Friday, 31 October 2008
Gatwick South Terminal
The UK's second-largest airport, Gatwick, has been put up for sale by its owner BAA. The move comes four weeks after the Competition Commission said BAA may have to sell three of its UK airports because of market dominance concerns. Several firms are said to be interested in buying Gatwick, which has been valued at £1.8bn by regulators. The Airport unit of Spanish builder Grupo Ferrovial provides a poor service and has failed to plan for extra capacity, the UK Competition Commission said, recommending it be stripped of London's Gatwick and Stansted airports and either Glasgow or Edinburgh in Scotland. On top of this BAA has been again fined for the poor service at Gatwick, a total of £3.26 million for consistently failing to meet standards for cleanliness, directions, seating and pier services.
"Despite this performance improvement, acceptable standards have not yet been achieved," the CAA said.
Potential bidders for Gatwick include Australian company Macquarie, Germany's Fraport, and the owners of Manchester airport. Virgin Atlantic said it would also be interested in bidding as part of a consortium. "We are delighted that BAA has ended the uncertainty over Gatwick's future," said Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic chief executive. "Virgin Atlantic would relish the opportunity to bid for Gatwick as part of a consortium and inject our customer service expertise into any future running of the airport."
However there were misgivings at the Unite trade union, whose national officer, Steve Turner, said: "It simply beggars belief that a 'For Sale' sign can be hung across the country's second largest airport. "Gatwick is a core component of the national infrastructure and an essential part of the UK's aviation sector, yet it is to be flogged off with little care for the wider social impact." In a statement, BAA said it had decided to begin the process of selling Gatwick "immediately". The Civil Aviation Authority has just increased the amount Gatwick - where 35 million passengers passed through in 2007 - can charge in landing fees. But it is operating on one runway and approaching full capacity.
Budget airline Easyjet said Gatwick was a "local monopoly" and called on any reform of airport regulation to "put the needs of customers first". And sector rival Ryanair said: "This morning's announcement... is just the latest attempt by the BAA monopoly to get itself off the hook of the Competition Commission's recommendations."
London Gatwick airport is the UK's second largest airport and the world's tenth busiest international airport, carrying more than 35 million passengers each year. In 1931 what is now known as London Gatwick airport was a private airfield owned by Home Counties Aviation Services. Serious development was later carried out and the first terminal, together with taxiways and aprons, was opened in 1936. Passengers arriving by train could walk into the airport through subways and covered walkways.
Gatwick's 1930 Terminal - Art Deco and the "round" terminal design to maximise aircraft parking space which has been copied the world over
During the war Gatwick, which was used as a Royal Air Force base, expanded further by acquiring a local racecourse. However, when it was returned to civil use in 1946, it was still basically a grass airfield. In 1953 the Government decreed Gatwick as London's second airport. The old airport was closed for major redevelopment. When it officially reopened three years later, Gatwick had been transformed into a modern facility with a 2000 feet runway, a terminal incorporating a rail station and a covered pier linking terminal with aircraft, the first of its kind in the UK.
Charter traffic became big business in the 1980's with more than a million passengers then using Gatwick. The terminal was extended and two more piers built. Gatwick still ranked only fourth busiest among UK airports but British United Airways, then the main operator, was steadily introducing scheduled services. In 1978London Gatwick Airport became a transatlantic gateway. By the time Delta, Braniff and British Caledonian started up their routes to the USA; Gatwick had already extended its runway to handle the long haul jets and further improved the terminal. Passenger traffic hit the 10 million mark in the 1990's and continued to grow at a phenomenal rate, reaching over 35 million in 2007. The South and North Terminals opened as Gatwick established itself as Britain's second busiest airport and an international player. Gatwick is anxious to build a second runway to meet growing demand, but there is strong opposition from local residents and environmentalists.
BAA is to airports what Coca-Cola is to the soft drinks industry: it pretty much owns the lot. All the big airports such as Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Manchester, Glasgow, Aberdeen and more, are owned by the giant firm. However, things might all be about to change and the disastrous year that the aviation industry has had in the UK might be about to knock the school bully off his perch. The muscle that BAA yields promoted an investigation from the Competition Commission, which concluded that such a monopoly on the industry was not healthy and that it might be forced to sell off some of its airports.
Financial pundits from investment houses and other rarefied places speculate as to whether the owner of 7 of the UK's airports has any chance of sorting out its debts. Ferrovial took on £10 billion worth of debt to buy BAA last year, and now those money turkeys are coming home to roost. Going cap in hand to its shareholders raised £500 million but even that can't save the ailing company. Now hacks are speculating that if BAA cannot sort its finances out in the next two months, bondholders will be able to take their £3 billion investment back, potentially bankrupting the company. These Bondholders are worried as Grupo Ferrovial’s debt has been downgraded to junk bond status by Standard and Poors, so not much comfort there!
The airport is split into two terminals, North and South. South Terminal is the larger one, and holds the train station and majority of the shops, including Gatwick Village shopping arcade with practical shops such as Boots (UK pharmacy chain like Guardian) and W H Smith (general store selling books, newspapers, sandwiches, drinks etc.). This is accessible before heading through to departures. The entrances are beyond the check-in desks. Also, there is a sky train linking the two terminals 24/7, and the terminals are quite close together, unlike Heathrow T4, so it's perfectly possible to catch a bus or train to South, even if you fly from North. Most, if not all National Express bus services that serve the airport call at both terminals anyway.
Once upon a time, Gatwick Airport was modern. Now it is looking very tired and dated. Most European capitals have modern airports, but at this airport there are only the shops and bland sandwich bars that are up-to-date. The arrivals/baggage collection area is antiquated and due for a makeover. The car parking is very expensive, and you should always factor this in to any air fare, as it may cost more than the flight! The toilets are poorly ventilated, and they are smelly, and are only basically cleaned. The owner (BAA) seems to give priority to shopping, and often basic infrastructure, i.e. walkways, lifts and the small shuttle are out of order!
Southern and Gatwick_Express Trains at Victoria
But first you have to get to Gatwick and this can seriously dent your perspective of your bargain flight. As already noted car parking can be seriously expensive with Short Stay Parking at the Terminal being £20.90 a day and Long Stay being £9.00 a day for the first 6 days. Gatwick does have a dedicated train service in the Gatwick Express which is well and separately run and uses dedicated modern rolling stock, a sharp contrast to the alleged Stansted Express which has 20 year old clapped out commuter stock and whose title alone should be grounds for prosecution under the Trade descriptions Act. The Gatwick Express leaves every 15 minutes (During weekdays) from Platforms 13/14 at London Victoria station and takes 30 minutes to Gatwick. It also runs (normally hourly) through the night so it can both get you home from a late flight and out to an early flight unlike the Stansted Express which can do neither. That is the good news; the bad news is that it is eye wateringly expensive for a 30 minute train journey. A single First Class Ticket will cost £25.60, almost £1 per minute. What do you get other than a generous seat in a somewhat utilitarian interior for this? Well last time the trolley came around while we were still in Victoria. “Coffee or Tea, Sir” said the smartly attired attendant. Well I thought al least you are getting something for the inflated ticket price. “Coffee, I replied.” “Thank you sir that will be £2.20.” So that is the value added perception for the expensive fare, you get absolutely nothing with it! And if I had wanted biscuits that would have been 80p extra! There are cheaper alternatives using Thameslink (which goes from Bedford to Brighton via Luton thru' Eurostar at Kings X / St Pancras and Luton) and Southern Trains stopping service from Victoria which takes 45 minutes.
