Tuesday, 15 June 2010

I've Moved

As of today, I will now be blogging at www.jamiepotter.wordpress.com

After BP, new attitudes will be tested by Chevron ruling

Photo by 350.org

'Poor' BP is getting it in the neck right now with the US Senate announcing its intention to fine the oil company way more than first estimated for the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Leaving aside questions over whether the US is trying to squeeze BP until the pips squeak or if the bill simply represents real costs, it certainly seems that American politicians have woken up to the grim realities of "Drill, Baby Drill!".

So much so, in fact, that Obama has compared the spill's impact to that of 9/11. Not in so far as equating BP with Islamic extremists, as some people have somehow grasped, but in terms of the impact the 'rare' event will have on particular policy in the US.

Already, further exploration and exploitation has been put on hold, but perhaps one of the key tests of Obama's new attitude will be the unfolding situation in Ecuador, where iconic American brand Chevron is desperately trying to pull the plug on a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against itself for wreaking havoc in the Amazon.

During the late 20th century oil giant Texaco treated the rainforest like their own waste disposal unit. Now Chevron, who bought Texaco in 2001, are fighting off claims for reparations from thousands of affected Ecuadorians whose lives and environment have been destroyed.

It looks almost certain that Chevron will be hit with a bill for damages that could wipe up to a fifth off of their market value, leading the company to increasingly desperate efforts to weasel out of their impending doom.

But what will American legislators make of any such decision? Efforts by Chevron to undermine the Ecuadorian judicial system by taking the case to international arbitration suggest they seem hellbent on avoiding any kind of compensation deal.

If this is the case, then it's going to take a worldwide effort to force Chevron to cough up, including much needed support in the US where energy industry lobbyists exert strong influences on media and government. Will the shift in environmental policy uphold the will of other nations or will imperialist attitudes prevail?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Clegg's Constitutional Changes

So Clegg has declared his intention to "shake-up" our democracy with reforms he equates to a "big bang". Not only do the plans fail to match 'recent' obvious reform such as giving women the vote, I struggle to see how they come close to any kind of deep reform worthy of such rhetoric.

Overturning intrusions on our civil liberties such as ID cards and the DNA and Contact Point databases are undoubtedly welcome, but to suggest they are part of some great shake-up of democracy is fallacious. In some cases the reforms merely mean restrictions. Further, they shouldn't have been introduced in the first place; their removal is nothing more than setting the record straight, a system restore to an earlier date. Their professing of more liberty to the people is also hard to square with Theresa May announcement to give police more powers to press charges.

Nor does a partially-elected second chamber constitute major reform. Indeed, it is a step forward, but hardly one giant leap for British-kind that Clegg's rhetoric suggests, especially when there appear to be plans afoot to fill the Lords with Tory and Lib Dem peers.

As for electoral reform, we know the AV system is not as sweeping a change as full PR, but neither, in the current context, does it represent "a major step forward that would break decades of deadlock over voting reform". The hunger for reform following the results of the election surely meant deadlock was going to be non-existent on this particular issue, reform of some description was 'inevitable'. The 55% rule too is another example of window dressing on Clegg's behalf. Apart from not being included in either coalition party's manifestos, making it more difficult for MPs to try and dissolve Parliament is nothing to shout about.

As far as I can tell, what we are actually left with is unclear announcements on reform to donors and the ability to recall corrupt MPs. I'm struggling to understand how we will be given more control over the power of the state. In the same week that the right-to-strike was undermined, trade union powers were absent from his rhetoric, while a transparent government, for example, is not a mechanism to exercise control. It's not so much a big bang as a damp squib.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Why I Joined the Labour Party

At the weekend I joined the Labour party. For many of you this may come as a shock. I've lost track of the number of times I've spat venom about Labour-this and Labour-that as the last government trod all over our civil liberties and disappeared up its own arse on countless other policy occasions. I still have a folder of unpublished blog posts written in exasperation at Labour's efforts to square capitalism with socialism.

Despite this, they're perhaps the only major force the left can have any hope in, if that makes sense. I'm more closely allied to the Greens than Labour, but are the former really in any position to oust the Tories anytime soon, especially with firm electoral reform still pretty far away? While I'd love to see this country morph into a giant Zapatista-style commune, it isn't going to happen anytime soon, so I'm going to have be pragmatic about how I can help fight the right.

Many people have told me to join Labour and try change things from the inside, but most of the time, I can't stand party politics. Rather than get on with doing right by the people, partisan bickering brinkmanship and sniping clouds debates and discussions. There's too much politics within parties themselves and power relationships that the autonomist in me feels entirely uncomfortable with, especially when there are other ways to become involved in politics, such as Climate Camp or the Open Rights Group.

So, baring this in mind, why have I joined? To be honest, I'm not quite sure myself, it just sort of happened, but I think it comes down to one thing: fear of the Tories. I can't stand the thought of society being ruined as we lurch even further to the right. Don't get me wrong, Labour helped bring us to this point (not that I ignore many of the welcome social policies they implemented) but - please! - we have got to stop this pursuit of unbridled capitalism.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think Labour are a silver bullet. One of my key criticisms of Labour in recent years has been the usurping of the cause by the continued existence of the party. What is the party if it has nothing to believe in or fight for? I see the next few years as an opportunity for the left to find its feet again and reconnect with its core, and herein lies an opportunity for staunch lefties to try and exert some influence on Labour. This links back to what I said at first, that they're perhaps the only realistic option in putting an end to Tory government.

