Monday, 23 November 2009

"We will come for you", police warned

There'll be less of this

Police officers across London are quaking in their steel toed boots following an ominous message from a senior member of the Met.

If they are hanging around with colleagues and one turns violent and someone else gets hurt, they too could be facing a criminal prosecution.

If someone dies, they too could be charged with murder, even if they did not so much as shove an innocent man in a protest on the capital's streets.

"Standing by is not a defence," said the Metropolitan Police's Detective Superintendent Simon Morgan on situations where a gang of anonymously clad riot cops leads to trouble.

Employing a centuries old custom called "Monopoly on Violence", police in London have been aggressively pursuing young and old alike who are present for protests and demonstrations in the beating heart of capitalism.

Now, this anachronistic romp in the concrete and steel-lined avenues of exploitation is in jeopardy following a surprising clampdown from upon high.

"Anybody and everybody that is involved in an incident of violence, we will look to identify them and if the evidence is there, we will look to prosecute them," Det Supt Morgan told BBC's Panorama.

A law based on the idea of 'Joint Enterprise' will finally be applied to the police who have faced stinging criticism for their brutal treatment of political protesters.

Joint Enterprise is about sharing the responsibility of a crime and it ensures that police officers who egg on a colleague to violence or who issue a rallying order to others face the same charges as the person who lands the fatal blow.

Ian Tomlinson was only in his forties when he was set upon and beaten in the City of London during the G20 protests in April.

Several police officers dressed in black and armed with batons and shields were present when Mr Tomlinson, a non-protester on his way home from work, was shoved violently to the ground in an unprovoked attack.

Mr Tomlinson died from an abdominal haemorrhage soon after the incident. The officer who delivered the possibly fatal shove has been questioned on suspicion of manslaughter.

The Met are keen to impress that it's not just individuals who could be held responsible for such attacks though.

It is a theme they are taking directly to London bobbies via a speaking tour and a video presentation at police stations across the city.

In the video, Det Supt Morgan says: "If you are involved in a murder in any way, shape or form, we will come to you. We will find you. We will come at a time when you don't expect us and we will enter your life.

"We will invade your home. Invariably your front door will be removed. We will enter, this will be in front of your parents and your family, possibly your friends, and we will change your life."

The application of the joint enterprise law has drawn criticism from some officers who worry that it is being too widely applied, a concern backed by some in legal circles.

Professor Jeremy Horder of the Law Commission said joint enterprise is being used as a blanket power to prosecute those simply present during a crime, not just those who are culpable.

"It may be that only some members of the gang endorsed or encouraged or helped the killing, others did nothing of the sort. But they're all being scooped up in with it."

This worries many in the force who have stood and continue to stand idly by whilst protesters face the frightening brutality of the strong arm of the state.

Despite Ian Tomlinson posing no threat to heavily armoured riot cops - he even had his back turned and his hands in his pockets - none of the officers present were inclined to stop the severe treatment meted out to him by the few bullies in the gang, a blatant contradiction of the police ethic "to serve and protect".

Time will only tell if the videos and lectures will have any effect on the behaviour of riot police on the streets of London or if more systematic changes are required to bring the police in line with basic human rights.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Case in point

Case in point: why does Mandy gets so much room to manoeuvre? This tweet was in response to accusations that Mandy is cutting funds for adult education.

Sorry to labour the point (groan...) but this is what I'm getting at regarding my earlier post about Labour, a seeming lack of criticism (at least publicly) within the party when it comes to New Labour lackeys who keep on pushing it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

An incoherent ramble about Labour

It's going to take more than a loin stirring video to pull me over to Labour. See, this is the thing that has been annoying me about the Labour party for some time, that there seems to be a complete inability amongst the Labour government and Parliamentary party to admit that they've been a complete let down on many values.

It's all very well and good bleating on about how, historically, Labour have been the party of the working class and the underprivileged, but when you consider some of the things they've done in the past twelve years it grates, it really fucking grates. New Labour got into bed with big business and it seems few people in the party have the balls to stand up and say "Enough!", or to at least acknowledge that mistakes have been made.

How exactly does spiralling debt for students equate to the party for the underprivileged? Since when would a party of the working class continue to put up with an unelected second chamber based on inherited wealth and power? Where is the solidarity in actively promoting the sale of weapons to repressive regimes, and then pulling the plug on an inquiry into bribery and corruption? How do you reconcile fervent capitalism and weak trade union links with the left? What, exactly, is socialist about clinging to the coat tails of a bloody and imperialist adventure in the Middle East?

