Saturday 21 April 2007

Establishment turkeys, regulatory chickens, or just fowl play?

So Bernard Matthews, the turkey meat company, is to get £589,000 compensation for the birds slaughtered during the recent outbreak of H5N1 bird flu there. A nice little earner for a company whose working practices helped cause the outbreak in the first place, it's a shame the laid off Bernard Matthews workers are unlikely to get proper compensation for their lost wages.

Intensive rearing of birds, whatever the animal welfare implications - according to the CIWF, "Turkeys spend their short lives crammed with up to 25,000 birds in windowless and barren sheds" (source) - the sheer overcrowding of the birds means airborne diseases (such as H5N1) will spread rapidly in such an environment.

Then there's the practice of importing birds from abroad. Whatever the risk of spreading disease, this is increasing the number of food miles - and the amount of CO2 produced - by Bernard Matthews' turkeys.

Finally, Defra "Inspectors saw gulls feeding on meat scraps which had been left in uncovered waste bins" (source). A typical example of capitalist cost cutting at the expense of basic health and safety for the surrounding area, let alone prevention of the spread of H5N1!

"Bootiful"? I think not!

Tuesday 17 April 2007

No confidence in any Establishment politician

So Gordon Brown has survived the vote of no confidence against him. I'm hardly over the moon, as I am one of the losers from Brown's recent budget. His stupid idea of scrapping the 10p tax rate is to sting everyone earning 12000-18000 a year - myself included :-( - while reducing the tax of higher earners. So much for any illusions that Brown may have been any better as PM than Bliar!

But my disappointment is tempered by the fact that the motion of no confidence was moved by Cameron and his Tories. They $#at on me from a great height while in power during the 80's and early 90s with such delightful policies as the poll tax, mass redundancies throughout the public sector (including BBC Transmission), the scrapping of student grants and their replacement with loans. On a wider level, my own local area suffered badly under the Tories as they closed the local coal mines, causing mass unemployment with all that entails. Many of the job losses happened under the premiership of John Major, who has joined in the slagging off of Blair and Brown.

At the same time, Blair and Brown have been no defenders of jobs - many jobs were lost locally when the local Ericsson mobile phones factory closed in 2001, and the government did nothing to help. Civil servants have fared even worse; a few years ago Brown threatened thousands of civil service workers with redundancy. Under the guise of the "war on bureaucracy". (Seems a bit rich for a government which has crap-flooded the legal system with thousands of petty laws since 1997 to talk about a "war on bureaucracy", but that's another story!)

I'd love to see a vote of no confidence in Blair and Brown, they've both sold the Labour Party and its supporters down the river. But the Tories have no need at all to talk, they're just a nuisance and I wish they'd keep out of it.

As for the next Labour leader, I'd love to see John McDonnell win on a left-wing platform. Better still, I'd love to see an end to the Labour-Tory duopoly on power.

Which is why I'm backing the Respect Coalition.

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Hitting the root cause

In principle, I'm all in favour of the NSPCC's latest proposal of banning the smacking of kids in shops (NSPCC urges shops to ban smacking article on BBC News). Hitting kids is a form of child abuse, and should be banned completely, in my opinion.

Why shopping centres? As the article states, shops are areas where kids (and some adults!) are most likely to have "temper tantrums" - especially when the kids want something which their parents can't afford.

I've no time at all for the right-wingers (or nonces masquerading as libertarians) who say it should be up to parents to discipline kids in any way they choose, including smacking. But I do recognise the argument that many cases of kids being smacked are a result of parents losing their patience, and that shop assistants are not necessarily the right people to intervene when that happens.

To address the root cause of why kids are likely to pester their parents for products, we must recognise that the kids are not at fault either. Through a mixture of advertising, marketing and placement of certain items in prominent positions (eg near checkouts), shops and companies use - create, even - "pester power". The capitalist Establishment love this, because kids are encouraged to force their parents to spend money, which ends up in the pockets of shopkeepers, toy and sweet companies, and other capitalists. But it also causes disappointment, with all that entails, when the parents can't afford what the adverts are hyping that week.

