Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Lack of scrutiny of childcare legislation

The case of two police officers being told by Ofsted they must stop their reciprocal childcare arrangements comes hot on the heels of another childcare story, that of the checks people must undergo as part of the Vetting and Barring Scheme.

Understandably, many people are up in arms about both stories which are considered an intrusion of the state on people's lives, but a more important point seems to have been missed. In both cases, these are not new laws, so why the outcry only now? The legislation covering the Vetting and Barring Scheme was passed in 2006. Likewise, the legislation applied zealously by Ofsted in the case of the two police officers was passed in the same year.

So why were these contentious and easily misinterpreted acts not questioned before they were passed? Who is to blame? Is it Parliament? The opposition? The media? Or we the people? Is this scrutiny something that can be improved with new media? The Guardian used crowdsourcing to pick apart MPs' expenses when the redacted claims were published earlier this year. Is there perhaps an appetite for other such collaborative work when it comes to legislation?

Friday, 25 September 2009

G20 Protests Pittsburgh

Unbeknownst to many people in the UK the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh has been a focal point for protests and demonstrations over the past few days, some of which have been met with some bizarre policing including the use of sonic cannons to dispel crowds.

These cannons have been accused of being capable of breaking eardrums and even causing fatal aneurysms. If that seems like something out of Robocop just take a look at this video from the Pittsburgh Indymedia Collective, who have been documenting the protests throughout the week.

I've always found the idea of "unlawful assembly" a perplexing one, but to apply it against students on their own university campus, many of whom aren't protesting, is completely nonsensical. Why were the police there in the first place?

Here's another video in which students are trapped on a stairwell while teargas is used against them.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Airlines Vow 50% Cuts

Airlines have vowed to halve their carbon emissions by 2050 in what seems like an obvious ploy to take the initiative before they get hit with a can of whoop ass at Copenhagen. Aviation and shipping were of course left out of the Kyoto Protocol but will be included in any new agreement at Copenhagen. I've seen varying figures on these industries' emissions contributions, from between 1.6% to around 4%, but it is widely held that this will increase significantly in the future, so any firm deal in December should strike the airlines hard.

Apart from the sheer folly of committing to cuts by way of carbon trading (in which the airlines effectively pay for other people to cut emissions so they don't have to), there's one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb - the baseline year.

It seems a bit obvious to me, so do correct me if I'm wrong, I have had a long day, but is it not common to use 1990 as a baseline year when talking about emissions targets, as was established at Kyoto? So when we say that we need an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, this is a reduction on 1990 levels.

But now the airlines want to use 2005 as their baseline. Would this be because their emissions between those two dates rose significantly? Such as in the EU, for example, where international aviation emissions rose 96% between 1990 and 2005.

So the actual proposed cuts by aviation, when talking about the bigger picture, is...?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tar sands protests hit Canada

Environmental activists have hung a 70ft banner from a bridge over the Niagara Falls in an effort to draw attention to the damage done by tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Greenpeace activists also stopped operations at a tar sands mine in Alberta by chaining themselves to a dump truck and scaling a giant excavator.

The Niagara protesters were from Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an American-based group campaigning for responsible environmental policies in big business.

The protests coincide with a meeting tomorrow between Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Nearly a fifth of US oil imports come from Canada, and of these, more than half come from the tar sands.

These sands are tracts of sandy, clay-like earth that are mixed in with bitumen and commonly found in Canada and Venezuela.

According to Greenpeace, who released a report on the Alberta tar sands today, the process required to turn the tar into crude oil has a massive environmental impact.

"Due to their extreme energy intensity, the tar sands have a higher carbon footprint than any other commercial oil product on the planet," says the report.

"Some projects are now 10 times dirtier than production of oil in the North Sea.

"Greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands could grow to between 127 and 140 million tonnes by 2020, exceeding the current emissions of Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Denmark and likely Belgium."

Strip mining is usually required to remove oil from the sands in Alberta, a process which requires heavy machinery and scars land in an area the size of England. You can see the extent of the damage on Google Maps.

The RAN activists took inspiration from their famous banner drop at the WTO negotiations in Seattle in 1999 to show how the current policy is the antithesis of a clean energy future.

