war. As things stand, that looks entirely feasible."
Jeremy Warner on the effect of nationalised banks:

Counting the already nationalised Northern Rock, the Government thereby ends up effectively in control of three of Britain's largest lenders ... The competition issues posed by hegemony on such a scale, already bad enough as a result of the Lloyds TSB/HBOS merger, are extreme. It's as if the Government was suddenly in control of Britain's big four supermarket groups. You can imagine what the imperative of maximising returns across all four would do to prices at the tills.
Liam Halligan on the credit crunch and sovereign nations:

"All these multibillion dollar bail-outs are pushing Western governments closer to bankruptcy. Iceland shows it can happen ... Credit default swaps on the sovereign debt of some Western nations have shot up. The markets don’t yet think the likes of Italy and Spain will go bust, but the chances are growing they could ... The Treasury claims our national debt is around £550bn. That number – how can I put this delicately? – is total nonsense. I’m thinking, in particular, of the private finance initiative, quasi-private debts held by the likes of Network Rail and – above all – our enormous public sector pension bill. The UK’s true national debt – even before last week’s multibillion pound package – exceeds £1,300bn (some £50,000 per household)."

13 October 2008

Unite And Bank Rescues

Christopher Hope in the Telegraph notes that Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of Unite, said the partial bank nationalisations "must be bound to undertakings by the banks of no job losses, no repossessions and an end to the bonus culture." Unite donated £1.5 million to Labour in the three months to June of 2008. That was 40% of Labour's donations for the second quarter.

Social Justice And The Green Party

A few press releases from the national Green Party website: a call for a living wage, more council housing, greater investment in green industry and skills, jobs through green regeneration, environmental reps in workplaces, and an end to child poverty.

The Stock Market Fall

12 October 2008

Airline Pilots And ID Cards

Airline pilots are on the front line of the ID card battle: "Our members are incensed by the way they have been targeted as guinea pigs in a project which will not improve security. We will leave no stone unturned in our attempts to prevent this, including legal action to force a judicial review if necessary."

- A profile of Tasmin Omond, one of the protesters who scaled the Houses of Parliament to protest against a third runway at Heathrow.

- The £303 trillion time bomb. Go back to sleep, Britain, Gordon Brown stood back and let all of this develop, but your government is in control. Go back to sleep, Britain, here's another season of X-Factor! Here's 56 channels of it!

- A victory for asylum-seeker health-care.

- 42 writers attack the idea of 42 day detention without charge: "We don't know how lucky we are to live in a nation where police officers have all of six weeks to discover why they've locked us up."

And finally, how do they come up with these top 100 lists anyway? Andy Atkins and Barbara Stocking not in the top 50?

10 October 2008

Coventry Green Party Meetings

- This Friday, the Warwick Young Greens are having their first meeting proper of the year. They had a two-day freshers fair table on Mon/Tue of this week, and they had 40 people express interest. The meeting today is at 530pm on the campus, but if you want more info on future meetings/activities, you can contact John Walton on 07816 604 484.

- Next Tuesday, we'll be having our monthly Coventry Green Party meeting. It's at 730pm, at the Coventry Peace House, on Stoney Stanton Road. We'll be talking about Coventry Peace Month activities, our upcoming newsletter distribution in Cheylesmore, and putting ourselves on a more secure financial footing! If you want more information, give me a call on 07906 316 726.

Obama, Ohio And Organising

Probably the best article I've read on how the Obama campaign is using community organising:

"The Ohio campaign is attempting to build teams in 1,231 campaign-defined "neighborhoods," each covering eight to ten precincts. They are targeting virtually every inhabited square mile of the state. The campaign claimed to have teams in 65% of neighborhoods when I visited in early September. That's risen to 85% coverage at press time — and they are shooting for 100%. In contrast, the Kerry campaign effectively wrote off rural counties, and completely abandoned them in the final few weeks of the campaign in a last minute all-in shift to the cities."

Caroline Lucas - The Darling Plan

Caroline Lucas:

"If we're going to be asked to bail out the banks, we want something for our money. We want to know that the banks are going to be run responsibly from now on, and that means, as part owners of these banks, we want our fair share of the votes on the board ... Ordinary people, who have been landed with the bill, should be represented in the boardrooms. We should use those votes to cut the excessive bonus rewards to failing executives, clamp down on predatory, irresponsible lending practices, and to demerge the mega-banks into smaller, more accountable firms so that this can never happen again ... By creating cast-iron government bonds as a secure home for pension funds and personal savings, and investing that money in green-collar work such as renewable energy or mass transit, we could end the financial panic, generate jobs, revitalise money flows, loosen ties to unreliable oil markets and cut carbon emissions."