So I've tentatively joined the party. I don't feel comfortable with it and I don't really know what my 'game plan' is. I'm not accepting Labour on its current terms; that definitely isn't why I've joined. I have my core principles and ethics which I refuse to sell out or compromise on. I guess I'll take things as they come and hope I, and many others, can try and nudge Labour back to the left, to less authoritarian and more equitable terms. Hopefully I can help inject some of the introspection and self-criticism into the party which is sorely needed.

At some point maybe I'll draw together some kind of criteria which I think Labour should satisfy in order for me to remain a member (like Gordon's economic tests, ha!). And if I feel like these things aren't possible, that it's going to be more of the same, then I'll have absolutely no qualms about canceling my membership.

I guess you could call it a marriage of convenience; I don't know what to call it. I'm just trying to do right by my principles, trying to help change society for the better and maybe this move will help. I can but only try and I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Representation in the Cabinet

One of the key talking points of the new coalition government is the lack of women or ethnic minorities in the new cabinet.

While it really is a disgrace, I think ire is perhaps being directed at the wrong target.

The thing is, both the Lib Dems and Conservative parliamentary parties are lacking in female and ethnic minority MPs, which is undoubtedly going to have an effect on the composition of the cabinet.

If the Tories and Lib Dems had better representation across their parties and still Cameron had selected such a cabinet, then quite rightly these selections should be criticised.

But without meaning to sound like an apologist for the two parties, I think this is to take our eye off the ball. That we have a white, middle-class male cabinet is indeed a shitty thing, but calling for more representation in it doesn't really tackle the root problem, which is this lack of representation at MP level.

Twitter and the election

Twitter has been bothering me the past few days. I can't quite put my finger on it, so excuse me if the following sounds a bit jumbled, but my feelings go a little something like this...

A few days ago, I tweeted that "If anything, this #ge2010 I've learned that twitter is worse than rolling news. Moves too quickly for actual events, can't sustain itself."

I saw somebody, I forget who, tweet that the German media, long used to covering coalition negotiations in their own government, were taken aback by the impatience of our media who were making talking points out of nothing. (See the ridiculous helicopter coverage of party leaders being driven around).

It wasn't just the traditional media that were hankering for something tasty to talk about, so too were many people online.

My thinking was, and still is, that in the absence of actual developments in such a tense situation as a hung parliament, people on twitter only hear what they want to hear and willfully misinterpret or make inferences of other people's comments. Admittedly, this only comes from the people I was following myself, but these people cut across all political persuasions as did the type of behaviour I'm writing about.

This led to petty and reactionary squabbling over minor points or people simply airing their thoughts and pondering out loud. Reason and rational thought seemed to fly out the window as people struggled to have their voices and opinions heard over everybody else. All the while nothing was happening or actually being constructed in real life, away from the internet.

It was, simply put, a deluge of speculation. People were going round in circles of non-existent opprobrium, contributing to a gigantic mess of 'debate'. And it was all rather off-putting if truth be told.

That was before negotiations for a new government came to a disappointing close but I still stand by it. Moreover, I still think it's pertinent even after things came to a conclusion.

Now, my twitter stream is full of people expressing their dismay at the situation in a giant anti-Tory echo chamber. That's all well and good, I have nothing against that, but after you've seen the same sentiment for the 100th time it starts to get boring.

I now find myself in a strange position where I don't feel like I have anything worthwhile to contribute to the 'discussion'; much of what I feel has already been said. I tweeted that it was simply "ineffective fury". By this I mean fury that has no direction, no actual target. OK, the Tories are now in power, but it doesn't actually mean anything yet as we're yet to see this power manifest itself.

This differs from occasions such as Trafigura or Jan Moir, where wrongs had clearly been committed and twitter united to right them. Until there are policies and proposals that we can actually physically fight, all we have at the moment is a rather abstract idea of somebody being in power that we don't like, but with no real idea how to go about fighting it, leaving us with a public sphere in which people may as well just be shouting into an empty room.

I realise I'm making massive generalisations here. There has been the odd nugget of reason with people pointing out logical flaws or bringing others back down to earth. Still, I feel like twitter has become a beacon of impotent rage for the time being. Until this rage calms down, people begin to see the bigger picture and realise that being angry on the internet isn't always the best prescription, I'm going to resist jumping into the melee and quietly contemplate what can be done offline instead.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

My Absence

Seems I've not been blogging much of late. It's not that I've lost the passion, I still have it and there sits on my hard drive a fair few unfinished and unpublished posts. However, right now I'm somewhat snowed under with uni work and after spending all day with my head buried in books the last thing I want to do when I get home is spend another two or three hours getting my head around a blog post (I don't like to just 'bash things out').

This little flurry of academic activity will hopefully be over soon though and then I'll return to this little corner of the internet. I promise.

In the meantime, keep up with my gobshite opinions on twitter.

Voting Yellow

I thought I best write something about the election, so here's a quicky. I would go into more detail but the entire build-up is wearing me out to be honest.

I'm most probably going to vote Lib Dem. I say most probably because every time I think about tomorrow, my stomach lurches between hope for a Lib-Lab coalition and fear of a Tory victory. I shan't say anymore about the latter possibility, but it's enough to make me question whether voting Lib Dem in a Labour seat could let them sneak in the back door, even if it is relatively safe. I guess it's something I'll sleep on.