At the same time, a couple of thousand kilometres away, 25 Greenpeace activists raided a Shell mine at Albian Sands, bringing operations to a halt.

Mike Hudema, Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner, said: “Greenpeace has come here today, to the frontiers of climate destruction to block this giant mining operation and tell Harper and Obama meeting tomorrow that climate leaders don’t buy tar sands.

“The tar sands are a devastating example of how our future will look unless urgent action is taken to protect the climate.”

The sands struck by Greenpeace. Photo by Greenpeace.

Today's Greenpeace report also proclaims Canada "a global carbon bully" that has been influenced by industry lobbying and lucrative tar sands revenue.

"Canada has actively fought standards to lower the carbon content of fuels, lobbied against US legislation to lower emissions, muzzled federal scientists and obstructed international climate change negotiations."

Climate change campaigners want leaders to reject the dirty fuel taken from the tar sands in favour of green, renewable energy.

During the recent Climate Camp, the Shell building in the City of London was targeted by protesters angry at their involvement in the Alberta tar sands.

Prior to this, activists attended a packed Climate Camp workshop held by visiting Cree aboriginal people whose land and lives are being destroyed by the tar sand operations.

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, told the Guardian: "It is destroying the ancient boreal forest, spreading open-pit mining across our territories, contaminating our food and water with toxins, disrupting local wildlife and threatening our way of life."

As well as Shell, other companies taking part in the black gold rush include BP, ExxonMobil and Total. Royal Bank of Scotland, the partly state-owned bank, is a major funder of tar sand mining and was also targeted by Climate Camp activists.

Protester James Clarke told the Telegraph: "RBS is 70%-owned by the public but it is completely against the public interest for our money to be used to fund climate change. Yet again, the banks are putting profit over people."

The Greenpeace activists said on a livestream earlier today that they intend to stay at the mine until "the meeting", presumably the one between Obama and Harper, is finished. Shell have said they will cease operations to ensure the safety of the activists.

In a statement, Shell said: "Shell's No. 1 concern is their safety and our preference is for a negotiated end to this demonstration. We have invited the group into our administrative building to sit down with management to discuss their concerns."

The six RAN activists who dropped the banner were arrested when they returned to the bridge, but two have since been released.

For more information on the tar sands, read the Greenpeace report online.


Shell are also the subject of an ongoing social media campaign by Amnesty who want to highlight the damage done by Shell in the Niger Delta.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Islamic Extremism: Tackling the English Defence League.

"We're returning to the 30s!" scream the headlines. Only a week after a second English Defence League demonstration turns ugly in Birmingham, another demonstration at a mosque in Harrow also descends into chaos with anti-fascists and Muslims clashing with riot police. This time, the Harrow protesters are from Stop the Islamification of Europe, a group opposed to Islamic extremism. These two groups also share a common enemy out on the streets - Unite Against Fascism - who are doing more to help these groups than weaken them.

First of all, comparisons to Mosley's blackshirts are entirely unfair. From what I know, Mosley's motley crew were far more organised and larger in numbers than the EDL. Secondly, actually calling them far-right or fascist doesn't help, because it's hard to see where politics or economics comes into their protests. Racists would be a more suitable term, even if the group themselves reject it:
"We are a non racist and non discriminatory protest group who believe in an integrated and peaceful Britain with one law and one society, respected by all of its members."

The evidence provided by video journalist Jason Parkinson (above) suggests otherwise. If they really were non-racist, non-discriminatory they would be quick to disassociate themselves with those singing "I hate Pakis more than you" and would remove such placards as those saying no to a London mega-mosque.

[Edit] The EDL make the point that they're not racist and other people have pointed out that people of many races are actually members. Fair point - I fell into the trap of equating "Islamophobic" with "racist".

Unsurprisingly, the behaviour of UAF is being seized upon by the EDL to their advantage. Not only do UAF sound like an Ulster paramilitary group, they act like one too. Seriously, pack it in, for fuck's sake. I don't like to resort to derogatory terms but I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with an organisation I can only describe as a bunch of fools. I gather from newspaper reports that the total number of protesters at Harrow mosque were 16. So, a few lone wingnuts protest outside a mosque, as is their right I hasten to add, and UAF whip up a frenzy on the same streets acting like the kind of extremists the EDL harp on about.

