Tuesday, 16 January 2018

"Fire and Fury" - a personality driven roller coaster ride through the first 12 months of the Trump presidency

by Michael Wolff

Published by Little Brown

This much publicised book offers a personality driven roller coaster ride through the first year of the Trump presidency.

Author Michael Wolff takes the reader on a white knuckle journey through a series of debacles that have come to characterise Trump’s first year as President.

Central though to the account are the different characters and factions, constantly at war with each other amid a dysfunctional administration

The overidding impression is of a chaotic Whitehouse struggling to serve an unfit for purpose President.

Early on Wolff draws a parallel between the Mel Brooks film the Producers and the Trump election campaign.

In the film, everything will work out, just so long as the play being produced flops, so with the Trump campaign, everything would be fine  just so long as he lost. Wolff referes to how Trump was using the campaign as a pre-runner to getting better TV exposure. All started to unravel once the candidate triumphed.

The title Fire and Fury refers to what the Trump campaign had planned to release, once they had lost the election to Hilary Clinton. The phrase has ofcourse since been used to describe what Trump would release on North Korea, if the leader of that country continued to taunt him.

The sterotyping process, so often deployed by Trump provides some amusing asides, such as when the administration, having railed about the liberalism of Obama, finds that many of the measures they are proposing on immigration had already been enacted by the previous administration.

Wolff spares no blushes, as he runs through the different characters in the Trump Whitehouse. There is a constant battle between the different factions represented by Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and the President’s daugher Ivanka and son in law Jared Kushner. The latter became known as Javanka.

Bannon is seen as the representative of the far right backers. Chief of staff, Priebus is the Republicans representative, working closely with House leader Paul Ryan. Jarvanka are more from the Democratic wing of things. All hate each other.

The book chronicles the institutional failures, as well as the ongoing litany of very public disasters, from the firing of FBI director James Comey, to North Korea name calling and the Charlottseville statue riots.

The ongoing disaster that is the Trump presidency can be measured by the fact that many of the debacles chronicled now seem long ago, overtaken by more recent attacks on African and Latin American countries and dissing of the US embassy in the UK.

A central prediction in the book seems to be that the links with Russia during the election campaign are likely - courtesy of the way the Comey firing was handled, resulting in the appointment of a special prosecutor - to be the final undoing of Trump, somewhere down the line.

Wolff certainly gives the impression of an unhinged President, seemingly unable to think rationally, unpredictable and unable to be contained by an increasingly exasperated staff.

The references to staff leaving or refusing to join the administration for fear of the damage that association will do to their careers is another amusing aside.

Wolff has produced a fascinating book, giving a real insight into the turmoil of the Trump Whitehouse. A bit breathless at times, and gossip column like in style, the author sometimes oversteps the mark, such as when quoting what the likes of Bannon are thinking. But on the whole this is a gripping read, though scary when one thinks through the implications of such a volatile character in the Whitehouse.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Passing of Ray Cavanagh - a battler for justice and peace

1931 - 2017

Ray Cavanagh was a  fighter for justice and peace throughout his life.

Founder and chair of the Brentwood diocesan ethical investment working group, Ray was also a member of the Northern Ireland working group and later human rights committee.

It was as chair of the Northern Ireland and Human Rights Committee I got to know Ray and  his wife Rose. The committee did good work, raising the issues of the north of Ireland when the majority of the British population preferred to look elsewhere. The group also worked on a number of miscarriage of justice cases.

The institutional church was not always appreciative of our efforts, making too many waves for some. But the members of the group thought that was what we were there to do. Ray in his quiet way was always there standing up for the work and putting his head, together with the rest of us, above the parapet. He could also always be relied on to back you up in difficult times.

Sadly, the structure of the Brentwood Justice and Peace Commission was swept away in the early noughties - another of those unaccountable hierarchial decisions for which the Catholic Church is so well known.

There had been some excellent people involved, including Ray and Rose, Jose Campbell, Kathy Piper and Theresa Helm.

The work of justice and peace though continues, particularly at parish level. Ray and Rose’s church the Most Holy Redeemer in Billericay has a J&P group that has been running since the 1980s. Ray was chair, playing an active part in street homeless collections and supporting refugees.

Ray came to England from Ireland in the 1950s, where he met and married Rose. The couple had one daughter Marie. Ray worked as an accountant for many years, before retiring in Billericay. He was active in retirement before being over taken by Parkinsons.

He was active in the church locally and at diocesan level, being part of the Catenians, as well as Justice and Peace.

It has been an honour to know Ray and be able to pay tribute to his great work over the years at his funeral today. He is one of those who helped keep the flame of justice burning, someone whose passing leaves big shoes to fill.


Monday, 8 January 2018

Celebrate climate success

There is much gloom and doom spoken about the demise of the planet with the growing threats of climate change and pollution.

The challenges are great, make no mistake, but there comes a time to celebrate the successes.

Amongst the good news has been the growth of renewable energy sources across the world. Renewable sources provided more than 50% of energy in the UK at times last year.

