Wednesday, February 28, 2007

News Everyone!


Good News Everyone!

Jay Kay calls it a day

Jamiroquai frontman plans to spend his musical retirement up in the clouds searching for love

"All I'm going to do now is fly my helicopter and look for the right lady to have children with."

With that image of a 37-year-old man roaming the skies with a powerful telescope, Jay Kay yesterday announced his intention to retire from music. For the time being at least.


Bad News Everyone!

The sell-off on global stock markets has continued today amid fears over the US and Chinese economies - the twin engines of global growth - and possible US airstrikes against Iran.

European shares slid in early trade today after sharp declines in US shares yesterday and stock markets across Asia overnight. The UK's FTSE 100 index lost 1.6% in early trading after a 2.3% drop yesterday, the sharpest fall since June.

In France the Cac 40 index shed 2%. Spooked by a collapse in Chinese shares on Tuesday, weak US manufacturing data, Wall Street suffered its biggest one-day fall yesterday since the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.


Predicted by some, this recession could be dangerous. The last set of recessions between 1998-2001, were mostly kept within national bounds. But it may now be time to call in the massive debt financed US consumer boom, which then knocks on to China, it's banks are financing that boom, which then knocks on to any country supplying raw materials for China's current industrialisation... At least, that's how it could happen.

How will the various ruling classes respond to a global recession? This decade, a time of slow and slim growth in Europe and America, the answer to competition from the east has been to crack the whip: shift the tax burden, cut social provision, force people to work longer, harder and for less.

What would a recession mean for us? We shall see.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Labour Party Weird Weekends

The Labour Party prides itself on delivering 'reform' within the context of the British constitution, such as it is. No Labour government was ever going to change the constitution, least not subtantially. That would be absurd, as absurd as the Queen reading her speech to Parliament saying:

"And, finally, my government will introduce a bill to abolish myself and my family".

A constitution is based on a number of simple rights, the right to freedom of expression, the freedom of organisation and of assembly etc. These rights are, of course, mediated by social relations. Everybody's entitled to their opinion, it's just that Rupert Murdoch is entitled to 41% of the print media, which broadcasts his opinions to millions daily.

The right of asylum is essential to any constitution. It goes back beyond christianity, right back to pagan times, when a wanted man could seek sanctuary in any temple. The right of asylum does not include the right of the state to refuse asylum, either you offer it or you don't. Either people are entitled to their physical integrity, or they can be taken away by the state at any moment.

Which, for many in Britain now, is an increasingly justified fear. It is perverse, and should be a source of shame that Labour ministers are proud of something like this:

The total number of asylum applications in the UK fell by 9% to 23,520 during 2006, Home Office figures showed today.

Over the whole year, 16% more failed asylum seekers were removed from the country, although the government failed to meet its own target for removals during the final two quarters of the year.

Overall, the immigration minister, Liam Byrne, said, the report was "a substantial achievement, and shows how far we have come since asylum applications were at their peak in 2002.


Liam Byrne is a vile man, who ran a dog whistle campaign to get elected in a 2004 by-election in Birmingham. You can guess what kind of material he was putting out by the fact it was draped in St George's Crosses and was called "Labour - On Your Side"

Cheney targeted by Taleban bomber

D'oh missed!

Theft is good


And so is this rather spiffing new blog. I don't know who's behind it, but they seem to know me, and I suggest everyone peruse it thoroughly.

Sign up to be sent to Afghanistan today


Steve Bell hits the nail on the head again

Monday, February 26, 2007

You wouldn'thave known there was 100,000 on the streets on Saturday

Because here's what the BBC finds important - A triumphant return for the 'who gives a fuck' awards:

Skull man suffered bad toothache
Clues hunt after empty house fire
Smoke alarm alerts family to fire
Coastal path walker breaks ankle
Dog owner fined over pet's mess
Clothes created from train seats

The HAHA! awards: Number 1 - Anita Roddick

I''ve been snowed under recently, and so this may be seen as old news, but I still think it's bloody funny.

You see, Body Shop founder and all-round hypocrite Anita Roddick has hepatitis.

Hypocrite, incicentally, because one of the phrases used by the Body Shop is 'defend human rights'. Its mission statement includes 'making fun, passion and care part of our daily lives'. This commitment always ended when it came to her own staff however, as trades unions were banned under her, with appauling working conditions. Details of how workers in Body Shop subsidiary Soapworks were treated can be found here and here.

Let's all wish her a nice painful death.

US accused of what they're obviously planning to do...

By Seymour Hersh. In the New Yorker. Rehashed by the Grauniad. Plans include:

· Clandestine operations against Iran and Syria, as well as the Hizbullah movement in Lebanon - even to the extent of bolstering Sunni extremist groups that are sympathetic to al-Qaida

· Sending US special forces into Iranian territory in pursuit of Iranian operatives, as well as to gather intelligence

· Secret operations are being funded by Saudi Arabia to avoid scrutiny by Congress. "There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions," Hersh quotes a Pentagon consultant as saying.


