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Monday, 20 August

20:00

HMP Birmingham: A case study in failed Tory privatisation mania "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"


In October 2011 HMP Birmingham became the first British operating prison to be fully privatised when the Tory-led government handed operations over to the corporate outsourcing giant G4S.

By 2014 whistleblowers at the prison were reporting widespread violence and drug use, prisoners staying in bed all day, and experienced staff quitting in droves.

In 2016 the prison was rocked by a 14 hour riot involving some 500 prisoners. The Tory government then attempted to bury the report that cited staff shortages as a major factor.

In 2017 the Chief inspector of prisons found 
a violent, dirty, lawless, drug-riddled hovel rated as the worst prison h'd ever inspected.

In 2018 the Ministry of Justice demonstrate the shocking scale of this ideologically driven prison privatisation folly with the emergency state take-over of operations.

Amazingly the privatisation-fixated Tories knew exactly how bad HMP Birmingham was for several year, yet they just sat back and watched it deteriorate rather than admit their ideologically driven prison privatisation agenda was failing.

Even in the days before the emergency take-over they were still delaying because they were busy ...

17:59

The trade deal which fines governments for acting on climate change "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

An obscure agreement the Energy Charter Treaty allows energy firms to sue countries who take action to stop climate breakdown.

Image, Cari Green, US Forest Service, CC 2.0.Twenty years ago, and without any public debate, an arcane international agreement entered into force. The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) gives sweeping powers to foreign investors in the energy sector, including the peculiar privilege to directly sue states in secret international tribunals arbitrated over by three private lawyers. Companies are claiming dizzying sums in compensation for government actions that have allegedly damaged their investments, either directly through expropriation or indirectly through regulations of virtually any kind.

Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, for example, sued Germany for 1.4 billion in compensation over environmental restrictions imposed on a coal-fired power plant. The lawsuit was settled after the government agreed to relax the restrictions protecting the local river and its wildlife. Since 2012, Vattenfall has been suing Germany again, seeking 4.3 billion plus interest for lost profits from two nuclear reactors, following the countrys phase-out of atomic energy after the Fukushima disaster. Several utility companies are pursuing the EUs poorest member state, Bulgaria, seeking hundreds of millions of euros because the government reduced soaring electricity costs for consumers. And these are only a few examples.

Global records

No trade and investment agreement anywhere in the world has triggered more investor-state lawsuits than the ECT. 117 corporate claims are known to have been taken at the time of writing, following an explosion of lawsuits over the past five years. By the end of 2017, governments had been ordered or agreed to pay more than $51 billion in damages from the public purse. Thats about the same amount as the annual investment needed to provide access to energy for all those people in the world who currently lack it. The value of the ECT lawsuits pending $35 billion is more than the GDP of...

16:22

Human rights and artificial intelligence: the challenge of an era "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

A new set of principlesthe Toronto Declarationaims to put human rights front and centre in the development and application of machine learning technologies. Espaol

Foto: Flickr - Public Domain

In May 2018, Amnesty InternationalAccess Now, and a handful of partner organizations launched the Toronto Declaration on protecting the right to equality and non-discrimination in machine learning systems.

The Declaration is a landmark document that seeks to apply existing international human rights standards to the development and use of machine learning systems (or artificial intelligence).

Machine learning (ML) is a subset of artificial intelligence. It can be defined as provid[ing] systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

One of the most significant risks with machine learning is the danger of amplifying existing bias and discrimination against certain groups who already struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.

How is this technology relevant to human rights? AI is a powerful technology that could have a potentially transformative effect on many aspects of lifefrom transportation and manufacturing to healthcare and education.

Its use is increasing in all these sectors as well as in the justice system, policing, and the military. AI can increase efficiency, find new insights into diseases, and accelerate the discovery of novel drugs. But with misuse, intentional or otherwise, i...

14:15

Is Iraq entering an era of post-sectarianism? "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

In the absence of civil war, the people of Iraq have found an opportunity to demand that the political elite deliver on their election campaign promises.

Protesters gather at the Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, on July 27, 2018. Picture by Khalil Dawood/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. While Iraq is in the grip of a breathtaking summer heat-wave, the odor of  dissatisfaction rose in the major southern cities of Basra, Najaf and Karbala and swiftly spread to the outskirt of the capital city, Baghdad in July 2018. The spontaneous protests began weeks after the general election concluded in Iraq.

On 12 May 2018, Iraqis went to the ballots to elect members of parliament and subsequently a new Prime Minister. In a sense, these elections were unique in the history of Iraq since the 2003 invasion for three pivotal reasons. First, this is the first general election since the demise of ISIS and its proclaimed caliphate in Iraq. Second, the election occurred a year following a referendum for independence in the Kurdistan region. Third, the election was marred by regional tensions between regional powers. 

