Thursday, 30 July 2009


Trippy light shot the startled sky
Cobalt blue with amber shimmers
Shy streets became passion-party flower beds
Frantic trees swayed and fainted
Gloomy clouds played soulful jazzy rain
Quite unlike most moody cirrus
Giggling policemen passed out love-laced mango juice
To salsa-dancin' rabbits

Traffic lights flirted, fluttered and blushed
Alpha cars shrugged and fell asleep
Sweet nurses covering them in snazzy-tailored horse blankets
Laughing tramps gave out origami-folded tenners
To sixteen-inch bankers in pink pyjama suits
Big Issue man rolled tyre-sized pound coins
Down a plush green CCTV-lined boulevard
Into the salivating mouths of three-and-a-half Alan Sugars

Sincere celebrity saw it all
And cried real velvet tears on the morning news
News of her tears spread to the evening news
Agitated computer screens took the huff and went swimming
Mass laptop shoal was reported off nihilistic coast
News got cancelled
Postboxes blew ginger-smelling bubbles
In mock celebration

Mobiles melted to monkey-shaped chocolate bars
Slushy icecaps re-frosted into post-stressed loners
A bored wall put on lipstick and ran away
To find a better life as a path
Ad hoardings broke down and begged for counselling
Politicians all stood naked in the square
Except for gigantic spinning sunglasses
And deluxe-brand nappies

A banana and a melon fell in love
Macho cars woke from their snoozes
Yawned, stretched and took a long walk in the park
Holding hands with the traffic lights
Newsman named a dead Afghan
Butterflies returned from vacation
Curious bell rang again
Clock went 7:37

Man awoke
Considered the realities
The unrealities
And possibilities of the day
For wasn't it a morning
To smile at fantasia
Walk through the triplight
And do something outstanding


Sunday, 26 July 2009

Living the fear: getting sick in the US

Don't get ill or injured in America. In particular, avoid those nasty terminal cancers and scary heart conditions. Unless you're super rich or have divine self-healing powers.

Barack Obama is promising universal healthcare for all US citizens. Well, they elected him to do just that. Didn't they? So, he'll do it, yes?

Not if
the big 'healthcare' corporations can help it. And it looks like it'll happen over their dead bodies - or, more likely, the bodies of the almost 50 million Americans without any meaningful health cover.

We've been here before, of course with the Clintons, those 'evangelists' for universal medicare. Just take a look at Michael Moore's Sicko to see how easily they were persuaded to drop such dangerous notions.

Having sorted that little 'health scare' with the usual corporate payoff, "Big Pharma" became even more vigilant donors to Hilary and Barack, serving to keep the Democrats calm and stabilised.

Now facing Obama's new 'health mandate', the private insurance industry are back in preventative voice, warning Americans about the 'malignant consequences' of 'socialised medicine'.

Alas, Obama's faltering defence of the healthcare bill before Congress appears symptomatic of his administration's pretence reform energies - deep-imaging a wider metastases across the US body politic. As this revealing piece on the President's lacklustre campaign ruminates:
"While Obama dealt in abstractions, his opponents went for the gut. On television, every other commercial is a scare story about government-administered medical care. "President Obama and his gang cannot run the healthcare industry, and they will create chaos if they try," crowed Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. "The folks know this, and that's why the president is taking a beating. He does not understand that freedom trumps ideological legislation." "
Still, here's a healthy looking prognosis for this freedom-trumping citizen:
"From 2000 to 2007, profits at the 10 largest publicly traded health insurance companies increased by 428%. The average CEO salary was $11.9 million. One year, the president of United Health made so much money that $1 in every $700 spent on healthcare in the US went to pay him."
And a few sobering reminders of why, for all its lamentable faults, we need to defend the NHS.
"Art critic Adam Mendelsohn stitched his own face after being bitten by a dog, because he couldn't afford a trip to casualty. He bought drugs in a pet shop, because "you can get amoxicillin and tetracycline from fish antibiotics". As a freelance writer, insurance is prohibitively expensive for him. "If there's something wrong with you, the first place you go is the internet, not a doctor," he says."

"I heard from a couple who were told to drive 100 miles to their primary care clinic when their baby caught pneumonia because it didn't qualify as an emergency; a woman who discovered a cyst on her ovary but can't afford the follow-up scan and must hope that it is benign; a lighting designer whose insurer pays for genetic breast cancer screening, but will double her premium if the test comes back positive; a taxi driver who ruptured his knee playing baseball, but cycled to hospital on one leg because it costs $1,000 to call an ambulance. These are mundane, everyday occurrences."
Yes, this is the country of 'choice', 'market opportunity' and 'individual freedoms'. It's also the country that lectures the Third World on healthcare and development while treating its own people as disposable flesh and bones.


