Today, largely unnoticed by British citizens fortunate enough to not suffer from any sort of disability, the vile Tory-led government hacked away much of the financial support for disabled people. As austerity cuts go, the cutting of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for disabled people is particularly harsh on some of society’s most vulnerable people, to an extent that makes me feel queasy, and will severely diminish the lives of tens of thousands of disabled people and their partners, reducing them to a level of poverty that ought to be unacceptable in a civilised society.
As Claudia Wood, head of public services and welfare at Demos explained for the Public Finance blog yesterday:
Today marks a watershed in the history of the welfare state. It is the last day that the contributory principle — the concept of social insurance that underpinned [William] Beveridge’s vision [for a welfare state] — remains intact.
This is because tomorrow 70,000 ill and disabled people will lose their Contributory Employment and Support Allowance — a benefit that provides financial support for those who become unemployed due to illness or disability, in return for the national insurance contributions they made during their working life. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve known about the Occupy movement’s May Day General Strike for ages, ever since a good friend, an activist in Denver, posted an excellent promotional poster back in the middle of February (see the bottom of this article), and while I didn’t need any reminding about the date, as I’ve been a May Day supporter for my whole adult life, I had intended to post something about it sooner than the day before.
However, I’m sure you know all about what can happen to the best-laid plans — and it’s not like I haven’t been busy! — so here, just in time, is my supportive message for all workers — the employed and the self-employed — to down tools tomorrow, along with everyone else who is part of the 99 percent — parents, children, the unemployed and the disabled, as well as those who have retired — to let the 1 percent who still lord it over us from their tax havens and gated communities, and in board rooms and parliaments, know that the inequality that caused the Occupy Wall Street movement to spring to life last September and to become an international phenomenon last October has not diminished in the last seven months.
Governments may have acted to shut down the extraordinary Occupy camps in public spaces, in coordinated raids across the United States at the end of last year, and by various means elsewhere, but it remains as true now as it was last year that you can”t kill an idea, and also that, if you’re part of the 1 percent, you can’t get away with presiding over a program of endless enrichment for those who are already rich — when doing so involves increasing unemployment and destroying the middle class — without some people deciding to fight back, and others waking out of a slumber of self-obsession and materialism to realize that all is not well with the world, and that those who claim to be in charge bear the lion’s share of the blame that they’re trying to shift onto us instead. Read the rest of this entry »
According to the US Justice Department, Obaidullah (also referred to as Obaydullah), one of 17 Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo, “was plainly a member of an Al-Qaeda bomb cell,” even though Obaidullah himself, and his lawyers, have always contended that, like so many of the 200 or so Afghans who have been repatriated from Guantánamo over the last ten years, he was actually seized by mistake.
In February, when discussions between the US government and the Taliban were underway, regarding the possibility that five of the 17 — all apparently significant figures in the Taliban — would be transferred to Qatar as part of the peace process in Afghanistan, the New York Times picked up on Obaidullah’s case, and reporter Charlie Savage recognized that, unlike the five senior Taliban figures, no one was pushing for his release, because he was “not an important enough figure to be a bargaining chip.”
As Charlie Savage also reported:
It is an accident of timing that Mr. Obaidullah is at Guantánamo. One American official who was formerly involved in decisions about Afghanistan detainees said that such a “run of the mill” suspect would not have been moved to Cuba had he been captured a few years later; he probably would have been turned over to the Afghan justice system, or released if village elders took responsibility for him. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, the Canadian government received a formal request for the return of Omar Khadr from Guantánamo Bay. Julie Carmichael, an aide to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, told the Globe and Mail, “The government of Canada has just received a completed application for the transfer of prisoner Omar Ahmed Khadr. A decision will be made on this file in accordance with Canadian law.”
Khadr, who was seized at the age of 15 after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, accepted a plea deal in his war crimes trial at Guantánamo in October 2010, on the basis that he would serve an eight-year sentence, but with only one year to be served in Guantánamo.
