Friday, 29 August 2014

What is the Ice Bucket Challenge in Aid of?

This ALS challenge says more about people’s desire to be seen to be doing the right thing. Most of those I know who I’ve watched on Facebook subject themselves to the chilly dousing will also put their hands in their pockets for what they feel is a worthy cause. Fair play to them.

However, my concern’s for the peer pressure activities such as these place upon individuals. So far I haven’t been challenged; and being the moody git I am nobody will take the chance. Though that’s not the issue.

There are several reasons I don’t subscribe to actions such as the ALS Challenge. The first I’ve mentioned; that is, the faddish nature of such actions has a knock-on effect where individuals feel compelled, coerced even, to participate. Which isn’t the idea of charity.

All too often, and this is borne out with this challenge, people aren’t actually donating any money but treating it as either a social challenge or being nudged into taking part so as not to feel ‘left out’; or different.

But Brother McGovern, you plead, it’s for charity. CHARIDEEEEEEEEEEEE! Well my answer is…NO IT’S NOT! Charity has nothing to do with the exploitation of people’s consciences. That’s not charity; no that’s trying to impose your values on others.

Charity isn’t about people carrying out acts of kindness and asking for recognition. Or corporations presenting outsized 2 meter long cheques on prime-time TV to worthy causes. Corporations who then enter charitable covenants for tax relief, such is their sense of giving.

This is the point I’m making. Charity is not just about giving. No real acts of charity are unconditional. The reward for the act is the act itself.

Finally, as a Socialist I firmly believe that the state should be responsible for health, welfare, education, social security as well as areas such general protection of citizenry. Research, whether for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or as more familiarly known to us in the UK, motor neurone disease, as with cancer, or heart disease, or Alzheimer’s should be carried out through government funding, not left to the caprice of social or mainstream media.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Labour Must Make a Commitment to Taking National Rail Back into Public Ownership

Back in 1993 John Major's Tory government committed one of the most flagrant acts of mugging ever. They smashed our rail system into almost one hundred parts and sold them off to franchisee’s, many of whom became millionaires; and to their friends in the business world, who again became very rich almost immediately after the sales.

The myth perpetrated, one that Thatcher popularised, was the old chestnut that insisted that all our industries, utilities and services would be better managed, cheaper to run and more profitable in the hands of the private sector.

Chart 1: rail subsidy (2011/12 prices)

Yet 21 years on from the second great train robbery we can see from the chart above that far from being cheaper to run the public subsidy going to this privately run service is greater today than it has ever been. So I suppose the system is more profitable in that shareholders and the people at the top of the rail companies are raking in fortunes from a repeatedly mugged public.

One could be forgiven for thinking: OK the subsidy is very high, but aren’t passengers getting value for their money with cheaper fares. The answer is: no we aren’t!

This chart shows the year by year upward rise in rail fares in the UK

Fares are set to rise by 3.5% in January 2015, that’s 2.5% RPI and the 1% rail franchisees are permitted to levy. That’s a staggering 24.7% rise since the ConDems came to power in 2010. Many of these rises are hitting working people who have not seen a pay rise for several years; so unless they get a decent pay rise this or next year the rise in their season tickets will in effect act as a further pay cut.

Back in 1993 it was argued that British Rail was a moribund service whose only hope of rejuvenation was selling it off to the private sector. Of course British Rail was a failing system. Decades of disinvestment into infrastructure and rolling stock had set BR up to fail. Add to this the right wing press and political spin that vilified and mocked everything about the system. Then you are presented with a fruit ready to be plucked from a very low branch – the way the NHS is being fitted-up is parallel to just how easy it is to off load a service if its deemed to be failing.

Labour must as a matter of urgency take the national railways back into the public sector and give rail travellers back a service that they can afford to use; and give tax payers a holiday from coughing up exorbitant subsidies that go into the coffers of private companies and into the back pockets of a few profiteers at the top. 

ConDems Guilty of Grave and Systemic Abuses of Disability Rights

Disabled people in the UK know that this ConDem government is guilty of abusing the rights of disabled people. Back in June it took a Hungarian Professor, Gabor Gombos*, to confirm what disabled campaigners in the UK have been raising for four years and more, that our government is guilty of "grave or systemic violations" of our rights.

During a disability law summer school in Galway in June the Professor made the following statement in relation to the UK:

"Where the issue has been raised and the government did not really make effective actions to fix the situation... it is a very high threshold thing; the violations should really be grave and very systemic."

Such statements are not made lightly; and scores of thousands of disabled people in the UK would be able to testify to and concur with the statement.

Indeed in July Just Fair’s ‘Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era’ report found that this government in breach of its international human rights obligations (to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of disabled people) under both UNCRPD and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

For more than four years disabled activists, grass roots groups such as DPAC, trade unions and some politicians have highlighted this government’s failings of disabled people.

