Archive for August, 2011

Pockets of our society are not just broken but are frankly sick.

He’s right you know! We’ve got pockets of GREED:

Pockets of POVERTY:

 

Pockets of FUEL PRICE FIXING:

Pockets of CORPORATE TAX EVASION:

GGGNN

Pockets of RACISM:

 

Pockets of CRIMINALIZATION:

Mural by Banksy

Pockets of CORRUPTION:

Shameless: the remake

And pockets of STATE VIOLENCE:

John Charles de Menezes. Shot dead by police, July 2007. Innocent.

Ian Tomlinson. Killed by the strong arm of the law, April 2009. Innocent.

In fact, David, it’s all so sick it leaves me speechless…

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The Daily Mail yesterday called on the British government to send in the BBC’s Stephen Nolan to quell the riots in England.  However, despite increasing pressure to deploy extreme measures to bring the crisis under control, Prime Minister Cameron said that deploying Nolan in built-up areas against roaming gangs of looters and arsonists was in the present situation a step too far. “My fear”, he said, “would be that innocent people might get hurt, that it would cause more problems than it would solve”.

Nolan: weapon of last resort?

The Prime Minister was mindful of the embarrassment of deploying the less lethal weapon, Boris Johnson, in Clapham last Monday (8 August), only for it to fail instantly and put Home Secretary Theresa May in immediate danger from angry residents.

Boris Johnson: non-lethal and not very effective

A spokesman at No.10 Downing St said, “Stephen Nolan may be effective as riot control in Belfast where the population is rather dim. But this is England. Enough said.” The London Metropolitan Police also rejected the need for Nolan on the streets of English cities. “We English”, said a spokesman who preferred not to be named, “are a civilized people and we believe in policing by consent. Using a lethal weapon like Stephen Nolan is fine for the Irish but not for British citizens – even black ones.”

Nolan, one of the few broadcasters from Northern Ireland who has made it on the national airwaves (due to general difficulties with voice and accent), was unavailable for comment when contacted last night but friends in a bar in salubrious Crawfordsburn, were sure that Stephen would be ready and willing to go in if called into service. “He’d be brilliant!” said tired and emotional Eamonn. His friend, Gloria, was rather more specific. “Get those rioters on the air!” she demanded. “Let Stephen sort em out!”

Professor Gerald Adams, weapons research expert, said that the big advantage of deploying Nolan was maximum impact. He would cause such terrible devastation that any rioters left would lose the will to continue and surrender to the police. “Unfortunately, the riots are taking place in large cities, not the Mojave Desert [site of American weapons testing] so I wouldn’t recommend using this weapon in such a built-up environment.”

The right-wing England Defence League also said that Nolan is not the answer but called for the Prime Minister to deploy the nuclear option. “We say bring in Lembit Opik!”, said a masked spokesman.

Opik: the nuclear option.

The Archbishop of Canterbury rejected this call and said it displayed an appalling lack of judgement. “No offence to Mr Opik but I remember the 1980s and the fear of nuclear war. We really don’t want a repeat of that on our streets.”


ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THAT?

I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ring leaders among the [Derry Young Hooligans], after clear warnings have been issued. In other words, we would be reverting to the methods of [internal security] found successful on many occasions overseas.

This was from a Memo entitled,  “The situation in Londonderry as at 7th January 1972”, by General Robert Ford, Commander Land Forces, Northern Ireland, to the General Officer Commanding British Forces, Lt. Gen Sir Harry Tuzo. Three weeks later in Derry, on 30th January, Ford was as good as his word.

It’s unlikely there would be another Bloody Sunday in a British city if the troops were sent in to quell the riots but before frightened citizens, business people and football players (!!!) in London, Birmingham and Liverpool start calling for such action they should think about history and the law of unintended consequences when a government uses military force to quash civil unrest on the streets. Things tend to get worse, not better.

To paraphrase Karl Marx, a frightening spectre is stalking Europe: it is the age of the credit rating agency.  Although they have a long history, operating with a very low profile only now have their names etched themselves on the public consciousness. Denise Finney sums up their role thus:

“Credit ratings provide individual and institutional investors with information that assists them in determining whether issuers of debt obligations and fixed-income securities will be able to meet their obligations with respect to those securities. Credit rating agencies provide investors with objective analyses and independent assessments of companies and countries that issue such securities […]

“[…] The analyses and assessments provided by various credit rating agencies provide investors with information and insight that facilitates their ability to examine and understand the risks and opportunities associated with various investment environments. With this insight, investors can make informed decisions as to the countries, industries and classes of securities in which they choose to invest.” (Investopedia).

All rather benign and mundane isn’t it?  Yet, since the financial crash in 2007/08, agencies such as Standard and Poors, Moody’s and Fitch (formally, the Fitch Group) have gone a bit further than just provide “information and insight” for investors.  Between them, they have been holding a gun to the head of democratically elected governments and threatening to pull the trigger if they don’t do what they’re told. They have been disseminating what S&P call “market sensitive information” that has caused chaos on the world’s stock markets, shaken the foundations of global financial regulation and subverted sovereign governments. Normally, that kind of activity would be labelled “economic terrorism” and the perpetrators hunted down. But in the Alice in Wonderland of the global economy, it’s called “free market economics”.

