Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Alan Johnson's contempt for protest

The Guardian have done some sterling work in digging into the use, or rather misuse, of surveillance and intelligence gathering by the police into the activities of protesters and dissenting voices domestic extremists this week. This being work that is overseen by a body neither democratically accountable or bound by Freedom of Information law.

The comments from those in power seem to have been glossed over somewhat, but reveal the kind of contempt they hold for protest, something which - need I really say this? - is a fundamental human right.

First of all, Anton Setchell, national co-ordinator of domestic extremism operations for ACPO, said of innocent people having their data stored: "Everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once."

So we're all potential criminals now, are we? Or potential domestic extremists? (A ludicrous moniker were it not such a horrible issue)

Then Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said: "The police know what they are doing, they know how to tackle these demonstrations, they do it very effectively."

As the Next Left blog has pointed out, the Inspectorate of Constabulary said in July "that the police did not have a correct understanding of the law in planning and carrying out their operations at the G20 protests", which kinds of contradicts the Home Secretary's belief in them doing a good job.

Secondly, Johnson says: "If the police want to use that [domestic extremism] as a term, I certainly wouldn't fall to the floor clutching my box of Kleenex."

So he thinks demonstrations are something to be "tackled", does he? Is that how much regard he holds for protesters and demonstrators? He also thinks they are tackled "effectively", does he? Has he actually paid any attention to any of the coverage of protests over the years? Did he not see thousands of people detained without access to food, water or toilets for hours on end at the G20 protests in April? Is this his idea of "effective" protest management? Because the only part of the current style of protest management that's effective is in minimising disruption to the lives of those not taking part. Sod the right to protest.

Furthermore, he then makes an offensive (to me at least) remark about falling to the floor clutching a box of Kleenex. Well listen up Alan. Have you ever been kettled for hours on end? Have you ever been denied access to food, water and toilets whilst taking part in a protest? Have you ever had your number plate scanned, simply for being present at a protest? Have you ever been stopped and searched, then forced to comply with having your photo taken by the pigs and threatened with arrest if you don't do so? Have you ever been baton charged by the police, or threatened with or suffered from physical violence by the brutes in blue, simply for making a statement of a cause you believe in?

Because many people have. I've personally suffered some of that behaviour and wouldn't be surprised if the mugshot taken of me outside a squat near Liverpool St Station has been added to the "domestic extremist" database, despite having done no more than obstruct a public highway.

Is it any wonder people take to the roof of Parliament or the chimneys of power stations when our politicians treat us with such sneering contempt as this prat Johnson, whenever we dare to diverge from the government's point of view from climate change to the arms trade, to hold our own opinion, express our dismay with and stand up to the big business love in of the New Labour regime?

It's no laughing matter fit for ridicule or mollification by scrotes like the Home Secretary effectively laugh away an attack on our civil liberties, an attack that is symbolic of their erosion under the New Labour state.

I'll leave you with two questions posed by the Next Left in their same post about Alan Johnson, which I'd love to see the smug arse answer too:

First question: Do you, Alan Johnson, agree with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary that the first duty of the police in engaging with demonstrators is to facilitate peaceful protest?

Second question: Do you, Alan Johnson, think it is compatible with this first duty for the police/ACPO to make it its business to collect data indiscriminately on people who choose to engage in peaceful protest?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Emissions data, mmm nice...

The DECC/Met Office visualisation of global temperature change

New data was released today showing the carbon emissions from consumption of energy for every country in the world, as well as the worldwide effects of a global temperature change.

The figures from the US Energy Information Administration show emissions up until 2007 and place China ahead of the US for the first time. The same agency made this claim last year, saying that China nudged ahead of the US in 2006, but explained that early figures are based on preliminary data that has since been revised, so I guess we can also expect future corrections to today's data.

The UK ranks eighth highest in the world for carbon emissions from energy consumption and are 3.8% down on 1990 levels, the benchmark for which cuts are measured against, as established at Kyoto.

