Friday, July 23, 2010

Join the police and get away with murder

Ian Tomlinson lies dead or dying after being hit with a baton and then knocked to the ground by policeman Simon Harwood. As in the Jean Charles De Menezes case the Crown Prosecution Service refused to bring any charges.

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, claims there is no realistic prospect of a prosecution against Police Officer Simon Harwood for the death of Ian Tomlinson succeeding despite video evidence and many eyewitnesses (1) – (3). Two reputable pathologists also say Tomlinson died of internal bleeding caused by “blunt force trauma”. They say the likely cause is the baton attack on Tomlinson by Harwood and/or him pushing Tomlinson over onto the pavement (4) - (5).

Liver disease caused by Ian Tomlinson's alcoholism made him more vulnerable to these kind of injuries according to the pathologists. It's also unlikly Harwood was deliberately trying to kill Tomlinson, but his actions were clearly assault - and since they also caused Tomlinson's death - manslaughter

Mr Starmer claimed the lack of a prospect of a successful prosecution was due to the “fundamental disagreement between the experts about the cause of Mr Tomlinson's death”, as if the word of Dr. Patel, who is facing multiple disciplinary hearings from the General Medical Council over his conduct of previous pathological reports – and is banned from carrying out further ones for the Home Office, is testimony as reliable as that from two other pathologists, neither of whom are facing any charges (5).

The delay of over 6 months by the DPP in coming to a decision on whether to bring charges against the policeman involved is very convenient for that officer as it means no assault charge can be brought against him (6).

The Crown Prosecution Service’s website claims that “The CPS exists to ensure that wrongdoers are brought to justice, victims of crime are supported and that people feel safer in their communities.” (7)

After going out of their way to prevent anyone being brought to justice for the killings of Jean Charles De Menezes or Ian Tomlinson, perhaps they should add the qualification “unless those responsible are police officers, in which case we’re here to make sure they get off with it”.

They might as well put up recruitment signs saying “Join the police and get away with assault, GBH, mansalughter, maybe even murder!”.

Those newspapers which reported false police claims that officers had tried to help Tomlinson while being pelted with bottles and bricks by protesters should be made to correct those false claims with headlines just as prominent (8). Multiple eye-witnesses say Tomlinson was helped by protesters who phoned an ambulance while police ordered them to “move on”. They also said the only bottles thrown were plastic ones, by people in the centre of the crowd who didn’t know what was going on – and stopped when they were told (9).

In China a woman was beaten for 15 minutes by police officers for trying to petition a Communist Party Official about a problem. The beating stopped when police realised she wasn’t a petitioner but the wife of the official, which, apparently, is the only reason it’s news, as it’s common to assign police to beat up petitioners to discourage them from complaining to officials (10). So much for free market reform bringing democracy to China. So far, at least, it’s clearly not working.

In the US something similar happened to a black man suspected of being on drugs when he refused to change into a medical gown in a hospital. Hospital security guards began beating and tasering  him until they found out he was the nephew of Supreme Court Justice Thomas Clarence (11).

It seems that wherever you go in the world, democracy, dictatorship or one party state, police can break the law by beating people for little or nothing, even commit manslaughter or murder, and get off with it. That doesn’t seem that democratic.

(1) = CPS ‘The death of Ian Tomlinson - decision on prosecution’, , (for summary see BBC News 22 July 2010 ‘G20: No charges over Ian Tomlinson demo death’, )

(2) = Guardian 07 Apr 2009 ‘Ian Tomlinson death: Guardian video reveals police attack on man who died at G20 protest’,

(3) = Guardian 08 April 2009 ‘Ian Tomlinson death: G20 witnesses tell of dogs, batons and an attack by police’,

(4) =  BBC News 22 July 2010 ‘G20: No charges over Ian Tomlinson demo death’, - see sub-section headed ‘Analysis’ half-way down the page and to the right of the main report, which says ‘In the case of Mr Tomlinson, two pathologists - one instructed by the police and the other by his family - agreed that he died partly from internal bleeding caused by "blunt-force trauma".But the first examination was carried out by Dr Freddy Patel, a Home Office pathologist, who says Mr Tomlinson died of a heart attack. ‘

