Friday, May 30, 2008

Bristol South MP Faces Share of 17.8m Million Debt

Bristol South MP, Dawn Primarolo - who is also a public health minister and sits on the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Neo-Labour party is potentially personally liable for some of the party's £17.8m million in debt along with other members of the NEC. Indeed so worried are some by this liability that the GMB union's executive decided to indemnify its two members of the NEC. The irony of the party having finances in such a state given that Dawn's previous roles in the government include Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General is not lost on some.

Dawn was a cheerleader of the second war in Iraq, having voted strongly with the government, a war that has resulted in over a million dead and at a cost of billions to the UK economy.

The Neo-Labour party is deeply in debt following haemorrhaging membership and the loss of some union support. In 2004 membership figures showed that from a high of 400,000 it had dropped to below 190,000 - the lowest since the 1930s. Some unions such as the Fire Brigades Union have split from the party, taking the funds they once donated with them. Other unions still in the party are also unhappy to keep the party going for a range of reasons. Walter Wolfgang, who was elected (and has since stepped down) to the NEC following his rise to prominence after being forcibly ejected from a Labour conference after heckling Jack 'War Criminal' Straw, criticised the NEC for loosing control of the party finances. The party's finances also came under pressure and scrutiny following the 'cash for honours' scandal.

This drop into the red is in stark contrast to the former party leader Tony Bliar who since leaving office has been doing very well for himself. He recently, along with his wife, purchased a £4 million mansion to add to their growing property portfolio (which includes 2 flats in Bristol purchased of over £500,000). She recently remarked, "Am I the only person in the world who thinks my husband is a socialist?"
A Bolton Primer

Recently arch-Neocon John Bolton cancelled a speech in Bristol as protesters planned to picket the talk - an act of cowardice from a man who advocates dead and destruction on a mass scale. But beyond what we know of him, critic of the UN and busy flogging his new book, what do we know of him... There is this for starters;

"Beyond his UN-bashing, Bolton has not just been extreme in his foreign policy views, he has been wrong and reckless: accusing Cuba of developing biological weapons and Syria of posing a serious WMD threat without proof. (The CIA felt obliged to block him from testifying before Congress on Syria and WMDs.) He also has had his brushes with scandal, receiving money from a political slush fund in Taiwan and advocating for Taiwan in congressional testimony (when he was not in government) without revealing he was paid by a Taiwanese entity to write policy papers for it. (He might have even broken the law by failing to register as a foreign agent.)"

So we have a man for whom the law is just somthing in the way of his idological aims. Who seems happy to take cash to push politics, who thows accusations around like confetti and who is often wrong. However he was also a key part of the Iran-Contra scandal in the 80s when right-wing elements of the US funded a terrorist group to wage a dirty war. Here is an example of what they go up to;

"Washington spent more than $4 billion on El Salvador in the ’80s, backing wildly brutal regimes and their death squads against a leftist insurgency. The 12-year civil war left 75,000 Salvadorans dead--overwhelmingly civilians killed by U.S.-supported forces [including one of] the worst atrocities of the war: a Salvadoran army massacre in El Mozote that left 800 to 1000 civilians dead."

And here is another example of what the busy Mr.Bolton has been up to;

"At the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, announced that Washington would oppose any effort to regulate the trade in firearms, non-military rifles, or any effort that would "abrogat[e] the constitutional right to bear arms." According to Tamar Gabelnick, Director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), this destroyed any possibility of consensus at the meeting."

And here is what the trade is small arms is about;

"Making and selling small arms is a worldwide business. Nearly 7 million commercial handguns and long guns are produced annually. About 75% of these are made in the USA or the European Union. Other important producers include Brazil, China, Canada, Japan and the Russian Federation...Small arms kill an additional 200,000 people in ‘peaceful’ nations each year in homicides, suicides, unintentional shootings and shootings by police. In countries like Brazil, USA and South Africa, guns are a leading cause of death among young men....An estimated 2 million children have been killed with small arms since 1990."

He has also opposed treaties and has actively sabotaged agreements on nuclear weapons, testing nukes and biological and chemical weapons. Oh and he helped to stop the US joining the International Criminal Court. This is a man for whom ten of thousands of human lives is but the grist to his ideological machine - Pax Americana. I will leave the last word to former right-wing Senator Jesse Helms;

"John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world."