The country with the largest reductions since 1990 is Bulgaria, with 33.8%. It would be interesting to see how this is accounted for, I'm guessing the collapse of the Eastern Bloc may have had some role to play in that. Interestingly, the countries with the greatest increase since 1990 all seem to be clustered in South and Central America.

These figures are all available via the Guardian's data blog, so hopefully somebody will do something fancy with it all and make it easier to digest whilst no doubt a lot more analysis will come out over the next few weeks.

Also, on the data visualisation tip, I came across this DECC/Met Office site today (see pic above) showing the impact of a global temperature rise of 4 degrees celsius, including info on crop, forest fire, marine, drought and permafrost impacts (among others).

The great thing about such graphics are they make complex information a lot more accessible and understandable, still, I need to sit down and pore over them without the distractions of a certain little fascist before I can make any worthwhile comment.

By the way, if anybody could tell me the legal position of taking a screen shot of the government data map and republishing it it'd be much appreciated. I'm probably in the wrong, if so I'll remove it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Justicia, ya! Chevron in Ecuador

British based oil traders Trafigura were catapulted into the limelight when their legal minions Carter Ruck spectacularly mismanaged their reputation by trying to gag press coverage of their gross environmental crimes in western Africa. If it wasn't for Carter Ruck's ineptitude, few people would know who Trafigura are, let alone what they've been up to in the Ivory Coast.

What even fewer people will know, in the UK at least, is that Trafigura is far from an isolated incident. On the other side of the world, Chevron-Texaco are being hauled through an Ecuadorian court where they face a $27 billion damages lawsuit for dumping toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest.

The charges relate to the activity of the Texaco oil company which operated in the Oriente (the Ecuadorian Amazon) between 1964 and 1992. During its 28 year tenure, the American oil company dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water into the local ecosystem as well as 17 million gallons of crude oil in cost cutting procedures outlawed in both the US and Ecuador. As if this wasn't enough, the landscape was also scarred by hundreds of open pits full of toxic waste which leached into the water table.

Deadly legacy

This should hardly come as a surprise. Larry Summers, director of President Obama's National Economic Council, once said: "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable".

This economic logic, applied to Ecuador, brought with it an environmental catastrophe described as the "Rainforest Chernobyl" for polluting the fragile water system of the Oriente that thousands of people rely on daily for drinking, cooking, fishing and bathing. Stories abound of cancers, birth defects and miscarriages, with studies ascribing 1401 excess cancer deaths to the oil based pollutants.

One woman from Sacha describes the living conditions:
"We lived in a house about 20 yards away from an oil well. Another Texaco oil well was upstream from where we got our drinking water, and the water was usually oily with a yellowish foam. I had 11 children. I lost Pedro when he was 19.... He had three cancerous tumors: in his lungs, liver, and his leg.”

Another man, Manuel Salinas, has a home close to one of the open pits. He told the Chevron in Ecuador blog:
“I bought this land 25 years ago, without knowing what was beneath the surface. I started to clear away the trees and brush to grow coffee and fruit trees, because this was how I had planned to make a living. But then I discovered what I thought was a huge swamp and could only plant a few trees around it.

“We were unable to farm the land. We were unable to get clean water. We slid into poverty. But we had no choice but to continue drinking from the contaminated well. For a while, we had nothing, ni agua [not even water].”


Texaco began to cede control of the oil fields to Ecuador's state oil company, Petroecuador, in 1990 and finally ceased operations in the country in 1992. The following year the first lawsuit was filed against Texaco in New York, the state in which they're headquartered. For nine years Texaco petitioned to have the case heard in Ecuador, filing numerous affidavits praising the country's judicial system. (Remember this bit, it's important)

In 2001, Chevron bought Texaco and a year later the request for the case to be heard in Ecuador was granted, under the stipulation that any ruling against Chevron-Texaco would be enforceable in the US. In 2003, the current lawsuit was filed, with the support of some thirty thousand indigenous and campesino peoples and the arduous task of collating physical evidence and written testimony began as other multinationals watched with baited breath. Chevron could be the first US company to be ruled against by a foreign court, with implications for other unscrupulous big businesses around the world.