As well as a bombing campaign that can be geared up within 24 hours. Don't forget, when George Bush works with the Saudis and Sunni groups sympathetic to al-Qaida it's all in the name of democracy and human rights.

As for Saturday's demo, Roobin's estimate was that it was one and a half hours long (Manchester was 47 minutes long, I timed it). Now, a London demo should be bigger than a Manchester demo. I still think this is an upswing in the movement, likely to get bigger if Bush and Blair mount an Iran build up. We must discuss now, in our STwc groups, what we want to do in such an eventuality, including mass civil disobedience, building and road occupations, walk-outs, and how we're going to get them. The people on the demo were certainly keen to up the stakes.

The Encyclopedia Somthingorotha

Me and da crew have been toying with the idea of of an annotated faux-marxese bluster chart (bluster chart ML, thank you very much). Now, thanks to a mass debate over at The Tomb (see comment box) we're going to go ahead. All contributions are welcome, except for the ones that aren't. In lieu of a preface I'd also like to point out:

A report into a fiscal analysis of the bureaucracy attaining to the rhythmical structures relevant to the building of a new Leninist movement and party structure within the mass movement, popular front, united-disunited Trotskyist movement which exists today in the petit-bourgeious anti-war-vacilliating-petit-banana grouping.


Oh my yes!

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA WHATEVERSOMETHINGOROTHA

"Local People's Assemblies" - 1. Workers Power plus Anarchists equals good times for all 2. Fings what are a bit like in Latin America.
"Permanent Revolution" - means revolution all the time.
"Bonapartist" - One person in charge.
"Left Bonapartist" - And he wears a funky cap.
"Dialectic" - Complicated.
"Revolutionary" - Noisy.
"Populist" (see also "Popular Front") - 1. An organisation that does not repeat timeworn phrases 2. An organisation that doesn't repeat timeworn phrases and is relatively popular.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Fuck the police

The senior police officer behind the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting - Cresseda Dick (recently promoted) attended the anti-guncrime demo in Peckham yesterday. Ain't life grand?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Argh! I've spawned a polemic...!

And I thought they'd just let me whitter on 'till the sun swallows us all. Read, comrades.

Meanwhile (there's that word again) I've written a response. I'm quite pleased with it... So here it is (slightly adapted):

"Blur took that image not as a reflection of their own background but as what they wanted to be seen as".


What we've got here is the old argument is it better to be sincere or plausible. Blur were about artifice, so was David Bowie, but no-one complains. Oasis, great band though they were, could not sustain themselves for more than an album and a half, they were true to themselves and nothing more.

From the start of Modern Life... to about half-way through Thirteen Blur made music that would stand up against any other artist(s) music at their height. What's more (and what you don't comment on) is the societal critique emerging in their music, one which is starting to come to fruition only today. Oasis were never and could never be part of that. It wasn't in them. They didn't have the perspective, let alone the musical skill. It was Noel Gallagher who went to the Downing Street lunch, not Damon, and he was invited.

The past that Blur's music was rooted in (exactly the same past as Oasis's music also, but I'll get on to that later) was an ambiguous past, because, for all its glories, it delivered us to where we are today. The choices that the British working class made (as far as it could collectively 'make' a decision) over the years, the compromises of the forties and the seventies brought gains such as municipal socialism, comprehensive education and the NHS etc, but it also spawned neo-liberalism, the ruling class onslaught.

The real dichotomy, unfortunately, was not Oasis vs Blur (that was just a press angle, which is how cheap and lazy journalists are, but, hey, they only get to write history), it was Britpop vs Grunge. That was what excited me at the time. I cut my hair, polished my shoes, adapted my school uniform. I felt why be a slacker when you could look sharp?

Despite the arguably backward looking, 'nostalgic' music, Blur's best albums, the 'Life Trilogy' are about the modern life, and they're not happy albums.

Nostalgia is a latin word. It means 'return to pain'.

Saturday 24th Feburary

Get all the troops out now.

Prodi resigns, Blair vacilliates

Now this is very interesting , Prodi, the social democrat in Italy has resigned over sending troops to Afghanistan

Members of Mr. Prodi's own left-wing coalition threatened to defeat the bill over its pledge to keep 1,800 troops in Afghanistan and to allow the United States to expand a military base in northern Italy -- both highly unpopular positions that have led to mass anti-U.S. protests in Italy in recent days.


And why can't we have a Labour Party here that sticks the knife into it's leader that quickly? The answer appears to be with the strength of the anti-war movement in Italy. Looks like the anti-war movement in Italy has found new lightning rods for it's movement to rally around, like the massive rally in Vicenza, where they are planning to build this new base.