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Iraq and Media Update

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has been attacking the Iraq war policy. This is significant as this guy was a Bush loyalist, but has enough about him to see past his former boss. A couple of this he says is very significant about the media coverage of the war;

McClellan charges that Bush relied on 'propaganda' to sell the war.
He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.

But the mainstream media in the US is still using Pentagon placed mouthpieces pretending to be independent voices despite them being outed as such;

Brig. Gen. David L. Grange doesn't wear a star on his shoulder much since his retirement in 1999. But he's on the list of retired officers the Pentagon has cultivated in an effort to influence domestic news coverage of military matters....In fact, Grange, a CNN analyst, was tagged as the most visible shill for the Pentagon since 2002....When Grange appeared again on CNN late last week, host Lou Dobbs made no mention of Grange's previous participation in the Pentagon program...But a Pentagon memo called them "message force multipliers." The Defense Department often paid their travel expenses and hired a private defense contractor to monitor everything the analysts said in public.

This is why we need democratic media.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Iraq and the Meeja - Failed on Both Counts

The massive ongoing failure in Iraq is barely reported in the news either here or in the US it seems. It has dropped off the news radar, however is that what audiences want?

The Zogby news release, below, about a new poll demonstrates that Informed Comment is giving the American people what they want in the way of Iraq news: "When asked about the news coverage of the Iraq war, most (80%) say the coverage has been fair or poor. When respondents were asked to pick what coverage they would like to see more of, stories about the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people were the two most chosen (68% each) . . ." They also said that the war is having an impact on their local communities, and a fifth had had a relative serve in Iraq! Nearly half knew community members who had served or were serving.

Television news has largely dumped Iraq as a story, quite unwisely according to this poll. Almost as many Americans learn about Iraq from the internet (28%) as from television (33%). We in the blogosphere are not far from overtaking television on this one! Even when they were covering it, the US channels almost never reported on the Iraqi government or people. There have been few interviews with Iraqi government or opposition figures. Virtually no one has explained the difference between Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Muqtada al-Sadr's Sadr Movement, both Shiite religious parties. Yet what has been happening in south Iraq and Baghdad lately has been largely a feud between al-Hakim and al-Sadr, with PM al-Maliki having switched to taking al-Hakim's side.

One reason the American public so easily believes implausible assertions about Middle East politics is that our mass media gives them little context for judging how plausible assertions are.

I agree, indeed Iraq has not featured much in the recent Neo-Labour electoral disasters and all the news seems focused on Brown, but I have a feeling, as with the last general election, that Iraq is a much more important factor that the media or the politicians would like to admit, however because of their complicity in the disaster, they are shy of too much focus on it. For example, this 'fact box' from AP, taken apart by Helena Cobban shows just how shallow event the big media outlets are. It reminds me of a quote by Thomas Jefferson;

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bolton Cancels Speech

John Bolton, part of the shadowy Project for a New American Century, cheerleader for the illegal war on Iraq and now banging the drum for the war with Iran was scheduled to speak in Bristol, England as part of their 'Festival of Ideas' - however some local people, still seething over the murderous war in Iraq and Afganistan couldn't stomach the idea of him swanning around their city and so began to plan protests and a campaign of contacting the events sponsors - well the pressure worked and it appears Bolton is happy to bang the war-drum provided her personally does not have to face any dissent or anger, and he backed out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Indycycle Launches

Bristol Indymedia has launched it's new indycycle system;

Bristol Indymedia is please to announce the launch of our Indycycle service. Indycycle a website similar to the ideas of Freecycle. Indycycle is a way of people re-cycling things they no longer need to people who may have a user for it. For example if you had an old bike you did not need, rather then throw it out to landfill, why not offer it to somebody else who may need it. Indycycle is a great way of us consuming less resources, stopping things going to landfill and building stronger communities. This system is based on the ideas of the freecycle movement, we don't aim to replace freecycle, but to use our website to build on the ideas and make it even easier to pass your items on.

All items must be offered for free – no exchanges or cash are allowed. Indycycle allows you to post an item you don't want (or are looking for) to the site along with a description, photo of the item and your postcode. This means users can search for and see items they may want but also how far they need to travel to pick it up. A Bristol Indymedia volunteer said, "We are really excited about the addition to what Indymedia does, we hope it will further build on the many green projects, campaigns and initiatives in the region. We see this project as a natural evolution of what Indymedia does – trying to connect people using democratic forms of media."

