Monthly Archives: August 2011

The homeless against the clueless

The culture of denial grows by the minute as more and more fall homeless. “Our statistics are accurate” they bleat when Manchester is shown to have 7 people on the streets. Four of then were spotted in one doorway.
In Essex a council prepares to send in the bailiffs to evict travellers who they say settled “without planning permission”. “We are not inhuman” intones the council leader “we are acting in the spirit of fairness.” Evidently someone down the road has been caught building without permission and ordered to pull down the offending structure. Didn’t say of it was his home though.
Among those facing being thorn out is a 72 year old widow. Her health is poor. “Do they want to flush us down the toilet?” she asks.
The government in he face of contradictory evidence maintains that figures they have are accurate and assures us changes to benefits has no bearing on the matter of homelessness. The homeless, the workless and the rest of us are led by the clueless who continue to dispossess the dispossessed taking away the essential services that held families and individuals away from destitution. The uncaring leadership of Cameron bleats outrage when there is a backlash. Just what did he expect?
Not that he is alone. My Lord Mandelson has been flaunting his planned £8 million home. Who is left to show a little humility in the face of concerted attacks on working people. It is clear which side of the divide New Blue Labour inhabits in this class war.

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Riots in Birmingham. A post mortem.

Members of the community assembled at the Handsworth Campus of the City College in Soho Road to chew over the rioting spree that had engulfed parts of Birmingham and other towns and cities across England. It had all kicked off in Tottenham after another killing of a black man by police. Six MPs were in attendance, three of whom represented Birmingham. Keith Vaz, who has a key role in collecting evidence, made an appearance. They were anxious to say they had come to listen, yet each spoke at some length in response to questions from the floor. Their answers seemed to be long on anecdotes and rather short on ideas. They pointed out the problems they were faced with. All happened to be from the Labour Party, but Vaz pointed out that he chaired an all-party committee, so he wasn’t there as a Labour MP.
A briefing was handed out which did not include this. Some MPs have joined a chorus of heavy sentencing for those charged with offences during the disorder, including some of whom found themselves paying back much larger sums than taken by looters. This is not to condone looting but to point out the double standards and moral malaise are with our leaders rather than within a “sick” society. The dispossessed are dispossessed by having public services cut or withdrawn providing a safety net for those on low pay, unemployed etc. It is always a trick of governments to lay blame at the door of the dispossessed. The decision makers are rich and they want more and more for themselves. The tactic has met with a response. The “Disaster Capitalism” agenda means that such a crisis triggers a further response to kerb civil liberties and introduce get tough policies which end up making a bd situation far worse.

It’s our high street banks that are morally bankrupt, not our kids!

Wars come and go, but increasingly we are dealing with permanent war. Why? Because it makes money stupid. That’s why our friendly high street banks are all funding the armaments industry which includes a very popular little weapon, the cluster bomb.
Occasionally in te UK an unexploded bomb turns up. In Laos, the Lebanon and other places where we thought the war was over the deadly bomblets exist by the million continuing to maim and kill indiscriminately. RBS, Lloyds TSB, HSBC and Barclays all continue to put their, no our money, into their production and presumably development. Although they are supposedly illegal. Mr Cameron while you talk of a “sick” society is this what you had in mind? It’s all glorified in the war games that kids can purchase for their computers or on DVD glorifying violence and sex unlimited. That’s how you come by your wealth, you and your mates. What hypocrisy!
We noted that Britain was also in business of manufacturing and using drones, another development of war deemed illegal internationally. Your mates include US and Israel as well as the millionaires’ club that now runs our country and defines and dictates that everyone else is sick except for them. Oh no I feel a sermon coming on. Better go and lie down!

