Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Once again, docks a "low risk" workplace

DOCKS can be dangerous places to work. Mechanisation might have reduced the workforce but having human beings and heavy machines moving in the same place brings added risks and requires more care. What comes to mind for me is Simon Jones killed at Shoreham by a mechanical grab chopping off his head.
Factor in employers cutting corners -the grab should not have been in use -and inexperienced casual labour -24 year old student Simon had just been sent by an agency that morning when he died.
William James, 73, did not lose his life, just his legs. He was working at Tilbury, on Stanton Grove Limited's Berth 47, on March 26 2010, when the incident happened. He was returning to a safe spot under a quayside crane when he was knocked down by a 45 ft container being lowered by a reach stacker.
The driver of the reach stacker, unaware that Mr James was on the quayside and had been knocked down, continued to lower the container onto his legs. They were crushed to such a degree that they later had to be amputated.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive(HSE) found that Stanton Groven Grove had failed to ensure the safety of Mr James while he was working on the quayside.
At Basildon crown court Stanton Grove Limited, based at Tower Wharf, Northfleet, Kent, admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £20,000. The awarding of costs was to be determined at a later date.
Mr James's employer Castlekeep Limited was also prosecuted for alleged breaches of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The company was found not guilty at an earlier hearing.
Reporting this case today, the HSE quotes HSE Inspector Toni Drury, said:
"This incident clearly demonstrates why it is essential that the risk arising from the movement of vehicles and large lifting plant at docks is carefully managed.
"It is common for a wide range of vehicles and equipment to have to use shared space on the docks. There may also be workers on foot undertaking tasks such as guiding loads, removing twistlocks or supervising operations. Good co-ordination and co-operation between all those who are in control of the berth, the operations and the workforce is a necessity, and an agreed safe system of work must be properly communicated and training provided to all involved.
"HSE will not hesitate to take action where there is a risk of serious harm to people at work."
It's good to hear that, even if this probably won't get as much media coverage as myths about kids being prevented from playing conkers. Only thing is, the ability of the HSE to do anything for safery on the docks is being restricted. Following the Lofstedt review, the government decided that health and safety in Docks had improved to such an extent that it could now be considered a low risk industry, and that therefore there was no need for routine inspections or that many enforcement actions.
In 1989 Margaret Thatcher met the port employers and business leaders who complained about the National Dock Labour Scheme and its stranglehold on the docks. Thatcher deregulated the entire industry. As anyone knows, once you take away people's job security there is a good chance you will reduce their safety too, as experienced workers are replaced by casuals, union organisation is undermined, and workers who think something is wrong are reluctant to say anything, hoping someone else will be the one. We know from the building trade how often those who raised safety issues were the ones who became blacklisted.
In the docks industry, where memories had been passed down about the bad old days of men waiting or even fighting at the gate, and employers taking their pick for the day, there was concern about the return to casual labour. Then Employment Minister Norman Fowler declared there would be no return to casual labour. Instead the bosses introduced ‘Non Permanent Employees’ who were coincidentally hired and fired by the day.
Once again accidents, deaths and injuries soared. There was an outcry, and employers had to clean up their act to an extent. But now, according to health and safety campaigners and trade unionists, things have been getting bad again as the government plays down the number of serious accidents and deaths, in the cause of eliminating "red tape", and deregulation.
Writing in the Hazards magazine back in January, Unite docks convenor Andy Green noted:
"In the last 3 months 8 people have been killed in separate incidents in the UK’s docks. The first on October 23rd 2011, Ian Campbell, a dockworker in Tilbury was killed when the Container Straddle Carrier he was driving overturned, a few days later a lorry driver was killed in the same port. There then followed further deaths of a Tugman in Liverpool, an Engineer in Sunderland, a Driver in Ipswich, a Crewman in Felixstowe, another Crewman in Hull and the latest on 27th January 2012, an Agency Worker in Immingham was buried beneath tons of coal inside a ships hold".
That's some "Low Risk" environment. But as Andy Green observes:
"Employment Minister Chris Grayling in trying to make a bit of a name for himself when it comes to health and safety, launched his Health and Safety Made Simple
'a package of changes designed to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and promote a proportionate approach to managing health and safety'.
"And so after a round of consultation with business organisations many of the regulatory burdens of health and safety have been removed. Unfortunately the lessons of history are not often learnt and in the case of the Docks, history is repeating itself. Docks were subsequently reclassified as low risk and deaths and injuries began increasing at an alarming rate".
We may not have the hiring pens these days, but as Andy points out,
"Despite assurances that casual labour would not return huge numbers of ‘non permanent’ workers still sit at the end of the telephone hoping for a few hours work. Not daring to complain about the dangers they face at work for fear of losing the little work they have, they tolerate the most dangerous conditions. They are often put to work with little or no training, their own lives and the lives of others put in danger.
"Unite the Union regularly receives reports from workers in the docks about atrocious health and safety conditions and the numbers of reports are increasing.
"Speak with most temporary workers and they won’t even have seen a risk assessment let alone know what one is. The training they receive doesn’t meet any standard at all, even those laid down by the industry itself. When they receive just 30 minutes training to drive a forklift it’s not just the temporary workers in danger, everyone is at risk.
"The hours which temporary workers can be expected to do can be lethal, there are those who are working 26 consecutive night shifts without as break, others who are told to work 24 hour shifts, complain and there’s no more work.
"They are being charged for their PPE and so they scrape together old helmets and ragged boots in which to work, and if they are working with dusty cargo their employer will charge them for their Lung Function tests; despite this being a statutory duty of the employer. But who dares to complain?
"This dreadful situation will only deteriorate further as these companies now see the low risk industry in which they operate as being without HSE interference. The users of these agency (non permanent) companies do not get involved in the health and safety issues of their labour suppliers; after all it is someone else’s problem, right?"
It is clear we cannot rely on employers' "self regulation" to keep disablement and death off the docks, and declaring it a low risk environment only reduces the chance of the HSE being able to do anything. But besides campaigning for adequate inspection and enforcement of regulations, the best way to look after workers' safety is to decasualise the industry so far as possible, and make sure workers have union organisation, and representation. Even frequent inspections can't beat having elected and trained safety reps whom workers can trust, keeping an eye on the job all the time.





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Monday, July 30, 2012

Las Vegas Big Money Behind Big Mouth and Bibiton

"HOW MUCH IS HE PAYING YOU?" Romney and Netanyahu both get backing from Sheldon Adelson.


LEADING BACKER FOR ROMNEY. Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson with his wife Miriam Ochsorn.

"If Romney gets tough on Israel’s defense and continues to repeat his small government, free market message, he could find that the war chest backing his efforts is, well, limitless. It will be interesting to see how Obama’s billionaire backers –who have so far been reticent to match GOP efforts–will respond."

Forbes Business Magazine

IT seemed like Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney could not open his mouth without putting his foot in it. Either that or he is playing to a rich but lumpen-minded gallery at home.