Monday, 13 July 2009

East Jerusalem: the quiet eradication

Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign (GPHRC) have joined fellow internationals in expressing their resilient support for Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of East Jerusalem facing Israeli evictions and house demolitions.

Israel's purges are part of a systematic ethnic cleansing policy to secure control of all Jerusalem in perpetuity. Residents of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Ras Khamiis, Al Tur, Sur Beher and parts of the Old City have been subject to every legal pretext and falsification Israel can muster, with the Israeli courts shamelessly conspiring in the removal orders.

The recent eviction of the Al-Kurd family in Sheikh Jarrah, followed by the tragic passing of Mr Al-Kurd, has been met with admirable resistance by the family, neighbours and international supporters. Protest tents, intended as a defiant statement of dwelling rights, have been continuously torn down by Israeli forces and re-erected by protesters. Israeli contempt for homeless and threatened Palestinians has been matched with an unbending demand for legal justice and rights of tenure.

The Hannoun and al-Ghawe families of Sheikh Jarrah now face imminent eviction and imprisonment. Each has been forced to lodge NIS 50,000 guarantees to the Israeli courts, with the families' fathers facing jail unless they vacate their premises by 19 July 2009.

Maher Hannoun from Sheikh Jarrah is one of those awaiting eviction and jail. He speaks movingly here, at the new Stand Up For Jerusalem defence site, about the staggering violation of their human rights and the crucial need for active international support:
"As refugees and people living under occupation, we are asking people to help us with our struggle for our rights. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, Israel's authorities can get away with demolishing the homes of Palestinians in order to build settlements or national parks. The price we and our neighbours have to pay is too high, we are faced with two impossible choices - either we throw our kids out on the street or we go to prison. If we lose our homes, there is nowhere else for us to go, the only option we have is to live in tents. International solidarity gives us more power and strength to continue in our struggle and stay in our homes. We need support from people around the world to let everybody know about our story and pressure their governments to help stop this racist policy of house evictions and demolitions. "
As noted by the defence group:
"The Hannoun family are one of 27 families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem facing eviction from their homes as part of a plan to implant a new Jewish settlement in the area. The family are refugees from 1948, after being displaced from their home in Haifa during the Nakba, and currently consist of 18 people, 6 of whom are children. They have lived in Sheikh Jarrah since 1956 when the Jordanian Government and UNRWA gave them their houses as part of a project to house Palestinians forced to flee their homes."
Shamefully, the BBC has reported next to nothing of these brutal events and persecutions. Small wonder, then, that people approaching our GPHRC stall know little of the brutality taking place in East Jerusalem. Which, of course, inspires us all the more to spread the word.

Rather fittingly, a BBC film-maker visiting our stall also seemed perplexed as to the reasons for this non-reporting. While partially accepting the charge that the BBC (and other media) may have become "embedded" into an Israeli lifestyle - thus viewing daily Palestinian suffering as peripheral - and that there is substantive pro-Israeli sentiment at the BBC's higher echelons, he remains convinced that BBC journalists retain unfettered freedom to report without editorial interference.

Of course, neither he nor his senior colleagues willingly see, or seek to understand, the deeper institutional constraints under which they work. Which, again to illustrate our case, begs the question: why haven't the BBC's Jerusalem bureau been reporting the daily abuses in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of East Jerusalem? As with multiple requests to account for their non-reporting of daily Israeli aggression across the West Bank, no serious answer is forthcoming.

In short, if the BBC were saying things too critical, too often, of Israel, they wouldn't be where they are. That's why Orla Guerin was shunted out of Jerusalem after BBC Director General Mark Thompson's cosy visit to see Ariel Sharon. It's also why Jeremy Bowen was rebuked by the BBC Trust for 'straying' in his, fairly mild, criticisms of Israel. His resulting silence on the matter spoke further volumes about journalistic compliance.

It's taken persistent struggle to focus attention on the victimised of Sheikh Jarrah and the apartheid policies being executed in East Jerusalem. And it's been Palestinians and people from all around the world conducting support actions that have been critical in highlighting the issue.

