Happy 2020, 2019 heroes and villains


This 1 January 2020 video from India is called Happy New Year 2020 | Diu Fireworks 2020 Love Point.

First, a happy 2020 to all readers of this blog!

Daily The Morning Star in Britain on 31 December 2019 had this article:

Heroes and villains of 2019

The Morning Star sorts the good eggs from the rotten scoundrels of the year

HEROES

Jeremy Corbyn greets a massive crowd in Bristol before the general election this year

Jeremy Corbyn

THE Labour leader may be stepping down in the new year but in four-and-a-half years he has done much to change his party and British politics.

Labour is a much larger party than it was, and the revival of socialist ideas has shaken the Establishment and seriously breached the neoliberal consensus that has dominated “official” politics since Thatcher.

His dignified leadership when subjected to sickening slander and abuse by MPs and a shamelessly partisan media demonstrated great strength and if he lost important battles, including ultimately this month’s election, his was often a warning voice against the very policies that damaged Labour.

Defence of Corbyn’s legacy in the party and movement will be an important part of developing a socialist fightback against the Tory government.

Captain Carola Rackete

Carola Rackete on board the Sea Watch 3 (Pic: Till Egen / Sea Watch)

Rackete struck a blow against fortress Europe this summer when she and the crew of a refugee ship defied Italy’s former interior minister Matteo Salvini by disembarking 40 refugees on Lampedusa.

On June 12 the crew of the Sea Watch 3, a ship operated by German charity Sea Watch, rescued 53 refugees.

The ship was forced to stick to international waters off the coast of Lampedusa for 17 days.

While the ship was stranded and 13 of the rescued were evacuated by helicopter to hospitals, back in Italy Salvini introduced fines of up to €1,000,000 (£852,626) for any ships that brought in rescued non-Europeans into the country without permission.

On June 28, Capt Rackete entered a port in Lampedusa and disembarked the rescued despite Salvini’s ban.

Italian prosecutors charged Capt Rackete with “resisting a warship”, an offence which carries up to 10 years in prison, for colliding with a small police boat that attempted to block the ship while entering the port.

The Italian authorities kept hold of the Sea Watch 3 for six months. But yesterday the rescue vessel finally left Sicily to resume life-saving operations.

Capt Rackete, the Sea Watch crew and the rest of the civil refugee rescue fleet should not be criminalised for carrying out the vital humanitarian work the EU should be doing.

Their willingness to stand up to the EU’s wretched treatment of refugees and refusal to stand by as hundreds of thousands drown in the world’s deadliest border is truly inspirational.

Greta Thunberg

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg holds a sign with writing reading in Swedish, 'School strike for the climate' as she attends a climate march, in Turin, Italy

YOUNG Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg received huge international recognition this year for her outstanding commitment to put pressure on global governments.

In May, Greta was featured on the cover of Time magazine, naming her a “next-generation leader”, but she has already been widely accepted as a role model by hundreds of thousands of young people across the world joining in on the Youth Climate Strikes.

However, her rise into the spotlight did make her a target for rotten world leaders like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who called the 16-year-old with Aspergers a “brat”, and US President Donald Trump said she “must work on her anger management problem”.

Greta cooly responded by changing her Twitter biography to the leaders’ descriptions. And not many people can say they have sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and back to attend climate talks.

US women’s football team

This 7 July 2019 video is called USA v Netherlands – FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ – THE FINAL.

The United States won the 2019 Women’s World Cup in convincing fashion. But that isn’t the reason why they are on this list.

Their ongoing equal pay dispute against the US Soccer Federation has sparked other teams across the world to demand equality and they are winning that battle.

The best player in the world, Ada Hegerberg, missed the World Cup as she continues to demand equality across women’s football — although the Norwegian Football Federation did reach an agreement with Norway’s players’ association in 2017 for an equal pay deal between men and women.

We’ve seen the Australian women’s national team reach a deal this year, the Spanish women’s league vote in favour of strike action as they negotiate working hours and minimum wages.

And it’s not just football. Sweden’s women’s ice hockey side boycotted a tournament over sexual inequality.