First stop on his electioneering from abroad tour was London, where he managed to elicit ridicule and tart replies from such presumed allies as Boris Johnson and Dareavid Cameron by suggesting the country is past it, makes stuff nobody wants, and worst of all, was not ready for the Olympics. Incidentally, he nevertheless thinks his Republicans are better qualified than Barack Obama to sustain the transatlantic relationship with the UK because of a shared "Anglo-Saxon heritage". Not that he's a racialist, mind ....

Interesting that in these cash-strapped times the man was over for a fund-raising dinner, though apparently they had to lower the price of tickets, and questions were asked about Barclays Bank finding time from its troubles to come up with some funding.


Romney also boasted of having met the head of MI6 and discussed Syria. It's not the done thing to talk about such meetings. But what's more worrying is what the spy chief might have told him and whether it registered.

Takeh it's Tacky, What do you expect?

From here it was on to Jerusalem where the Mormon Romney posed for pictures by the Western ("Wailing") Wall, where the black-clad Orthodox were saying their prayers, prompting this comment in the Atlantic Monthly:

Temple Mount Tackiness By Jeffrey Goldberg
Jul 29 2012, 8:48 AM ET Today is Tisha b'Av, the ninth of Av, a Jewish day of fasting and mourning. It is on this day that the First and Second Temples were destroyed. The Western Wall, in Jerusalem, is a retaining wall of the Second Temple. It is, especially on this day, a locus of prayer and reflection. It is also, on this particular Tisha b'Av, the location of a very important photo opportunity for an American presidential candidate.

How vulgar is this?



Well, whoever advises Romney and made the arrangements had originally scheduled a $50,000 a plate fund-raising dinner for the fast day, too, which had to be moved on to the next day when someone pointed out it might embarass some guests otherwise.


We don't know whether anyone -apart from US diplomats in the Middle East - was embarassed by Romney's pledge to support Israel if it decided to wage war on Iran, or his support for Jerusalem as the "undivided" capital of Israel - which is not official US policy.

Nor by his praise for Israeli economic success, in contrast to low Palestinian productivity, which he attributed to "cultural" differences and the "hand of providence". "As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things, " he told dinner guests, citing a climate of innovation, the Jewish history of thriving in adversity, and the "hand of providence".

If any Jewish listeners were reminded of the old "friendly" antisemitic remark "You people are so clever at making money", those who'd paid for the dinner did not say so.

Nor did they remark on the American's modesty in referring to "the hand of providence" when it is the hand of the United States that makes Israel its biggest aid recipient. Or acknowledge that for the neighbours, having your utilities bombed and coast blockaded, or settlers uproot your olive groves and take your water, cannot be good for economic growth.

But Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, recognised Romney's comments for what they were. "It is a racist statement, and this man doesn't realise that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation," he said.

"It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people. He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."

Although hundreds of millionaires are backing Romney, his most generous benefactor is a Las Vegas real estate developer and hotel billionaire who had previously given his backing to Newt Gingrich. Sheldon Adelson has reason to be grateful to politicians. Having purchased the Sands Hotel -- the decrepit former home of the Hollywood Rat Pack and location where Oceans 11 was filmed-- he turned the site into a massive convention centre, bringing in lots of high-spending convention delegates to fill the Vegas hotels. He expanded his empire with two high-end hotel-casino-resorts, the Venetian (1999) -- complete with gondoliers ferrying tourists down fake canals -- and the Palazzo, which opened in 2007.

Though Adelson liked to be known as "liberal" on some issues - he doesn't mind your money, whether or not you are black, or gay - he has his hatreds. One is social health care, such as Britain's NHS or what Obama is promising. Another is unions. The Venetian opened in 1999 as the only non-union casino on the Strip and has been the target of protest from the hotel workers union, Culinary 226, ever since. Many Democratic politicians in the state continue to observe the union's boycott of Adelson's properties.

Adelson's right-wing views have not stopped him doing business in 'People's China', just like Murdoch. He has casinos in Macao, and is said to have helped Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics. But now his man Romney is in Poland, and stirring up the Cold War again.

Mitt Romney is not the only politician Sheldon Adelson is supporting. In 2007 he launched the newspaper Israel Hayom to support a politician he fancied, Binyamin Netanyahu, 'Bibi' as he is widely called, and though it can't be cheap to have a freeby newspaper competing with the paid titles, the 'Bibiton' as many call it has become Israel's biggest circulation daily and Netanyahu of course is prime minister.

If Romney succeeds in making it to the White House that will be two government leaders in the pocket of the man from Vegas. And it might not be just his mouth that Mitt is shooting off.






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Friday, July 27, 2012

Reward For Services?


I DON'T KNOW whether those people who wax indignant and work themselves up about any real or imagined insult or infringement of the rights of "Our Boys" will get too bothered about "Bale". He may be what our tabloid papers automatically refer to as a "hero" but I suspect his face does not fit.

Then again, unfortunately, some of my anti-militarist and anti-imperialist friends too often confuse the policies that we rightly oppose with the blokes (or blokettes) who have to carry them out, so there is a danger they will miss a case of injustice involving a poor squaddie, just as they all too often miss the point.

But I think this case merits our support.

Isimeli Baleiwai, known as 'Bale' to his friends, comes from Fiji, in the Pacific. As a Commonwealth citizen he was recruited to serve in the British armed forces, when he was 18, and has served for 13 years. During this time he served in five operational tours including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Isimeli's wife Kim is British and they have two young children a boy of 3 and a girl of 6; both British. Bale voluntarily discharged from the Armed Forces on June 15th 2012 in order to provide stability for his family.

He had applied for British Citizenship in March while still a serving soldier. This was advised to him by MOD personnel because he had served 13 years and had a British wife and children.

But on June 28 his application was refused by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Bale sent an 'appeal for review' but recieved a letter from UKBA on July 14 stating he had until August 9 2012 to leave the country.

Under changes made to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1973 (ROA) in 2010 disciplinary offences dealt with at the Commanding Officer's discretion can now be equated to a criminal conviction.

Bale was fined in 2011 by his Commanding Officer for fighting with another soldier who instigated the fight. There was no police involvement, no trial, no defence and nor was it impartial. Bale did not know he was being charged with a criminal conviction. He believed this was an 'in-house' disciplinary offence only. He has no criminal record, this offence is only on his military record. There was no court martial. He has now appealed the conviction.

Under the changes made to ROA in 2010 Bale is now defined as a criminal by the Home Office and of not good character to become a British citizen or apply for indefinite leave to remain.

This is devastating for him and his family. It is a breach of Article 6 of the Human Rights Act (1998) and Armed Forces Covenant (2011). It is also inherently racist because the changes made will have no impact on his British Armed Forces colleagues because these military offences are not held on a criminal record. This change only has implications to Immigration Law and Policy. The family believe the law and policy is discriminative.

The Home Office has been using this 'Law' to deport Foreign and Commonwealth soldiers who have been medically discharged as well. Is this Great Britain or Ingrate Britain?

If I might insert a personal note, fighting between members of HM Armed Forces when they are not fighting the foreign foe on Her Majesty's behalf is not all that unusual. My dad, during his service upholding the Raj, had occasion to deck a couple of seargants one night, in anticipation of what appeared to him like a racially, as well as alcoholically, aggravated assault on his person. Having heard the circumstances, his CO felt compelled to impose an appropriate sentence, making my dad join the regimental boxing team.

