Animal rights and wrongs

“AlanA” at Harry’s Place takes great exception to posters from animal rights campaigners Animal Aid which encourage people not to donate to charities which fund animal experiments. In particular he objects to a lady called Joan Court who appears in this poster, calling her ”a stupid woman who apparently believes that a human life – her life, indeed – is equal in value to a that of her carnivorous cat.” This post is based on two comments which I made there in response.

In my younger days I was a member of Animal Aid and took a keen interest in Animal Rights issues generally, and I did occasionally come across people like Joan Court who opposed vivisection despite having serious conditions themselves. Labelling such people as “stupid” for making a particular moral judgement which they are entirely entitled to make is pretty pathetic IMHO.

At the time I was completely opposed to vivisection but I reluctantly came believe that the benefits from using animals in experiments outweighed the moral objections, so I accept that there is a justification for a limited amount of such experiments (subject to tight controls) where it can be demonstrated that there are likely to be real benefits and there is no feasible alternate method. That doesn’t mean that the moral objections themselves are invalid and it’s an area where I still feel some discomfort, so I don’t agree with those who seem to dismiss such concerns entirely. Continue reading

The last acceptable prejudice

Liberal Conspiracy had an excellent piece earlier this week about the discrimination and persecution suffered by Romani citizens of various EU countries. I won’t quote excerpts here as it really is worth reading the whole thing, but I am glad to see that this rarely publicised issue is finally starting to get the attention it deserves (I’m not trying to claim any moral high ground here, this is my first post on the subject).

Two contrasting pieces in Saturday’s newspapers sum up the problem perfectly and show that even if this country does not have the kind of instututionalised discrimination seen in others bigotry towards the Roma is seemingly the last acceptable prejudice. Firstly, here is the Guardian

The European Union was today accused of “turning a blind eye” as countries across Europe carried out a wave of expulsions and introduced new legislation targeting the Roma.

Human rights groups criticised the EU for failing to address the real issues driving Europe’s largest ethnic minority to migrate in the first place and for choosing not to upbraid countries for breaking both domestic and EU laws in their treatment of them.

And here is the Express.

Now it has to be said that the Express is happy to display its own brand of racism towards all sorts of minority groups, immigrants and (especially) asylum seekers, so it would be unfair to accuse it of specifically targetting Roma, but it is still not unusual to hear people expressing views about “Pikeys” when they would never use phrases such as “Pakis” or “Yids”, and it is unlikely that the Express headline raised many eyebrows. This needs to change.

Socialised healthcare? Yes please!

Since I commented on Barack Obama’s difficulties last week things have improved for him considerably, with his healthcare reforms finally signed into law.

The final bill may not be entirely what many on the left were hoping for but given the entrenched interests he was battling against and the wholly dishonest and unprincipled disinformation campaign by his opponents (“death panels” etc) this is still a considerable achievement.

Unsurprisingly there has been a rather hysterical reaction from opponents on the right, for example this from GOP congressman Devin Nunes

Today we are turning back the clock. For most of the 21st century, people fled the ghosts of communist dictators and now you’re bringing the ghost back into this chamber. With passage of this bill, they will haunt Americans for generations. Your multi-trillion dollar health care bill continues the Soviets, failed Soviet socialist experiment. It gives the federal government absolute control over healthcare in America.

Well quite, why would Americans want a socialised, communist even, system like that in the UK – where the state exerts so much control over our healthcare, spending our tax dollars (or rather pounds) with abandon?

P.S. According to the OECD, public spending on health in 2007 as a proportion of GDP was -

UK – 6.86%
USA – 7.26%

Thoughts on assisted suicide

I have to say that euthanasia is one issue on which I genuinely find it impossible to reach a firm opinion. Still it’s right that the CPS has issued guidelines clarifying the law on assisted suicide – if people really feel moved to carry out such a drastic act they should at least know where they stand legally. What I don’t quite understand though is, given that these guidelines have mainly arisen from people travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end their lives, why citizens of this country should be prosecuted for something they did in a foreign country which is not illegal in that country. While there are some crimes (such as torture) which are so grave as to transcend national boundaries I think in general that people should be expected to obey the laws of whichever country they happen to be in at the time.

Incidentally, watching a report on this issue on last night’s news I was slightly disconcerted to hear my wife wonder aloud how much places such as Dignitas charge. I mean I’ve only got a slight cold FFS.

A banker writes

No doubt by the time you read this I and my colleagues will be manning the barricades, creating makeshift shelters from upturned desks and filing cabinets in order to repel the rampaging hordes at our doors, at least if the combined wisdom of the media and the City of London police is to believed. As someone working in a bank in the City I have been subject to various dire warnings about the possible events of the next 48 hours and the various precautions we should take to protect ourselves from the inevitable mayhem.

Bankers are told to avoid wearing business clothes in order to be less conspicuous, presumably on the basis that the standard garb for anarchistic anti-capitalist protesters is polo shirts, chinos and loafers. Now even jeans and trainers are allowed, next they will be telling us to sport dreadlocks and have a dog on a piece of string. We are told to cancel routine business meetings, not to leave the building unless it is absolutely essential, people due to visit local clinics for medical appointments have had them cancelled.

