Tag Archives: protest

Clooney is the only true hero of celebrity today

George Clooney seems to have it all. He is 50 years old and yet women of all ages still cite him as their dream movie star – and plenty of men would like to be him, with enough charm and sophistication to rise above any situation.

Yet here is a movie star who doesn’t play by the normal Hollywood rules. He has an opinion, he has intelligence, and he is ready to use his celebrity as a vehicle that can create social change.

There has been a lot of coverage of his arrest today in Washington DC. Clooney and his father were thrown in jail in Washington DC for protesting outside the Sudanese embassy. The BBC says that Clooney is a keen protester when it comes to the issue of South Sudan, but this fails to do him justice at all.

George Clooney is a pioneer in the use of satellite technology for monitoring hostile government militias. It might sound incredible, but here is a Hollywood actor who personally set up a project to use satellites to monitor what was going on in Sudan and to then use social media to report live information as it could be observed.

Clooney has no need to be doing any of this. He could be living a nice life in Beverly Hills making new movies each year that boost his bank balance, yet he uses his personal wealth and fame to make people aware of injustice on another continent.

How many other actors in his position can you name that are really doing something as worthy with their fame – more than just appearing on a charity telethon?

George Clooney 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Advertisements

Common Sense in Egypt

In ‘Common Sense’ his (anonymously published) pamphlet on the creation of government and society, Thomas Paine described how a ramshackle group of people might form a government:

“Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branches of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters. It is more than probable that their first laws will have the title only of Regulations, and be enforced by no other penalty than public disesteem. In this first parliament every man, by natural right will have a seat.”

Paine published this in 1776, in the midst of the American revolution. It aimed to remind the American people of the kind of government they should be creating – representative and democratic – with every voice heard. An organisation that remembers it is representative of the people, and not that the people are subjagated by it.

Governments today are often not like this. Politicians are power-hungry and fly around the world in private jets, enjoy limousines to ferry them from one meeting to the next, and far from representing the people of their country, they often become an untouchable elite answerable only to themselves.

Not every politician is like this. It still pleases me to see political representatives in ‘normal’ situations, such as on the bus or underground. I met (until recently shadow chancellor) Alan Johnson on the tube once and he explained to me that it is the best way to get around London. This is the kind of pragmatic ‘normal’ behaviour that keeps elected officials closer to the people they are supposed to represent.

But away from England and America, there are far more despotic regimes where leaders suck wealth from their people and enjoy a life most can only dream of. Often the people on the streets don’t even get a real chance to elect or choose those leaders, and if they do get an election, it’s rigged anyway.

Revolution has been the historic answer, sweeping away a corrupt regime and introducing a fairer society. However revolution is hard to control and even harder to create – it doesn’t just happen because people are fed up.

But look at what is now happening in north Africa. The people of Tunisia rose up and removed their corrupt government. It’s overstating the power of the Internet to suggest that this was a social media revolution, but the fact is that 1 in 5 Tunisians is on Facebook – and this was a major contributory factor in spreading the news of the initial suicide that sparked the protests.

The Tunisian leaders failed to block the Internet in time. Egypt has seen protests all week now and the protestors have used the Internet (#j25) to promote the idea of a mass protest by the entire nation today after prayers. The police chiefs have already warned the government that if the protesting crowds swell to anything greater than 70,000 people then the police will be overwhelmed and can offer the government no protection.

Naturally, the government has banned access to the Internet.

Whatever happens today in Egypt, revolution or not, it will be reported on and spread throughout the world. A light will spark in the mind of every person dissatisfied with the way their leaders fail to represent the people – especially those leaders who sit in power for decades, only to hand the riches of office to their own children. Since when could a government leader believe that they own the right to hand power to their child? It’s surprising just how many leaders still behave this way.

Not for much longer.

Julian Assange may have been vilified by the USA for his Wikileaks website, but what he showed the world is that any government – even one that proclaims to be democratic – needs to answer to the people who elected them.

And the Internet is now handing power, and freedom, back to the people.
Big Ben in front of the sun

Students smashing shop windows in London

Students are tearing up London today. There are riots as a reaction to the government plans to triple the maximum annual tuition fee, from £3,000 to £9,000.

