February 12, 2009

Sorry is not enough

Filed under: Economy, Politics/News — Tags: , , — 4fooey @ 11:00 am

This week we got apologies from all the UK bankers who were, to a greater or lesser extent, responsible for the collapse of British banking. But what exactly are they apologising for? If they feel they have something to apologise for, then they must feel that somehow they have made some mistakes and they are to blame for the mess we’re in. In this case, they should be punished or sanctioned in some way: they should be held to account for their actions. In this case, sorry (how ever many times they say it) is not good enough. Their collective apology is reported here: Former banking bosses say ‘sorry’ .

It was relatively easy for the bank managers to turn up this week and suffer the indignity of having to apologise (and their apologies seemed well rehearsed), but they personally will be able to keep all the millions that they made in salaries and bonuses — and you could ask where are all the billions of profit these companies have made over the past few years. The banks have really screwed up and it’s taxpayers who had to bail them out and will be paying for years for their mistakes — this is very unfair. And to cap it all, it turns out that Mr Hornby, the former boss of HBOS, is still getting £60k a month for his advice – this is a scandal, bearing in mind we all more-or-less own the bank.

Yes the regulators and the government are also to blame for the bank crisis, plus we were all complicit in the credit boom and housing bubble, and the UK banks were partly victims of the worldwide problems in financial markets (in particular the sub-prime scandel in the US), but it’s the actions of these large financial institutions and in particular their executives that got us into this terrible mess. I’m not sure how this could be done, but the banks and their leaders should be made to pay for their mistakes.


January 8, 2009

A War of Brutal Terror

Filed under: Politics/News — 4fooey @ 10:19 pm

The violence inflicted on the people of Gaza over the past two weeks has been brutal, sickening and totally unjustified. The lack of firm condemnation of Israel from all major western governments has been very disappointing. The majority of people in Gaza are completely innocent, caught up in the bitter struggle between Hamas and the Israeli government. The huge loss of innocent life, and the destruction of schools, mosques, universities, and other infrastructure is a catastrophe, and adds further misery to the already desperate life of the Palestinians living in the Gaza strip.

Israel has some of the most powerful military in the world, the Gazans have very little in comparison (guns and few hundred small rockets) — the conflict is so unequal. What on earth do the Israelis think they can achieve with their actions? Their actions are criminal and ultimately futile. All they are doing is massacreing hundreds of innocent people, further devastating the Gazans living conditions, and strengthening Arab feeling against the state of Israel. This is all such a waste of human life and hopelessly counter-productive for Israel. The actions of the Israelis can only inflame opinion in the whole middle east and make a war with Iran (or a number of sympathetic Arab countries) more likely.

Of course Hamas should not be firing rockets into Israel, but such devastating retaliation by Israel is completely unjustified. The same brutal force was used against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, with little lasting results or effect. The use of overwhelming military force against a poor and more-or-less defenceless people, resulting in many hundreds or thousands of innocent people dieing, should be a crime in international law. The US has used the same ‘shock and awe’ tactics in the Iraq invasion in 2003, the Israelis continue to use such brutal tactics on the Palestinians.

For over 60 years there have been numerous wars and conflicts and so far no solution looks likely. The UN and international community has completely failed the people of this area, while the Palestinians have lived in impossible conditions in Gaza and the West Bank for decades. The world urgently needs to find a solution, otherwise the terror of the past two weeks, or worse, will happen again.

The background to the conflict is covered here: Q&A: Gaza conflict. The following are extracts. 

Gaza has a population of 1.5 million of whom some 33% (about 490,000) are classified as refugees. It is 40km (25 miles) long and between six and 12km (4 and 8 miles) wide. The United Nations Works and Relief agency (Unwra) provides basic food aid to about 750,000 people in Gaza.

Since 2001, when the rockets were first fired (by Hamas into Israel), more than 8,600 have hit southern Israel, nearly 6,000 of them since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005. The rockets have killed 28 people and injured hundreds more. [In the current conflict in Gaza, over 700 Palestinians have died (including over 200 children) and thousands have been injured. ]

Gaza was part of Palestine when it was administered by Britain in a mandate granted by the League of Nations after World War I. In fighting after Israel declared its independence in large areas of Palestine in 1948, the Egyptians captured the Gaza Strip. Palestinian refugees from the coastal cities to the north took refuge there. They or their descendants still live in UN camps in Gaza. Israel captured it in the war of 1967 and eventually moved about 8,000 settlers there, but all Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005.