Getting to the airport disabled access from the platforms to the airport is good with lifts serving all platforms and step free access into the terminal. However from here on in the airport does not live up to the somewhat corny slogan used by BAA “Getting your journey off to a flying start.” Firstly what was the gateway to the Departure area is no longer used and a gaggle of annoyingly named PSA’s (Passenger Service Assistants) direct you into a somewhat awkward chicane nearby. Here you are kept in a slow moving queue for no other reason than they take a digital photo which is electronically matched to your boarding card. This is again checked when you board at the gate resulting in longer queues in both places. Is this a Government security requirement? Well no actually the only reason for doing this and delaying customers (not to mention intruding on their privacy) is to allow BAA to mix domestic and international passengers in the terminals giving them more shopping “opportunities”, just what passengers say they always want at airports?
Then instead of going on the flat you have to go upstairs on an escalator to a cramped security area. If you are mobility impaired (i.e. 10% of the population) you have to ask and you are directed to another area which is something of a walk but hey-ho, disabled people just love walking!
The security area is basic with no assistance offered to disabled people, no solid chairs with armrests for older people to sit in and, more importantly, get out of. Passengers are being asked to take off socks but no covers are being offered and of course there is no way to sanitise a carpeted surface. Lucky for BAA most of these infections will be apparent when the self loading cargo are abroad. Still, it makes you wonder why local councils employ Environmental Health Officers when such a blind eye is turned to lack of basic hygiene. How does the CAA continue to licence transport facilities which continue to laugh in the face of Phase 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1998? Does the CAA feel no moral obligation to ensure the law of the land is respected and disabled and older people are treated with respect? What is the paradigm here “let the wobbly people sue us?” The area is crowded, queues are long and there is the usual chaos associated with the scarcely trained minimum wage staff employed by ICTS whose disgraceful lack of standards at Birmingham Airport were exposed by the BBC’s Panorama programme.
Recently BAA have come under fire from a senior Labour MP who took a seven-inch knife on to a plane at Gatwick. Former health minister Gisela Stuart told a Commons debate on the airport that she mistakenly had the knife in her hand luggage when she went on holiday to Corsica on 3 August 2008. Ms Stuart discovered the knife with a three-inch blade on arrival and asked her office manager in Birmingham to get in touch with Gatwick to tell them of the security breach. The MP for Birmingham Edgbaston was told on 22 August that security staff were being retrained. Ms Stuart also highlighted the report that EU inspectors smuggled replica bomb components past security at Gatwick this year and doubts whether security at the Sussex airport has been adequately improved.
The Daily Mail Newspaper reported the week after I went through this “security” shambles;
“Replica bombs were smuggled into Britain's second busiest airport inside hand luggage during a safety inspection, it has been claimed. Gatwick Airport staff apparently failed to recognise the artificial explosives even though a bag containing one device was allegedly identified as suspicious by an X-ray scanner but returned to its owner after the guards did not realise what it was. The alleged breaches occurred during a European Commission inspection this month.” – Daily Mail, 19 October 2008.
So reassured we then enter airside and the reason for the awkward arrangements became obvious for you emerge into the enlarged Food Court built on top of Gatwick South’s shopping area. You have no less than 14 catering outlets but this is Clone Town Britain on steroids, there is no shape or form, or indeed any attempt at design or theme to the catering area. What you have is a large shed with a hole in the middle for escalators and around it wall to wall shop fronts and signage of chain catering, bar and fast food outlets. It is not relaxing as so little area is devoted to seating or general circulation and the constant din of bad music played through bad speakers. There is no possibility of escaping from this as each outlet has the same nonsensical piped music playing inside. An insight into how the shed engineer (I can’t believe there was an architect involved) has thought about having a sense of enclosure, quiet areas and an opportunity to relax before your flights can be gained from noting that the only (crowded) seating area is in front of the fruit machines and games area so you have continuous noise, pings and kerrangs from the machines.
Gatwick Airport Security Lines
Then the self loading cargo, who had to go upstairs to security, now have to go downstairs to the crowded and chaotic “shopping opportunity” area for the gates are on this level. You go through “holes in the wall” to the gates through drab corridors. Here you see broken lights, bad signage, stained carpets, grubby walls, closed loos and out of order travelators before you arrive at your gate. Instead of being roomy and open plan this is dingy and enclosed because, wait for it, they have to check your photo against your boarding card. This takes three people but hey ho you are paying for it and the retail wallahs who run the Grupo Ferrovial debt servicing operation known as BAA feel these awkward arrangements and lack of straight lines for customers who, let's face it, just want to catch a plane, are worth it to increase “footfall” and passenger “dwell time” to “maximise” the value of its “retail estate.” Indeed! There only approach to airport design and management is, if there is a spare space stuff something retail into it!
The Gatwick ambience!
So there you are 180 people waiting in an area with 40 seats and I feel like getting a cold drink at non-Ryanair prices to bring onto the plane. I needn’t have bothered for in an uncanny reflection of the Airport the only vending machine in our passenger holding pen is out of order. Then it is time for the self loading cargo to shuffle with defeated resignation down the stairs (yah, boo sucks to the wobbly people the lift was not working and no assistance was offered) where they are then held for 5 minutes before shuffling resignedly onto the plane. Take off never seemed so good for we were leaving Gatwick behind in the conviction that anywhere else must be an improvement.
Thankfully I didn’t need to re-enter Britain through the shabby Gatwick Gateway. Dublin Airport was a wonderful contrast, bright and modern with good, well trained and polite security and a real sense of place which said Ireland is proud of its capital city and its airport is proud to give a positive impression to visitors. The shopping and catering is excellent and showcases the country, as it should in any major airport. Even coming in through utilitarian Luton was excellent. The airport contrasts with Gatwick in beeing clean, bright and with logical circulation patterns and it took me all of 5 minutes to walk off the plane and into the public area of Luton.
As for BAA thinking that Richard Branson will give them £1.8 Bn before they go bankrupt for the damaged goods called Gatwick, they must be deeply delusional. Branson won’t offer anything like that and will bring in somebody with him to share the risk, He will discount the income for he’ll have to rip out half the forgettable retail clutter to make the airport work well and ease the passenger’s journey to and from the plane (the PURPOSE of an airport; make a note BAA). However the chaos which is Gatwick shows why BAA does not understand the Airport business and why this smug privatised monopoly is lacking in the core skills to run ANY UK airport. The sooner Grupo Ferrovial and the Gang of Cash Cow Gringos it has bought in the UK with its junk bond status debt goes down the better for UK PLC. Their comes a stage when it is kinder for Old Beasts to be quietly and humanely put down to end their suffering and the upset of those who have to witness their sad and jerky movements.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
Tempelhof Main Building
Berlin Tempelhof, once the world's largest airport, closed its gates today 30th October, 2008 on an 81-year history that spanned the Red Army's invasion, the Cold War and Germany's reunification. A 1940s Douglas DC-3 "candy bomber" and a Deutsche Lufthansa AG Junkers Ju- 52 of a similar age were the last aircraft to take off from the city-center airport shortly before midnight. With them departed an era of Berlin's history. Tempelhof, expanded under Adolf Hitler, played a central role in the 1948 Allied airlift that circumvented a Soviet blockade after World War II. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the airport was for many the only safe passage to the outside world. Designated by the ministry of transport on October 8, 1923, Tempelhof became the world's first airport with an underground railway station in 1927, now called Platz der Luftbrücke after the Berlin Airlift.