Which all helps remind us of the axiomatic point that big power never relinquishes its thefts and oppressions voluntarily. Nor does the realisation of justice ever come through the varnished words of big political leaders - or media questioning of those words. Qualitative change comes about, rather, through determined, patient resistance from below - part of which includes indicting the media. It may be painful and incremental. But, just as unremitting internal and external campaigns helped expose the gaping contradictions of the South African state, so too is that momentum building in exposing the gross evils of the Israeli regime.

Neither, contrary to Zionist 'enquirers', hard and soft, at our stall, is it a question of "looking at both sides of the problem." Indeed, that kind of default line and fake appeal is a substantial, mendacious part of the problem. The real task, rather, is to isolate the principal aggression - still, as in Sheik Jarrah, being carried out - and to confront the principal aggressor behind it. All else is convenient obfuscation and prevarication, allowing for continued occupation and ethnic cleansing.

While Netanyahu and Obama engage in this latest round of US-Israeli overtures, Palestinians are being forcibly driven from their homes in East Jerusalem, the settlements remain in place - the 'stop expanding' line being another expedient diversion - and Gaza hangs on the brink of starvation.

As the al-Ghawe and Hannoun families contemplate eviction and jail, it's sobering to stop and think about the oppressive, racist psychology upholding that 'two sides' logic. What it's really saying is that the original and ongoing violation of Palestinian land and homes is of no primary significance. It's saying that international law and UN-defined rights are dismissable. It's saying that, unlike protected Israelis, Palestinians have no automatic, equal rights before Israeli courts. It's also saying that Palestinians should not even consider coming to the 'negotiating' table as equal parties, but as penitent, humble beggars requesting some of their remaining crumbs of land.

That's the kind of political, economic and military boot-in-the-neck version of a 'two state settlement' Israel has in mind. And the violent efficiency of that 'solution' is all too evident in East Jerusalem.

GPHRC wish to extend our continuing support and unrelenting solidarity with the families of Sheikh Jarrah and other threatened parts of East Jerusalem. The Israeli state can evict, demolish, incarcerate and murder. But they can never extinguish this human resistance or claim that most precious of resources: just cause. That belongs, as indisputably as the land rights and houses being stolen here, to the Palestinians.

In memory of Mr Al-Kurd.


Gaza: response (of sorts) from Tom Harris, MP

Following my initial letters, an exchange with Tom Harris on the Israeli military's boarding of the Spirit of Humanity, abduction of 21 peace activists and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.


House of Commons, London SW1A OAA

10 July 2009

Dear Mr Hilley

Many thanks for taking the time to get in touch recently with regard to your thoughts and concerns on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

I have written on your behalf to the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development, setting out the points that you have made and have asked that the relevant party take them into consideration and address your concerns.

As soon as I have received a response I will of course write to you again immediately.

Best wishes

Tom Harris MP
Member of Parliament for Glasgow South


Dear Mr Harris

Thanks for your reply and for writing to the departments noted. I hold out little prospect of a qualitative response or any serious intention to challenge the Israeli government over this and multiple other humanitarian violations and prima facie war crimes.

As you, no doubt, recall, I also asked for your own specific thoughts on these matters. I can only conclude that the absence of such in your letter indicates your own reluctance to condemn these aggressive and illegal actions.

I'm reminded here of Desmond Tutu's fine words:

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

Yours sincerely

John Hilley


Here's an illustration of Tom Harris's apologist leanings towards Israel couched in such 'neutral' language:
Tom congratulated the charity for its efforts in bringing aid to Gaza which suffered an air and ground assault by the Israeli military following months of rocket attacks against Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

"Israel has the right to defend itself, but the people of Gaza have a right not to live in fear and terror. I have written to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, expressing my concerns, and the concerns of many constituents who have contacted me in recent days, about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza."
It's this kind of coy, distorting response - in the face of constituents' concern over Israel's villainy - which only helps perpetuate the myth that the Palestinians are largely responsible for their own suffering. Which makes Mr Harris, in his refusal to denounce Israel as the primary aggressor, an effective accessory to that suffering.


Tuesday, 7 July 2009

M74 interlink: the madness approaches

It's coming. Soon. Like some all-consuming demon devouring every physical and rational obstacle before it.

The M74 link extension, a five-mile piece of motorway due for completion in 2011, will cut a merciless swath through Glasgow. The road will slice the city's populous south-side, bringing urban disconnection, chronic pollution and human displacement. Those hoping for extended urban regeneration promised by the nearby New Gorbals will now have to contend with a motorway in the middle of their neighbourhood. It's Glasgow's very own Age of Stupid.

