31 October 2009

Fired for telling the truth

The Government's decision to sack Professor David Nutt, the chief drugs adviser, is appalling, and shows what can happen to people if they don't toe the line of the police state, even if it happens to be complete garbage.

Nutt was accused by Home Secretary Alan Johnson of 'undermining the scientific independence of the council'. Why? Because he happened to voice an independent scientific opinion - that cannabis was actually less harmful than nicotine or alcohol. Given the relative numbers of people who use all three drugs, I would wager that alcohol is by far the most harmful (although I would need to check the evidence to be sure, something that David Nutt has done, and Alan Johnson and Gordon Brown haven't).

The real reason David Nutt was sacked is because he dared to use his own brain rather than doing what Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson do, which is just to regurgitate whatever the Daily Mail tells them. Drugs policy in this country is dictated by the tabloid press - and it is a shameful failure. Reclassification of cannabis to Class C when David Blunkett was Home Secretary was a step in the right direction; reclassification back to Class B is a ludicrous retrograde step. Full legalisation is the best way to go - and would also allow the product to be subject to quality controls, which would mean less of the extremely strong 'skunk' varieties (which can, in some cases, cause psychotic episodes) would make it out into the market.

More problematically, David Nutt feels that drugs legislation should be decided by an independent committee along the lines of the Monetary Policy Committee which sets interest rates. I can see some logic in that but taken to its logical conclusion it would mean the death of democracy - policies would just be decided by committees of experts. There are big problems with that (particularly if the experts fall into the hands of corporate lobbyists) but given the crap that mainstream politicians talk about some of these big issues, you can understand why intellectuals like Nutt get frustrated by all this.

I hope the government's whole drugs advisory board resigns and leaves them with no experts - presumably they would have to replace them with a list of advisers specified by the Daily Mail. It would serve them right.

30 October 2009

Blair: Sanity prevailing?

Some good news in the news this morning - there's just a chance that Tony Blair's star is on the wane as far as Europe is concerned. A lack of support from European socialist leaders is undermining his chances. Not surprising when you consider that Blair is about as obviously a centre-right politician as you're going to get (and further to the right on many issues, like foreign policy, where he is a Bushite neo-conservative). Is that really going to be attractive to anyone on the left? I don't think so.

Significantly, the few leaders who have spoken out in support of Blair are centre-right leaders like France's Nicholas Sarkozy, Germany's Angela Merkel, and the UK's Gordon Brown. Left-wingers like Austria's Werner Fayman and Spain's Jose Luis Zapatero have criticised Blair for being too close to Bush. In any case, the centre-left in Europe is not what it once was; despite a big success in Greece recently, they did not do well in the Euro elections in June and they lost badly in Germany last month. So it may be that the left does a deal with the right whereby the left gets the EU foreign minister position whereas the right gets to pick the president.

The irony is, of course, that Blair could be the ideal centre-right candidate. But I don't think the European right would trust him enough.

It's a pity this whole argument isn't taking place next year - at which point (presumably) Gordon Brown would be eligible for the job. While Brown is not that much better than Blair in terms of political pedigree, he is some slight improvement with regard to most issues - and it would be hilarious for a UK Tory government to have to watch Gordon Brown in that position in Europe. It might even lead to Britain leaving the EU - which in some ways might be a good thing. Tony Blair as EU president might have a similar result, but we can't submit hundreds of millions of EU citizens to leadership by a war criminal just because it makes Dave Cameron's life difficult. That's not fair.

28 October 2009

Catholic Church: Dawkins tells it like it is

I've resisted the temptation to write another critical blog post about the Catholic Church, as Richard Dawkins in the Washington Post has done it much better than I can. This is one of the best articles ever written. Get this:

What major institution most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world? In a field of stiff competition, the Roman Catholic Church is surely up there among the leaders.

They [Anglican clergy converting to Catholicism] just can't stomach the idea of women priests. One wonders how their wives can stomach a husband whose contempt for women is so visceral that he considers them incapable even of the humble and unexacting duties of a priest.

