Monthly Archives: July 2008

Brum has the slowest moving traffic

The Birmingham Post report today (31/7/2008) tells us what our leaders don’t want to know, can’t grasp, that Birmingham’s traffic is slowing down. Out of 5 comparable metropolitan areas an AA report says that 15% drivers are caught in traffic compared to 11% in Sheffield and 10.7% in Manchester. Both these cities have tram links while Glasgow, another comparator, has, with its underground, a figure of 12.7%.
Currently it seems that Birmingham City Councillors dislike the tram intensely, but they don’t appear to have any other plans. The “big idea” is a revamp of New Street Station, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that on its own it’s a long way from supplying Birmingham and the West Midland with the public infrastructure which will be reliable, clean and modern.
Why the antipathy to the Midland Metro is beyond me. It is clean and reliable. You don’t get thrown about like you do on buses (I’ve only encountered one driver who succeeded in stopping suddenly throwing passengers about). It is know to be much more effective in getting people out of cars. It has free park and ride facilities with security cameras. Not only don’t they like it, they have no plans for a modern public transport system. How do they answer the correspondent who writes into todays Post I’ve quoted below?
In many ways New Street is the envy of many cities because of its location at the centre. Edinburgh has a similar advantage in that sense. So some of the ideas coming on board to relieve New Street appear to have some merit. If you travel to London from Snow Hill and Moor Street it is apparent that there is already room for four tracks, which would be a huge problem to provide between the Coventry – New Street route, not taking into account the tunnels feeding into the station. A high speed link I understand is being looked at here. I had high hopes at one time that the tram would go out to Eastside and then connect at Duddeston and Vauxhall. An interchange there would also relieve pressure on New Street.
Already officers with foresight have managed to get the exit route for the Midland Metro constructed at Snow Hill and this will make it possible for the tram to link with New Street. It also frees up platform 4 for heavy rail. At present light rail and heavy rail are forbidden to use common track, but I understand that the government are revisiting this question so there could be interesting developments there.
The same edition of the Post contains a letter headed “International aspirations let down by dire transport”
“Dear Editor, I read the excellent Birmingham Post property supplement with a sense of growing excitement when examining some of the detail surrounding, the proposed 10 year, £17 billion development of Birmingham city centre. The iconic V Building, the development of Park Central, the Calthorpe Estates’ proposed £40 million office development and the redevelopment of Five Ways and the A38 corridor. These proposed and planned developments will certainly place Birmingham at the forefront of international focus and generate interest from the business and commercial sectors.”
The letter continues:
“Unfortunately my enthusiasm slowly waned as I realised that yet again the one key area of focus that is always missing from these grandiose plans is the development of appropriate and suitable transport infrastructure to support the increasing urbanisation of our city.”

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Miliband states the blindingly obvious

David Miliband has spoken. “Labour needs real change” he says. And he’s the favoured front runner. He’s the one who blamed wild birds from bringing Avian ‘Flu to Bernard Matthews when it was the action of corporate enterprise linked to Hungary. Our David preferred to look after the interests of an iindustry which is a constant threat to public health. Bins of offal were found lying next to sheds of live birds. Avian ‘Flu hit the headlines scaring us to death over the possible outbreak of a pandemic resulting in thousands of deaths. A New Labour man through and through! The other person mentioned to take over is Jack “excuse me do you mind removing your clothes when you speak to me” Straw. We hear that Harriet also fancies her chances.
The real change needed is for someone to come along not wedded to the idea that market forces are the answer to everything. Don’t look at the Tories or Lib-Dems for that any more than New Labour. Most of those who believe fundamentally differently have moved out of Labour long since. Tony Benn said it was a mistake when Arthur Scargill and Tony Blair changed party: Scargill formed the Socialist Labour Party which I joined, and Blair New Labour. Brown won’t countenance a perceived “move backwards” to restore union power. As far as I can see none of the potential contenders would either with the possible exception of John McDonnell.

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Oil profits up, Buffett gives Obama advice so all’s well.

Don’t worry you’re in good hands as BP announce a rise in profits in spite of problems with their Russian partners. Russia accounts for a sizable chunk of their business. Meanwhile back at the ranch Obama takes time to worry about the rise in price of fuel and food, so step forward Warren Buffett, supposedly the richest person in the world, a noted philanthropist, called in to give some thought to how we ordinary mortals can be helped.
The present administration find the economic crisis handy for explaining away the record budget deficit facing the U.S. Nothing to do with spending on Iraq and Afghanistan you understand. While Obama has always said he’s against the Iraq war Afghanistan he says is a priority. And Iran? Israel can’t wait to get going and recent words from Bush, Obama Brown is doing nothing to restrain them. While it looked like Condi Rice had stalled the rush to Tehran, war is on the agenda and it could be nuclear.
All this seems to be playing into Obama’s hands, eclipsing McCain who can only sit by moaning about the press coverage he’s not getting.