(5) = BBC News 22 July 2010 ‘Tomlinson pathologist facing GMC’,

(6) = BBC News 22 July 2010 ‘G20: No charges over Ian Tomlinson demo death’, ‘Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said......."If everybody had moved a bit faster wemight have actually been in the time-frame for an assault charge to be brought," ‘

(7) = Crown Prosecution Service ‘Your CPS’,

(8) = e.g Evening Standard 02 Apr 2009 ‘Police pelted with bricks as they help dying man’,

(9) = Guardian 08 April 2009 ‘Ian Tomlinson death: G20 witnesses tell of dogs, batons and an attack by police’,

(10) = Guardian 22 July 2010 ‘Chinese police beat official's wife by mistake’,

(11) = ABC News 09 July 2010 ‘Judge Clarence Thomas' Nephew Derek Tasered by Hospital Staff, Family Says’,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Other Nine (Thousand) Oil Spills – BP and the Gulf Spill and Exxon, Chevron and Shell in Nigeria

Women in the Niger Delta beside an oil spill in 2009, which began in 2004 (source - Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR via an Amnesty International report on oil pollution in the Niger Delta = (1))

Americans have suffered from the BP spill – but only a fraction of what Nigerians have suffered for decades – and continue to suffer today. The problem isn’t one bad company – BP is no worse than any other oil firm - the problem is that big firms have been allowed to buy influence with governments leading to poor regulation; coupled with experimental drilling at depths never attempted before in order to try to maintain an oil based society and economy. Unless all governments regulate all oil companies better, this is going to happen over and over again.

BP certainly bear responsibility for the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and for using toxic chemical dispersants even worse than the slick itself.

However the idea that BP is a uniquely bad oil company, while American oil companies are more responsible, is nonsense.

Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and other oil companies based everywhere from the US to France, Italy and the UK have created thousands of oil spills both on and offshore in the Niger Delta in Nigeria for decades – and right up to present.

There have been 2,400 oil spills in the Niger Delta in the last 4 years, many involving Exxon-Mobil. Between 1970 and 2000 the Nigerian government’s figure was 7,000 oil spills, with more independent analysts putting the figure higher, at around 300 every year. The amount spilled by 2006 was estimated at at least 1.5 million tonnes (2) – (4).

When people there who are drinking polluted water and who can’t catch fish or birds to survive because the delta and marshes they live in are polluted by oil spills complain their government doesn’t fine the oil companies and demand they do something about it, as it has in the US (5).

Instead any opposition or complaint from the locals has resulted in oil companies calling in the Nigerian military who have been killing their opponents – peaceful or armed - for decades, often partly paid by and equipped by the oil companies – and transported on helicopters provided by the oil companies. This has resulted in armed rebellions, hijackings of oil rigs and kidnapping of oil company staff, both by rebels and by armed gangs.

Some oil companies, including Shell and Chevron, have even supplied the Nigerian military and police with weapons and helicopters with which to kill their opponents – whether armed rebels or peaceful campaigners like Ken Saro Wiwa, notoriously executed by the Nigerian government for campaigning against pollution, with Shell lawyers refusing to call for clemency when the decision was being made (6).

Ken Saro-Wiwa, a peaceful campaigner for the Ogoni people against oil pollution by Shell, was executed by the Nigerian military - Shell lawyers refused to ask for clemency

The only way many of the people of the, now grossly polluted, Niger Delta can survive is to cut into oil pipelines and drain off oil for sale or barter, or else join armed gangs extorting money for kidnapped hostages. They often die in explosions in the process. On 18th October 1999 300 people burned alive near the town of Jesse , due to such an explosion and the spread of fires to nearby villages. This was one of the largest death tolls, but not unusual.

Gas flaring in the Niger Delta - source - Chidi Anyaeche - Nigeria Village Square

The Ogoni , Ijaw and other peoples of the Niger Delta have had their agricultural land made infertile and their fishing grounds destroyed by pollution from oil pipelines for decades. They have been forced out of their villages by threats and attacks by the Nigerian military to make way for these pipelines. These attacks are routinely described by the Nigerian military as ‘inter-tribal disputes’ (7) - (8).  Hundreds of them “disappear”every year after military and police raids.