Nostalgic Berliners bade a fond farewell to Tempelhof, the fabled hub of the Berlin Airlift, as it closed to make way for a major new airport to serve the reunified capital. One of the airport's most distinguishing features is its large, canopy-style roof that was able to accommodate most contemporary airliners during its heyday in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, thereby saving passengers from the elements. Tempelhof Airport's main building used to be among the 20 largest buildings on earth. Tempelhof, just south of the city centre, is a potent symbol of the days when free West Berlin was a Cold War outpost embedded in the Soviet bloc and of the city's survival, thanks to the massive aid of the Western allies.
The site of the airport was originally Knights Templar land in medieval Berlin and from this beginning came the name Tempelhof. The airport halls and the neighbouring buildings, intended to become the gateway to Europe and a symbol of Hitler's "world capital" Germania, are still known as the largest built entities worldwide, and have been described by British architect Sir Norman Foster as "the mother of all airports". With its façades of shell limestone, the terminal building, built between 1936 and 1941, forms a massive 1.2-kilometre long quadrant yet had a charmingly intimate feel; planes could taxi right up to the building and unload, sheltered from the weather by its enormous overhanging canopy. Passengers walked through customs controls and find themselves in a dazzlingly simple and luminous reception hall. The building complex was designed to resemble an eagle in flight with semicircular hangars forming the bird's spread wings. A mile long hangar roof was to have been laid in tiers to form a stadium for spectators at air and ground demonstrations.
Inside the Terminal
Tempelhof's association with aviation stretches back to the earliest days of flight. In 1909, the flat expanse where there are now runways played host to Orville Wright, the pioneering American aviator. Opened as an airport in 1927, Tempelhof expanded over the next decade and was included in plans by Nazi architect Albert Speer to transform Berlin into Germania, the futuristic capital of Hitler's Third Reich. Architect Norman Foster described the influence of the neo-classical limestone edifice molded during the 1930s as ''the mother of all airports.''
Hitler wanted Tempelhof – the world’s first truly modern airport – to be a showpiece of Nazi power. The front of the terminal is a concave curve 900m (more than half a mile) long looking out on to the aerodrome. It is still the second largest freestanding building in the world after the Pentagon and was plainly designed with the intention of hanging giant swastikas from its towers. The aim was to hold rallies of up to 80,000 people on the long, flat roof: the Führer could fly in, make his speech to the faithful, then fly away again.
From an architectural point of view, Tempelhof Weltflughafen - "world airport", as it was optimistically known before the Luftwaffe flew to Warsaw, with no intention of landing, in September 1939 - is a magnificent and compelling enigma. Designed by Ernst Sagebiel (1892-1970) between 1934 and 1936 and built well into WWII, it was to be the international gateway to Germania: Berlin in its over-inflated postwar guise, as planned by Albert Speer, assuming victory over the Allies by 1948.
Although under construction for more than ten years, it was never finished because of World War II. Soviet forces took Tempelhof in the Battle of Berlin on 24 April 1945 in the closing days of the war in Europe following a fierce battle with Luftwaffe troops. Tempelhof's German commander, Colonel Rudolf Boettger, refused to carry out orders to blow up the base, choosing instead to kill himself. After he died the Russian troops attempted to clear the 5 lower levels of the airbase but the Germans had booby trapped everything and too many were killed, leading the Russian commander to order the lower levels to be flooded with water. The lower 3 levels are still flooded to this day, having never been opened up due to un-exploded ordinance.
Bahntunnel under the airport
''It's very sad,'' said Doris Oelschlegel, 69, who went on a tourist flight in a DC-3 with her husband last year from the airport. ''Tempelhof is a historic monument and a symbol.'' Berlin city authorities say they are legally obliged to close the unprofitable airport, the smallest and most central of three airfields in the capital, to concentrate air traffic at a planned site 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of the city. An April referendum to halt the closure was defeated after support from Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bild, Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, failed to swing the vote.
Passenger numbers at Tempelhof fell to 350,000 last year compared with 6.3 million at Schoenefeld in the former East and 13.4 million at Tegel, former West Berlin's airport. Tempelhof lost between €10 million euros and €15 million a year since the mid-1990s, according to its Web site. ''Tempelhof for me is one of the icons of Berlin,'' said Elke Schumann, 63, who boarded her first airplane at Tempelhof on a British Airways flight to Hamburg in 1961. ''I don't understand the decision, it's a mistake.''
Tempelhof Airport Berlin 1948
Reichsadler - Nazi Eagle
While Schoenefeld in the former East is being developed into Berlin's main airport, there are no firm plans for Tempelhof once the aircraft leave. The airport is on a subway line four stops from the city center, and is a 10-minute cab ride from downtown. Proposals for the 1,000-acre site ranged from a park for solar-power generation to a casino complex to a medical clinic with fly-in service for patients. The clinic, spearheaded by U.S. billionaire Ronald Lauder, was rejected because of the flights.
The airfield's finest hour, commemorated in concrete at the entrance to the terminal building, came at the end of the war as Berlin was carved up into zones controlled by the victorious Allied powers: Britain, the U.S., France and the Soviet Union. In 1948, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, in an attempt to squeeze U.S., British and French forces out of the nearly 500 square-kilometer (193 square-mile) enclave of West Berlin, ordered his soldiers to cut off supplies. On 20 June 1948 Soviet authorities, claiming technical difficulties, halted all traffic by land and by water into or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin. The only remaining access routes into the city were three 25-mile-wide air corridors across the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. Faced with the choice of abandoning the city or attempting to supply its inhabitants with the necessities of life by air, the Western Powers chose the latter course, and for the next eleven months sustained the city's two-and-a-half million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history.
During the Cold War, Tempelhof was the natural location to film Michael Caine as British secret agent Harry Palmer, arriving disguised as a salesman with a suitcase of women's underwear in the 1966 movie of Len Deighton's novel, ''Funeral in Berlin.'' Garbed in classical dress, stripped of ornamentation, Tempelhof Zentralflughafen, as it is called today, addresses the streets of Berlin set immediately across from its massive and lofty entrance. In the imagination, it is easy to add Nazi eagles, swastika flags and titanic statuary by Arno Breker to that facade. Today Tempelhof stands mute, the only part of Albert Speer's project for the New Reich Capital of Germania which remains.
There was little fanfare for the closure. A loudspeaker spluttered briefly with a routine announcement that echoed across the high-vaulted departure lounge. Then Tempelhof, Hitler’s favourite airport, fell silent. It was the last call for one of Germany’s cultural icons. Outside, there were no oompah bands and no grand parades, only a DC3 “candy bomber” revving its engines for the final take-off from the otherwise deserted runway.
''Tempelhof is a symbol that is strongly identified with the blockade and the role the airport played in allowing life to go on in the city,'' said Gerhard Braun, a professor of urban studies at Berlin's Free University. ''It's a mistake to close a central airport like Tempelhof.''