Of course it is true that there have been previous demonstrations which have ended in violence, notably the May Day protests in 2000. But I also remember most of that day being entirely peaceful and good natured – I remember going out at lunchtime and there was a big party going on in Lower Thames Street with sound systems and people on unfeasibly tall stilts. It was good fun and not in the slightest threatening or intimidating. OK a few idiots spoiled things later on, but then there were also certain City types fanning the flames by hanging out of their windows waving £20 notes at the protesters.

But what really gets me is that we are essentially being braved to weather a descending hoard of alien beings, as if somehow those protesting and those of us who work in the City are different species altogether. OK, there are probably some amongst both groups who think this – protesters who see us as evil capitalists and colleagues who look down on them as the great unwashed, but I never believed this was really true before and I think this is even less so now. I expect a lot of the protesters will not be of the kind on previous demonstrations in the city – they will be “ordinary” (no disrespect meant to them or the others) people angry at the damage which has been done by certain people within our industry, and quite rightly so. And we are angry as well, our jobs are at risk or have already been lost, we have families to support and bills to pay and most of us are not earning huge salaries and getting mega bonuses. We also have friends and families who are suffering. This is certainly not a plea for sympathy, maybe some will see me as a hypocrite, but I just want to point out the absurdity of the idea of us being penned in our offices for our own “safety” from people who are no different from us who just want to vent their entirely reasonable anger and frustration at a system that has failed.

So I hope that as many people as possible turn up tomorrow, and hope and expect that it will be a peaceful (ok, noisy but non-violent) occasion. I hope the police will not be as ridiculously heavy handed as I fear they may be. And assuming I am not manacled to my desk for my own safety I will certainly pop out for a while to give my (possibly unwelcome) support.

Update (8am on 1st April): Just walked into the office to find it had been taken over by anarchists. Then I realised that it was just my normal colleagues but they were wearing jeans. Phew!

Privatising the mail

So Peter Mandelson has pledged to proceed with the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail despite strong opposition from Labour MPs.
The main reason given in justification is that the Royal Mail needs a substantial cash injection in order to modernise. Leaving aside the point made in the linked article that it has already received a loan of £1.2bn of which £600m still remains unspent, does anyone else not think it odd that when the privately* owned banks need an injection of capital they have to run to the Government for it but when the Government owned Royal Mail needs the same thing it has to go to the private sector?

*Of course the banks are PLC’s, I use the term “privately” to distinguish them from the “publicly” owned Royal Mail.

Human Rights and responsibilities

Today sees the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it’s good to see that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is commemorating the event by, er, planning to water down our own human rights laws. In an interview with the Daily Mail he has vented his frustration with the Human Rights Act

The Justice Secretary’s admission that he is ‘frustrated’ by the way the Act has sometimes been interpreted by the courts alarmed campaigners.
He told the Mail there were genuine public concerns about the way it is being exploited by criminals and extremists to hide from the law. [...]
The Justice Secretary sympathises with those who complain that the act has become used by prisoners to avoid punishment or by Islamic extremists to avoid deportation.
He tells the Mail that he wants to ‘rebalance’ the rights set out in the Human Rights Act by adding explicit ‘responsibilities’, specifically to obey the law and to be loyal to the country. […]
He said: ‘I fully understand that Mail readers have concerns about the Human Rights Act. There is a sense that it’s a villains charter or that it stops terrorists being deported or criminals being properly given publicity. I am greatly frustrated by this, not by the concerns, but by some very few judgments that have thrown up these problems.’

There are three main planks to his argument. Firstly he buys in to the Mail’s “villain’s charter” line by complaining that the act is often used by criminals. Well that’s the thing about human rights – we possess them by virtue of being human, not by being law-abiding and they apply to the worst of us as well as the best. In fact an essential part of any charter or bill of rights is how we are treated when suspected of a crime (guilty or not) and if we are subsequently convicted. Furthermore, given the squalid state of our prison system it is hardly surprising that the government is found to be in breach of the HRA in the way some prisoners are treated. Of course there may be individual rulings which seem perverse (although it’s important to separate these from myths such as rioting prisoners being given KFC meals because of the HRA) but I see no evidence that there is any widespread abuse of the HRA which would require it to be amended. Continue reading

Whitewashing the police

In my previous post I highlighted the damning contradiction in the account of the police’s actions given by the coroner in his opening statement to the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. Now I don’t claim that Nick Cohen (or anyone else for that matter) reads Mutantblog but he certainly has no time for the kind of sentiments I expressed and is keen to turn the spotlight from the police onto those who condemn their actions. (Thanks to Aaronovitch Watch). The arguments he makes are essentially a rehash of those which have consistently been made over the last three years by those who defend the police, and we will no doubt hear them again during the course of the inquest, so it is worth addressing them. Continue reading

It’s time they were held to account

Reading accounts of the start of the inquest into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes I was struck by two remarks the coroner, Sir Michael Wright, made in his opening statement -

“Both officers said that they were convinced that Mr de Menezes was a suicide bomber, that he was about to detonate a bomb and unless he was prevented from doing so everybody present was going to die.”

“It does appear that by the time Mr de Menezes had entered Stockwell station, no member of the surveillance team had positively identified him.”

The incongruity of these statements is as good an indication as any of the level of incompetence and downright negligence of the police operation. I guess many of us have almost given up hope that those responsible might be forced to actually pay for the consequences of their actions, and the purpose of the inquest is not to apportion blame to individuals, but at least they will have to face Jean Charles’s family and be questioned by their legal team. I suspect it will look very very bad for them and they will richly deserve the opprobrium they will doubtless receive.