A Very Ugly Movement

What is the point of Extinction Rebellion? In London there has been demonstrations, arrests, people chaining themselves to objects and similar stunts because Extinction Rebellion wants governments to declare a climate emergency. Extinction Rebellion proposes to persuade governments to do this by non-violent civil disobedience. The movement (and the demonstrations) have been supported by actors actresses, models and other well-known people who all believe that the democratic process has failed to deal with climate change and therefore other measures are required.  

Non-violent civil disobedience is an important tradition of protest. Henri Thoreau refused to pay a proportion of taxes that was used to finance an unjust war. Ghandi use it to bring independence and democracy to India.  Extinction Rebellion is apparently using civil disobedience to achieve three demands:

  1. Governments around the world tell the truth about climate change; this demand is impossible to meet because what is the truth about a topic that is probably the most complex (scientifically) known to humanity?  I expect what Extinction Rebellion really mean is that governments should adopt what Extinction Rebellion states is the truth.
  • Governments must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. There is no hint of how governments are to do this. Does anyone know how this can be achieved short of wiping out, directly or indirectly, most of humanity?
  • Governments must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens Assembly on climate change and ecological justice. I find this demand rather chilling and very frightening.  This reminds me of the justification of all tyrants who have displaces the democratic process. Fulfilment of this demand would mean denying the democratic process and giving power over our lives to Citizens Assemblies, no doubt made up of members of Extinction Rebellion.

Extinction Rebellion seems a very ugly movement.

Jack Straw and the thin end of a wedge

When Jack Straw was a much younger man he was thought to be a trouble maker by the establishment. A socialist from an Essex grammar school Mr Straw was elected as President of the National Union of Students in 1969, which was a year when students at many English Universities were protesting against interference with their freedom and civil liberties by the establishment. When at Manchester University the Vice Chancellor sought injunctions restraining some students from speaking on a debate about a proposal to occupy administration buildings, many students went on strike and occupied University buildings in defence of what they saw as unfair treatment and interference with their freedom of speech. Mr Straw encouraged us in this and spoke eloquently on freedom to us. Continue reading

Are my posts too gloomy?

Adrian Vance, who regularly points out my failings on these pages, has asked whether everything that I comment upon should be doom and gloom; “give us a break” he writes, not unreasonably. Continue reading

Mr Obama’s most important challenge

People in almost every country are really being hurt by the recession, and although they understand that there are people in most other parts of the world who are also having to cope with the largest economic downturn in the lifetime of most of us, it is cold comfort. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost, and this causes hardship. If you cannot earn a wage you cannot pay your bills, including your mortgage instalments, which means that your home is at risk and may be repossessed by those paragons of vice, the banks, which have already wasted your savings and your pensions. Most people feel mugged by a mugger licensed by the government to steal. Continue reading

The American car makers and their begging bowl


Many people in the United States are being hurt by the recession, and although they understand that there are people in most other parts of the world – Europe, China, Brazil and India – who are also having to cope with the largest economic downturn in the lifetime of most of us, it is cold comfort. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost, especially in the car industry, and this causes hardship.

If you cannot earn a wage you cannot pay your bills, including your mortgage instalments, which means that your home is at risk and may be repossessed by those paragons of vice, the banks, which have already wasted your savings and your pensions. The people who suffer in the recession will feel as though they have been mugged by a banker licensed by the government to burgle. The people despair.

Thoreau, a philosophical American, wrote that most men live lives of quiet desperation. You can see the truth in this today. The desperation of most ordinary people is made quiet by hope

Hope for the majority of Americans lies in the being of a new President who will take office in January. I do not know whether Mr Obama will be a good President but I do know that people in despair need hope.

Mr Obama will face the same problems that leaders of every other developed nation are confronted with today. He will have to enact measures which will move the economy out of recession. He will need to create permanent jobs, ensure that the major strategic industries of his nation are put into good shape while fixing the enormous environmental problems that his nation leads the world in creating. The engine of America needs repair, and the American people will hope that Mr Obama has the skills to repair it, rather than patch it up with short term fixes.