In no way at all are UAF helping the anti-racist anti-Islamophobic cause. Beating them on the streets does not equate to beating them intellectually. In fact, I'm beginning to come around to the idea that the best thing anti-racism anti-Islamophobic groups can do with such protests is simply ignore them (or at the very least hold a counter protest on a completely different day), but that's not to say ignore the problem. Of course, we should debate, argue and pull away their veil of ignorance wherever possible, but as John Denham MP points out:
"If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response and create violence."

And it works to perfection. That isn't to admonish UAF or their comrades-in-arms of any guilt. Clearly, there are some people not just in UAF but the black and Asian communities who are up for a fight with people they consider scum or a threat, but if the large numbers can stay away then this minority will come across as just that.

So how do we confront the problem, because confront it we must. Clearly, we should ask "why?" people feel compelled to join the English Defence League. No doubt this has much to do with failures, whether perceived or real, of community cohesion as well as a sense of neglect among white working class groups, the kind that has been pounced on by the BNP. But we must also ask ourselves if there is a problem with Islamic extremism, the answer to which is obviously "Yes". But how much of a problem is it? Does it threaten Britain's existence? Hardly. It's a pudding that for too long has been over egged by rabid red tops and myopic mid-market rags and has left many people living in a climate of fear.

If we are to tackle this extremism, then we have to look at its roots, in which case the EDL would be better off directing their discontent at the UK government who have been complicit in heaping misery across the Muslim world. Recent research shows that many suicide bombers are inspired more by politics than by their religion, something that many people in power would rather you ignore. To suggest that all terrorists are driven by a vicious desire to spill blood, or that they hate our freedom, is irrational. Whilst no doubt a few are so minded, to think that decades of neoliberal, neocolonial economics supported by violent and bloody war is going to be suffered quietly is a shortsighted view. If you were being attacked wouldn't you want to fight back? Many people may simply defend themselves on the spot, like the insurgency in Iraq. Some more violent-minded people would seek like-for-like retribution and take the fight to the enemy, which for many people will include the seemingly apathetic population of an enemy nation. In no way am I condoning terrorism, but I can empathise with those who commit such atrocities.

In tackling these EDL thugs we can't just address the problems blighting the white working class because that doesn't take away from the fact that Islamic extremists do exist. Unfortunately some people do harbour racist feelings [Edit]Here I wasn't just referring to the EDL, but the BNP too that can't be easily addressed through socio-economic means. Some people are Islamophobic and do fear extremists, a problem greatly exacerbated by this country's foreign and economic policy (and the media), but will the government ever admit to that?

More upsetting is the fact that some people are just steadfast bigots. In the same way that I could never be a ball-breaking capitalist sweatshop owner, some people could never share space with non-whites. How can we tackle this? Well, I don't think we can. All we can do is try to stop the poison spreading by building a more equal and more tolerant society for future generations.

[Edit] I've written before about UAF's tactics and in July I criticised an analysis document from Unite Against Fascism, saying that their tactics of keeping the BNP out of the media went against free speech. Somebody from UAF commented on the earlier part of the post regarding voting and said they would return to answer my criticism of their media policy. Despite chasing them up, they never did. Maybe they'd like to take the opportunity to do so now?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Reflections on Climate Camp

It's been a week now since Climate Camp dismantled the tents and compost toilets and beat a lazy retreat. If anybody is wondering, Blackheath was left near enough perfect.

Overall, I'd say it was pretty successful. The police kept their word and left us to it; numerous direct actions were executed in the City of London; the media fawned over the camp (well most of the media) and hundreds of people took part in workshops and shared skills and knowledge for working towards a sustainable future.

But there are still a few things that gnaw at me:


Much was made about the media policy ahead of the camp, in which restrictions were imposed on when the media could be in the camp and which parts of the site were no-go areas, despite it being held on common land. I agreed entirely with the media position beforehand and after the camp still do. The idea of restrictions coming from an anti-authoritarian group is laughable. I can see the reasoning behind the choice, that much of the mainstream media support business-as-usual solutions to climate change, but trying to mould their depiction of events is propagandistic not to mention patronising, especially when you consider restrictions are easily circumvented by a reporter going 'undercover'. Furthermore, if the media are going to skew reports and badmouth the camp they'll do so anyway, so why give them a stick with which to beat you further?