In 2008, an independent court-appointed expert estimated that Chevron could be liable for damages of up to $16.3 billion to pay for the clean up operation. Texaco had previously made a token effort to clean up their mess in the early 90’s, but this amounted to no more than $40 million. In November 2008, the reparations figure was revised to $27 billion in light of further scientific evidence. Chevron don't dispute the damage they have caused to the rainforest but still they try to squirm out of financial responsibility, which is hardly surprising when you consider the legal bill could cost them 20% of their market value.


As it became apparent they were going to get spanked in the courts, Chevron resorted to public relations campaigns to discredit and smear the litigators and judicial process and have asked for the case to be heard by a secret international tribunal closed to indigenous groups. This very same judiciary that received so much praise before is now painted as corrupt and under pressure from the executive branch of the government. PR firms employed to discredit the courts include Edelman, who were targeted by naked Climate Camp activists this summer for their role in E.on greenwash.

Chevron's latest defensive spasm was to reveal a secretly filmed video purportedly showing an Ecuadorian government official discussing a $3 million bribe to secure the sale of clean-up contracts to an American businessman and Ecuadorian contractor. Clearly, this questions Ecuador's credibility, however, major doubts have emerged over the video, including allegations by newspapers that the government official is actually a car salesman with no influence in authority. Also casting doubt over the veracity of the video is the accusation that the Ecuadorian contractor in the video previously worked for Chevron.

The oil giant's wretched wriggling goes on and their efforts are too numerous to list here. Perhaps most chilling was their lobbyists' efforts to get the US Trade Representative to restrict certain trade privileges for Ecuador. One lobbyist revealed some of the sentiment behind Chevron's case when he said: "The ultimate issue here is Ecuador has mistreated a US company. We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this - companies that have made big investments around the world."

It's no wonder multinationals across the globe are interested in the outcome, due by next year, which could signal a shift in the accommodation of their thinly disguised and rampant colonialism that cares not one iota for the local people and their environment as long as a quick buck is to be made.

Chevron, in all their disgustingly brazen honesty, have said they won't pay should the Ecuadorian judge rule against them, an increasingly likely scenario. According to an American lawyer advising the plaintiffs: "This could end up being one of the biggest forced asset seizures in history and it could have a significant disruptive impact on the company’s operations." This would be a truly pathetic and pitiful end to a saga that has dragged on for years whilst thousands suffer from the devastation wrought by Chevron-Toxico, a company no less foul and venal than Trafigura.

For more information, visit the ChevronToxico and Amazon Watch campaign websites.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The "legitimacy" of the BNP

Watching BBC Question Time, yet again people opposed to giving the BNP a platform throw up the "legitimacy" argument. This is something I struggle to understand. Saying that giving them coverage grants the BNP legitimacy fails to realise that nearly one million people already DO think they're legitimate, as shown by the number of votes for the party in the European election.

By saying they're illegitimate you may as well say the voters' views themselves are illegitimate. We should be speaking to these voters, engaging with them and trying to understand their concerns, not fobbing them off. It's just another way of ignoring this part of the electorate and it must stop.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Dale on Greenpeace: "send the army in with a water cannon"

Tory blogger Iain Dale thinks the Greenpeace protesters occupying the roof of the Houses of Parliament should be brought down with water cannons.

"Legitimate protest is one thing. Invading the parliamentary estate like this is quite another. Just leaving them up there on the roof with no intervention by the Police sends a simple message to others who might have the same idea: come on in, we’re too worried about negative press reaction to do anything.

"I wish I had suggested to Bob Ainsworth that he send the army in with a water cannon. It’s the only language they understand".