Had the present rules been in force, my dad, the son of immigrants, might have been treated as a criminal, and if my gradfather had not had the foresight to become naturalised, even been threatened with deportation, and to somewhere not as nice as Fiji.

Getting away to the bigger picture, this treatment of a Commonwealth soldier, facing deportation in a few weeks time, is in remarkable contrast to the way the Border Control seems to take its time removing many convicted criminals from these shores, let alone the way wanted war criminals, dictators and kleptocrats have been welcomed to Britain, with their money of course.

Bale may be just one among many cases who have been unfairly and inhumanly treated (particularly when we remember his wife and children here), and his military services background has brought media attention that others don't receive. But that does not reduce in any way his entitlement to our support. When the authorities behave shamefully it is up to the people to set things right.



Last 10 minutes of show


We, the undersigned, call on the British Government to grant British Citizenship to Isimeli Baleiwai after 13 years military service with the British Armed Forces.

We, the undersigned, call on the British Government to review immigration Law and Policy regarding Foreign and Commonwealth Soldiers.


The Stop Bale being deported after 13 years serving British Armed Forces petition to Government was written by isimeli Baleiwai and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition. Contact author here.

The family are humbled by offers of donations, however Veterans Aid are advocating for our family and others like us. If you would like to donate please donate to them at http://www.veterans-aid.net/

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lighting a Flame that must not go out

(photo: Haifa Front/החזית החיפאית)
MOSHE SILMAN, who died on Friday, seen on earlier protest in Haifa. Despairing at government treatment of poor, and imminent prospect of homelessness, the former haulier desribed Netanyahu and ministers as "scum", before setting fire to himself in Tel Aviv protest.

THERE were demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Be'ersheba last night in honour of Moshe Silman, the man who set himself on fire at the end of a march in Tel Aviv a week ago, and died in hospital of 94 per cent burns, on Friday.

Facing homelessness, the former hauler had said he was protesting not just on his own behalf but for "others like me". He blamed the State of Israel and more especially prime minister Netanyahu and his Finance minister, calling them "scum" who had robbed poor people.

Although the demonstrations last night were intended as peaceful vigils, with people lighting candles for Moshe Silman, the mood of sadness over his death could not conceal hardening anger. In Tel Aviv this easily erupted:

"Police arrested a social protester at a Tel Aviv solidarity protest on Saturday night, as several hundred demonstrators broke through a police line and headed toward the Ayalon freeway. Demonstrators tried to block the police van in which the arrested person, a Beduin-Israeli, was being taken away, but failed. Additional police forces blocked the protesters' path onto to the freeway and closed Ayalon to traffic."


In a comment before the demonstrations on the +972 website, Yuval Ben Ami wrote:

"Silman, once a small business owner, was trampled by the establishment due to a $4000 debt, to the point where he was one week away from becoming homeless. He refused to die at home, like hundreds of others who commit suicide annually due to economic hardship. (According to data published by Haaretz: 325 Israelis died under such circumstances in 9007, 404 in 2009.) Instead, he went out and did something grotesque, something horrible, that reminded all of us how intolerable things really are for over a million Israelis who battle with poverty."
Comparing the proposed silent demonstration with candles to those held for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Ben Ami questioned whether this was the right reaction:
"Should we take the wild flame that took him and spread it over a thousand harmless candles? It seems wiser to put it into our eyes and return both to the streets and to other settings of social and political activism, determined to achieve change. We must not let our anger melt with the wax. This anger is precious, it is the fuel of change. We are indebted to the late Mr. Silman, and must repay our debt by remembering that his passing was not, as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it “a great personal tragedy,” that it is a national tragedy, and that the Netanyahu’s government is in every way responsible for it. That governement does not deserve candles. It deserves wrath."


In the daily Ha'aretz, regular colomnist Gideon Levy wrote:

"All attempts to privatize his death and present it as a "personal tragedy" by the father of national privatization, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could not change the picture. Silman was the victim of acts of hostility: hostility toward the weak.

Against him were pitted three enemies, three monsters of power. The first was the Netanyahu government's neoconservative policy, which is dismantling all the social safety nets. Until last summer Israel was apathetic toward this dismantling; astonishingly, even this summer most of the country still supports those guilty of it. Many of the weak voted (and will vote ) for the Likud, the first proof of blindness and unawareness".
Levy said the other two monsters were those of national paranoia and expansionism, the inflated budgets for "defence" and the settlements.
"These two monsters' innards know no shortage, no cutbacks, no desperation and no Silmans. There, in the land of monsters, everything comes easy. Only six minutes were needed last week to approve the allocation of over NIS 6 billion (! ) to buy new training aircraft for the Israel Defense Forces from Italy. Only four of the 15 members of the Finance Committee bothered to turn up for the discussion, and only one objected.
No less quickly, the government approved tens of millions of shekels for relocating the houses of the Ulpana neighborhood in the Beit El settlement. And, even quicker, the finance minister approved tens of millions of shekels for the university in Ariel. For this there is money: always and unlimited. After all, when have you ever heard of a real cut in the monsters' budgets?
When has any military caprice or settlement whim ever been blocked because of budgetary considerations? These two carnivores control the strongest, wildest and most aggressive lobbies in the land, that no government can withstand. These two draw their sustenance from a never-changing menu: paranoia and nationalism."

Levy went on to conclude:
"The paranoia feeds the defense budget and prevents any cuts in it; the nationalism feeds the settlement budget, which rides over every wave of social protest and economic slowdown with containers and construction. No economic consideration or social reasoning matter when governments discuss the budgets of these two monsters. What's the connection?
What's the connection?! Silman died on the altar of the settlements and defense. Until this connection is deeply understood and assimilated, there will be no efficient protest here - also not from those with terrorized, painful and blackened faces like Silman's. This is not just about the leadership of Israel, it is about its citizens. Change will come if, and only if, they put their hands in the real fire of the defense and settlement budgets. Until then the Silmans will burn, and their deaths will be for nothing".


At the rally in Tel Aviv the crowd was determined that Moshe Silman's death should not be a lone act nor in vain. As an activist read out Moshe's letter on why he had chosen to set himself on fire, line by line, the crowd repeated after him. “The State of Israel has stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing and the Tel Aviv District Court blocked me from getting justice,” the letter read.
Silman went on to blame the state for his downfall and specifically Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Silman also highlighted how he was consistently turned down for public housing, as he did not fit the criteria.
In Jerusalem demonstrators read out the Silman letter in front of the prime minister's official residence.
He got to a situation where he felt like he had nothing to live for,” said activist Viki Vanunu, who was homeless last summer and one of the central activists in the tent protests for homeless families.
“We don’t want other people to be forced to do this, he gave us the drive that we have to continue fighting,” she said. “We fought before him and we will continue fighting, but now we’ll be fighting even harder because someone died for this. I’m not in favor of what he did, but he clearly did change the struggle because we understand we have to work quickly for homeless people. The National Insurance needs to know this isn’t a game,” she said.

