Monthly Archives: July 2013

Crap Cycle Lanes (#3)

This is a classic case of a lack of ‘joined up’ thinking. Here, Transport for London (TfL) has wasted money building this impressive cycle path near the Hogarth Roundabout only to close it because it’s, er, dangerous.

But if they’ve blocked it with a pedestrian barrier, why did they need to attach a no entry sign to it?

Hounslow-20130626-00108

It isn’t clear what you’re meant to do here. If you want to join the road, it’s a case of waiting  near the pedestrian refuge 2m to the right of this bizarre sight. The traffic is pretty heavy at the best of times because this is where motorists join the M4. You could be waiting for some time.

In the distance you can see another no entry sign where the useless path continues.

Hounslow-20130626-00109Cheers, TfL! Next time, why don’t you consult cyclists before you waste loads of money?

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Dirty Tricks, Corruption and Burglaries: What Really Happened at Ed Miliband’s Office?

Last March, the news media carried a story about a burglary at  Ed Miliband’s office. When I heard about this, my immediate thought was “is this a possible British Watergate“? But entertaining such thoughts and then expressing them leaves one open to the charge that one is a conspiracy theorist. But such questions refuse to go away so easily.

Here’s what The Guardian said at the time.

Scotland Yard received reports shortly before 7pm on Friday of a forced entry to the premises in the Norman Shaw buildings, which were the force’s own headquarters until 1967.

It is understood that a member of Miliband’s staff found that a door had been forced but it is unclear whether anything was missing from the room.

A Labour spokesman said: “There is an ongoing police investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment.”

And it adds:

News reports speculated the burglary may have been the work of pranksters or political opponents.

The Sun tried to make cheap political capital out of the break-in by telling its readers:

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband’s Westminster office has been burgled — but there were no policies there to pinch.

The really odd thing about this burglary story is how quickly it went cold. No one appears to have been arrested and curiously, none of the papers tell us if anything was stolen from Miliband’s office.

Since Ramsay MacDonald’s  first Labour government in 1924, the party has been the focus of a right-wing dirty tricks campaign beginning with the notorious Zinoviev Letter. The really low point came when the Conservative Dr Julian Lewis posed as moderate Labour party member in the Reg Prentice deselection case of 1976 in an effort to undermine the party and steer it in a rightwards direction.

This speech by Alun Gwynne Jones (Lord Chalfont) in 1975 to the House of Lords is rather interesting because it foregrounds the later right-wing attacks on the Labour Party of which Jones was purportedly a member. Here’s an extract:

Mr. Bert Ramelson, who is the national industrial organiser for the Communist Party, said last year: The Communist Party can float an idea early in the year and it can become official Labour Party policy by the autumn. … We have more influence now on the Labour movement than at any time in the life of our Party.

Mr. Idris Cox, another leading member of the Communist Party, has said: Notably more Communists are being elected to key positions in the trade unions. Through the unions they can influence Labour Party Conference decisions.

Interestingly, Jones wrote an article titled The Strategic Defence Initiative for the Conservative Monday Club, which appeared in the 1985 Tory Conference edition of Right Ahead. 1985 was the year the miners strike ended and the Battle of the Beanfield took place. It was also the same year that Neil Kinnock delivered that speech.

You can read an interesting article on Pink Industry about Jones/Chalfont here.

Jones/Chalfont was later appointed  Chairman of the Radio Authority by the Major government.

These kinds of incidents prompt the inevitable question: do we really live in a democracy? How is it that one political party can undermine another through a campaign of dirty tricks and outright subversion? We expect this sort of thing to happen under authoritarian regimes but in Britain?

I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 about the Watergate scandal a few months ago, when a journalist (not sure of the name) claimed that a Watergate “couldn’t happen here”. When asked why, he pointed to the architecture of state secrecy and hinted at the role of the security services in preserving the status quo. Even the Leveson Inquiry has been subjected to attacks from the right-wing press, who have so much to lose. In effect, Britain doesn’t have a free press and its political system is fatally corrupted.

As for the burglary at Miliband’s office and given the role of the secret state in party politics, I doubt we will ever know what really happened.

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Frack Off!