Whilst I completely recognise the many progressive achievements of Labour's three terms there are, without dwelling on it, many policies that I find utterly reprehensible. These include the erosion of our civil liberties on countless fronts, hawkish foreign policy, Trident renewal and the deluded Digital Economy Act. Furthermore, they've continually promised us electoral reform but in thirteen years have failed to deliver. I value democracy, freedom and my rights and genuinely fear for their future under further Labour rule.

Consequently, this is why I will be voting Liberal Democrat: in the hope of a Lib-Lab coalition in which the pair can temper the excesses of each other. Labour can stem the Lib Dems' appetite for liberal economics while the Lib Dems can try and bring to an end Labour's love affair with the police state. Imagine it: a government actually pursuing something akin to a broadly left agenda! Furthermore, maybe we'll finally get a fair electoral system. And ignore the hysteria about hung parliaments. If anything, every Parliament should be hung so we actually see some sensible deliberation and thought as bills pass through rather than combative, misguided power politics.

So there you go, my thoughts on the election summed up, sort of...

Monday, 19 April 2010

What's Going on in Cancún?

Image by Tbass Effendi

Climate change conferences didn't end in Copenhagen, oh no! The filibustering roadshow continues in November in Cancún for the CoP16 conference and already the battle lines are being drawn between activists and organisers.

Klimaforum, the alternative forum on combating climate change, just released an email condemning the decision to host the summit in Cancún, warning that it's a deliberate attempt to exclude civil society groups.
"The fact has not yet officially announced but already known to many, that headquarters site, the Moon Palace Hotel, will be removed from the site (the Cancún Messe) in where they want to lock up the national and international groups they have much to contribute on Climate Change, shows so loud and clear that anyone not accredited by groups government will not be able to access the sites where negotiations would be plenary."

It's hard to make sense of what this means (it was translated from Spanish*) but the Cancún Messe is a convention centre, presumably where the conference will be hosted. What the Moon Palace Hotel refers to I have no idea, but at a guess they suggest that civil society groups will be kept separate from government officials for the duration of the event.

While evidence is lacking to suggest an unabashed segregation policy is the order of the day for CoP16, we needn't forget that the conference organisers have previous on this, having kicked out many NGOs for the final few days of the Copenhagen summit in December.

Klimaforum also lambasted in no uncertain terms the choice of Cancún with regards to its reputation for sustainability and social justice:
"The city of Cancún, a city with a single economic infrastructure with a society oppressed by the working conditions set by large transnational tourism companies, lacerated by the drug addiction, by the continuing occurrence of pederasty, with a deterioration their growing natural and other resources away from all sustainability schemes, has been chosen by the administration of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa as the venue for this important conference with the desire to eliminate any possible participation of groups civil society."

Maybe it's to provide a nice cosy base for government delegates to wallow in luxury at the expense of others while they thrash out yet another lax agreement? Who knows, but we'll be keeping an eye on the progression of arrangements for CoP16 to see what they have in store for those who care to dissent from authority's opinion on the climate. Just as soon as they make a website, that is...

*the original Spanish, if anybody can provide a more accurate translation:

"El hecho aún no anunciado oficialmente pero ya de muchos conocido, de que el sitio sede, el Hotel Moon Palace, estará alejado del sitio (el Cancún Messe) en donde pretenden recluir a los grupos nacionales e internacionales que tienen mucho que aportar sobre Cambio Climático, deja ver de manera clara y contundente que cualquier persona no acreditada por los grupos gubernamentales, no tendrá la posibilidad de acceso a los recintos donde habrían de darse las negociaciones plenarias."

Monday, 12 April 2010

Biofuels and women

Much of the discussion surrounding biofuels understandably focuses on their impact on food production. It's a simple, emotive viewpoint - in order to continue driving our cars as we please somebody on a different continent must starve as we turn their crops into 'environmentally friendly' fuel.

But nothing is ever that simple. In the case of biofuels, there's not just the impact on food prices, nor the negative effect biofuels have on climate change emissions but other social aspects, including the consequences for women.


Friday, 2 April 2010

Confidence and the Police

Photo by Iain Winfield

A year on from the G20 protests in London and still the police have yet to be held responsible for their appalling handling of the demonstrations in the City. Earlier this week, Delroy Smellie walked free from court despite video evidence clearly showing he assaulted Nicola Fisher close to the Bank of England. And, lest we forget, justice is still outstanding for the family of Ian Tomlinson.

Throughout much of the discussion I've seen online, both at the time and to this day, one word that crops up regularly is that of 'confidence': as in we no longer have a shred of it in the actions undertaken by the police. It makes sense at first - surely we should have confidence in the police to fulful their duties - but I fear using such a term blurs the issue somewhat.

Confidence implies trust, which in turn implies leaving the police to do their job and simply hoping they do it well. This doesn't go far enough though and simply upholds the current situation which is still open to abuse.

At the Blackheath Climate Camp we saw the police take a less offensive approach to protest in an effort to restore this confidence. For the overly trusting and easily placated it worked, but many activists, photographers and other members of the public are still badly treated.

As I said in a previous post about stop and search powers, even if the law were to change, belligerent attitudes that lead to power abuses are still rife within the police. Likewise, if the police were to begin behaving pleasantly again and win back our confidence the construction of the force and the framework in which they reside remains the same - ie, one in which we simply hope they don't do wrong.