The US football team certainly weren’t the first team to battle for better pay for women, but it shone a light on the world of football and forced some important people to question the way the sport is run.

French pension strikers

Demonstrators march with banners and union flags during a protest against pension reform plans in Paris

Since December 5, French workers in transport, education, tourism, the arts and many other walks of life have been striking against President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to raise the pension age and replace collectively bargained pension schemes with an individualised system that will mean working longer for less.

Rallies have drawn as many as 800,000 people onto the streets and the workers show no signs of giving up with public opinion solidly behind the action.

Solidarity to all French workers in this struggle — you’re an inspiration to us across the Channel.

VILLAINS

Rico Back

This 26 July 2018 video from Britain is called BREAKING! MPs say fat cat pay of Rico Back Orna Ni Chionna hurting Royal Mail.

As head of Royal Mail’s European subsidiary GLS, Back presided over what German investigative reporter Gunter Wallraff described as “human misery” and “a form of modern slavery in the heart of Germany.”

Staff worked long hours with no breaks and were forced to drive when dangerously tired.

In 2018 he was given charge of Royal Mail itself with a £790,000 pay package and a £5.8 million golden hello.

His efforts to hive off its parcels delivery service, fragmenting the company and threatening the universal service obligation and collective agreements on workers’ pay and conditions, prompted a massive 97 per cent vote for national strike action on a 76 per cent turnout among Royal Mail’s 110,000-strong workforce.

He ran to the law and had it overturned by courts in a ruling that bodes ill for the future of the right to strike in Britain.

Iain Duncan Smith

This 2015 video is called Iain Duncan Smith welfare plans ‘will strike fear’ into sick.

Most of Duncan Smith’s crimes date from before 2019, but the news that he will be knighted as Tory rule enters its second decade should prompt us to remember names like Karen Sherlock, Elaine Lowe, Mark Wood, Jacqueline Harris and David Clapson, to select just a few of the people whose deaths can be attributed to the horrific “fit-for-work” campaign and the punitive benefit sanctions regime.

One of the most terrifying achievements of reactionary government is to create a new normal in which we tolerate things that would previously have provoked outrage.

As Thatcher normalised permanent mass unemployment, we can point to Duncan Smith for bringing us to the point where people such as Clapson or Wood can starve to death in their homes and those like Harris or Sherlock can be hounded to death by the state.

This is Tory Britain, and Duncan Smith the chief ideologue of a nasty and brutal new reality.

Narendra Modi

India's Hindu nationalist president Narendra Modi

When Modi was elected in 2014 he was feted by liberals and conservatives alike. Most ignored warnings that the BJP he heads evolved out of the fascist paramilitary RSS that is still deployed to batter and kill Muslims, Christians, women, lower-caste Hindus, communists and trade unionists the length and breadth of India, and like the RSS, is committed to replacing the secular republic founded in 1947 with a Hindu theocracy.

Modi himself was deeply implicated in the massacres of Muslims during the Gujarat riots of 2002, when he was that state’s chief minister.

Now the Islamophobic Citizenship Amendment Act, which violates India’s constitution by applying a religious criterion to asylum applications for the first time, has brought millions onto the streets in resistance.

Let’s hope this spells the beginning of the end for this poisonous politician.

Jeanine Anez

This 4 December 2019 video from the USA says about itself Medea Benjamin on Bolivia Coup: Jeanine Anez’ Party Only Got 4% of the Vote!

This opposition senator was picked by Bolivia’s military and invested with the presidency by an inquorate National Assembly, after the army ordered re-elected president Evo Morales out of office.

As investigations from the US-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research have demonstrated, claims there were problems with Morales’s election were not based on any evidence.

South America’s first indigenous president in modern times was overthrown in a coup, while the likes of Anez brandished bibles and denounced the Andean Pachamama goddess in thinly veiled racist language.

No surprises when Anez herself is on record tweeting that “the Indians” do not belong in La Paz but should be driven back to the mountains.

When the military takeover prompted mass protests, police and army killed scores of mostly indigenous demonstrators and charged Morales with treason and sedition.