Sunday, 26 October 2008
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. This film examines the three pillars on which the French Republic stands through the eyes of soldiers summoned from its colonies to fight a war for liberalising a people, while enjoying few of those rights themselves. Put into the worst of battles towards the end of World War II, with the least compensation in terms of money, promotion, leave or even rationed tomatoes, soldiers from France’s colonies in North Africa - particularly Algeria - fight a cold, brutal war and die an unknown death. The Government they are fighting for feels no need to understand their religion, needs or culture.
Days of Glory (French: Indigènes) is a French drama film directed by French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb. The cast includes Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem and Bernard Blancan. The film won the Prix d'interprétation masculine at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but lost to The Lives of Others (http://daithaic.blogspot.com/2008/09/lives-of-others.html ). As well as being successful as a war movie described as a kind of a North African Saving Private Ryan, the film deals with discriminatory treatment of French Africans (the French title translates as Natives) which is still an issue today, and led to a change in government policy.
A large number of indigènes (Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccan Goumiers) were enrolled in the French First Army of the Free French Forces, formed to liberate France after the Nazi occupation in World War II. The film portrays the recruitment of these soldiers and their participation in the campaigns in Italy and southern France. The army had been recruited in Africa in French colonies outside the control of the Vichy regime which collaborated with German commissioners.
Four Indigènes in a mobile corps with a reputation for endurance and courage in close combat are sent to the front line, each with a different personal purpose as they fight their way through the Italian Campaign and on to Operation Dragoon to liberate France. One seeks booty, one has joined the army to escape poverty in hopes that it will be his family, one wants to marry and settle in France while the other is fighting in the hope of equality and recognition of the rights of the colonised Algerians. They encounter only discrimination in the army.
Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Oscars and the Golden Palm at Cannes, Days of Glory has some exceptional performances by its lead actors, who have all enlisted in the war for their own reasons. There is the scholarly and brave Corporal Abdelkadar (Bouajila), who clings to the belief till the very end that the fight against Hitler is his fight; Said (Debbouze), who aims to find reason and hope in his life, led till then in utter poverty, in a place he realises has none of it; Messaoud (Zem), who discovers love in the unlikeliest of places; and Sergeant Martinez (Blancan), a Frenchman in Algeria who is part African, a secret he takes to his grave, constantly torn between the men he knows are being mistreated and his bosses who couldn’t care less.
While each has his own motives, these native Africans have enlisted to fight for a France they have never seen. In the words of a wartime recruiting song the four actors sing within the film as well as at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, "we come from the colonies to save the motherland, we come from afar to die, we are the men of Africa." The film shows a complex depiction of their shabby treatment in an army organisation prejudiced in favour of the European French, a wartime injustice which relates directly to continuing modern tensions.
In a great scene, after one hard-fought battle, the tired African soldiers are offered a “treat”: ballet in a torn tent. Uncomprehending and disgusted, they walk out. After defeating the Axis powers in Italy, when the Algerian infantry marches into France, it is the first time they set foot on what they have been told is their “motherland”. The message is reinforced through martial songs, in speeches, and exhortations to march to yet another battle.
From a small dusty village in Algeria, illiterate and swept up in all that’s happening around him, Said has figured it out for himself more clearly. Describing a battle scene, he says: “I threw a bomb at Germany, I beat Germany, all of Germany - I free a country, it is my country. Even if I haven’t seen it before.”
The discrimination by the French authorities against these soldiers continued as successive French governments froze the war pensions of these indigenous veterans, and it was only after the film's release that the government policy was changed to bring foreign combatant pensions into line with what French veterans are paid. Though the film has been produced for a mainstream audience with many notable battle sequences, the cast is made up of recognisable Arab actors who have been successful in French cinema. This was a commercial gamble that has paid off and the film has become culturally influential in French politics, affecting a change in policy towards the treatment of war veterans after President Chirac personally intervened when he saw this film. This is a film which has been able to affect change within society, and it is exceptional for the revisionist approach it takes to a genre that has always been strongly associated with American cinema.
Days of Glory fully deserves the praise it has received for whilst superficial comparisons may be made to Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” this is no apolitical movie descending into melodrama, rather it is a hard edged view of war and of racism. Like most Great War movies it shows not only the cruelty and savagery of battle but also the unfeeling indifference of the Army created to fight these wars. Here this indifference is magnified by the racism in the treatment of the native fighters from North Africa, a treatment echoed in America’s treatment of Black Soldiers who endured strict segregation and Britain’s of non-white colonial soldiers. The racism is shocking in its casualness, not just the overt racism in the different treatment, rations, promotion, denial of leave but even covertly censoring letters from North African soldiers to French girls to stop inter racial relationships. This shows the lie that Algerians were part of “Metropolitan France” and this fiction was cast asunder with some bitterness in 1959. Since then the treatment of the “pieds noirs” in France has been desultory and this film serves as a reminder of the root causes of these issues. But part of the French attitude may stem from an embarrassment that these North Africans who had never seen France were fighting to free it when many of its own citizens had chosen to collaborate.
Indeed the recent court case involving Gurkha Soldiers in Britain looking for equal pension and settlement rights echoes what has happened in France. They were championed by the actress Joanna Lumley who was born in Kashmir and spent her early life in Hong Kong and Malaysia. Her father served for 30 years with the 6th Gurkha Rifles, and was a Chindit in Burma; his admiration and affection for these soldiers of Nepal was shared by all who served with them. Gurkha Tul Bahadur Pun VC, 87, fought alongside her father, Major James Rutherford Lumley, in Burma during the Second World War, and a picture of him was displayed in the family home. It is hard to understand the bravery he has displayed or read the official citation without emotion;
“War Office, 9th November, 1944
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:-
No. 10119 Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun, 6th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army.
In Burma on June 23, 1944, a Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles was ordered to attack the Railway Bridge at Mogaung. Immediately the attack developed the enemy opened concentrated and sustained cross fire at close range from a position known as the Red House and from a strong bunker position two hundred yards to the left of it.
So intense was this cross fire that both the leading platoons of 'B' Company, one of which was Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun's, were pinned to the ground and the whole of his Section was wiped out with the exception of himself, the Section commander and one other man. The Section commander immediately led the remaining two men in a charge on the Red House but was at once badly wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun and his remaining companion continued the charge, but the latter too was immediately wounded.
Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun then seized the Bren Gun, and firing from the hip as he went, continued the charge on this heavily bunkered position alone, in the face of the most shattering concentration of automatic fire, directed straight at him. With the dawn coming up behind him, he presented a perfect target to the Japanese. He had to move for thirty yards over open ground, ankle deep in mud, through shell holes and over fallen trees.
Despite these overwhelming odds, he reached the Red House and closed with the Japanese occupants. He killed three and put five more to flight and captured two light machine guns and much ammunition. He then gave accurate supporting fire from the bunker to the remainder of his platoon which enabled them to reach their objective. His outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise.”