I'm somewhat perplexed by this last sentence. Surely he means it's the only language the Army understand? Because Greenpeace are in fact dedicated to non-violent direct action. You know, the non-violent sort which poses no threat to life. That sort that doesn't require an army to put them down, like, say, in China?

Equally horrid was @Cardiff_Blogger's reply to me on twitter, in which he said they should be brought down with a rifle. Obviously, this wasn't meant truthfully but it was clearly highly amusing, I think you'll agree, coming in the same week that Iran sentenced to death Mohammad Reza Ali-Zaman for his involvement in the massive protests in Tehran this summer.

As Pickled Politics point out, Dale later tried to laugh it off by adding a disclaimer to the entry:

"UPDATE: For the humourless left, perhaps I should have added a smiley after that sentence. They really don’t do tongue in cheek humour do they? Po faced idiots."

I find it hard to see the water cannon comment as being tongue in cheek at all, considering the context of his other remarks:

"Legitimate protest" - what exactly is "legitimate" protest? We have a right to protest and although these protesters committed trespass, which is obviously illegal, they weren't harming anybody.

"Invading the Parliamentary estate like this..." - What, what! Bloody crusties scaled the battlements 'ey, can't be having that, ought to be toiling in the factories, snort! Let's just keep Parliament for the elite shall we?

Apparently, "Greenpeace should be ashamed of itself". No - Parliament should be ashamed of itself for failing to take seriously enough the issue of climate change. These protesters have taken to the roof because politicians have hitherto failed to address our concerns.

When I asked if whingers like Dale would sit on their hands and keep quiet about an issue they feel strongly about, a couple of people pointed out to me on Twitter that the protest was illegal. When the usual democratic processes fail then sometimes campaigners feel obliged to break the law in order that their voices are heard.

When writing to your MP illicits a response that amounts to no more than "go away you annoying little child" what else can we do? When Labour introduce absurd restrictions on protesting near Parliament, how else can we be heard? Disruption and agitation are necessary to wake people from their slumber. I sound like a stuck record, but where would the civil rights movement and the suffragettes have got without civil disobedience? As long as it remains non-violent and participants are ready to suffer the consequences, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with breaking the law in the name of protest.

With the likelihood of a Conservative government in power next year, I hope the attitudes of Iain Dale and Cardiff Blogger are not reflective of the wider party or protesters are in for more harassment than normal.

Friday, 9 October 2009

New open cast coal mine in Shropshire

On the same day E.on announced they would be putting on hold the construction of a new coal-fired power plant at Kingsnorth, news that an open cast coal mine will be created in Telford quietly slipped through the net.

Secretary of State John Denham granted UK Coal permission to extract 900,000 tonnes of coal near The Wrekin, a beauty spot in Shropshire, despite opposition from local councillors and MPs.

Telford and Wrekin Council have said they will appeal against the decision.

Much of the opposition seems to be based on aesthetical reasons - that the mine will scar the landscape - but the greater damage is this government's continued commitment to burning fossil fuels. Kingsnorth may now be all but cancelled but we still burn coal at existing power stations nationwide, accounting for about a third of energy generation in the UK. [Source]

One-third of these dirty power stations will close by 2015 in accordance with EU regulations on reducing emissions, but that still leaves a significant number pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Kingsnorth decision is undoubtedly good news (provided it really has been cancelled), but the approval of the Telford mine is a visible indicator that our addiction to fossil fuels is far from cured.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

FBI arrest G20 protester for using Twitter

Remember when the people of Iran took to the streets to protest against the outcome of their Presidential election? Remember how social media, particularly twitter, were used to give coverage in the West to events and to some extent, aide protesters on the ground? Remember how the US State Department asked twitter to hold off routine maintenance in order to help the Iranians using the network?