It's a home run out of the park! The guy is a genius.

27 October 2009

The REAL extremists in society go unchecked and unnoticed

Excellent articles by Mark Thomas and Henry Porter on the continued growth of the UK's police state - in particular, the use of a covert surveillance network to monitor "domestic extremists".

"Domestic extremist" is a new category which encompasses such "dangerous" people as anti-war demonstrators, climate change activists, and animal rights protesters.

As the Guardian reports,

Three national police units responsible for combating domestic extremism are run by the "terrorism and allied matters" committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In total, it receives £9m in public funding, from police forces and the Home Office, and employs a staff of 100...

Surveillance officers are provided with "spotter cards" used to identify the faces of target individuals who police believe are at risk of becoming involved in domestic extremism. Targets include high-profile activists regularly seen taking part in protests. One spotter card, produced by the Met to monitor campaigners against an arms fair, includes a mugshot of the comedian Mark Thomas.

ACPO seems to be largely unaccountable to the public and is exempt from Freedom of Information requests as it's a private body - as this letter makes clear.

So what we have is a situation where unaccountable covert operations are taking place to monitor people who in most cases have committed no crime and have no criminal record.

Even if you do something as anodyne and uncontroversial as going to an anti-war or climate change demonstration, or attending a public meeting about airport expansion, you could be a candidate for tracking via the automatic number-plate recognition system.

When confronted with the notion that this surveillance of people who have done nothing wrong - and are very unlikely to do anything wrong, except if you call embarrassing the government being wrong - was unacceptable, Anton Setchell, national co-ordinator of domestic extremism operations for ACPO, retorted: "everyone who has a criminal record did not have one once."

Of course, that's an argument for 24/7 surveillance of the whole population. Which is where we're headed - by stealth. This country is becoming surveyed up to the eyeballs (or the camera-eye-balls) and we are making it easier for an authoritarian dictatorship to take over in the next few decades than you can possibly imagine.

Perhaps most annoying about this is that some of the biggest extremists in our society - for example, the kind of homophobes that beat up a police trainee in Liverpool earlier this week - aren't being tracked at all. Despite the fact that they are causing far more violence than any climate change protester. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that ACPO's definition of what constitutes a 'domestic extremist' is determined by its political agenda - which is extreme right wing.

Other dangerous groups who seem to have so far escaped surveillance as domestic extremists are:

  • the UK Conservative Party, which is a European alliance with neo-Nazi homophobes from Latvia and Poland;
  • the current leadership of the Roman Catholic church, which is forging an alliance of reactionaries by poaching the most conservative elements of the Church of England;
  • the war criminal Tony Blair.
It's a crazy world when innocent people are molested for going about their business, while the real nutters are allowed a free rein. But what can you do?

Monbiot on Blair - this is a classic

I love this from George Monbiot in the Guardian:

"Making this ruthless liar EU president is a crazy plan. But I'll be backing Blair".

Monbiot makes the very interesting argument that if Blair were EU president, he would probably have to travel to countries where the crime of aggression - waging an unprovoked international war - is recognised (it isn't in the UK, worryingly). And that would provide an opportunity to arrest the bastard.

Blair would of course argue that there was provocation - that Saddam Hussein was a 'clear and present danger' to the West. But since the evidence for that is about as good as the infamous 'dodgy dossier', I wouldn't expect that evidence to get him out of the hole.

It's a crazy plan, perhaps. And yet it might just work. Good on ya George (Monbiot, not Bush, obviously).

26 October 2009

Blair had better watch it

Now here's a good headline:

Tony Blair warned: fight or you'll lose EU job (Guardian)

I hope Blair doesn't go round fighting, as that would give a lot of people the excuse they've been waiting for to lay one on the bastard.

Perhaps someone should point out, in any case, that it might be a good idea to, y'know, have a president we actually voted for?