This has often been due to individuals, schools and companies having solar panels on their roofs.

The power generated from wind energy has also grown hugely over the past decade, with turbines on land and in the seas.

The advance of renewable energy was given even greater impetus by the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016 but make no mistake it has been a people driven revolution.

Recent UK governments have done little to help in this area, with the present Conservative administration positively hostile to renewable energy – as evidenced in the last budget, which took subsidies away from the sector.

But the hostility of government makes the people power factor in pushing this climate friendly source of energy forward all the more credible.

The efforts at community level to cut pollution and emissions has been evidenced across the land, with schools often at the forefront.

One example in East London has been Beal High school, which won the school of the region award from Transport for London for its efforts over the past year to cut car journeys and promote more sustainable forms of travel.

The award was made as part of the Mayor of London’s Sustainable Travel: Active Responsible Safe (STARs) programme.

The programme encourages people to not drive to school, promoting instead walking cycling and other sustainable forms of travel instead.

Beal High School managed to cut car journeys to the school from 17% in 2016 to 13% in 2017. At the same time the number of pupils walking to school increased from 53% to 64%.

On a less optimistic note, one area that seems to be distinctly lagging behind, when it comes to cleaning up its act, is the aviation industry.

Aircraft often seem to be the forgotten part of the pollution/ climate change equation. Maybe because they are high in the skies but make no mistake aircraft are a major contributor to pollution in all its forms - including sound.

The aviation industry generates 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

The policy approach being taken to aviation in the UK mirrors that of the failed predict and provide approach taken on the roads in the 1990s.

The most obvious manifestation is the expansion of airport capacity.

It is strange to see politicians, who are quite happy to tackle car pollution, advocating airport expansion. It is as though the penny really hasn’t dropped yet.

If we are serious about tackling climate change and pollution, then building more airports is not the answer. Not only do aircraft create pollution but there is the additional car traffic brought into the airport as well to consider. Airports become polluting hubs.

Addressing aircraft pollution though is something that really does need prioritising. There is no tax on aviation fuel, which amounts to a subsidy for air travel over other forms of transport.

Aircraft operators need to be made to pay for the pollution and climate damage they are causing. They need to start showing some social responsibility to the communities which they seek to serve.

Finally, as individuals we all need to look at our use of air travel. In reality, everyone needs to fly a lot less, if pollution and climate damage are to be addressed.

So there is much that individuals are doing alone and working in community to combat the threats of climate change and pollution. There is still much to do, as the aviation example shows, but it is important to remember that it is not all bad news on the environment.  

*published - 12/1/2018 - Universe

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Lady luck smiles on West Ham as they secure crucial home win over West Brom with last minute winner

West Ham 2-1 West Brom

West Ham nicked a late winner to run out winners in this keenly fought relegation battle at the London stadium.

West Ham manager David Moyes acknowledged his sides good fortune in getting the result with a last gasp injury time goal from Andy Carroll.

“It didn’t look likely for long periods but we kept at it. We were poor in the first half, so changed it a bit in the second half, getting 15 metres further up the pitch,”said Moyes, who felt his team deserved the result, after losing out to the controversial late goal against Bournemouth and an offside one in the last home game versus Newcastle. “It was time something went for us,” he said.

The manager was pleased with the two goals from Carroll. “This game suited Andy better than others – he did a good job,” said Moyes, who thought the game was great for the crowd.

The home side had little to show in the first half of the game, looking disjointed in their approach play, with one effort seeing Carroll blast over, having met a Pablo Zabaleta cross from the right.

It was West Brom who opened the scoring on the half hour, as Jams Mclean picked up the ball on the left, cutting in to hit a shot that deflected off Angelo Ogbonna and looped over home keeper Adrian.

West Ham’s dominance in the second half was rewarded in the 58th minute when an Aaron Cresswell cross from the left was met by Carroll who rose to head into the far corner.

The home side continued to live dangerously with a West Brom break away, only foiled by an excellent last ditch tackle from Ogbonna.

The home fans were resigning themselves to more lost points, when in the 94th minute Marco Arnautovic got away on the left, firing his cross just beyond the reach of West Brom stopper Ben Foster to the incoming Carroll, who fired home from a narrow angle.

West Brom manager Alan Pardew admitted his side had been mentally and physically tired for the last 20 minutes. “It is difficult to criticise my team in any way today,” said Pardew.

Moyes expressed his sympathy for West Brom, having to play two games in three days. The midlands side had appealed to the Premier league to get the game postponed but to no avail. “If I was Alan Pardew I would be completely disappointed with the way the Premier League has set it up for them,” said Moyes.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Robert Peston looks at the mess we're in and how things could change

WTF by Robert Peston

Journalist Robert Peston attempts to unravel how the world became so divided between have and have nots.

Unsurprisingly, the economic analysis of neo-liberalism is good, outlining the path that led us to where we are today. Less impressive are the solutions, which appear a bit piecemeal, though, they are something of a work in progress.