08 October 2008

The Darling Plan

So, I was having a drink with a friend in the Royal Oak last night. And I casually asked if he’d heard about the government's rescue plan. The part-nationalisation of the entire banking system is just something you chat about over pints, nowadays.

The scale and pace of change in the banking system, the ongoing climate change/peak oil crisis, combined with the Beijing Olympics, the US election, and Russian naval antics, is making it feel like the summer of 1990 - when you can grasp that world order is fluid. Change doesn't happen because of one event (Northern Rock), or because of the policies of one government in one country. This has been brewing for some time.

A few things to note:

- How much is the BBC's Robert Peston contributing to the crisis?

- UK manufacturing has contracted for six straight months.

- Standard & Poor's is warning that Pakistan (the rupee is hitting record lows against the dollar) is close to bankruptcy.

- Terry Smith, chief executive of money brokers Tullett Prebon, told the Today Programme that the government's deal will "move the battleground ... to test the credit worthiness of the guarantors, the government." The £250 billion for inter-bank lending "is likely to be added to the government's liabilities and go straight on the national debt." Already, before this plan, with public sector pensions, PFI debt, nuclear decommissioning, Network Rail and Northern Rock, government liabilities added up to £1 898 billion (129% of GDP).

- European finance ministers have pretty much agreed to suspend the eurozone's Stability and Growth Pact restrictions on budget deficits.

Finally, Time has a report on the Chinese reaction to the whole sha-bang.

The Five Autumn Conferences

They were, in order, the Green Party (London), the TUC (Brighton), the Lib Dems (Bournemouth), Labour (Manchester), and finally, the Tories (Brum). Emily Sutton, from the magazine, Total Politics, had a stall at each, and has an interesting take on the Lib Dems:

"However, not even the first morning had passed when I developed a seething and passionate resentment of the Liberal Democrats, or at least those who attended their conference."

"The conference was dull, delegates seemed scarce on the ground, and I witnessed first hand the inherent middle class prejudice of the party who champion themselves as the party of eradicating discrimination and promoting and valuing minorities. Counting the number of ethnic minorities on my fingers - no need for toes - I spent the entire conference having to explain to delegates, who gave me that patronising tilted head look, that of course I knew who Nick Clegg was (unlike most of the general public) and am in fact interested in politics. Apparently being young, female and having the added misfortune of being blonde automatically excludes you from having any interest and or knowledge of politics."

The All-Seeing State

Jenni Russell:

"Would a rebel politician stand up against the prime minister if he knew security services had access to the 100 text messages a week he exchanged with a woman who wasn't his wife? ... Mobile network records can already place us, at any time, within 100 yards of our phone's location. The ID database will record every time we go to a hospital or a benefit centre, fill in a prescription or a draw a large sum from a bank ... Most alarming of all, for its breadth of knowledge about us, the NHS database will give hundreds of thousands of staff the ability to discover when we lost our virginity, the drugs we're on, our mental health history."

"None of this information will be safe, because we know three things about the mass collection of data. The first is that the authorities will mine it where it suits them. The second is that the data will be lost. And the third is that it will leak."

07 October 2008

Ed Miliband's Shadow Minister

David Cameron has named Greg Clark as the shadow minister for "Energy and Climate Change" ... Clark was the MP behind the Private Members Bill to stop gardens being defined as brownfield land. He is also a former director of policy (2001-2005) for the Conservatives. I don't remember any ideas about feed-in tariffs and microgeneration emerging at that time. His assistants are Greg Barker (shadow minister for climate change) and Charles Hendry (shadow minister for energy).

Other items:

- If you're a roofer, you may want to check out Solarcentury's booth at Interbuild (the NEC, 26th to 30th October).

- UK consumers use food at a rate that represents six times more land and sea than is available to us.

- Sure, ID cars are going to be totally secure.

- Give coal the boot!

Finally, Help the Aged and FoE are taking the government to court over their fuel poverty policies.

Coventry Airport's Passenger Terminal

Coventry Airport has lost its High Court Appeal for expanding its passenger terminal. Hooray!

The idea that the airport's expansion was "vital for the economic health and prestige" of Coventry is wrong. All of our investments in carbon-neutral housing, in the utopian visions in yesterday's Coventry Telegraph (self-driving cars, wind turbines on lampposts), will be swamped by the impact of an expansion of aviation.

Since aviation fuel is not taxed, cheap flights have become the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe. Each adult in the UK averages 603 kg of carbon emissions from aviation per year. The US, in comparison, is only 275 kg per adult per year.

If we want "economic health" in Coventry in the future, it's needs to be a low-carbon kind of health.

06 October 2008

The 2nd McCain-Obama Debate

Obama and young voters. The Roots get on board. Obama starts running ads against the NRA. Henry Paulson was an aide to John Erlichman, and it turns out that McCain is friendly with G Gordon Liddy. It increasingly looks like McCain simply won't have the "ground game."

