Monday, 30 August 2010

More on our valued trading partners

When not shooting Tibetan protesters dead (1), or doling out 15 year sentences to people for blogging (2), or carrying out forced abortions on Uighur women (3), our valued trading partners in the PRC are arresting school children for writing in magazines:
Chinese police in Barkham (Chinese: Ma’erkang) County of Ngaba Prefecture in Sichuan Province had arrested four Tibetan school students on Mar 17 this year for allegedly instigating fellow-students against the Chinese government, said Phayul.com Aug 26, citing an exile monk with contact in the area. While two were said to have been given a two-year jail term each, the fate of the other two remain unknown.

The four – Sonam Rinchen (19), Sonam Dhondup (18), Yargay and Drakden – were accused of instigating the students through the magazine Namchag (Thunderbolt) of which they were the contributing editors. The first two are natives of Zoege (Chinese: Ruo’ergai) county while the latter two belong to Ngaba county, both in the same prefecture.

The four were reported to have carried in their magazine several articles, poems and essays by Tibetan students expressing solidarity with the Tibetans jailed for taking part in the Mar’08 protests across Tibet and paying tribute to those killed by Chinese security forces at that time.

The four – all students of Barkham nationalities higher intermediate school – were also reported to have initiated a gathering of Tibetan students on Mar 17 this year to commemorate the 2008 uprising.

Sonam Rinchen and Yargay are said to be serving a two-year jail term each, although their whereabouts remain unknown. The other two are said to be held somewhere in Barkham, no further information being available about them. (4)
It's really something to brag about, being the first country in the world to secure a free trade agreement with people like this.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/08/despicable-murderous-thugs.html
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/07/bastards.html
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/01/800000-forced-abortions-carried-out-on.html
4 - "Four school children arrested for magazine articles," unattributed article. Published by Tibetan Review, 29th of August, 2010. (
http://www.tibetanreview.net/news.php?&id=7048)

Coalition scorecard - council tenancies again

-1 ... Stupid and unnecessary law allowing councils to prioritise locals over immigrants when allocating council housing, rather than basing it on need - even though immigrants only make up 2% of the social housing sector (1).
OVERALL - 0/10 A piece of stupid, unnecessary and diversionary rabble fodder legislation, designed to appeal to the Daily Mail and the Sun, addressing a non-existent problem and ignoring the real one, which is the lack of social housing stock. This is not rock bottom, they can go negative. But no reasonable government should.
1 - "Charities condemn plans to let councils house locals before immigrants," by Helen Pidd. Published in The Guardian, 29th of August, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/aug/29/social-housing-council-powers-immigration)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The war on drugs

An interesting piece by Johann Hari (aren't they all) in the the Indie a couple of days ago:
To many people, the "war on drugs" sounds like a metaphor, like the "war on poverty". It is not. It is being fought with tanks and sub-machine guns and hand grenades, funded in part by your taxes, and it has killed 28,000 people under the current Mexican President alone. The death toll in Tijuana – one of the front lines of this war – is now higher than in Baghdad. Yesterday, another pile of 72 mutilated corpses was found near San Fernando – an event that no longer shocks the country.

Mexico today is a place where the severed heads of police officers are found week after week, pinned to bloody notes that tell their colleagues: "This is how you learn respect". It is a place where hand grenades are tossed into crowds to intimidate the public into shutting up. It is the state the US Joint Chiefs of Staff say is most likely, after Pakistan, to suffer "a rapid and sudden collapse".

Why? When you criminalise a drug for which there is a large market, it doesn't disappear. The trade is simply transferred from off-licences, pharmacists and doctors to armed criminal gangs.

In order to protect their patch and their supply routes, these gangs tool up – and kill anyone who gets in their way. You can see this any day on the streets of a poor part of London or Los Angeles, where teenage gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 per cent profit margins on offer. Now imagine this process taking over an entire nation, to turn it into a massive production and supply route for the Western world's drug hunger.

Why Mexico? Why now? In the past decade, the US has spent a fortune spraying carcinogenic chemicals over Colombia's coca-growing areas, so the drug trade has simply shifted to Mexico. It's known as the "balloon effect": press down in one place, and the air rushes to another.

When I was last there in 2006, I saw the drug violence taking off and warned that the murder rate was going to skyrocket. Since then the victims have ranged from a pregnant woman washing her car, to a four-year-old child, to a family in the "wrong" house watching television, to a group of 14 teenagers having a party. Today, 70 per cent of Mexicans say they are frightened to go out because of the cartels.

The gangs offer Mexican police and politicians a choice: "Plata o ploma". Silver, or lead. Take a bribe, or take a bullet. President Felipe Calderon has been leading a military crackdown on them since 2006 – yet every time he surges the military forward, the gang violence in an area massively increases.

This might seem like a paradox, but it isn't. If you knock out the leaders of a drug gang, you don't eradicate demand, or supply. You simply trigger a fresh war for control of the now-vacant patch. The violence creates more violence. (1)
As a result, Hari says, Mexico is contemplating legalising drugs, to remove the economic driver for the escalating violence.