Tul Bahadur Pun VC in 2007
The Home Office barrister said that merely (sic) winning a Victoria Cross in battle was not sufficient connection with the UK to allow them to settle there. This attitude was condemned by Mr. Justice Blake as "Irrational, inconsistent, unlawful and lacking in clarity" – when he ruled against the UK Government on a law that barred Gurkha soldiers, who served the UK in the Falklands and the Gulf War, from settling in Britain. The campaign (http://www.gurkhajustice.org.uk ) had indeed referred to Days of Glory and the Gurkha's used the French example to back their campaign asking for the same pension rights as other British soldiers.
Days of Glory is a complex and affecting movie that handles a thorny subject with sensitivity rather than militaristic bombast. The ending of the film is poignant and sums up what a impact "War" has on people and how the waste of life, affects them.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Troy Davis Rally in Paris
From Amnesty International USA 25th October 2008
I am delighted to share some good news with you! Troy Davis received a stay of execution based on a new last-minute appeal filed this past Wednesday to the federal appeals court in Atlanta. As a result, he will not be executed on Monday, October 27th, as originally scheduled.
Your action has succeeded in putting a spotlight on Troy's case worldwide and bringing about this victory. At least 300,000 individuals have written letters in support of Troy. Additionally, prominent leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter, the Pope, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have all called for justice in this case.
Yesterday, Amnesty International organized a Global Day of Action in which hundreds of activists in dozens of countries around the world came together to stand in solidarity for Troy. From Atlanta to Seattle, New York to Paris and Milan– hundreds of supporters gathered at rallies wearing T-shirts and holding signs that read "I am Troy Davis." On Wednesday, the European Legislature issued a statement calling for Troy's execution to be halted.
While we pause to celebrate this good news, we cannot forget that Troy still faces the very real possibility of execution—despite the fact that no physical evidence tied him to the 1989 murder of a police officer in Savannah, GA, and that 7 of the 9 eyewitnesses have since recanted their testimony.
This case has taken many twists and turns. On September 12th, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for Troy Anthony Davis, and scheduled his execution for September 23rd. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed Davis' execution just hours before it was scheduled to take place. But in deciding not to hear his case, the court lifted its stay and a new execution date was set for Monday, October 27th.
Martina Davis at the Paris Rally
We now await the decision of the federal appeals court, which will determine whether Troy's case warrants a new hearing. We believe their ruling could happen at any time during the next month. I want to thank you again for playing such an essential part in Amnesty International's efforts to bring justice for Troy Davis. That's why I hope you'll take a minute right now to join Amnesty International and help us keep up this fight.
To stay informed about Troy Davis' case and to find out how to take additional actions, please visit:
Friday, 24 October 2008
From the Evening Standard, London, 24th October 2008
LONDON'S new Routemaster bus will operate on a scale far wider than expected but the much-hyped public competition to design it is a sideshow, according to a senior Transport for London manager. As the Mayor, Boris Johnson, prepares to unveil the results of the competition, it has emerged that TfL will order up to 800 of the open-platform new Routemasters, almost double the expected number. They will serve all central London's busiest routes, not just bendy routes.
The design contest has attracted around 470 entries, including one from Norman Foster. But David Hampson-Ghani, TfL's programme manager for new buses, said it was seen inside TfL as "almost a consultation" to the key effort, talks with the manufacturers. "The key objective is to replace the current buses that are used on central London's busiest bus routes," said Mr Hampson-Ghani in a recent presentation to the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport obtained by the Standard. "It's not about replacing bendy buses, it's about replacing whatever is operating at the moment and that may include bendy buses.
"We will simply hand over a folder of the winning designs [from the competition] to whoever wins the manufacturing tender and say: 'See what you can do with these.' The ultimate aim is to have a single manufacturer who will work up the design, prototype it and then build it." Conductor operation and an open platform, however, are non-negotiable. An invitation to tender will be issued in February 2009 and a contract for a "prototype and initial service vehicles" will be awarded next October. Mr Hampson-Ghani said the order would be for "700 to 800 vehicles over a three-year period". TfL had been in talks with the Department for Transport and the EU, he said, and had reached tentative agreement that regulations do allow an open-platform bus. "We already have buses like that on the roads today."
It had been thought that the major manufacturers were lukewarm about the scheme. "If you speak to the manufacturers privately, they'll tell you that making a vehicle like that is no longer possible in this day and age," said Robert Jack, managing editor of Transit magazine. However, both publicly and in private, Britain's two largest bus manufacturers expressed strong enthusiasm to the Standard. "TfL has been in contact and we are very interested," said a spokesman for Ballymena-based Wrightbus. Earlier this month TfL's head, Peter Hendy, visited the company's Northern Ireland plant to discuss the Routemaster and other projects.
"We are going to be all systems go. There is a solution there without a doubt," said a spokesman for Falkirk-based Alexander Dennis. "If London wants a Routemaster, we are going to be delighted to oblige." Chief executive Colin Robertson said his 80-strong engineering team was devoting increasing amounts of time to the project: "There is a good chance we could come up with a new design. We want to keep our top-dog position [in London] when it comes to the Routemaster."
"I now backing Obama!"
The new Routemaster is almost certain to use a hybrid drive, where a diesel engine powers batteries which run the bus, making it dramatically cleaner than existing bendy and double-deck buses. A conventional hybrid double-decker will be unveiled by Alexander Dennis at the bus industry's main annual trade fair next month. The order of up to 800 Routemasters is far more than needed to replace the bendy routes, which need 350 buses to operate them. It offers the prospect of being able to build the buses at a lower cost per unit than a smaller run.
If no major manufacturer is willing to make the buses, one industry expert said others could easily step forward. "Making a bus is not an expensive production-line job with robots and the like," says Hilton Holloway, news editor of Autocar magazine, which produced its own Routemaster design last year. "Compared to volume cars it is crude a bit of a cottage industry, with a lot of fabrication. Some of the new Routemaster designs are pretty radical but the majors have been making buses the same way for a hundred years. They might not be the best people to do this." Opposition members of the London Assembly have criticised the drive to introduce a new Routemaster. Val Shawcross, Labour chair of the assembly's transport committee, said the Mayor was "letting his personal prejudice override any sense of reason and should return the drawing board as soon as possible".
However, the new bus does appear to have caught the public imagination. Rukaiya Russell, a house music artist from New Cross, has released a track called Bring Back the Routemaster. The rap includes the ding-ding of a Routemaster's bell and the shouting-out of all the RM route numbers swept away in Ken Livingstone's cull of 2003-5. "Walking around central London one day, I just thought how I missed jumping on and off down Oxford Street, and I found myself singing 'Bring back the Routemaster'," says Russell on her MySpace site.
Boris Johnson on a Routemaster
Sunday, 19 October 2008
It is ten years since Britain passed a law giving protection to whistleblowers... employees who felt something was wrong in their workplace and told the bosses about it. However given the revelations of malpractice which have emerged with the current Banking Crisis the question may reasonably be asked “Where were the whistleblowers?”
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) was brought into effect as part of the recommendations of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life whose report is quoted in the introduction;
"All organisations face the risks of things going wrong or of unknowingly harbouring malpractice. Part of the duty of identifying such a situation and taking remedial action may lie with the regulatory or funding body. But the regulator is usually in the role of detective; determining responsibility after the crime has been discovered. Encouraging a culture of openness within an organisation will help: prevention is better than cure. Yet it is striking that in the few cases where things have gone badly wrong in local public spending bodies, it has frequently been the tip-off to the press or the local Member of Parliament - sometimes anonymous, sometimes not - which has prompted the regulators into action. Placing staff in a position where they feel driven to approach the media to ventilate concerns is unsatisfactory both for the staff member and the organisation."
