Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Same New Same New - Future Shocks Part 16

As I had this one as a work in progress I see Big John has beaten me to it. However John and I are coming from a very similar perspective and I find his post lends weight to my assumptions as he has a little more life experience of the days before ‘the man’ took over than I do.

I find it interesting that one of the principle criticisms of what many see as having been the embodiment of Communism is that everything is required to be the same, no variation because all is dictated by the State. Leaving aside for the moment whether what they are basing this on is a valid system of comparison or whether this idea of a uniform-requiring State is correct to any left-wing ideology I wanted to try to see just how the alternatives to anything left of centre manufacture this difference, if they do so at all.

If one looks across the Western world and in particular the United States the reach of the corporations is practically all-pervasive across the board. From one town to the next there is a worrying homogeneity that renders each town devoid of any singular identity. Much of this can be seen most graphically in comedian and broadcaster Dave Gorman’s Unchained America in which Gorman seeks to travel from Los Angeles to New York without paying any money to ‘the Man’ ie the chain corporations of America.

Gorman’s choice of vehicle may be more in keeping with the romantic wooly ideals that one starts any such road trip rather than to do with any practical study as to what sort of vehicle one might actually need in order to safely conduct a trip but this in a way is part of the charm, along with his tendency to veer off at tangents that make interesting broadcasting if not fiscally or physically prudent.

Gorman’s presumption is that the trip will be relatively straightforward but this proves to be far from the case. On his trips into towns called Independence across America, he finds either that the faceless corporations have rendered the town utterly indistinguishable or that the few places of character and individualism are in terminal decline, one particular gem closes on the very day he is there having served as a diner for the community for over 60 years. It will not be replaced and is unlikely to be revived.

Interestingly the smaller independent places whilst ‘economically unstable’ do sometimes fulfil more one of the fundamental points attributed to Marx and Engels namely to provide workers with more of a stake in things and therefore an interest into their success. There were numerous examples of multi-generational working through the family business. It is not surprising that in this situation these people care about the business in which they work and the community feel of such places can lend itself to a belief that one is providing a service to the wider inhabitants and not merely in the pursuit of profit. Of course this is not always going to be the case and standard employees may feel no more empowered than were they to be working at K-Mart or Wall-Mart or AN Other-Mart.

The people running these independent premises tend to be those with a sense of family tradition or occasionally a sense of the absurd or the non-conformist as embodied in the dog-shaped hotel that Gorman stayed in en route. These are people, generally 50 and older who have lived through times where the homogeneity was not so pervasive, the 1950s with smaller more intimate shops outside and even often inside the cities, the 1960s with its social changes and cohesive ideals. These are perhaps the few people that didn’t grow out of such intentions and sought to continue to live by their principles in one form or another.

What the corporate premises cannot provide the same is the value-added service that the independents can, it’s just that this is not appreciated in today’s world as it once was. Everything now comes down to the bottom line price. No longer is it important for the cashier to know your name, or what your usual order or to have a specialist expertise in their field and this means not only are we offered merely the selection due to the pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap philosophy but we are also given homogenous staff who have no field of expertise and cannot give any depth to the shopping experience.

Even the few places holding out like a Gaulish village against the invaders are having to make sacrifices, butchers are forced to buy in much of their stock wholesale in order to compete with the supermarkets on the prices of staples such as sausages and mince restricting themselves to the more premium speciality items. Bakers are now usually chains producing the same items daily in one shop as another, and could the young today tell the difference between a Grocer’s and a Greengrocer’s let alone cite any place that they might have seen one?

I find as I get older that I look forward to the chat at the butcher’s on a Saturday morning as I pick up my meat for the weekend. I know many who make the monthly trip to the farmer’s market in town mainly because they . When even the local pubs in many towns are run by national companies serving the same beer at the same price and keeping it badly in the same way

This trend is not set to stem in its tide. As the time in our lives as well as the budget gets steadily ever more squeezed people are understandably feeling that they are forced to count the cost above all other concerns, choosing to shop in the huge monolith one-stop supermarkets and their partners online and this is a service that can generally only be provided by the big guns and a token smattering of a select few enterprising farmers.

Gorman’s conclusion is that whilst he just about managed coast to coast with only one corporate petrol station payment and one burger that only made a brief foray into his stomach before rejection his journey was far from easy and like as not would be impossible in ten years time. Big John’s idea of doing a similar thing in Britain I suspect would be beset with many similar problems especially through the more industrialised sections of the country, however owing to the smaller distances I imagine the refuelling would be less of a problem. This should not make us be complacent about it, what has happened in America has frequently over the last 50 years translated itself over here in time as the culture melds itself into the hegemony and the businesses seek greater influences in the market. Most of the time the smaller independent businesses survive now where there is far less economic viability as the great corporate entities are uninterested in the service ethos unless it carries a hefty profit worth their while.

There is therefore a real danger of Britain becoming awash with such uniformity, it already reminds me of the America in which I lived 18 years ago and not in a good way. But can we really be surprised? One cannot expect businesses to reign themselves in because they have become too successful. Whilst the marketeers may talk about competition and freedom of choice being the ideal these do not make good business sense as much as having a monopoly on the market and the ability to keep overheads low and profits high, it is as if the competition phase is the fiscal capitalist revolutionary stage necessary to facilitate the vultures from picking off the corpses of the dead and the dying in order to facilitate their subsequent dominance.

Ironically when one looks at which ideology demands pureity and uniformity both racially, culturally and socially I think these are normally things associated with the right rather than the left so why is it still the perception that capitalism provides for a wealth of choice whilst any alternatives are the road to guaranteed totalitarian adherence and conformity? For this one has to look at the great propaganda victory of the multi-nationals who now have us thinking that we have a mass of choice when actually we merely have a variety of ways to have the same thing and these are dictated by the middle men themselves. The providers are squeezed in order that corporations can buy their raw materials for as low a price as possible and we are forced to pay the prices they want us to, whilst led to believe they are doing us a favour in doing so.

Go back to your shopping lists people and prepare for markets and local shops and local produce, it is the only way to make the stand.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gunning For Trouble - Future Shocks Part 15

As Liverpool mourns the death of an 11 year old boy, shot by another teenage boy on a bike the politicians are quick to come forward to claim they have the answer and will be implementing a series of strategies, the opposition claim in fact they have the answer and will implement a load of different strategies. Forgive my cynicism but I fail to see either of their chosen paths particularly relevent.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith thinks that a border force will stop people and guns from getting in. I’m sure that the Home Office is not at all jumping on the chance to slip some more anti-immigration legislation through tacked to some rhetoric about it being designed to get guns off our streets.

Conservative leader David Cameron’s answer is to give tax breaks to married couples, amounting most likely to around £20 a week. How they can see this as a panacea one can only speculate. I don’t know if they have really studied the figures or whether they, like Labour, have chosen to tailor make the problem to fit the solution they already wish to put in place anyway. Do they really feel that children from 2 parent families will never offend and that the culture that exists today will go away if parents are given a spare tenner each of a week. This is utter lunacy. I have a suspicion that many of the statistics that the Tories use come from a comparison that transcends local boundaries. Middle class children are less likely to offend, this is because their parents are often able to give them activities, a breadth of experience, some realistic chance of an education and employment not merely the fact that there may be 2 parents still together. It is true that a dual parent income may well enable a different upbringing but if the state provides things as it should be doing this fact will become an irrelevance.

The actual context of this area of Liverpool stems from the rivalry between the Croxteth Crew and the Strand Crew. This part of the city is pretty characterised by sink housing, unemployment, poverty and under-investment. There is little or no infrastructure in these areas nothing for children to do, same old story as in cities across the country. When the news crews did talk to Local councillors the message was clear that they didn’t feel that investment was coming in the area, and this combined with and contributed to a lack of education and jobs. Children from empoverished parents, and it doesn’t matter in this environment whether it be one or two parents present, see large sums of money and kudos changing hands in the gang and drug culture is it any wonder that it is a lure for some. Furthermore there is widespread evidence that those who choose not to get involved are persecuted as outsiders. This sort of peer pressure is already rife in children of these impressionable ages, if all your friends are dealing drugs and making money and carrying weapons…

A recent survey stated that Liverpool and Manchester were the easiest places in the country to get firearms. Whilst still a comparitively new and shocking phenomenon it is clear that this sort of crime is on the rise. As a whole crime remains in a slight downward trend over the long-term but in the short-term violent crime is increasing especially in specific city areas.

Children this age feel they are invincible, this is nothing new, we have all been there, the consequences of actions simply do not happen to us, statistics and warnings are only for those on paper. Kids used to go out mugging when I was growing up, occasionally they’d have got hold of a piece of wood or a flick knife, this was relatively common in the shit parts of West London I grew up in. Guns were pretty much confined to the US and the big boys. There weren’t a lot of guns on the streets but the mentality was there to use them of they were. The idea of carrying to protect oneself was a normal gambit for many I knew who carried knives. I carried one until someone made it clear to me that if you carry it you have to be prepared to use it and after pondering on this a while I decided I probably wouldn’t be.

Every now and again such an example will be deemed so terrible that it makes national headlines, but the events in cities such as Nottingham and parts of London barely make a ripple these days. Gun crime may be extreme but these days only murders tend to make the national news and it is generally put down to gang crime. People are shot with increasing regularity and kids are amongst the dead and wounded all the time.