Britain and the USA oppose this, and are pressing the Mexican government to maintain the current, bloody, status quo.

I'm no fan of intoxicants. When I was younger, I drank like a fool, put myself in all sorts of stupid situations and behaved reprehensibly. I find it hard to make an argument that irresponsible idiots like myself should be given a greater range of means to get themselves wasted.

And - as I slide into grumpy and hypocritical middle age - I can't help but wonder if the easy availability of intoxicants is a ploy to keep the youth and the (ex) working class happily smashed and politically docile. After all, why worry about social justice when you've got White Lightening on special at the offie? Marx's opium of the people has been replaced by a far cruder means of muting "the sigh of the oppressed creature. The heart of the heartless world now comes contained a six pack or a bottle of fortified wine, not a bible (2).

Equally, however, I can see no justification for hapless Mexicans being slain in a futile effort to keep these intoxicants from me. I, at least, was a voluntary participant in my own endangerment and degradation. If that's what stupid over-privileged first worlders want to do with themselves, let them, rather than perpetuating a hypocritical war that is accomplishing nothing beyond a lot of misery and suffering.
1 - "Violence breeds violence. The only thing drug gangs fear is legalisation," by Johann Hari. Published in The Independent, 26th of August, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-violence-breeds-violence-the-only-thing-drug-gangs-fear-is-legalisation-2062252.html)
2 - "A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right," by Karl Marx. Published in 1843. (
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm)

Despicable, murderous thugs

... or our valued trading partners?

Courtesy of Radio Free Asia:
Police in China’s southwestern Sichuan province have responded with lethal force to a group of Tibetans protesting the expansion of a gold mining operation they say is harming the environment, according to Tibetan sources.

At least four people were killed when police officers opened fire on a crowd outside the Palyul (in Chinese, Baiyu) county government offices in Sichuan’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous prefecture, sources said.

As many as 30 Tibetan protesters were wounded in the Aug. 17 shooting, with some believed to be critically injured and receiving medical care in the provincial capital of Chengdu.

The number of dead in the incident could not be independently confirmed. (1)
To think Phil Goff bragged about agreeing the first Free Trade Agreement with these murdering bastards.

Whether you call the totalitarian bullies in Beijing, despicable murderous thugs, or our valued trading partners, New Zealand is their servile toady.
1 - "Police Fire on Mine Protesters," original reporting by Radio Free Asia's Tibetan service, 26th of August, 2010. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. Reproduced by Students for A Free Tibet. (http://www.studentsforafreetibet.org/article.php?id=2238)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

If a picture is worth a thousand words

... here's a two thousand word essay on why labour can expect to be in opposition for a very long time.



Can you really imagine voting for the snide git on the left, or for the gormless dolt on the right?

Of course, it shouldn't matter that both the Milliband brothers look like estate agents trying to hawk condemned properties (a telling description of them and the party their immediate predecessors have left for them) - but it does matter, for believe it or not, that the best thing they've got going for them (1).

David Milliband is everything that went wrong in the last thirteen years condensed. According to him, Labour can only be elected if it abandons everything that makes it Labour; we - the people who were right - should stop going on about Iraq, where he was, conveniently, wrong; and the only way to save the party is to embrace the corrosive legacy of Blair which is what what left it bewildered, despised and powerless after thirteen years of blunders and betrayals in office.

He's wrong, just as Blair was wrong. That idea has been shown to have failed, and it has been rejected by the voters. If the former doesn't convince Milliband's heart, the latter should appeal to his cynical head. But it doesn't seem to. He doesn't realise that Blair was voted in because he wasn't a Tory, and came to be hated when it turned out he was. He thinks re-colonising the middle ground - a space somewhat to the left of the majority of the British public,, and already in the hands of the coalition, is a strategy that will bring back the disaffected and the disgusted. It won't, it'll just swell their ranks.

Ed Milliband, to his credit, is trying. He makes the sort of noises that might suggest he'd make a decent deputy, with real leadership potential in a decade's time. But right now, he just doesn't seem up to it. He talks vaguely about values and aspiration, without actually explaining how we get there. Perhaps he's too cerebral, perhaps he lacks the sort of attitude that relishes political trench warfare. You might say, that's good, it would be great to have a leader who doesn't believe victory is necessarily achieved over the trampled faces of your opponents. Blair, after all, trampled all over his opponents, in a sort of civilised and polite way, and look where it got us. But Ed Milliband could neither take the fight to the coalition, or inspire voters. And, too often, he shies away from tough calls and challenges to the status quo in his party. Blair, at least, rubbed the face of the Labour left in its own vomit. But I don't think Ed Milliband would oversee anything but stagnation and drift.
1 - David and Ed Milliband, courtesy of Getty Images. Reproduced in The Independent, 25th of August, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labours-battle-of-the-brothers-gets-personal-2061170.html)

Says it all

A lengthy (basically the whole text) but telling extract from a speech by Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York. You may be surprised to learn that there is nothing much that I add:
"In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on that very subject.