The incident involving photographer Jonathan Warren was a sad one and I'm actually surprised it happened. Most of the campers I spoke to and photographed or filmed during the week were happy to be caught on camera. The few who weren't politely declined and more out of embarrassment than the fear of being rumbled as an activist. At the Climate Camp back in April, the camp showed its anti-violent nature by refusing to retaliate despite enduring the wrath of the police. A few people, who seemed like curious day-trippers rather than protesters, launched beer cans or water bottles at the police and were fiercely rounded on by the rest of the camp. That one person should act so belligerently towards one photographer at the camp strikes me as unusual and not indicative of the rest of the camp.

Saying that, I think the camp still need to address their media policy, if only to avoid undermining its own morality. With the progress in social/new media and citizen journalism, the opportunities for Climate Camp to tell its own story are limitless, but that provenance is discredited by any restrictions on the mainstream media. Although this year's policy is a vast improvement on last year's I'm not sure the camp, being so radical in nature as it is, will acquiesce to the media any time soon.

The Police

Fair play; they kept their noses out. I barely saw any police all week apart from the intrusive camera mounted on the crane to keep an eye on us. The swoop itself was a little bit surreal as we went about our business free of any interference; it was almost boring without the police to make life difficult for us. As for barring them from the camp, I agree with the decision. Many people were mentally and physically battered by the police at the G20 and regardless of your stance towards the state, the police won't be welcome in camp for some time yet. Under the burning eye of the world's media, this camp passed off without any trouble, but the real test is in the future. Will the old ways slowly creep in again or have the police really changed their tune? It's too early to tell.


This is something the media take great delight in picking up on, that we're a bunch of trustafarians, middle-class yoga teachers or unwashed hippies - just see the Mail's coverage. However, that Mail article is to an extent accurate. The make-up of the camp was predominantly white, no question about it. Without quizzing every camper on their socio-economic background I can't tell you how many were middle or working or whatever class, but there were large contingents from Oxford and Cambridge, not to mention a lot of 'professionals' in the workshops. I shared one with an architect and a secondary school teacher, hardly working class heroes. However, this is not scientific or conclusive proof that Climate Camp is a middle-class romp in the park, it's merely anecdote.

Surprisingly, though I don't know why because it was in London after all, there were a lot of foreign campers, particularly from western Europe and the States. Quite a few people I spoke to were first timers, which was great to see. Many of them shared surprise at how different it was to their preconceptions that camp would be somewhat shambolic. (See the video)

I can't help but think the camp would have been a much greater success had it been held in one of central London's parks, rather than near the end of the DLR, which made it a lengthy journey (though I'm guessing the legality of common land played a part in this). Plonking it in the middle of Hyde Park or Regents Park would have garnered a lot more attention, not just from Londoners but tourists too.

This is a particular problem I have with the camp; its outreach work. I hear the London neighbourhood seem to do this with some zeal but am unsure what form it takes, and I don't know of any other regional groups taking serious efforts to spread the word. If we're to build a large scale movement then we need to get out there and get more people involved beyond just holding an annual jamboree and hoping people come along. This is especially why I feel the ball was dropped in holding it out in Blackheath rather than Central London. Previous camps have been isolated, in the middle of nowhere by a power station. London is a city of some seven million people, that should have been exploited.

After speaking to the kitchens and getting their estimates for how many people they were feeding there was probably just over a thousand people in attendance, so no massive change in numbers. The camp seemed to get busier over the few days I was there but I'm not sure if this was a real swell or illusory as the camp space was also slowly crowded out by marquees and workspaces.

The Movement

Perhaps the biggest concern I have with the Camp is that in some regards it's actually 'negative'. By this, I mean the banks, the oil companies and the carbon markets are struck by protest and direct action whilst in the camp we present our vision of a green utopia, but where's the in-between? As a place to exhibit sustainable living, skill sharing and community values, Climate Camp really is terrific and an uplifting, almost exhilarating experience, but it is still an ideal. Society isn't going to suddenly do an about turn and switch to Climate Camp's vision, so how do we move towards that? I know that won't sit comfortably with some of the more radical elements of the Camp who want revolution yesterday, but it's the reality. Unless activists foment revolution, what sort of energy solutions (as well as lifestyle changes) do we propose? There needs to be a bit more of "we can do this" and "we can do that" rather than "no this" and "no that", then we might get somewhere with attracting people from wider society.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Update on BAE Systems

Today, a myriad of arms manufacturers descended on London for four days of exhibiting and selling their wares to dignitaries from such utopias as Libya, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia at the world's largest arms fair, DSEi.