When this does make the news we have a seeming scrum to offer opinions before 2 days later it has all died down. What is going on in the interim time before the next story? It would apear not a great deal. A policy being floated now is that witnesses will be compelled to give evidence and police claim, as always, that they will protect them. Their record on this is not good. This fails to take account of the fact that it is not cool to be a grass and those who are perceived to be so, whether or not there is any foundation in the accusation, are often beaten up, ostracised, mistrusted etc. Add to this the fact that if you are the wrong colour in the wrong place at the wrong time the police will stop and search or randomly arrest, this happens daily to black and asian youths alike depending on which area you are in and whom the police feel is the greatest threat. A culture of hating the police for their bigotry, harrassment and racism is becoming more and more engrained. This is not a environment conducive to obtaining information and whilst it persists the police will always be fighting a rearguard action.

A big deal has been made of the fact that the parents responsible for young offenders didn’t know where they were when they were committing the crimes. I know full well that when I was younger and went to school on my own on the bus I had the opportunity to get into trouble which I sometimes took and my Mother was not aware of where I was at a specific moment in time because she relied on good faith that I was getting the bus into school as I had been told. Should she have never let me out of her sight, I don’t believe this would have been good for my upbringing or self-reliance or social interaction.

It is being cited that central to this issue is that of home life but to my mind that is largely missing the point. Children do not spend all their time at home nor should they do so. We have to keep a healthy balance between allowing our children progressive freedom in order to face the outside world and facing the people in it and keeping them safe. Were our streets to be safe now we would have far less worry. The lack of social cohesion is always going to bite us in the arse and if we do not tackle this then no money, tax breaks or more plod is going to make much difference.

Looking at the youth as an entity is like holding up a mirror to our future. If we do not want things to escalate as they have done in the US where gun crime is far more normal then we must act now to give young people inclusion and a stake in the community in which they live. You cannot expect them to care for people or places when they have grown up in a culture that sees them only as a nuisance and to be locked up after the sun goes down. To my mind there should be a form of national service, it should be gender agnostic and put school leavers of 16 to work for 2 years and leavers of 18 for 1 year if going to University/Technical College (it is important not to favour merely the academic as this is not the only form of education) or 18 months if they are not going into some form of tertiary education. No buts, no exemptions. The work should be in hospitals, youth clubs, old folks homes, drying out hostels, nurseries. Everyone should get the chance to try these things out it is good for the community and good for the individual.

It can be achieved, even in this modern world but the will has to be there and at present that is open to question. Canada is right next to the US and yet it does not have the same level of gun crime as the US despite gun ownership being of similar proportion. If you invest with this in mind you are taking care of the future, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. But it has to be an integrated policy and it has to be continuous, there is no quick fix and there never will be. Until we start to address this we will watch young people kill themselves.

Friday, August 18, 2006

How To Hoodwink A Population - Future Shocks Part 14

I got an email from my twin the other day. She asked me whether I thought the timing of the current alert level in the UK regarding the perceived terrorist threat was too coincidental to be plausible, I thought by the tone of her message that she might be afraid that she was presenting some wildly speculative conspiracy theory. I answered that I felt she had read the situation quite correctly and I felt that if you were to take the film The Matrix as an allegorical story about the flow of general news and information across the Western world then I think it would portray things pretty acurately.

In addition to that recently I saw a news article that the police were issuing "unprecedented amounts of information regarding the recently arrested terror suspects." I heard the information, much of it seeemed to relate to "possession of articles useful for preparing acts of terrorism" including instructions (no further qualifying information given) and maps, including maps of Afghanistan (no further qualifying information was given.) Now bearing in mind I have a copy of the Anarchist cookbook and a large 200 page atlas, I also possess the same information they have carted others off for. So if they want a reason to bang you up now, all they need is potential, this is no longer just some lunatic paranoid conspiracy theory it is exactly what they are doing, this to me spells one clear thing if they want to get you you're fucked, after all who doesn't have a map, some sugar, some bleach, or a can of petrol in the car? They still can't determine what you're thinking but they can lock you up just in case you might be thinking something they don't want you to think.

Instrumental in this is the way it is all handled in the media, it is the frog and a pan of water analogy. Drop a frog into a pan of boiling water and the frog wriggles and writhes and dies in pain. However put a frog in a pan of cold water and heat the pan and the frog doesn't notice the change in temperature and dies without a struggle. Were all the information presented to us in one go many would put 2 and 2 together, this cannot be alllowed to happen so it is trickled like the sand from the escape tunnels in the pocket of the POWs is sprinkled down the trouser leg into the yard. The proof of this is that if you present people with factual information about just how bad things have got they simply will not believe you, because they cannot conceive that such things would happen without them noticing.

The control of the flow of information and the desire to exercise social control by propaganda and tacit brainwashing is nothing new. The Nazis use of it is well-documented but increasingly less-taught, perhaps because through its teaching one would see the inevitable parallels. You might think that just rhetoric and sensationalistically extreme but I would suggest you look at the rise of a man called Alfred Hugenberg and his control of the German media in the 1920s-30s. If you cannot see the parallels between him and someone like Rupert Murdoch or Sylvio Berlusconi (the worst but by no means the only people to use their influence to attempt to brainwash the public to their own subjective view of reality.) then I would be very surprised indeed.

An example of how this media whitewash has been used is the way our parents and grandparents were subjected to was the treatment of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. It is very widely reported the key to the crisis was Kennedy's standing firm in the face of Soviet threat to the Free World and how he made the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev back down. This just simply isn't true, it neglects to mention that the Soviet claim for the citing of the missiles was in fact the protection of Cuba from the United States, after all under Kennedy's presidency the US had already attempted to perpetrate a coup d'etat in the Bay Of Pigs incident in 1961. One must remember that if this claim to be providing missiles as defence rather than as an aggressive act does not stand up to scrutiny then the US was just as guilty having placed its missiles to "protect" the United Kingdom, Italy and Turkey. In fact the US was far more the aggressor of the time since it possessed over 300 land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to the USSR's 6 and overall according to the National Resources Defense Council's Archive of Nuclear Data the US had 27,297 warheads to the USSR's 3,332.

It was in fact the Soviets, principally Khrushchev who ensured that no retaliatory action was taken by Cuban forces against the aggressive US tactic of low-flying aircraft over Cuban territory seemingly in an attempt to provoke the first armed response. Khrushchev's mistake was that in return for his decision to have the Cuban missile bases decommissioned the US withdrawal from Turkey was not widely publicised saving Kennedy the embarrassment of the climb-down. This failure ultimately led to Khrushchev's removal from power 2 years later because the rest of the politburo felt that the propaganda war had been won by the US.

More recently the media propaganda situation has had to become more clinical, more systemic so much so that many people take it all for granted without questioning the legitimacy of the sources of information. We have news 24 hours a day but that does not mean we have all the news, we are reliant on certain key stations controlled by a very small number of organisations, the control must be absolute because it is no use trying to create fervour if the evidence from certain quarters contradicts it. These days you will find very little conflicting news.

After all if one charts major world events over the last five years they have gone something like this:

11/9/2001 World Trade Centre attacks. The US administration decides very quickly that since Al Qaeda have used training camps in Afghanistan, the Taliban are responsible for 9/11 and that gave the US carte blanche to exercise its "right" to a regime change. (Neither the fact that these camps had been setup with CIA funds, nor anything to do with the Caspian Oil Gas pipeline were mentioned.) After the Taliban had been removed from Kabul and a regime had been installed with a 'safe pair of hands' the US sought to turn its attention elsewhere knowing that the objectives for going into Afghanistan had been accomplished. Hamid Karzai's election passed off with little fuss, no mention was made of the fact that in 1996/97 he was a consultant to American oil company Unocal on the US$2 billion project of a certain oil and gas pipeline between Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan, the Caspian pipeline. Interestingly much of the traffic of this pipeline is designed to provide support for the Dabhol power plant near Mumbai, designed to provide up to 20% of India's energy needs and majority owned by Enron. You can see one might be forgiven for thinking that it is the same names cropping up again and again.

I do not think the 11th of Sept attacks were a conspiracy or the organisation behind them a fabrication this would be historical revisionism but I do believe the US government made what it wanted to out of them, after all they strung the war on terror out to include a nation that had previously nothing to do with Al Queda or the 11th Sept attacks simply because they wanted to remove a guy they put in charge in the first place. (No mention was made at the time of UN resolution 1441 that US President George W. Bush had already long since decided that it was a question of when rather than if the US would invade Iraq, and according to his Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill despite there not being any evidence of WMDs, Bush's resolve was firm that it would be done whatever. No mention was made of Saddam Hussein's past links with the CIA).

During the height of the Northern Ireland conflict only an idiot would have thought that because there were bombs going off in England that all Irishmen were terrorists and yet this is the logic applied currently, that Islam is a violent religion and by extension all Muslims have a guilt by association tag. And yet another example of the subjective presentation of events does come out of the Irish case because whilst globally the vast majority will know something of the IRA and the republican actions, only those far more involved would be able to name loyalist paramilitaries or the political parties that represent them. Ian Paisley, a supposed man of the cloth, is allowed to peddle his ideology of hate and intolerance whilst any foot out of line on the other side results in politician and media frenzy.

I do believe that Iraq had WMDs at least it had possessed them within the 10 years leading up to the US invasion, whether or not they had already been used is another question but to my mind the smoking gun the US was allegedly looking for was something they held all along, namely the invoices to the weapons they themselves and their allies had sold. The US had shown little interest in the welfare of the Iraqi people when Saddam was massacring Kurds, nor did they leap to help the Iraqi resistance in 1991 when uprisings around Basra and the Southern provinces were brutally crushed.