Seriously, how dare Labour claim any kind of moral high ground when they pursue ID cards, nuclear weapons, draconian internet policies, contradictory environmental policies and ever encroaching restrictions on civil liberties?

The past means nothing if the present and future looks bleak.

I'm not party political, I don't associate myself with any particular party, but as a staunch leftie I feel like I should have some kind of affinity with Labour. But how can I when they constantly pander to the interests of big business and show a lack of commitment to left principles?

And where is the bloody dissent?!

I know the grassroots and many backbenchers don't believe the New Labour hype, but why is there barely a murmur about it? Is there some kind of strange disease afflicting Labour whereby people are loyal to the party rather than the cause? As Cardiff Blogger once tweeted, you could put a red rosette on a cow and still some tweeps would vote Labour. Why has New Labour been able to continue unabated for so long? Why do people simply turn a blind eye and mutter "it'll be worse under the Tories"?


ADDITION: To be more succinct, I feel let down by Labour. Not by New Labour - to me they're so far removed they may as well be a completely different party, they've shown their true colours and I've come to accept that now. It's the old guard that have let me down, those who disagree with the New Labour project, who share my values, but who have kept quiet and let it continue.

Monday, 16 November 2009

You've Been Framed

Chevron Texaco's latest effort to evade a multi-billion dollar lawsuit for dumping toxic waste in Ecuador is collapsing like a house of cards. Secretly filmed videos which supposedly show Ecuadorian officials agreeing to a bribe as part of a remediation contract for the Amazon disaster suddenly have more plot holes than an episode of Lost.

The four edited videos were posted to YouTube by the oil company at the end of August, after having been recorded by American Wayne Hansen and Ecuadorian Diego Borja in an apparent display of civic duty to unearth wrongdoing. Or in an effort by Chevron to smear a trial which could cost them 20% of their market value?

The character of Wayne Hansen has been called into question in a report by a San Francisco investigator working for the Chevron Toxico campaign group. In the videos, Hansen claims to be an 'American businessman' specialising in environmental remediation, the perfect candidate to clean up Chevron’s mess.

They must have got him confused with somebody else however, because Hansen is unknown in the American environmental sector and the most notable business on his resume is drug trafficking, for which he spent 19 months in jail.

According to the Associated Press:
“Court records show that Hansen, 62, pleaded guilty to charges of facilitating the importation of marijuana in a 1987 case in Brownsville, Texas. A co-defendant said that Hansen was in charge of buying a DC-7 that prosecutors alleged would be used to fly 275,000 pounds (124,740 kilos) of marijuana to the United States from Colombia.

“Hansen, a U.S. citizen who served 19 months in federal prison in that case, also lost civil lawsuits charging him with unleashing two pitbulls on a neighbor and her golden retriever, and with tearing up the walls of another person's house with a jackhammer, according to California county court records and the plaintiffs.”

Chevron initially said their only connection with the second film maker, Borja, was through his previous work as a contractor for Chevron, and that they knew nothing of the meetings until after the tapes had been handed to them.

However, according to campaigners, Tim Cullen, a lawyer working for Chevron, recently admitted to the company meeting with Borja in San Francisco just days before the final 'incriminating' tape was filmed in Ecuador. It's only in this fourth and final recording that actual corrupt practices are discussed - with a supposed government official who is actually a car salesman from Quito.

The first tapes show little more than the judge presiding over the suit, Juan Nuñez, agreeing that a verdict will be reached, hardly a smoking gun to undermine a judicial system that Chevron years previously vaunted in a successful effort to shift the case away from an American court.

Questions about Chevron Role in Ecuador Bribery Scandal – Amazon Defense Coalition (pdf)

Cullen also admitted to Chevron assisting Borja in seeking employment in the US and paying the former contractor's legal fees, as well as other payments and expenses for transportation and housing.

Stephen Donziger, an American lawyer advising the 30,000 plaintiffs said: "Each additional communication by Chevron casts further doubt on the company's own credibility and suggests Chevron's own lawyers in both Quito and the U.S. played a role in orchestrating possible criminal misconduct to evade a judgment at trial.