What Mexico and Argentina rightly call the “de facto” government in Bolivia has no legitimacy.

Prince Andrew

British Prince Andrew and Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The royal’s friendship with billionaire child abuser Jeffrey Epstein, who died this year in suspicious circumstances, has exposed a twilit world of exploitation and abuse.

A widely derided “tell-all” interview is no substitute for the demand, long refused outright by Buckingham Palace, that he go to the US to answer the accusations against him.

Prince Andrew is a reminder of all that is wrong with the monarchy and of the terrible consequences when the powerful can treat other human beings as their playthings.

Racism in the British armed forces


This video from Britain says about itself:

Army Racism 9 3 2007

Marlon Clancy, British Commonwealth Soldiers Union,, explains how white British soldiers dressed as KKK members chased him and threatened to burn him. Commonwealth troops serving in British forces have complained of racist comments/assaults and being told they were inferior to white soldiers.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Racism in the military appearing with ‘increasing and depressing frequency’

RACISM in the armed forces is appearing with “increasing and depressing frequency”, its official ombudsman warned today.

Nicola Williams, the service complaints ombudsman for the armed forces, called on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to do more to tackle racism among service personnel.

She said: “I would absolutely say the army and the armed forces have issues with racism which need to be tackled.”

It comes after a high-profile case in September in which an employment judge ruled that two former paratroopers were subjected to “highly offensive” racial harassment.

Nkululeko Zulu and Hani Gue said that they had suffered racial discrimination and harassment and that the army did not take reasonable steps to prevent it.

The tribunal heard that someone had drawn a swastika, a Hitler moustache and the words “f*** off” and “n******” on photographs of the men at their barracks, which was only accessible by key.

Employment judge Richard Baty said it was “unquestionably related to race”, elaborating in a written judgment that the unknown perpetrator sought to create an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment” for the two men.

An annual report from the ombudsman last year highlighted that the service complaints system was not “efficient, effective or fair.”

British insects and foreign plants, new research


This 2017 video is called ★ 10 Beneficial Insects You Want in the Garden (Insect Guide).

From the University of York in England:

UK insects struggling to find a home make a bee-line for foreign plants

December 16, 2019

Non-native plants are providing new homes for Britain’s insects — some of which are rare on native plants, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of York discovered that foreign plants — often found in our gardens and parks — were supporting communities of British insects, including pollinators like butterflies, bees and hoverflies as well as beetles, bugs, and earwigs. For example, native Loosestrife weevils were commonly found consuming the non-native European wand loosestrife, and solitary bees were found visiting the flowers of non-native agave-leaved sea holly plants.

Lead author PhD student Roberto Padovani, from the Department of Biology, said: “We are rapidly altering the face of our planet, and creating more and more human-made habitats which are providing unexpected homes for nature, and in this case, it is foreign plants supporting the UK’s insect communities.”

“It was fascinating to observe the diversity of insects on non-native plants, from pollinators to bugs like crickets and lacewings and beetles like ladybirds and weevils.”

Professor Chris Thomas, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity at York and one of the co-authors, added: “The movement of plants into new regions has been a defining feature of the past few centuries, and non-native plants are now present in very high numbers in most countries across the globe.”

“This trend is almost certain to continue, and so it is vital that we understand the processes that determine how insects associate with these non-native plants.”

The work represents a collaboration between the University of York, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the Royal Horticultural Society. They observed that insects were associated with both native and non-native garden plants in a highly controlled experiment that ran for six years. They additionally tested the data within a national-scale database that details a century of insects associating with plants in the UK.

The largest numbers of insect species were found on non-native plants that are closely related to native British plants, and on plants which today grow over a larger geographical area, and hence have become more fully integrated into the British flora.

Not surprisingly, the greatest numbers and diversity of insects were typically found on native plant species. However, non-native plants supported unique communities of British insects, including many species that were rare on native plants.

Roberto Padovani added: “A balance of both native and non-native plants may help provide a home for the widest variety of insects in our gardens. It is important to ensure that at least a third of plants are native, as the research suggests that these plants provide the best home for most insects. However, the presence of some non-native plants may help provide a home for unusual or rare British insects that may be struggling to find a home on our native plants.”