Now after the toppling of the secular Saddam and the leaving of an Iraq in no fit state to resist the US takeover of infrastructure and oil distribution, the US looks around for someone else and suddenly the Syrians are "sponsoring terrorism", but it's too soon after Iraq and they can't quite get the troops together and there's this public outcry so that dies down for a bit but wait, the Iranians are developing nuclear technology and this could mean they'll have a bomb, but that just doesn't seem to capture the imagination of the other major nations, they aren't buying it Russia and China are standing firm, and lo, miraculously Hizbollah come out of the woodwork after Lebannon has been stable for years and there's talk of Syria getting involved and now finally they've got a proper scrap in the Middle East.

There is little analysis as to what is causing the problem in the this conflict, little criticism of the role of Israel, often the aggressor, whilst Hizbollah are subjected to widespread vitriolic condemnation. it can only be a matter of time before an individual in Hizbollah is singled out as the most evil person since... (notice also that the list of comparitive evil epitomes does not include certain people like Suharto, Pinochet, Kissinger, Nixon etc.) Nothing creates crazed frenzy and panic like a good old fashioned apocalyptic threat at home, that really galvanises people to hate the bad guy, proper pogromic lynch mob hysteria that is.

So I guess that's a yes I do think the current terror alert in the UK rather conveniently timed. After all how can it be that the really big terrorist acts get through with no intelligence and yet capriciously timed others are found out, and strangely made public very quickly. Surely you would want people to remain calm, business to continue as usual, you'd keep it under wraps until it had been fully investigated and picked apart. In addition to this whilst it is claimed that security is on high alert across the country's airports it is not especially evident in anything other than irritating bureaucracy and ridiculous rules and hand luggage. Perimeter fences remain easy areas to get to with full views of runways and the discovery of a 12 year old boy who got through all the security checks without even having any travel documents does not seem to backup the government and police assertions.

The trouble is we are rarely made privy to the intelligence they claim to base a lot of these alerts on, it is very wooley and non-specific and a raft of knee-jerk legislation usually follows, accompanied by much outcry and yet passed through the legislature just the same. This is the government of the state of constant heightened alert. If one takes the perception of the world at large and in particular that of the safety of people and property there is a perception that crime against the person is sufficiently on the increase to make people feel insecure in their own homes. Where has this perception come from? By and large most people find out about crime through their neighbours and the media. Since communities are being increasingly eroded the reliance on the media seems likely to become almost the only source of information.

If you listen to the government around election time they will tell you that crime is going down and has been for their tenure, they will in turn quote statistics to prove it whilst the opposition will look at the statistics for individual crimes and single out the ones that are going up. However when it comes around to the time of passing repressive home office legislation the government are quick to single out the upturn in certain types of crimes so as to make you afraid enough not to question their decision to further erode your civil rights. Since the opposition are just as right-wing as the government their critique is that the legislation doesn't go far enough.

In the UK at the moment anyone would be forgiven for thinking that up until the last 5 years there was no such thing as anti-social behaviour and that we have seen this sudden surge in crime committed by an evil youth element. (No mention is made as to the lack of social spending focused on people between the ages of 10-16.)

Contrary to what the mass media might have you believe, Raymond Kelly, Commissioner of the NYPD says that crime overall is down 12% in the US and down 65% in New York. This is not to say that there are not genuine problems, gun crime amongst the young is emotive and shocking but hardly widespread which is why events like Columbine create national and international headlines. Interestingly the lobby who will campaign that there is too much sex and violence on our TVs never protest at the morbid fascination that the media has with real-life tragedy such as Columbine, after all they choose to see it as the vindication of their idea and not as could be suggested the propagation of the problem.

Yes you can switch off the TV, or not read the newspapers, but equally then you will not know what the masses are being fed and it is therefore more difficult to counteract it. The advent of digital cameras and blogging will undoubtedly lead to greater independence in the recording of information, albeit from many different subjective sources, but to determine what is the news is often easier than one thinks. Firstly disregard the pap, the celebrity shite, gossip and such bollocks, this is not news, it is noise. Secondly ask yourself who is doing the telling and what they may want to achieve by putting a particular point of view forward. Thirdly find a source of information that is diametrically opposed to the first source you found and compare the information they gave. Think of it in the sense of a football game. The news is who played and who won, if you ask 2 fans on opposing sides they will tell you many different things about events of the game but they will both tell you the same result because that part of the report is fact. The rest is conjecture.

If people fail to finally realise the processed homogenised information that is being fed to them then Orwell's vision of 1984 becomes ever more real only with far more technological instruments than Orwell could ever have envisaged. After all, news published on websites, how many people have the power to check if what is there 1 week after an event is what was reported originally on the actual day?

"He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future."
-George Orwell

Song Of The Day ~ Zero 7 feat. Sia Furler - You're My Flame

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Jeux Sans Frontières - Future Shocks - Part 13

"No-one doubts the need for immigration controls, but it would be immoral to deport those already here that our economy depends on" -Jack Dromey Deputy General Secretary T&GWU (BBC article)

I am pleased that at least in part someone is finally questioning this 'consensus' on immigration and asylum. It is however only a moderate critique from within and I have to put forward 2 points of order here.

Firstly I do doubt the need for immigration controls. I guess it depends on your definition of need. It depends on what you see as a priority - whether it is people or possession. It seems to be an accepted fact that we cannot just have no control for this would open the floodgates and this is not a good thing. This is an interesting assumption, perhaps based at best partially on fact, there is after all no questioning that without any immigration control there would be more people seeking to live in this country. But I thought capitalism was about competition? Surely the competition for labour would in fact be good for business, it would streamline the workforce in a very Darwinist way. I am not saying that is a good thing from my perspective, I am simply pointing out that there is an anomaly when it comes to this isolationism rather like when it comes to the 'Free Market' which is in fact merely a series of trade tariffs and barriers to protect the rich countries from being undercut by the poorer ones.

The EU, or principally France has the Common Agricultural Policy, one of the biggest pieces of economic protectionism outside the US and what accounts for around 50% of the total EU budget. To illustrate the point even fellow EU countries that depend heavily on agriculture like Poland are not subject to the same protection as the French so it is a case of protectionism within protectionism. This does kind of pale into comparison with the US which has tariffs on almost anything of strategic importance and it uses political pressure to bring to bear weight on many other things. The US thinks nothing about forcing trade down routes that it controls or will profit from.

This is not strictly a post about trade, but it is a post about inequity and contradiction and expounding some myths that we tend to take for granted and the Western World's idea of free trade is certainly a good example of that.

The second point of order to Mr Drobey's comment is the economic premise that were there to be an amnesty (which is not going to happen but it is a point of debate) that the illegal workers currently employed within these borders would continue to be as much an asset to our economy as they currently are. This, I'm afraid is romantic idealism. The very reason illegal workers are employed here, just as there are so many Mexicans and other illegal aliens in the US is that these workers are not subject to the same legal protection offered to legitimate employees. They are not subject to the minimum wage standards nor national insurance or pension provision. This is clearly not the choice of the workers but that of the employers who can circumvent a great deal of red tape and save themselves a great deal of money both in the payment of paltry wages and the avoidance of insurance payments for every worker. Furthermore they are able to exploit worker productivity as workers can be sacked easily or threatened with being reported to the authorities if they do not tow the line.

The worker's very disenfranchisement is their sole usefulness to the employers. Were any amnesty to be contemplated not only would employers prepared to take on illegal staff be potentially exposed but their cut-price labour would also be under-threat. If such an amnesty were put into place the workers as part of the amnesty would have lost what made them employable in the first place. There is every chance some may find new legitimate jobs but it would not stop the illegal trade in labour. Firms relying on low-paid workers would either go out of business or simply employ new illegal staff.

To stop illegal immigration it must be done at source and thus you must assess just what it is that causes it in the first place. On the one hand there is the intention of the immigrant. If one chooses to see an artificial differentiation between political or economic migrant one is distracted by a common smokescreen, it is an irrelevance the difference is merely in the detail and the source of persecution. The intent of the migrant is to seek a better life. No-one doubts the merit of the human desire to strive for self-improvement and yet in this case politicians and the media appear to be in complete denial of its existence or the force with which it can propel people. The greater the adversity the greater the hardship people are prepared to endure to alleviate suffering. To assume that by trying to stop people coming in we remove their reasons for uprooting is lunacy. The best way to stop people wishing to leave their homes is to make their homes places in which they are happy to stay.

If the richer countries were compelled to distribute their wealth to provide the same quality of life to the poorer nations as they enjoy themselves there would be far less immigration because there would be far less danger and dissatisfaction in countries of origin.

The second party in the illegal immigration is less to do with latent human self-advancement and self-protection and more to do with greed. Those that profit from the trafficking or slavery of people exploit misery, suffering and desperation for their own ends. And yet precious little money is spent by governments on stamping out these people, certainly a minute fraction compared with what is spent on preventing the individual immigrants from getting into or settling in countries. There are many companies that seek to increase profits by reducing overheads and reducing labour costs illegally is one way of doing so.

You can contrast the illegal labour situation with many criminal trades. Take the drug trade as one example. If you choose to apply the law primarily to users you may seek or even partially succeed in removing part of the market but you do nothing to reduce supply or potential new customers. If you focus only on the supply chain you may reduce the supply but not the demand. Efforts must be dual-focused to reduce the dependence on drugs thus tackling demand whilst at the same time removing the profitability of the drug trade and remove those that benefit the most from it thus tackling the supply.

