Mar 092021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

It appears Marischal Square is nothing like the money-spinner city taxpayers were promised.

Within that glass box building, one of the most repugnant carbuncles to disgrace Aberdeen in recent years, government, multinationals and food businesses are enjoying sweeteners in the form of rent holidays, discounts and more.

Figures obtained through Freedom Of Information requests reveal that, to date, these sweeteners amount to nearly £4.5m.

Other costs have been estimated by the ‘We Campaigned Against Marischal Square’ group, which like Aberdeen Voice, has been fighting for data from Aberdeen City Council under FOI law.

We Campaigned posted:

“By my reckoning, since opening, MS has COST US £18 million so far. It’s taken in around £3 million and we have paid Muse/Aviva rent > £15 million plus we’ve spent around £3 million in operational costs.

How do we stop this financial mismanagement? Can we hold anyone to account? (We also have £1.3 BILLION debt to pay back the bond – interest payments of £40 million per year).”

Should the council have decided to go into the commercial rental sector with a new build? Did it have the expertise in house?

At one point the city claimed it had no idea of the amount of rent each individual business was paying, and that only Muse knew this.

If true, it’s a shocking dereliction of fiscal responsibility. Effectively, it makes freedom of information requests hard to successfully lodge, as Aberdeen Voice and ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal Square’ have found.

The following companies moved in. The list shows the value of their sweeteners. 

Tenant / Approximate sweetener total
Aberdeen Journals Ltd / £1,710,630
Tony Macaroni / £225,000
Chevron / (£285,270 min, £570,540 max) £427,905
Ernst & Young / £570,420
Mitchells & Butlers / £187,500
Tenaris / £116,215
KPMG / £266,535
Scottish Ministers / £582,905
Costa / £59,800
National Westminster Bank / (£193,847 min £ 243,306 max) £218,576
Prezzo / £46,200
Mackies / £38,200
TOTAL = £4,449,886.00

Aberdeen City Council was less than forthcoming with this information Only after the Information Commissioner’s office interceded did they release the information.

Anyone wanting to see the actual heads of terms agreements for the rents showing duration, other perks granted eg. carpeting allowances and free parking, size of space rented, etc, will find this hard-fought-for information here. 

As an aside, when finally handing this information over, the city tried to claim the documents were so large that they could only pass them over if Aberdeen Voice opened an account with ACC.  This nonsense was quickly countered. An account with ACC to access its FOI documentation or make requests is not required.

The ‘too large documents’ were under fifty pages in total.

The city is competing with the private sector in creating this building, just a time when Brexit impacts and the changes in the oil industry reverberate. Sir Ian Wood is busy trying to convince central government to build yet more offices and industrial space in the city. Doubtless he’ll get his way.

The businesses that moved out of existing spaces to Marischal such as KPMG leave behind empty office space and take income from the private sector.

In order to compete with the private sector in a market where office space is hardly in short supply, ACC uses the taxpayers’ largess to dole out the sweeteners.

Aberdeen Voice will try to determine whether the city is giving any further rent breaks or sweeteners to their Marischal Square tenants

The businesses forced to close, yet forced to pay for Aberdeen Inspired/business rates may look with some justified envy on the treatment given to national chains, multinationals and Aberdeen Journals Ltd.

Damian Bates, disgraced former Aberdeen Journals Ltd empresario, alluded to the fact the city was already subsidising its rent at Lang Stracht.

Why a genuine news corporation would be willingly indebted to a government with so many stories that should be robustly investigated is not a mystery – the city used to spend quite heavily on advertising in the rags.

However, the P&J and EE no longer refer to Marischal Square as ‘controversial’ and seem happy to sing its praises.

The city recently said it is £30,000,000 in debt.

Many consider this figure to be considerably lower than the reality. Where it will be in a year’s time is anyone’s guess – but if it is banking on Marischal Square, it’s doomed.

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Oct 252020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

If you managed to keep up with shifting Covid-19 government advice, changing statistics and the evolving list of related health complications, congratulations.

If you have mastered the Rule of Six, know when you are or aren’t in a relationship, have figured out when you’re free to break the rules ‘in a specific and limited way’, and when it is or is not acceptable to drive to Barnard Castle, perhaps you can explain to the rest of us why pubs and restaurants are risky, but schools are safe.