The radical anti-authoritarian inside me says we should get rid of the police altogether but that would be ridiculous and clearly isn't going to happen. Instead, they should be transparent and accountable to us with more power in the hands of the citizenry to haul them across hot coals when they do wrong. The ridiculous concept of holding themselves to account through the IPCC should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Transparency is useless though while there are laws and regulations that place unnecessary, unjust or easily abused powers in their hands, such as anti-terror legislation. These too should be scrapped or amended. They should be the servants of the people not of the government or big business.

Likewise though, I struggle to see this happening anytime soon. As one Fitwatch blogger commented, it is up to us to hold the police to account. We need to be more vigilant, we need to turn the tables on them, keep up the hard work and investigation such as that which cleared Jake Smith's name. Partaking in Fitwatch activities and documenting abuses at protests is invaluable.

Regaining confidence is a half-hearted measure, rather it should be about doing the job properly, fairly and justly and rueing the consequences if they fail in their duty. We gave them the power, we should be able to take it back.

Digital Economy Bill: Letter to my MP

Anybody who follows me on twitter is probably aware of the utter ballache I've experienced trying to correspond with my MP, Patricia Hewitt. Seems her preferred manner of dealing with letters and emails that are, shall we say, not quite in line with her own principles, is to ignore them.

Nearly a month ago I wrote to her regarding the Digital Economy Bill. I never received a response and after calling her office a couple of days ago was told she never received it (lies, because I received an automated response saying she received my email).

Anyway, I've written again and have been promised by her office assistant that I'll get a response. Here's what I wrote to her, I'll publish her reply, if I get one, and we'll see if she's taken after many other MPs in completely ignoring the issues raised.

Dear Patricia Hewitt,

I write to you directly on the understanding that my correspondence via writetothem.com was lost in the ether. I hope you can therefore respond to this message swiftly, especially considering the pressing importance of the matter.

As I'm sure you are aware, the controversial Digital Economy Bill is due to go through 'wash-up' in Parliament on the 6th April, despite thousands of objections from people, many of whom are involved in the digital economy, including myself as both a student of and professional in new media.

There are numerous reasons to oppose the bill, including the draconian disconnection laws that bypass the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty and which also put at risk the open wifi networks used by countless universities, libraries and schools. As somebody who claims to be a supporter of civil liberties I trust you can see that such proposals are a grave concern.

Further, and perhaps more depressingly, is the manner in which the Bill is being ramrodded through Parliament without any proper debate, at the behest of the music industry. As this one particular blogger quite rightly identifies, many of the political faces behind the bill are unelected with links to industry. Now the bill looks likely to be rushed through Parliament in the wash-up, without any proper scrutiny.

The Bill has seen much public denouncement from many big businesses including all the major ISPs as well as other large internet organisations such as Google. The only people that stand to benefit from the bill are the music industry, who are failing to adapt to the changing environment, whilst many small businesses, educational institutions and normal people on the street will lose out. For a succinct yet detailed breakdown of why the bill is bad news may I suggest you read this blogpost by Paul Bradshaw.

In light of the depth of contempt held towards the bill in its current guise, the far reaching negative impacts it will have on civil liberties and the digital economy beyond the music industry and the undemocratic way in which it is being pursued, I urge you to stand up for democracy and prevent it being made law without any proper discussion. As a start, you may like to support Austin Mitchell MP's Early Day Motion that the bill not be taken any further in this Parliament.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Etc. etc.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Chevron win $700m damages

The Ecuadorian government will fight an arbitration ruling forcing them to pay Chevron $700 million in damages over trade disputes surrounding the company's past operations in the country.

The claim regards delays by Ecuador to settle contract disputes with Texaco in the '90s and is not to be confused with an ongoing arbitration case seeking to scupper a $27 billion lawsuit brought by the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Chevron bought Texaco in 2001 inheriting a legacy of widespread ecological devastation wrought by the oil giant, an act which is likely to wipe a fifth off its market value should an impending judgement rule in favour of the thousands of people affected by the toxic waste pits left in the rainforest around Lago Agrio.

Ecuador's attorney-general, Diego Garcia, said the arbitration case is: "a well orchestrated strategy by Chevron to evade its responsibilities ahead of the Ecuadorean courts’ eventual adverse decision for its possible responsibility in the destruction of the environment,”

There has been no statement yet from campaigners fighting the remediation lawsuit which Chevron recently gained permission to take to international arbitration in the Hague.

Yesterday's arbitration ruling demands Ecuador pay Chevron pay damages backdated to Dec 22, 2006 but this may be diminished by as much as 87%, according to Garcia, because of back taxes related to the contracts.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Is Earth past the tipping point?

A new video from the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment asks the question: Is Earth past the tipping point?

This follows a report published in Nature last year by 28 scientists who pointed out that Earth has ten separate biophysical systems that can define a "safe planetary operating space". Three of these biosphere systems have already suffered lasting, irreversible damage by human activity including biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle and the climate system.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Lawyers appeal Chevron's arbitration move

Chevron latest: More wriggling. Quelle surprise!

Lawyers representing thousands of indigenous people from the Ecuadorian Amazon who are suing Chevron for the dumping of toxic waste are to appeal a recent decision by a New York court to grant Chevron permission to international arbitration.