Mammal Species Extinction

At least 25% of the world's mammal species are at risk of extinction. I like geothermal heating and all that, but shouldn't this be leading Channel 4 News, not Icelandic banks?

Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's species programme: "The financial crisis is nothing compared with the environmental crisis ... It's going to affect a few people, whereas the biodiversity crisis is going to affect the entire world. So there is a risk that because of the financial crisis, people are going to say 'yeah, the environment is not that urgent'; it is really urgent."

State Of Play

- We’re planning a series of fundraising concerts (for each concert, one acoustic, two “rock” acts) to provide us with an overall profit of £500 for our deposit for the next general election. If we make 5% or better in the general election, we get the money back, hooray!

- We will have 6000-copy ward newsletters in Cheylesmore for November 2008, February 2009, and May 2009. Why Cheylesmore? It’s part of Coventry South (where we will run at the general election). We’ve run there the last two local elections (Bryn Tittle in 2007; Aisa Kara in 2008). Kevin Foster is a Cheylesmore councillor (he’s the Tory candidate for Coventry South). Hazel Noonan is a Cheylesmore councillor (she’s the cabinet member for City Services, and the Tory candidate for Coventry North-East). Cheylesmore is also next door to both the incinerator and the airport.

- We are continuing our monthly series of “Canal Walks” – on the last Sunday of each month, we gather at the Coventry Peace House, to, oddly enough, walk up the canal to the Greyhound Inn at Sutton Stop. It’s a great way to socialise and exchange ideas.

- We will be writing a series of letters to local Labour MPs, calling upon them to sign Early Day Motions. EDMs are like straw polls for MPs (non-binding, but an indication of where their political sympathies lie).

- We will continue maintaining the very blog that you’re reading now (which is up to about 80 visits per weekday).

58 Days To Oslo

The Ban Bus is in Skopje today.

Effects Of The Cabinet Shuffle

Peter Preston points out a few problems with creating an "Energy and Climate Change" ministry:

"The Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform - a mere 15 months old itself - will be dismembered. Power in its nuclear, fuel-poverty and save-the-planet form goes with Ed. But Hilary Benn, back at what remains of diminished Defra, is left with a rag-bag that doesn't cohere. For what, after all, does climate change mean in practical terms? It means drastic change to our environment. It means flood defences, food crises, the death of wildlife and, intrinsically, of our way of life. Government has an agency to cover that crucial beat. It is called the Environment Agency: and Benn remains its sponsoring minister. Yet now, bizarrely, that agency's role is chucked into the latest mix. Nobody knows how climate change - in Ed's new empire - fits with green monitoring and enforcement over at what's left at Benn's."

03 October 2008

A Sub-Prime Cabinet Shuffle

When the country is unravelling due to sub-prime mortgage loans, bringing back Peter Mandelson is a pretty big mistake in judgement.

In 1996, people were perplexed how Mandelson, a backbench MP earning just over £40,000 a year, was able to afford a £475,000 four-storey house. It was revealed, two years later, that he had received a secret loan of £373 000 (at Midland Bank base rate, substantially lower than the market mortgage rate) from the MP for Coventry North-West, Geoffrey Robinson. As secretary of state for the DTI, Mandelson's officials were investigating Robinson on two separate grounds. Hence, Mandelson's first resignation.

It's interesting that Justin Forsyth is being appointed as Gordon Brown's new "spin doctor" ... Forsyth is the former head of policy for Oxfam. He probably has a view on Peter Mandelson and aid/trade towards developing countries.

Caroline Lucas on Peter Mandelson: "If there was ever a time to put the high priest of corporate globalisation in charge of regulating our wayward economy, this isn't it. You might as well get Al Capone to run a Young Offenders Institution."

Finally, some reaction to the creation of a ministerial post for "Energy and Climate Change" for Ed Miliband:

- The Guardian
- the think-tank Policy Exchange wonders if the new department will take over international climate change negotiations from Defra?
- the Renewable Energy Association wants Miliband to find ways ways to overcome delays in starting up new wind and marine power projects
- John Sauven, Greenpeace: "Bringing energy and climate together at last reflects the urgency of the threat we face from climate change. The first test of Ed Miliband's credibility will be whether he stops the UK's first new coal-fired power station in over 30 years at Kingsnorth in Kent."

A Fine Nuclear Mess

India is a nuclear power that hasn't signed the NPT, but the US is fine with investing $14 billion in new Indian reactors and nuclear plants over the next year alone.

Iran has signed the NPT, but the US wants to ban it from even having civilian nuclear power. Iran says it "could reconsider its uranium enrichment program if it gets cast-iron guarantees of regular international fuel supplies for its nuclear power plants," but I doubt the US will play ball.