Oh and Blair has decided maybe the troops won't be leaving at all, after deciding yesterday that 1,500 needed to come home by April. Blair tried to assert that the Iraqi security situation was getting better, which makes for an interesting psycho-analysis case study. It becomes still all the more important to get the numbers out for the demonstration this Saturday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Starshapes


At the very end of Starshaped, Blur's first and probably last tour video, Damon and Graham are teasing a goth. She's a bit posh, and a bit drunk. She staggers up to them and eventually asks, "so what are your influences?"

Damon, cocky, picks up the bottle she's holding and says "well, the fact that coke became diet..."

"The fact that coke became peach schapps, actually". That told him. "But what are your influences?"

But it wasn't that bad and answer as it happens.

Starshaped is an important document (in the Blur universe: only passable film mind you). It shows Blur in transformation from a mid-league baggy band into a sharp, mod influenced group, about to enter their imperial phase.

In every Blur history the crucial period is cited as their 1992 tour of America. Blur's record company decided it was going to break them with a series of remix singles. They were supposed to be part of the "second British invasion", a microtrend which lasted about as long as EMF's sole hit Unbelievable.

Though not the same as the alienation suffered by the working class, however, the sense of unease and disorientation felt by Blur at this stage (throughout Blur's imperial phase, 93-95, Damon suffered from panic attacks) was very similar to a lot of musicians manipulated by major labels. This combined with a badly organised tour, a spendthrift manager, some dangerous alcoholism and the continual level of cultural insensitivity from the rest of the industry (promoters, pluggers, DJs etc) to thoroughly repel the band.

Instead, they were pushed into a kind of (what must have seemed like) musical irridentism. By the time they re-emerged, through an excellent flop-single (Popscene: the great lost Britpop song), into the light with For Tomorrow, a song halfway between the Kinks and ELO, some of the press were wondering has Damon lost his marbles? He hadn't.

The appeal of Britpop, in my opinion, apart from its pretty much diametric opposition to rave (you know, words, chords, tunes even!) was firstly it was a trend which looked to the past in order to inform the future. The poorer fall out from punk was the year zero attitude, which combined with post-modern ideas of ecclectism to create a very slapdash musical culture, where the past only existed as a shopping mall for spotty DJs to ramraid for samples. Everything was flat. There was no past. There certainly was no future to be bothered about. There was just the big long now to get lost in and enjoy.

And, yet, Blur were declaring Modern Life to be Rubbish (imagine the the effect it had on a teenage Roobin: I thought I was the only one). The characters in their songs were clinging on to city life, holding on for tomorrow. Progress? Change? A future? How quaint?

In this the beginnings of anti-capitalist critique was being formed. One of the first press releases from the new and spruced Blur was this:



This had the misfortune to come out around the same time as the election of a nazi in East London. The allegations of their "flirting with fascism" were a bit silly, a kind of a hangover from 80s identity politics. What they were actually flirting with was a proletarian/plebian mod look. In the photo book that came out from their Parklife tour, Damon discussed the mod look as ordinary people trying to outsmart the city gents. Class consciousness, that was the handle!

They were also deliberately rejecting a form of culture, identified as 'American'. They did not plunge headlong into simple flag waiving nationalism (or fascism). The 'Britishness' they embraced was ambiguous. Parklife, for example, was about an unemployed man (there were a lot of unemployed people in the early nineties), not a rockstar gorging on a champagne supernova.

Blur, eventually, rightly, backed off from the notion of monolithic American culture. By the time the Great Escape was released and toured the target was not America but its most deadening products, fast food and malls, alienation and violence. These are global problems. The inner sleeve of that album (which, conveniently I can't find anywhere on google images) is peppered with spoof logos and deliberately stilted photos that look like brochures. These pre-date (at least in popular consciousness) things like Culturejammers and and Banksy, other examples of halting, first steps at an anti-capitalist critique of commodification and alienation.

Anyway, please enjoy The Universal. One of Blur's best songs. Surprising, for a song about the sheer doped-up lifelessness of the nineties, its very uplifting:

Monday, February 19, 2007

And you'd be a fool or a communist to disagree...

Britain has a hereditary head of state. Despite what some people say, this hasn't always been the case. Me myself, I'm quite partial to the period politely called 'the interregnum'.

But, that kind of nonsense is well behind us. The monarchy was restored and is loved by all. Which is why everyone is so concerned for the brave Prince Harry's safety in Iraq (no doubt he'll get protective armour). He is third in line to the throne, you understand? You may quibble, but, isn't it wonderful that someone with just two a-levels can fly so high? And, you may wonder, what is he prince of. Turn's out he's the prince of punk (punks being well known for their royalism).

But, there's more! Fourth in line is the Duke of York, then his children; then prince Edward, then Princess Anne (who, despite being part of the International Olympic Committee and the London Olympic Committee, could never have been part of any corruption scandals).