Were borders to remain the immigration problem could only be tackled in the same two-pronged way. The only way I could see this happening and being a viable long-term policy is a sustained period of investment by the rich to redress the balance of global wealth coupled with a complete dismantling of all borders. The two must go hand in hand because the dismantling of the borders would act as a perfect incentive for countries to make damn sure that they do invest in poorer countries or else they may be faced with the sort of flood of immigration they have always been hyping up and predicting.

However were the borders to be taken down entirely, people's concept of the space they have control or interest over becomes very different, as does the amount of people they feel represent a threat to their influence. Over time people's notion of country will diminish and with it the sort of ridiculous patriotism so synonymous with it. Likewise the affinity they feel with people will be more confined to local issues and loyalties which tend to be more pragmatic. There would be no need for monarchies, duchies etc. People would be more likely to ensure that equality is taken on a local basis, it would be in their best interests to do so.

What is the actual foundation of national borders? What is there to say that they should remain in perpetuity? In fact taking Europe as but one example if we look at the shift in borders even over the last 100 years it proves the fluidity. After all whilst some islands consider themselves separate nation states, others form conglomerates either by diplomacy or military intervention. On a larger land mass like Eurasia there is no basis for divisions it is an arbitrary concept. The boundaries cross natural borders just as they often cross over traditional tribal boundaries. Along with religion these man-made constructed borders have caused some of the greatest strife of humanity and are still the basis of wars and bloodshed across the globes. These boundaries separate peoples as well as natural resources, they deprive some just as they endow others. The removal of these borders would be indeed an anarchic proposition and it would bring about the wholesale destruction of large-scale government in favour of more local representation. How this would work I do not know, I do not know if it could work entirely without some regional umbrella co-ordinating cross locality trades but the very dismantling of these borders would bring about a paradigm shift in the way we see ourselves and our place in the society around us. Living as we do in countries defined as large-scale land masses with populations of millions or billions we cannot fail to see ourselves as insignificant and unimportant. If however we were to judge ourselves based on our place within family or local groupings we would automatically see ourselves as having considerably more influence.

In fact the removal of borders is not entirely in the realms only of anarchist fantasy. The Benelux countries have for some time had an open border policy with one another and this has extended to the Schengen group of countries within the EU. The reason these countries feel able to do this is because they feel there is not a threat of people from within this group of countries immigrating en masse. It is therefore seen that the political and economic stability prevents the need for emigration. Were this to be replicated on a much wider scale it stands to reason that more borders could be removed.

I'll grant you this is a long-term strategy, and one could not expect many of those currently in power to give it up willingly nor for people who have been educated and brought up under capitalism to be able to embrace a communal way of living overnight. For many years I wondered how on earth the anarchist principle of no borders could possibly work when actually that is not the important question at all. Not knowing how something is done does not make it impossible anymore than it makes it less interesting or valid to analyse. The crucial question in this instance is should or shouldn't it be done? If one cannot think up any cogent reasons for not tearing down the borders, and by cogent reasons I mean ones that are of benefit to the vast majority not simply the rich minority, then it follows that this is a good proposal to strive to implement, therefore to write it off because we don't know what comes next is mindless reactionary conservatism. I heard a former Conservative MP talk about how the Conservative party had changed the course of people in Britain by giving many people something to conserve, it became crystal clear that he could only think in materialistic terms and that those devoid of vast wealth or material possession could only be in the state of wanting vast wealth and material possession. What are the reasons for having borders if we really think about it?

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

Of course the song goes on "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..." Quite.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Safe As Houses - Future Shocks - Part 12

(I decided to rename my series "Future Shocks", had more of a punchy feel to it than "Looking to the Future", not that I'm pandering to tabloidesque sensationalist headlining or anything you understand!)

So, having had the ‘must buy your house’ idea spoon-fed to us for years and despite the mass repossesion crisis in the late 80s because of the slow-down in the housing market and the rise in interest rates the rate of repossessions is now up 15% and rising. The problem is particularly acute in Ulster and other areas where personal debt is high amongst the working class and lower middle class. Areas where the differential in what can and can't be bought with a standard workers pay packet is greatest.

You did not have to be an economist to see this one coming. House prices have been rising disproportionately to income for some years forcing people to take out larger mortgages of a higher multiple of their salaries. We have seen the raising of the normal 3.5x annual income as a general rule to anything up to 8x annual income and mortgage periods grow from 25 years to anything up to 50 years. For most the prospect of buying a house is subject to being able to use both family incomes.

Now whilst it is easy to judge in this situation and question the prudence of people taking out such financially punitive agreements one must first look at the fact that house prices in areas like London have gone up by so much as to be unaffordable by any other means. Even in SE London, traditionally the cheaper end a two bedroom flat will still cost you over £150,000. Now you would have to be earning close to £50,000 to be able to buy that under the old rules and most people earning £50k are not the sort of people looking to live in a 2 bedroom terraced in Catford. Furthermore most of the keyworkers: teachers, nurses, fire-fighters, ambulance workers and the like probably will struggle to earn half that amount. It is a well-known fact that fire-fighters in the London area who work 4 days on 3 days off shifts will sleep in the fire station whilst on-shift, then returning to their homes outside London when off. They do this because they cannot afford to buy homes for themselves and their families in London.

As a result people have been forced out of the cities and the surrounding areas prices have in turn risen. Add to this commuter costs etc. and already the problem becomes self-evident. As an alternative to this one can elect to rent (or if you cannot afford a house or have a poor credit rating you are forced to rent) of course renting is not immune from the house price lottery because if people are renting houses out and forced to pay higher monthly mortgage payments they must raise the rents, in turn those who have lower mortgage payments having bought their houses some time ago see the opportunity to make some extra cash and thus the prices rise.

There is another factor here as well, the local council tax, which is a blanket poll tax not charged on an individual or household’s ability to pay, nor even on the local ammenities that a household may receive, is levied based on the value of the property. With property prices inflated the councils are reassessing tax based on the current market value of a house and because the bands are smaller at the lower values the council taxes are rising more for those who can afford it least. This has a fundamental flaw because much like when the Poll Tax was brought in to replace Rates people are going to be expected to pay a great deal more money without any difference in service provision and without a thought for how they were expected to pay the extra. When the Poll Tax was introduced I lived at home with my Mother and Stepfather in a 2 bedroom house. Our rates were approximately £400 annually which seemed pretty fair since we lived in a village with 1 bus a day, no shops, and only refuse collection as a council service. The Poll Tax bill came in at £400 per person and meant £1200 for the household. Longrider writes that he feels punished by the prospected raising in Council Tax assessment values and obviously it is easy to see why. When ones house value goes up it would be a mistake to presume this constitutes in any way an amelioration of income. Naturally were one to sell said house it may be worth substantially more money than one originally paid for it but then so are all the other houses one might be thinking of buying.

As with any flat tax the council tax is based on an unfair premise that somehow one can levy taxation at an arbitrary rate. In this case it is the value of the house that people live in. Of course this neglects to take into any consideration whether the people living in said house are owner-occupiers, 2nd home owners or merely tenants. Whilst it is clear that a rise in house prices does not necessarily benefit owner-occupiers it is in fact quite detrimental to tenants who are likely to see rises in rent coupled with rises in council tax despite this being in no way linked to any changes in income.

The upper and upper middle classes who are better placed to invest in property have now for some time chosen to sink their money into this rather than more traditional savings methods as the buoyancy of the housing market has been seen as offering good capital return. This has meant many more buy to let mortgages as investors have bought houses for their children at university or simply as a means of income. With the pensions system at the moment in a parlous state it is small wonder that many have chosen the property market as their method of safeguarding their future. However many people do not have the initial capital to sink into such investments and therefore once again the deficit between the well-off and comfortably off and badly off widens.

Legislation in this country favours the property owner over the property dweller. As a tenant you can delay the issue but very rarely do anything about things such as eviction orders. Any rent commissions will only be able to assess rental values based on equivalent rents in equivalent properties all of which are inflated. With utilities in private hands there is no control over bills which have risen astronomically over the last few years. For a 2/3 bedroom house outside London you can now expect to pay £500 per month in rent, add to this £100 for council tax, £30 for gas, £30 for electricity, £30 for water, then there'll be the phone bill which will be around £25 for line rental . This is £715 so far without having paid for any food and clothing and all the other assorted sundries. That translates to £8580 per year net, and add likely associated costs and you have more than £10,000 annual expenditure for the most cautious of households. That translates to around £15k minimum gross income needed just for subsistence survival, now if you take that down to its hourly rate (based on a 40 hour week) that is £7.21/ hour. At present the minimum wage in Britain is £5.05 per hour for workers aged 22 years and older (*£4.25 per hour for workers aged 18 - 21 years inclusive, £3 per hour which for all workers under the age of 18). It does not take a degree in economics to see that if you are losing 25% per hour that this translates to a massive shortfall week on week and year on year. Rents and other costs do not take into consideration what income you are on.

If childcare is added into the mix it makes the situation far more difficult. I used to pay £50 a week for 1 of my children to do 2 half day sessions at nursery a week. Bear in mind this means more than £1 an hour on a working week, and most parents who are forced to work full-time will pay far more than this. Financially-speaking I was not able to afford for my children to go to nursery any more than the 2 sessions whilst it was equally financially impossible for my ex to return to work because it was unlikely she would be earning more than the childcare costs alone.