"There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on a dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. And the only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?

"The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.

"After the attacks, some argued - including some of those who lost loved ones - that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided - together, as a city - that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.

"We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed to bring Lower Manhattan back - stronger than ever - as a symbol of our defiance and I think it's fair to say we have. Today, it is more of a community neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working, playing and praying there.

"But if we say that a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.

"We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.

"Islam did not attack the World Trade Center - Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam - we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.

"At this very moment, there are young Americans - some of them Muslims - standing freedoms' watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, have children who have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. And I'd like to ask them to stand, so we can show our appreciation. There you go. Thank you.

"The members of our military are men and women at arms - battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have already inspired people around the world. If we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad - if we do not lead by example - we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.

"In a different era, with different international challenges facing the country, President Kennedy's Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our ideals here at home. Dean Rusk said, 'The United States is widely regarded as the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.'

"We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. We all have to do our part.

"Just as we fought communism by showing the world the power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism - and that's the great lesson of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.

"Now I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith - including, perhaps, some in this room - who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.

"But it won't. The question will then become, how big should the 'no-mosque zone' be around the World Trade Center site? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it be moved?

"This is a test of our commitment to American values. We have to have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years.

"Now, I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it's worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.

"Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson I think that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.

"Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements that he has made. And that's how it should be - this is New York City.

"And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, quote, 'If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one.'

He then continued to say, 'If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.'

"In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off limits to any religion.

"By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America's values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world." (1)
Have to say I felt rather emotional in a manly and strong sort of a way. It's a pity Obama seems to have lost the will to make a stand on this issue, mistakenly thinking that being seen as weak and uncertain is more likely to curry favour than being strong and principled.
1 - Text of a speech delivered by NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, at a Ramadan Iftar dinner, 24th of August, 2010. (http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1c701c789a0/index.jsp?pageID=mayor_press_release&catID=1194&doc_name=http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/html/2010b/pr367-10.html&cc=unused1978&rc=1194&ndi=1)

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Weekend

In 1967, Jeann Luc Godard released Weekend, probably the most audacious and caustic critique of bourgeois society ever committed to film. It's darn near unwatchable, rejecting traditional notions of narrative, enjoyment, sense, and so on, to create an unending (or at least, that's how it feels) series haphazard encounters on the road, characterized by increasing incoherence and brutality. Only, that makes it sound more enjoyable than it actually is.

It's most infamous sequence is a staged traffic jam, filmed in one achingly monotonous take, only interrupted by intertitles exhorting us to analyse what we are seeing (1). It is perhaps the best metaphor for individualistic, consumer society one the edge of catastrophe ever filmed.

Only, once again, that makes it sound more enjoyable than it actually is.



Now, however, reality has surpassed Godard's vision of Hell-as-a-traffic-jam:
A 100km long traffic jam in China has entered its ninth day and drivers are being warned the bottleneck could continue for a month.

Hundreds of trucks heading for Beijing on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway have been at a standstill because of roadworks in the capital.

Small traffic accidents or broken-down cars are aggravating the congestion which started on August 14. (2)
Good, and indeed, grief.
1 - "Traffic scene from the film Weekend," posted on You tube by rfid4dna, 3rd of June 2007. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC9d9rxjuhg)
2 - "Going Nowhere: Traffic Jam Enters Ninth Day," unattributed report. Published by Sky News, 23rd of August, 2010. (
http://uk.news.yahoo.com/5/20100823/twl-going-nowhere-traffic-jam-enters-nin-3fd0ae9.html)

Coalition scorecard - Energy U Turn

-1 ... Reneging on pre-election calls by both coalition members for an inquiry into energy pricing. Either they were cynical opportunists then, or craven appeasers now. Or both.
OVER ALL 1/10 - After just a hundred days, this latest piece of chincanery brings the coalition to the edge of the abyss. Can they actually sink lower?
1 - As described earlier on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/08/coalition-scorecard-council-tenancies.html

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Many happy returns, whippersnapper

I've just discovered that lefthandpalm has been online longer than The Standard, which has just celebrated it's third birthday by ... um ... forgetting about it (1). I had assumed that all the big blogs had been around pretty much forever.
1 - "The Standard turned three,' by LPRENT. Posted on The Standard, 17th of August, 2010. (http://www.thestandard.org.nz/the-standard-turned-three-a-few-days-ago/)

British government U turn on energy pricing inquiry

Another piece of coalition chicanery:
Before the general election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats repeatedly criticised Labour for failing to tackle prices charged by the Big Six suppliers. Both the opposition parties demanded an inquiry by the Competition Commission.

An inquiry would have the power to reform the industry, encourage new entrants to break the hold of players such as British Gas and EDF on 99 per cent of the market and, potentially, impose price caps.