In a rousing speech at the Tel Aviv rally, Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka, from the Workers Advice Centre-MAAN, the only Palestinian woman to lead a party in Israeli elections, evoked the memory of Tunisian Mohammad Bouazizi, whose self-immolation was credited with igniting the "Arab Spring":

"We will not give up - even when right wing screams and the voices of racism are emanating out of the throats of the oppressed - we will not give up. Even when they, in power, try to silence us, we will not give up, for the voice of truth cannot be turned off. Tonight's was a demonstration in memory of Moshe Silman. The fire that burnt his bones lit up the path to struggle and solidarity for many. That fire destroyed the legitimacy of the old discourse of racism because Bouazizi has been resurrected and burned again in Tel Aviv, and showed us despair has no nationality. That maxim reverberated tonight in Tel Aviv. This new discourse is the main change that the protest movement has brought to Israel.. All that remains is to link to the Arab world's slogan to its leaders "Irhlu" -- Get away!"


Friday, July 20, 2012

Murder in Bulgaria

SWEDISH PASSPORT of Mehdi Ghazali, ex-Guantanamo prisoner. But Swedish and US authorities denied he was the bomber.

ISRAELI forensic experts were going to Bulgaria yesterday to join Bulgarian police investigating the bombing of a tourist bus leaving the airport at the Black Sea resort of Burgas. Seven people, including the driver and five Israelis and another man were killed, and more than thirty injured, in what was reported to be a suicide bombing.

But if Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was to be believed, there seemed to be little point holding an investigation. Promising to "exact a heavy price" from the perpetrators, Netanyahu declared "This is an Iranian terror attack that is spreading across the world. Israel will forcefully react to Iran's terror."

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak put only a slightly different spin on the line, saying "the direct executors are Hezbollah" and vowing to "punish" it.

Weaving the two together, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the bombing had been carried out by "Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran."

Both Iran and Hezbollah, which is a Lebanese Shi'ite-based party and resistance movement allied with Iran and Syria, denied responsibility. The Iranian government said it was itself a target of terrorism, all forms of which it said it condemned. Ramin Mehmanparast, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Tehran declared that "terrorism endangers the lives of innocents."

Hezbollah also denied responsibility, rejecting suggestions that it would have ordered the bombing as a revenge attack. " We will not seek revenge over the death of Imad Mughniyah by harming tourists,” a Hezbollah spokesman told Lebanese media. Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s top military commander, was assassinated in a car-bomb explosion in Damascus in February 2008. Hezbollah blamed Israel for Mughniyah’s killing and vowed to take revenge.

In Bulgaria the Chief Mufti’s Office representing the country's Muslim minority condemned the attack at Burgas Airport, as “an act of encroachment on civilians,” and “denounced terrorism and all its forms.” The Office sent condolences to the family and relatives of the Bulgarian driver who died in the attack, Mustafa Kyosov from the southwestern village of Yurukovo. Chief Mufti Mustafa Hadzhi will attend the funeral.

The Bulgarian government has sent condolences to Israel, as have others. But as to responsibility, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, said that he thought "it is wrong and a mistake to point fingers at this stage of the investigation at any country or organisation."

In fact the early evidence pointed anywhere but Iran, or the Hezbollahi.

Bulgarian media reports named the suicide attacker as Mehdi Ghazali, a former detainee at the US-run internment camp at Guantanamo Bay. The Bulgarian authorities posted an airport video showing the bomber, with pale skin and long red hair, and who the Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said had been carrying a fake Michigan driving licence, wandering into the arrivals hall of the airport, looking around and wandering out again. He is seen carrying an unusually large back pack which witnesses said contained the bomb.

Ghazali, a Swedish citizen of Algerian-Finnish origin, is said to have studied at a British mosque, and to have travelled to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan -all Sunni dominated countries. Saudi Arabia is supplying weapns and financial backing to some of the rebels in Syria and participating in the repression against Bahrain's mainly Shi'ite population.

The Taliban had Saudi backing and Pakistani bases for their take over of Afghanistan, at least partly as a counterweight to Iranian influence. In Pakistan, the Shi'ite minority have been targets of persecution and terror attacks.

Ghezali was held at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp in Cuba, after he was captured in Pakistan for being an “unlawful combatant,” Haaretz reported. He was also reportedly arrested after trying to cross into Afghanistan in 2009, but was apparently later released.

The mosque in Britain at which Ghazali studied was run by Omar Bakri Mohammad, former leader of Hizb at Tahrir and founder of al Mohajiroun. A self-declared Salafi and admirer of al Qaida, Omar Bakri was sentenced to prison on terrorism charges in Lebanon in 2010.

Hezbollah did approach Omar Bakri in Lebanon, not to plan a terror campaign, but to try and avert one. The Shi'ite party fears a new sectarian war in Lebanon, with Sunni forces turning on them. Salafis don't regard Shl'ites as fellow Muslims but as heretics, worse if possible than "Kafirs" (unbelievers), among whom they count Hindus, Sikhs and Jews, all to be cleared off 'Muslim lands'. The carnage in Syria has intensified Hezbollah fears that Al Qaida attacks could spearhead all out sectarian war aimed at putting Shi'ites "in their place" or even wiping them out.

None of this has stopped US media and officials lumping Hezbollah and Al Qaida together, and a US court even decided in December that Iran was to blame for the 9/11 attack, which both Iran and Hezbollah condemned. Ten years might seem a long time in which to reach such a perverse verdict, but with two wars to get out of the way - and not entirely - before getting ready for a third, US justice is next to British perhaps, the best that money can buy

To complicate the story, although it now seems agreed the Burgas atrocity was a suicide bombing, and not explosives packed on the bus then detonated from elsewhere, the Swedish authorities say the man on the bus was not Mehdi Ghazali. They hint they know more but cannot say. US officials seem to be taking the same line.

Continuing to blame Iran, under whose direct orders Israel is convinced Hezbollah acts in its operations outside Lebanon, Netanyhau went out of his way to link the attack at the Black Sea resort of Burgas with Tehran's nuclear ambitions. "The time has come for all countries that know the truth to speak it," he said. "Iran is the one behind the wave of terror. Iran is the No 1 exporter of terror in the world. A terrorist state must not have a nuclear weapon. The most dangerous country in the world must not possess the most dangerous weapon on earth."

A lot of people might say the same about Israel. After all, it led the way to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East long before the present Iranian regime existed. And obnoxious though the Islamicist regime may be, it has not bombed, invaded nor occupied its neighbours.

Even former heads of Israeli intelligence say war with Iran would be crazy, and Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst at Israel's Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, expressed doubts about apportioning blame for the Bulgaria bombing before a full investigation bore fruit, pointing out that al-Qai'da had been held responsible for an attack targeting Israelis in Kenya in 2002.

Javedanfar said if Israel's government really had solid intelligence that Hezbollah had been responsible for the bombing then it would have been under Iran's aegis, and Iran "would have made a very big mistake by doing this on European Union soil. "It would mean that Iran's hopes of an easing of sanctions by the EU would become more distant if it was Iran's responsibility."

On the other hand it might suit other interests, such as those already wageing a proxy war against Iran and its allies, to stage an attack for which the Iranians and Hezbollah took the blame. (The New York Times quotes unnamed US officials as certain the bombing was carried out on Iranian orders. Well fancy that.)