Advice on children and Covid-19 is as changeable as everything else to do with this disease, and yet teachers, staff, parents and students are being reassured by some school heads that ‘school is perfectly safe’.

How safe is ‘perfectly safe’?

A teacher’s perspective: An arse covering exercise.

“Risk assessments have been talked about more than anything else in every school, folk that are employed to do them have seen their workload go through the roof recently because they’re needed as an arse-covering exercise.

Teachers will get Covid and die; their family members will too, children will spread it to vulnerable people they’ll die too.

“The risk assessment will be used to justify that ‘we all knew what we were signing up to’ and that’s true to a point. It’s all about getting people back to work and getting taxes and money coming back into the system. Safety is secondary to that.”

The Safety Expert: Not enough detail.

We invited an expert to look for risk assessments, and we sent a representative sampling from the short (1 to 3 page) document to the massive document (over 30 pages). We looked at scores of risk assessments – some schools happily publish them; others feel they should not be shared – which rather defeats their purpose.

Our expert wrote:

“ In preparing risk assessments not enough detail is put into them and people tend to just put in an overview and think it’s sufficient when dealing with a highly contagious virus. 

“What needs to happen is every small detail needs to be looked at, the slight act like passing a pen to each other can prove fatal down the line, therefore this highlights the actual need to be doubly vigilant in the preparation of a risk assessment” 

Risk assessment should identify every task involved in an enterprise (such as a school day) from students lending each other pens to touching surfaces to grouping together. 

A valid risk assessment identifies every activity’s possible risk and then determines how likely or unlikely the risks can be (from catching or transmitting Covid-19, being mildly ill with it – or worse). 

A robust risk assessment then determines how likely or unlikely the risks are before corrective measures are made, so it can prescribe the corrective measures to lower the risk. 

Aberdeen’s Oldmachar Academy has a 31-page risk assessment document based on government templates seen elsewhere; it mingles Covid-19 and non-Covid issues (lift maintenance for instance).

Staff are mentioned 137 times; the word pupil appears 47 times. It is cumbersome, and the actual risk matrix says nothing concrete about the risks of Covid-19 – illness, death, transmission, long Covid etc.

Three Aberdeen City schools have had Covid-19 cases.

It is not easy to use and is not geared for all the people who are meant to be covered by it. As adults we find it cumbersome; if we were pupils, we’d find it less than user friendly.

It scores diseases as medium risk; though permanent health problems and death are present when Covid-19 is present.

Despite the time-sensitive, urgent nature of our request for risk assessments, Aberdeen City Council suggested we do a Freedom of Information request rather than have its media department send all or at least some of it for us to review.

The city should have had all the assessments in and professionally reviewed before schools opened. As it happened, the city’s risk assessments were still not finalised in the last few days before its schools opened.

Three Aberdeen City schools have had Covid-19 cases.

How it handles these in the media follows a pattern seen elsewhere: dissuade the public from thinking there could have been school transmission; claim their risk assessment is robust; patronise parents by saying ‘we understand your fears’.

Here is what Bridge of Don Academy told the press:

“Mrs McWilliam said: “I would want to reassure parents and carers that there is no evidence of transmission of Covid-19 at Bridge of Don Academy and that the school has very good control measures in place.

“The strength of the control measures has enabled Public Health to advise that the school remain open to the vast majority of young people.

“I realise that this is unsettling news and want to reassure you that decisions have been made following a robust risk assessment process with public health.””

We have requested this ‘robust risk assessment’ but do not have it yet. How is it determined ‘there is no evidence of transmission?’

Teachers are not all keen on going to school; as we saw, our teacher states they believe teachers will die.

Covid-19 facts that dropped out of the curriculum.

Few if any risk assessments we saw which were prepared prior to school openings acknowledged the existence of long Covid (the lingering fatigue and other symptoms that can last weeks or months). Perhaps this is a very rare occurrence; some say it is.

Is it worth taking the risk though, or risking long-term or permanent heart, lung nervous system damage, and inflammatory syndromes striking young Covid-19 victims such as Kawasaki disease.