However four months into the Coalition Government, no inquiry has been called and the Department of Energy and Climate Change confirmed last night that it has no plans to refer the industry to the Competition Commission.

The news comes amid the possibility that the Coalition will reduce the Winter Fuel Payment for older people, worth £250 per household, or £400 where at least one partner is 80 years old.

With annual bills over £1,000, social problems caused by high energy prices have escalated.

Homes in fuel poverty – defined as spending 10 per cent or more of their income on fuel – have trebled in five years to around 6.6 million. Figures released in December showed that during the cold winter of 2008/09, “excess winter mortality” jumped by 49 per cent to 36,700, sending an extra 10,000 pensioners to early graves. (1)
A few months ago, it was a critical issue that needed to be addressed. Now it doesn't merit a mention, even though energy bills are eating up far more of people's incomes than before. Having extracted what they wanted from you - your vote - they now have to attend to their real masters, the private sector energy companies.

After all, Nice Dave and Gorgeous George will need well paid sinecures once they quit this politics lark.

Any moves on the Winter Fuel Allowance need to be watched closely. A means tested allowance might be workable and not morally repugnant, but the BBC has hinted that this isn't an option that the coalition are considering seriously (2).

It seems likely that the age of qualification - currently 60 - will be revised upwards - perhaps as high as 75 (3) as this would honour the coalition agreement to protect . there's only one word for such an idea - barbarism. Once people are retired, probably living on a fixed or very limited income, and are becoming frail, a move like this is going to cause misery and will result in many more deaths. These will be attributable to Cameron and Osborn, if they follow through on this idea.

I can not see any reason why energy utilities should not be nationalized. They are key infrastructure, and should be in public hands. They should never have been sold off. It's an indictment that British citizens are being ripped off by energy companies that are largely foreign owned, and - regardless of ownership - view the people using the energy as cows to be milked.

The tragedy is that the British government seems to think along similar lines - British citizens don't need to be protected from this exploitation, and the elderly and vulnerable do not need to be cared for.
1 - "Coalition turns down heat under energy suppliers," by Martin Hickman. Published in the Independent, 18th of August, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coalition-turns-down-heat-under-energy-suppliers-2056038.html)
2 - "Benefits review 'shocking betrayal' says Labour," unattributed article. Published by the BBC, 18th of August, 2010. (
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11017908)
3 - "Ministers consider cuts to winter fuel allowance," by Nigel Morris. Published in the Independent, 18th of August, 2010. (
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ministers-consider-cuts-to-winter-fuel-allowance-2055350.html)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Double tragedy in the PRC

Two further industrial tragedies have been reported, one in a fireworks factory and another one on a construction site:
The death toll from a massive explosion at a fireworks factory in north-east China has risen to at least 19 workers, with five still missing.

Up to 50 people were working at the fireworks factory in the Heilongjiang province city of Yichun when it was rocked by the explosion on Monday, damaging nearby buildings and sparking secondary blasts.

Xinhua News Agency reported the new death toll.

A total of 153 people were injured by the blast, which could be felt up to 2 miles away and smashed windows in the local government offices and other buildings, Xinhua said.

The tally appeared to include workers at the factory as well as people in the surrounding area.

Safety is lax at Chinese fireworks plants and accidents are common. Dozens of people also die each year from unsafe handling of fireworks while celebrating weddings and traditional holidays.

In another industrial accident on Monday, an elevator plunged on a construction site, killing 11 workers. Investigators were looking into the cause of the accident in the city of Mihekou in the north-eastern province of Jilin. (1)
Total of thirty dead, plus a huge number of injured.

The article goes on to note that safety standards have been improving, with some 4000 fewer deaths in 2009, compared to 2002. That's arguable; while it is likely there have been some improvements, it is also likely that deaths are not being reported, or are being intentionally misreported to avoid consequences.

1 "Fireworks blast toll rises to 19," unattributed article. Published by UKPA, 17th of August, 2010. Hosted by Google news. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5jARHE6NUHPu_IcqjE8kp4yHKDfgQ)

David Cameron's 'Project'?

News of Alan Milburn's impending appointment (1) as David Cameron's 'Mobility Tsar' - probably the least appropriate job title ever, Tsars not being known for supporting social mobility - has provoked predictable howls and gnashing from the left of the Labour party. It's bad enough that the Conservatives have sullied the sweet and virginal Liberal Democrats, mutter the sour Labour tribalists. Never mind that New Labour had the opportunity to do it themselves. But now the Tories have cast their lecherous gaze towards members of the Labour party itself? Is there nothing that can assuage the depraved lusts of the degenerate Tories for miscegenation?

It's probably incurred a similar - though less reported - reaction from the conservatives - "Why put those red bastards back in, after all the trouble we went to trying to get them out in the first place?" In which case, I wonder if what we're seeing is the birth of a Cameronian equivalent of Tony Blair's 'project,' and a genuine move to keep the "Red bastards" out of power forever?