However, as the Globe and Mail described it, the government of Stephen Harper “has been reluctant to accept Mr. Khadr,” and “diplomatic wrangling over his transfer has persisted.” Despite this, as I noted last month, the US government has been putting pressure on the Canadian government, because US officials need other prisoners to be reassured that, if they accept plea deals in exchange for providing evidence against other prisoners, the terms of those plea deals will be honored. Read the rest of this entry »
Only 23 percent of those eligible to vote elected these clowns to run the country, and yet we’ve ended up with two whey-faced Etonian buffoons — David Cameron and George Osborne, who are both clever only to the extent that they can conjure up the illusion of intelligence — driving the UK over a cliff.
Recently blasted by Conservative MP Noreen Dorries as “two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion to want to understand the lives of others,” and by other Tory MPs as being full of “sneering condescension,” lacking a core set of beliefs, and lazy, they have weathered two years of Frankenstein-like rule with their coalition partners, managing, somehow, to get away with blaming Labour, the Euro, students, the poor, the unemployed and the disabled for all our economic problems, but their illusion of competence, and the success of their cynical manipulation of the British people appears to be coming to an end.
Cameron has seemed particularly out of touch lately, on the one hand calling for children to “stand up when their parents or teacher walks in the room” like a Victorian patriarchal bully, and on the other sending out a message that he is a “new man” by apparently starting work late on some days so that he can drive his own presumably cowed and saluting children to school, which, of course, only adds to the conviction that, as a Prime Minister, he is indeed lazy. Read the rest of this entry »
Although the mangled corpse of Andrew Lansley’s wretched NHS reform bill was passed by Parliament a month ago, the fight to save the NHS is far from over.
On the afternoon of April 24, the campaigning group 38 Degrees, which mobilised over half a million people to oppose the government’s plans to hack up the NHS and flog off as much as possible of it to the private sector, organised, at short notice, a public meeting in London to discuss the future of the NHS, and to draw attention to another meeting taking place nearby — a conference organised by Capita and United Healthcare, two of the companies that stand to gain from the carving up of the NHS. Over 22,000 38 Degrees members sponsored the event, each paying £1 to put it on, which is a great example of people power.
The event, entitled, “Citizens and CCGs: Exploring our Future,” was chaired by Guardian journalist Zoe Williams, whose report (which managed to be informative despite striving to find humour where there is none) began by stating, “I always thought this was Andrew Lansley’s true genius — not the dismantling of the NHS itself, not the dark hold he has over David Cameron, but the phrase ‘clinical commissioning group,’ or more ingenious still, ‘consortia.’ If you can jam three words together that all take a bit of unpacking, that’s often enough to make anybody normal walk away.”
That’s true, but those who want to save the NHS do need to grapple with the basics of Lansley’s intentions — to hand over to groups of GPs (CCGs) the budget for “commissioning the medical services they decide their patients need.” With “one member of a CCG, Dr David Wrigley; the leader of the Medical Practitioners’ Union (in Unite), Dr Ron Singer; Dr Louise Irving, newly elected to the BMA council; and Roy Lilley, a founding member of the NHS Trust Federation,” the panel chaired by Williams discussed how to oppose the Act. Read the rest of this entry »
What a disgrace the Tories are. Even on the election trail two years ago, it was clear that they were sucking up to Rupert Murdoch in an even more ingratiating manner than previous parties on the verge of unseating the existing government. Moreover, it was, I contend, only public outrage — over the revelation that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked by News of the World reporters — which, last July, definitively prevented the government from allowing the Murdochs and News International from upping their stake in BSkyB from 39 percent to 100 percent, and becoming an unrivalled titan on the British broadcasting scene with a dangerous and undemocratic monopoly.
Last July, when the police arrested Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who, conveniently, had subsequently become Cameron’s Chief of Communications, the scandal threatened to engulf David Cameron, and I wrote two articles, Why Would Anyone Trust David Cameron, As Police Arrest Andy Coulson? and Waiting for the Fall of David Cameron, which, I hoped, would reflect a major change in the public’s perception of the Prime Minister, and a widespread awareness of the extent of the Tories’ corruption.