As for Israelis, some with menories are recalling sadly how, thirty years ago, their forces bombed and invaded Lebanon to destroy the PLO, ostensibly responding to an assassination attempt on Israel's ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov. The PLO in fact had nothing to do with this attack, in fact their diplomats were most often the targets of the Abu Nidal group responsible. But the Palestinian people and their Lebanese allies paid the price, culminating in the massacres at Sabra and Chatila. Though there was uproar in Israel, its forces maintained their occupation of southern Lebanon, until driven out, which is where we - or rather where Hezbollah came in.

Iran would not be so easy.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Facelift Operation Burma can't hide the desperate flight of refugees

BURMESE opposition leader Aung-San- Suu-Kyi's visit to Britain and other countries last month was welcomed as a sign that both her and her people were gaining freedom at last.

Suu-Kyi, elected with her party to the Burmese parliament after spending over 15 years under house arrest, called on her return home for the freeing of all remaining political prisoners in Burma(Myanmar), of which they reckon there are 330.

But though David Cameron called for the suspension of sanctions on Burma when he visited the country in April, the military have not given up power there, and holding political prisoners is not their only crime against human rights. Cameron, the first British prime minister to visit Burma since it became independent in 1948, was following up on visits by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague in January.

But is this rush to take the Road to Mandalay really about Burmese freedom or something else?


One sign of any country's claim to democracy or even civilised behaviour is its treatment of minorities. The Guardian and some other papers have reported recently how Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Burma, seeking asylum in Bangladesh or other neighbouring countries. The Bangladesh government has been forcing people to go back. But these are hardly people seeking a better life in poor Bangladesh. These are refugees fleeing for their lives.

Any of us who remember the epsode of the Vietnamese boat people might note the comparative lack of attention given these people taking to boats to try and reach Bangladesh.

Although Burma's Muslim population increased hugely with immigration during British rule, the Rohingya Muslims can claim an older pedigree, going back centuries and producing a Muslim kingdom in the 15th century in part of Arakan. Following the Burmese conquest of Arakan in 1785, as many as 35,000 Arakanese people fled to the neighbouring Chittagong region of British Bengal 1799 to avoid Burmese persecution. The Burmese rulers executed thousands of Arakanese men and deported a considerable portion of the Arakanese population to central Burma.

During World War II the Arakan Muslims were once again targetted for persecution by Japanese and Burmese forces. Then in independent Burma Rohingya were deprived of citizenship. More recently under military rule many were conscripted as forced labour. Not surprisingly some of the Rohingya resistance has taken a far from moderate form.

During Cameron's visit in April human rights organisations here noted that despite reforms, Burma was still a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world, and where the military had control.

Kelland Stevenson, Save the Children’s country director, said:

"More than a million children under five in Myanmar are suffering from chronic malnutrition brought on by poverty and inadequate spending on health care. Chronic malnutrition has severe long term effects on children’s health as they grow. Malnutrition limits their physical growth, weakens their immune system and significantly hampers mental development. The government and the donor community should prioritise reforms that help reduce child hunger".

Sanctions probably didn't help. But was reducing child hunger uppermost in Western leaders' minds? Notwithstanding their supposed pariah status, the Burmese military have been keen to attract foreign investment, as well as ensuring their own share of the wealth.

One journalist who interested in the Rohingya story is Palestine Chronicle editor Ramzy Baroud, writing in Arab News

Democracy and killings in Burma: Gold rush overrides human rights

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Squalimpics "Showcase"

FROM the air it looks like a badly-arranged and over-crowded container yard. Inside it's a darned sight worse. But don't worry. The muddy campsite where cleaners are being accomodated ten to a room in the Olympic Park won't be visible to the public.

After all, these Olympics, with so many millions in profits and tax breaks for big companies, souvenirs from Far East sweatshops, beer by Heiniken, and fast food from McDonalds (don't get caught smuggling in real chips!), are supposed to "showcase Britain".

Having to call in the army at the last minute to look after security is all part of the show. Soldiers just back from Aghanistan and looking foward to a bit of leave are likely to find themselves kipping in a disused shopping centre in Wapping.

So you can't expect the civvies to fare much better. They're not expected to be seen, just to clean. But thanks to Katherine Faulkner writing in, of all places, the Tory Daily Mail, we learn


  • Cleaners at the Olympic Park are being housed ten to a room at a huge temporary compound.
  • The campsite in East London, hidden from public view, has 25 people sharing each toilet and 75 to each shower.
  • They sleep in portable cabins, some of which have been leaking in the rain.
Grim: Cleaners at the Olympic Park are being housed ten to a room at a huge temporary compound, pictured. The campsite in East London, hidden from public view, has 25 people sharing each toilet and 75 to each shower

Wet weather has left the site waterlogged, forcing people to hop from abandoned pallets to crates as stepping stones to get around the site.

Although the Olympics were supposed to bring jobs to East London, many of those coming to work are from abroad, leading some Mail readers more used to the anti-immigrant diet to express their satisfaction that conditions are bad in case these workers be tempted to stay.

In fact some workers took one look at the accomodation offered and turned right back. But others, though told there would be no work for them for a couple of weeks, were told they could stay in the park and pay the cleaning company £18 a day in ‘rent’ to sleep in the overcrowded metal cabins, which works out at more than £550 a month.

Katherine Faulkner says cleaners at the camp have signed gagging orders preventing them from talking to the Press and have been banned from having family and friends visit ‘for security reasons’. But one worker, from Hungary, said conditions were ‘very bad’ inside the camp but he had nowhere else to live. ‘It is like a slum inside,’ the 24-year-old said. 'The toilets are dirty and the space is very little.’

Another, also from Hungary, said: ‘When we saw the camp, we were shocked. When we came to England we thought accommodation would be much nicer. Some of the cabins have been leaking and we have been told to fix them ourselves."

Kathreen Faulkner notes that "plans for the accommodation were backed by London 2012 organiser Locog and waved through by the local council, Newham, even though environmental health officers said the toilet and shower facilities were ‘unlikely to be adequate’, while landscape architects said the sleeping arrangements were ‘cramped’."

"But councillors decided that because the camp would be only temporary, concerns about the housing and welfare of the workers were not ‘justifiable reasons for refusing planning permission’.

Any accommodation where more than two adults have to share a room is considered ‘overcrowded’ under housing laws. Health and safety guidelines state that employers should provide at least five toilets and five washbasins for every 100 people.

Craig Lovett, of Spotless International Services which runs the camp, said the number of toilets and showers per person exceeded requirements for temporary accommodation and that there were internet, medical and entertainment facilities on-site.

He added: ‘This is not a prison. Nobody is forced to stay there. Many of our staff have come from areas where there is extremely high unemployment and are very happy to be working in the Games.


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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tel Aviv Human Torch blames Netanyahu and his ministers, calls them "scum"

http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-snc4/174510_100000645403545_1290019_n.jpg MOSHE SILMAN

TWO VERSIONS of Moshe Silman's letter. Pro-Netanyahu paper edited out passage where he blamed the State of Israel and the prime minister.