The American oil giant hope to prove they have been denied due process by the Ecuadorian judiciary which is expected to force them to stump up $27.3 billion in damages. This comes after having originally lavished praise on Ecuador's judicial system in order to have the lawsuit moved there from an American court.

Lack of due process presumably refers to prosecution of and sanctions against two of Chevron's lawyers, one of whom tried delaying the outcome of the trial by regularly re-filing legal motions that had already been denied.

Arbitration has been brought about by way of a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between Ecuador and the United States. According to the Opinio Juris blog, an arbitration ruling in Chevron's favour - despite not affecting the actual lawsuit in Ecuador - could give the company good ground to contest the enforcement of any judgement in the US. The multi-billion dollar bill could wipe up to a fifth off the market value of Chevron.

The latest death throe has prompted cries of "forum shopping" from campaigners, who also point out that indigenous peoples would be excluded from participating in arbitration thousands of miles away.

"Chevron's plan to try to resolve the legal claims of thousands of rainforest residents in a secret arbitration is a massive denial of due process," said Jonathon Abady, a representative of the plaintiffs. "After more than 17 years of litigation fraught with delay caused largely by Chevron itself, these individuals deserve to have their claims resolved in the forum that Chevron chose after relying for years on those promises.

"Chevron, because it faces an adverse judgment, is now looking for yet another forum to drag out this process and make good on its promise of a lifetime of litigation for the communities."

According to the Amazon Defense Coalition, campaigners hope to appeal on the grounds that Chevron are violating promises made to the US court when the suit was moved to Ecuador, including "a promise by Chevron to abide by jurisdiction in Ecuador and pay any judgment subject to certain enforcement provisions that do not include an international arbitration".

The Amazon peoples have been locked in a legal battle with Chevron for over fifteen years, who they hold responsible for the lives and ecology destroyed as a result of dumping by Texaco, a company Chevron took control of in 2001.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Children of Gaza

A guest post from Shahinaz Nabeeh on the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, "Children of Gaza"

The eyes of the orphaned Mohammed said it all. For an hour in Dispatches: Children of Gaza (Channel 4) they were defiant and angry, older than his 12 years. But at last the tears welled up, though he manfully fought them back. “I am not a terrorist, I am a Palestinian,” he declared. “Would they accept their children being fatherless… like us?”

Jezza Neumann’s film unflinchingly showed the aftermath of the Israeli campaign on Gaza in 2009, killing more than 1,300 innocent civilians, leaving families torn apart and lives left in limbo. It followed the impact on those left behind, youthful hearts toughened by the tragedy of war on their doorstep.

Young boys played mock war with toy rifles among the ruins of their former homes, but it did not take much of a leap of the imagination to fast forward a few years and picture those boys ready to die for their cause. For what Children of Gaza showed beyond anything else was how the desire for revenge is one of the few seeds to flourish among the tragedy and devastation.

“I hate everyone now… I used to love all people” said Mahmoud and it was heart breaking to see such torment in a boy who looked so young and innocent.

One girl, who watched her 9 year old brother get shot right in their home, was asked what she would wish for the most, she replied simply "To die, it would be better for me than to live like this"

This was not a film about taking sides. It was not about examining the complexities of the ongoing conflict, or indeed the unjust dealings of neighbouring Egypt. What it did do, with touching clarity, was to illustrate the futility of shooting bullets at a situation and expecting it to ever end through the eyes of those most innocent.

It is a story repeated around the world; a new generation is radicalised by the basic (and rightful) human need to avenge the wrongs done to them. At one point Mahmoud did talk about imagining a future where there is peace between the young generations. But It was hard to shake the feeling that, in the face of such pain and suffering, for him the moment has already passed.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Art of Protest

Thanks to @WarrenPearce for sending this my way, a mini-documentary about how protest and demonstration has been brought under the auspices of the state, to amount to little more than sanctioned and manipulated cathartic spectacles. That protesters in the UK must give seven days notice of any intended demonstration or risk imprisonment for failing to do so is entirely bizarre.

This disillusion is something I've been feeling myself for some time, piquing in the aftermath of Copenhagen. Previous demonstrations I've attended, chiefly processions along a predetermined route, have lacked any kind of sense of power, in so much as nine times out of ten those who have power will simply ignore us.*

At Copenhagen I questioned the point of some of the demonstrations, failing to see how they fit into any coherent process of enacting change. Now I question the point of attending these global summits as an activist. I firmly believe that you must be the change that you want to see; so in terms of moving towards a more equal society, this means taking things down to a community/grass roots level and applying those changes from the bottom up for the society we want.

Beyond that, summit chasing still has a role I feel, though I'm not entirely sure what role that is, beyond maybe seizing the publicity and letting leaders and the rest of the world know that we are unhappy, whilst also using the moment as an opportunity to make connections with other activists. (Not that this is a necessary space for these connections to be made)

Likewise, there are many other issues that can't be addressed in a bottom-up manner, like the anti-war movement for example, which requires immediate action against injustice. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of people in the streets can simply be ignored by a government who sit there safe in the knowledge that the boys in blue will police the demonstration and ensure it abides by health and safety regulations.

What is needed then is a different approach, one encompassing a myriad different facets that wrestles back control, that is spontaneous and enraging and that upsets the dominant spectacle.