January 1, 2009

A new year, a time for urgent action

Filed under: Environment, Politics/News — Tags: , — 4fooey @ 12:13 am

On the Today programme (31 Dec, on Radio 4 in the UK) Jarvis Cocker was the guest editor. He interviewed Nicholas (Lord) Stern about climate change and how lessons can be learned from the action that has been taken in the response to the financial crisis. He also pointed out the contrast between President Bush and the president to be Obama regarding their response to climate change. The interview with Stern is reported here: Stern hope over US climate deal.

Stern pointed out that the financial crisis shows us that the longer we leave a problem or ignore a risk then the worse a crisis can become and the harder it is to resolve it. The same can be said on climate change — if we leave it too long to act then it will be more difficult to solve it, and more costly in financial terms and its effect on the planet. He also suggested that the need to solve the climate change issue represents a great opportunity for technology, science and business, on a level with the industrial revolution.

Stern suggested that the financial crisis has been large in magnitude, but suggested that the issue of climate change is far bigger, in terms of the effort and commitment required. He was however very optimistic that is could be solved, but stressed that it would require so-far unseen collaboration, across governments and international agencies. Given that in crisis situations, wars and such like, countries tend to act in their own self interest, this will be a huge challenge for the world, but one we must attempt and meet. The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated, but it’s looking increasingly like we have absolutely no option but to take up the challenge.

Jarvis Cocker ended his stint as editor of the Today programme with an assessment of his interview with Stern. Cocker felt we are at a turning point and that we have interesting times ahead. Acknowledging that the financial crisis will effect a lot of people, he was very optimistic about our capacity to solve the climate change issue and that people would be able to adapt. Maybe if you resolve to do one thing this year it should be to ‘do your bit’ for climate change, and then hope the US, China and other governments can reach a historic and binding agreement later in 2009 to tackle climate change: the time for urgent action is now.

December 4, 2008

Another ‘bank’ in trouble

Filed under: Environment, Politics/News, Uncategorized — 4fooey @ 11:06 am

There is one bank which is not mentioned at all in the context of the current financial crisis, yet it has everything to do with the economy and how we conduct our lives. The bank is ‘The Earth Bank’ which contains all the natural resources that we use and rely on, and all the species in existence – this bank is the earth itself, and while it functions to a large extent on its own, we as custodians or ‘bank managers’ of it have an enormous influence over its future. In the context of climate change, and the extent to which we humans add significantly to it, the Earth Bank is very much in trouble and in need of a dramatic and urgent rescue package, the mother of all ‘bail outs’.

Much has been said in the past few years about climate change, and there have been numerous committees set up and reports published (in 2006 the UK government published the Stern Review, and in 2007 there was a major report from the UN’s IPCC). It seems at last governments are starting to take steps to curb climate change in the form of greater recycling, more energy conservation, alternative fuels (especially for cars & other transport), non-carbon based or renewable energy generation, carbon capture, and so on — but there is long, long way to go. Another report was published this week by the UK Committee on Climate Change chaired by Adair Turner. The report suggests that Britain cuts greenhouse gas emissions by a fifth of current levels by 2020, which it describes as a ‘tough’ target and greater than has been attempted before. The report also recommends that the government does not use off-setting to achieve this target – apparently, the government has been planning to offset half of our emissions by buying carbon credits, which means someone else will have to implement the cuts in emissions. The full report by the HMCCC is here: Building a low-carbon economy – the UK’s contribution to tackling climate change.

Significant quotes from the Executive summary are useful:

“Climate change resulting from CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions poses a huge threat to human welfare [Ed: and the Earth, many species & the environment]. To contain that threat, the world needs to cut emissions by about 50% by 2050, and to start cutting emissions now. A global agreement to take action is vital. But a global agreement will not be possible unless the countries of the rich, developed world provide leadership.”

“A fair global deal will require the UK to cut emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The good news is that reductions of that size are possible without sacrificing the benefits of economic growth and rising prosperity. Technologies are available or with appropriate support could be developed which deliver low-carbon energy; opportunities to increase the efficiency with which we use energy are huge; lifestyle changes which will not undermine welfare can produce significant cuts in energy consumption. And many of the actions required to tackle climate change we should want to do anyway because these have economic, wider environmental and security of supply benefits.”

“The challenge is not the technical feasibility of a low-carbon economy but making it happen. Ensuring action will require strong leadership from government and a concerted response from individuals and businesses… the path is attainable at manageable cost, and following it is essential if the UK is to play its fair part in avoiding the far higher costs of harmful climate change.”

It’s going to take a huge shift of consciousness to get the majority of people onto a more sustainable lifestyle. This kind of major shift tends only to happen after severe shocks in the world system, like wars, economic depressions, massive natural disasters — one such shock could be the current financial crisis. We need a “soft/peaceful” revolution to happen and soon. The ‘green movement’ has been advocating such a revolution for decades, and although we’ve made small steps (green thinking is now mainstream and no longer considered ‘loony’), we still have a huge mountain to climb.