I firmly believe that one of the reasons that the birth rate in this country and many other EU countries is going down is because of the financial implications of children on many of the couples that might traditionally have families. For example many couples on medium to low incomes have been forced to combine their incomes in order to afford a mortgage. This means the shortfall in income of one partner for a number of months is simply not viable if mortgage payments are to be met. Maternity payments do exist but only generally for people who have been in a company for a number of years, the remainder of mothers will either get incapacity benefit or be expected to live off their partner's income.

I could go on about families not being able to afford the unpaid parental leaves to allow father's to spend time with their children etc. etc. etc but I think the point is already made about what a profound effect the housing situaion has on the demographics of the population at large. It would be easy to think that house ownership has always been the norm but in fact in the time of Charles Dickens even the comfortable middle classes would have rented, some of them and the upper classes may have had family seats that had been passed down but certainly amongst those that had to live off income derived from their labour it would have been fairly unheard of to own a house.

It was to house these people that council housing was invented so that all people had the right to live in security. Sadly greed has resulted in a mass council house sell-off fundamentally started by Thatcher in the 1980s but continued by Labour albeit through slighty more covertly by handing over the rights to private companies. However one felt aboutt hat sell-off at the time the fact is that this was a case of short-termism in the extreme. As councils do not anymore have housing to offer the disenfranchised and dispossessed they will remain in temporary hostels, young people will be forced to remain in the family home for longer and couples will struggle to have a mortgage and children and forced to choose one or the other.

At the time of the initial sell-off one can reasonably argue that those in council housing were largely those that needed to be so, however no such guarantee exists anymore and in popular areas, in particular the metropolitan areas, prices of housing has risen to levels far beyond the reach of those for whom the council housing system was designed to protect.

In conclusion then the knock-on effect purely in the housing crisis is a drop in the birth rates, an absence of key-workers, an increase in the homeless, an increase in the number of tenants in rented accommodation, an increase in those living in temporary housing such as B+Bs and hostels, an increase in houses being reposessed at any increase in interest rates, an increase in 2nd housing used for renting out and holiday accomodation by the more wealthy thus fractionalising communities. I can't see these consequences being positive for any except the most well-off and they have quite enough advantages already. Whilst one expects the Conservative government of the 1980s to have pandered to the well-off, history will show unfortunately that the 1997-2010 Labour government only furthered the cause of the wealthy and simply added a small handful of people to the plutocracy whilst the majority starved.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Alienation - Future Shocks - Part 11

The other section hell bent on homogenising our daily lives are the industrialists who think nothing of turning high streets into a thing of the past in preference of the out of town retail park option. Such places tend to be synonymous with the same shop in the same place stocking the same goods. Naturally they do not do this for the good of the consumer, there are tangible business reasons for such a policy. Distribution is generally a lot better with the retail parks being on main roads often near arterial dual carriageways, ring roads and motorways, this means large lorries can easily access and thus maximise the loads that can be carried at any one time reducing the companies costs. In addition to this the transportation costs are borne by the employees and the customers rather than companies having to obtain parking in areas where property costs are high as they may have done previously. Customers are wooed by the prospect of a number of larger shops with greater selection in the one area, meals are catered for and this is all part of ensuring that people "make a day of it"

The effects of such a change are more far-reaching than we might have thought. It is indisputable that modern life has little or no community element to it and the shopping experience is another area where the previously more social way of doing things is replaced by a more insulat one. Most people will travel to retail parks by car rather than by communal public transport like buses. The act of going round these huge multiplexes is also an insular one, faceless sales assistants will serve you one week and may have gone back to college the next. There is little or no continuity of service because individualism is difficult to control and therefore largely discouraged. The days of knowing shopkeepers by name and having "the usual" lined up upon arrival are rapidly receding. We are rapidly losing the interaction that comes with day to day conversation with people we do not know, banter if you like is one of the greatest sufferers from this paradigm shift. Children and adults alike are no longer in situations where they would banter and are starting to lose the ability to do so. The traditional areas of shops and churches and pokey little local pubs and small intimate restaurants are replaced by supermarkets, large chain bars and restaurants designed to pack 'em in and turn 'em round asap. Is this part of the problem of lack of respect that the young now show to those around them? It's possible, it is obviously not the sole reason and yet it cannot surely be underestimated that the decimation of communal society is a cause for the disassociation of many.

We are all under the impression that we are, at least financially, getting a good deal out of this, after all why would we have left the high street shops if not because supermarkets were much cheaper? To disprove this theory one only needs return to the markets and buy fresh seasonal food to find out how much cheaper it can be. When I returned to London at Christmas I went down one such a market to find that I was able to avail of a bag of bananas for £1 (Supermarket price approx. £1.50-£2), 8 mangoes £2 (supermarket price £1.50 each), 3 small pineapples £1 (supermarket price medium pineapple £1.50 each), 8 romero sweet peppers £1 (supermarket £1.50 for pack of 3), 12 orange capsicum £1 (supermarket £0.49p each), one string of garlic approx 40 cloves £1 (supermarket £1.50 for bag of 3 cloves), a bag of about 100 hot green chili peppers £1 (supermarket £0.50 packet of 4). Now in many respects this was more than I could eat, I gave a load of the chilis away and still have some left, the garlic is now sprouting and I've been using stacks of it, the peppers were used in pasta sauces and jambalaya and the quality of all the items I purchased was excellent.

One must look very critically at the supermarket phenomenon and just how they are managing to pervade every form of retail. The loss leader strategy is a well-known one and one the supermarkets use to good effect. By selling milk at less than the cost of producing it and selling cheap bread they entice people in for staple foods, and once you're in there they've got you because like the retail park concept you may have travelled a little further, you're going to make the most of it and get your weekly shop done at the same time and this "convenience" is the trap. Certain key items are designed to be cheap so as not to make you think whilst other prices designed to be less neticable are comparatively more expensive as I have just illustrated. Interestingly though you quite often get what you pay for, supermarket food often goes off very quickly, partially because it tends to be far less fresh and also in the case of things like bread because things have been added to make it do so. After all the sooner you run out of bread and milk the sooner you'll be back for another crack.

Just as we cannot go on with our current energy policy, health policy, we cannot go on with this insular existence. We inhabit large "open plan" offices where people feel exposed and vulnerable and go introspective rather than being able to build a rapport with those around them. We sit in little metal boxes trying to get home and shouting at those in front and those at the sides for obstructing our progress. At the weekend we go to retail parks and buy the same items from the same shops regardless of georgraphy. It is a difficult trap not to fall into. The modern way of life is fast-paced and furious not to mention expensive, therefore time-saving and money-saving measures are tempting and almost seem to be the only way.

We all do it, for example spending time talking to people on the internet, where we may in fact know people better than many we know in real life. That wouldn't be a problem as a compliment to the real world but as a replacement it is worrying. The social exclusion and detachment this forms perpetuates the problem. People may be being increasingly radicalised in their own homes but we wouldn't know many of them will never come out.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Playing The Transport Card - Future Shocks - Part 10

I have never exactly shied away from my critique of the fiasco that is current transport policy in this country, and I am fully aware that this country is not on it's own in that regard. The government's current stance on the 4%-9% increase in rail fares is a prime example of how the present strategy is simply going nowhere. According to the government's transport secretary Alastair Darling "It has all got to be paid for and we've got to strike a balance between the amount of money that the taxpayer puts in and the amount that the fare-payer puts in as well." Which is interesting because of course that would appear to suggest that the profit-making company doesn't put any in at all.

Regulated fares, which cover season tickets and saver tickets, are going up by an average of 3.9%, whilst unregulated fares, including cheap day returns, are rising by an average of 4.5% but with this being a mean figure obviously some rises are much higher, anything up to 9% on some lines and these particularly effect tickets bought on the day rather than in advance. The organisation which speaks for the train operators Atoc said all railways on long-distance routes were winning business back from the airlines. I'm sorry but I don't see it. Last year I costed up my trip to the G8 Summit in Edinburgh. I wanted to travel by train because I find it the most conducive way to travel both for my conscience and my comfort. The price of a return to Edinburgh would have been well over £100 (luckily I was not planning to travel through London or in the rush hour or on a Friday!) and I would have had to change trains at least twice, the journey taking around 5-6 hours approximately. This compares very poorly to travel by air. I was able to obtain a return ticket from an airport half an hour away from me direct to Edinburgh for £45 including taxes and the journey took 45 minutes. How was I able to justify being a climate criminal in this regard? Simple really, had I had to go by train I would not have been able to afford to go at all. It is rather ironic really. The situation now after the fare increases cannot be any better. For example a standard return ticket bought from Edinburgh to London will now cost £220, that's hardly a very tempting prospect since I suspect most of the people who could afford to spend £220 for such a journey can easily afford a more luxurious and probably quicker method of transport so I fail to see what demographic is likely to be enticed by such a pricing policy.

Likewise cash fares on the London Underground have gone up to £3 for a single journey. This whole situation is not integrated and it makes a mockery of the government's claim to Kyoto quotas and luring people out of their cars. For instance in Central London the congestion charge is now £5 but that covers the car for the day and whilst you would not buy a succession of single tickets on the Underground a Travelcard which would provide unlimited travel on trains and buses costs between £4.30 for off-peak not including the Central London zone to a staggering £12.40 for all zones that include travel in the rush hour. How does this compare with other cities? Let's see:

  • New York: $2 (£1.16)
  • Paris: €1.40 (96p)
  • Russia: 13 roubles (26p)
  • Madrid: €1.15 (79p)
  • Tokyo: 160-300 yen (78p to £1.48)

Is London worth it? Well, for those of you who can come as tourists and enjoy for a finite period of time perhaps, but for those of us who had to live there, no, definitely not, salaries in London are not so appreciably higher to allow for all the excess amount that one has to spend on the cost of living.