Some head teachers still seem happy to insist their schools are safe, to insist it is fine for children to mingle unmasked in groups which can range from a dozen to one hundred pupils, and that ‘safety is our main concern’.

Talking to parents, it is this insistence that all is well and there is no risk that causes their worry: how can a school be a sanctuary from a disease that is spreading elsewhere in a community?

In order to get children through the doors, parents are being threatened with fines, threatened with social worker visits, threatened with police visits, ridiculed (‘you are the only parent who has any worries’), threatened they are harming their child (children must socialise and must learn at the government prescribed rate). But possibly worst of all, they are being greatly misled.

Failing marks for factual information.

One sentence found in a few school bulletins up and down the country concerns symptoms; here is one variant (from South Grove Primary School):

“This means that if your child has a cold, they should still come to school just like they would have last year. If your child has symptoms that point to a cold, they can still come to school. These could be a blocked or runny nose, sneezing and/or itchy eyes.”

The problem is experts, including the CDC, advise the following concerning flu and Covid-19 symptoms:

“Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include:
“Fever or feeling feverish/chills
“Cough
“Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
“Fatigue (tiredness)
“Sore throat
“Runny or stuffy nose
“Muscle pain or body aches
“Headache
“Some people may have vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults” 
– https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm

If the schools are handing out advice contrary to world experts, it hardly inspires confidence.

Unsurprisingly, some teachers and parents fear retaliation if they talk to reporters on the subject. Many tell us they ‘are not allowed’ to tell others if their school has had a positive Covid-19 case. This stifling of expression would have been contrary to European Human Rights law – but that seems like something we don’t need to worry about any longer.

One school wrote to parents, advising their child might have been exposed to an infected peer to self-isolate for 14 days:

“We must prioritise the health and safety of our students first and foremost.”

It begs the question: if they were prioritising health and safety, wouldn’t they allow students to study at home and take lessons remotely?

The government maintains its recalcitrant stance against this sane, risk-mitigating measure.

With a vaccine in the pipeline with several pharmaceutical companies, would it be that bad to save lives and educate at home for a number of months?

Yes, children need to play, socialise, learn and be around others: but if junior falls behind a few months but is free of long-term health issues, surely that is worth it.

BRTUS

Parents’ advocates Boycott a Return to Unsafe Schools (BRTUS) keeps a map of school Covid-19 occurrences, and its Facebook page is filled with discussion.

A BRTUS spokesperson said:

“Boycott Return To Unsafe Schools is campaigning for a Sensible, Safe and Sustainable return to schools, which should take consideration of local infection rates and include properly resourced blended or distance learning where appropriate.

“BRTUS understands the pressures teachers are under, and BRTUS is concerned for the welfare of all who are in the school environment – students, teachers and staff.

“Our map of Covid-19 cases within schools demonstrates that a return to full classes in the most densely populated classrooms in Europe is unsustainable and threatens the safety of society as a whole.

“In addition to sending newspaper reports to add to our map, parents have forwarded us communications they have received from their school, confirming cases which have not always reached the media. Some parents state they have been pressured not to discuss the case outside of their school community, and express concern that we will ensure anonymity. “

This is just one example of unacceptable treatment being endured by parents; the blanket policy of compulsory attendance fines – irrespective of local infection rate or the health risk factors of family members – is entirely inappropriate in the context of a pandemic.

“This policy has a detrimental impact on the mental health of family members including children, and alongside lack of funding prevents schools from providing appropriate support for home learning in order to protect children’s academic progress.

“With cases rising once again the Government must now formulate a properly funded plan for education which will minimize the opportunity for schools to be vectors of transmission, protect children’s educational outcomes and ensure the safety of families who are at increased risk from Covid-19.”

Parents said:

Parent A:

“The headteacher hates any disruption to their usual [routine] and any complaints tend to be quashed pretty quickly.  Their risk assessment was poor to say the least, as most points there were useless or still to be done.

“Even though the school is in the area with most cases in our town, they supposedly remain Covid free. It just simply doesn’t make sense. Rumours started amongst students that a teacher got it and when enquiring about that, I was told that the school doesn’t comment on rumours.