Committee on Standards in Public Life
Second Report, Cm 3270 -1 (May 1996) p. 21
To achieve such a balance which allowed for organisational openness, the Act sets out a framework for public interest Whistleblowing, which protects workers from reprisal because they have raised a concern about malpractice. Though the Act is part of employment legislation, its scope is wide and no qualifying periods or age limits restrict the application of its protection (s.7).
Only a disclosure that relates to one of the broad categories of malpractice can qualify for protection under the Act. These include (s.1, s.43B) concerns about actual or apprehended breaches of civil, criminal, regulatory or administrative law; miscarriages of justice; dangers to health, safety and the environment; and the cover-up of any such malpractice. Cast so widely, and with its emphasis on the prevention of the malpractice, and with the guarantee of full compensation, the Act requires the attention of every employer in the UK.
The new law shielded employees from victimisation, and it followed several highly publicised cases where fear apparently blocked the revelation of eventually fatal shortcomings in public or private organisations.
The background to the Act lies in the analysis by Public Concern at Work of a spate of scandals and disasters in the 1980s and early 1990s. Almost every public inquiry found that workers had been aware of the danger but had either been too scared to sound the alarm or had raised the matter in the wrong way or with the wrong person.
Examples of the former included:
• the Clapham Rail crash (where the Hidden Inquiry heard that an inspector had seen the loose wiring but had said nothing because he did not want ‘to rock the boat’),
• the Piper Alpha disaster (where the Cullen Inquiry concluded that “workers did not want to put their continued employment in jeopardy through raising a safety issue which might embarrass management”), and
• The collapse of BCCI (where the Bingham Inquiry found an autocratic environment where nobody dared to speak up).
Examples of where the concern was raised but not heeded included:
• the Zeebrugge Ferry tragedy (where the Sheen Inquiry found that staff had on five occasions raised concerns that ferries were sailing with their bow doors open),
• the collapse of Barings Bank (where the regulator found that a senior manager had failed to blow the whistle loudly or clearly), and
• the Arms to Iraq Inquiry (where the Scott Report found that an employee had written to the Foreign Secretary to tell him that munitions equipment was being unlawfully produced for Iraq).
• Similar messages have come out of the inquiries into the abuse of children in care (over 30 reports of concern were ignored about the serial sex abuser Frank Beck) and investigations into malpractice in the health service. Two recent examples from the NHS are the Kennedy Inquiry into the high mortality rate amongst babies undergoing heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Dame Janet Smith’s Inquiry into the serial killer Dr Harold Shipman.
Most organisations make curious assumptions about the shared goals of their workforce. The new faces at the top are far away, the corporate change of strategy is a lurching change of direction, messages about new priorities are “cascaded” through the email system so that eventually they percolate through to the people at the bottom ...otherwise known as the people who spend their daily life in contact with the customers, where things really matter.
Whistleblowing is one of the checks and balances organisations put in place to try to keep themselves honest. Whistleblowing hotlines are mandatory under the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting rules rushed in by the US authorities after the corporate scandals (such as Enron) at the beginning for the 2000s.
Whistleblowing can of course be effective; publicising a hotline is a constant reminder of the decency at the heart of a company which can be appealed to when things go wrong. But the need for a hotline sheds some light on the nature of organisations ...the way that being “organised” detaches ordinary people from the normal responsibilities and decencies and turns them into corporate persons with loyalties mainly to their immediate superiors...the straight line relationships on the organisation chart. Organisations replace human good behaviour with corporate good behaviour, and it is not quite the same thing.
How can the world’s main banks have got engaged in such an orgy of destruction as we have seen in the past few years?
It must have been more than just stupidity.
The trend in organisations is to chip up the tasks into bits that prevent sensible questions being asked about their purpose: the banks and building societies used to find the money, arrange the mortgage and live with the loan until it was repaid, with oversight of the whole process. Then they thought they could streamline the process into component (and outsourced) parts: retailing loans, parcelling them up, selling them to investors, buying them in bulk. In this way they held the real world at bay, created a machine, and chopped up loan arranging into such tiny pieces that overall oversight was removed from the process, along with any grounding in the real world.
Banks created a machine that disabled the oversight and the responsibility mechanism that used to be at the heart of what they did.
And nobody blew the whistle on it.
Whistleblowing is a necessary part of running a modern organisation. But organisations have to be built so that when someone blows the whistle, they know how to respond.
Some Whistleblowing dos and don’ts
• Keep calm
• Think about the risks and outcomes before you act
• Remember you are a witness, not a complainant
• Look for advice
• Forget there may be an innocent or good explanation
• Become a private detective
• Use a Whistleblowing procedure to pursue a personal grievance
• Expect thanks
Friday, 17 October 2008
Bendy the Bus
London Mayor Boris Johnson's plan to scrap bendy buses will cost £60m + and is against Transport for London's (TfL) advice, opponents have claimed. Boris made an election commitment to “Scrap the Bendy Buses” and has launched a competition for a replacement design. Indeed having seen some of the entries so far the Celtic Sage is sorry he didn’t buy a new box of crayons and enter himself – although it has to be said that the artistic possibilities of drawing a Big Red Box with a wheel near each of the four corners are limited. However the Sage may be unduly pessimistic here for has not Damien Hirst achieved more with less?
Boris Johnson had vowed that his first act as Mayor of London would be to scrap bendy buses and replace them with a modern-day Routemaster. Mr Johnson said that the controversial buses were abused by fare dodgers and highly dangerous to cyclists.
Speaking at the first Tory candidate’s hustings meeting, the MP for Henley said that he would introduce a new version of the Routemaster bus that had been axed by Ken Livingstone. Their replacement would be fully accessible for the disabled and mothers with buggies. He said: "We should on day one, act one, scene one, hold a competition to get rid of the bendy bus. They wipe out cyclists, there are many cyclists killed every year by them. "It's not beyond the wit of man to design a new Routemaster which will stand as an icon of this city."
Now talk (particularly election talk) is cheap but spending taxpayer’s money is another thing, especially now that we are in Credit Crunch Land. And all this begs the question of whether Bendy or not, London’s transport future should be fixed on putting BIG RED BOXES with 65% empty seats on the roads of London or if we should look for a better way?
At a time when people are being encouraged to leave the car at home, a "super bus" carrying nearly twice as many people as a double-decker would seem to be the answer. The bendy bus has had a troubled journey but it could soon be the end of the road for it in London. Does the shape of a bus really provoke such strong emotions? Enemies of the bendy bus have long been seeing red.
But in the cycling community there is a lot of anxiety about them. Some say the extra length means overtaking them at bus stops can be "terrifying" and there is the ever-present danger that drivers turn left without looking. But a spokesman for the London Cycling Campaign says while bendy buses can be awkward on narrow streets, Lorries are a far greater danger. And Lionel Shapiro, who has 60 years of cycling experience, says there is a lot of mythology about them. They actually "turn beautifully" round corners and sometimes collisions are purely the fault of the cyclist.
The London Assembly Labour group said the Mayor is ignoring TfL's opinion that the buses pose no safety risk and they said that independent figures show getting rid of bendy buses on three services will cost an extra £13m a year, or £60m for all the routes.