Further down, at number 58 is King Harald of Norway and, below him, a number of assorted European royals, Habsburgs, Holzhausens and Hohenzollerns, Oldenburgs, etc. 66th in line is a Norwegian woman called Raggi Lorentzen, the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and owner of two tapas bars in downtown San Francisco.

So, if enough people died, in the right order, she would become Queen. This is the best way to select a head of state, and you'd be a fool or a communist to disagree.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

From D'Indie

Here

Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian American Council and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, believes the Bush administration has been persuaded to act now, not as a result simply of Iran's purported nuclear ambitions, but because Washington perceives that Iran has emerged as a regional power. "The Bush administration has so undermined the US's influence that Iran has become a contender for dominance - at least in the eyes of the US. There is a major push-back against Iran. The problem is that it ... will not fix Iraq," he said.

Which certainly chimes with what Galloway's been saying recently. Two years ago, when Tariq Ali felt inclined to grace us with his presence at rallies, insisted the Iraq invasion could not have gone ahead without the say-so of the Iranian government. I've found the Iran 'issue' to be the cutting edge of agitation. It's what people are thinking about, at least consciously anti-war people, and they are worried. If Saturday's demo gets enough air under it it should really take off.

Kurt Cobain at 40

This Tuesday... Hmm



Which means the rest of Blur will turn 40 within 18 months. That settles it! Before the week's out you'll have one on Blur, oh my yes!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Oh my, no...



Milli Vanilli: the movie

Zoologists plan 'ark' to save frogs from extinction

Man admits illegally burying dogs

Johansson receives Hasty Pudding

Fox launches rightwing satire show (Roobin's note: the first episode includes jokes about how Barack Obama's initials are BO)

Kim Jong Il Unfolds Into Giant Robot Ok, so the source isn't so reliable on that one...

Three Cheers for Democracy!

While we're on the subject of the alleged restoration of democracy in the Middle East:

Palestinian ministers face blanket US ban

American officials have told the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, that they will boycott all ministers in a new coalition cabinet unless the government meets international conditions, including recognition of Israel, Palestinian officials said yesterday.


Which is a fine thing indeed. The Americans are fighting for democracy in Iraq (at least I think that's this month's justification), meanwhile they are supporting the confessional based government in Lebanon (based on a 1932 census) against the masses and starving the Palestinians for voting for the wrong party.

Fatah and Hamas have fought in various ways for the past year, strikes, armed uprisings... even diplomatic manoeuvring. They have fought to a stalemate. So, naturally, this means a power sharing agreement until one or the other can get the upper hand again. But this isn't good enough for the 'international community'. Oh no.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Brought to you by:


THE SPACE POPE

Really...? Honestly...?

I've been asking people about and generally agitating (as they in the vernacular) around the renewed huffing and puffing from Bush/Blair etc about the Iran dossier (all six pages of it). No-one I know or have met has been taken in by it, maybe I don't meet enough people, who knows? Quite likely, few people even care. What, the government are lying? Really? Honestly?

Anti-war bods should care. Not only do these grainy photos of shells with "Made in Ira..." stamped on them 'explain' the Iraqi resistance they help justify future war with Iran, shoring up that other difficult argument, explaining why a country conclusively proven NOT to have nuclear weapons might just manage build some within ten years if they can get away with it... so we have to bomb now.

But, what is the real acid test for this argument? Iran's chief involvement in Iraq is through the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution and the Badr Brigades, which have been working for the occupation and puppet government for the last three years. I don't know if Marxists regard occam's razor as a suitable test. It seems to work here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I can feel a big one brewing

But it's not ready yet. In the meantime you'll have to make do with gruff comments on Guardian articles. One:

'Respect tsar' is No 10's favourite to take over youth justice board

The word Tsar has become currency again amongst governmenttaskforcebrainstormingzappyproblemshooters etc. Strangely enough it has a positive connotation now, 'least for some it does. I suppose you can't be too down on this kind of work:

Tony Blair is believed to be keen that Ms Casey take over the £85,000 a year, three-day-a-week job - to secure both her future, and the drive to tackle anti-social behaviour...

Yes it's a hard life. But how did she come across the job in the first place?

Prof Morgan, [previous incumbent] who had not met John Reid since he began as home secretary last May, made a scathing attack on criminal justice policies, which he said had swamped youth courts and children's prisons with minor offenders; he warned Home Office ministers that building ever more prisons was "the counsel of despair", and criticised demonisation of teenagers as "yobs".

Meanwhile, the coup in Palestine is almost complete. Hamas's foreign head is now arguing for the Palestinian government to 'respect' previous agreements and treaties. The only thing that's missing is the PA accepting Israel's 'right' to exist.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Good Shit...