ITV’s political editor looks at the slowing of social mobility, the flat lining of wages over the past 10 years, a crisis in productivity and the uneven application of automation as all contributing factors in creating an expanding group of disillusioned people who feel they have no stake in society.

He identifies how, over the past 30 years, more of the wealth generated has accrued to owners rather than workers, with the demise of trade union power high on the list of reasons why. This is one area where the author advocates the Labour Party position on moves to strengthen the unions.

Peston identifies the growing disillusionment born of all these factors as fuelling the rise of Trump, the vote for Brexit and ascent of Corbyn.

The take on Corbyn is mainstream. He recognises the forces that brought him to prominence but does not seem to embrace the idea of a Corbyn led Labour administration.

Typical of the broad brush approach is the comment that Corbyn “leads the most left wing Labour Party, perhaps ever.” Much as many may wish this to be so, and maybe it will be in time, the evidence thus far does not back up the case. The manifesto put out in June, was not as left wing as past offerings from the Labour Party of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, let alone the ground breaking 1945 Attlee administration.

He also adds to the mainstream orthodoxy that Labour only did so well in the general election due to remainers coming in fully behind the party, suggesting that future Labour electoral success depends on the party forthrightly coming out to stay in the EU.

There are other interesting chapters on the growing power of social media, and the challenges represented by automation. On the latter he finds that those being hit most severely by this latest industrial revolution are manual, often unskilled workers - who happen to also be those most strongly represented amongst the disillusioned and disempowered.

Solutions are thinner on the ground, though most suggested make sense, such as  a Universal Basic Income, addressing the UK’s productivity failures, a more active role for the state, regional interest rates and a uniform 1% tax on those with £500,000 plus in wealth.

There is a particularly pointed vignette on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which represents many of the failings of the present system. Peston points the finger particularly at former PM David Cameron, who can see the burnt out tower from one of his homes, for his attack on the red tape culture, which has clearly had a corrosive effect on matters like health and safety as typified by the tragedy.

Overall, WTF is well worth a read, throwing some light on how we got into the present mess, with some suggestions as to how to get out. Don’t though expect any revolutionary solutions.

* Published by Hodder and Stoughton, price £20

Review published in Morning Star - 9/1/2018

Friday, 29 December 2017

Car must return to the role of servant rather than master if pollution is to be tackled

Standing at the point where Blakehall Road crosses over the M11 Link Road provides an excellent illustration as to why pollution has grown to the dangerous levels it has today.

I remember the protests against the building of the Link road, back in the early 1990s. The people living in a tree on George Green, the occupation of the houses on one side of Cambridge Park Road and further on down the route into Leytonstone.

The claims of the protesters then was that transport policy amounted only to building ever more roads – predict and provide. These roads would then fill with cars and cause pollution.

The car reigned supreme in those days, public transport ran a very poor second.

Fast forward 25 years to the present day and those predictions of the protesters have come to pass. The Link is a very busy stretch of road, often crammed with lines of traffic, emitting fumes, whilst moving slowly along.

Now, the Cambridge Park Road (above) is beginning to jam up at rush hour in the way that it did 30 years ago when the planners first dreamt up the Link Road.

And it is the humans living above who have to breath the polluted air belching forth from this high level of traffic. There are two primary schools and a number of care homes all sitting right on Cambridge Park road - all breathing in those fumes.

Scientific research suggests that living near roads travelled by more than 10,000 vehicles per day could be responsible for some 15-30% of all new cases of asthma in children, and a similar proportion of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and  coronary heart disease cases in adults 65 years of age and older.

There are some identifiable causes of pollution such as diesel cars, though let’s not forget it was not that long ago that people were being told these vehicles were a good thing. Now, the opposite has been found to be the case. People with these types of polluting vehicle need to be helped to make the change, not simply penalised.

The move to electric cars will improve the quality of the air. It will also cut noise pollution – the bane of many lives on roads like the A406.

The urgency of the situation is such that more draconian measures may need to be taken in the short term, such as restricting the number of cars on the road at any one time.

What is for sure is that action needs to be taken. The car has been a wonderful liberating invention for people across the world. However, the car needs to be the servant, not the master of humankind. This cannot continue, unless we are happy to go on steadily poisoning ourselves to death.

Over recent years, the rights of the car driver to drive pollute wherever and whenever has become sacrosanct – this cannot be sustained, unless we want to go on slowly poisoning ourselves to death.   

·        For details of pollution on your road, see: http://www.howpollutedismyroad.org.uk/hotspots.php

published - Wanstead Directory - January


Thursday, 28 December 2017

Renewables revolution

The excellent expose on the appalling deal struck over Hinkley Point nuclear power station goes some way to explaining this governments outright hostility to renewables. The recent announcement in the budget of the removal of subsidies from renewables was a blatant act of aggression. However, if as renewable energy gets cheaper and cheaper ministers minds are clouded by the ridiculously high guaranteed "strike price" of £92.50 per megawatt hour for Hinkley generated power, who can be surprised? . 
The government should be looking to get out of nuclear power entirely and join the rest of the world in the renewables revolution.
published - 27/12/2017 - Guardian