I was in Chelmsford last Saturday and there was a guy on a soapbox in the high street with a UK Independence Party rosette on talking about how bad the EU was. There were up to 2 people listening to him at a time. Both with UKIP rosettes on. I'm now convinced that UKIP is a front funded by the EU to make the anti-EU side seem stupid by making the arguments in the most lame and unconvincing way. We need a proper left-of-centre anti-EU movement. So how about it, kids? Come on, otherwise we're gonna get Tony Blair as President.

24 October 2009

Now 8 million people know that Griffin is a lame-ass punk

Well I watched the episode of Question Time on the iPlayer last night (we were just too knackered to watch it Thursday night) and all I can say is: well done Bonnie Greer. The politicians on the panel (I mean, the non-fascist politicians) were all OK, although they all made the mistake of trying to compete with the BNP by sounding tough on immigration. Whereas in fact, while lack of funds for local authorities to provide services for immigrants in certain local areas is a huge concern, the fact is that without the huge influx of cheap highly skilled labour from the EU accession countries from 2003 onwards, the UK economy would have gone down the toilet a whole lot quicker than it actually did.

But Bonnie Greer showed Nick Griffin up to be the incoherent, preposterous blubbermouth that he really is. Griffin: "we want only the indigenous population that were here 17,000 years ago to be allowed to stay". Bonnie: "what about the Romans, Nick? They had people of every colour in their society and their armies... and when the empire collapsed those people were mostly left here".

Griffin couldn't answer any of the substantive arguments. Worse, he tried to laugh off serious criticism. Worse still, when questioned by a "non-indigenous" member of the audience who asked "I love this country, Nick - where am I supposed to go instead?" he said "you'll be allowed to stay". So he didn't even have the guts to tell someone, face to face, that he wanted them out of the country.

Worst of all, Griffin wasn't even able to give a straight answer to whether he was, or had ever been, a holocaust denier. He claimed that European law wouldn't let him. Bullshit!

I'm really pleased Griffin went on Question Time, and I think David Dimbleby (who I normally think is a pompous right-winger) did quite a good job putting him on the spot. 8 million people saw the show, apparently, and I would be extremely surprised if there was any uptick in support for the BNP as a result of this cringeworthy performance. Griffin has been revealed to be the lamest of opportunistic hack politicians and with any luck, this will be seen in retrospect as the point where the party's decline into irrelevance started.

UPDATE: A poll in the Telegraph conducted immediately after the programme shows that 22 percent of voters 'would consider' voting for the BNP. Meanwhile, support has increased from 2% to 3% over the last month. But that's not even a statistically significant increase. Whilst there's no way we should be complacent about the BNP polling even 1%, these kind of numbers suggest that the Question Time appearance is not going to make the BNP an electoral threat anytime soon.

21 October 2009

A little light weekend reading

In advance of the BNP's appearance on Question Time tomorrow, the excellent Wikileaks site has published the party's membership list as of April 2009. Have a look and check if any of your friends, family or work colleagues has a guilty secret.

Vatican makes the lines clearer: it's time to jump ship, Michael

Only a few days after my previous post about Michael Moore and progressives vs conservatives in the Roman Catholic church, the news emerges that the Vatican has set up a special section of the Catholic Church especially for 'conservative' (i.e. reactionary, sexist, homophobic) Anglicans unhappy with 'dangerous' reforms such as female bishops, to jump ship.

It's an calculated play by the Catholic church to boost its numbers at the expense of the Anglicans. And if I were Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, I'd be very pleased.

Why? Because this is his chance to get rid of all the reactionary idiots who have been standing in the way of the Anglican church actually being something relevant for the modern world rather than the middle ages. This is the break that liberals in the C of E have been waiting for.

The present situation is confused, with the Catholic church containing its fair share of people with a brain in amongst all the reactionary Stalinists and people who are content to let the Vatican do their thinking for them. Conversely, the Anglican church features its fair share of dorks in amongst the enlightened modern Christians.