Or A Marxist Analysis of the Simpsons

Meanwhile, new blog titles, as before feel free to use none or any of the below:

Back to Winnipeg
Entirely Made of Jam
The Crisp Box
Juggling Turtle Poo
Lisa and the Lizard Queen
Peabo Van Der Donk's Hour of Power
Tattoos, Dogs, Snakes and Monkeys
Jeffery Archer - the mega mix
The Playfair Phonetree
Noisy Blog
Sgt Pepper Wants You... to Fuck Off!

Monday Round-up, like

I had had half a mind to finish the bios section today with a little piece on the Ragged Trousered Pessimist (now outed as Keith Watermelon) but these things take time and, anyway, monday's best as cheapstoryroundupday.

The battle is on...

Really, which battle?

Obama unveils bid for White House...

Well, dun, dun, duh!

We discover that:

'I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America,' he [Obama] told a cheering crowd in Springfield, Illinois. His audience responded by shouting his name loudly, waving banners declaring 'Obama 08' emblazoned with a symbol resembling a rising sun.

The sun you say? Paul Harris (presumably the fashion correspondant on his day off) notes:

Obama cut a dashing figure in blinding sunshine on a freezing midwinter day. He stood on stage at the start of his speech with his wife and two daughters acknowledging the crowd. They cheered for several minutes before he had even spoken. Some had come from as far as Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.

Arkansas you say? The only thing the guy seemed to actually say was:

He condemned the war in Iraq and said he had a plan that would end US military involvement in the conflict by March, 2008. 'It is time to start bringing our troops home,' he said. He also slammed lobbyists and corporate influence on politicians: 'They think they own our government, but we are here to take it back.'

So far, so vapid. You might detect a familiar tone in this report. I first noticed it when I read the intro to The Politics of Harold Wilson, where Paul Foot compares old Harold to JFK. In such course he takes some time to lash the bubbleheaded liberal journo response to JFK regime. Ooh the power, ooh the charm, ooh there's nothing to actually write about. I think I'll write about his cufflinks, or, perhaps, the snow outside.

But, no I was wrong. It turns out Barack Obama is Hugo Chavez in disguise, or, at least Australian PM John Howard thinks so:

Mr Howard said: "I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory," Mr Howard said in a television interview. "If I were running al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying ... for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."

Yes, crude stupidity can cross continents too... That's if we give Howard the credit for believing such a dumb proposition. Either way, he need not have bothered, given the flimsy response from the Obama camp:

Robert Gibbs, Mr Obama's press secretary, said Mr Howard was not in a position to be overly critical. "If prime minister Howard truly believes what he says, perhaps his country should find its way to contribute more than just 1,400 troops so some American troops can come home. It's easy to talk tough when it's not your country or your troops making the sacrifice."

Which is just another illustration that the higher levels of the Democratic party are not anti-war, they're just concerned that the war is unpopular, which it is. This should make independent anti-war campaigning a priority for American lefties. Or will they do what they did four years ago, and turn the movement over to the Dems eventual presidential candidate to do as (s)he chooses?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Let's leep this tedious bandwagon rolling...

What again? We've had to do this before, you know! In honour of the fact that blogging rewards stamina rather than skill (see Zoidberg's recent retirement, coindident with the sudden leap in hits on our blog) here's another set of mundane/insane headlines:

Drivers see point of speed course
Hospital warning over pen orders
Italy mystery of prehistoric hug
Veteran in Trident Queen protest
Is Manchester Better Than Birmingham?
Cuba's Castro 'able to eat again'

Friday, February 09, 2007

In Hindsight

Ask many mainstream media type or politico about Iraq and they'll say something along the lines of "in hindsight - mumble mumble - there were no weapons of mass destruction - rhubarb stare at a spot on the ceiling deep breath - however we're in there now - harumph - reconstruction, democracy, new Labour new Iraq, tolerance and shiny bells".

Hindsight is, of course, 20-20.

One of the things I'm proudest of is that some of us had foresight:

Speaking of hindsight/foresight, Chief Loony Tony Blair 'regrets' not having kept a diary during his time in Number Ten. Given the old rule of the politbureau, never write anything down that could be used against you later, it was probably a wise decision on his part. However we do also learn that:

He left no doubt he would not be reforming his student rock band Ugly Rumours, telling Fry: "I think that would be very bad news for music in general and popular music in particular."

One project he does have for his retirement from politics is to learn a bit more about computers, he revealed.

Unlike other ministers who carry a laptop in their red boxes, Mr Blair said he still needed to "devote a lot of time" to learning how to use new technology.

Also, the thing he likes most about America (and, man, does he love America!) is:

People are very comfortable - whether they are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, whatever their religious faith - thinking that at a certain level the values of tolerance and respect for other people and the basic common articles of decency that make a society worthwhile, those are things that people share in common.

Repeat after me All Your Base Are Belong To Us... All Your Base Are Belong To Us...