On May 25th 1998 one-hundred and twenty one student activists from 42 delta communities carried out a peaceful occupation of an offshore Chevron oil facility in protest against environmental destruction. They were promised a meeting with a Chevron officials at the end of May to discuss their grievances. On May 28th Chevron helicopters ferried Nigerian soldiers to the platform. These soldiers proceeded to gun down two activists, wounded others and removed the rest. On January 4th 1999 Nigerian police and soldiers equipped with a Chevron helicopter and Chevron boats attacked and burned the Ijaw villages of Opiah and Ikenyan in Delta state , killing at least 4 people and wounding others (9) – (10).

Amnesty International reported that during 2009 “The Security forces, including the military, continued to commit human rights violations in the Niger Delta including extra-judicial executions, torture and...the destruction of homes.......the Joint Task Force (JTF) which combines troops of the army, navy, air force and...police, frequently raided communities. Such raids often followed clashes between the JTF and militants, often resulting in the death of bystanders.” (11)

The conflict is often reported as involving “kidnappers” trying to extort money from oil firms, just as there’s much crowing every time a Somalian pirate is shot by the US or Russian navy, or by Israeli security guards on private shipping, without much reflection on the causes of the piracy – a civil war resulting from a dictatorship backed by both the US and USSR throughout the Cold War; US , French and British backing for an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia when one side in the civil war seemed to have one; illegal fishing by trawlers from all over the world in Somalian waters; and illegal dumping of nuclear waste and other pollutants by firms based in the “developed”.

Although Nigeria has had an elected government since 1998 the close relationship between oil and arms companies and the Nigerian military and government remains.

The fact that American firms are responsible for massive oil spills in Nigeria hasn’t stopped American Senators loudly announcing that Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil have told them that they would never be as irresponsible as BP though – Halliburton and it’s subsidiaries of course being so responsible that they were found to have repeatedly grossly over-charged the US military for fuel and supplies in Iraq on a scale that might make the Afghan government blush – and even to have tried to cover up the gang rape of one of it’s employees. That’s not to mention the fact that Halliburton was contracted by BP to seal the oil well which then caused the spill in the Gulf (12) – (15).

The truth is that this is not a case of one uniquely bad company. BP is no better or worse than other oil companies. It, like them, is the product of a system which allows it to buy political influence and deregulation of it’s industry. It’s a case of poor regulation by governments as a result of oil companies buying political influence – and of the risks of drilling for oil at greater depths than has ever been done before, using experimental technology, to try to meet ever increasing demand for oil. Until governments and the public face up to that and people demand much stricter regulation of all oil companies, plus more investment in other energy technologies and reduction in waste of energy, nothing will change.

It’s also the truth that however bad many people in Florida and other states affected by the spill have it, they don’t have it nearly as bad as Nigerians have it – often at the hands of American based oil firms. So it’s no good pretending this is a problem with one company or with foreigners.

The one good side-effect of the Gulf of Mexico spill is that it’s started to raise some questions about these wider issues and the suffering of Nigerians, Colombians and others.

Forming a posse to lynch the furreners and cheer on the good ol’ American oil giants seems to be popular in America right now. It’s not going to stop it happening all over again though.

(1) = Amnesty International 30 Jun 2009 'Oil industry has brought poverty and pollution to Niger Delta'

(2) = Reuters 15 Jun 2010 'Nigeria cautions Exxon Mobil on offshore oil spills',

(3) = BBC News 15 Jun 2010 ‘Nigeria: 'World oil pollution capital'’,

(4) = Independent 26 Oct 2006 'Niger Delta bears brunt after 50 years of oil spills',

(5) = See (1) above

(6) = Human Rights Watch The Price of Oil HRW , New York & London , 1999;especially p174-5,

(7) = Human Rights Watch The Price of Oil HRW , New York & London , 1999,

(8) = Catma Productions The Drilling Fields Channel 4 (London) , 23rd May 1994,; full transcript at