“Regardless of the fact that my own child had direct contact with this teacher, they refused to confirm if he is waiting for results or already has a positive result. 

“Our local newspaper has published that the council confirmed that “a number of schools have had positive tests”, yet only one school has been named. I do believe my children’s school has been affected by now.”

Parent B:

“If my child gets sick who is to blame? Me? The school or the government?”

Parent C:

“We’ve even been threatened with police!”

Parent D:

“We don’t want to deregister but we’ve been told we’ll be fined.”

Parent E:

“My head teacher says I am the only parent who has worries”

Parent F:

“The school says it will send social workers because I don’t want my child in school.”

Other parents talk about an absence of social distancing and masks at drop off and pick up times; parents with conditions such as asthma do not feel they are being taken into account, some find out their head teacher have called their child’s physician to discuss the parent’s reticence to send their child to school.

One thing bothering teachers, staff and parents is how widely varying policy and procedures vary from one school to the next. Some schools are having giant bubbles of the entire year; some have small bubbles of different classes within a year.

Some have taken the concept of ventilation to extremes insisting windows must be left open all the time (one parent told of a puddle forming in the back of a classroom when it rains) but will not let children wear coats to keep warm (cue potential respiratory illnesses) – and a school in Aberdeenshire has classrooms where windows cannot be opened.

Children in one school will eat at their desks; others will eat outside in all weather – standing up.

There is nothing logical, scientific or even consistent going on in the country’s schools when it comes to the pandemic. Maybe students will not die – but we believe the risk to teachers, staff and parents has not been addressed sufficiently.

If you think we are being overly dramatic or fearmongering by bringing up the risk of death, don’t blame us, here’s a quote from Matt Hancock:

“Don’t kill your gran.”

Hancock was referring to young people not keeping social distance: what exactly does he think happens in a school setting?

Image by Steve Riot from Pixabay

Aug 082020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Aberdeen City Council yesterday admitted that it has not finalised revising risk assessments for next week’s school openings and have refused to release the assessments to Aberdeen Voice.
Students are due to return to school despite a new lockdown in Aberdeen City Centre in response to the recent Covid-19 outbreak.

The City told Aberdeen Voice the school risk assessments were being revised.

With days to go before schools open, Aberdeen Voice asked for sight of the assessments; a city council spokesperson said:

“These are internal documents which we would not routinely share with the media. You can of course submit an FOI request.”

Aberdeen Voice replied it had never received a freedom of information request response from the city in less than 25 days – clearly too late for concerned parents

The City pointed Aberdeen Voice to its website when we first asked about safety for students, teachers and everyone connected to schools. The website lacks any specific provision details – but does say that distance learning has virtually been ruled out:  and parents must send children to school.

Additionally, on the Aberdeen City Council website, it says that risk assessments have been done. 

However earlier today ACC told Aberdeen Voice: 

“These will be discussed and agreed with all staff at the beginning of next week and before children return.  This is in keeping with the best practice advised in the national guidance. The risk assessments are informing the information that is being shared with families.” 

How the city can claim the assessments are done when they are now being redone, and claim ‘the information that is being shared with families’ but will not release the assessments to the general public is unclear.

The TUC is one of many organisations to publish its Covid-19 risk assessment; its website reads:

“UK law says every employer with more than five staff must produce a risk assessment. And new government guidance for the return to work after the coronavirus pandemic says that these risk assessments should be published on employers’ own websites.”

One school proud of its risk assessment that has published it to its website is Blackheath; it can be seen here: 

Parents and teachers throughout the UK are concerned at safety and according to The Scotsman only 1 in 5 teachers are confident about returning to the classroom.

The myth that children are ‘nearly immune’ to Covid-19 has been dispelled; they are not only efficient carriers who can transmit the virus to others, but when infected themselves, they may be prone to syndromes including multisystem inflammatory syndrome and Kawasaki syndrome.

Aberdeen Voice also awaits comment from Aberdeenshire council and Unison.  We are happy to continue receiving information and questions from parents, teachers and health professionals who alerted us to the situation.