Another plot foiled


with thanks to Brisso

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chutzpah...

Or as Bill Hicks once said: "jesus, what balls!"

Check 'dis:

Tony Blair has rejected claims that the UK is a "police state for Muslims" as "categorically wrong".

Abu Bakr, who was arrested, questioned and then released without charge over an alleged kidnap plot, made the remarks on BBC Two's Newsnight.

Buuuuuuuut:

Chancellor Gordon Brown described Mr Bakr's comments as "unacceptable".
Commons leader Jack Straw also attacked the claims during business questions in the Commons.

He told MPs: "We should not give excuse or quarter to those who claim this country is a police state - that is absolute, utter nonsense.

Meanwhile, Mr Bakr, a mere member of the public who knows nothing about these issues said:

He became aware of the police forcing their way into his house early on Wednesday last week by his wife screaming.

He added that he had been released by police a week later and told to "go back to things how they were".

"But they don't realise that, after seven days of virtual torture for my family, it's going to be hard to readjust," Mr Bakr said.

"This is going to affect me for the rest of my life."

Mr Bakr said his parents had told him they had aged 10 years while he had been in custody.
He also criticised what he called "amateur-type interrogation" by the police who, he said, had subjected him to "random questioning" about notes written on pieces of paper by his young children.


Thanx to da Tomb.

The scramble for Africa

Charlie Kimber and Gavin Capps reported for the SW from the recent WSF in Nairobi. The defining factor in Africa, as they saw it, was a new scramble for resources, such as in this article about platinum mining. It is a scramble between western nations and China.

Clearly the struggle is at an early stage. Africa is rich in resources but, in the last 30 years, has been decimated economically. The bulk of natural resources are still mined in the global north. The example of platinum is highly unusual, being highly sought after but 95% of its reserves being found in two countries. So the new scramble for Africa will presumably take place over decades.

There is a pressing need in China to find new outlets for its capital. As Chris Harman notes in the latest ISJ:

Pressures on profitability are concealed by the willingness of the banking system to take on an ever greater number of bad debts. The official figures for ‘non-performing loans’ in the Chinese banking system vary between the official figure of 20 percent of the total loans, and some unofficial estimates suggesting they amount to 45 percent of GDP.

There is massive overcapacity in the Chinese economy. Some of this capital can be shirked off into financing a consumer boom in the USA, but this doesn't constitute a productive outlet and ties China to its main rival. All this makes for a growing Chinese financial imperialism, Chinese finance scoping the globe for profits.

Which sounds plausible to me. Especially when you see little stories like this and this in the Grauniad:

Britain has warned China that its offer of billions of dollars in unconditional aid and cheap loans to African governments risks driving back into debt countries that have only just benefited from debt relief, and undermines efforts to create democratic and accountable administrations.

The international development secretary, Hilary Benn, on a visit to Malawi, told the Guardian that Britain has already made its concerns known to Beijing but that it is planning to "ratchet up" the level of representation on the issue.

Somewhere down the line the Chinese authorities will want to put troops in Africa to guard their investments.



Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The relationship with America is what opens doors everywhere



You can always rely on the Indie for a good front page (and the occasional interesting comment piece). The Grauniad has some nice contrasts of light and shade from the mysteryworld of Anthony Lynton Blair:

Tony Blair today insisted that the option of military action against Iran should not be taken "off the table" - as he issued a stern reprimand to the Tehran regime for its nuclear strategy and for fomenting unrest in the region.

The prime minister warned that Iran was "in danger of making a miscalculation" through its defiance of the international community.

But Mr Blair told senior MPs that "nobody is talking about or planning military intervention", a position reiterated by the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, last week.

What cool, exotic language "in danger of making a miscalculation". All we need to complete the picture is an eye patch and a white persian cat (persian, oh the irony). So "action" is not "off the table", presumably it's on the table. Or, perhaps Blair has taken up dialectics and noticed that said "action" is in motion by its internal contradictions. It could then be either in the process of coming off or onto the table. In which case, enlighten us, oh great leader.

If nobody is planning a military intervention (again with the cool, exotic language) then this would be hard to explain:

Gunmen wearing Iraqi uniforms seized an Iranian diplomat in central Baghdad at the weekend, the government in Tehran said today, blaming the kidnapping on troops acting on US orders.

Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy, was seized on Sunday by forces operating "under the supervision of the American forces in Iraq", an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said.

Especially on the back of this:

Last month, US forces detained five Iranians in northern Iraq, accusing them of having links to an Iranian military faction blamed for funding and arming Iraqi militants. Iran insisted they were diplomats and should be released.

If someone so much as wafted a glove at an American diplomat there'd be a carpet bombing sortee headed their way before you could say Slim Pickens.