My question to governments in general and to the green movement in particular is, how is this change or revolution going to come about? What will it take to get us onto a more sustainable path? We need lots of small steps by individuals at a local level, and very large & fundamental changes at the international level — the latter is really needed now to have the most dramatic and lasting effect. The costs of rescuing the earth are said to be manageable (a few percent of GDP of each major country), but the costs if we don’t, in both economic terms and for the future of the planet and humankind, is unimaginable.

November 3, 2008

The Candidate of Hope

Tomorrow, the American people go to the polls and we all hope they will make the right choice, finally putting the last eight years behind us. If you look back over the presidency of George W Bush, it has been a tragic case of missed opportunities, and some would say terrible disasters.

The catalogue of missed opportunities and disasters is a dismal and shocking one:–

– Iraq, the biggest disaster of them all; the US believed Iraq had WMD when they had none. Their invasion of Iraq, with their “Shock and Awe” campaign unleased death and destruction on a weak country — the country fell in 2-3 weeks, overwhelmed by the mighty US military. Since then it is estimated that around 100,000 Iraqis have died, many more bereaved and injured, with terrible inter-ethnic fighting, excerbated by Al-Quaeda and Iran. Everybody’s lives there turned upside down, a country wrecked. There’s nothing about it to be proud of.

– ‘War on Terror’, the most ludicrous statement, lacking even the merest insight into the problem of jihadist fundamentalism. Tactically the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is probably unwinnable. From 911 onwards the US has lashed out, killed many thousands of innocent people, wreaked havoc across the middle-east, and all for nothing. They failed to tackle the root of the problem; disaffected and angry young men, with misguided views of islam, who have been manipulated by their masters. The jihadists have a politcal and religious agenda which has only been strengthened by the ‘War on Terror’.

– Afghanistan, a lot of people have said this is the real battle to be fought, although others say it’s a battle that cannot be won. The Taleban should not be allowed to regain power, but it seems that the only long-term solution for this country, which has been at war for over 30 years (Russia invaded in the 1970s), is a political one. And bordering Afghanistan is Pakistan, now unstable and greatly weakened, and the training ground for jihadist fighters — and it does have nuclear weapons. The middle east is as unstable as ever, Eastern Europe is more tense, with a resurgent Russia, and Africa is a terrible failure (Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe) – the world is in greater danger now and will see continuing conflict in these areas.

– Guantanamo, how can this be at all justified, to anyone with any sense of justice or what is right. How could the US lock people up without trial, for many years in some cases, without proper legal process. GW Bush has also admitted the existence of secret CIA interrogation camps where they have used ‘water-boarding’, humiliation and other punishments — this is torture and totally unacceptable. Guantanamo should never have been allowed to happen, and should now be closed. If people have commited crimes they should be dealt with in the proper way.

– Palestine, this problem has been allowed to fester. Eight years without any real progress at all. Meanwhile the tit-for-tat violence goes on, with Israel the dominant, brutal force killing thousands of Palestinians and illegally occupying territory, and the terrifying use of suicide bombers from the Palestinians side. And during this time, Hamas have taken over throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

– Financial crisis and meltdown, and now an almost certain lengthy recession. The markets were not regulated enough, people borrowed too much, spent too much, consumed too much, and now the whole system is busted. The US Trade deficit, plus the cost of bank rescues and final cost of Iraq war leaves the US over $10 trillion in debt. A bankrupt state propped up by foreign money. The consumerist society also needs a major rethink, if we are to avert environmental and social collapse.

– Climate change, very little has been done to decrease CO2 emissions and halt climate change, despite the mounting evidence. Energy and resource use has carried on, and now the earth may be faced with catastrophic, environmental collapse, unless we take dramatic steps to stop the destruction. The US could and should be leading the effort.

It’s too easy to hate America, or what it does, but as a concept or idea, their multi-ethnic, liberal democracy is probably the best model we have. America is very good at some things: science, technology, medicine, and could be a major force for good on the foreign and diplomatic stage. It often appears to have the best of intentions, but their tactics or the actions they take are often counter-productive and alienate the rest of the world.

America needs to re-assert its founding principles, and given the right leadership, can look forward to a more sustainable future, and may even be liked again… In this election year, Barack Obama has emerged as the only candidate capable of remaking the American dream; he seems to connect with people and offers a believable message of hope.

There are so many urgent problems in the world that need America’s help to fix. Let’s hope the American people make the right choice! Having made the right choice, the real work will begin: it remains to be seen how successful Obama can be. This theme is summed up nicely by BOB HERBERT in the NY Times: Beyond Election Day.

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