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Tory, Tory, Tory

There used to be a saying that the Tories were in power whichever party was running the government. At the moment the focus is on Brown. It can’t be said that he’s not the author of his misfortunes but the trouble, as the Independent pointedly makes out (28/7/2008), is not a matter of personality. The real Tory party got into the habit of ditching one leader after another without result. A month or so back they were after Cameron’s blood, although today he seems a favourite candidate for P.M. Only Brown and Blair hit the radar with 10% and 12% respectively, the next, Straw and Milliband hit 5% each.
A little analysis shows that media reporting of events to be highly superficial. They make a point of saying Brown’s recent speeches in Israel, in Europe as well as at home were of some substance. Obama’s highly acclaimed European tour put across speeches full of platitude and little weight.
New Labour’s willful adoption of Thatcherism, taking it to new heights that Blessed Maggie herself didn’t dream of, has led to a government which puts the interests of big business first. In other words they vied with the Tories to manage capitalism. When the crunch comes, as it’s bound to given the logic of reliance on finance, the majority: those without access to the means of production, are going to suffer.

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Gordon Brown spoke in the Midlands the day after the loss of Glasgow East. To trades unionists his message was “NO LEFT TURN”. If you haven’t got a reverse gear the only options left are to carry straight on or go eternally right. The supposition is that the unionists are far left, way beyond public opinion. Recently unions made 130 demands to New Labour, but they only wanted parity of treatment of staff in the new academies. This privatisation of a public service goes beyond what people want adn thought they had ditched with Thatcher.
So no left turn, we’ll continue feeding the owners of Northern Rock whether they’ve made a complete mess of the business or whether they haven’t. Fuel and food prices can rocket skyward but those who provide our essential needs can take joy from the record profits without a murmer. Vote Tory? Well it’s a continuation of Thatcherism that we’ve seen under New Labour so that’s a waste of time. Lib-Dems. What the hell do they stand for? Happy to go along with the Tories here in Brum!

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Why peaceful protest is ignored

Weekly posts from Bil’in village show the determined peaceful protests against an unlawful and brutal oppressor. This is just an example of what goes on across the Palestinian territories, yet there very existence is, willfully it seems, ignored. Could it be that there is a political imperative, since without the ability to label individuals as “terrorists” then the whole reason for going into armed combat is undremined. If it’s inconvenient it doesn’t exist. The following comes from Jewish Voice for Peace:
“Activists working to end Israel’s occupation of the territories it captured in 1967, to stop its severe oppression of the captive residents of these territories and to reverse the rampant militarization of Israeli state and society are often challenged by interlocutors as to the (supposed) absence of a movement of peaceful Palestinian resistance. The question, usually an insincere and confrontational dismissal, often takes on the formula, “So where is the Palestinian ‘Peace Now’?” (Notably, demonstrating the entrenched ignorance behind this question, ‘Peace Now’ has not been a large or leading group within the Israeli anti-occupation movement for many years now).
The reality is that there are many and varied Palestinian groups and individuals working to end the occupation through peaceful means. Many of them have been at work for decades. At the best of times, they operate under extremely difficult constraints and conditions. Among other things, they are barred from moving freely from one village or town to another, not to speak of longer trips. They are denied freedom of assembly. The means of communication at their disposal are often limited and erratic, frequently blocked. Some of them live in poverty and struggle to subsist, leaving little time and energy for painstaking activism. Israel routinely blocks or confiscates their funding. Nevertheless, they go on, some of them working among Palestinians only, others creating joint initiatives with Israeli counterparts.
This peaceful and peace-seeking component of the Palestinian resistance goes systematically unreported by both Israeli and international corporate media. However, despite this erasure, such resistance has gained considerable grassroots solidarity worldwide and is viewed as a threat by Israel’s leadership. Israel repeatedly targets peaceful Palestinian activists, as well as their family members, aiming to stop their activities while intimidating others who would follow their lead. Their systematic omission by mainstream media undoubtedly eases the way for the Israeli practices of harassing, injuring, imprisoning, torturing and frequently killing such Palestinian activists with impunity.
The second item below, from Haaretz (Friday, July 25), reveals a rare instance of intentionally publicized or possibly leaked “controversy among senior security officials” concerning a recent campaign against what the military described as “Hamas’ civil institutions”. According to Haaretz journalists Harel and Issacharoff, “some of the brass [are] arguing that […. part of] the operation was not sufficiently justified”.
Exemplifying the legal infrastructure allowing Israel’s arbitrary actions, “The IDF”, according to Harel and Issacharoff, “has received legal authorization to confiscate income-producing assets of Hamas-affiliated groups, even if no clear link between the groups and terrorist activity has been proven”.
However, Haaretz claims, “the activity in Nablus seemed to some to have gone too far […] One senior official said he was concerned that the campaign would be seen as ‘war against Islam’ instead of a focused struggle against Hamas and its terror activities”.
One of the measures frequently employed to undermine non-violent Palestinian organizing is termed ‘administrative detention’ and amounts to indefinite imprisonment without trial or charges.
The first item below focuses on the ‘administrative detention’ of Dr. Ghassan Khaled.
The military court that usually approves such detention as a matter of course initially found no grounds for enforcing it in his case. Later, Israel’s High Court “were critical about the procedures leading to Khaled’s arrest”. Nevertheless Dr. Khaled currently remains in detention.
The report and request for action regarding Dr. Khaled were compiled and disseminated by The Israeli Association for the Palestinian Prisoners. The Association is led by my friends and longtime sister activists, Anat Matar (see contact details below) and Tamar Berger.
Their call for action is an attempt to muster alternative means to un-erase the issues at hand and move caring people worldwide to learn about, and act in solidarity with, the men and women unjustly and outrageously incarcerated and harassed by Israel. ”