Which brings us to, why is there such inequality between families? Why is the gulf between rich and poor increasing, not decreasing, under an allegedly "Labour" government? Why are kids, who have no power in capitalist society, made to suffer as a result of such inequalities?

Only when we address the problems of inequality, poverty and greed, will we see a tackling of one of the main root causes of violence - from the smacking of kids, to wars between nations.

Monday 9 April 2007

Legal model is plane stupid

I'm kinda getting used to seeing new stupid age restrictions (see my previous article on age restrictions), so the ban on under-18's being implemented by some model flying clubs (as detailed in this Spiked! article) should not really surprise me anymore.

Yet what is surprising, appalling but surprising, about this age restriction is that it is not a direct result of the government (or even the establishment) having deemed model plane flying to be unsuitable for kids. Rather it is an indirect result of over zealous legislation drafted with the alleged aim of protecting children from paedophiles - for more info, see the Manifesto Club website.

In my view, by far the most pernicious aspect of the need for "enhanced" Criminal Records Bureau disclosures is that these disclosures are not confined to criminal (or even civil) court convictions. According to The Case Against Vetting report:

"CRB checks reveal offences of which people were accused but not convicted, encouraging discrimination against people on the basis of unproven accusations. Indeed, the climate of fear and precaution means that employers would feel remiss if they did not take such information into account. The ‘better safe than sorry’ approach means undermining natural justice at the expense both of law-abiding adults and the children who might have benefited from their work."

Don't get me wrong, I understand that kids do need to be protected from being harmed by paedophiles - and would have more time for vetting if the CRB checks were restricted to proved criminal convictions.

At the same time, it must be borne in mind that countless times more kids are killed each year in road accidents than by paedophiles (or even by child abusers in general). Since a disproportionate number of road accidents are caused by unlicenced or banned drivers, surely it is time to force people selling cars to do CRB checks on prospective car buyers, to make sure they're safe to drive a car.

To this end, I have set up a petition to Tony Blair, urging him to make car sales subject to CRB checks. If you agree, as I do, that kids need to be protected from maniac drivers, please sign the following petition:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make buying a car involve Criminal Record Bureau checks

Friday 6 April 2007

Lies, damn lies and benefit claim statistics

I see the Department of Work and Pensions are to use lie detectors, to determine whether or not claimants are eligible for benefits (BBC News article: Benefit staff to use lie detector).

What's more, unlike most traditional "lie detectors" which measure a whole range of factors (such as heartbeat, skin resistance, brain electrical activity), the "lie detectors" used by the DWP will base their decision entirely on one factor along - the claimant's voice!

So, some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society are to have their livelihood determined by technology which is still considered suspect. What's more, what about people (like yours truly) who have speech disabilities?

Even traditional "lie detectors" which base their decision on a range of physical readings of a person's metabolism, are deemed of suspect accuracy - "evidence" based on "lie detector" tests is not deemed admissable in court, for example.

But there is one place where lie detectors have been uses successfully - on The Jeremy Kyle Show. Now that's a point, if the government think lie detectors are so infallible, maybe John Hutton should invite Tony Blair (not to mention his namesake, Lord Hutton, who thinks Tony Blair's so sweet and innocent) to appear on the Jeremy Kyle Show. The episode title - "The electorate don't trust me after my 45 minute affair with WMD's"!

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Don't talk back ...

I see Mansfield (about 10 miles to the south of my home village of Clowne) is set to get Talking CCTV, as detailed in this BBC News article.

I always did feel uneasy about CCTV invading my privacy. I know the Establishment's argument of "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" - an argument I may have slightly more time for were it not for the huge glut of new laws (over 1000 since New Labour came to power) creating a glut of new offences. And then there's ASBOs, which virtually allow the Police, local Councils, and other sections of the Establishment to make up the law as they go along.

I especially find it bitterly ironic that the expansion of CCTV in recent years has co-incided with increasing restrictions on the use of Camcorders or even still photography. (Here's an article I wrote earlier on the subject).

As for the idea of CCTV cameras where the person watching can give orders to the person he is watching, it kinda reminds me of the bit in 1984 when Winston Smith was bollocked by Big Brother for not putting enough effort into his exercise. Then again, considering the current obesity health panic, maybe I'd better not give this government ideas!