Nigel (Lord) Lawson: he’s a crazy fracker. Pic courtesy The Telegraph

This week the government announced that it was going to bribe local communities to accept shale gas drilling rigs.  Chancellor of the Exchequer,  George ‘Gidiot’ Osborne also announced generous tax breaks for shale gas companies.

Since last year, the Tories, mostly without exception, have declared their passion for shale gas hydraulic fracturing – fracking – which they claim will transform Britain’s sluggish economy and reduce household energy bills. To justify their intentions they point to the United States, where the practice is well-developed. In their desire to press ahead with fracking, they’ve dismissed every single concern without addressing them properly. Why? Because the Tories are greedy. But I don’t need to tell you that.  You know that already, dear reader.

Former  Chancellor, Nigel (Lord) Lawson was on Radio 4’s Any Questions last night, telling anyone who would listen that he was an “energy expert”. I kid you not. Lawson is also a noted climate change sceptic. He was heckled by large sections of the audience and rightly so. In 2003, Lawson founded The Global Warming Policy Foundation to produce evidence-free reports that condone the excessive use of oil and other petroleum-based products. “Carry on polluting” is their message.  The Carbon Brief says:

Lawson has links to the oil industry via his chairmanship of the company Central Europe Trust, which he declares on the Register of Lords’ Interests. CET states on its website that it co-manages private equity funds and consults on mergers and acquisitions for companies including BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Texaco. Lawson has also been president of the British Institute of Energy Economics, sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell, the BG Group and BP.

Kerching! Lawson, like the rest of the Tories, is practically wetting himself at the prospect of raking in more money at the expense of the environment.

This morning I discovered that there were a number of companies involved in shale gas extraction that had donated money to the Conservative Party. One of these companies is the Switzerland-based Vitol, who have donated over £550,000 through their chief executive, Ian Taylor.

Vitol admitted it had bought and sold Iranian fuel oil. The Swiss-based company said: “A Bahraini subsidiary company purchased a spot cargo of fuel oil from a non-Iranian counterparty in July 2012. The fuel oil delivered … was of Iranian origin. Vitol Group companies no longer purchase any product of Iranian origin.”

Dan Hannan, writing in the Telegraph, paints any opposition to fracking as a Green Party plot. He tells us:

What, then, is the problem? Some campaigners talk of water pollution; others, a touch histrionically, of earthquakes. If either was a remotely serious prospect, we’d know by now. There has been a great deal of fracking in the United States, but not a single instance of groundwater being contaminated. As for earthquakes, well, yes, technically any tremor qualifies as an earthquake, but the kind caused by fracking is, according to the most comprehensive report to date, “about the same as the impact caused by dropping a bottle of milk”. The process has been pronounced safe by the Royal Academy of Engineering and by the Royal Society.

Lawson said pretty much the same thing last night. First, the US is a much bigger country. Second, there have been plenty of reported cases of groundwater contamination, which have been dismissed in this US Federal government study. Yet concerns still remain. Third, shale gas exploration was cited as the cause of a couple of earth tremors in the Blackpool area.

A recent report, cited in The Guardian, tells us.

Prof Emily Brodsky, who led a study of earthquakes at a geothermal power plant in California, said: “For scientists to make themselves useful in this field we need to be able to tell operators how many gallons of water they can pump into the ground in a particular location and how many earthquakes that will produce.”

It is already known that pumping large quantities of water underground can induce minor earthquakes near to geothermal power generation and fracking sites. However, the new evidence reveals the potential for much larger earthquakes, of magnitude 4 or 5, related to the weakening of pre-existing undergrounds faults through increased fluid pressure.

The water injection appears to prime cracks in the rock, making them vulnerable to triggering by tremors from earthquakes thousands of miles away. Nicholas van der Elst, the lead author on one of three studies published on Thursday in the journal Science, said: “These fluids are driving faults to their tipping point.”

Prof Brodsky said they found a clear correlation between the amount of water extracted and injected into the ground, and the number of earthquakes.

The potential for earthquakes and earth tremors are harder to sweep aside. Yet they still try.

This government can give us a referendum on the future of Britain’s membership of the European Union, but when it comes to the potential damage that could be done to local communities through fracking, a referendum isn’t forthcoming.