Rela Mazali

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Obama on tour

The pros and cons of Obama visiting Iran are neatly set out in a supposed dialogue in Al Jazeera today.(24/7/2008). Quite where he stands at the end of the day keeps everyone guessing. What is known is that 4 out of 5 U.S. citizens favour talks, so that’s good enough for the front running presidential candidate for now.
Both Obama and Brown look like appeasers of Israel from their recent trips to Jerusalem. Brown went on a at length of his childhood memories of the Holy Land as a member of the church and said nothing about Gaza, confiscation of Palestinian land or the rising toll of Palestinian casualties. However his rhetoric led Obama’s with references to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Obama’s statement about the indivisibility of Jerusalem concerns Palestinians although Israelis still appear to favour McCain as the greater potential ally.

Bil’in continues its court battles

This is the weekly bulletin from Bil’in which routinely reports peaceful demonstration about the building of a wall and the land grab for further illegal settlements. It is Israeli courts that have challenged the legality, but court orders have been ignored. Canadian firms are also involved in the illegal use of Palestinian land and being challenged.
1- Bilin continues its battle in the courts
2- Bil’in Canada call to action
3- One injured and dozens affected by tear gas at Bilin weekly non-violent protest against the apartheid wall.
1- Bilin continues its battle in the courts
FFJ- July 18, 2008 – Yesterday afternoon the village counsel and popular committee of Bilin met with their lawyers to discuss recent developments in two legal actions: the first, the lawsuit Bilin filed last Tuesday against two Canadian corporations, Green Park and Green Mount; the second, a follow up to a case they won last year, in which the High Court of Israel ruled that the fence in Bilin is illegal, and must be re-routed.
In the claim filed against Green Park and Green Mount International, Bilin’s legal representation argues that by building Jewish settlements in Occupied West Bank, ones like the nearby Modi’in Illit and Mattityahu East, Israel is committing war crimes. Further, they argue that anyone assisting in this crime–by planning, building, and marketing residential units in these settlements, for instance–is by virtue of abetting these crimes violating international law (see the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49). “This is legal history,” said one lawyer, “the first case ever to raise this argument. To some degree, we have already won just by filing it, since it will make other corporations think twice before supporting settlements. And if we succeed, we will set a huge, huge precedent.”
The claim was filed in the Superior Court of Quebec, and both Green Park and Green Mount International have given notice that they will appear in court to defend themselves. Since receiving this notice, Bilin’s legal team has been preparing for a big trial, anticipating that the defense will object to the trial itself, on the grounds that Canadian courts do not have proper jurisdiction to try this case. But Bilin intends to counter this argument, stressing that war crimes and violations of human rights concern all humanity, and hence all courts, where each and every court has a duty to try cases of this kind. If Bilin can overcome this initial objection, assert their lawyers, they will be on solid ground. The villagers of Bilin are putting out a call to their supporters to raise awareness about this groundbreaking trial. They are also putting out a call to each and every Palestinian, regardless of political party, to come together around this significant act of resistance. It’s a national issue, after all.
The second update is less uplifting. In September 2007, after an arduous trial, Israel’s High Court of Justice concluded that the section of the separation barrier that slices through Bilin’s land, cutting villagers off from over sixty percent of it, is illegal. The court ordered the Ministry of Defense and the IDF to design a new route that satisfies a few essential criteria: (1) that the new route must be planned in a way that minimizes the suffering of the village, (2) that the new route should return as much cultivated land as possible to Bilin’s side of the barrier, (3) that the planners must try to return the cultivated land of Wadi Dilib to Bilin, (4) that the new route should be placed, as much as possible, on state instead of private Palestinian land, and (5) that the new route should return a certain set of key enclaves designated by the court.