Pakistan hasn't signed the NPT, wants a US nuclear investment deal despite being part of a shadowy network of nuclear technology trafficking, yet, they remain a key ally in the war on terror, with lawless regions along the border with Afghanistan.

My head hurts.

"World Day For Decent Work"

The World Day For Decent Work is on the 7th of October. The TUC will be holding a day of activities at Congress House in London which will focus on rights at work and ending inequality in the workplace.

Only 2% of state schools in Britain have introduced some form of restorative justice into discipline codes. A successful pilot project that has led to a 45% reduction in rates of exclusion may change all of that.

US election: the Vice-Presidential debate was last night, but this story on the iPhone was interesting. John McCain has also pulled out of Michigan, which makes the "electoral math" harder for him.

You wait for stories on electric cars, and then two come along at once: "Renault sees demand for as many as 50,000 electric vehicles in 2011, the year the carmaker will begin selling such zero emission cars in Denmark, Israel and Portugal."

02 October 2008

A Transformative Cabinet Shuffle

Gordon Brown is expected to shuffle his cabinet in the next few days. One interesting person tipped for promotion is Phil Hope, currently, the Minister for the Third Sector (educated at a comprehensive, didn’t go to Oxbridge, an expert in youth policy).

The problem with cabinet shuffles is that they tinker. They don't transform.

Idea one: Brown could take the Cabinet Office and turn it into a vehicle to drastically reduce carbon emissions across all of central government. The Cabinet Office is already in charge of "resource allocation" and "monitoring and improving" the performance of ministies. It is already in charge of bodies like the Civil Contingencies Secretariat which works to ensure "the UK's resilience against disruptive challenge." Right now, that means avian flu or flooding, but there will be nothing more disruptive than climate change plus peak oil. Every decision across government could be run through the Cabinet Office to make sure it's carbon-thrifty.

Idea two: If women are half the country, they should be half the cabinet.

Idea three: Create a "Minister For The Hundred" to co-ordinate policy for the 100 most deprived wards in the country. When you read about various schemes around the country, your eyes glaze over in an alphabet soup: ASBOs, SRBs, FCR toolkits, EAZs, CDTs, alcohol and DPPOs, ESF and ERDF. There must be an easier way to share lessons learnt. If something like the idea of a "Drug Court" in Glasgow works, why not spread it across the country?

Any other ideas?

Tory Conference - Cameron's Speech

David Cameron spoke for 65 minutes at conference, but he didn’t mention his 2005 idea of a "carbon audit office" -- a watchdog for a new statutory framework with specific year-by-year requirements for carbon cuts. In his leadership contest with David Davis, he said such an office would perform a role in checking emissions similar to the Monetary Policy Committee in monitoring and forecasting inflation. Cameron is green only when it suits him.

I thought one part of Cameron’s speech did hit home (and it wasn’t quoted as part of Nick Robinson’s package on the BBC’s 10 O’Clock News). He read out a letter from a constituent whose wife had died from MRSA complications. The man claimed that her treatment "was like something out of a 17th century asylum not a 21st century £90 billion health service." Cameron sent the letter to Alan Johnson, as Health Secretary, and received the following reply:

"A complaints procedure has been established for the NHS to resolve concerns … Each hospital and Primary Care Trust has a Patient Advice and Liaison Service to support people who wish to make a complaint … There is also an Independent Complaints Advocacy Service … If, when Mr Woods has received a response, he remains dissatisfied, it is open to him to approach the Healthcare Commission and seek an independent review of his complaint and local organisation's response … Once the Health Care Commission has investigated the case he can approach the Health Service Ombudsman if he remains dissatisfied.”
Cameron followed up reading out the letter with the zinger: "four ways to make a complaint but not one way for my constituent's wife to die with dignity."

01 October 2008

98 Months And Counting

Andrew Simms, The Guardian:

"With talk of new runways and coal-fired power stations, the government is engaged in the environmental equivalent of promoting unguaranteed sub-prime mortgages with no credit checks and telling banks with no assets to keep lending."

First Episode Of "Ministry Of Food"

A few reviews of "Jamie's Ministry of Food" in the papers this morning: Indie, Telegraph, and Times. The Sun has some sort of DVD giveaway from Oliver. There's also an in-depth article by Felicity Lawrence in the Guardian.

You can see the programme's website here.

Oliver has set up an information centre in Rotherham town centre (ironically, just beside Mickey D's), with demonstrations, recipe information, and cooking classes to learn the basics (frying, chopping, roasting).

We have an obesity epidemic, so it says something about the lethargy of the political class in this country that it takes a celebrity chef to start something like this up. Sure, he may not get 250 000 people in Rotherham cooking from fresh, but what if he gets 25 000 people cooking for the first time in years?