Well, the FBI seemed to have forgotten all that when they arrested Elliot Madison for communicating with protesters at the G20 protests in Pittsburgh last month. Madison was one of two people found in front of laptops and police radio scanners in a motel in Pittsburgh during the leaders' summit, which was subject to numerous protests in which 200 were arrested.

According to police documents, Madison used Twitter "to inform the protesters and groups of the movements and actions of law enforcement".

A week later, the FBI raided Madison's New York home and conducted a sixteen hour search, confiscating such items as political literature, computers and children's toys, reminiscent of a British police raid of an environmental protester who took part in a Drax protest.

Elliot Madison and his lawyer appeared in an interview on Democracy Now (above, from 10m 28s). The charges sound flimsy and quite laughable when it seems Madison was merely passing on the police's own communications, but worse is the sheer hypocrisy of US authorities when the boot is on the foot giving them a good kicking instead.

Kingsnorth postponed, but hold your horses.

E.on have delayed building a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, citing a lack of demand due to the recession. The energy firm don't think a new plant will be required until 2016.

It's a shame it's taken economics for them to put a hold on the project rather than science, but nonetheless this is still good news. Or is it?

I'm unsure how exactly this postponement constitutes an actual cancellation of the whole project, as the Guardian suggests. E.on themselves have said it's not been cancelled; do we believe them? Well it makes sense. They're a corporation acting in the interests of profit. If there really is little demand for electricity because of the recession, then they don't need to increase their supply of it. However, what is there to stop them picking up where they left off should the economic situation sufficiently improve in the next couple of years?

I'm also skeptical as to what role campaigners have played in this, who on twitter at least seem to be trying to take some credit for the decision. The fact that E.on are still committed to Carbon Capture and Storage hardly suggests they've been persuaded by environmentalists to go green.

I'm not trying to pour cold water on the news, but until we know more about E.on's reasoning we should treat it with a bit of caution. [Edit - as in, do we have any numbers on electricity demand?] Yes, it is fantastic that right now Kingsnorth is not going to be built and we're definitely much closer to it not being built at all, but we're not 100% there just yet.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

We need an Equal National Minimum Wage

Last week the National Minimum Wage rose again while Gordon Brown pledged to increase it every year for the next five years, much to the consternation of business.

However, the disparity between the adult and youth rates still exists. Despite the (slight) increases a 22 year old will now earn £5.80 per hour compared to £4.83 for 18 to 21 year olds, and just £3.57 for 16 and 17 year olds.

Undoubtedly the minimum wage is one of Labour's successes but this difference in pay for the young is downright shameful. Why should young people be paid any less for the same work than somebody a few years older when everybody has to pay the same rates for rent, bills, food, transport etc?

This is a rule I've never understood. I've been told the different tiers are to encourage young people to stay in education but this I find particularly galling with the introduction of top-up fees for university students.

As just one example of a section of youth society, many students work to pay their way through university and without part-time jobs, even some full-time jobs, many simply wouldn't be able to afford the living costs. For many students this entails working in bars, restaurants and in retail, the kind of work which pays no more than the minimum wage.

I was one of these working students (and still am). I worked in a bar, yet I was paid less per hour than some of my older colleagues who did exactly the same work as myself. Today that difference stands at 97 pence and much more for 16 and 17 year olds. For many students working a twenty-odd hour week that ~£1 difference could pay most of a shopping bill.

The nature of work is usually no different for younger people, nor is the cost of living. Everybody should be paid the same minimum wage, regardless of age. The British Youth Council has been running a campaign for an equal national minimum wage but their lobbying of the Low Pay Commission has been paid barely any attention.

With the recession ongoing, an equal minimum wage is unlikely to go down well with business leaders who will bleat about the usual rising costs and likely point out young people are lucky enough to have a job at all these days. But if the CBI will demand that young people are to pay more for an education the least they could do is lend us some support as we try to meet these extortionate demands. It's not just businesses that are suffering in the recession, it's the workers too and particularly the young. Time to stop shitting on us and throw us a bone for once.