In this situation, with a demo coming up, it'd be the done thing to link to Stop the War again, which I just have. But, don't just come to the demo, try to build up your local groups. Part of the stink coming off the Labour party is the 200,000 lost members and 4 million lost votes. Things won't really begin to shift in Britain until those former members and supporters are given a political home and direction. If we are trying to break the link between British and American foreign policy, we need all the help we can get.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Prison violence soars by 600%

I would have posted something about this yesterday but something was up with Blogger (also, how do we get rid of this nonsense with the links section?). However, it's still an outrage today:

New figures released today show that prison violence has soared 600% in a decade - as the government appeared to be fighting moves to make prison governors liable for deaths in jails.

The home secretary, John Reid, revealed that violent incidents in British jails - now at maximum capacity - had reached nearly 14,000 a year, up from 2,342 in 1996.

Which co-incides, more or less, with the 'prison works' campaign, started by Michael Howard and continued under Labour home secretaries. Also, see here:

Meanwhile, peers in the House of Lords debating new manslaughter legislation today are expected to extend the bill to cover deaths in jail.

Unconfirmed reports have suggested that the government is willing to pull the entire bill, already delayed by nearly a decade, rather than allow prison governors to face possible manslaughter charges.


The corporate manslaughter laws are already a joke when the police are virtually exempt and fat-cats, such as the rail-chiefs in charge during the Hatfield and Potters Bar disasters, can walk free from prosecution, but ten years... TEN YEARS.

The 'justice' system is being transformed ever more into a giant hoover, sucking up the poor, addicted and mentally ill, as Blair tries to complete his legacy, making Britain safe for the middle class to shop in.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Duck and Cover

Bob Geldof has twice taken on poverty. Poverty won both times. Now he's launching a TV channel to promote world peace:

The digital managing director of Ten Alps, Nigel Dacre, said that the channel - which has yet to be named - will be truly international.

"Our view is that it should be online as far around the world as possible. But we're doing work on
broadband penetration and have found that in Asia it's high but in parts of Africa it's very low.

"So in Africa we will offer the programmes via terrestrial broadcasters on existing networks."

Yikes! Also, don't eat the orange snow...

There is nothing unusual about snow in the towns and endless forests of Siberia. But when locals in the small village of Pudinskoye woke up on Wednesday they immediately noticed something rather strange: the snow falling from the sky was orange.

Russian scientists trying to solve the mystery faced a tricky problem. The region is home to so many polluting industries it was hard to identify which one might have been responsible. Could it have been the nuclear plant in nearby Mayak? Or the metallurgy and chemicals factory in Ust-Kamenogorsk? The region is next to north Kazakhstan, a vast area of steppe used by the Soviet Union to conduct its nuclear tests. Or might the rogue snow have been caused by fuel from the space rockets launched in Kazakhstan?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen...

A pleasant surprise...

There is a very nice man writing a very nice blog called the Unrepentant Marxist. It's a very pleasant surprise to see the IS tradition under attack, under attack in such an openminded and genuine way.

The British left stinks. It is particularly foul. Perhaps genuine lefties accross the globe are all saying that about their own milieu. However, it is strange to see another pronounced leftie making an actual political attack, avoiding dull insults like 'islamofacism' or 'popular frontism'.

The article is about the theory of State Capitalism. It was proposed by a man called Tony Cliff in the late 40s as an explanation for the failure of Trotsky's predicitions as to the outcome of the second world war. There are a number of reasons why it should be taken as true. My favourites are *:

1. We can argue about what Russian society was in 1928, but what was it in 1991? That's the crunch point. The fact of the matter is, if Russia was any kind of workers state then someone hadn't told the workers there. If it wasn't a workers state what was it? A degenerated workers state perhaps? That's certainly what Trotsky called it. However, he also described it as a pyramid balanced on its point, i.e. inherantly unstable. In which case how did it sustain itself across a sixth of the globe for eighty years and a third for fifty, reproducing itself several times over? If it was a degenerated workers state on account of its nationalised means of production and attempted planning (and not workers control over that state or means of production) then it represented an advance over regular capitalist society. In which case why did Russia and its satellites not only fail to catch up with the west but eventually consume itself in the race to do so.

2. Whatever Russian society was, it was apparently still a break from the capitalist system. One third of the world had broken with the other two thirds. There was not the usual capitalist interplay and competition. Except that, goes the argument, the competition was deflected into an arms race. Now, this is not the usual Capital-Part-One view of the world, the kind of accumulative competition described as the essence of capitalism. These were, however, war economies. During wartime capitalists are happy to turn over control of the economy to the state, quite often its a good way to raid the treasury (something which capitalists and state capitalists have no qualms in doing, whilst at the same time telling everyone else to dig for victory). During wartime competition is measured (technical advances aside, which is also a proviso for peacetime as well) in volume, the number of soldiers kitted out and sent to the frontline, the number of rifles, tanks, planes and bombs. It does not change the essence of capitalist society, driven by competitive accumulation.