Tuesday 3 April 2007

Smoke screen

I never was a fan of age restrictions, and am no supporter of the proposal to raise the age for buying tobacco to 18. Not that I like young people smoking, I just think that age restrictions - as well as being discriminatory and unfair - are likely to be counter-productive, and give an undeserved "cool" image to the age-restricted product among those under the legal age.

I'm not surprised at all that New Labore (typo) want the legal age for buying tobacco raised. This is, after all, the same government that has brought in curfews and dispersal orders for teenagers, and seems hell bent on demonising young people. Indeed, since before New Labour came into power in 1997, their trajectory to the right has been so great that they long ago left the orbit of the left (and are now on a collision course with The Sun level politics).

What is rather more surprising, disturbing even, is that the Green Party in Scotland also seem to be backing such a flawed proposal (Scots Green Manifesto on BBC website). It's a shame, as 95% of what the Greens stand for I agree with - especially on nuclear disarmament, pulling out of Iraq, protecting civil liberties, protecting the environment (obviously!). I'd still much rather vote for the Green Party than the Labour Party. (Admittedly, right now I'd rather vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party than the Labour Party, but that's another story!)

In fact, the same Scottish Green Party manifesto opposes the demonisation of young people. So it's quite possible that their policy on the smoking age limit is a "glitch". I hope so, I dearly hope it's not the start of the rightward drift that has afflicted the Labour Party and is starting to afflict the Liberal Democrats. Under the name of "modernisation". Call me a Luddite if you like, but I hate Modernisers!

On the positive side, Scotland does have a new left party which is standing for the first time in this year's elections. Solidarity, a left-wing breakaway party from the SSP with Tommy Sheridan at its helm, has a radical socialist platform. The main points of their manifesto can be found here.

Sunday 1 April 2007

Police, Sir

No sooner have I started this blog, than I notice a rather pernicious plan by the government, to give new powers to teachers to discipline "unruly" pupils (BBC News article).

These include: "Teachers will be able to discipline pupils outside school too - if they see children behaving badly on public transport, for instance."

Even within school hours, it is highly debatable whether giving teachers the power to be judge, jury and executioner is rather debatable. Outside of school hours, allowing punishments to be dished out kangaroo-court style is even more unfair.

Other measures include: "the new law explicitly states that teachers have the right to ... impose detention, including sessions outside school hours and on Saturdays". What about in areas where public transport does not allow for kids getting into school on Saturdays, or travelling home late?

Don't get me wrong, there are some "teachers' rights" I would be in favour of. Like the right to decent wages, and the right to teach the kids to learn creatively rather than to pass endless exams (like the SATs).

But these new powers are simply about controlling the kids more heavy handedly, which is a move backwards not forwards. Calling them "teachers' rights" suggests at best a very partisan definition of "rights", and is at worst a good example of Newspeak.

And what about the rights of the students? I know, it takes a brave person to support the rights of young people nowadays, when anyone who is not a child hater (or at least a hardline adult-chauvanist) risks being labelled a "paedophile". But when we consider the already announced measures to keep kids in school up to the age of 18, it seems young people are having their rights and freedom hammered by the government. Before you think it doesn't affect you, I'll leave you with the words of Pastor Niemoeller.

"First they came for the jews ..."

Hi from AKP

This is Anthony's new blog, dealing with recent news and political developments, and their implications.

It seems this government, on a weekly - sometimes even daily - basis, comes out with a stupid right-wing authoritarian idea which gets me really mad.

What's more, there sometimes seems to be no way of channeling that anger against the government. Certainly not in terms of voting, the main parliamentary "alternative" - ie the Tories - are more-or-less exactly as bad as New Labore (typo).

Where I live (Clowne), this year, there may not even be that threadbare option. Last year, in the County Council elections, Labour fielded the only candidate, who got in by default. In this year's county and parish council elections, it is far from impossible that this may be the case again.

Thankfully, even if I can't oppose the government at the ballot box, I can voice my opposition to the b***ards. Thanks to the internet - or more precisely, blogging - everyone can now voice their opinions online. This blog is my bite of the cherry.