As of May 2008, Israel had yet to suggest a new route, and absolutely nothing had changed. So Bilin filed a claim against the State of Israel, contending that Israel is in contempt of its own court. One week later Israel replied that it would issue a new plan in three weeks time, and on July 6th the plan for a new route was submitted.
But this plan met none of the criteria. The new route ceded part of Wadi Dilib, but only a fraction, and nothing else. Further, the construction of the projected route will destroy 37 more acres, whereas the people of Bilin will only be allowed to recover 30.25 acres; not to mention that 17.5 of these acres have already been destroyed by the route of the previous fence. Not a hair of the proposed route will be built on state rather than Palestinian private land, not one of the key enclaves will be returned, and perhaps most strikingly: 545 of Bilin’s 1,000 acres–some 54.5 percent–will still be lost to the fence. It is clear, of course, that the Ministry of Defense and the Israeli Defense Forces have done their very best to avoid implementing any of the criteria into the new route, not by negligence, but sheer calculation.
Bilin has once again claimed that Israel is in contempt of its own court, and that Israel has “treated the ruling as dust.” Bilin has demanded that the court fine or arrest the Minister of Defense and the regional Israeli military commander. On the day this claim was filed, the court responded that it would hold a hearing on July 27th. Bilin is preparing for the hearing.
Related article: “Seeking Justice Abroad” posted July 10, 2008.

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Memo to Obama, McCain (and Brown): No one wins in a war (JVP)

The following has come from Jewish Voice for Peace. As Gordon Brown is about to address the Knesset, he too needs to consider this message with reports that he is continuing to sabre rattle. Brown visited the West Bank, saw Bethlehem, saw the dividing wall. He must of heard of the brutality and killings perpetrated by the Israeli state. While Brown is right to remember the holocaust, what is happening in Gaza was described by a member of the Israeli government using the same language. The official line used to be that the Holocaust was unique in history and nothing can compare. So that justifies the inhumane treatment of the Arab people does it?
While the speech and actions of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement encouraging settlers with extremist views – mirrored by the extreme right Christian Zionists, who while sharing the name have a rather different agenda and include anti-semitic individuals – there is a considerable body of Jewish opinion which dissents. Numerically it is probably vastly greater than the few who have taken power, and backed by the U.S. uses it to intimidate, bully, terrorise in pursuit of “peace2 we are told.
“It probably seems clear to many of us that of the Obama and McCain pair, one is way more reckless and dangerous. Yet, they share a view of how to resolve conflict which is based on waging war. Howard Zinn points out how bankrupt this line of thinking is – at least in terms of achieving the stated aims: ridding ourselves of “terrorism” and such.
Of course, waging wars have other aims(which this short article doesn’t address): The further consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of the few, and the opportunity to use drummed up fear to dissolve chunks of what liberties we still possess.”

Racheli Gai.

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How cheap is cheap labour?

Interesting how the super rich depend on getting their labour at rock bottom prices. On Long Island the wealthy inhabitants, including a number of “celebrities” are finding themselves short of servants. A clamp down on illegal migrants has meant that many have been deported leaving their wives and children. already poor, in desperation.
It happens in former British, and no doubt other, colonies where not immigrants, but local people will sell their labour very cheaply. To them the payment is a matter of life and death.
What is happening on Long Island brings into sharp relief the hypocrisy of western governments tied to capitalist economies. Illegal migrant labour in fact provides a necessary function for the economy. The exploitation and misery which exists in this underworld surfaces from time to time and includes slavery, child labour and a huge sex industry. Whether the deportation of servants working for the super rich touches these pressing problems remains in doubt.