In the 90s, Blair talked about 'The Project,' the goal of which was to effectively exclude the Tories from power for generations. It meant reforming the electoral system and the House of Lords. Establishing alliances with the Liberal Democrats so the (alleged, and probable) social-democratic majority in the country wouldn't be dictated to by the conservative minority. Even moderate Tories, it was implied, might come inside the fold.

Then mephistopheles tempted offered young Faust a compact too tempting to resist - unbridled power, and the opportunity to rework Britain in the image of his own beautiful soul, without having to forge shoddy compromises with others. The price was the usual one. The means was a majority that not only made it possible for Faust to do whatever he wanted, but gave him the moral authority to do so.

The rest is history, and thus The Project died a miserable death. The recommendations of Jenkins commission was ignored. Talk of Paddy Ashdown taking the Defence portfolio ceased and the Liberal Democrats were left to moulder in opposition. Even reform of the House of Lords - which Labour tribal instincts, pragmatism and human decency all demanded be done away with - was botched. The scale of that failure was demonstrated recently with Lord Prescott taking his seat there.

Is David Cameron trying to realize his own project? He's opted to compromise with the Liberal Democrats, and he's 'reaching out' to adaptable figures on the left, like Milburn and Will Hutton. Perhaps the electoral maths works the other waya s well, and Cameron is seeking to form a conservative-liberal 'Wet' bloc to keep Labour out of power for the long term.

In some ways's he's already achieved more than Blair, probably because he hasn't been offered the irresistible majority that Blair was. The Tories probably didn't expect to be in this position and didn't really plan for it. it's strategy being devised on the hoof, but it might work out well for them. The Labour left wing is sullen, watching their parties own 'Wets' sell out (as they see it) and the inevitable rise of Ed or Dave - both the wettest of Wets for all Ed's efforts to rebrand himself as a sort of nice Trotsky - to the leadership. They can't muster enough votes to even put a Brownite like Ed balls into the the top job, far less a genuine socialist like John MacDonell or Jon Cruddas. Their tragedy is that they were sidelined in 1997 when Blairism won it's massive majority - there was no need for Tony Blair to listen to them any more. And now they party heirarchy is trying to compete for the same ground that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have won. Which once more means the left will be put to silence.

The objective reality may be that if you vote Conservative, you get conservative. If you vote Liberal democrat, you get Conservative. And if you vote Labour, you get conservative.
1 - "Nick Clegg defends coalition government's first 100 days in power," by Anushka Asthana. Published in the Observer, 15th of August, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/aug/15/nick-clegg-coalition-100-days)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The new politics looks very like the old

From the Observer:
He [Nick Clegg] is expected to announce that Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister, will become a government adviser. The arch Blairite – who previously chaired a committee looking at fair access to the professions – will become David Cameron's "social mobility tsar". (1)
I thought we voted Labour out so we didn't have to have clowns like Milburn in positions of power.

Still, good to see the politicians creating these high falutin' sinecures for each other.
1 - "Nick Clegg defends coalition government's first 100 days in power," by Anushka Asthana. Published in the Observer, 15th of August, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/aug/15/nick-clegg-coalition-100-days)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

What a despicable person

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
It’s been clear over the past few months that labor costs are going up in China. That’s now rippling to other manufacturing economies in Asia.

So says Bruce Rockowitz, president of Li & Fung Ltd., the bellwether Hong Kong-based trading and logistics giant that is a major buyer of toys and clothes for the likes of Wal-Mart and Target.

“Prices have gone up for us and our customers,” Mr. Rockowitz said while presenting Li & Fung’s semi-annual earnings results in Hong Kong Thursday. “We’ve mitigated it by looking at Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia,” he said. (1)
The fact that Chinese workers are getting paid a little bit more for their labour should be a cause for celebration. We're still enjoying the benefits of a grossly exploitative economic arrangement with a totalitarian regime, and the hapless near-slaves working 20 hour shifts making cheap baubles for our delectation are being rewarded with a very slight increase in pay and improvement in living conditions.

in other words, everyone wins (though we win most, and the near slaves, in truth, just don't lose as badly) and we can all relax and feel an iota less guilty because we can see that reform and change is coming. Engagement has worked. it is making things better.

But Mr Rockowitz's response to this good news? Look for some cheaper morlocks to exploit.

That isn't a human being talking, just a despicable little Eichmann doing his inhuman duty.
1 - "China Labor Cost Increases, Setting the Bar for Others," by Alex Frangos. Published in the Wall Street Journal, 12th of August, 2010. (http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2010/08/12/china-labor-cost-increases-setting-the-bar-for-other-economies/)

The real cost ... 1100+ lives?

There has been a dearth of media reports of Chinese mining disasters in the last few days. This is not, I suspect, because they have stopped happening.

The last mining disaster I'm aware of from media reports is an event in Jilin province, where 18 miners were trapped when the mine they were working in flooded (1). That was four days ago, but there has been no report of how this ended, whether the miners were rescued, or died, or are still trapped. The landslide seems to be eating up everyone's attention.