The Soviet Union, 1961

This was the time of the cold war, Gagarin andthe race for space and the blunt speaking Nikita Khrushchev. The history of the shoe as a potent symbol has remained a folk memory much as its later use as a sign of contempt when was hurled at former US President George W Bush. Khruschev was thought to have used his to thump the table when at the UN to show his displeasure with the debate. (A photograph of him shoe in hand is said to be a fake!) Stalin was still evident with statues abounding throughout the eastern bloc, though not for much longer. The Moscow mausoleum still contained his preserved remain next to Vladimere Illych (Lenin). Julia joined us as our guide. A staunch member of the Communist Party she fed us with unending statistics of 5 year plans.
Birch woods and remote villages broke the monotony of the landscape. We stopped to take photographs of one settlement of wooden dwellings. A truck drew up and the official riding on the back jumped off to enquire what we were doing. Julia was nowhere to be seen as we were left to explain ourselves. The militia man demanded our cameras and that we open them up to expose the films we had taken. Julia was to be found sweating and trembling at the back of the coach. Clearly her failure to stop our activities would have consequences.
We stayed in Minsk overnight. My recollections were of wide boulevards along which early morning cleaning took place with lorries spaying fountains of water to lay the dust. Anyone near, or with window left open, would have had a soaking too!
Moving on to Smolensk we were taken to the Orthodox Cathedral with the ornate screen covered in gold leaf.
So onto Moscow. A huge hotel and we go down into the communal showers. It seems as if the whole of the diverse peoples of the USSR are represented. It is steamy and friendly. One of them who appears to be far the far east of the USSR wants Mike to scrub his back.
Meal times are not that appetising although the borsch (beetroot soup) is fine. Small apples are on the tables. One day we visit the Exhibition of Economic Achievements where there is a whole range of items displayed, including on space exploration. Big rosy apples (are they real?) are on display. Later at the dinner table Tony has a fine specimen of an apple in front of him on the table! I dreaded to think what it had been treated with….

Fifty years ago

Some haunting anniversaries reminding you how time and tide wait for no one. Fifty years ago the Berlin Wall was begun and I was in Warsaw when I heard it announced on the news. Since it was broadcast from the Communist state we were told this was to protect people from the Capitalist west. We were on route to Berlin and so saw work in progress.
I was nineteen at the time and was on a coach trip which took in Prague, Warsaw, Minsk, Smolensk and Moscow. It should have included the Ukraine and cities of Kiev and Kharkov but an earlier trip had found a low bridge which had meant the coach deflating its tyres to pass under!
Czechoslavakia was my first penetration of the “Iron Curtain” and the first impression was dismal as the border area gave the impression of being abandoned. Here the coach was joined by an elderly American, Mr Winter Smith, with whom I became well acquainted since he was to share a room with me. He had a habit of getting lost in the large cities we stayed. In the middle of the night the phone would ring alarmingly and voice would ask “Does Mr Winter Smith live here?”
Prague is a beautiful city with a rich and brutal history. Dominating the scene from the Charles Bridge over the Vltava then was a huge monument of Joseph Stalin.
Instead of driving across Czechoslavakia directly into the USSR we headed north stopping in the town of Nachod. My memories of this place are confined to an evening in a bar, probably that of the hotel. The unscheduled stop meant we did not have a chance to see the place by day. We certainly talked to the locals but as the evening drew on it began to seem that the language barrier was something of a problem. An increasingly inebriated fellow began his interrogation of me. “Communist? Ni Communist?” which I understood to be asking if I was a Communist or not. The problem is I wasn’t sure what the answer was he required as he became more and more aggressive. The problem was resolved when we withdrew to our rooms ready for an early start to Wroclaw and the long road to Moscow across Byelorusse. It seemed to me that Napoleon and Hitler’s armies would have been defeated by the boredom of the flat featureless landscape.
Up through Warsaw, to where we would return, to our first experience of the Soviet Union. As I remember the border post was miles from nowhere. There was a wide court yard with the coach parked along one side. It was surrounded with trees. The wait was long and so we started to kick a ball around. Big Dave from Australia was a reporter for Reuters and then there was mischievous Tony, a fun loving New Zealander. Mike was from the UK, later to move to Ontario in Canada with wife Chris. We are still on touch. Two northern lads ( I think they were Geordies who liked Russianising everything like beer became “beerski”.!) Considering we were surrounded by armed guards I wasn’t sure what we were doing was wise. It was to be how we passed the time at such border crossings. While this was going on our coach was minutely scrutinised and photographed underneath. Finally we were off with Minsk our first stop.