The May turnout was reportedly around 45 percent, the lowest since 2003. In some constituencies, the results of the elections were contested and faced recounts. Nevertheless, many commentators were caught off guard by the results of the ballot boxes. Iraqs populist Shia cleric, Muqtada Al-Sadr's Al-Sairoon party gained more seats than the incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and the powerful coalition of Iranian backed Shia paramilitary factions of Al-Fateh led by Hadi Al-Ameri.

Al-Sadr, led a popular movement advocating a cross-sectarian national government and its umbrella party included non religious parties including Iraq's Communist Party. Nevertheless, after weeks of behind the scenes political haggling over which party will dominate the key ministerial positions, protestors in the south of Iraq poured into the streets. Demonstrators flared over lack of public services. Residents in Basra went on a rampage after accusing the municipality of financial mismanagement, entrenched corruption and failing to provide basi...

13:38

Greece, August 2018: a mid-term report from a Syriza MP "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

"Are the critics of Tsipras right?  This is the first government in a European crisis country that will complete its full term. Look at the facts."

lead lead Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev attend a signing ceremony on the naming of North Macedonia, in Prespes, Greece, June 17, 2018. Dimitris Tosidis/ Press Association. All rights reserved.

How different does Greece look today compared to in January 2015, when Syriza, the radical left party, became the government. Between 2010 and 2015, Greece had lost 25% of its GDP, the debt to GDP ratio rose from 120% to 180%, unemployment was running at 27%, youth unemployment at 60%. Highly educated young men and women work in the NHS and wait in London restaurants. The dynastic power structure that had run Greece for forty years had finally brought it to its knees. Cronyism, corruption, tax evasion and avoidance had become the hallmarks of a failed party system.

The result of the bankruptcy was the biggest bailout program in recorded financial history and the most intrusive austerity policies imposed in Europe under IMF oversight. Syriza was elected in early 2015, against the wishes of a combination of Greek and European elites with a promise to reverse this situation. The outgoing right-wing government had not fulfilled its obligations under the second bail-out memorandum and had left state coffers empty. It was part of a plan freely admitted by its inventors to have the Syriza government collapse within...

12:27

Half of NI firms postponed or cancelled investment plans due to Brexit "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

A survey by AIB bank shows that half of NI firms postponed or cancelled investment plans due to Brexit. As a business person myself I know in uncertain times you keep your money in your pocket to see how the future will pan out. You put off taking on new staff, you hold off on opening new premises, you dont buy new equipment etc. But really caution does not just apply to business people but to any sensible consumer which is why we are going to see a slow down in the economy soon as people spend less with the increased uncertainty over Brexit. Now a savvy business person will use times of chaos to their advantage but I think we are 5 years away from hitting rock bottom in this economic cycle so a lot of people are keeping calm and bidding their time before scooping in to pick up some bargains. I like the idea of getting one of those nice South Belfast detached homes at a knockdown price but whether NI will be a place you would want to live in 5 to 10 years time is the real question.

In other news British manufacturing output slips to ninth globally behind France. They should be on course to drop out of the top 10 altogether once Airbus and all the car manufacturers feck off to Eastern Europe after Brexit. It is interesting that Italy in is 7th place, an inspiration for NI on what can be achieved without a functioning government

Lastly, an opinion piece in the Guardian outlines the true extent of the debt bubble that keeps consumer spending going:

The British growth model is well and truly broken. If any more evidence for this was needed, it came from figures last month showing that households had become net borrowers for the first time since records began in 1987. They took out almost 80bn in loans last year, the highest amount in 10 years. Only 37bn was deposited i...

09:14

Help "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

This is not the post I planned to publish this morning, which will wait until later in the week.  However, events take a turn, and they make you reassess what is important.

Yesterday an old friend of mine, a gentleman who was very kind to me and my then girlfriend back in 2005 when we were conducting an ultimately doomed long distance relationship, went missing.  It hit the headlines not just in NI but on local news sites across the UK, and I was part of an organised search targeting parts of Belfast that, thankfully, was successful the good news came in as I had had to leave the search.

David Armitage has been open about his mental health, but as we looked for him one of his colleagues shared with me how he serves them in exactly the same way as he served Becky and me all those years ago.

I was blown away by the support David received, including the people who joined the search.  NI at its best.

The stigma that still surrounds mental health though reminds me of a poem I wrote years ago.  Another David the Rev D Neilands, who was chaplain at Methody until his untimely death from cancer used to borrow this to read occasionally in assembly there.

Deep Inside

Come with me on a journey, into the depths of your mind. Deep inside, where noone else can see, where your deepest thoughts are stored.

Thoughts of what you are, what youve done. Stuff youve done that you want noone to know about, stuff about you that people never see. Stuff between you and God, perhaps even stuff you try and keep even from him.  Thoughts of what you really are, well below the facade we present to the world where our true loneliness manifests itself, temptations haunt us, and where the deepest love we have is found.

But what if things were reversed? What if our deepest thoughts were revealed to everyone rather than the outside?

How would we feel?

Would we be ashamed?

Embarrassed?

Shocked?

Annoyed?

Appalled?

Or would we be relieved that once and for all we could be ourselves, truly ourselves without needing to worry what people think of us, because everyone but everyone already knew what you were like and you knew what they were really like as well?