(9) = PACIFICA RADIO/Democracy Now 21 Jun 2001  ‘Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria's Oil Dictatorship’,

(10) =  Human Rights Watch press release Oil Companies complicit in Nigerian abuses Lagos ,Feb 23rd , 1999,

(11) = Amnesty International annual report 2010 – Country Report – Nigeria,

(12) = BBC News 13 Dec 2003 ‘Bush warns 'oil overcharge' firm’,

(13) = Observer 22 Feb 2004 ‘Of Halliburton and the mis-spent millions’,

(14) = ABC News 10 Dec 2007 ‘Victim: Gang-Rape Cover-Up by U.S., Halliburton/KBR’,

(15) = BBC News 13 Jun 2010 ‘Halliburton profits up despite oil spill’,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Demanding the truth about the Megrahi case, Lockerbie and the Iranian Airbus shot down by the USS Vincennes

Abdel-basset al Megrahi is almost certainly not the Lockerbie bomber. The real question is not why he was released but how his sham of a trial ever resulted in a conviction - and who was actually behind the Lockerbie bombing - not to mention why

There has been a lot of self-righteous talk from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic recently about “demanding the truth” about whether BP used it’s influence to get Megrahi released.

This is either based on ignorance of the facts or else is extremely hypocritical given the utter silence of most of the people involved on the truth about the Lockerbie bombing and Megrahi’s trial, which was a politically influenced sham from the start, in which key witnesses were bribed and coached in and advance and evidence was tampered with.

That’s before getting to the issue of the very likely links between a US warship (the USS Vincennes) shooting down a plane full of hundreds of Iranian civilians in the Persian Gulf, all of them killed, just like the civilians killed in the Lockerbie bombing, less than a year before Lockerbie.

Some people at this point claim the Vincennes shooting down the Iranian Airbus was an accident. It may well be that the Vincennes’ crew wrongly thought the Airbus was an Iranian military plane. It’s also the case that they had un-necessarily crossed into Iranian waters to deliberately provoke a fight with Iranian ships though – and that the captain of the Vincennes was negligent in using his radar incorrectly.

The families of the Iranian civilians killed in this incident have never had any apology. The crew all got service medals.

This definitely does not make the murder of hundreds of other civilians in the Lockerbie bombing right or justified – anything but – but it does make the more myopic demands for “the truth” about Megrahi’s release ring very hollow.

I’ve already made longer posts with relevant sources and quotes on this in the past so i’ll just link to them rather than repeat myself any more – they’re here and here.

The focus on BP alone is also pretty hypocritical as plenty of American oil firms were back in Libya before BP was.

So President Obama can claim to be "surprised, disappointed and angry" about Megrahi's release and Prime Minister David Cameron can claim it was wrong to release "this mass murderer", but both either need to study Megrahi's trial and all the political manipulation of it - along with the link to the Iranian Airbus shot down by a US warships - or else they're being a lot less than honest.

Big society for some; unemployment and underfunded schools for others

Work done by volunteers and charities is a valuable addition to public services and the welfare state, but not an alternative to it - and certainly not without funding

David Cameron’s “Big Society” policy masquerades as encouraging volunteer work. This would be great if he was suggesting it as an addition to well funded public services rather than as a replacement for cut services – or if he was going to provide enough money to communities to run those parts of the public services that most of them preferred to run themselves.

Many volunteers do extremely valuable work and do it well - and contracting out some local council work to charities and volunteers might be an improvement for some services, where the majority want it - and if the funding is sufficient.

Charity and volunteer work can’t replace the welfare state or public services though, unless we want to go back to the nineteenth century with poverty and suffering for the majority.

The reality of the “Big Society” is likely to be that some of the wealthiest and best educated will be allowed to set up their own schools and run their own local services. Having done they will be unlikely to be willing to pay enough tax to fund public services for less fortunate others which they won’t use themselves.

The risk is that we end up with two-tier education and health services on the American model, with state schools and hospitals becoming hugely over-stretched and under-funded , while those who can afford it get private care or run their own schools.