It can be found here;

Monday, May 12, 2008

350 - A Number to Remember


There's a number -- a new number -- that makes this point most powerfully. It may now be the most important number on Earth: 350. As in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A few weeks ago, our foremost climatologist, NASA's Jim Hansen, submitted a paper to Science magazine with several co-authors. The abstract attached to it argued -- and I have never read stronger language in a scientific paper -- "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." Hansen cites six irreversible tipping points -- massive sea level rise and huge changes in rainfall patterns, among them -- that we'll pass if we don't get back down to 350 soon; and the first of them, judging by last summer's insane melt of Arctic ice, may already be behind us.

So it's a tough diagnosis. It's like the doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high and, if you don't bring it down right away, you're going to have a stroke. So you take the pill, you swear off the cheese, and, if you're lucky, you get back into the safety zone before the coronary. It's like watching the tachometer edge into the red zone and knowing that you need to take your foot off the gas before you hear that clunk up front.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The 'Keep 'em Weak' Policy

In the great film Lawrence of Arabia there is a scene where the British discuss that while they are happy to have Arab allies against the Turks, they are not willing to give them modern weapons - specifically artillery - because they fear that if they have too much power, the British will not be able to control them. Fast forward to today and a similar situation is playing out in Lebanon. The pro-US regime there, at the request of Israel, is kept deliberately weak lest the weapons or army turn them on the IDF (aka The Israeli Offensive Force). However the fruits of that policy seem to be coming home to roost, the weak government can not defend itself from Israeli army incursions, but neither can it stop Hezbollah;

By briefly taking over Beirut, Hezbollah has shown a readiness to use force against the governing coalition and could bring more to bear in an attempt to end Lebanon's power struggle on its terms...But Hezbollah's takeover of Beirut showed there are few options for repelling the latest challenge to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government and the politicians who back it. Their armed followers were routed by Hezbollah in the capital.

This really is (as Robert Fisk said at a recent talk in Bristol) a client state conflict between the US and Iran. Helena Cobban has a good analysis of the situation;

It seems to me that in both Sadr City and West Beirut, the anti-US forces have been playing a carefully calibrated game in their relations with national governments that had, until now, been solidly pro-US. (Following Hamas's playbook there.) Their preferred strategy seems to be not to overthrow or directly confront the national government, unless the national government confronts them... But rather, to do a combination of whittling down the government's legitimacy while also holding out to it a potential life-raft of cooperation-- but on the basis of a nationalist and ever more strongly anti-US platform.

In both Lebanon and Sadr City, the anti-US forces seem to be doing rather well at this game, the ultimate "prize" of which is to win the loyalty of the national government (and therefore, also, all of its international legitimacy.) Given that this game requires smarts, subtlety, patience, and an intimate knowledge of the minutiae of local/national politics, is it any surprise that the US is doing very poorly at it?

Yet again the U$A is being out-thought by its opponents. And who will suffer? Civilians - where ever they live in the region seem to be those who die in droves each and every time until there can be a real peace & justice push for the region. On the subject.... coming soon is Bristol Indymedia Film Night: Bristol Goes To Palestine, Documentary Premiere!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Elections: It's Iraq All Over

The collapse of the Neo-Labour vote was spectacular. This letter to the Guardian sums it up well;

The Labour party's projected share of the vote in Thursday's elections has sunk to a low not seen since the 1960s - 24% as of yesterday morning. But Gordon Brown, timid and cowardly yet simultaneously nasty though he has been since he came to office last year, should not carry all the blame for this disaster; remember this is only 2% down on the 2004 elections. The decline began after Tony Blair's immoral and almost certainly illegal invasion of Iraq. Some of us who used to vote Labour as a matter of course have not voted for the party since and will never do so again until the party members who supported this catastrophe, including Brown, have been replaced by a new generation of real Labour people.

Indeed. Brown can talk about 'listening to the people' all he wants put the core fact is that is that Neo-Labour just don't get democracy. It is not in their genes. Iraq is a good example; the largest mass of people ever in the UK protest it and they still push on - forgetting that they are supposed to work for us. But it is not only over Iraq; the sham consultations on the Heathrow expansion, ID cards and nuclear power all attest to the control-freak party intent on stifling any opposition to their plans. For Neo-Labour, spin is not about informing people about what they are up to, but a means on control - lets call their spin what it is - propaganda. The media are largely (with honorable exceptions) complicit in this because they too failed on Iraq and don't like to be reminded and they too are happy with a neo-liberal system.

I hope this represents the collapse of Neo-Labour and we can get on with the task of building a real democracy.