Origins of fascism in Britain


A 1919 newspaper cutting of the Union of Italian ex-soldiers, London Section

By Alfeo Bernabei:

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The first seed of fascism planted outside Italy was in London

Through their leadership of the Italian diaspora and a newspaper, a small group of embittered war veterans laid the foundations of fascism in Britain 100 years ago this month, writes ALFIO BERNABEI

ON November 4 1919, a group of London-based Italian world war veterans set up an association called Unione Reduci Militari Italiani — Sezione di Londra — (URMI). The name stood for Union of Italian ex-soldiers, London Section.

This association claimed to represent hundreds of Italian immigrants in Britain who had been called to serve with the Italian army when Italy entered the war in 1915. When the war ended, they were free to return and resume their occupations.

The leaders of the newly born URMI association in London stated: “We intend to solemnly declare before everyone that our sacrifice [in the war] has made us conscious not only of our duty but also of our rights” and elected themselves as the driving moral force in the Italian community in Britain, which was then made up of approximately 20,000 migrants.

The first president of URMI was Giacomo Luigi Novelli, a London-based travel agent who described himself as “one who prefers action to words”. Among its most prominent members was Antonio Cippico, a lecturer at University College London. Another member was Achille Bettini, who later was to describe himself as a fascist “of the first hour.”

Given that the Fascio di combattimento, or Fascio of combat, had been set up in March 1919 at a meeting in Milan presided over by Benito Mussolini, it seems fair to describe the London association set up a mere eight months later as born in its shadow — the first seed of fascism planted outside Italian territory.

Eight months later, on June 5 1920, URMI launched a four-page weekly newspaper in Italian called La Cronaca. It had an address in Little Howland Street, central London, with ex-Captain Giovanni Savani as editor, later described among the founders of the London Fascio.

The first editorial of La Cronaca was unsigned — URMI claimed to be free of ties from political parties, yet one of the first articles was signed “ARDITO”, “the bold one,” a definition that by that time was acquiring strong associations with the fascist movement and the Blackshirts.

It was at the end of December 1920 that La Cronaca described fascism as a largely justifiable “insurrection of men and sticks against red violence.” Three months later it splashed across the front page a title that proclaimed “L’ora del Fascismo” (the hour of fascism).

Formally, the “Fascio Italiano di Combattimento a Londra” (The Italian fighting fascio in London) was established on June 12 1921.

On December 17 of the same year, the first notice appeared in La Cronaca headed Partito Nazionale Fascista, Sezione di Londra (Italian National Fascist Party, London Section) and on January 7 1922, the newspaper announced the first general assembly of the London branch of the party.

It wasn’t long before the Italian fascists found sympathisers among some British admirers of Mussolini. The seed that had been planted in 1919 was taking root.

Alfeo Bernabei is an Italian journalist and historian.

Two years after Grenfell, British fire unsafety


Tenants from Salford, England, whose housing blocks are covered with cladding joined a protest at the department for local government demanding the cladding be made safe

From daily News Line in England:

Over 2 Years Since Grenfell Inferno And Still 321 High-Rise Blocks Have Yet To Be Made Safe

14th October 2019

DESPITE it being well over two years since the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 men, women and children, only one out of 158 social housing blocks wrapped in the same flammable cladding was made safe last month.

The shocking news comes as the deadline for works to strip all the towers of their flammable cladding and replace the cladding with a fire-proof alternative looms by the end of the year.

Of the 158 high-rise social housing blocks identified as having the Grenfell-style cladding, work to replace that cladding has completed on only 61 (39%), while work is yet to begin on 16 (10%).

The summary of the figures just released displaying progress up till the end of September 2019 states: ‘Summary of latest figures:(as at 30th September 2019) – there are 114 high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings in England that have completed remediation works to remove and replace Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding systems – an increase of three since the end of August.

‘This leaves a total of 321 high-rise residential and publicly-owned buildings with ACM cladding systems unlikely to meet Building Regulations yet to be remediated in England.