A mayoral spokesman said Mr Johnson was not ignoring TfL advice. "TfL are currently evaluating tenders to operate services on two of the routes and trying to secure the very best deal for Londoners," the spokesman said. "This means it would be massively irresponsible to make public the figure TfL anticipate to be the cost of replacing bendy buses as it could affect the deals that bus companies have offered." He added that the mayor was determined to rid the streets of bendy buses in "the most cost-effective way".
TfL is currently consulting on proposals to remove bendy buses on three busy London routes, the 521, the 507 and the 38. Independent transport watchdog London TravelWatch, has estimated it will cost an extra £12m to £13m a year to replace bendy buses on those three routes alone. Using these figures, the assembly Labour group said to replace bendy buses on all the routes on which they currently operate would cost around £60m.
Earlier this month Janet Cooke, the chief executive of London TravelWatch, said they saw "no reason" to scrap the buses. Val Shawcross, Labour's transport spokeswoman, said Mr Johnson was ignoring professional advice from TfL officers, who earlier this year said the bendy bus was no more dangerous than any other bus in London. Ms Shawcross said: "The mayor seems determined to press ahead with his plans, no matter what the cost to Londoners.”He is letting his personal prejudice override any sense of reason and should return to the drawing board as soon as possible. It's not too late for him to change his mind."
However, whether the Mayor changes his mind or not the “Son of Bendy” competition will close at the end of this month and new designs continue to emerge. A PROPOSAL for a new electric Routemaster bus is unveiled today, complete with glass roof, optional solar panels and LCD screens showing route details. Passengers can hop on and off the German-designed e21 a crucial feature of the old Routemasters. But unlike the original, the e21 has a safety barrier that can be moved across the open doors in case of overcrowding.
The bus is also more accessible than the old model, with space for seven wheelchairs and a floor that lowers automatically by sensing the level of the kerb. Passengers on the top deck will be able to enjoy panoramic views through a transparent roof, which uses hi-tech insulation glass to protect them from heat and cold. Some sections of the roof will open like a sunroof and there will be the option of exchanging some of the panes for solar panels. To boost safety the e21 uses metal that absorbs frontal impacts and side parts made of plastics that can spring back into shape after a collision. The proposal was drawn up by designer Michael Kerz, a graduate of St Martin's design school, for a contest launched by Mayor Boris Johnson to find a 21st century version of the Routemaster. The classic vehicle was withdrawn from service by Ken Livingstone. Mr Johnson has pledged to revive it.
e21 - Der Routemeister?
The e21 can recharge its electric batteries in 10 minutes, with operating costs of a few pence per kilometre making the additional platform conductor even more affordable. Mr Kerz said: "A see-through roof or panoramic cabin is the obvious solution to satisfy tourists' needs." The e21 is one of a series of rival designs, including the H4, which boasts U-shaped seating and TV screens. Another by Foster and Partners has a glass roof. Judges are due to meet next week with a winner announced next month.
The Celtic Sage will leave himself open to accusations of using his immense influence to change the outcome but he has two favourites – The one with the smile on the front known as the “Bob the Builder” bus but which will be renamed “Bobski the Builder” if it is made in Poland. But the best of the old and new is the “Bendymaster”, a recycled (pair) of Routemasters with an articulated bit in the middle. Like looking at a Dyson Rollerball Hover (made in Malaysia) it provokes the oft asked question “Is there any end to Great British Genius?”
Smile, it is the “Bob the Builder” bus
However as the Sage has pointed out before he has an open mind on Bendy Buses as they do provide higher capacity on London’s streets and do address the very real problem of making public transport accessible for those who have impaired mobility in a country whose practical attitude to the disabled can only with kindness be described as disgraceful. The figure shows 10% of the population are classified as “mobility impaired” but, of course, this would constitute a higher proportion of the potential users of Public Transport and accessibility needs to be drastically improved to put the “Public” in “Public Transport”.
However the “Replacement Routemaster” competition may in the end may prove a non sequiter, empty sloganeering which, like the replacement bus, will end up going nowhere.
The London Tram
For there is a more fundamental problem with a combination of bus privatisation and the limited capacity of London’s streets. Bus privatisation has resulted in higher costs and differing standards as the recent strike by drivers protesting against different wages on different routes shows. The fundamental problem is the increases in bus capacity have been bought at the expense of an exponential increase in bus subsidy with some suggesting that the effective subsidy could be as high as £5 for each daily bus passenger? Also, because those who live in that great repository of Financial Genius and First Rate Minds, HM Treasury, insisted that the bus garages were sold off as part of bus privatisation so it is now difficult to have effective competition as new entrants won’t have garages. Simply put, buses are big boxes and you need somewhere to put these big boxes to sleep at night.
The route using the Kingsway Tram Subway
Tram Subway today
Tram Subway yesterday
So the solution may in part be to revive the tramway system. There is an Underground tram tunnel through Central London which directly connects with the Underground in the Kingsway Tram Subway and this could support a cross river North / South Tram connection with (say) 3 lines going north and south of the River Thames. If he Uxbridge / Shepherds Bush Tram proposal was revived to form an East / West Tramway going through Oxford Street and Holborn to Liverpool Street and Olympic East London you would have a very viable street level fixed link with modern Eco Friendly Trams which would address the capacity and accessibility problems of a bus only solution. A start has already been made as Cross River Tram is a proposal for a tram service running on-street between Euston and Waterloo, with branches to Camden Town and King's Cross in the north, and Brixton and Peckham in the south.
So the result of Boris Johnston’s “Replacement Routemaster” competition maybe a more informed and intelligent debate on the limitations and costs of moving Big Red Boxes around London. If this results in a revival of London’s Trams the Celtic Sage would regard this as a good result for London and Public Transport users!
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Troy Anthony Davis' appeal. His fate is back in the hands of Georgia authorities who may seek a new execution date at any time. The Supreme Court's decision to deny Troy Davis' petition means that no court of law will ever hold a hearing on the witnesses who have recanted their trial testimony in sworn affidavits.
Doubts about his guilt raised by these multiple witness recantations will never be resolved. An execution under such a cloud of doubt would undermine public confidence in the state's criminal justice system and would be a grave miscarriage of justice.
Amnesty International USA said “it is deeply disappointed with today's Supreme Court ruling that permits the execution of Troy Anthony Davis in Georgia. The organization maintains that evidence in his favour, which has never been heard in a courtroom, is enough to demonstrate that Davis should be granted a new hearing."
The Supreme Court decision is proof-positive that justice truly is blind -- blind to coerced and recanted testimony, blind to the lack of a murder weapon or physical evidence and blind to the extremely dubious circumstances that led to this man's conviction," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "At times there are cases that are emblematic of the dysfunctional application of justice in this country. By refusing to review serious claims of innocence, the Supreme Court has revealed catastrophic flaws in the U.S. death penalty machine."
Troy Anthony Davis, who is African American, was convicted in 1991 of murdering Mark McPhail, a white police officer. Davis' conviction was not based on any physical evidence, and the murder weapon was never found.