It'd be much easier if all the sexist homophobe assholes jumped ship for the RC church, in exchange for people who have some hope of integrating into modern society.

Of course, this means that the best place for Michael Moore to be is in the US Episcopalean church, not the Catholic church. So how about it, Michael? When you gonna jump ship?

20 October 2009

We need to give the BNP enough rope to hang themselves

An interesting debate has been raging about whether the British National Party should be on Question Time this week. Several prominent politicians, including Peter Hain and Alan Johnson, have said they shouldn't.

Clearly the BNP is the biggest bunch of fascist assholes operating in the UK. Nick Griffin is a fatboy version of Adolf Hitler. It would be funny if millions of people weren't voting for this shit.

But because millions of people are voting for this shit, the BBC is quite right that it has to invite the BNP on to Question Time - it is, after all, meant to be impartial.

I think that if the BNP was kept off the programme they would be able to present themselves as the victims of a witch-hunt, which in the long run would work to their advantage.

Instead, if Griffin goes on the programme and talks what will undoubtedly be a load of fascist claptrap, he will be exposed as one of the most dangerous people in Britain, with stupid and incoherent arguments, and it is unlikely that BNP support will go anywhere but down the plughole. This process will be made easier if the other participants in the programme - Chris Huhne, Bonnie Greer, Jack Straw and Baroness Warsi - are even halfway competent. And I think they will be at least that.

One problem for the major parties, of course, is that their own rhetoric - particularly on issues like immigration and national security when they try to 'talk tough' - often sounds like the BNP, and one can't blame voters for being confused. But that's the major parties' fault. Griffin could quite reasonably claim that Gordon Brown's phrase "British jobs for British workers" sounds like something out of the BNP manifesto. Because, let's face it, it does. So Jack Straw might have a bit of explaining to do there. But if this process helps other parties become less like the BNP that's surely a good thing.

12 October 2009

Does Michael Moore prove that Catholicism is progressive?

An interesting post from Austen Iverleigh at Comment is Free about Michael Moore.

In a recent Youtube clip, the extreme right-wing Fox News host Sean Hannity invites Moore to classify himself as an "unapologetic socialist."

It's a sad comment on contemporary America (and indeed Britain) that Moore didn't just say "yes I am". Instead he said "I am a Christian" and then got into an argument with Hannity about the true nature of Christianity - or to be more specific, Catholicism.
Moore wins out in this instance, because Hannity is an ignorant bully-boy moron, just like everyone else on Fox News.

And I'd certainly agree that there's a lot that's socialistic about Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels. But what about Roman Catholicism in particular? Is it a progressive ideology?

Overall I would have to say that Catholicism as laid down by the leader of the Catholic Church - i.e. the Pope - cannot be progressive, because it is fundamentally characterised by two reactionary assumptions. These are:

  • the completely anti-democratic principle that the Pope is chosen by a conclave of Catholic leaders (cardinals) rather than elected by churchgoers;
  • the stipulation that women cannot be Catholic priests.
There are other things that the Catholic church does that I disagree with but these seem to me to be the two obvious stipulations that make it impossible to see the "official" Catholic church line as anything but reactionary. It's built on authoritarianism and misogyny.

Now it's certainly the case that there are millions of people in the Catholic church - including Michael Moore - who are very left of centre politically. And they may well be left of centre because they're influenced by Christian teachings. But to me, they're left of centre despite being in the Catholic church.

So why stay in the Catholic church if the leadership is diametrically opposed to your views about the way it should be run? Why not leave and join another church? It's not as if there aren't a lot to choose from.

That's the question I'd like Michael Moore (whom I have the greatest respect for, by the way) to answer.

09 October 2009

Why has Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?


I mean, don't get me wrong, I like the guy, and he deserves the Ted Kennedy memorial prize for not being George W Bush, or something like that.

But after only 9 months in the job can anybody really say that he's done enough to qualify for this prize? Is not starting any more wars enough to qualify?