A 57-year old man is in a critical condition in Israel's Tel Hashomer hospital after setting fire to himself at the end of a march through central Tel Aviv demanding social justice. About 10,000 people had taken part in the march, and were about to disperse in Kaplan Street, when former haulier Moshe Silman distributed several copies of a typed letter recounting his plight, his tussles with officialdom, and his concerns about health and homelessness.

Then he squatted down, poured petrol over his clothes, and set himself alight. Horrified bystanders managed to extinguish the flames before an ambulance arrived and rushed the man to nearby Ichilov Hospital. He was later moved to the larger Tel Hashomer Hospital because of the seriousness of his burns.

He is currently in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, with grade two and three burns on 94 percent of his body. If he survives he is expected to remain in hospital for a long period of time.

Silman, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, was born in Israel. He served in the army, and was a reservist, did various jobs, and for a time ran his own haulage business till it ran into debt, and he got into difficulty with the authorities. After this he became a taxi driver, but continued to get worse off, and in bad health. He had threatened to set himself on fire before. Housing officials reportedly told him "Just don't do it in our offices"

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a meeting of Likud ministers today that Silman's self-immolation was "a great and personal tragedy," and that he was ordering inquiries. "I wish Moshe a complete recovery. I asked the Welfare and Social Services Minister and the Housing Minister to look into the issue."

Netanyahu's concern may be understandable, rather than appreciated. In his letter, Silman makes clear that he was protesting not just over his own treatment, but for others like him. He also declares clearly that he blames the State, the government, and Netanyahu. The letter details his financial, housing and health difficulties, along with his anger at the state “for the humiliation that disenfranchised citizens go through day in and day out, that take from the poor and give to the rich.”

"The State of Israel has stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing
and the Tel Aviv District Court blocked me from getting justice. — registrar at the Tel Aviv District court, broke the law, disrupted legal proceedings, out of condescension.
It won’t even assist me with my rental fees.

Two committees from the Ministry of Housing have rejected me, despite the fact that I have undergone a stroke and was granted 100% work disability. Ask the manager of Amidar, in Hafia, on Hanevi’im Street.

I blame the State of Israel.
I blame Bibi Netanyahu and [Minister of Finance] Yuval Steinitz, both scum, for the humiliation that disenfranchised citizens go through day in and day out, that take from the poor and give to the rich, and to public servants those that serve the State of Israel The National Health Insurance, especially —, the manager of their operations, and the manager of their claims department, —, on Lincoln Street in Tel Aviv, who illegally seized my work equipment for my truck.

The Haifa National Insurance Institute branch, who abused me for a year until I was granted disability. That I pay NIS 2300 per month in Health Insurance taxes and even more for my medicine I have no money for medicine or rent. I can’t make the money after I have paid my millions in taxes I did the army, and until age 46 I did reserve duty. I refuse to be homeless, this is why I am protesting Against all the injustices done to me by the State, me and others like me.

The pro-government free newspaper Yisrael Hayom, financed by an American businessman, deleted the attack on Netanyahu from the version of the letter it published. The liberal daily Ha'aretz on the other hand drew comparisons between Moshe Silman's desperate act and that of the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, who died after setting fire to himself in December 2010, and ignited revolt in Tunisia and the 'Arab Spring'.

As put together by reporters, Moshe Silman's story illustrates how easy it is to fall from respectable middle class to the ranks of the poor and dispossessed, and what little respect the latter are given by society and the state. Here's the story taken from Ha'aretz .

Ten years ago he was running a small haulage firm, Mika Transports which seems have earned a good reputation for service and reliability from its customers. But his business was hit by the Second Intifada, and he had to move to smaller premises. He did not receive official debt notices because they were sent to his old address. Then on October 8, 2002, National Insurance Institute bailiffs seized one of his four trucks, for a debt of NIS 15,000. Silman paid a third of the debt in order to reclaim his truck, but then he was asked to pay a further NIS 1,200 to cover towing expenses.

Silman could not reclaim the truck due to a strike at the National Insurance Institute, and says that it led to the collapse of his business. Six years later, he decided to sue the institute, and submitted a claim for damages amounting to NIS 8 million to the Tel Aviv District court, citing the seizure of the truck. Due to his financial situation he requested an exemption from the toll, but his request was rejected, and the case was never heard in court.

In 2005, after his business collapsed, he was forced to evacuate his apartment.He began working as a taxi driver, but could not make ends meet. In an affidavit supported by documents, submitted with his damages claim against the institute, Silman wrote that during 2007 he earned NIS 4,150, and in the first third of 2008 – NIS 5,525. As his financial situation deteriorated, his bank account was seized, and all his savings and insurance benefits were either seized or used to pay his debts, estimated at hundreds of thousands of shekels. He was left only with his old Volkswagen Polo that he used as a taxi driver.

Silman's mother, a guarantor to his debts, was also left without savings. In order to save her apartment, she legally transferred it to her daughters, free of charge. The court registrar who rejected Silman's plea to be exempt from the toll on his damage claims suit wrote: "Whoever uses this route of property smuggling cannot be heard afterwards saying that he has no financial possibility of paying the toll."

In a Facebook post last March, Silman urged his friends to organize protests against the National Insurance Institute: "I think that considering the upcoming appointment of a new general director of the NII, which is actually the Anti-Social National Insurance Institute, which has throughout the years caused the most cases of injustice by any governmental service to the weakest segments of society – and continues to do so daily – we should organize protests in front of NII offices, [exposing it] as an anti-social organization, leading the wrongdoers, conducting itself as one of the worst private insurance businesses, and not as a national social insurance [service]."

Silman's un-accepted lawsuit was accompanied by testimonials from his old customers. Guy Hirsch, director of the orders' center in CMS, wrote of Silman: "Throughout the years we have never encountered any problems with the transporter, on the contrary, the services he provided were always impeccable as far as credibility, punctuality, high standards and representing our company in a respectable way vis-à-vis our clients."

Two years ago Salman's mother passed away. Her apartment was seized, prompting her daughters to go to court, claiming that they deserved to receive her inheritance. Following the rejection of Silman's appeal, and after his mother's death, his health faltered, and he suffered a stroke. Silman moved to Haifa, living on a NIS 2,300 monthly disability pension. Still, the National Insurance Institute decided to categorize him as losing only 50 percent of his working ability. His sisters helped and fed him. His appeals to be entitled to public housing were rejected again and again. When he was hospitalized, he told Rabbi Idit Lev, who helped him in Haifa, that his condition was "excellent because he was hospitalized and received three meals a day." Last December his pension period ended, and he began to receive it again only in May, after a long struggle. His friends say he tried to find a job, but his driving permit was revoked by a court due to his health.

When the social protests began, a year ago, Silman participated in all the demonstrations, and was active in Tel Aviv. Last night, after his action, his friends realized that he had gone to the Tel Aviv demonstration, and not to the Haifa demo, as expected. A friend had allowed him recently to live in a one-room apartment free of charge, but Silman was due to evacuate it next week. He told his Haifa friends often that he has no intention of living on the streets.