‘Of the 97 social sector residential buildings with ACM cladding systems unlikely to meet Building Regulations yet to be remediated:

  • 81 have started remediation;
  • 15 have a remediation plan in place but works have not started; and 1 building has reported an intent to remediate and is developing plans.’

A government spokesperson admitted: ‘Progress has been far too slow and due to inaction from some building owners, we have committed £600m to speed up the pace of remediation.

‘Building owners are responsible for making their buildings safe and inaction will not be accepted. If necessary, we will publicly name those who do not act during the course of the autumn.

‘There is no excuse for further delay – and building owners who have not yet taken the necessary steps. They must take immediate action and apply for the remediation fund.’

What makes matters worse, the government has only banned flammable cladding on buildings built after December 21st last year, and only if they are higher than 18 metres tall!

The government placed a ban on combustible materials on new high-rise homes, implemented through the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 laid on 29th November 2018).

The regulations came into force on 21st December with a two-month transitional period.

This means that new blocks under 18 metres tall can still be wrapped in the same flammable cladding responsible for rapidly spreading the fire at the Grenfell Tower.

As a result a building in Coventry has been deemed 60 centimetres too short to have its flammable cladding stripped.

The building in Coventry will not be stripped of Grenfell-style cladding because it falls less than a metre outside of government fire regulations.

Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding was found on student accommodation block Merlin Point, on Deasy Road, during an inspection by West Midlands Fire Service two years ago.

But current government legislation states it is only a requirement for the cladding to be removed from buildings 18 metres or higher – Merlin Point is 17.4 metres.

That means it is 60 centimetres (23 inches) too short.

Building owners Beechfield Estates Limited (BEL) said the fire office has told them the tower ‘is in compliance with all fire safety regulations’ and ‘is safe’, adding an external building engineering consultancy firms has further advised the small amount of partial cladding – which is on ‘strips between the windows’ – does not need to be removed, and that they have no plans to do so.

However, the fire service has said it ‘remains disappointed’ with the government’s 18m ban and feels it ‘should have gone further’ while Coventry city councillor Ed Ruane, former cabinet member for housing, believes the ACM cladding should not be on any building regardless of height and has called for a change in legislation.

He said: ‘The government has banned this type of cladding on buildings of 18 metres. This is 17.4 metres.

‘They identified this material two years ago and still the material remains on the building.

‘Whether it is 17.4 metres or not, to have dangerous materials on the exterior of the building should not be the case and they should be taking measures to remove it immediately.

‘We should be at a point where we do not put any flammable material on buildings of this height.

‘The idea that it is half a metre under the specified length is ridiculous.’

Meanwhile, A Bristol university accommodation block has failed fire safety tests following the Grenfell Tower Disaster.

Waverley House in Queen Charlotte Street is one of Bristol University’s city centre halls of residence.

The building is one of six blocks owned by Unite Students – housing more than 2,500 students in total – which failed government combustibility tests on cladding.

Two others were in London, two in Leeds, and one in Portsmouth.

The Bristol building has accommodation for 208 students, with rooms costing between £134.32 per week to £208.37 per week.

All students have been informed by letter and reminded of emergency fire protocol.

A Unite Students spokeswoman claimed: ‘Safety is our first priority. Based on the advice of experts from the relevant local fire authorities and bearing in mind the wide range of fire prevention measures we have in place, we believe our buildings are safe for occupation.

‘Over the long term, we’re committed to making sure all our buildings are as safe as possible and will continue working with the government, local fire authorities and other fire safety experts, particularly as the next phase of the government’s testing scheme progresses.

‘Based on the outcome of this testing and the advice we are given, we will do everything necessary to ensure our buildings remain safe.’

The company said local fire authorities had inspected each of the affected properties and were happy for them to remain occupied, some pending minor adjustments.

These adjustments will be implemented ‘immediately’ and include moving the communal smoking area from the ground floor and carrying out regular patrols to make sure areas are clear of rubbish or potentially combustible items.

The company, which houses around 50,000 students across 28 UK cities, is awaiting results from the second phase of testing announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government.