On the other hand I have travelled on the very German-like Park and Ride system in Nottingham which involved free parking just off the M1 and a £2.20 ticket which entitled me to tram travel for the whole day. The journey to the city centre was effortless and efficient and took around 15-20 minutes. The journey back was in the rush hour but I still got on the tram, when I used to commute in London I was often not so fortunate. The Nottingham system is a relatively new one that has been in place less than 5 years as part of a limited resurgence in trams in English cities. Most cities here have not operated trams since the 1960s and there are still plenty that do not operate an efficinet park and ride system using the bus services.

In my view there are 2 specific reasons why the transport system here does not and cannot work if things continue the way the currently are. The first is that ownership is currently often in private hands meaning that investment must come second to profit, and the second reason is that there is no significant sign of genuine concerted investment from the Government, in fact quite the contrary if one considers quotes like that of Mr Darling above which suggest that the incumbant administration is as inclined to allow the public transportation system to fall into disrepair as the Conservative administrations of the 1980-90s were. This usually preceeds a move toward privatisation, although New Labour are well-aware of the negative significance of such a word and prefer the term PPP or Public-Private-Partnership. The end result is much the same.

My idea is that all public transport, which should be primarily electric-based and therefore low emission at source such as trams, electric buses/trolley buses and electric trains, should be in public hands. This way it can be run as a service rather than for profit, this means there may be instances where a service is run at a loss because of the necessity of its continuation as a facility. To this end I would advocate the entire renationalision of the entire rail network, tram systems, bus companies etc. This would require a large financial outlay which should be done on a government compulsory purchase order. The less money outlayed at this point the more can be plunged into direct immediate investment into service provision. It is no use having a transport card type system where the transport infrastructure is not already in place to cope with a massive increase in demand.

There should be a levy raised from gross income in percentage form which should be for the transport card. This should be a sum equivalent to basic costs of transportation for necessary purposes based on travel by public transportation. This should be paid by everyone with no exceptions and should be a percentage of income. There should be no charge for public transport at the point of usage tho' people should be required to have their card read when using public transport. The lack of charge should make public transport an attractive option and have the advantage of providing a fixed defined income for the transportation network and a way of assessing the usage by means of the card.

Everybody’s needs for transport should be evaluated and that amount be put on their transport card. Needs mean just that, for work, school and shopping etc. There should be an ex gratia amount over for use for trips out at weekends and for holiday purposes. There should only be a restriction on private transport methods not on public methods.

Private transport should be thus heartily discouraged, that there may be the need for certain people to have certain access is unquestionable and such allowances can be made on the transport card, enabling the purchase of fuel at a low rate. Other fuel purchases should be heavily taxed so as to make it financially imprudent to have cars that are fuel inefficient. Fuel should only be sold on production and processing of the transport card. Of course fraud in terms of the card and selling of illicit fuel would have to be addressed. To my mind the state must control supply of the fuel in the first place. This is not going to happen with convention oil-based products as the current oil companies have too much lobbying power. Thus less traditional means of fuel need to be used, and this is concurrent with the fact that the oil will run out anyway. I don't know what would be the best method in this instance, my knowledge of the market is not sufficient but the Brazilian use of alcohol, or electricity, gas, biomass, bio-diesel or some such, should be explored.

People who live in areas not covered by public transport should be given the necessary dispensation on their transport card to allow them enough fuel to get to the nearest park and ride point whence they can continue their journey. The system of park and ride works well in Germany where it is rare for most people to commute all the way to work by public transport. Of course ideally the public transportation system should be expanded to include as many remote areas as possible and if there means of transportation is in public hands there should be no reason why the services cannot be provided.

Transportation of goods should be carried out by train and lorries should only be used when necessary for short haul trips from rail depot to final destination. This would have a catastrophic effect on the haulage industry and I'm sorry for those that would be affected by this but I'm afraid the catastrophic effect that will occur on a pan-global scale if we do not drastically change things far outweighs the needs of the lorry drivers and haulage company workers, they can be retrained, the Earth cannot.

This may sound all very draconian and nanny state but I'm afraid there has to be a paradigm shift in how we look at the energy we consume and we are not simply going to do all the work ourselves, we will have to be prodded to do so. At least if the state is in control and governing properly it should be doing so for the good of the people rather than for profit purposes as if in private hands. Naturally for that a different form of government and perhaps completely different form of governmental system needs to be in place, and we'd have to tackle that in another post.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Blind Justice - Future Shocks - Part 9

Frans van Anraat may count himself a little unfortunate to have been given a 15 year jail term for complicity to war crimes particularly in the current geo-political climate. Of course Meneer van Anraat seeking to profit from the sale of constituent components of chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime is something that he should rightly stand trial for and yet this beacon of world justice seems misplaced and hollow in the light of so much that has been going on in the last 50 years.

The weapons created using the components obtained from van Anraat were part of a "a political policy of systematic terror and illegal action against a certain population group," namely Saddam's repression against the Kurds in the Northern areas of Iraq in 1988. A crime widely reported that the US and the rest of the world chose to ignore at the time. Of course one must add the context here that Iraq was the US's choice in the Middle East power struggle of the 1st Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq which ran from 1980-88.

Hmm, interesting, ok fair enough, so how does the van Anraat ruling square with "It is in Britain's interests that Indonesia absorbs the territory [East Timor] as soon and as unobtrusively as possible, and when it comes to the crunch, we should keep our heads down." (Former GB ambassador, Sir John Archibald Ford). British Aerospace Hawk aircraft sold to the Indonesian air force were observed on bombing runs across East Timor every year from 1984 until the Indonesians eventually withdrew from the territory after General Suharto (whose regime originally began purchases of the plane from the Wilson government in 1978) was no longer in charge.

How does this ruling square with U.S. covert operations between 1968 and 1975 to destabilize the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile and, after the violent 1973 coup, to bolster the military regime of Augusto Pinochet, a regime responsible for 'the disappeared' accused of state terrorism and genocide and the definite killing of 3,000 people and probably disposal of a further 1,100+ who remain unaccounted for?

How does this ruling square with the Nicaragua contra funded operations of the US that resulted in the destruction both of government and economy in Nicaragua and the loss of 60,000 lives? The Sandinista government had won international acclaim for its gains in literacy, health care, education, childcare, unions, and land reform. The US paid $178 billion to destabilise and eventually bring down the government in 1990.

van Anraat is not the first in the US-led succession of kangaroo trials. Taking things from Nuremburg on, it is worth analysing the actual numbers of those Nazis convicted. It is hardly surprising that Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter, had enough work to keep him going until his death more than 50 years after the Nuremburg trials. The end of the Second World War maked the shift of the US's enemy from Fascism to Communism and thus a principle of the enemy of my enemy is my friend has been applied. Hence coutless Nazis were simply overlooked in the quest to rebuild West Germany as a buffer against the emergence of a Soviet-influenced Eastern Europe.

In more recent times one need look no further than the trial of Slobodan Milosevic another case of victor's justice. The Milosevic trial has gone remarkably silent since the defendent decided he was going to actually stand up for himself and not wallow in the dock in contrite fashion. Time was it was in the news every day and yet a couple of sucessive days of Milosevic's defence and he was micraculously dropped from the schedules. I can only suspect that the trial of Saddam will go much the same way should the bearded one attempt to put up any sort of cogent fight. It is rather coincidental that his defence team seem to have a life expectancy akin to First World War pilots and yet the prosecutors who one might think would be the targets of the remaining insurgents appear to be either anonymous or adequately protected.

Whilst the world allows one single country to prosecute all others whilst it itself refuses to even subject any of its citizens to international legal scrutiny there can be no justice.

I know there will be many Americans remain in the belief that the US is a force for good in the world. Whatever one thinks of the motives and however naive one may be regarding the involvement take a closer look at US involvement across the globe since WWII, you may find the following a good starting point for research. Take one of these conflicts and research why it happened. Look at why it has been "necessary" for the US to bomb over 50 countries since WWII. Look at how it has been possible for the US to in fact invade a British sovereign territory in 1983 when Thatcher was still in charge. If you choose to you will find twice as much again between the years of 1798 and 1948 so it is hardly a recent phenomenon.