The argument between stalinism, trotskyism and Cliff's (sort of) supertrotskyism on the British left ended with the cold war. These days it seems, at least to me, it's the orthodox trotskyists who have become the best stalinists. Mostly it's the ones who put their faith in various third world regimes that managed to reproduce themselves as a "degenerated workers states".

The stalinists who kept in touch with workers movements and organisations have generally put the soviet trauma behind themselves. Andrew Murray would be a good example, officer for the T&G and an excellent national chair of Stop the War.

The state capitalist debate today is now much more clearly a matter of reform vs revolution. I first noticed this when I realised that the very same T&G, affiliated to the Labour party, major benefactor to the Morning Star, was sponsoring a Cuba exibition at the 2004 Respect festival (as it was then known).

There aren't so many free trade unions in Cuba. What there is though is nationalisation, attempted planning, public provision etc. If your conception of socialism doesn't involve a radical break with capitalism, carved out by a workers state, but the approach of socialism by increments, then what's not to love about Cuba?

Or indeed Venezuela, where the debates about the "new party" and the battle against corruption are being fought between one group that is approximately pro-Cuba and the other roughly pro-workers power. The fact that in general anti-capitalist circles this debates can be conducted fraternally says something about the kind of society we're living through.

A Keynesian reform of Venezuela, with redistriubtive reforms, especially under the advance of the workers movement there, would be a step forward. Of course we would want to go further and argue that the Venezuelan revolution would have to in order to protect its gains... but let's get there first.

* Note, these points are not a direct response to the Unrepentant Marxist. Please go to his blog for the debate.

Another slow Friday - or... The who cares awards

And if you don't believe me, from the BBC website, TODAY'S: THE HEADLINES


U-Turn Lorry stuck in cul-de-sac
Death of woman 'not suspicious'
Fat camp family lose their home
Girl of 9 scores hole in one
Funeral held for airport director
Goods and car stolen from house

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Snowball!


Come back, Snowball, what're we going to do without you?

Wernstrom!

I couldn't let this one pass without comment. It seems that the US government, intent on not cutting fuel emissions, is now trying to find other solutions to global warming.

One of these, reports George Monbiot in Tuesday's Guardian, is to launch a giant mirror into space, in order to reflect the sun's rays. Wondering if this was Monbiot tyring to crack an injoke that most regulars on this blog would get, I did some googling, and apparently this plan has been being considered somewhat seriously for a number of years.

You're probably wondering why your ice cream went away. Well Suzie, the culprit isn't foreigners, it's global warming!







It was in the Telegraph last Autumn and the BBC covered it a year ago, also suggesting that another tactic would be to cool the planet by moving its orbit further from the sun. It was in the Boston Globe 3 years ago.

Giant mirrors in space, moving the earth further from the sun? Where could they have got those ideas from? How much are these guys being paid again? Giant mirrors in space? What could possibly go wrong?

Ooo, that's a little bright.











So, to all these so-called scientists in the pay of the bush camp with their degress in homeopathic medicine: you've got a degree in baloney!

Scattershott, Whimsy and Ephemera... and Pickets

Please, please, please can we have a revolution, if for no other reason than to stop this coming out of the rampaging elephant's TV bumhole:

Shilpa Shetty is considering whether to accept a challenge even greater than that of winning Celebrity Big Brother - saving English cricket. The Bollywood actor has been approached to front a cricketing version of Pop Idol that its producers say could unearth new young talent and boost interest in the sport.

In a format familiar to reality-show viewers, over 11 weeks of intensive coaching four players will each week be placed in the "danger zone" by the judges. Two of them will then be voted out by their fellow players. Towards the end of the series viewers will vote for their favourites.

Simon Hughes, the former Channel 4 cricket analyst said producers would scour inner city areas of Birmingham and Bradford to find players outside the traditional scouting structure. He was in talks with well known former cricketers to take on the judging roles filled in India by Kapil Dev and Sanjay Manjrekar. Darren Gough, Phil Tuffnel and Ian Botham were possibilities.

Aaah! There is no bottom of the barrel. It just keeps going on, and on. Meanwhile (I use that word a lot, don't I?) the thing I noticed about yesterday's civil servents strike was that the courts and museums were much better organised (with big, lively pickets) than the job centres and benefits offices, which are the mainstay of the Public and Commercial Services Union. Ain't life strange? The word "strike" is coming back into ordinary vocabulary. Even stranger, though:

Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering, supported workers on a local picket line because of a threatened tax office closure, and the Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey, chief of staff to Sir Menzies Campbell, the party leader, backed workers at Customs & Revenue's office in Tolworth, south-west London. Judges brought coffee out for Revenue & Customs and Crown Prosecution Service members picketing at the Chichester tax office inquiry centre.