Doubts have also been expressed over the quantity of shale gas in Britain. With the Right making frequent and unfounded comparisons with the United States, one suspects that this rush to frack is nothing less than than a combination of blind faith and barely disguised cupidity. Friends of the Earth claim that there is no hard evidence that shale gas will reduce our energy bills.  Indeed, the energy companies are far too greedy to drop their prices.

The government won’t admit it, but the only way they can proceed with fracking is to force it down people’s throats… like they did with neoliberalism.

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Crap cycle lanes (#2)

This is fairly typical. Notice how the parked van blocks the entrance to the contra-flow cycle lane, forcing cyclists into the path of oncoming traffic on a one-way street.  But the driver of this van isn’t the only one to have done this, I have seen Royal Mail van drivers do the same thing in this spot. This is at the junction of Rockley Road and Charecroft Road in Shepherd’s Bush.

Hammersmith and Fulham-20130717-00110

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Crap cycle lanes (#1)

This is a new series dedicated to the crap cycle lanes that I encounter while I’m out riding. Here’s the first.
Hammersmith A4 (Bridge Road)This is near Hammersmith Bridge Road on the A4. The idea here is for cyclists to dematerialize and reappear on the other side of these obstacles.  If you’re caught cycling on the pavement, it’s a £30 to £80 fixed penalty – depending upon the borough.

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Priti Patel: Human Rights and Hard Cash

Priti Patel, the MP for Witham in Essex, was part of the 2010 intake of Tory MPs. She’s also a supporter of Aidan ‘Nazi Boy’ Burley’s Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC) and a member of the Free Enterprise Group (FEG), which was responsible for Britannia Unchained, a sort of manifesto for a sweatshop economy.

Following from Labour’s embarrassing Falkirk episode and Mr Ed’s knee-jerk response to sever his party’s links to the trade unions, it was only inevitable that the spotlight would be turned on the Tories and rightly so. As much as they wriggle and squirm and point the finger at Labour and whine about union funding, the Conservative party cannot hide the fact that it is supported by faceless millionaires, billionaires, bankers, hedge funds and other corporate interests, many of whom have been invited to 10 Downing Street for a bite to eat and a chance to chat with dippiest Prime Minister in this country’s history.

With this in mind, I always keep an eye on the more rabid extremes of the Tory party, because those who shout the loudest about benefit ‘scroungers’ and workshy Britons are usually the ones who are taking a lot of money from big business. Thus I take a special interest in Patel, Raab, Shelbrooke, Truss, Skidmore and all the others who regularly lambast British workers and propose further attacks on the working class.

So when I went to her entry on searchthemoney.com  to do some digging I was not astonished to discover that Patel had been given donations ‘in kind’ by the Government of the United Arab Emirates and the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the latter was widely reported, the former was not). She was also provided with travel by these two governments. She’s also received donations from property developer, Knight Developments Ltd and Croudace Homes and other companies like Sun Mark Ltd, owned by Dr. Rami Ranger. More on them later.

As most of us already know, Bahrain has been brutalizing its people for the past 3 years in what Orientalists and brand executives alike have referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’. While all eyes were on Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia, the only mention of Bahrain came via the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage last year. Apart from that, there’s no mention of it in the mainstream media.  It’s as if someone somewhere in this country doesn’t want us to know what’s happening. And say, didn’t the disgraced former Murdoch employee Met Assistant Commissioner, John Yates take up a job as an adviser to the Bahraini Police? Oh yes, he did. There have been well over 155 deaths, some of those were caused by torture. No wonder the Tories are working to extricate Britain from the European Convention of Human Rights and replace it with a cheapo ‘British Bill of Rights’ (it fell off the back of a lorry. Honest, guv).

Gulf News tells us that Patel was part of the All Party Parliamentary Group to the UAE.

Lord (Michael) Howard of Lympne, a former leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, who was a government minister for over 10 years until 1997, was elected as Chairman, with Kevan Jones MP, a former Minister of Defence under the last Labour Government, and Lord (Tim) Clement-Jones, a Liberal Democrat, being elected as Vice-Chairmen. Mark Tami MP, Labour, was elected as Secretary and Priti Patel MP, Conservative, as Treasurer.