If he'd pulled troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, created a Palestian state, managed to persuade Robert Mugabe to give up the presidency without bloodshed, and brought proper democracy to China - and indeed to the US and the UK - then maybe, just maybe. But it all feels a bit premature.

The Nobel Prize committee says the reward is for intentions rather than achievements. But that's like saying we should give the 14-year old kid who's the fastest in the world at 100 metres for his or her age the Olympic Gold medal on the basis that they 'intend' to win the title one day soon. I thought it was meant to be an achievement award? By all means let's have a "pre-Noble" for the Person Most Likely To, or something. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

Next up: a Mercury Music prize for my new avant garde glam rock project, "Lawrence Stole My Evolver." Because I haven't recorded it yet, but I've got every intention of it being the best album ever made. Which must be enough, right?

08 October 2009

Possibly a blip, or...

Jeez, Dave Cameron does talk a bag of shite.

It's "more big government that got us into this mess"?! Nah mate, as Hyman Minksy pointed out, Big Government is the thing that's actually keeping us afloat...

Very interesting poll in YouGov today... Tories 40 percent, Labour 31. The lead down below points for the first time in about 10 months. That could be just a blip, of course. Or it could be that people have taken a look at Tory policies... and they don't much like what they see.

Not much cuddly Conservatism left anymore... it's all cheap authoritarian punks like Michael Gove or Liam Fox. These guys don't want small government... they want Big Government shoving a jackboot up yer ass. Just like their friends on the Polish and Latvian far right.

As Millwall so rightly say... F*** em all.

06 October 2009

Latvia: towards revolution

I haven't blogged anything about the Tory party conference yet as it's simply too duff to comment on. Maybe in a couple of day's time. In the meantime here's an interesting piece from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph about possible collapse in Latvia, which has become an economic basketcase as a result of the implosion of the debt bubble coupled with bone-headed intervention by the IMF:

Latvia has failed to deliver draconian spending cuts agreed to secure the next tranche of its €7.5bn (£6.85bn) bail-out from the EU, the International Monetary Fund, and Sweden, balking at 20pc cuts in pensions and a further 15pc cut in public wages...

...Latvia's economy contracted by 18.2pc in the twelve months to June, trumped only by Lithuania at 20.4pc. "Latvia's currency peg is back on the agenda, " said Hans Redeker from BNP Paribas. "The government has to relax policy for social reasons. The hardship this winter is going to be unbelievable."

...Washington's Center for Economic and Policy Research said the IMF is enforcing a"pro-cyclical contractionary policy" in Latvia. Foreign banks (mostly Swedish) are being rescued at the cost of local taxpayers. The IMF deal equals 34pc of GDP. Latvia is piling up debt to defend its peg. The policy may backfire in any case. Fiscal contraction is causing tax revenues to implode, feeding a vicious circle.

Welcome to Keynesian economics, kids. If anyone at the IMF had half a clue about macroeconomics they wouldn't be enforcing this idiocy. As it is, it looks like the government could be about to collapse. With youth unemployment over 30%, there's gonna be plenty of kids willing to take to the streets... we could be looking at the EU's newest revolutionary state in a matter of weeks. You thought the far left was only doing its thing in Latin America? Wrong, it's gonna happen in the Baltic. And I fear things could get pretty messy.

03 October 2009

The Blair nightmare may be coming true...

Ireland ratified the goddamn Lisbon treaty so it could be hello President Blair. A sad day for us, Ireland and the EU. America just got rid of the election thief and war criminal George W Bush - so why the hell do we want to install our own version (unelected!) in a position like this?

And also we have been sold out by New Labour - who promised a referendum on the EU constitution only to say we couldn't have a referendum because it was a 'treaty', not a 'constitution' - despite doing pretty much exactly the same thing - and also by the Tories, 80% of whom apparently want a referendum except that Dave Cameron doesn't, and he's not the most democratic guy around so we ain't gonna get one.

I'd rather be out of the EU than serve under President Blair. But how to articulate that without sounding like a member of the goddamn UK Independence Party?