* I think too many people confuse power with pressure. Power is the ability to make somebody do something that they otherwise wouldn't do. Pressure is trying to convince people to do that, but is only successful if the person on the receiving end is weak in their beliefs.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Crisis of Credit (Visualised)

Here's a great video which puts into layman's terms the causes of the financial crisis. If you were stumped before, hopefully this will clear a few things up.

Thanks to @hackofalltrades for the link.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Chevron: Attacking free speech and discrediting the judiciary

One of the toxic waste pits in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo by Rainforest Action Network

It's been a while since I wrote about the $27.3bn lawsuit being brought against Chevron by thousands of indigenous peoples in Ecuador whose lives have been ruined by the dumping of waste in the Amazon, but you won't be surprised to hear their record is still stuck.

The tenacious little scrotes at the multinational harbingers of toxic doom continue to duck and dive as they try desperately to avert an impending court decision that will likely wipe out a fifth of their market value.

What free speech?

Most recently Chevron sought to bolster their defences by hiring twelve public relations firms to undermine the case against them. Chevron already rely on the expertise of such companies as Hill and Knowlton, infamous for their role in defending the tobacco industry against cancer claims and Edelman, who have come under fire in the UK for greenwashing on behalf of E.on.

This new platoon of propaganda relayers have dived into their roles with all the zeal of your typical corporate whores, much to the chagrin of campaigners who see through the dirty tricks perpetrated by the callous and heartless liars at Chevron towers.

While Chevron clearly feel they have the right to flood the media with endless diatribes against the plaintiffs woe betide anybody who should exercise that same right of free speech to try and stem the tide. When the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) sponsored a print advertising campaign critical of Chevron the oil company called in the cavalry to trample over free speech by pressuring the New York Times and Washington Post not to publish the ads.

The advert, featuring a photograph of new CEO John Watson, said: "Oil men have polluted the Ecuadorean rainforest for decades. This man can do something about it now." The New York Times ignored Chevron and printed the ad whilst the Washington Post initially agreed to pull it before reversing that decision following questioning from environment campaigners. Depressingly, Getty Images succumbed to pressure from Chevron lawyers and lobbyists and withdrew permission for RAN to use one of their photos in the adverts.

Bare faced lying

Chevron's latest offensive returned to one of their favourite dirty tricks: trying to discredit Ecuadorian officials. A press release last week targeted a court-appointed damages assessor for the Ecuadorian judiciary investigating the case, Dr Richard Cabrera. "Newly discovered" evidence claimed his ownership of a remediation company put him in good stead to benefit from any decision invoking Chevron to pay for the clean-up operation. According to the It's Getting Hot in Here blog, it's the "29th official motion Chevron has made to the court to disqualify Cabrera but the court has never accepted Chevron’s arguments."

And with good reason. Cabrera explicitly disclosed his position as owner of a remediation company prior to the investigation - it's one of the reasons he was chosen to assess the situation. It wasn't only the judiciary who were impressed with his qualifications, so too were Chevron. That's why they were happy to pay his fees in an earlier part of the case as stipulated by court rules. Furthermore, through being involved in the case Cabrera would not be allowed to take a role in any future clean-up operation anyway.

This latest tactic is not too dissimilar to Chevron's attempt to discredit the presiding judge last autumn. Again, they claimed the judge was set to benefit from any decision against the oil company but serious questions over the supposed evidence undermine Chevron's argument. The Cabrera debacle is symptomatic of Chevron's belligerent desire to shirk responsibility by indulging in ad hominem attacks against the litigants rather than challenge the overwhelming evidence that blames Chevron for dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon. Lest we forget, Chevron initially praised the Ecuadorian judicial system they now subject to constant attack.

'Political solution to a legal problem'

Not that this flawed approach stopped the big wigs from wading in, with Chevron's General Counsel Hewitt Pate providing some muscle to the unsubstantiated claims against Cabrera. According to analysis from The Chevron Pit blog, his involvement reveals the politically motivated defence displayed by Chevron:
"Making up a press "event" out of facts that you misrepresent is a classic maneuver popularized by the Karl Rove School of politics. It turns out that Pate and his colleagues running the Chevron legal department all played central roles in the last Bush Administration. This is not a coincidence, as all of these individuals looked like they picked up a trick or two from Rove during their years of government service.

Chevron has a major distinction among the world's super-major oil companies: while most hire their general counsels from within their own legal department after years of service, or from prestigious outside law firms populated by lawyers experienced in the ways of the energy industry, Chevron stands alone in hiring political lawyers out of Republican Administrations. The last two general counsels for the company (Charles James and Pate) have been hand-plucked from the Bush administration's Justice Department, where they worked closely with former Attorney General John Ashcroft. James, who worked closely with Pate in Washington and hired him for Chevron, has a reputation from Washington to San Francisco as being a hard-right political ideologue.

James made the decision to hire as Chevron's deputy general counsel Jim Haynes, one of the Bush Administration "torture lawyers" under potential indictment in Spain and now unable to travel abroad for fear of arrest. While Chevron keeps Haynes swept under the rug for public image purposes, speculation on the street is that he is running the day to day in Chevron's in-house legal department. He clearly learned a lot about Chevron's conception of human rights by providing the legal justification for torture to a Rumsfeld-led Pentagon, where he served as General Counsel before being blocked by the Senate for a federal judgeship because of his infamous memo justifying waterboarding.