From a new M8 exit at the Kingston Bridge to the Eglinton Street crossing - or Port Eglinton Viaduct as they've grandly designated it - multiple sets of looming columns, black-clad for temporary protection, stand like occupying giants ready to take the mass weight of road sections. Soaring above the main rail line and local businesses, the planners are hailing it as a triumphant structure. None, I'm sure, will have to live under its grim shadow.

Unlike the 'architectural' salariat who revel in such vandalism, residents of the small red-brick terraced houses on adjoining Devon Street can only gaze out in dreaded anticipation of the mass lines of traffic about to sweep across their window view. This was never pretty landscape. But it's about to become an even uglier dystopian nightmare.

The word "viaduct" is suggestive of heroic Roman edifice; progressive engineering bringing forth water, linking canals, spanning impossible gorges. This is a corruption of those noble feats and ideals.

Travel in places like Holland and you'll see motorway embankments and risings that have, at least, been made to look 'neutral,' even, dare one say it, artistically pleasing. There's nothing of that wasteful aesthetic here. This is big muscle concrete. Get used to it.

What might lie in the time capsule deep beneath this latest monument to car culture? Pictures of a pre-disturbed landscape? Sundry items depicting Glasgow circa 2011?

Maybe someone will think to include the Hickman Report (July 2004), commissioned by the Scottish Government and ignored, when published, due to its damning recommendations against the project. It probably won't get a place in the nostalgic casket, but it's been well and truly buried by a political-planner-business coterie determined to assure us 'unenlightened' citizens of the project's commercial, economic and environmental 'benefits'.

Uncomfortably for the high approvers, Hickman couldn't have been more specific in his considered disapproval. This road, he concluded, will have severe environmental consequences, including "community severance" problems, increased noise pollution and visual intrusions at multiple "sensitive locations". It won't reduce surface traffic significantly on Glasgow's streets, merely displacing it elsewhere, including approaches to new motorway junctions, while adding significantly to CO2 emissions. It will result in a higher volume of pollutants and potential health problems, as noted in witness evidence, for local people. The "regeneration" effect, notes Hickman, should also be treated as "cautionary", with the jobs created not necessarily all linked to the project involved.

In short, the detrimental warnings were all dutifully issued by Hickman:
"Drawing these numerous elements together, the evidence has shown that the proposal would be likely to:

* seriously hinder the achievement of important Scottish Executive commitments and objectives for traffic reduction, public transport improvements, and CO2 emissions;
* have very serious adverse impacts on the environment of communities along the route, both during construction and in operation;
* be at variance with policies to promote social inclusion and environmental justice;
* temporarily ease traffic congestion, to the benefit of car commuters and road freight transport, but that these benefits would be progressively lost due to continuing traffic increases, in the absence of measures to restrain and reduce traffic; and
* make a positive contribution to the local economy in Glasgow, South and North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, and East Renfrewshire, at the expense of the Forth valley, the Stirling area, Ayrshire, Inverclyde, and West Dunbartonshire.

"11.97 Drawing these various strands together, and looking at all the policy, transport, environmental, business, and community disadvantages of the proposal as a whole, it must be concluded that the proposal would be very likely to have very serious undesirable results; and that (in the context of the advice in the SACTRA report, the transfer of jobs from other parts of Scotland, and the potential harm to existing businesses along the route) the economic and traffic benefits of the project would be much more limited, more uncertain, and (in the case of the congestion benefits) probably ephemeral."
The six lane highway through the city will now cost in excess of £692 million, making it Britain's most expensive stretch of road, to date. Alongside the latest price hike, the contract award is also wrapped in controversy over a sole consortium tender. It's a colossal sum of public money that would have been better spent on sustainable transport infrastructure.

Part of the cost includes sealing contaminated land along the route to the connecting east-end Fullarton Junction, much of it polluted by chromium and other heavy metals. A construction worker at the Farmeloan Bridge section told me how those on site had been warned to "report any green substances" coming up through the ground. That must be a comforting thought for the people of Toryglen, Rutherglen and Farme Cross living alongside, also waking-up to the increased prospect of congestion-fuelled respiratory diseases. The violation of natural landscape at Auchenshuggle Woods seems, likewise, of little concern to the zealots of 'development'. As ever, human health and aesthetic rights come a long way behind corporate-defined 'progress'.

It's a staggering project to match the staggering indifference, incompetence and stupidity of its sponsors. Transport Scotland, Glasgow City Council and the corporate cabal they jointly serve have little regard for the eco implications here: private sector imperatives simply come first.