Last April he published another Facebook post: "I want to tell you what I'm going through now. This morning I lost my balance, but fortunately fell on the bed and wasn't hurt. At Rambam Medical Center, I underwent two CT scans, which negated the possibility of a stroke. Dr. Wasserman says that it was possibly my ear and wanted to send me home. She said they don't want to treat me and I should be treated at the clinic. But I'm afraid to go home, I live alone, and I'm afraid to go home. They insist on releasing me from the hospital without medical treatment, they also threaten to call the police, and instead of receiving medical treatment I could end up in jail. So long."


And Incidentally...

MANY of us in Britain may be reminded not only of what happened in Tunisia but of the Birmingham man who set fire to himself outside the Job Centre in Selly Oak after a row over benefits.

Apparently that is not the only issue for comparisons. After friends and fellow campaigners had waited outside Tel Hashomer hospital for news, Communist Party Knesset member Dov Kheinin observed:
"Moses Silman with burns to 92 per cent of his body is not hospitalised at the burns unit at Tel Hashomer Hospital. There's no room. He'd remains in the general intensive care ward until one of the eight bed in the burns unit becomes available as currently they are all occupied. This is what cuts to the health system look like.
Herein is the essence of Israel's situation. And they even talk about a war against Iran".

Meanwhile in Tunisia
  • The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation touched off a season of Arab uprisings, has been remanded into custody for insulting an official.

    The justice ministry said on Saturday that Manoubia Bouazizi, 60, was arrested a day earlier after an altercation with a judge in a court in her hometown of Sidi Bouzid.

    Manoubia Bouazizi had reportedly been trying to register for government benefits provided to the families of those who died in the revolution.

    She was transferred to a detention centre in nearby Gafsa and is due to appear before a magistrate on Monday, charged with insulting an official while he was performing his duties, ministry spokesman Mondher Bedhiafi told the AFP news agency.

    The uprising in Tunisia was sparked in December 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old produce vendor, died after setting himself on fire in protest against his humiliation and extortion at the hands of police and government officials.

    On Friday, his brother, Salem Bouazizi, said his mother argued with a clerk of the court, not the judge, who embarrassed her and pushed her towards the exit, at which point the two exchanged insults.

    "My mother was humiliated. The authorities must learn to respect people. We're not going to let this go," Salem Bouazizi told AFP.

    He said his mother had been at the courthouse to sign documents that would allow her to receive government compensation awarded to "martyrs of the revolution."

    There have been considerable tensions in Sidi Bouzid in the aftermath of the uprising over the international fame of the Bouazizi family.


Thanks are due to FB friend Sol Salbe for keeping us posted on the news from Israel, and drawing attention to the discrepancy between what Moshe Silman wrote and Yisrael Hayom's edited version.


Friday, July 13, 2012

One man freed on bail, one man still in jail. Authorities feel threatened by Freedom Theatre


NABIL AL RAEE released , but tagged and under house arrest. Seen here with daughter Mina on her first birthday.

ZAKARIA ZUBEIDI still detained without charges at Jericho prison.

First the good news. Nabil Al-Raee, the Artistic Director of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, has been freed from Israeli military detention, after starting a hunger strike. Nabil had been held for over a month, having been taken from his home in the early hours of the morning by the Israeli military.

After putting it around that they were questioning Nabil about the murder last year of Freedom Theatre co-founder Juliano Mer-Khamis, - a subject on which he would have willingly told everything he knew without needing to be arrested - the Israeli authorities held him without charges, and without access to lawyer or family. Having failed to produce any evidence of "illegal activity" even to convince a military judge, they eventually came up with a charge of assisting a "terrorist", that is supplying food and cigarettes to Freedom Theatre co-founder Zakaria Zubeidi.

Zakaria Zubeidi is a respected figure in Jenin, as well as a colleague, and Nabil remarked that he had only helped him as any local person would. A former commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who fought the Israeli occupiers and also criticised Palestinian leaders, Zakaria Zubeidi accepted an amnesty from the Israelis in 2005, handing over his guns to the Palestinian Authority(PA), and joining Juliano Mer-Khamis in founding the theatre, to develop cultural resistance.

“The theatre is an important project,” said Zubeidi. “ It can bring the children together under one roof, give them the possibility to dream, develop them and lighten their psychological burden.”

He did not abandon his aim of liberation, but placed no faith in the Palestinian leadership, accusing them of selfishness and corruption, and saying that a new generation would have to come forward. Nor did Israeli politicians give up their calls for Zubeidi to dealt with as a terrorist.

On December 29, 2011, Israel rescinded Zubeidi's pardon for unstated reasons. Zubeidi stated to Ma'an News Agency that he had not violated any of the conditions of his amnesty. He was advised by PA security officials to turn himself in to Palestinian custody lest he arrested by Israel's security forces. A week before Zubeidi was notified about the cancellation of his amnesty, his brother had been arrested by the PA.

Now Zakaria Zubeidi remains in Palestinian Authority custody, having been held without charge and kept in prison at Jericho since May 13.

Nabil Al Raee is not genuinely free either, despite petitions from international artists, a resolution from the European parliament, and his own hunger strike. He has only been released on bail, and must remain under house arrest wearing an electronic foot chain until his next trial at the end of the month.



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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Olympic Security Shambles. When capitalists cock up, they send for the Army!

MISSILES on two blocks of flats (though, as fellow blogger Madame Miaow notes, "none on the posh blocks lining the Thames"), a warship, HMS Ocean, in the river, and thousands of troops -some fresh back from Afghanistan - drafted in to man checkpoints and guard the Games. No wonder some people are renaming the London Olympics the East London Military Tattoo.

That's an extra 3,500 troops on top of those already planned, a decision taken with only two weeks to go after it became clear private security giant G4S just has not recruited enough personnel.

'The home secretary, Theresa May, has insisted the late decision to call up 3,500 troops to guard the Olympics was not a shambles and claimed that the need for the extra military personnel "only crystallised 24 hours ago".

She repeatedly refused to spell out what penalties the private security firm G4S would face for failing to provide the necessary trained security guards to meet their 10,000 target, insisting that the £283m contract was with Locog, the Olympics organising committee, and not the Home Office. She added that the taxpayer would not face an extra bill for the decision"

The news prompted one Facebook friend to post this sympathetic letter:

Dear Serving Soldier,

I appreciate that you may be a bit busy at the moment, but just before I give you the sack would you mind awfully helping out at a small sporting event we are holding in London this month. You see I have just spent £475,000,000 on a private firm to do the security but they trousered the money and cannot commit. I have managed to wangle an old warehouse for your accommodation & some rat packs for food, but you should be used to that by now.(Gotta keep the cost down L.O.L).

Many thanks,
David Cameron.

P.S. You're my favourites!

Apparently those squaddies who were expecting some well-earned leave have been told they will have to wait until some time after the Games, and by way of making it up them there will be another 14,000 Olympic tickets made available to the forces. Bet that cheers them up no end.

Meantime, beside geting used sooner than we expected to the sight of soldiers on the street, we are having a grandstand view of how marvellously private enterprise can be trusted to run massive publicly-funded projects.

We've been hearing more about G4S prepared for the Olympics.