Earlier this week I republished an article I wrote in December last year, which focused on allegations of bribery made against BAE Systems, the world's third largest defence contractor.

The Serious Fraud Office has been investigating numerous corruption allegations against the company for six years and in 2006 was forced by the Lord Chancellor to close one particular inquiry into an alleged £60 million slush fund to bribe officials in Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday the Times reported "BAE Systems is negotiating a possible settlement with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over bribery and corruption allegations that could see [them] pay a fine but admit no guilt."

These remaining allegations concern deals in South Africa, Tanzania and the Czech Republic. Deals involving Qatar and Chile were discreetly dropped from the inquiry last year and the Mail reported last week that a similar investigation into a Romanian deal for two frigates was quietly shelved, something the Times neglect to mention. The Romanian investigation will remain on hold unless fresh evidence comes to light.

The Times said:
"With the inquiry entering its sixth year, sources close to the fraud office have said that it may go after BAE for 'procedural' failings. This would allow the SFO to fine BAE without the company admitting guilt on the more serious charges of corruption.

"One possibility is that BAE could be penalised for its accounting procedures, specifically the tax treatment of commissions paid to middle men."

However, BAE have denied there is any resolution in sight, but they have pledged to continue to help with the investigation as far as possible.

Closure of the Saudi inquiry into the al-Yamamah contracts embarrassed the Blair government, coming ten days after the Saudis warned BAE risked losing a deal to a rival French bid if the investigation wasn't dropped. The government's decision was upheld by the House of Lords in April 2008.

These allegations are still being investigated by the US Department of Justice, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which [loosely defined] allows people or businesses with dealings in the US to be investigated for bribery of foreign officials. BAE employs some 46,000 people in the US, more than in any other country including the UK.*

However, according to Raymond J. Learsy at the HuffPo:
"...little has been forthcoming to date. And no wonder when such as Louis Freeh can retire as the head of the FBI and be retained by none other than Prince Bandar [of Saudi Arabia] to represent him in connection with the Justice Department probe, while William Bradford Reynolds the chief of the Justice Department's civil rights division during the Reagan administration is representing Prince Bandar in ancillary lawsuits."

Only time will tell how these tales play out.

*Yet our government still pays 80% of their research costs.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Desire vs Needs: You got it all wrong!

I've just watched the first episode of "The Century of the Self", a short documentary series by Adam Curtis from 2002 which aims to show "how those in power have used [Sigmund] Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy."

And there's one bit I absolutely must share.

But first a little context. This first episode focuses on Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, who was the first person to apply Freud's ideas of psychoanalysis to public relations. Bernays was fascinated by his uncle's writings and realised a lot of money could be made out of driving people's behaviour by playing on their irrational feelings.

He proved this fantastically by encouraging women to smoke, who in the early 20th century were discouraged from doing so because of a social taboo. This taboo held that the cigarette was indomitably masculine, that it was a symbol of the male penis.

So, at an annual New York street parade, Bernays enlisted the help of some women who hid cigarettes on their person, and at his signal, lit them up in front of the press. Even better, they were given the slogan "Torches of Freedom", thus seizing the cigarette from male exclusivity and turning it into a symbol of equality, despite them clearly not being in the best interests of women's (or anybody's) health.

This idea of unnecessary objects making people feel better was then seized upon by corporations everywhere. Whilst goods rolled out en masse, there was a fear that people would not want to buy any more once they had fulfilled their needs, hence, people must be made to consider goods differently. At which point Curtis quotes Paul Mazer, a banker working for Lehman Brothers in the 1930s:

"We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America, man's desires must overshadow his needs."

That's right. Lehman Brothers. Desires over needs. Oh! How that turned out!

You can watch the documentary here on Google Videos. The actual quote is not until 16 minutes into the programme, but it's a fascinating film and well worth watching in its entirety. See also his other documentary series The Trap and The Power of Nightmares.