That’s not even counting the cost of the number of people made unemployed and dumped into poverty by cuts in services, which, as usual, will be passed on to councils to implement so that the Westminster government can pretend it’s nothing to do with them. Since the majority of local services are funded from national income tax  they most definitely are to do with both.

The ‘Big Society’ looks like no more than a new advertising slogan for the Conservatives’ ideological opposition to the welfare state and public services.

Cameron’s high blown rhetoric of taking power from “the elite in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street” may yet boil down to telling taxpayers and especially the poorest “do it your f******* self”, at the same time as trying to earn enough to survive as unemployment rises.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Incinerators are most definitely toxic, recycle nothing and waste energy and resources

Some of the people organising and backing the Action Group against the planned waste incinerator at Dovesdale. Scotgen executives claim that to call incinerators toxic is not "reasoned debate". The facts from existing incinerators show otherwise. They also waste energy and resources by incinerating plastics and other materials which could be recycled with far lower emissions of CO2 and without spreading toxic chemicals.

The incinerator which the Scotgen company has applied for planning permission for at Dovesdale farm near Stonehouse is one of many planned by the SNP Scottish Executive and mostly Labour and Lib Dem controlled local councils.

They have been presented by the companies building them, the Scottish Executive, local councils and Westminster governments as a way to reduce landfill of rubbish, as “recycling” and as providing “green energy”.

This is either a mistaken view or a dishonest claim.

Lloyd Brotherton of Scotgen quoted in the Evening Times, claims it’s not “reasoned debate” to describe incinerators as “toxic”. So how should we describe incinerators which emit dioxins, heavy metal particles, acid gases and other toxins which cause cancers,  breathing problems and deaths, especially among children? (1) – (6) Mr Brotherton claims calling something which emits toxins toxic is not “reasoned debate”. What’s his reasoning here?

He claims incinerators “recycle” waste into “low carbon power”. Incinerators don’t recycle anything. They incinerate it, creating a mixture of toxins spread as gases and particles on the wind and toxic ash which must be put into landfill, where it can pollute groundwater and soil (1) – (6).

Toxins from the Dovesdale incinerator could be blown anywhere from Motherwell and Wishaw to Carluke and Stonehouse or anywhere else within around a 14 mile radius from the incinerator if it’s built, depending on which way the wind is blowing at the time.

The amount of energy produced by incinerating plastics and other waste is a fraction of the amount required to manufacture new plastics to replace those incinerated, a massive net loss of energy (7) – (8).

Plastics are made using oil, which is a finite resource – i,.e it will run out one day. It’s madness to incinerate plastics we could recycle. What’s more recycling reduces CO2 emissions massively compared to incineration (7) – (8).

Incinerators also emit more CO2 than gas powered power stations per unit of energy provided (9).

The alternatives to both landfill and incineration are simple; recycle more; regulate packaging; and make producers pay for the safe disposal of products, giving them a profit motive to find recyclable or less toxic alternatives (10) – (13).

Labour MSP Karen Gillon has rightly come out against the incinerator, though MPs whose constituents might be affected have so far failed to take any position on it.

If you want to find out more about the campaign against the Dovesdale incinerator and how to object to the planning application and/or write to your elected representatives about it you can go to the Action Group’s website.

If you want more information about incinerators and alternatives to them in general see links on the Action Group’s website and the footnoted links at the bottom of this post.

Any councillor not voting against the application for the planning incinerator may find their coat’s on a shaky nail in next year’s council elections in Scotland.

The Evening Times photo gives the impression of a handful of people opposing the incinerator. In fact at public meetings in villages and towns organised by the Action Group against Dovesdale Incinerator over a hundred people from each village or town regularly turn out - and thousands of letters and emails are being sent to councillors in objection to the planned incinerator

(1) = Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology Post Note 149 December 2000 ‘Incineration of Household Waste’, (see especially ‘Pollutants from incineration’ pages 1 – 2 )

(2) =  Allsop et al (2001) ‘Incineration and Human Health’, Greenpeace Research Laboratories & University of Essex, 2001,