Guards told how, with 14 days to go until the Olympics opening ceremony, they had received no schedules, uniforms or training on x-ray machines. Others said they had been allocated to venues hundreds of miles from where they lived, been sent rotas intended for other employees, and offered shifts after they had failed G4S's own vetting.

The West Midlands Police Federation reported that its officers were being prepared to guard the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, which will host the football tournament, amid concerns G4S would not be able to cover the security requirements.

"We have to find officers until the army arrives and we don't know where we are going to find them from," said Chris Jones, secretary of the federation.

G4S has got a £284m contract to provide 13,700 guards, but only has 4,000 in place. It says a further 9,000 are in the pipeline.


A former police sergeant who signed up to work for G4S at the Olympics has told how he withdrew his application over fears the recruitment process was "totally chaotic" and the firm was simply looking for cheap labour.

Robert Brown, who served for 30 years with Kent police, claimed he knew many other retired officers who had decided against working at the Games for the same reasons.

He said he had been given verbal commitments that staff would be paid £14 an hour, but that the contract he received said he would be entitled to £6.05 an hour for working outside the venues, and £8.50 for working inside the stadium.

"It is actually very sad," Brown said. "I was looking forward to working at this historic event, but it would have been a waste of my time. The public needs to be aware of this."

Brown has grade one private security qualifications and worked for the Home Office, advising on covert operations, after he left the police.

He said he applied to G4S when the adverts started to appear in November last year. But he was not called for interview in Stratford, east London, until February.

"They were trying to process hundreds of people and we had to fill out endless forms. It was totally chaotic and it was obvious to me that this was being done too quickly and too late," Brown said.

The first training day involved presentations on how to be polite to members of the public, and follow-up training on how to pat people down.

"The instructors had been given a script that they had to stick to, and if you asked a question, they would not be able to give you an answer. The training was very basic and minimal. Having undergone their training I realised that they only wanted cheap labour.


It was reported tonight that the government knew, or should have known, G4S was having problems, back in April. Not just in the last 24 hours, as claimed by Theresa May. Evidently they were reluctant to admit that a capitalist company - the world's biggest security firm, and second biggest employer, just could not cope.

It could be worse. We could be talking about education, or the National Health Service. Matter of fact, in some parts of the country G4S is running the ambulance service. The company lost some work deporting immigrants after a man called Jimmy Mubenga died from asphyxiation while being handled by two of its guards. But it still runs some detention centres, including including the Cedars where families including children are detained. (Isn't it charming the way such places retain names that sound like comfy country homes, or places where elderly relatives are left to die?)

In Lincolnshire some police functions have been 'outsourced' to G4S, though Surrey police are reported to be having second thoughts about such an arrangement with G4S.

Meanwhile firms like Prospects which sent young people up to work for Jubilee security for nothing are being allowed to run schools, while Labour - or at least its MP Stephen Twigg - thinks that job too could be handed over to the army. It would be too much to expect our top politicians to have learnt anything from the shambles they have helped create.

Meanwhile, if all that sport - or manning security - makes you thirsty, you can forget your London Pride ...

...GOING for Exmoor Gold, or any other decent ale. As that esteemed journal, the London Drinker, published by the Campaign for Real Ale here in the capital, informs us:

The 2012 Olympics, a showcase for London and the rest of Britain, will be dominated by one beer brand – Heineken lager brewed in the Netherlands. Heineken’s domination extends beyond the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London, to all the venues for the games, including Lord’s, the home of English cricket.

Heineken has “sole pouring rights” at Olympic events. The London 2012 Organising Committee has three tiers of sponsorship deals for the games. The committee won’t reveal the sums of money involved but it’s understood that Heineken is a “tier three” sponsor, costing the Dutch firm £10m.

The package gives Heineken the rights to also sell two other brands in its portfolio, John Smith’s Smoothflow and Strongbow cider – but neither of the brands can be named. John Smith’s will be labelled “British Bitter” and Strongbow will be called “Cider”.

At Lord’s where Marston’s has the beer concession to sell Pedigree Bitter and is the official sponsor of the England cricket team, handpumps will be removed while the archery competition takes place during the Olympics. Portraits of cricketer Matthew Hoggard, Marston’s “beer ambassador”, will be covered up.

Visitors to the world-famous cricket ground, with its long tradition of ale drinking, will be offered Dutch lager and anonymous keg bitter and cider. But cask Pedigree will be available in the Lord’s Tavern, the bar and restaurant complex alongside the main entrance to the ground.


Workers win Freedom from McFries

It seems workers have won one small victory for freedom and good taste against the tat of sponsorship and monopoly.

Chip-hungry Olympic workers celebrate freedom from McDonald's monopoly

Staff working on opening and closing ceremonies allowed to eat chips served outside branches of fast food chain

The great British chip claims partial victory over McDonald's.

The great London 2012 Olympic chip embargo has cracked. No longer will hungry workers at the games be denied pie and chips, chicken and chips or even just chips because of a monopoly enforced by McDonald's, a major sponsor.

On Wednesday, the London Organising Committee responded to plaintive cries of caterers who had grown tired of receiving "grief" from chip-hungry staff working on the opening and closing ceremonies and allowed chips to be served outside branches of the fast food chain McDonald's.

It all results from one of the stranger twists of Olympic planning. McDonald's sponsorship deal included the exclusive right to sell chips in and around Olympic venues. Other caterers had negotiated special rights to serve chips with fish – but not chips on their own, or with anything else.

Cue frustrated scenes at the lunch counter in the ceremonies catering area where staff were toiling over the staging for Danny Boyle's 27 July opening extravaganza. "Please understand this is not the decision of the staff who are serving up your meals who, given the choice, would gladly give it to you, however they are not allowed to," read a notice pinned up by staff. "Please do not give the staff grief, this will only lead to us removing fish and chips completely."

"It's sorted," said a spokesman for Locog. "We have spoken to McDonald's about it."

But the embargo will hold in other areas. That means no chips with anything other than fish anywhere else in the park unless spectators dine at McDonald's.

On Wednesday catering staff in the media centre were taking no risks. There were hash browns and dauphinoise, but no chips. A server explained why: "Because McDonald's own the rights, so we're not allowed to".


They may not call them "French Fries" anymore ( for which I am sure many French connoiseurs of les frittes are glad), but whatever McDonalds serve they are fries, and not chips.

It may have been an immigrant from Holland to the East End who hit on the idea of selling fried potatoes with fish, but since then as everyone in Stratford knows, chips have become thoroughly British, even if the best ones I've tasted in England, apart from my Mum's and my own, were from Greek Cypriot or Italian-run fish restaurants.

I'll give McDonalds marks for chutzpah, and the Olympic organisers for obseqiousness in allowing them and the aforementioned multinational brewers to pass off such travesties.

Apologies to those of you already put off by the Bhopal and sweatshop aspects of Olympic sponsorship if you feel I've only dealt with lighter aspects.

Another blogger, and her almost an East End girl (well from Hackney) comments on the Olympics:


And another aspect of Group Four-Securicor (G4S)'s global empire:


(Go West-Bank young man, and Grow Rich from Someone Else's Country)

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