I guess that’s okay then. Or is it? As you can see this visit to the UAE included members of the three main parties. Nice work, if you can get it.

The House of Commons Register of All-Party Groups informs us that it was just a visit:

To promote good relations between the United Kingdom and The United Arab Emirates

Well, if the House of Commons Register of All-Party Groups tells us that this trip was all about promoting “good relations”, then that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Well, not really.

Dubai, which is a part of the UAE, is often hailed in right-libertarian/classical liberal/neoliberal circles as a kind of free market paradise. But if you’re a migrant worker it can be hell on earth. Migrant workers who go on strike face deportation.   Some are driven to suicide.  What the free marketeers neglect to tell us is how this country supports repression in the UAE through its sale of arms and other items to that country. Perhaps this is the model that the members of the FEG have in store for us in the UK? How about those Labour members of this group? Kevan Jones, for instance, is a former Defence Minister. Kerching! Need I say more?

Let’s return to Bahrain, where the country’s news agency tells us:

London, March 21. (BNA) – UK MP Priti Patel has lauded the report delivered to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa by the National Commission in Charge of Following up on the Implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), asserting that such a milestone document highlighted the positive steps taken by the government to bring about many changes and landmark achievements that meet the citizens’ expectations.

“Lauded”, eh? Let’s read on…

“I believe that countries of the Arab Spring went through difficult situations last year, and the case in Bahrain was no better. However, the Government of Bahrain has reacted positively and taken bold steps by engaging all parties in a National Consensus Dialogue, the best means through which popular demands can be discussed,” she said.

That was last year and things aren’t getting any better. In fact, they’re getting worse.

Of Patel’s paid visit to Bahrain, The Guardian’s Hugh Muir noted,

Two months later, Patel tabled a parliamentary question aimed at strengthening our cultural links.

Here’s the question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has made a recent assessment of the (a) contribution of cultural links to UK relations with Bahrain and (b) merits of taking steps to strengthen such links with Bahrain.

“Cultural links”? Would these “cultural links” have anything to do with cracking skulls? Silly question…

Patel is all for human rights but not for everyone. Below is a question that she asked of David Cameron in Prime Minister’s Questions last year. Notice how it’s preceded by a disclaimer (in italics):

Priti Patel champions the human rights of the law-abiding majority.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): If the Human Rights Act is

“a glaring example of what is going wrong in our country”,

when will the Government put the human rights of the law-abiding majority above those of dangerous convicted criminals?

Anyone could be considered a ‘criminal’. Even those who protest could be seen as ‘criminals’ in the eyes of Patel and the rest of the FEG. But who is this “law-abiding majority”? Human rights in the mind of today’s Europhobic, headbanging Tory sounds suspiciously European. We can’t have that kind of effete nonsense getting in the way of making a profit!

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to the ECHR, Patel is as clueless as the rest of her party:

Those who support the current system or who want to see closer integration will often claim that it was British lawyers who drafted the Convention and Winston Churchill who pushed for its adoption, as Nick Clegg alluded to during his speech to the Lib Dem conference. But while Britain has a strong tradition of promoting human rights and after the Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed it was right to look at ways to prevent future genocide and persecution in Europe, Churchill would never have allowed Europe to meddle in our laws the way it currently does. He would have stood up to put the British interest first and that is what Government ministers and Parliament must do now. Otherwise, a failure to curtail the Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights will lead to Britain facing a further unstoppable flow of powers to Europe, which would severely undermine our democracy.

My bold. Notice how she summons up the ghost of Churchill. All a Tory needs to do is rub their Churchill talisman and the entire world will fall at their feet. What Patel and her chums deliberately forget is that the United Kingdom signed up to the ECHR in the aftermath of World War II. It was created in 1959 and is not part of the European Union – as Patel and the rest of her party would have you believe. Removing human rights legislation of any kind would be a massive step backwards and would lead to a relaxation/abolition of workplace health and safety regulations.  It would also lead to detention without trial and kangaroo courts. Patel only plays lip service to the idea of human rights. Are you surprised?