Tenacious campaigning against the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) managed to drive away ATOS, the notorious deliverer of the WCA. DPAC, Black Triangle and the trade unions, amongst others, forced ATOS to abandon the contract.

The Spartacus Report ‘Responsible Reform: Changes to Disability Living Allowance’, compiled by disabled people, exposed the ConDem’s consultation findings on planned changes to DLA as disingenuous. In their own words the government plans for the DLA replacement, the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to cut at least 20% from the benefit.

The Bedroom Tax, despite reassurances to disabled people, did exactly what we predicted. It hit thousands of disabled people who needed a ‘spare’ room for partners or carers use; or to house bulky disability equipment such as wheelchairs, hoists, etc.

Another violation of our rights is the abolishing of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) planned for next year. In November 2013 a High Court decision found the closure of ILF unlawful. Earlier this year, after manipulating ‘new’ equality analysis and evidence, the government announced the closure of ILF in June 2015. There is, however, another challenge to keep ILF currently being made by individual disabled service users.

The above is not an exhaustive catalogue of abuses carried out by this government against disabled people. But it goes some way to highlighting the fact that this government is guilty of breaches in its international human rights obligations (to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of disabled people) under both UNCRPD and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

*Professor Gabor Gombos, co-founder of Voice of Soul, Hungary’s first organisation for ex-users and survivors of mental health institutions, and co-chair of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Of Mistakes Repeated and History Ignored

George Santayana said of war, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Variations and paraphrases such as “Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” have all too frequently been invoked as conflict after conflict reap their bloody harvest of humankind.

Simply put Santayana and others were saying the study of history is necessary in order to stop mankind endlessly repeating the mistakes of the past - especially the 'bloody' mistakes. And for years I observed these prophetic words, usually as I read or heard of yet another conflict tearing humans from this life.

In the past few weeks however I’ve began to revise my views on these quotations. The latest conflict, that is the relentless bombardment and slaughter of innocent civilians in Gaza by the IDF, has caused me to change my understanding of George Santayana’s words.

It isn’t a matter of Israel not remembering its past. Nor is it a case of Israel being ignorant of history’s mistakes. How would they considering their history of persecution, pogroms and the holocaust.

No, it goes deeper than that. Israel, the US and the UK, countries with bloody pasts, don’t enter into conflict situations misguidedly. They haven’t perused the books of history and somehow misinterpreted the message.

We need only to look at the way the Tories are trying place a revisionist spin on the ‘Great War’. Instead of viewing this war, as much of history does, as a bloodbath on a mass industrial scale waged by belligerent Empires vying for power, the Tories are now trying to sell it as a ‘just war’.

In conclusion, people and more particularly countries don’t forget or repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead they set out wilfully to add their own to an already oversubscribed catalogue of wanton death and destruction. So maybe we should begin to regard history and its lessons merely as theoretical abstracts whose only purpose is to hold up the past as a mirror of what will surely happen in the future.

"Only the dead have seen the end of war."

Monday, 4 August 2014

Shame on you George Takei

As George Takei, he of Star Trek fame, is a gay man and a proponent of LGBT rights, I’d at the very least expect him to have some kind of empathy with other minority groups. Takei has also won a number of awards and accolades for his work in the human rights field, especially Japanese-American relations.

Is because she is not Japanese or LGBT?

But instead we find George undermining people as with this disablist joke on Twitter.

George, don’t you understand that in the world of minorities, of groups targeted for their differences a hurt to one is a hurt to us all? 

Bias at the BBC

The BBC is guilty of acting in a cowardly fashion in the way it reports global issues such as the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Rather than objectively reporting this conflict, it instead reports the situation as through the wrong end of a telescope.

Anyone new to the conflict might be forgiven for thinking this is an equal contest fought between two age-old enemies. The BBC will take a couple of minutes describing a massive explosion in a UN compound in Gaza that has killed half-a-dozen children (this being one of many such explosions) while horrendously injuring scores of others; then it will devote several minutes explaining to its viewers the inconvenience that Israeli’s suffer having to go to bomb shelters to avoid the missiles sent over by Hamas.

Reporters aren’t getting to the heart of the matter. They’re not explaining that the Israeli Iron Dome defence system (mostly funded by the USA) is so successful that they are not experiencing deaths and wounded, let alone the industrial levels being slaughtered in Gaza.

No, the BBC chooses to show balance by covering up the scale of atrocities in Gaza while playing up the hardships that the Israeli’s are undergoing.

The BBC also refuses to give due coverage of the massive demonstrations in the UK sparked by the IDF's murderous attacks on civilian targets. When scores of thousands of people march on the Israeli Embassy in Kensington to show their anger for innocent people being butchered; for showing human compassion for a defenceless people who are corralled in a small strip of land as one of the world’s most sophisticated armed forces showers death and destruction.

