Archive for August, 2012

‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’

30 Aug

I think it’s fair to say Barack Obama’s first term in office has been a disappointment for progressives.

The promised withdrawal for US service personnel in Afghanistan, the elimination of Bin Laden and the first move in my lifetime towards healthcare for ordinary Americans have all been welcome, but on reshaping the US economy, labour rights and the foreign policy side of the Presidency it has been a catalogue of wasted opportunity and inaction.

In particular, the failure to normalise relations with Cuba is a Cold War hangover which has never been cured. Instead, nine successive US Presidents from Lyndon Johnson onwards have looked at the electoral arithmetic in Florida and the power of the Cuban émigrés there, and have left the festering sore of Cuban-American relations alone.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama’s second term will see that glacier thaw, but one certainty is that the election of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will see a retreat even from the limited progress made in the past 4 years.

Romney, as you would expect from a predatory, one-dimensional, right-wing suit is a Cold Warrior dinosaur happy to rehash an idea which lost any value more than five decades ago. Take his chillingly idiotic remarks to a Florida campaign crowd on 30 January:

If I’m fortunate enough to become the next President, it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet. We have to be prepared, in the next President’s first or second term; it is time to strike for freedom in Cuba.”

So, leaving aside the fact that Fidel Castro left office in 2007, Romney thinks it acceptable to announce an intent to assassinate him if elected? Just for the sake of perspective, think what would happen if Cuban President Raul Castro vowed to have George W Bush killed…..

But aspiring Vice President Paul Ryan provides the most interest on Cuba.
Ryan, has been a career politician since he was 28 and draws his political inspiration from writer Ayn Rand, the proponent of a bizarre outlook called ‘objectivism’, which proclaimed that egoism was the basic duty of every human being and any kind of social commitment a sin against nature. Rand believed that serving your own interest and disowning altruism the only way to personal fulfilment.

Her ideas in two words? ‘social Darwinism’.

As well as being and anti-choice religious zealot, Ryan voted for two wars (uncosted), a bank bailout (uncosted), supported GW Bush’s tax cuts for the super-wealthy and produced a widely derided alternative budget. He is a man of hidden shallows.

On relationships between Cuba and the USA, Paul Ryan has a more colourful record. He supports but once opposed the embargo declared illegal by the UN General Assembly. In 2002 in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he said Cuban-Americans: “have their reasons” for supporting the embargo “and they’re very passionate about their reasons, I just don’t agree with them and never have.” Clearly the word ‘never’ doesn’t mean very much to an ambitious Republican hack.

Ryan, accepting the nomination for VP yesterday said that “Our rights come from nature and God, not from government.”

Perhaps he ought to familiarise himself with the words of the American Declaration of Independence, something I became more familiar with on visiting Philadelphia last year.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”

In the run up to the November elections, I wish our brothers and sisters Stateside every success in making a wise and considered choice.

Health, safety and the death of satire…

17 Aug

When Henry Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, the death of satire was announced.

I couldn’t help but revisit the feeling on reading that the Health and Safety Executive had this week appointed Howard Shiplee as a non-executive director.

Howard who?

Well, Howard Shiplee is an executive director of construction firm Laing O’Rourke.

The same Laing O’Rourke outed by the Information Commissioners Office as clients of the Consulting Association.

Wikipedia describes the Consulting Association as “an organisation which maintained an illegal blacklist of construction workers who were active trade union members or otherwise vocal on matters such as health and safety in their industry.”

On 23 February 2009 the company was raided and served an enforcement notice under the Data Protection Act. The ICO’s action followed a Guardian article, Enemy at the Gates, disclosing that 3213 individual workers’ details were held by the Consulting Association; 3,213 lives ruined by the illegal actions of a company blacklisting the very people standing up for fairness and safety at work.

So back to August 2012 and a director who used a company which actively blacklisted safety representatives is appointed to…….the board of the Health & Safety Executive.

Beyond satire.

The Daily Mail: perpetuating lies and encouraging hatred since 1924

17 Aug

Occasionally a nugget of information turns up which makes your day and yesterday an article by Peter Frost in the Morning Star made one of those days.

Pete was writing about the nation’s favourite hate-sheet, the daily printed dose of paranoia and professional small-mindedness, otherwise known as the Daily Mail.

He turned up a 1933 Daily Mail editorial line which deserves to be quoted in full:

‘the minor misdeeds of individual nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany.’


Let’s not forget that less than a decade previously it was the Mail that published the forged Zinoviev letter, exacerbating the fear about the nascent Soviet Union by pretending British communists were planning a violent revolution and effectively winning the election for Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative party in 1924.

Dishonest red scare propaganda from the Mail?

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Pete Frost then reminded us about the 1934 ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ headline and the paper’s praise for the fascist Oswald Mosley’s ‘sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine.’

Again, quite.

And his article ends up with puzzlement at the Mail’s horrendously misjudged ‘plastic Brits’ campaign, via reminders that it was the Daily Mail which in 1983 paid and encouraged Zola Budd’s father to apply for UK citizenship from apartheid South Africa, then supported Zola Budd in a bid to run for the UK in the 1984 Olympics in LA.

No talk of plastic Brits then, was there?

Be it invented red scares in 1924, supporting fascism in1933, supporting apartheid in 1984 or encouraging racism and xenophobia in 2012, we can always rely on the Daily Mail – for lies, misinformation and smears to achieve the invariably right-wing political ends of whichever member of the Rothermere family is alive and owns the paper at the time.