It isn’t just the Bahraini and UAE governments that bungs Patel a bit of wedge, she’s also received £2,5000 in donations from Knight Developments Ltd, a property developer in Essex, while Dr Rami Ranger has donated a total of  £17,000 to Patel as an individual and through his company, Sun Mark Ltd.  No doubt Dr Ranger, who is a big wheel in the British Asian Conservative Link,  claimed that his company was giving money to ‘charity’. The thing is, the Conservative Party is not a charity, it is a political party that works in the interests of the rich. Rich people like Dr Ranger. Then there’s Croudace Homes, another property developer (a pattern is beginning to emerge), who provided Patel with £5,000 in 2010.  When property developers donate to an MP or a candidate, it’s easy to be suspicious. Last year, Croudace purchased William Julien Courtauld Hospital in Braintree for development.  The NHS refused to disclose how much it was sold for.  Braintree is the adjoining constituency to Witham; its MP is Brooks Newmark, who is also a member of FEG. Meanwhile in Kent, Croudace are trying to cut down a much-loved ancient woodland to make way for a development against the wishes of local residents. This kind of thing is being repeated elsewhere.  Croudace must be pleased that they have someone in the Commons who can bat for them.

She’s also received payment in kind from the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society that comes to £2,500. In total, Patel has received £38,137.97 over the course of three years, which includes her work for ComRes, Ipsos Mori and others. Yes, she’s an MP but she has a second and a third job. Is this why we pay salaries to MPs, who are public sector employees, so that they can moonlight for private companies?

Who says money doesn’t buy influence in the Tory Party? David Cameron? And you believe him?

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The Gary Younge Article The Guardian Pulled

Trayvon Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman for carrying a packet of Skittles. Zimmerman was acquitted.  Gary Younge wrote an article for The Guardian, which the paper saw fit to remove from its website. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to publish Younge’s article here.

 
Open season on black boys after a verdict like this

Posted: Sun, 14 Jul 2013 07:25:00 GMTPosted:2013-07-14T08:07:42Z

Calls for calm after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin are empty words for black families

Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn’t like the look of him.

The killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year was tragic. But in the age of Obama the acquittal of George Zimmerman offers at least that clarity. For the salient facts in this case were not in dispute. On 26 February 2012 Martin was on his way home, minding his own business armed only with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman pursued him, armed with a 9mm handgun, believing him to be a criminal. Martin resisted. They fought. Zimmerman shot him dead.

Who screamed. Who was stronger. Who called whom what and when and why are all details to warm the heart of a cable news producer with 24 hours to fill. Strip them all away and the truth remains that Martin’s heart would still be beating if Zimmerman had not chased him down and shot him.

There is no doubt about who the aggressor was here. The only reason the two interacted at all, physically or otherwise, is that Zimmerman believed it was his civic duty to apprehend an innocent teenager who caused suspicion by his existence alone.

Appeals for calm in the wake of such a verdict raise the question of what calm there can possibly be in a place where such a verdict is possible. Parents of black boys are not likely to feel calm. Partners of black men are not likely to feel calm. Children with black fathers are not likely to feel calm. Those who now fear violent social disorder must ask themselves whose interests are served by a violent social order in which young black men can be thus slain and discarded.

But while the acquittal was shameful it was not a shock. It took more than six weeks after Martin’s death for Zimmerman to be arrested and only then after massive pressure both nationally and locally. Those who dismissed this as a political trial (a peculiar accusation in the summer of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden) should bear in mind that it was politics that made this case controversial.

Charging Zimmerman should have been a no-brainer. He was not initially charged because Florida has a “stand your ground” law whereby deadly force is permitted if the person “reasonably believes” it is necessary to protect their own life, the life of another or to prevent a forcible felony.

Since it was Zimmerman who stalked Martin, the question remains: what ground is a young black man entitled to and on what grounds may he defend himself? What version of events is there for that night in which Martin gets away with his life? Or is it open season on black boys after dark?

Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict will be contested for years to come. But he passed judgement on Trayvon that night summarily.

“Fucking punks,” Zimmerman told the police dispatcher that night. “These assholes. They always get away.”

So true it’s painful. And so predictable it hurts.

Thanks to Pastebox for this article.

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