When this happens and still the BBC refuses to give it proper air time. When the BBC affords an anti-IDF march of 1,200 Germans in Berlin a 412-word coverage while affording a 64-word report on a march of 15,000 on the Israeli Embassy in London. Then we know the BBC is not fulfilling its charter as a public service broadcaster.

If the government of the day decides to sell off the BBC tomorrow, I will not come to its defence.   

The State of Israel was Created through a Programme of Terror

Many modern day commentators overlook or choose to ignore the fact that the State of Israel was founded on a stitch-up by the UN; and that many of the actions that brought the UN to its decision were regarded as acts of terrorism.

In November 1947 the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine. The Arabs, today’s Palestinians, were to receive 43% of the land; and the Jews, today’s Israelis, received the lion’s share, 57%. To say the partitioning was a stitch-up would be an understatement, especially when we realise that in 1947 Jews made up a mere 32% of the population of Palestine while the Arabs accounted for a whopping 60% - almost double the population yet allotted less than half the land.

Since 1948 Israel has increased its share of the land, by illegal settlements that have driven out their rightful Palestinian owners, to 77%. Is it any wonder that Palestinians, squeezed into ever-shrinking areas of land are indignant; as their militarily aggressive neighbours blockade a part of their country, of course they are angry.

History shows us that when pushed into a corner by mightier powers, the oppressed have few choices. In 1944 the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto knew their choices. They chose to resist the cruel and oppressive might of the Nazis. The Maquis in occupied France in WWII also chose to fight the aggressor. The Irish have for centuries fought against the imposition of its bigger, often belligerent, neighbour Britain.

All these examplas have been acknowledged as true resistance causes, to a greater or lesser extent, by most of the world at one time or another. Indeed Yitzak Shamir went as far as adopting Collins’ urban guerrilla tactics; and even using the code-name ‘Michael’ during Israel’s usurpation of Palestinian lands.

There is certain irony to Israel’s excuse that they are fighting terrorism considering they achieved statehood not by negotiation. They didn’t become a state through peaceful means at all. No, Israel won its 57% of Palestine by using the very terror tactics it accuses Palestinians of using today.

The Irgun argued that ‘political violence and terrorism’ were ‘legitimate tools in the Jewish national struggle for the Land of Israel’. They killed and injured hundreds in their fight for Israel.

The Haganah, from 1920-1948 this bunch of vigilantes acted as henchmen for the British Mandate in Palestine actually helping to quell Arab revolts that took place from 1936 to 1939.

Similarly, the Lehi committed many crimes in the name of freedom. It was this gang of freedom fighters who assassinated Count Bernadotte a UN Peace Negotiator in 1948.

Finally, the Stern Gang went as far as seeking contact with the Nazis in an attempt to subvert the British Mandate. This gang committed bank robberies and assassinated British figures.

As a Socialist I will not criticise any group who take up arms against oppressive colonialist regimes. My argument is not with the Jews who fought against the British Mandate of Palestine. No, my argument is with a people who after seeing off the colonial power then proceed to become the oppressors themselves. I oppose Israel’s indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians; and, I also call on the world to show its anger at the US and UK for arming Israel.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Seán Hannity Fox TV's Resident Bully

Over the past few weeks Russell Brand, politicised British comic and actor, has added his voice to the ever-louder shout for the Israeli’s to stop killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza. Brand is obviously getting his message across here as well as in the USA. So much so that he has incurred the wroth of Seán Hannity, a right-wing TV commentator who hosts a cable news show, Hannity, on Fox News Channel.  

Recently, in order to put ‘D-List Actor’, Russell Brand in his place and counter Brand’s views on the Israeli attacks on Gaza, Hannity invited a trio of what he expected to be through-and-through true-blue pro-Israel’s-right-to-bomb-Gaza-out-of-existence commentators onto the show.

Watch how Hannity couldn't even get that right. Also watch and listen to Brand’s own take on the show: 

Why aren't American TV viewers up in arms against this dangerous fool, Hannity. The man has no qualifications as a news presenter; he's certainly no idea of journalistic objectivity. He cannot string a coherent sentence together; nor put forwards an unbiased point of view. The man is rude and hectoring towards interviewees; and uses cheap constructs such as straw man fallacies to twist an opponent’s argument.

You would think that Americans had learned a lesson when they tried to take George Galloway apart at the Senate Hearings he attended back in 2006. Of course Galloway, in his inimitable style, took those American’s apart with his wit, argument and articulation.

I dare Seán Hannity to invite Russell Brand onto his show and attempt to outwit this very astute young man.