Members of the diverse community walk tall in Dudley Road

After the tragic events in Dudley Road in the Winson Green area of Birmingham members of the diverse community came together to share the grief at the loss of three young Moslem men. Dignified throughout Tariq Jahan, father of one of them, stood out as his pleas for calm against calls for revenge were widely reported.
Floral tributes were placed outside the garage, the scene of the incident, and many came to pay their respects. In the afternoon I joined with Alton Burnett and others from the close by Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre in speaking to Tariq Jahan. Alton spoke eloquently about the need to maintain unity after press reports and rumours spoke of a racial divide. Tensions are there so the outcome rests largely on how sensitively the matter is handled. Tomorrow (Sunday) a peace gathering has been called in Summerfield Park, expected to attract a wide following with once again the world’s media in attendance.
There is a photograph of Alton Burnett carrying a tribute to the Moledena brothers who dies in a fire at their post office in Lozells Road, Birmingham, in 1985. This followed similar unrest. As happens so often following such occurrences you either get the vigilantes, but more often it is members of the community who take over. I have seen it many times when determination is shown that the actions of a few will not be allowed to disrupt the community.

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An ever-widening wealth gap exists in Israel

The Israeli government suppresses more than Palestinians it seems since many of its own citizens are poor. Presumably many settlers do bring considerable resources with them from places like the US. Building continues apace as more of them take over Palestinian land.
One Palestinian village in the West Bank, Bil’in, has had a small piece of land returned to it after years of non-violent struggles. The problem they face is that there is little water. Israel command control of the water sources and the settlers the other side of the Bil’in wall consume very high amounts of the precious commodity well in excess of citizens of places like Tel Aviv.
Protests against the Israeli government are long term as tent cities spring up and while in the first place much happened in Tel Aviv other cities across the country are joining in.
So it looks like a small wealthy elite (as elsewhere across the market driven Capitalist World of “Disaster Capitalism”) imposes its will with military might and domestic policies which disadvantage its people who do not have access to housing, employment and other basic needs. Israel is wealthy with money pouring in from the US but they choose to spend it on military might in the name of defence and oppressing the poor. Seems familiar.

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Fear of racial divide in Birmingham

Tension has been heightened in Birmingham after the deaths of three young men out to protect businesses and property from looting that has been rife in Birmingham for two nights. It appears a car was driven deliberately into a crowd standing on the pavement on Dudley Road in Winson Green.
In a television report on Midlands today a father said “they will be forgotten in a few day’s time”. That will not happen, and moving tributes were given by members of the community, including an African-Caribbean neighbour who said she was “deeply distressed”. She had lived next door to one of the young people killed for years and had developed good relations with the family.
That there are inter-community tensions cannot be denied, but they can be fuelled by politicians, police and others or they can be recognised and prevented. The closing down of community resources which addressed problems of alienation and gave something to poorer members of the community is having a significant effect on worsening community relations. The dispossessed are dispossessed further by an elite and uncaring government and local council.

Shock and Awe? Mr Cameron it’s back-fired on you this time

I got home at 6.00 this morning. I was in a friend’s shop and she closed it early as there were messages that unrest had begun in Birmingham.The news was mainly about London burning but then there were shots of Brum City Centre followed by Liverpool. And then the noise started as we saw a dozen or so hooded youth outside the shop we thought trying to break in. I noticed they were further down with their attention on the chippy. They succeeded in tearing gown the shutter and breaking the windows. Not clear why this was their target though. They then had a go at the cash machine installed next door trying to rip it out of the wall. The police arrived by the van load very quickly. There were more riot police in this part of Handsworth than there appeared to be in Liverpool where rioters were driving the police back. It was a great relief since if the mob had gained entry to the shop, looted and torched it escape would have been difficult. The new owner of the fish shop was not so happy berating the police for not preventing the disorder. One office retorted that he’d been on duty for 17 hours.
The television coverage continued to replay Croydon, then Ealing, Clapham and other parts of London, some places will alight but no sign of a significant police presence or fire brigade. They would not attend without protection.
The “Shock Doctrine” brought into play by the British government unleashing an economic form of “Shock and Awe”, formulated by Naomi Klein’s view of “Disaster Capitalism, on us has back-fired. Members of the community are also capable of “shock and awe” tactics which has backfired seriously against the Cameron/Clegg partnership of barren politics. To further dispossess the already economically and socially dispossessed was a recipe for a backlash, which started with a student protest against exorbitant cost of higher education. To recognise this is not to condone the violence unleashed. Much of this has a disproportionate effect on others struggling to live in adversity while those who unleashed it inhabit ivory towers. There’s hardly a squeak from Labour in opposition about the effects of “cuts’. Cuts was always a euphemism of pulling the rug of public services from under the feet of the poor whose lifeline it was.