Flooding, and landslides, would appear to be natural calamities that aren't influenced by something as trivial as the lax safety standards in Chinese mines. Well, maybe, but if we look at the (slightly) bigger picture, a depressingly familiar theme can be discerned:
While China's premier Wen Jiabao posed for cameras near rescuers trying to find the more than 600 still missing, local media quoted a growing chorus of experts who warned that the landslide had been "an accident waiting to happen".

A 2006 report by Lanzhou University warned of the dangers presented by the destruction of the forests around Zhouqu for mining and agriculture, causing soil erosion and destabilising hillsides.

"The hills have become highly unstable and easily subject to natural disaster of landslides and mudslides," the report said. "The situation is the result of deforestation, exploitative mining activities, construction of hydroelectric power plants and other development activities."

Zhouqu, once known as the "Shangri La" of Gansu Province, has suffered more than ten major landslides since 1823, but experts said the risk had been increased hugely by the felling of more than 126,000 hectares of forest between 1952 and 1990.

In more recent years, the construction of a highway and more than 40 hydroelectric power dams in the sharp-sided valleys has further destabilised the geology, according to Fan Xiao, a leading Chinese geologist based in Sichuan. (2)
There would, undoudtedly, have been floods in any case. But the impact of these floods, it would seem, would have been much reduced if it weren't for the ferocious drive for growth, fueled by the west's insatiable desire for cheap consumer goods, with out too many questions being asked about just how they can be made so cheaply.
1 - "18 miners trapped in flooded shaft in China," unattributed article. Published by AFP, 10th of August, 2010. Reproduced by Google. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j6exVPTVYvoFql-3qx0UKwATUJBA)
2 - "China landslide death toll up tops 1,100," by peter Foster. Published in the Telegraph, 11th of August, 2010. (
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/7939289/China-landslide-death-toll-up-tops-1100.html)

Friday, 13 August 2010

Respect is due: Jimmy Reid

Jimmy Reid, the Scottish socialist union organiser, died on the 11th of August, 2010.

The independent has kindly put up the whole text of his justly famous speech as rector of Glasgow University. The opening lines:
Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It's the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

Many may not have rationalised it. May not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it. It therefore conditions and colours their social attitudes. Alienation expresses itself in different ways in different people. It is to be found in what our courts often describe as the criminal antisocial behaviour of a section of the community. It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop-outs, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics. Of course, it would be wrong to say it was the sole reason for these things. But it is a much greater factor in all of them than is generally recognised.

Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping. The irony is, they are often considered normal and well-adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else. They remind me of the character in the novel, Catch 22, the father of Major Major. He was a farmer in the American Mid-West. He hated suggestions for things like medi-care, social services, unemployment benefits or civil rights. He was, however, an enthusiast for the agricultural policies that paid farmers for not bringing their fields under cultivation. From the money he got for not growing alfalfa he bought more land in order not to grow alfalfa. He became rich. Pilgrims came from all over the state to sit at his feet and learn how to be a successful non-grower of alfalfa. His philosophy was simple. The poor didn't work hard enough and so they were poor. He believed that the good Lord gave him two strong hands to grab as much as he could for himself. He is a comic figure. But think – have you not met his like here in Britain? Here in Scotland? I have.

It is easy and tempting to hate such people. However, it is wrong. They are as much products of society, and of a consequence of that society, human alienation, as the poor drop-out. They are losers. They have lost the essential elements of our common humanity. Man is a social being. Real fulfilment for any person lies in service to his fellow men and women. The big challenge to our civilisation is not Oz, a magazine I haven't seen, let alone read. Nor is it permissiveness, although I agree our society is too permissive. Any society which, for example, permits over one million people to be unemployed is far too permissive for my liking. Nor is it moral laxity in the narrow sense that this word is generally employed – although in a sense here we come nearer to the problem. It does involve morality, ethics, and our concept of human values. The challenge we face is that of rooting out anything and everything that distorts and devalues human relations.
And from a bit further on:
To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough. Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life. It requires a social and cultural, or if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country. A necessary part of this must be the restructuring of the institutions of government and, where necessary, the evolution of additional structures so as to involve the people in the decision-making processes of our society. The so-called experts will tell you that this would be cumbersome or marginally inefficient. I am prepared to sacrifice a margin of efficiency for the value of the people's participation. Anyway, in the longer term, I reject this argument.

To unleash the latent potential of our people requires that we give them responsibility. The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people. I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It's a social crime. (1)
It's a potent read, as the Indie rightly points out, as relevant today as it was in 1972. Though nowadays we'd look on an unemployment role of a million as evidence of an astonishingly productive society, not one peopled by layabouts.