The concern of green campaigners is particularly felt, given the Scottish government's otherwise laudable commitment to wind power, renewables and refusal to countenance new Westminster-policy nuclear power plants.

In recognition of widespread calls, and in anticipation of the crucial Copenhagen climate change summit in December, the Scottish Parliament has just approved a 42 percent cut in carbon emissions for 2020 - ahead of the UK's 34 percent target for 2020.

While still allowing for technical opt-outs, the vote has been cautiously welcomed by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland chairman, Mike Robinson:

"It means Scotland's climate change bill has the toughest target of any industrialised nation in the world and will be held up as an example, ahead of the climate talks in Copenhagen in December, of what can and should be done". This is a moral commitment and we hope other developed nations will hear this call for action and follow Scotland's lead."

That 'model lead', alas, remains severely compromised by the Holyrood government's business-driven positions on aviation and road expansion. And this latest carbon-spewing roadway is a shameful testimony to their contradictory environmental claims.

Meanwhile, some worthy chroniclers at the urbanglasgow website are helping to record the ongoing construction/destruction for posterity, with pictures, articles and comment.

We can but wonder how this grotesque structure, and the case for it, will be judged in, hopefully, more eco-enlightened years to come.


Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Spirit of Humanity: Israel's high sea aggression

Israel has just carried out another act of state piracy in kidnapping twenty one peace activists aboard the Gaza-bound aid ship Spirit of Humanity.

I urge people to register their protests to the Israeli government.

An e-mail to chief Israeli spokesperson, Mark Regev:
Mr Regev,

I'm writing to request a serious explanation for the abduction of twenty one lawful peace activists from the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity. The boat, as you well know, was delivering nothing but humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

As you also know, it was attacked and boarded in international waters, twenty three nautical miles off the Gazan coast. This is indisputably illegal under international law.

You are also, I'm sure, aware that the International Red Cross has just released a key report stating, unequivocally, that 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza are "trapped in despair".$File/gaza-report-ICRC-eng.pdf

Have you the slightest regard for their pain and suffering? Do you understand why Israel is being condemned around the world for these gross violations? Have you any conception of your own part in this outrage and other war crimes?

I look forward to your reply.

John Hilley
Please also contact your MPs. Even if your elected member doesn't respond in positive support of the Palestinians and those abducted from the boat, it helps expose their endorsement of Israeli actions and part in British government inaction.

On which (non)expectant note, a letter to my MP, Tom Harris (Glasgow Central):

1 July 2009

Dear Mr Harris,

I'm writing to express my deep concern over the abduction of twenty one peace activists by Israeli naval forces from the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity. Among the crew was Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairéad Maguire and Theresa McDermott from Scotland.

The boat, delivering desperately-needed humanitarian aid to Gaza, was attacked and boarded yesterday in international waters, twenty three nautical miles off the Gazan coast. The actions of the Israeli military are clearly illegal under international law.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has just released a key report stating that 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza are "trapped in despair".$File/gaza-report-ICRC-eng.pdf

Their desperate situation has also been highlighted by other charitable organisations.

The people of Gaza are, as you know, also still suffering critical hardship after the recent mass Israeli attacks. Thus, there is no valid excuse for the blocking of this aid convoy or those intent on raising awareness of Israel's illegal siege.

As one of your constituents, I'd like you to record your outright condemnation of this unwarranted aggression. I also request that you ask the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to make a strong statement of protest to the Israeli government.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley


A further letter to Tom Harris (2 July 2009).

Dear Mr Harris,

I'm sending you this link citing the latest Amnesty International report, Operation 'Cast Lead': 22 days of death and destruction. It documents Israeli war crimes in Gaza and concludes that the failure to account for those crimes is likely to mean further civilian death and suffering.

As head Amnesty field researcher Donatella Rovera notes:

"Israel's failure to properly investigate its forces' conduct in Gaza, including war crimes, and its continuing refusal to cooperate with the UN international independent fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone, is evidence of its intention to avoid public scrutiny and accountability."

I'd like you to read it with reference to my previous communication on the illegal seizing of the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity.

I'd specifically like to know whether you accept these and other Amnesty findings which confirm other evidence of Israeli war crimes and corroborate the latest International Red Cross report stating that the people of Gaza are "trapped in despair".

I look forward to your considered reply.

Yours sincerely,

John Hilley


Full Amnesty report here.