  • 1946 - Iran - troops deployed in northern province.
  • 1946 - 1949 - China - Major US army presence of about 100,000 troops, fighting, training and advising local combatants.
  • 1947 - 1949 - Greece - US forces wage a 3-year counterinsurgency campaign.
  • 1948 - Italy - Heavy CIA involvement in national elections.
  • 1948 - 1954 - Philippines - Commando operations, "secret" CIA war.
  • 1950 - 1953 - Korea - Major forces engaged in war in Korean peninsula.
  • 1953 - Iran - CIA overthrows government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.
  • 1954 - Vietnam - Financial and material support for colonial French military operations, leads eventually to direct US military involvement.
  • 1954 - Guatemala - CIA overthrows the government of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.
  • 1958 - Lebanon - US marines and army units totaling 14,000 land.
  • 1958 - Panama - Clashes between US forces in Canal Zone and local citizens.
  • 1959 - Haiti - US Marines land.
  • 1960 - Congo - CIA-backed overthrow and assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
  • 1960 - 1964 - Vietnam - Gradual introduction of military advisors and special forces.
  • 1961 - Cuba - failure of CIA-backed and trained Bay of Pig invasion aimed at deposing Castro.
  • 1962 - Cuba - Cuban Missile Crisis, Nuclear threat and naval blockade (US aggressive tactics met with stonewall from Kruschev who refused to sanction retalitory actions)
  • 1962 - Laos - CIA-backed military coup.
  • 1963 - Ecuador - CIA backs military overthrow of President Jose Maria Valesco Ibarra.
  • 1964 - Panama - Clashes between US forces in Canal Zone and local citizens.
  • 1964 - Brazil - CIA-backed military coup overthrows the government of Joao Goulart and Gen. Castello Branco takes power.
  • 1965 - 1975 - Vietnam - Large commitment of military forces, including air, naval and ground units numbering up to 500,000+ troops. Full-scale war, lasting for ten years.
  • 1965 - Indonesia - CIA-backed army coup overthrows President Sukarno and brings Gen. Suharto to power.
  • 1965 - Congo - CIA backed military coup overthrows President Joseph Kasavubu and brings Joseph Mobutu to power.
  • 1965 - Dominican Republic - 23,000 troops land.
  • 1965 - 1973 - Laos - Bombing campaign begin, lasting eight years.
  • 1966 - Ghana - CIA-backed military coup ousts President Kwame Nkrumah.
  • 1966 - 1967 - Guatemala - Extensive counter-insurgency operation.
  • 1969 - 1975 - Cambodia - CIA supports military coup against Prince Sihanouk, bringing Lon Nol to power. Intensive bombing for seven years along border with Vietnam.
  • 1970 - Oman - Counter-insurgency operation, including coordination with Iranian marine invasion.
  • 1971 - 1973 - Laos - Invasion by US and South Vietnames forces.
  • 1973 - Chile - CIA-backed military coup ousts government of President Salvador Allende. Gen. Augusto Pinochet comes to power.
  • 1975 - Cambodia - Marines land, engage in combat with government forces.
  • 1976 - 1992 - Angola - Military and CIA operations.
  • 1980 - Iran - Special operations units land in Iranian desert. Helicopter malfunction leads to aborting of planned raid.
  • 1981 - Libya - Naval jets shoot down two Libyan jets in maneuvers over the Mediterranean.
  • 1981 - 1992 - El Salvador - CIA and special forces begin a long counterinsurgency campaign.
  • 1981 - 1990 - Nicaragua - CIA directs exile "Contra" operations. US air units drop sea mines in harbors.
  • 1982 - 1984 - Lebanon - Marines land and naval forces fire on local combatants.
  • 1983 - Grenada - Military forces invade Grenada.
  • 1983 - 1989 - Honduras - Large program of military assistance aimed at conflict in Nicaragua.
  • 1984 - Iran - Two Iranian jets shot down over the Persian Gulf.
  • 1986 - Libya - US aircraft bomb the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, including direct strikes at the official residence of President Muamar al Qadaffi.
  • 1986 - Bolivia - Special Forces units engage in counter-insurgency.
  • 1987 - 1988 - Iran - Naval forces block Iranian shipping. Civilian airliner shot down by missile cruiser.
  • 1989 - Libya - Naval aircraft shoot down two Libyan jets over Gulf of Sidra.
  • 1989 - Philippines - CIA and Special Forces involved in counterinsurgency.
  • 1989 - 1990 - Panama - 27,000 troops as well as naval and air power used to overthrow government of President Noriega.
  • 1990 - Liberia - Troops deployed.
  • 1990 - 1991 - Iraq - Major military operation, including naval blockade, air strikes; large number of troops attack Iraqi forces in occupied Kuwait.
  • 1991 - 2003 - Iraq - Control of Iraqi airspace in north and south of the country with periodic attacks on air and ground targets.
  • 1991 - Haiti - CIA-backed military coup ousts President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
  • 1992 - 1994 - Somalia - Special operations forces intervene.
  • 1992 - 1994 - Yugoslavia - Major role in NATO blockade of Serbia and Montenegro.
  • 1993 - 1995 - Bosnia - Active military involvement with air and ground forces.
  • 1994 - 1996 - Haiti - Troops depose military rulers and restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office.
  • 1995 - Croatia - Krajina Serb airfields attacked.
  • 1996 - 1997 - Zaire (Congo) - Marines involved in operations in eastern region of the country.
  • 1997 - Liberia - Troops deployed.
  • 1998 - Sudan - Air strikes destroy country's major pharmaceutical plant.
  • 1998 - Afghanistan - Attack on targets in the country.
  • 1998 - Iraq - Four days of intensive air and missile strikes.
  • 1999 - Yugoslavia - Major involvement in NATO air strikes.
  • 2001 - Macedonia - NATO troops shift and partially disarm Albanian rebels.
  • 2001 - Afghanistan - Air attacks and ground operations oust Taliban government and install a new regime.
  • 2003 - Iraq - Invasion with large ground, air and naval forces ousts government of Saddam Hussein and establishes new government.
  • 2003 - present - Iraq - Occupation force of 150,000 troops in protracted counter-insurgency war
  • 2004 - Haiti - Marines land. CIA-backed forces overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Of course that's the price of freedom isn't it? World's police force eh? Or perhaps more the actions of a country that is hell-bent on completely safeguarding its interests at all costs despite the price in human terms.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Fat Of The Land - Future Shocks - Part 8

You do not have to look very far into the news reports these days without finding out about the "time bomb" that is the obesity problem that is facing this country. Statistics are bandied about with wanton abandon including: that obesity costs £7.4 billion to the NHS, that diabetes will rise by 54% over the next few years whilst heart disease will rise by 20%, whilst 20% is also the number of Scottish children who are now in the obese category. People talk about 'fat-tax' and that the 'fatties' should get off their backsides and stop eating so much as if people are on some form of voluntary self-destruction course.

A worrying report has emerged recently about the East Suffolk Primary Healthcare Trust who in an effort to save money have been denying 10 clinically obese patients the hip and knee replacement operations that they require. The patients have been told that they must first lose weight before they will receive their surgery. There is no information as to what steps the trust may have taken to assist the 10 patients to lose weight.

This is another example of the thin end of the wedge, since it assumes that it is acceptable to deny people surgery if they deviate from a required norm. This started with the call for smokers to be denied treatment for any smoking related illness unless they gave up. The same interestingly has not been true of drinking and the late George Best, despite medical problems caused by chronic alcoholism, was still the recipient of a new liver and given the best medical care money could buy in the Cromwell hospital in West London, it didn't stop the alcohol eventually doing for him in the end.

The denial of treatment to people for any reason is alarming, it is even more so when no connection is made with the fact that modern life is increasingly consumption based in all forms. I do not know the hippocratic oath in its entirety but I do not recall any part of it including the caveats that doctors need only treat certain types of people if they can prove that any ailment is not somehow self-inflicted.

Notice that such a move not to treat certain types of people will always start with groups who do not have a great deal of sympathy, it is acceptable to be anti-fat and the ill-informed assumption that fat people just shouldn't eat so much is seldom rebutted. I am fat myself, I freely admit it, I am no longer in the dangerously obese section, a section which is surprisingly easy to fall into, you might assume that I was the size of a house but no, well, small cavaran perhaps! My weight problem could be caused by a variety of factors but in my case lethargy is partially if not mainly to blame. However studies have shown that our diet directly affects our energy levels and this means that there can be something of a vicious circle- eat shit food (which is often cheap and readily available), have no energy or inclination to then do any exercise. Is it our fault, well, yes it is but the trap is easy to fall into and difficult to get out of just as it is with any addictive lifestyle and our prediliction for fast food does nothing to alleviate this, quite the contrary.

Intrinsically I agree with a fat tax but it is only fair if obesity is treated properly as an addiction and dealt with the same as any addiction should be, think of fatty foods as heroin. OK, that sounds bizarre but you wouldn't say that other people who are not heroin addicts could dabble in a bit of smack from time to time so why should it be the same with fast food of no nutritional value. Of course this cannot happen using bans and legislation it has to be considerably more proactive. A tax needs to be levvied on foods that are high particularly in saturated fat. Some of the revenue from this needs to be channeled into subsidies for certain foods which are beneficial alternatives because if you make the healthy option affordable and the fatty option less so then you automatically entice towards good food rather than the current trend for poor food. For example most people will these days buy vegetable oil for their cooking because it is cheap, furthermore one of the worst proponents in fast food outlets is hydrogenated vegetable oil which is packed with saturated fat. If extra virgin olive oil were even only double the price you would have a far greater number of people using it instead, it is considerably tastier for food as well as it being far less high in saturated fats and higher in polyunsaturates. Likewise if companies had financial incentives to reduce the amount of high-salt, high-sugar processed foods in favour of fresher lower calorie, lower-carbohydrate options it might change their business plans somewhat.

The same can be said of exercise. It is all very well for the middle classes to have the options of gym membership at £25-£50 per month but that is an exorbidant amount of money for the majority of people in this country, whilst you may at the same time point out that a great many would spend the same amount on Sky TV and the National Lottery these are all part of the social sleeping drugs of the working classes. If exercise is to be made part of the modern routine it has to be engendered at a young age and that means both in school and at home. For this to happen there must be the facilities for all sorts of varieties of activity, after all playing football is not everyone's cup of tea. At the moment we are woefully short of facilities and in recent times that trend has worsened considerably with the state school playing fields being sold off left, right and centre. Youth clubs are often non-existent in deprived inner-city areas whilst under-funded and manned by volunteers in the marginally more cohesive suburbs and rural communities.