I can understand the depth of feeling. I think that as we face increased global competition, a country like the UK has to educate our young people if they are to compete. We can’t compete internationally with an uneducated workforce – low-cost skills can easily be sourced elsewhere for much less than they cost locally in the UK.

And I was recently working in Malta, the smallest EU nation, where they still pay students to study. Course fees are all covered by the government and the students receive a stipend… cash straight into their pocket. It used to be like that when I was a student in the 1980s, though I was studying right towards the end of the glory days when it was free to study and you got a grant just for being a student.

Tripling the cost of education when we need more educated young people is outrageous, but I don’t think any students have helped their cause today by smashing up London. Most people in the UK are more concerned about the 500,000 public-sector jobs that are about to vanish – and probably a similar number in the private sector that were supporting those public-sector people. That’s a million people on the dole soon.

Do the students really think that their desire to study for free is considered more urgent or important than millions of workers being cast out to the wilderness of unemployment?

The NUS can’t demand that Lib Dem politicians keep their pledges. Our electoral system created a coalition. That meant the two parties agreed to compromise and one of the pledges made by the Lib Dems was lost in the agreement. End of story. Do they really think that smashing up the city is going to get Nick Clegg to change his mind on this? And much as I sympathise with them, I’m afraid most people won’t be sympathetic… students tearing up the city and breaking windows while others lose their jobs.

Where do you think public sympathy is going to go?

Lse library

When I’m 64…

I saw this BBC report on French protests about the retirement age being raised to 62. Of course, the typical French disdain for England is annoying – the same old stereotypes being dredged up by French protestors.

But the real point applies to France and England – and most of Western Europe equally – who is going to be paying the state pension by the time I ‘retire’? I personally think that the concept of the third age, rather than a retirement, will have become normal by the time I am 65.

By third age, I mean it will be normal to enter into a new career, to use your life experience working with a charity, or working on the local council… doing something useful that is still work and probably still pays something – though far less than you would have earned during your main career. But by that time most of us won’t have a need to support kids or a mortgage anymore, so income requirements should be more modest anyway.

What I don’t expect is that I can hit the age of 65 and suddenly put my feet up and retire from work, to live out the next 20 years on the golf course.

In Britain, it’s the present taxpayers who pay the state pension through their tax. The older people claiming pensions will suggest that they have paid into their NI pot and now they are just claiming it back, but there is no bank account they are paying into, it’s the young workers paying their pension. The stakeholder pension was the first step towards trying to shift people to a sense of personal responsibility for their old age, but I’m not sure I have met anyone who actually has a stakeholder pension.

Perhaps it sounds too harsh and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ to suggest that personal responsibility needs to make a return – rather than a blind reliance on the state, but European demographics are not favourable. There will be far more old people as I age and fewer young workers paying income tax. Immigration would be the only real solution and yet that’s not something most politicians are welcoming either…

If you are ‘retiring’ 20 or 30 years from now then don’t look to the state to pay for your every need. Or if you think that’s an unreasonable assumption to make, then get out on the street and throw a few bricks – like the French.
Entire family over 100

A fair days pay for a fair days work

Around 300 stadium workers at the world cup stadium in Durban refused to go home after work last night, causing armed police to treat the protest as a potential riot – charging the staff with tear gas and firing rubber bullets.

But why did the police need to go in so heavy-handed? The workers seemed to have a genuine complaint and they managed to voice it eloquently to the media – how come the management of their company felt it was appropriate to call in the riot police?

In the dry run, where they did a complete practice session for a world cup game, the management did not tell the workers how much they would be earning. On the day of the game itself many of the workers left home at 7am and were still at the stadium at 1am that night – it was a long day.

Then they got pay packets containing 190 Rand ($25) when some of them had heard unconfirmed rumours (supposedly from FIFA) that the workers would be getting paid 1,500 Rand ($195).

Perhaps the contractor might want to speak to the media to explain why these workers had no form of contract, no idea of wht they would be earning, and no help getting home from the stadium at 1am? FIFA ought to be there mediating between these workers and the contractor, not watching the police pump rubber bullets into people asking for fair pay for very long days making sure the world cup games run smoothly.

What’s going to happen to the next Durban game if all 300 workers decide to just not bother showing up for work?