Martin Kettle in the Guardian also has some thoughtful words to say about Reid (2).
1 - "Still irresistible, a working-class hero's finest speech," text by Jimmy Reid. Published in the Independent, 13th of August, 2010. The speech was originally delivered in 1972. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/still-irresistible-a-workingclass-heros-finest-speech-2051285.html)
2 - "The late, great Jimmy Reid left a legacy for our times," by Martin Kettle. Published in The Guardiann, 12th of August, 2010. (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/12/jimmy-reid-legacy-great-unionist)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Coalition scorecard - council tenancies.

-1 ... Plans to end secure tenancies for council tenants (1). Missing the heart of the problem (stock supply) and acting as a disincentive for people to better themselves.
OVERALL 2/10 - The Tory need to make war on the state, in typically short sighted and counter productive manner, continues to drag the coalition down.
1 - "PM faces council housing backlash," unattributed article. Published by the UKPA, 4th of August, 2010. Hosted by google News. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5hyicnY9b0ZTMoW3IUFFo8WmgDBuw)

Monday, 9 August 2010

The real cost ... continued

Two more disasters, though one hasn't yet resulted in confirmed fatalities.
Six miners were confirmed dead Sunday after Saturday's sudden gas leak at a deep coal mine in southwest China's Sichuan Province, local authorities said.

Rescue efforts ended Sunday after all the bodies of the six trapped miners were found, said a spokesman with the government in Shifang City, where the coal mine is located.

The gas leak occurred at 9 a.m. Saturday down a pit about 3,500 meters deep. Fifteen workers were cleaning the mine's shaft at the time.

Nine people were lifted to ground unharmed.

Authorities are investigating the deadly incident at the mine run by Hongda Red Star Mining Co., Ltd.

In a separate case, seven miners are still trapped in a coal mine pit after a sudden gas leak early Sunday morning in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. (1)
it's worth reiterating that these people are dying to provide the raw materials and fuel for Chinese industry, which in turn is the source of the slew of cheap consumer products that allow us to enjoy a standard of living far beyond the economic value of the work we do.

It's a re-jig of the slave labour that made the European economies 'great.' It's always convenient to have the ugly business of exploitation and death carried out somewhere over the horizon, where civilised folk don't have to concern themselves about it, while enjoying the benefits.
1 - "Six Die in SW China Coal Mine Gas Leak," unattributed article. Published by Xinhua, 8th of August, 2010. (http://english.cri.cn/6909/2010/08/08/1781s587446.htm)

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The real cost ... continued

Another day, another mining disaster in the PRC:
Sixteen workers died when a fire broke out in a gold mine in east China, state media reported Saturday, in the latest accident to hit the nation's notoriously dangerous mining sector.
Most of the victims died of toxic smoke inhalation underground or in hospital after the accident, which happened on Friday in Shandong province's Zhaoyuan city, the official Xinhua news agency said.
More than 300 miners had been working underground when the blaze started and most were lifted to ground level safely, leaving around 50 trapped underground, a spokesman for the rescue headquarters was quoted as saying.
Rescuers then managed to pull some workers out and dozens of injured miners were sent to nearby hospitals.
The work safety bureaus in Zhaoyuan and Shandong refused to comment on the accident when contacted by AFP. (1)
Another sixteen people dead. Fifty or so trapped in a burning mine. How many families bereaved?

These stories seem to be taking over lefthandpalm. It's hard to blog about other stuff after announcing another round of industrial mass homicide.

I started logging these events out of curiosity, to see how frequently they occurred and how they were covered in the mainstream media. The answer is, it seems, not very well at all. Sure, they get the reported by the wire agencies, but the Guardian's China section doesn't mention any of the recent tragedies. Ditto, The Independent. The BBC mentions the most recent Foxconn death, in its Asia-Pacific repository (2).

Obviously, there are other stories. Pakistan is innundated. The Hiroshima commememoration in Japan deserve mention, because we shouldn't fucking forget. There's a war grinding on in Afghanistan. But the recent Chinese interest in owning liverpool FC gains more attention than the bleak, steadily increasing body count in the Chinese industrial killing fields.

It's almost like it was something we'd prefer to ignore, isn't it? It's easier to entertain vague hostility to the Chinese ruling class - the bastards want to rule the world and own our football teams, after all - but much more difficult to make an honest appraisal of our own relationship with the Chinese proletariat - which would put us far closer to the oppressors than to the oppressed.

But, anyway, they want to buy Liverpool! Whatever next?
1 - "China gold mine fire kills 16 workers," by Marianne Barriaux. Published by AFP, 7th of August, 2010. Hosted by Google News. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hgxKVcC4nzFz4DT7kfZbmToDXFLQ)
2 - Obviously, the stories featured change, but as of the 7th of July, 2010, none of the various mining calamities warranted a mention on either site. The most recent Foxconn death was recorded by the BBC. China stories are filed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/china, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world/asia_pacific/
UPDATE - Just spotted an interesting and relevant column by Johann Hari in the Independent. It's well worth reading, particularly for those who pretend they haven't any power or influence:
Last year, the Chinese dictatorship was so panicked by the widespread uprisings that it prepared an extraordinary step forward. It drafted a new labour law that would allow workers to form and elect their own trade unions. It would plant seeds of democracy across China's workplaces. Western corporations lobbied very hard against it, saying it would create a "negative investment environment" – by which they mean smaller profits. Western governments obediently backed the corporations and opposed freedom and democracy for Chinese workers. So the law was whittled down and democracy stripped out.