Most modern western economies are driven by the engines of the motor vehicle industry, and this is particularly true of the United States. Those manufacturing giants, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, are in big trouble. The demand for their product has fallen to very low levels and what seems worse from a business point of view, they have developed the wrong products – the Sports Utility Vehicle, the large sedans which take up large road space and have big thirsty engines, and such environmental obscenities as the Hummer.

The US car makers have few smaller more efficient products compared to those that are made by Japanese and European car companies. The picture shows an example of American built cars outside the Genersys USA’s office in Orange County. Most people are turning away from large vehicles, even in the home of the gas guzzlers after the frightening periodic bursts of fuel price increases and with the increasing realisation that if you drive a gas guzzler you poison your children’s future.

The US car makers have gone to Congress to beg for money. They need around $25 billion from the taxpayers. The car makers argue that America needs them to provide the jobs which will improve the economy. They are too important, they argue in effect, to be allowed to collapse into bankruptcy. They have made strategic decisions years ago, which were just plain wrong, they have exercised poor judgement, they have failed to buy into climate change, and disdainfully ignored the environmental and logical case for smaller more environmentally friendly cars.

And now they want the US taxpayer, through his or her toil and time, to provide them with the money to pay for their past mistakes on the grounds that they employ too many people and are therefore too important to the economy to be allowed to fail.

This is a curious argument for capitalistic free enterprise industry to make. I am sure that in their dealings with the little companies they exercised none of the altruism of which they now seek to be the beneficiaries. No doubt there are many suppliers who made mistakes and exercised poor judgement in their dealings with the car companies and those small suppliers were allowed to fail even though in their own communities they must have been as important as the car makers are to the whole American nation.

Further, it is doubtful to say the least, whether the Chief Executives Officers and senior management of the car makers have the skills and enterprise to transform their businesses in the ways that are necessary. If they do not have these skills then they will be back with the begging bowl in a few years time.

If the car makers cannot make their businesses work within their own means they will go into bankruptcy but people will still need cars and other car manufacturers will fill the gap and new car manufacturers will emerge. Jobs will come back. A better use for the $25 billion would be to use it to insulate those whose jobs are lost in the automotive industry, perhaps retrain, perhaps pay some of their mortgage instalments while they put themselves on their feet.

Mr Obama is not able to make these decisions for the time being. For the car workers there is despair and hope and if their jobs are not to be saved, it is better for everyone that the decsison is quickly made so that people can get on with rebuilding their lives.

Dangerous board game found at climate protest

A dangerous board game has been found close to a climate change protest site.The coal fired power that e.on wish to build at Kingsnorth in Kent should not be built. I have already written about this project. It is clear that no new coal fired power stations should be constructed until the operators can prove that they can capture the carbon and sequestrate it. Building the plant now, without having the capture and sequestration technology in place is wrong. There is still enough natural gas available to power Kingsnorth and that should be used because its carbon emissions are less than 50% of those of coal, whatever e.on may claim about their own project. Continue reading

Imprisoned without trial but recalled to life

Mr Jamil El-Banna is supposed to live in London. He came from Jordan and the Home Office granted him refugee status in 2000. In 2002 he planned to set up a peanut oil processing plant in the Gambia. In November 2002 he was first arrested in the United Kingdom under anti terrorist legislation when he tried to fly to the Gambia. He had a battery charger in his luggage and that was ostensibly why he was stopped..

He was soon released and allowed to fly. As soon as he got to the Gambia he was immediately arrested held until March 2003 when he was sent to and interned in Guantanamo Bay. Mr Bush has described all Guantanamo Bay prisoners as “bad men” and that was his justification for keeping them imprisoned without trial.

Normally, people are only deemed “bad” by civilised societies if they break the law and are convicted of an offence. In olden days kings and princes would designate someone bad, and that took them outside the protection of the law; without trial and without justice they were fair game for anything.  

