Baghdad in a time of cholera

24 03 2009




A great mission: The Olympics of destruction

16 03 2009

The characteristic corporatisation and social destruction of the Olympics is already becoming evident.

Apparently infrastructure and obsolete buildings are more important than local communities.

Vodpod videos no longer available.





Confidential NATO report reveals rise in civilian deaths from war in Afghanistan

17 02 2009

Wikileaks, a site that allows whistleblowers to anonymously post sensitive or confidential information exposing the activities of governments and corporations, has released a confidential NATO report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan. A Wikileaks press release states that:

“civilian deaths from the war in Afghanistan have increased by 46% over the past year…

The report [titled ‘Metrics Brief 2007 – 2008’] shows a dramatic escalation of the war and civil disorder. Coalition deaths increased by 35%, assassinations and kidnappings by 50% and attacks on the Kabul based Government of Hamid Karzai also more than doubled, rising a massive 119%.

The report highlights huge increases on attacks aimed at Coalition forces, including a 27 % increase in IED [Improvised Explosive Device] attacks, a 40%. rise in rifle and rocket fire and an increase in surface to air fire of 67%.

According to the report, outside of the capital Kabul only one in two families had access to even the most basic health care, and only one in two children had access to a school”

Futhermore:

“NATO is not likely to find Wikileaks’ source so readily. The site uses state of the art anonymization technologies, and the identity of its sources are protected under the Swedish Press Freedom Act.”

st

af





Limiting photojournalistic freedom

12 02 2009

On Monday a piece of anti-terror legislation comes into force. Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 states that anyone who:

“elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is, or has been a member of Her Majesty’s forces, a member of any of the intelligence services, or a constable, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or publishes or communicates any such information” will be committing an offence carrying a maximum jail term of 10 years.

This legislation will prove a useful tool for police wanting to cover up their brutal oppression of legitimate protests and for a government wanting to starve off publicity of dissent. And if used in this way will simply equate to press censorship through the suppression of facts that are contrary to state interests.

Marc Vallée a photojournalist who specialises in protests, writes on Guardian comments:

“you could be arrested for taking and publishing a picture of a police officer if the police think it is “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. Your defence if charged by the crown prosecution service would be to prove that you had a “reasonable excuse” to take the picture in the first place…Documenting political dissent in Britain is under attack and just in time for the political and industrial fall out from the recession…Section 76 will fit in nicely alongside other blunt instruments such as section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which has had a huge impact on photography in a public place.”

This video titled ‘Press Freedom: Collateral Damage’ produced by the National Union of Journalists sheds some light on the kind of tactics already used by the police, without this legislation.

Vodpod videos no longer available.





The British government is a sucker to the lobbies

27 01 2009

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 27th January 2009

So now the circle is closed. The government which won a landslide victory in 1997 after Tory MPs were revealed to have taken cash for parliamentary questions now faces far graver allegations: cash for laws(1,2). Along the way, almost every policy which distinguished it from John Major’s corrupt and pointless regime has been abandoned.

The difference between these two moments – 1997 and 2009 – is that now there is nowhere to turn. There are the minor parties, but they have been systematically excluded by another broken promise: the failure to reform the electoral system. New Labour has engineered the worst of all worlds: it has sustained a system which ensures that only one of two parties has a chance of power, and it has rooted out the policies which made a choice between the two worthwhile. At least when the Tories were in government we could dream of something better.

It is fitting and unsurprising that the scene of the new scandal is the unelected second chamber whose proper reform Blair and Brown have spent 12 years avoiding. The deregulation of the banks, the love affair with the neocons, the failure to tax the rich, Peter Mandelson … is there any slithering cop-out which has not now returned to haunt this government?

The premise of Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost – that Blair’s premiership was the creation of a foreign intelligence service – is correct in spirit if not in substance. For twelve years the government of this country has acted as an agent of other powers: the US; big business; big money; anything except the electorate. It is hard now to believe that it was elected in a frenzy of hope very much like the excitement surrounding Barack Obama.

Tomorrow, with impeccable timing, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency launches its campaign in parliament for public scrutiny of the contacts between legislators and professional hustlers(3). There’s a major lobbying scandal about once a month in this country, and no one who is aware of the government’s failure to regulate this industry should be surprised. It was elected to stamp out sleaze, but since 1997 it has done almost nothing.

So do our noble lords, unmolested by the law, routinely put the interests of business above those of the people who didn’t elect them? As SpinWatch records, in 2007 some of them were selling parliamentary passes to lobbyists for defence, transport, freight and legal companies(4). In October of that year the Labour peer Lord Hoyle admitted that he had been paid by an arms company rep to introduce him to the minister for defence procurement, Lord Drayson(5), although Lord Hoyle was cleared by a house of lords committee in May 2008. Last year, Lady Harris gave a researcher’s pass to Robin Ashby, whose company lobbies ministers on behalf of BAE Systems and other weapons manufacturers. Lady Harris is paid by Mr Ashby as an adviser to another company he runs(6).

But the problem is not confined to the House of Lords. Lobbying undermines democracy throughout the British government. In March last year, for example, we discovered that the government passed data which it had withheld from the public to the airport operator BAA. The data showed that a third runway at Heathrow would immediately breach European noise and pollution limits, ensuring that it could never be built. BAA and the government worked together to re-engineer the figures to fit the limits. Their fake data was then presented to the public in the government’s consultation paper(7,8). It was used again this month to justify the decision to approve the third runway. This is the kind of wheeze you’d expect in Nigeria.

Read the rest of this entry »