With these personnel moves, Chevron has elected to build a general counsel's office that is filled with right-wing lawyers who have relatively little experience in complex litigation matters. It turns out that since Chevron's legal team is led by political ideologues, the company is trying to find a political solution to a legal problem."

According to Chevron Pit, this is why Ecuador's increasingly desperate attempts to get the case moved away from Ecuador keep floundering. The US Federal Courts have smacked them down five times already and Chevron are currently seeking international arbitration to bring the case to a close, having most recently asked a US court to dimiss Ecuador's attempt to block such a move which would exclude many of the indigenous people from the process.

The damage was done in Ecuador, the case should be heard in Ecuador. The behaviour of Chevron is like that of a man who realises he's been well and truly caught red handed and will do anything to avoid his just desserts. It's high time Chevron quit their whining and let justice run its course.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

David Miliband's Short Term Memory

David Miliband appeared on Channel 4 News tonight to set the record straight about a government lawyer writing to the presiding judges of the Binyam Mohamed case asking them to adjust their draft judgement.

Miliband claimed that all legal propriety was adhered to and preached the independence of the nation's judiciary, saying: "There's something to defend about our political system, and one of the things to defend about our political system, is that we have an independent judiciary."

Well, that's funny, because he wasn't so keen on it being independent when a magistrate issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who was due to visit the UK late last year.

Following the magistrate's decision Miliband and the government suggested the law may be changed to protect foreign dignitaries by having to grant consent for such arrest warrants. Is that what he means by an independent judiciary?

Reading Links

Some more of what I've been reading the past week.

China's farms pollute as much as its factories
Over use of fertilizers to increase production on Chinese farms means they cause just as much pollution (of waterways) as other sources, such as power stations, according to a study released by the Chinese government.

Skeptical Science iPhone App
Often get into arguments with climate change skeptics? There's an app for that... The Skeptical Science blog have created an app (only for iPhone/iPod) that lets you pull up the science to counter down skeptics' arguments. It also includes a function to record which arguments skeptics use most frequently.

Appfrica: Coltan from the Congo to your mobile
Appfrica Labs have created a map to track the origins of coltan, a valuable mineral used in many electronic gadgets including mobile phones, most of which comes from the conflict torn Congo.

Climate change denier 'proves' climate change
Former US TV weatherman and climate change skeptic Anthony Watts inadvertently reinforced warming estimates when he set about collating temperature data from US weather stations in an effort to prove changes were due to the Urban Heat Island effect.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Why I'm Flying to America

I suppose I better explain myself. I'm going to the USA tomorrow, which means I'm going to be flying. Yes, an environmental activist is going to be flying. Why? To visit my girlfriend in Boston and tie in a trip to New York, a city I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember.

See, I'm a music fan - a big music fan - much of the music I listen to originates or has its roots in the USA. For many a year I've planned to visit the States, to take in the sights and sounds of Detroit, Chicago, New York and New Orleans. Consider it a personal pilgrimage to the heartland of an important part of my life. As far as I'm concerned this is a flight I was always going to make. Maybe not now, but definitely at some point in my lifetime.

Undoubtedly I believe flying needs to be stemmed before it snowballs beyond the 2% of emissions it's currently responsible for (and reduced beyond that). Whilst I don't believe anybody has the right to fly, nor do I believe it should be banned either. Many people have good reasons to, such as those who have close family in far flung places. Can we really deny them occasional flights to see loved ones? The flights we should be taking action against are those short haul and domestic flights, private jets and empty trans-atlantic flights. Bankers who cross the Atlantic ten times a year when they could do business via videolink. People who take three or four European city breaks a year. The 'planes bringing strawberries from Egypt to the UK in the middle of December.

Hand-in-hand with this though, of course, is the need to improve culture and infrastructure elsewhere. If we want to turn people away from flying between London and Edinburgh then we need better rail links while aviation stops avoiding the massive tax breaks that make it so cheap to fly. Similarly, attitudes need to change, so that we no longer consume out of season fruit from other continents or think it perfectly acceptable to rack up a massive annual carbon bill by flying to every corner of Europe. Perhaps we even need a carbon tax or rationing of airmiles, who knows..

This isn't going to be a frequent thing. I continue to make strides to reduce my carbon footprint elsewhere and when it comes to any future long distance travel I'll be more than happy to take the coach or train as I did to Copenhagen. I want (being the operative word, rather than need) to see much of the world and can do so by means other than flying should I decide to embark on these journies. But these very few trips that will almost certainly not be repeated nor regular unfortunately mean stepping on board that 'plane.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Reading w/e 17th January

Why we need a cultural revolution in consumption.
Hits the nail on the head. It's our rampant consumerism, the everlasting quest for further growth that is driving climate change. The inconvenient truth is we're all responsible but likewise we all have the power to stop it getting worse if we stop consuming as we do.

Environmental activists killed by mining companies in Latin America
Indymedia report on the death of an anti-mining protester in El Salvador. Activists in the Central American nation regularly receive death threats.

SMS Uprising: Mobile activism in Africa
Introductory chapter from a new book on the use of mobile phones by activists in Africa.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Move Your Money

As yet another raft of bankers' bonuses are due to be announced safe in the knowledge a doddering Chancellor will likely turn a blind eye it's time we the people had our way for a change.