10 October 2000.  The journey Ive been on since I wrote that

As with many of the readers, Ive struggled with depression.  Ive been spared suicidal t...

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Sunday, 19 August

21:11

1968: The revolution that will not die "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

How conservatives won the counter-revolution after 1968and how they might lose.

Credit: Pixabay/Geralt. CCO 1.0.

This years fiftieth-anniversary media celebration of 1968s year from hell feels a lot like opening a high school yearbook to reminisce about old friends. HBOs fresh take on Martin Luther King Jr's last years and Netflixs Bobby Kennedy bio-pic reconnect us to our class presidents. And who can forget the colorful gallery of classmates in CNNs 1968: The Year that Changed America, from Abbie Hoffman and Daniel Cohn-Bendit to Alexander Dubcek and Richard Nixon?

But so what? Why not lock up 1968 in a time capsule and forget about it? The answer is simple: because it was a hugely-significant event that even now refuses to leave us alone.

Immanual Wallerstein, faculty representative that year for radical students at Columbia University, insists that 1968 was a world revolution, comparing it to Europes numerous 1848 national revolutions, many of which backfired, but all of which together redefined radical and reactionary politics for a century. Likewise, 1968 will play out well beyond 2018, but not only in a positive sense: it was that years reactionary counter-revolution that undid the promise of radical freedom and equality and continues to do so today.

What did the Sixties years of hope, days of rage actually reveal? In a nutshell: a cultural transformation that marked the beginning of the end of white, liberal, male-dominated America as we had known it. The Sixties broke the cultural authority of liberal democratic-capitalism and the Wests grand narrative of progress. A wide public came to agree with Kings demand for a revolution of values to challenge the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism, to which feminists added emancipation from patriarchy.

We lost trust in our institutions, especially political institutions, thus commencing t...

14:10

12 solutions to the UK housing crisis "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"


The opaquely funded hard-right think tank IEA has offered a 50,000 prize for an essay outlining a strategy for dealing with the housing crisis. I'm obviously not going to win it with this article given that they're stipulating that the proposal must be a right-wing market based strategy, which is lunacy given that the housing crisis has actually been caused by decades of right-wing market based housing policy. 

As far as I'm concerned a right-wing market based solution to a problem caused by right-wing "leave it to market forces" ideology meets Einstein's definition of insanity; doing the same things over and again, but expecting different results.

So I won't be winning the IEA prize, but the challenge did get me thinking about strategies to deal with the housing problem. Here are 12:


Stop the social housing fire sale

The first, and most obvious step is petting an end to the disastrous fire sale of social housing at way below market value under the Right to Buy scheme. 

The fact that 40% of Right to Buy former social housing properties have ended up in the hands of private landlords is compelling evidence that this scheme was never actually motivated by a desire to increase home ownership at all, but by an ideologically driven desire to ruin social housing provision.

I do believe that social h...

12:01

: .. "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

Paul Zinken/DPA/PA Images. UK, Australian and New Zealand rights only.

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01:23

Christopher Robin ** "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"

A A MilneDisney bought the rights to A A Milnes Winnie-the-Pooh for a reported $350 million dollars (richly endowing some of the late authors beneficiaries, including the Royal Literary Fund, Westminster School and the Garrick Club, in the process). That means Disney can basically do what they like with the characters of the childrens books until the copyright expires in 2026, including, it appears, what they like with the character of A A Milnes son, Christopher Robin, for whom the books were originally written. Simon Curtis made a rather good biopic about the boy, Goodbye Christopher Robin, which came out last year and which highlighted how overwhelmed the lad felt by all the attention caused by the books success; in later life he just wanted to escape from it. Christopher Robin Milne died in 1996, but I fear he may be churning in his grave over the latest film offering from the Disney studios, Marc Forsters Christopher Robin.

...

Saturday, 18 August

20:13

Let's pay tribute to Kofi Annan by supporting his campaign for rational drugs policy "IndyWatch Feed Politics.eu"


Following the announcement that the former UN Security General Kofi Annan has died, a whole host of war-mongering monsters (Tony Blair, Theresa May, Alistair Campbell, David Miliband) took to Twitter to pay glib tributes to the man who did his best to avert the vast human tragedy that they created in Iraq.

Annan remained unequivocal about the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq, calling it a "disaster" and condemning it as "illegal" under international law, so it's hard not to see these war-monger 'tributes' as gloating that the man who tried so hard to tame their blood lust.

Whether we approve of gung-ho war-mongers with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on our hands like Tony Blair and Theresa May or not, there's something more we could do than posting glib platitudes on Twitter and then just soon forgetting all about Kofi Annan.

One of the most important things we could do is support one of the ideas that he spent his later years promoting; the concept of a rational approach to drugs policy.

Here's what he said on the issue.
We must take four critical steps.

First, we must decriminalise personal drug use. The use of drugs is harmful and reducing those harms is a task for the public health system, not the courts....

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