At least they’re consistent…..

A bad month for privatisation…

15 Aug

The past month has been difficult for proponents of privatisation.

G4S (the artists formerly known as Group 4 and Securicor) came out of the Olympics with their reputation in shreds; fares on our privatised railways as of today are rising by between 6% and 11%, despite UK rail travel already >30% more expensive that the rest of Europe; and West Midlands Police, in the teeth of public and professional opposition, is pressing ahead with the lunatic idea of inviting tenders from private companies for police work in a deal worth £1.5b.

Let’s run through that again: the Army, including men and women back from active tours where comrades were blown up in Afghanistan and Iraq, were compelled to step in when the full extent of the G4S omni-shambles became apparent; the private rail operators who bid for services yesterday did so knowing they have a captive commuter market and sleep secure in the knowledge that if they to walk away, government steps in and fill the breach.

And most ridiculous of all, West Midland Police are looking at tenders including one from US firm Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR), a firm who in 2009 paid millions of dollars to avoid the rap for bribing Nigerian officials for access to natural gas contracts and whose boss Albert Stanley was jailed in February for two and a half years.

The common factors in all of these is that the state – viz government funded by taxpayers – is expected to stand behind all of these, acting as guarantor and providing back-up and payment in the event of private sector failure.

Given that risk is supposed to be the engine driving private sector involvement, those of us opposed to privatisation are entitled to ask why the private sector need to have encouragement and a safety net, in order to become involved in delivering public services?

It would be easy to look at these in isolation or as particular strands of government policy, but that would be a mistake.

Privatising public services, rolling back the State (and when the right talk about this, it’s always State with a capital ‘S’), reducing public expenditure AND taxation on the wealthy, are core components of neo-liberalism.

In UK politics, the economic and ideological convergence around this is alarming, particularly for progressives like me looking for an electoral alternative from the Labour Party.

Since 1975 the Conservative Party has drifted ever rightward, embracing Chicago school economics and abandoning any pretence that they are Disraeli’s party of One Nation.

These days the ‘Orange Book’ neo-Liberal Democrats hold firm sway, elbowing aside the traditional Liberals like Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown and replacing them with crypto-Tories like David Laws, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, men who would easily have found a home in the Conservative Party of the 80s – and in Clegg’s case, still could…..

And in the case of Labour, the Faustian pact made by Blair/Brown with big money led directly to the City of London’s shameful part in the 2008 crash for which we’re still, literally, paying the price.

Socialists reading this will note with irony that the nationalisation of a number of banks was the sure-fire remedy to economic chaos.

You’ll also note the first serious whisperings that the country’s railways should again be in public ownership, given that we subsidise it anyway and with government guarantees simply giving Stagecoach, First Group, Virgin et al a licence to fill their pockets at our expense.

Both these fiascos prove, if it were needed, that public ownership and control are the only ways the citizen, represented by the state, can exercise any form of accountability over spivs and chancers who, given half a chance, would rob us and make us pay for the privilege, or gamble grandmother’s pension in currency speculation or risky investments.

To coin a phrase, there is no alternative.

Friday’s foam-flecked fulmination: people who sing at gigs

10 Aug

I was going to write a short blog about five pet hates today but realized I have more than 3 decades of unresolved bile stored on one issue, which I will now publicly unburden: people who sing too loudly at gigs.

I can hear the intakes of breath already, but bear with me, I don’t mean everybody.

In 1977 I was 14 years old and given special parental permission to go to the Glasgow Apollo to see Status Quo. At the time, Quo were easily the loudest live act on the circuit and Donald Campbell, Kenny Murray and I were camped four rows from the front, agog. For days after, I had a loud ringing in my ears and as I approach my 50th birthday with 35 years of going to gigs behind me my hearing is, shall we say, not what it was. Thankfully these days many bands have substituted clarity and balance for raw volume and made going to live gigs a more interesting and less health-threatening experience.

But….reductions in volume mean I can now hear dickheads who think they need to sing along to every word and note. And I do mean every word. If you’re one of those people – and if you are, I despise you – just tell me why having paid for a ticket, you are not listening to the artist you bought the ticket for?

For absolute clarity, I’m not for a single second saying ‘stop enjoying the gig’.

I love live music, I truly do, and have enjoyed many great evenings, inspiring times and moments of sheer joy. By all means dance, pogo, headbang, nod your head, cheer, yell, punch the air and sing along with the chorus or lines that inspire you, or when asked to by the artist – but other than that, kindly shut the fuck up.

I already know the lyrics, you’re not a good singer – really, you’re not – it doesn’t make you an uber-fan to sing every word and even if you are, I don’t care and I’d like to hear the music please.

I’d like to end by listing all the annoying dicks here, hoping for some sort of catharsis, but that list would be endless. I’ll just settle for telling you about one guy I was near at a Springsteen gig in Sunderland in June 2012.

Bruce and the E Street Band started up ‘Point Blank’, a quiet, poignant, broke- hearted love song and a guy near to me, hearing the sublime and wistful piano intro told his mate and girlfriend: ‘Point Blank’ – as if identifying a new species of turtle on the Galapagos islands.

He knew some but not all the words, got about one in four correct, and thought he was showing off to his peeps, but after the gig I wondered why he didn’t just do what everyone else around him were doing: listen to a rare and wonderful song?

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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