You cannot demonise one section of the population when it is clear that societal constructs mean that this section is on the increase beyond any reasonable control. However it is unsurprising that obesity is very much a social class issue, the lower income brackets, ie people without access to good quality fresh food or often the time to cook properly are most vulnerable to fast food and low quality, cheap ingredients. Our throwaway culture has led to throwaway attitude to food, most families barely if ever sit down to a proper meal together, contrast this with Italy where a family meal tends to be an event and savoured with antipasti, wine, main course, pudding etc. etc. There are undoubtedly fat Italians but the meditteranean diet is far lower in fat and cholesterol and hence the rates of obesity and the corresponding heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes rates etc. are appreciably lower.

The school run in my day used to involve walking or getting the bus, only a handful of people at my primary school were picked up in the car the rest of us didn't even contemplate it and neither did our parents. Nowadays it is de rigeur for little Johnny or Sharon as well as little Portia or Toby to be carted in en voiture be it a 4x4 off road vehicle or MPV. The roads around schools are gridlocked at 9am whilst the pavements remain empty. External activities take planning and cost money whilst watching the TV or buying the kids a Playstation 2 are considered low maintenance activities. "Anything for a quiet life." Can we really be surprised that our children are accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle when it is us that have taught it to them by everything they see around them at home and in school. Of course active children are less maleable and can be a handful, that's because they are children, it's what they do, the pushing of boundaries against their parents is designed to test limits on people who are not supposed to knock seven shades of shite out of them before they get into the real world.

So the question is, do we as a society wish to continue to sit back and watch our children die whilst the fast-food companies reap huge profits or start to change things fundamentally and accept finally that the freedom to choose is a hollow one when you don't actually have any genuine choices.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Murder The Murderers - Future Shocks - Part 7

If you believe sources up to and including 2003 anything up to 77% of Britons would support the re-introduction of the death penalty which was abolished here in 1965. I leave 2003 as a qualifier because whilst one might think that in the onslaught on human rights perpetrated by the New Labour government over the last few years many people might be thinking twice about such a policy, in fact I suspect with so many being hoodwinked about the War on Terror and so eager to allow the death sentences on soldiers thousands of miles away the number now may be even higher.

The arguments in favour of capital punishment are fairly unchanging, usually that the person is a monster and those responsible for severe crimes such as serial murder mutilation, sexual assault, killing children can have no mercy shown to them as they have not shown mercy to their victims. There is the beleif that people who commit crimes of a certain nature deserve to have the ultimate sentence passed on them because they can have no part in society. It is said that the death penalty is a deterrent to show strength of resolve to those who may contemplate the most grievous of crimes.

Whilst the arguements for may be presented most often the rebuttals or a full examination of these arguments to determine whether they hold any weight is not given as much airtime.

The issue of prevention is certainly not proven, there are still many more murders in US than many countries w/out death penalty, this is not due simply to the high percentage of gun ownership in the US because proportionally Canada has a similar ratio per capita and yet the murder rate is negligible by comparison in spite of there being no capital punishment. Those who see this as a cure to the evils of a section of society are deluding themselves it is yet another example of the modern abdication of responsibility which is becoming so synonymous with our Western society to make it almost indistinguishable from the norm now. Whose right is it to call time on the prospects for rehabilitation of an individual? Are we really therefore bound into acceptance of the moral premise that people can be intrinsically evil? I'm afraid I simply do not believe this, humans are born with predilictions but their character is not pre-determined and therefore they are a product of their environment because it is this that shapes how behavioural traits which may be inherent manifest themselves in later life.

There is little doubt that the increasing violent nature of stimuli around us has produced more violent crime and less respect for ones fellow human, no doubting that poverty coupled with avarice increases muggings and burglary. I think it is pretty obvious that the over-sexualisation of children reduces the desire to nurture. So if it is a series of societal forces that often shape the path we take does society not have to take some responsibility if the direction appears to be going seriosly awry?

The biggest question of all which I have never heard satisfactorily resolved or even cogently argued against is who passes judgement on the state if the state gets it wrong? And it will get it wrong, there is an inevitabilty about that, in this country alone we have seen many high-profile cases of rectifiction of miscarriages of justice decades after sentencing. In the case of the Birmingham 6 who were wrongly imprisoned in the 1970s the judge said in his summing up that it was a pity the death sentence had been repealed for he would have had no hesitation in passing it upon them. How lucky for the judge that he did not have that on his conscience 20 odd years later when the full nature of the cover up and flimsyness of evidence waqs revealed. Guiseppe Conlan died in jail and the others were robbed of the most productive years of their lives, that is bad enough, had they been executed there would have been no possibility for the state to begin to atone. It is rare that I agree wholeheartedly with the Vatican but Cardinal Renato Martino, Vatican Justice and Peace Department sums it up succinctly: "This is terrible because you know the death penalty is a penalty where there is no alternative, there is no possibility for the human being who happens to be a criminal - to be corrected, to reform, to become a good citizen. With the death penalty you don't give that alternative and that is not taking into account the many, many mistakes and errors, judicial errors that we discover from time to time were committed and innocent people were executed."

There are plenty of examples where we know full well that this has been the case and others where there is sufficient doubt such as in the case of Derek Bentley who was hanged in Britain in 1953 despite even at his trial there being serious doubts as to the semantic inference of words he uttered at the scene of the crime. Bentley was not the man who pulled the trigger, but there was the school of thought that his words "Let him have it Chris" to his co-conspirator were incitement to murder and not in response to the policeman's request to the 2 men that the gun be handed over. One has to remember that in 1953 gun crime was comparitively rare in this country and the killing of a "friendly bobby" was regarded as one of the big taboos. The actual killer of PC, Chris Craig was a minor and therefore unable to stand trial for murder full-scale, Bentley however was 19 and provided a useful scapegoat for the public outcry and police anger at the death of one of their own. It is widely acknowledged now that the case against Derek Bentley had serious flaws and his execution was a serious miscarriage of justice. Furthermore Bentley would have been regarded now as potentially mentally unfit for the death penalty. On the 30th July 1998 the British Court of Appeal quashed Derek Bentley's original conviction and 1 year later the Home Office agreed to compensate the Bentley family some 46 years after his death. For the family of course compensation is something of a hollow gesture in response to the loss of life.

In the recent case of Stanley 'Tookie' Williams a dangerous precedent has been set by the US authorities, the Los Angeles district attorney's office has said of Williams: "There can be no redemption... and there should be no mercy." Their statement being because Williams has not admitted responsibility for the murders. Governator of California Schwarzenegger adds "Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologise or otherwise atone for the murders of the four victims in this case. Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption." Surely it would be somewhat cynical if a person who did not commit a crime confessed to said crime merely in the hope of achieving some clemency by being seen by the authorities as taking responsibility for his actions? As Jesse Jackson says "I'm disappointed that Mr Schwarzenegger has chosen death over life, he's chosen revenge over redemption."

For the rest of this entry I will work under the presumption of WIlliams being guilty because if he is not it is yet another example of an innocent black man being killed because of US society's ambivalence. If however Williams did indeed carry out the murders then the case has a degree more moral ambiguity and that makes it interesting to study.

There is no doubting the Williams was involved in the early days of the South Central LA gangland violence in the 1970s that is now rife across the US, he was indeed the founder of the largest gang in the US the Cripps. Undoubtedly this means he is likely to have been involved in some violent crimes, whether perpetrating or orchestrating them himself. This is perhaps more severe than the formative years of most people who even if they go off the rails a little do not start arming themselves against others, but most people do not grow up as a black man in 1960s/1970s America an environment that is unquestionably one of extreme detrimental prejudice. This is of course no excuse, not all who grew up in that environment chose the path that Williams did, and yet there were many others that did so and it would be a foolish person that would assert that all those involved at that stage are still violent and dangerous members of society whilst now largely in their 50s.

Stanley Williams was found guilty of murder in 1981 and for his first 12 years in prison was violent and uncooperative. In 1993 he appears to have undergone something of a turnaround, renouncing his gang membership and apologising for the founding of the Crips. He became an anti-gang activist and wrote extensively to that effect including a number of childrens books. Williams was nominated 4 times for the Nobel Peace Prize from 2001 to 2005 and it is quite clear that his work has had some effect in areas where gang membership and activity may have been hitherto seen as glamorous. Does this mean Williams has exonerated himself for the murders it is alleged he committed, no, but is it not more useful to have a man once synonymous with gangland violence working on the other side trying to dissuede the next generation from falling into the same trap? As it is a dead Williams is of no use to those killed or their families, neither is he any use to those fighting against the culture of gang violence. Is he any use to the state now, obviously not but there are many who will deem it fitting that he is no longer a drain on tax dollars. The fact that whilst the gangland violence continues apace the tax dollars spent on policing will steadily increase will be lost on these people as most rational arguments are. Their's is the politics of knee-jerk and retribution, justice doesn't really get a look in.

Perhaps the final irony in the case of Tookie Williams is that a man, famed for his 'Hasta la Vista' approach to legislation in his films, a man forever toting more and more technologically-advanced and futuristic weaponry and a man who typifies the whole US macho culture, should be the one to refuse the final appeal for clemency.

The phrase 'you reap what you sow' springs to mind... yet again.