At Arms Length? The UK and the Arms Trade

Roll up, roll up, the circus is in town! For four days this week a little bit of London will be turned into the largest arms fair in the world. What, London! you say? Surely that kind of thing happens in tents in the arse end of Libya? Well, actually, it happens on our own soil with the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) fair which brings together "senior international trade and military experts from across the entire supply chain in an optimal business environment". That environment being one in which doom mongers rake in the wonga from equipment that makes killing and injuring people you don't like such a breeze.

Not only is this fair morally repugnant, it is the flagship event of an industry rife with corruption, described by Transparency International as being the second most likely to involve bribery. Just as disgusting is the news today that a Libyan delegation has been invited to the fair amid growing evidence that the government is looking to continue trading with the Libyans after the release of the Lockerbie bomber. There will be a number of protests during the week from groups including Disarm DSEi, Campaign Against Arms Trade and East London Against the Arms Fair. I'd like to be there myself but unfortunately I have to work my notice so can't take the time off.

Back in December I wrote the following article about the news that the UK is now the world's leading arms dealer and its role in supplying weapons to shady regimes. Unfortunatey I've lost the sources I used at the time but have made an effort to find them and link where possible. Do read on, if you have a moment.

December 2008

Did you know the UK is now the world’s leading arms dealer? UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the Government’s trade promotion organisation, said that a £9.7 billion increase in business over the past 12 months had put the UK ahead of the United States in the global market. Over the past five years altogether, the US still dominates, with $63 billion worth of arms exports but the UK is second with $53 billion.

The increase is nothing to be proud of, but try telling UKTI. Digby Jones, Minister for Trade and Investment, said of the news: “As demonstrated by this outstanding export performance, the UK has a first-class defence industry, with some of the world’s most technologically sophisticated companies.”

Read that as most technologically sophisticated merchants of deadly weaponry.

In October this year, Oxfam released a report into how irresponsible arms deals undermine developing nations’ effort to meet their Millenium Development Goals. The MDGs were agreed to in 2000 by 189 countries to improve areas such as education, health care, poverty and environmental sustainability by 2015. According to the MDG Africa Steering Group, “The continuing threat of conflict threatens to reverse development gains in many parts of the continent.”

In 2003, Oxfam and Amnesty estimated 500,000 people die every year from small arms, roughly one every minute, and Kofi Annan said that “in terms of the carnage they cause, small arms could well be described as weapons of mass destruction.” We need only look as far as Mumbai for the shocking truth behind this statement.

Now Oxfam’s latest report highlights how irresponsible arms deals jeopardise the MDGs by fuelling conflict and human rights abuses as well as diverting government funds from development projects. The report calls for an immediate adoption of an international Arms Trade Treaty to stop these arms deals, but with the UK willingly taking part in such deals, support from our government doesn’t look likely.

The most recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights report identified 21 “major countries of concern.” Another FCO report also identified ten of these countries as recipients in UK arms deals. As the leading trader, the United Kingdom must shoulder a fair deal of the responsibility for human rights abuses and impeded development worldwide.

The third largest defence contractor in the world is Britain’s BAe Systems, who are currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office regarding payments “allegedly made to a South African official who had influence over the £1.5bn contract BAe won to supply planes - at nearly twice the price of a rival bidder.” Joe Modise, South Africa’s defence minister at the time, is alleged to have taken a £500,000 bribe from BAe. Meanwhile, according to the Oxfam report, “South Africa’s progress towards the MDGs is slow or in some cases is even moving in reverse. The figures for underweight children, child mortality, and access to improved sanitation have all deteriorated since 1990.”

Furthermore, the Financial Times recently published an article claiming BAe had “paid at least £20m to a company linked to a Zimbabwean arms trader allied to President Robert Mugabe.” The trader, John Bredenkamp, is accused by the UN of supplying equipment to the Zimbabwe air force.

Away from Africa is the most controversial of BAe’s arms deals, which was thrust into the limelight when the British government stopped another investigation, drawing damning criticism from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development for its failure to tackle bribery and corruption in a trade described by Transparency International as the second most corrupt in the world.