"All of Chevron's lawyers and outside counsel at the June 18th meeting with Borja need to be questioned under oath to determine if an act of corruption was planned so an American company could evade a legal obligation to clean up pollution it caused in the rainforest – pollution that is killing people and destroying indigenous groups."

Chevron could be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which allows for the prosecution of those who bribe officials outside the USA. This law is at the centre of allegations made against BAe Systems that are being investigated by the US Department of Justice.

Donziger also called for US authorities to force Chevron into cooperating with Ecuadorian authorities. The company have so far refused to hand over forensic analysis of the tapes they themselves commissioned, which would help identify those who edited the tapes, nor have they explained how Borja ended up in an office with Chevron lawyers in San Francisco. Completely unrelated is the revelation that Borja works from the same Quito office block as Chevron’s lawyers in Ecuador.

The lawsuit being brought against the multinational could cost them as much as $27 billion should the judge rule against them in a decision expected early next year. The oil giant have already said they will not pay up, prompting campaigners to declare the likelihood of the largest forced asset seizures in history. That Chevron have so publicly stated their intention to shirk any kind of monetary responsibility makes this whole video saga depressingly embarrassing.

You fucked up Chevron, now grow a pair and pay up.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Green not Greener

My own definition of green is something that does not create harmful waste for the environment and I doubt I'm alone in thinking that. This means that nuclear power for example is not 'green'. It still produces radioactive waste that is harmful to its immediate environment. Likewise, cars with internal combustion engines are not green because they still produce emissions, no matter how efficient they are.

The motor industry though seem to be particularly fond of propagating such myth and fantasy. In July, What Car? magazine announced the winners of their annual Green Awards. Winners included, in the Best Sports Car, the Mini Cooper S, with a fuel economy of 45.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 149g/km. The accompanying write-up said: “the Cooper S delivers scorching pace without sizzling the planet.”

According to the EU’s Environment Protection Agency, a passenger vehicle does an average of 12,000 miles a year. A Mini Cooper S doing that distance in a year would therefore produce 2.86 tonnes of carbon dioxide. What is green about that? If we all traded in our cars for a Cooper S, methinks the planet would still be sizzling.

It’s not just old tech that feels smug about its green credentials: new, hybrid tech can be just as guilty. Take the Prius hybrid-car for example, the darling of the enviro-conscious middle classes. Over short trips - which it must be fairly noted are the most common of all car journeys - its use of battery power marks it as green, but over longer distances the petrol engine is used which certainly isn't. In fact, some small cars now produce near enough the same CO2 levels as the Prius but don't need fancy technology to achieve this. Even the battery has a tenuous claim to being green. If the car has been ‘hacked’ it can be charged from the mains, but how is this electricity likely to have been generated? If it hasn’t been hacked, it is recharged by capturing kinetic energy lost through braking, some of which may come through burning fuel on long journeys. So the Prius isn't green, but greener, or more efficient.

I don’t want to sound too critical. If the whole world drove a Prius we’d have massive cuts in CO2. More efficient technology, not just in transport but elsewhere, is also important for reducing emissions in the meantime. However, shouldn’t we save “green” for those things that are actually green? Calling a product “green” when it could be responsible annually for nearly 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide is ludicrous.

I fear the green misnomer risks complacency, slowing down the transition to truly green life by kidding people into thinking they’re making a substantial difference. False green tech supports the notion that people can continue enjoying the same lifestyles when what we really need are major changes. (“I can keep driving This Gas Guzzling SUV around the city centre because it won the What Car? green award so it must be more environmentally friendly than The Other SUV.”) It can also narrow the concept of green, for example, focusing on the energy efficiency of a fridge, which is a good thing but if it’s still powered by electricity generated at Drax then what's the actual gain?

You may think that society en masse can only move as quickly as the technology most widely available, but at the same time we can surely determine the technology required if the issue wasn’t obscured by marketing and media that tries to eke out the profit of old tech for as long as possible.

Should we even use the term “green”? Adam Shake at Twilight Earth argues for abandoning the term altogether, instead calling out those things that aren’t green in order for truly green things to become the norm. It’s a compelling argument. On Newsnight last month, Solitaire Townsend of green PR firm Futerra said that changing people’s minds about the environment is the easy bit, getting them to change their behaviour is the hard part. Could Adam’s approach perhaps be the [albeit difficult] solution? Either way, the manner in which green is bandied around today needs addressing.