It wasn't enough. This year Chinese workers have risen even harder to demand a fair share of the prosperity they create. Now company after company is making massive concessions: pay rises of over 60 per cent are being conceded. Even more crucially, officials in Guandong province, the manufacturing heartland of the country, have announced that they are seriously considering allowing workers to elect their own representatives to carry out collective bargaining after all.

Just like last time, Western corporations and governments are lobbying frantically against this – and to keep the millions of Yan Lis stuck at their assembly lines into the 35th hour. (3)
This might seem to contradict my earlier complaint about laclk of coverage - but a solitary article by the studiously maverick Hari actually highlights how little the mainsteam media report this topic which - where ever you stand on the issue of Morlock labour - affects us all.

The Bastards of Beijing are terrified of revolt. The foreign companies exploiting Chinese labour are terrified to losing profit - to the extent that soem are already shifting out of China because its pathetically cheap labour isn't cheap enough. So if consumers start to react at the other end, they'll feel it.
3 - "And now for some good news," by Johann Hari. Published in the Independent, 6th of August 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-and-now-for-some-good-news-2044578.html)

Friday, 6 August 2010

Possible 14th Foxconn suicide

Courtesy of the Telegraph:
The 22-year old woman died on Wednesday after falling from a dormitary building at its Kunshan plant in eastern Jiangsu province, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer said on Friday.

Thirteen Chinese employees have committed suicide this year at Foxconn plants and an affiliate by jumping from buildings, including 10 in the southern city of Shenzhen.

It was unclear whether the latest death was a sucide. The company said it was working with local authorities to investigate. (1)
And while we're about it, the toll for the recent mining tragedies in Henan and Guizhou provinces now stands at 32 (2).
1 - "Foxconn faces fresh suicide fears as 14th worker dies," unattributed article. Published in the Telegraph, 6th of August, 2010. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/china-business/7929938/Foxconn-faces-fresh-suicide-fears-as-14th-worker-dies.html)
2 - "Chinese Mining Accidents Kill 32 This Week," unbattributed article. Published by News Time, 6th of August, 2010. (
http://www.newstime.co.za/WorldNews/Chinese_Mining_Accidents_Kill_32_This_Week/8856/)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The real cost of cheap consumer goods ... continued

There have been three more significant mining tragedies in China, with 29 people killed in incidents in Henan, Guizhou and Hunan provinces (1). More are still trapped underground.

These, of course, are only the major incidents that are deemed worthy of mention. Individual deaths and maimings don't warrant coverage.

There are questions about the numbers killed in last week's Nanjing factory explosion (2) - the official toll stands at thirteen, but it has been suggested that the actuall number of dead is much higher - in part because of the ingenious practice of not counting the dead until at least three days after the explosion, at which point it could be attributed to wounds sustained in the accident, rather than the accident itself.

All very speculative, and the source is the Fulun Gong linked Epoch Times, so it has to be treated with caution. But given the probability that the PRC are releasing dishonest figures for the numbers killed in industrial accidents, interesting.
1 - "29 killed, 14 trapped in mine accidents in China," unattibuted article. Published by the PTI, 3rd of August, 2010. Reproduced by DNA India. (http://www.dnaindia.com/world/report_29-killed-14-trapped-in-mine-accidents-in-china_1418251)
2 - "Conflicting Reports and Propaganda in Wake of Explosion in Nanjing," by Cheryl Chen. Published by the Epoch Times, 2nd of August, 2010. (
http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/40219/)

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The real cost of cheap consumer goods ... continued

In the days since I posted this rant (1), there has been a significant explosion in a Chinese plastics factory, which has killed thirteen people so far, with eleven more in critical condition (2).

And in the last few hours, there has been another major explosion at a Chinese mine, with a reported death toll of at least fifteen (3).
2 - "China Plastics Plant Blast Death Toll Rises to 13; 11 in Critical Shape," unattributed article. Published by Bllomberg News, 29th of July, 2010. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-07-29/china-plastics-plant-blast-death-toll-rises-to-13-11-in-critical-shape.html)
3 - "Fifteen killed in china coal mine blast," unattributed article. Published in the Irish Examiner, 31st of July, 2010. (http://www.examiner.ie/breakingnews/world/fifteen-killed-in-china-coal-mine-blast-467485.html#ixzz0vGBf2Pp4)

Theresa May: Going, Going ...

So, Theresa May is in a bit of trouble.  Tories are scheming and plotting - which they do on any day that ends in a 'Y' - and rumour...