In 1985, the UK began to fulfil a number of massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, known as the Al-Yamamah contracts. The main contractor was BAe Systems. In the early ‘90s, the National Audit Office investigated these contracts, but never released the findings, the only NAO report never published. In 2003, The Guardian newspaper alleged a £20 million slush fund to bribe Saudi officials had been set aside by BAe Systems, prompting an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

According to the Guardian, this isn’t the first SFO investigation into the Al-Yamamah deal. In 2001, the SFO referred similar allegations to the Ministry of Defence making the ridiculous decision to leave any investigation to the MoD, who subsequently blocked any such activity.

In late 2006, BAe Systems was negotiating a huge contract to supply new Typhoon fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia, valued at £6-10 billion. On the 1st December 2006, The Telegraph claimed the Saudis had given the British government ten days to drop the investigation or lose the deal to a rival French bid. On 14th December 2006, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith discontinued the SFO investigation, citing the “need to safeguard national and international security”.

In April this year [2008] the High Court ruled that by dropping the investigation the SFO had acted unlawfully. The SFO appealed against the decision to the House of Lords, who unanimously voted in their favour and overturned the decision in July. Despite the SFO’s unflinching subordination, the United States’ Department of Justice continue to investigate the contracts and even detained BAe CEO Mike Turner for twenty minutes at an American airport earlier this year.

This is a Saudi Arabia well known for its human rights abuses. In 2006, a US State Department report highlighted “significant restriction of civil liberties… and infliction of severe pain by judicially sanctioned corporal punishments.” Earlier this year, a Human Rights Watch report drew attention to the continued persecution of Ismaeli muslims in Saudi Arabia, noting in particular how following a confrontation between government and Ismaeli demonstrators in April 2000 “Saudi authorities imprisoned, tortured, and summarily sentenced hundreds of Ismailis, and transferred hundreds of Ismaili government employees outside the region. Underlying discriminatory practices have continued unabated.”

Indonesia is no better, but according to the Guardian “British arms sales to Indonesia rose from £2m in 2000 to £40m in 2002” and as recently as 2007 we were negotiating a deal to sell Hawk jets. The same year, HRW published a report regarding the Papua province that found “both army troops and police units, particularly mobile paramilitary police units, continue to engage in largely indiscriminate village ‘sweeping’ operations in pursuit of suspected militants, using excessive, often brutal, and at times lethal force against civilians.” According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, violence in Papua has been facilitated by the use of British equipment.

Indonesia was also picked out in the Oxfam report, and an earlier HRW report, for the way the military is funded by its own businesses as well as the government. This money is controlled by military interests rather than civilian interests, thus hampering its ability to meet the Development Goals, yet the British continue to deal with such regimes.

As of April this year, the UKTI now devotes more staff to the promotion of the arms trade than all other sectors of British industry put together. One of its main roles is to promote Britain at international arms fairs like that in Malaysia, which included delegations from such model democracies as China, Burma, Indonesia and the Philipines and customers from Somalia and Iran. Its work is defended because of the economic contribution of arms sales, despite these sales only accounting for 1.5% of total exports and only 0.2% of the UK workforce.

In today’s climate of fear, this violence we facilitate sounds a lot like the sort of terrorism we are apparently fighting. According to dictionary.com, the definition of terrorism is:
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Western governments tend to conveniently forget the first clause of that last sentence - that a government can use terrorism to govern. You don’t need to be a political scientist to realise the abuses of the Saudi and Indonesian governments are ‘terroristic’, and Britain encourages this through corporate and state sponsored terrorism.

With such power backing the global arms trade, the chances of the UK agreeing to an Arms Trade Treaty appear slim. Personally, I feel ashamed to live in a country which is one of the largest state sponsors of terrorism, directly responsible for the infliction of violence on thousands, if not millions around the world.


I will follow up this post with another during the week on the latest regarding the BAe investigations.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Save water, piss in a urinal.

Photo: winterofdiscontent

A new campaign to highlight the dangers of water waste from using showers was launched yesterday and featured in a Guardian article by Ed Gillespie today. This is important for two reasons. First, heating water uses a great deal of energy, second in the home only to heating space in general. According to Waterwise, "the energy used to pump, treat and heat the water in the average family's home produces the carbon equivalent of a return flight from London to New York." That's a lot of carbon dioxide and a significant contribution to global warming.