The prosecution based its case on the testimony of purported "witnesses," many of whom allege police coercion. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses for the prosecution have recanted their testimony in sworn affidavits. One witness signed a police statement declaring that Davis was the assailant, and then later said, "I did not read it because I cannot read." In another case a witness stated that the police "were telling me that I was an accessory to murder and that I would ... go to jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I ever got out, especially because a police officer got killed ... I was only 16 and was so scared of going to jail."
There are also several witnesses who have implicated another man in the murder. According to one woman, "People on the streets were talking about Sylvester Coles being involved with killing the police officer, so one day I asked him ... Sylvester told me that he did shoot the officer."
Despite this, Davis' habeas corpus petition was denied by the state court on a technicality -- evidence of police coercion was "procedurally defaulted," that is, not raised earlier, so the Court refused to hear it. The Georgia Supreme Court and 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals deferred to the state court and rejected Davis' claims. Today the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case and Davis is now left without any legal recourse; he could be executed within weeks. It is shocking that in more than 12 years of appeals, no court has agreed to hear evidence of police coercion or consider the recanted testimony."
It is appalling that so many judges were able to look away from such a grave breach of justice. Evidence of innocence simply hasn't mattered," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of AIUSA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. "This should be viewed as a day of great shame for our nation, one in which the green light was given to execute a citizen who may well be innocent."
Sign the Fairness Matters petition at:
For more information on Troy Davis please visit:
To see AIUSA DC Office's message to Mr.Davis please check out:
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
So Auf Wiedersehen to Joerg Haider the leader of the Austrian “Freedom Party” (sic) who died in a car crash on 11th October 2008.
To his supporters Joerg Haider was a patriot who dared to speak uncomfortable truths. His critics saw him as an ambitious, racist opportunist who used anti-immigrant and pro-Nazi rhetoric to stir up populist sentiment. What is doubtless is that Haider - whose death in a car crash at the age of 58 leaves a widow and two daughters - had charisma, but there again so had Adolph Hitler.
Joerg Haider was born in the Upper Austrian town of Bad Goisern in 1950 and his parents were very early members of the Nazi party, who moved to Germany where they became party officials. After the war, they were punished for their affiliations and forced to take up menial work.
But of course Austria is not any country but is the birthplace of Adolph Hitler whom they cheered to the rafters when the Nazis “united” Austria with Germany in 1938. Following the 1938 Anschluss, they would surprise Berlin with their astonishing dedication to National Socialism. During World War II, though they only constituted eight percent of the Third Reich’s population, Austrians comprised fourteen percent of the SS and forty percent of Nazi personnel involved in genocide.
After the war, under Soviet and American occupation Austria portrayed itself dishonestly as “Hitler’s First Victim”. They suggested their country had been occupied by aggressive, arrogant, pompous, warlike, super-efficient Germans from Germany. How else were they to deal with the occupiers? But this would make it difficult to understand why, some sixty years after the war, at least one out of every four Austrians (that is, those who voted for Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party) believes that Hitler wasn’t all that bad, the SS was just your usual elite military formation, and National Socialism could have developed highly-successful economic and employment policies if it had not been mismanaged.
That the Anschluss began with maniacal attacks on Jews by Viennese mobs is common knowledge everywhere except Austria. On March 11, 1938, when Vienna prepared to receive Hitler thousands of Viennese took to the streets of their city like mad persons, dragging anyone who "looked Jewish" from vehicles, clubbing and beating victims, desecrating synagogues, robbing department stores, and raiding Jewish apartments. They compelled rabbis to scrub toilet bowls with prayer shawls and stole whatever cash, jewellery, and furs they could find. An SS correspondent would later write admiringly, "’The Viennese have managed to do overnight what we have failed to achieve in the slow-moving, ponderous north up to this day. In Austria, a boycott of the Jews does not need organizing the people themselves have initiated it’"
This horror was a prelude to what would occur in Vienna and in Austria’s provincial cities during the Krystallnacht. Statistics for November 9 -10, a nightmare period not easily matched in previous European history, include 267 synagogues destroyed, 7,500 businesses and homes devastated, 91 Jews murdered, and 26,000 Jews rounded up. True, "Outside [Vienna] so little Jewish property remained to pillage or expropriate that the pogrom was limited by the success of previous purges". No matter, "local Nazis raped and plundered, tortured and maimed, and in Innsbruck beat or stabbed to death four distinguished Jews".
Kristallnacht, Vienna - What the jolly Viennese did in between waltzing and playing violins
Today walking around the former Jewish Quarter of Leopoldville in Vienna today there neither is a feeling of atonement for the fate of its former inhabitants nor has there been much inclination to restore robbed Jewish owned art to the families of its former owners. Austria remains a country in serious denial.
After school, where he was regularly top of the class, Haider studied law in Vienna and joined the Freedom Party in 1976. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the party's leader 10 years later. Around the same time he became party leader, Haider inherited a controversial $16m estate in the southern province of Carinthia where he became governor in 1989. Barental, or Bear Valley, was bought during World War II by his great uncle from an Italian Jew who fled in 1940. Critics say the sale was illegitimately forced upon the Jewish owner by the Nazis, but Haider consistently denied this. He amassed a formidable power base in Carinthia, but his first stint as governor in 1989 ended abruptly when he praised the employment policies of Nazi Germany and was forced to resign.
A few years later, he described World War II concentration camps as "punishment camps" and said the Nazi SS was "a part of the German army which should be honoured". He has also compared the deportation of Jews by the Nazis to the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after the war.
Happy Germanic People - Austria after the Anschluss
However we must not tar all or indeed most Austrians with the neo-fascist brush. To their great credit when Haider’s Freedom Party entered the Austrian government, thousands of Austrians and others who joined them from all over Europe marched in protest, in Vienna. Israel recalled its ambassador, and European nations made very clear their displeasure no matter what rationales Austria’s government offered. Given the costs of what had happened in Europe during World War II - thanks to Austrian as well as German fascism - it became more difficult to sell snake oil in today than in 1938.
Joerg Haider was driving at twice the speed limit when he died in a crash early on Saturday 11th October 2008, court officials have said. Mr Haider, 58, was travelling alone at 142km/h (88mph) in a 70km/h zone when his Volkswagen Phaeton V6 crashed. The accident occurred south of Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia, where he was the provincial governor. He was leader of the Alliance for Austria's Future, and was known for his anti-immigration and anti-EU policies.
Mr Haider had crashed shortly after leaving a nightclub. However, prosecutor Gottfried Kranza would not say whether Mr Haider's body had tested positive for alcohol. Mr Haider had reportedly been due to attend his mother's 90th birthday celebrations later in the day.
But the great irony of Joerg Haider’s death is that, in years to come, he will not be remembered for the stupidity of his beliefs and policies but for the stupidity of the way he died. For he was travelling at twice the speed limit in one of the world’s most stupid cars, a Volkswagen Phaeton V6. What a way to be remembered. He wouldn’t be seen dead in a Mercedes but in a Volkswagen. At least it was made by the company named after Hitler’s “People’s Car” so I’m sure in their Lebensraum in the sky his ex- Stormtrooper father and Hitler Youth organiser mother will take some comfort from the manner of his passing.
Auf Wiedersehen Joerg Haider.
Volkswagen Phaeton V6
Note; Historical references to the Anschluss and its aftermath are from Evan Burr Bukey. Hitler’s Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era, 1938-1945_. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.