Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Speeches

A few days ago, in Tucson, Arizona, a young man went out to buy a gun. He was a disturbed young man, someone who scared the people around him. But he got his gun, a Glock machine pistol, a brutally effective rapid-firing semi-automatic widely used by American police forces.

No one asked about his mental health or his intentions.

"This is America," said - or thought - the salesman, "he is entitled to carry arms."

A few days later, he went to the local mall and shot a politician, a member of Congress, called Gabrielle Giffords. The bullet traversed her skull but did not kill her.

Then he turned his gun at random on the people around him, shooting a judge, a nine year old girl and many others.

In hospital, yesterday, Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes and moved her arm again. She is not dead but will probably never live a normal life again.

Barack Obama spoke about this outrage the other day.

It was, by all accounts, a great speech. Even a Fox TV commentator called Glenn Beck congratulated him. Beck is rabidly opposed to Obama and what he stands for.

In his speech, the President talked about the lives of those who had died and of those who were injured by the gunman.

He talked about the heroism of the passers by who had disarmed and subdued the gunman.

Above all, thinking, perhaps, of his own young daughters, he talked about the nine year old girl who died, Christina Green. This is what he said:

"In Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic. Christina was given to us on 11 September 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called Faces of Hope."

"On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child's life. 'I hope you help those in need,' read one. 'I hope you know all of the words to the national anthem and sing it with your hand over our heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.'"

"If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today."

His words move me to tears.

I hope his words will also move Americans to take actions against the bilious hatred which has dishonoured their political discourse in recent months and the naked racism which has helped to fuel the disrespect which some Americans have shown to their properly elected leader, Barack Hussein Obama.

America, as a country and as a society, is a mass of contradictions. It can throw up political and spiritual greatness more often than Britain. But it sometimes wallows with relish in its own ignorance, spite and bile.

Yet the idealism of the founding fathers is still available and their spirit can invoked to refresh the libertarian impulses to which America was originally dedicated.

I cannot remember when I heard a British politician make a speech that either inspired me or moved me.

What a disappointing country mine has become when great events (and there have been great events in my lifetime) produce no tears, no ideals and little or no hope for the young.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Christmas - a time for taking stock

Overwhelmed again. I always seem to be at this time of the year.

Is Christmas a time when I notice more injustice, more incursions into the shrinking stock of personal and social liberties which we used to think we owned?

Or a time when more injustices are reported (in the hope that they will remain un-noticed because we are all drunk and stupefied with preparations for Christmas)?

First, there is the curious case of the undercover policeman who went by the name of Mark Stone and who spent seven years, no less, at an estimated cost of £250,000 per year infiltrating environmental movements and buddying up with Green activists.

He helped them with money and transport and to organize their entirely peaceful protests, all the while reporting back as much as he could to the shadowy and sinister National Public Order Intelligence Unit to which he had been seconded by the Met.

When six of the activists were charged with conspiracy, his evidence would have made it clear that they were not conspirators in the legal sense, that this particular group of six (out of some 146 people who were originally arrested) did not know the target of the planned non-violent demonstration.

It seems that he offered to come forward and reveal this and the case was immediately dropped.

What is truly shocking is that the Crown Prosecution Service either did not know about or chose to ignore his presence within the movement and his possible testimony.

The CPS would happily have fought to convict six innocent people if he had not crawled out of the woodwork in time to upset the legal applecart.

Indeed, it successfully convicted 20 people previously, from the same group, without revealing the existence of the police informers or appearing to take their prejudicial activities into account. These 20 people are appealing their sentences.

It all reminds me (as some newspaper columnists and correspondents have also pointed out) of GK Chesterton's novel, The Man who was Thursday, first published in 1908.

Seven bearded Anarchists meet each week to discuss plans for the violent overthrow of Britain and neighbouring states.

But, it transpires, every single one of them (including the Big Boss) is a plain clothes policeman working undercover.

If the British police spend millions of pounds on surveillance of peaceful and non-violent protesters, it seem that we are all, as I have often suspected, continually under surveillance and in danger of active repression or persecution if we attempt to defy the wishes of the government or the prevailing orthodoxy.

Certainly a group of letters in the Guardian on 28th. December, written in the wake of student protests about the huge proposed rises in university tuition fees, confirmed this feeling.

One correspondent, who lives in France, went so far as to suggest that British police are now even fiercer and more out of control than the notorious (and rightly feared) French riot police, the CRS.

"The police need to be made truly acccountable to prevent them turning into brutal bullies."

Other correspondents thought that it was too late, that the police already had turned into bullies - and worse.

A student writer drew attention to the police's 'kettling' tactics, confining peaceful demonstrators in a small area for long periods until the crowd's frustrations and the cramped conditions provoked exactly the types of disorder that the police were, in theory, there to prevent.

"People just wanted to go home and instead were crushed, left screaming and, in some cases, gasping for breath."

"This is not democracy, but repression." wrote a third correspondent. "The police are clearly being used for political ends. I look forward to .... the restoration of our right to protest without intimidation and violence."

Well, so do I.

But I don't think I will hold my breath.

And is 'restoration' the right word?

Did such a 'right' ever exist?

Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian in June 2008, made the following comments when discussing the proposal to make it possible for terror suspects to be detained for 42 days (seven weeks - just think about it - in a 'free country') without any formal charge.

"Let us be clear. Our liberties are under threat from two sides. They are threatened by terrorists, especially takfiri jihadist ones, exploiting new technologies and open society in order to kill, maim and terrify the innocent. And they are endangered by the overreaction from the state, eroding those liberties in the name of defending us against these threats. Taken to the extreme, that means strangling freedom to save it."

Repression and surveillance can have humorous aspects. This next letter made me laugh.

Liam O'Farrell to the Editor, the Guardian, December, 2009:

"I was stopped and searched twice near London City airport - for watercolouring! I was not even facing the airport. I was painting the Tate and Lyle sugar factory opposite. They said they saw me on a camera and thought that "no one would want to paint a factory." I explained that L.S. Lowry did loads. Then they said I could be an anarchist and I was carrying "suspicious paraphernalia" - this being a flask of coffee and an IPod. Oh, and a box of watercolours.
Once they had all my gear out, rummaged through what identity documentation I had and double-checked it on a few radios, they were satisfied that I was just "weird" and left me to it. Until the next week, when I went back to finish off the picture and had to go through the same rigmarole again.
I have painted in Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam and plenty of other "controlled" states and have never been questioned about watercolour anarchism."

Note: "In 2004/5, stop -and-search powers under Section 44 (of the Terrorism Act 2000) were used 33,000 times; the figure rose to over 117,000 by 2007/8. People were being stopped at random - children, tourists, photographers. Moreover, no one knows of a single conviction for a terrorist offence that arose as a result ..... The police were out of control." David Allen Green, New Statesman, 17th. January, 2011