Mr El-Banna only deserved to be locked if it is first proven that he has committed a criminal offence. Heaven knows, there are enough offences that people can commit in relation to terrorism; there is no shortage of things that constitute offences. But Mr El-Banna has not been charged with anything, even though he has been in custody for five years. 

On 19th December this year Mr El-Banna was released from Guantanamo Bay and sent to Britain. By the time he got here Spain had issued an arrest warrant for him, and so Mr El-Banna was immediately re-arrested when he landed in the United Kingdom. It was reported that he apeared before the English Court looking dishevelled and bewildered; I am not surprised. At a hearing in court he was granted bail subject to conditions which included wearing an electronic tag.

The United States had held Mr El-Banna in custody for nearly four and three quarter years without charging him. His imprisonment for such a lengthy period without trial is now impossible to justify. If as soon as Mr El-Banna is released from custody (having been in custody for a total of 5 years including the time spent in the Gambia) he is charged with an offence it makes us all wonder why it was necessary to hold him without trial for five years. I am sure that Spain has not just come into possession of evidence; the United States should have released Me El-Banna to Spain years ago. 

Lots of things are done in the name of preventing terrorism; we have people demanding to see and take copies of your passport if you want to open a bank account, rent a mobile phone, and in some countries even book a hotel room. These things mostly do nothing to prevent or deter terrorism. 

Terrorism is a crime, it is not above or beyond crime, but its activity is pure criminality. To deter terrorism, like deterring crime, we need swift justice. Some people will carry out terrorism regardless of any deterrents, rather like a physcopath commits murder. They will not be deterred so they need to be caught tried and locked up.

Justice requires trying people accused of crime and if they are found guilty by a judicial process, punishing them. Imprisoning someone for five years without charge and no prospect of a trial is simply unjust.  

Every country enacts unjust legislation from time to time, even democratic countries. In the United States until only 147 years ago there was slavery in many parts of it – a wholly unjust law. In addition to it a Fugitive Slave Law required slaves who escaped from a slave state to a non slave state to be returned into slavery, another wholly unjust law. 

Henry Thoreau, an American philosopher, said in connection with slavery and the slave laws “The only government I recognize… is that that power that establishes justice in the land …never that which established injustice.”  Thoreau pointed out that non slave states were effectively enforcing slavery by returning slaves.

Massachusetts was a state where slavery was illegal. It was legal in South Carolina. If a slave escaped from South Carolina into Massachusetts Thoreau said that Massachusetts was enforcing slavery when it returned the slave and that was unconscionable.    

It took our U K government quite a few years to condemn the holding of people without trial at Guantanamo Bay; from Mr El-Banna’s story it seems that our government may have had some complicity in Mr El-Banna’s arrest and his ultimate detention for five years. In 2005 Mr Blair said, talking about the process of taking people from places like the Gambia to Guantanamo Bay, that he wanted to send out “a clear signal that the rules of the game had changed.” Vacuous nonsense, of course.

This is not a game and the principles of human behaviour are not such that they are capable of change like the rules of a game. Fundamental principles should govern our lives. These are unchanging.  What had changed were not the principles; the thing that had changed was that democratic countries are now assuming that they are entitled to deny people due process of law in order to protect those whom they govern.

This is the same justification that every tyrant and tyrannical government through history has used to justify harsh oppressive and unprincipled behaviour. Mr Bush and Mr Blair stand shoulder to shoulder with some very undesirable types in this respect. It is to the dishonour of Spain that they never requested Mr El-Banna’s extradiction while he was in Gauntanamo, and only asked for it when Mr El-Banna was on the flight back to Luton Airport.

The abuse of humanity by imprisoning people at Guantanamo Bay for five years without legal justification is something that the United Kingdom was complicit in. We stood guard for the imprisoners, the kidnappers, and any torturers and abusers, and it looks as though we still stand on guard for them. So the shame of the United States is also our shame and their crimes are our crimes and the crimes of all civilised nations.