Billy Bragg announced on twitter this morning his intention not to pay any tax until the disgrace is sorted by the government. On a facebook group called NoBonus4RBS, he writes:
"The estimated £1.5bn that RBS will pay to its investment bankers next month in the form of bonuses will ultimately be drawn from the taxes that you and I are due to pay on 31st January.

"Meanwhile, we are being softened up by the main political parties for painful cuts in public spending after the election.

"I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, to inform him that I am no longer prepared to fund the excessive bonuses of RBS investment bankers. Unless he acts to limit them to £25,000, I shall be withholding my tax payment on 31st January."

Bragg is encouraging people to join the campaign by writing to the Chancellor to inform him of their intention not to pay tax at the end of the month. It's a good idea, and withholding tax is probably one of the few levers we have to influence government, but how many people will realistically be prepared or informed enough to do this in the next two weeks? (Not to mention many people pay tax as they earn).

But maybe it will gather some momentum and heap pressure on Darling who, you never know, may actually pull his finger out of his arse and clampdown on the banks.

Looking to the longer term, Arianna Huffington and friends have come up with a great idea for punishing the banks which are "too big to fail" - move your money to the banks on 'Main St'.

Taking inspiration from the film It's a Wonderful Life the idea revolves around moving money from the big Wall St banks who feed from the taxpayers' pot to small town banks instead. See the video above

Arianna writes:
We talked about the outrage of big, bailed-out banks turning around and spending millions of dollars on lobbying to gut or kill financial reform -- including "too big to fail" legislation and regulation of the derivatives that played such a huge part in the meltdown. And as we contrasted that with the efforts of local banks to show that you can both be profitable and have a positive impact on the community, an idea took hold: why don't we take our money out of these big banks and put them into community banks? And what, we asked ourselves, would happen if lots of people around America decided to do the same thing? Our money has been used to make the system worse -- what if we used it to make the system better?

"The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the Big Six banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it's meant to be. It's neither Left nor Right -- it's populism at its best."

While I don't necessarily agree with the concept of growth, short of revolution we're unlikely to see much far reaching reform of the financial system anytime soon, so why not take things into our own hands and hurt the big banks? The idea only refers to the US but British taxpayers have also had to witness blatant acts of theft in the form of gargantuan bonuses - maybe we could move our money too?

For more information, see www.moveyourmoney.info

Friday, 15 January 2010

Riot police used on Spanish tourists at Gatwick

Photo by Dunechaser

Here's a story that hasn't got much attention in the UK press this week. Over one hundred Spanish tourists were forcibly evicted from Gatwick Airport by riot police after protesting about a last minute flight cancellation. Police were called to move the tourists when they refused to leave the building without the guarantee of being put on a new flight. (Their airline was Ryanair. Go figure.)

According to one of the tourists, they were even threatened with tear gas. How very nice of the British police?

As Juliette Lucie said on Twitter: "this is why all citizens should have worried when they started to clamp down on activists. They failed to see they were next."

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A Message from Ecuador

"We don't want to continue dying of cancer."

The Ecuadorian communities fighting a lawsuit against oil giant Chevron have made this video especially for new CEO, John Watson. The video follows an open letter to Watson from campaigners Amazon Watch at the end of last year.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

On Section 44

Image by engineroomblog

The European Court on Human Rights has ruled the arbitrary use of stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 illegal but for protesters who are regularly the victim of this law it may still be business as usual.

The judgement is indeed welcome and a blow to a government who have come under increasing pressure for their intrusion on civil liberties. Home Secretary Alan Johnson has expressed his disappointment and stated the government's intention to appeal. However, should the appeal fail and a law change occur this doesn't equate to an attitudinal change. For many police officers protesters are still considered a nuisance, despite protest being an essential part of democracy.

The Met in particular, who are the most frequent abusers of Section 44, are yet to issue any orders on curtailing searches. In a similar situation last summer the Met had to clarify for their troops a new law on photography in public places yet we continue to see photographers stopped and searched on an almost weekly basis. The European Court ruling is somewhat different, but the way photographers are treated despite advice from on high reveals the resentment from an increasingly authoritarian police force.

Beyond the use of stop and search laws is the issue of domestic extremism and a national database of protesters, which the Guardian highlighted in an investigation late last year. 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."

In a Dispatches documentary on the policing of protest Met Commander Bob Broadhurst showed his utter contempt for protesters in his unflinching support for such tactics as kettling peaceful demonstrations. In the words of blogger Copwatcher, Broadhurst displayed his "cluelessness and why he should never be left in charge of another public order situation".

The criminalisation and demonisation of protesters also creeps into government itself. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, laughed off the branding of "domestic extremists", saying: "If the police want to use that as a term, I certainly wouldn't fall to the floor clutching my box of Kleenex."

This repugnant attitude even transcends law and into media relations that border on psychological warfare. In the approach to the G20 the media was awash with statements from the police about an impending "Summer of Rage", a police fabrication intended to deter peaceful protesters from taking to the streets. They even talked about the likelihood of rain to ward off the fair weather activists.

Let's not forget, this law is first and foremost about fighting terrorism (albeit an abstract and indefineable concept of terrorism). The climate of fear, perpetuated and amplified by those in power, is still tangible, even more so following the failed airline attack on Christmas Day. The likelihood of the government relaxing their stance on security is similar to that of a snowball passing through Dante's nine circles intact.

In this wider environment, while this attitude towards protest remains, the police and government will continue to stifle and intimidate through existing powers and who knows, even by creating new ones.