It appears that the IMF or the World bank, controversial organizations at the best of times but at least accountable to the elected governments that ultimately bankroll them, no longer call the shots; it’s the CRAs. They have taken a map of the world and divided countries up according to investment grade or non-investment grade economies. The former category includes economies with the best quality companies and financial instruments and thus the safest bet for investors while the latter includes those likely to default on their existing obligations and are to be avoided like the plague. As we have seen only recently, not even the US is safe from the CRAs – it has lost its Triple A rating for the first time in the history of this kind of credit rating. The US is still a good bet for investors but the impact of that readjustment was immediate and frightening. “Nightmare on Wall St”, was the headline on MSNBC. “Dow takes 635-point tumble after S&P downgrades US credit” (8 August). And the contagion of fear has spread as fast as a London riot, with stock markets all over the world suffering record plunges.

But this isn’t a matter of abstract numbers and graphs. It threatens another global recession or even depression and thus ultimately affects us all. So why is it allowed to happen?  So far, only the Italian courts have investigated CRAs (specifically S&P and Moody’s) on suspicion of “criminal practices” such as insider trading and market manipulation. The CRAs concerned have denied it, of course, and I’d be very surprised to see any convictions.

No. There needs to be a concerted, worldwide effort to bring these agencies to account and to regulate their activities. But more importantly, we’re going to have to recognize that the financial chaos they have partly caused and on which the stock market gamblers have profited by billions is the direct result of neo-liberalism gone mad.

Time then to dig a big hole and bury this disgusting ideology for good.

Absent Father (Mixed Media - 400 x 600 mm. Sue Morris, 2011).

The World of Wonder exhibition by Sue Morris opens today in the Model Art Gallery, Sligo, and runs until 14 August. Inspired by an eponymous encyclopedia kept by the artist from childhood, World of Wonder is a multi-media installation that incorporates drawing, collage and sculpture to explore the territories of the real and the imagined. By referencing text and images from the encyclopedia, manipulating scale, colour and content, whilst deploying a pseudo-scientific style, the work re-enters the vistas of childhood from an adult standpoint. I am not an art critic but I found this exhibition to be very moving and thought-provoking so if you’re in the area or passing through, why not go and have a look? In the meantime, you can browse the artist’s website here.

So Nicky Campbell, among other big names at the BBC, crossed the picket line during the 24-hour strike  last Monday (1 August). It was, he said, a matter of conscience in the true spirit of public service broadcasting: “I supported the pension strike and I supported this strike last time round [a previous 24-hour strike on 15 July] but ultimately we have a responsibility to the people who pay us”.

Hmm. I presume he means the BBC license payers, which brings a tear to the eye for sure. Why, I tuned into his breakfast programme on Radio 5 Live this morning (3 August) and realized just what was at stake for Nicky. There he was, taking the pulse of the nation on a phenomenon that puts economic hardship, poverty, unemployment and mass redundancies in proper perspective: A UFO sighting. This was riveting, prize winning radio and as always perfectly balanced between a guy who was convinced it was an UFO and some other guy who thought it was a plane.

UFO searches for best BBC Radio 5 Live signal.

So my message to those angry BBC employees who picketed BBC properties on Monday and even caused the cancellation of Newsnight (forsooth!!!) is this: why on earth would we the listeners be at all interested in your jobs or the destruction of the World Service when we’ve got a man of conscience like Nicky Campbell to bring us the latest UFO sightings for a whole hour?*

*Footnote to reader: Well, maybe he did break off the discussion for a few seconds to bring us breaking news from Egypt that Hosni Mubarak has been brought to trial for corruption and the lesser charge of killing protestors. But I’m not going to link you to that story. If you’re that interested, go look for it yourself. I’m off to investigate this UFO before the sky falls in. 

2 August 2011: an interesting day for justice. The police arrest Stuart Kuttner on suspicion of involvement in phone-hacking and, as a managing editor and chief purse-holder at The News of the World at the time , authorizing payments to police officers for information. That makes him the eleventh ex-News International employee to be investigated by the police to date but as with the rest it’s unlikely he’ll be charged and brought to account before the courts.

On the same day, Johnny “Marbles” May-Bowles is sentenced to six weeks in jail for shoving humble pie in Rupert Murdoch’s face at the Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport. That was 19 July. So in less than 2 weeks, a prankster is arrested, charged, sentenced and jailed with stern words from the judge ringing in his ear. Do you get the contrast? District Judge, Daphne Wickham obviously didn’t. Upon  sentencing Johnny, she told him that not only did he assault and cause distress to poor old Rupert but he also offended the dignified and civilized ways of the parliamentary process.

Down with the pie-throwers! Off with their heads!

Quite right, too, Daphne! We the citizens (and even non-citizens such as Rupert and son!) should be left in peace to lie, dissimulate and plead ignorance of our cheating, bribery and myriad other sharp practices in the dignified and civilized surroundings of parliament and in a manner that befits our status as total and absolute shysters! And if we’re ever brought to book for our crimes, give us a year or two to make a mockery of the justice system you hold so dear.