(3) = Greenpeace background on incineration 30 Nov 2004,

(4) = Michela et al (2004) ‘Health effects of exposure to-waste incinerator emissions: a review of epidemiological studies’,

(5) = British Medical Journal 22 Jun 2009 ‘Long term exposure to air pollution decreases life expectancy, UK report finds’,

(6) = World Health Organisation 2006 ‘Principles for evaluating health risks in children associated with exposure to chemicals’ (says in summary (pages 1 -4)  that children are at increased risk from chemicals produced by “unsafe waste disposal”(page 3) at certain stages in their development – and on page 18 that it has been shown that “air pollutants”, “heavy metals” and “POPs” (persistant organic pollutants – which include dioxins) have been shown to lead to an increased incidence of diseases in children.)

(7) = Friends of the Earth September 2007 ‘ Up in Smoke – Why FoE opposes Incineration’, (see pages 6 - 7 under sub-heading ‘Recycling saves energy’)

(8) = Friends of the Earth October 2009 ‘Gone to waste – the valuable resources that European Countries bury and burn’,

(9) = Friends of the Earth 03 May 2006 ‘'Green' incineration claims misleading’,

(10) = Greenpeace (2001) ‘How to comply with the landfill directive without incineration’,

(11) = Greenpeace ‘Getting to Zero Waste’,

(12) = US Environmental Protection Agency 2009 ‘Opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through materials and land management practices’,

(13) = Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives ‘Solutions’,

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Why cuts to the PFI 'Schools for the Future' programme should be welcomed

The BSF School building programme involves PFIs that lead to tax rises and cuts in the number of fully trained teachers, for the benefit of big companies - it's welfare fraud for the richest

A PPP built school - new and shiny, but over-priced by annual payments so high that it results in less teachers and less books being available

The cuts to the to the “Building Schools for the Future” programme are one public spending cut we should welcome.

The row over cuts to the programme has ignored the fact that every school and hospital built in the UK since the mid-90s has been funded by ‘Private Finance Initiatives’, invented by Conservative Chancellor Kenneth Clarke in the mid-90s and re-branded as ‘Public Private Partnerships’ by Blair and Brown (1). The costs are many times more than funding construction from taxation or loans, as Professor Allyson Pollock and others have shown. Only 30% of teachers surveyed by the EIS in 2007 said PPP provided value for money(2).

PFI means cuts in the number of fully trained teaching staff in the new schools and shortages of money for other government spending and so increased public debt, taxes or service cuts. It also usually involves maintenance contracts in which private contractors get to massively overcharge for so much as replacing a light –bulb (which cannot be replaced by staff under the PFI contracts) – and to take forever to do it as the various contractors and sub-contractors have to haggle over who has the right to do it.

Every school planned under the BSF programme is funded by PFI or PPP contracts (3) – (6). We should be welcoming the scrapping of this gravy train for the big firms who are the primary contractors in PFIs and PPPs and demanding that where the new government funds the building of new schools they from taxation or loans, either of which is much better value for money.

The question now is whether the Conservatives really cut the programme because it was bad value for money, or whether they’re planning to negotiate new ‘public private partnerships’ in which big firms’ donations go to Conservative party rather than Labour party funds in return for them getting to fleece taxpayers, including teachers and nurses.

If they’re really serious about saving on wasteful spending they could invest a bit in hiring lawyers and inspectors to look for breaches of contract in the short term in order to get us out of over-priced and under-performing PFI and PPP deals and save us a fortune in increased taxes and cut services in future.

(1) = Guardian 08 Jul 2010 ‘Public anger grows over scrapped school-building programme’

(2) = Herald (Glasgow) 08 July 2007 ‘School PPP scheme a 'catastrophe' for pupils’,

(3) = The PPP Journal, Issue 58, September 2007,

(4) = Guardian 27 Jan 2009 ‘Government may have to take on risk of PFI deals’, (covers BSF programme involving PFIs)

(5) = Balfour Beatty Press Release 21 Jun 2010 ‘Balfour Beatty appointed preferred bidder for £231 million Derby Building Schools for the Future project’,

(6) = European Services Strategy Unit,  ‘Building Schools for the Future’,