That huge backlash did not emerge, however, as the public soon moved on, and Cameron survived. However, although It’s impossible to know whether political incompetence or sleaze plays the biggest role in discrediting corrupt and useless governments, it’s clear that the tide is turning against David Cameron, George Osborne, and the rest of the tired neo-liberal idiots — and Lib Dem stooges — who make up the Cabinet. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly a year ago, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner on the release of “The Guantánamo Files,” classified military files relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo since that monstrous aberration of justice opened for its sordid business in January 2002. We had the eyes of the world on us for just a week until — whether by coincidence or design — US Special Forces assassinated Osama bin Laden, and Guantánamo disappeared from the headlines once more, leaving advocates of torture and arbitrary detention free to resume their cynical maneuvering with renewed lies about the efficacy of torture and the necessity for Guantánamo to continue to exist.
However, in the last year I have begun an unprecedented project, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a projected 70-part, million-word series, in which I am forensically analysing the information in the WikiLeaks files, adding it to what was already known about the prisoners, to create what I believe will be a lasting indictment of the lies and distortions used by the Bush administration to justify holding the men and boys imprisoned at Guantánamo. For the most part, despite the hyperbole about the prisoners being “the worst of the worst,” the captives were people that the US had largely bought from its Afghan and Pakistani allies, or had rounded up randomly, and had then tortured or otherwise coerced — or in some cases bribed — into telling lies about themselves and their fellow prisoners to create a giant house of cards built largely on violence and involving very little actual intelligence.
The release of the WikiLeaks files was, in many ways, the culmination of a project that began over six years ago, in March 2006, when I started researching and writing about Guantánamo, first producing a book, The Guantánamo Files, that told the stories of around 450 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo, and establishing a context for their capture that helped to make sense of why so many of them were not terrorists bent on the destruction of the United States. Since May 2007, I have been writing about Guantánamo and related issues — on an almost daily basis — as a full-time freelance investigative journalist. Read the rest of this entry »
The original e-petition to the British government calling for the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK from Guantánamo, which was launched on February 14, has now been replaced with a new e-petition, because of Shaker’s family’s belief that it was not possible to secure 100,000 signatures by the time the three-month deadline would have expired on May 14.
Also please note that the original redirect — www.freeshaker.com — which was used in much of the publicity, redirects to the new petition, and the organisers encourage its use as a memorable short URL.
The new e-petition is identical in its wording, but has a deadline of a year. Still entitled, “Return Shaker Aamer to the UK,” it states, as the previous petition did:
Shaker Aamer is a British resident with a British wife and children who has been imprisoned without trial by the US in Bagram Airforce Base and Guantánamo Bay for over ten years. The Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office must undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay. Read the rest of this entry »
Critics of the European Court of Human Rights, which, in February, refused to allow the UK to deport the Muslim cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan, were delighted when, on April 10, the court turned down an appeal by five other men who were seeking to prevent their extradition to the US, on the grounds that their human rights would be violated if they were sent to the US to stand trial, However, as those critics are generally driven by anti-Islamic “war on terror” hysteria and disdain for the European Court and for the European Convention on Human Rights — and especially the legislation designed to prevent torture and to ensure fair trials — their delight is not something that should necessarily be emulated or encouraged.
The five men are Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdel Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz. As the Guardian described it, the European judges “decided they needed more information about the mental health” of a sixth man, Haroon Aswat, an aide to Abu Hamza who has suffered such a precipitous decline in is mental health that he has been been held in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, before reaching a decision on him.
Of the five, Abu Hamza (or Abu Hamza al-Masri), whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, is the best known, or perhaps the most notorious — a half-blind, hook-handed firebrand preacher, born in Egypt but a British citizen for nearly 30 years, who was tried, convicted and given a seven-year sentence in 2006 for charges of soliciting to murder, and other charges related to “stirring up racial hatred.” Read the rest of this entry »
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