I want to focus on the use of water itself though, which is becoming an increasingly more precious resource. Waterwise also state that "the South East of England has less water available per person than the Sudan and Syria." Since 1930, water consumption has increased by 1% each year. With climate change and future population growth this natural resource will be put under even more stress.

One way to relieve this stress is to think about how you use the bathroom. It's common knowledge that showers use less water than baths, but this actually depends on how long you spend in the shower and what type of shower you have (ie, is it a power shower?). As Ed Gillespie writes:

"A typical bath uses around 80 litres of water whereas the average electric shower sprays out about six litres a minute. So you'd have to be soaping yourself vigorously for over 13 minutes to use the same amount of water as that bath. But if you have a power shower that pumps out up to 15 litres per minute, in which case you have only 5 minutes of swift slathering before, from a water conservation perspective, you might as well have had that bath."

So, fans of langoruous showers may actually be using more water than if they were to indulge and soak in a bubble bath.

Another place that may not immediately spring to mind is the humble lavatory.

The most famous urinal in the world, Marcel Duchamp's. Photo: sunbs35

When I was in Ecuador last year, I spent a few days in an ecohostel in the Andes, a place with no electricity, compost toilets, in the middle of nowhere, very idyllic, with beautiful scenery etc. What struck me the most about their set up was the use of a urinal for male guests to pee in to save water. No, honestly; it was something so simple yet so brilliant, based on the fact that flushing the normal toilet uses a lot of water to get rid of what is essentially very little waste. Next to the urinal was a little jug with a marker on it around the 300ml mark. After every toilet trip the guest would 'flush' their urine away with a glass full of water - if that - and top it up again afterwards.

These days, toilets will use about six litres of water with each flush, but by law new homes have to be fitted with toilets that can flush less for, er... less substantial trips to the loo. Typically, these use about four litres of water per flush. But that's still a lot more than the 300ml required for a urinal.

I use my toilet at home at least twice day and have one of the 'eco-toilets', so that's eight litres of water I use every day. If I had a urinal, however, that would be only 600ml. Over a year, that's a personal saving of 2701 litres of water. As water is likely to become such a scarce resource in the near future, would it not make sense to fit new houses with a urinal in the bathroom as well as a standard toilet, as well as encourage owners of older homes to fit them too? Obviously this would only really affect men's water 'footprint', but there's quite a few million of us in the UK and it all adds up.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Food waste in the UK

Not everything at Climate Camp is planned with military precision. On Saturday I noticed a little tent had popped up adorned with signs made out of cardboard, its contents of fruit spilling out onto the grass. A few campers were busy chopping up the fruit, piling it into a pedal-powered blender and dishing it out for free.

Turns out the fruit, which was stacked in boxes inside the tent, all came from the bins of nearby wholesalers where it had been thrown out for imperfections despite being perfectly edible. Only days before the camp a couple of activists had the bright idea of commandeering said fruit and turning it into smoothies at the camp to bring attention to the vast quantities of waste produced in this country.

What follows is lifted from the leaflet refered to at the end of the video:
In the UK the food production industry accounts for 14% of energy consumption by UK businesses and 7 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year. The UK's carbon footprint is over 500 million tonnes. Individuals account for 45% of this. The average individual in the UK has a carbon footprint of 13.5t/yr and 21% of this figure is from the consumption of food, drink and consumables. We can reduce our carbon footprint by making changes to our food consumption choices.

The average household that does not recycle household waste throws away 8.1kg of food a week (420kg a year) of which 4.8kg a week is avoidable. Unless composted or used to create biogas (Ludlow Biocycle) household waste will end up in landfill sites, responsible for generating 3% of the UK annual greenhouse gas emissions. Food production chains are energy intensive and accountable for significant GHG emissions at a national and global level. In the UK, the food industry is also an insight into houw accepted wastage is in Western culture. There are absolute limits to how much pollution the Earth can absorb and how much natural resources can be provided. It is our responsibility to employ low impact and sustainable choices in all areas of our living including making careful decisions about the food we eat while also demanding a large scale reduction in waste, and resisting the capitalist luxury obsessed belief system, which encourages us to expect the luxury of abundant choice, to want more than we need and to maintain a lifestyle that perpetuates unsustainable consumption rates.