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Jun 172016
 

Old Susannah turns her head awa frae Aberdeen this week as her lugs pick up gunfire in the States – again. By Suzanne Kelly

DictionaryLand of the Free, Home of the Brave, Bastion of Gun Worship; Americans witnessed another senseless bloodbath this past week. It was an American born Muslim extremist

in Orlando, Florida, with an automatic assault rifle in a nightclub. Which politicians will try to use these deaths to score points and whip up a bit more hatred (give you three guesses as to one of them)? Where will it be next time?

America needs some new slogans. ‘Land of the Free, home of the brave’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.

It seems to me that no one’s genuinely free. Minority groups, women and the poor have one set of laws to govern them, and freedoms are more than a little limited.

There is now an expression specifically for spurious, racially-motivated arrests, ‘Running (or driving) while black’.

The more money you’ve got, the better illusion of freedom you can afford, and the better protected you will be. Policing is biased in many places, and as we’ve seen from the Brock Turner rape case, Justice peeks from behind her blindfold, and can tell when there is some gold on her scales. Law and law enforcement have long since gone their separate way from Liberty. ‘Truth, Liberty and Justice for All’ no longer reflects the reality.

Aside from if you were a Native American, it all seemed such a good idea at the time.

The American experiment if taken literally would see people today free to choose where and how to live, collecting their own rainwater without fear of prison, living off the grid if they felt like it, and dare I say it – using whatever plants (including cannabis) however they chose to.

Funny, no one wants to take the freedom, equality and rights-concerned sections of the Constitution literally – but the NRA certainly wants to ensure that we take very literally ‘the right to bear arms’ (which of course was in the context of having a militia and when muskets ruled, not semi-automatics and Saturday Night Specials).

In the USA there are those who take the bible literally too, and are at great pains to prove the world is only 6,000 years old and the righteous will float up to heaven in the Rapture (NB this is a US invention, not that most of the bible belters will admit that). The only parts of the bible they don’t want to take literally (while they build ‘creation museums’ showing dinosaurs romping with humans) is the ‘love one another’/ ‘do unto others’ bit.

What a selective species we can be. Interpretation of Truth and Liberty have been warped by special interest and greed to the point they’ve broken.

When I moved to the UK from New York people would ask me why, and I’d half-jokingly reply ‘because I don’t want to get shot’. Some would look at me funny; I’d explain handgun proliferation and gun culture to the interested. But no one I met in the UK could really understand why some Americans are dead set on ‘protecting’ themselves with guns.

From all the evidence (accidental misfire killings and wounding;, parents shooting children arriving home late, etc), I don’t understand how a gun ‘protects’ the average Yank either.

One reason I’m going to try and write on this topic (once more) was a post Nick Tesco (a founder of The Members, but you know that) made on Facebook in the wake of Orlando:

“Dear American friends, do these mass murderers see children, church goers and gay people as tools of the tyranny that they’ve been obliged to take up arms against as demanded by your Second Amendment and like your NRA say? Or is that something you might need to take a look at when you’ve finished giving women a hard time about abortion?”

21st Century – Still tribal after all these years.

In his post Tesco seems to be asking for an American re-examination of values, guns, the meaning of freedom, and where the focus of securing freedom should be.

Tesco’s since qualified his post; he well knows that not all Yanks are the problem, and if you look at the UK through a similar lens, you might not see a pretty picture either.

For instance there is some unnecessary, ugly violence going on over the beautiful game in France at present. Nationalistic fans clash with nationalistic fans in the streets and bars of France on some primitive tribal quest to prove who’s the most warlike (and I suppose to their minds this makes them superior, manly, desirable). Things aren’t different in the US. Scenes at pro-Trump rallies make thinking-people cringe, and that’s before the violence starts.

What is the American Republican/Democrat push-pull if not mindless tribalism? Everyone wants their side to win, and most people stick with whichever party their parents belonged to. No one looks at what their elected officials’ backgrounds are or what entities fund them and chooses – just whether the elephant or the donkey wins.

You might be living in a trailer park on benefits in America, but if mom and dad were Republicans, you’re likely to vote for a billionaire because he’s in the Republican livery, however exploitative he is of you and your fellow poor Americans. The ingrained desire to be a ‘winner’ overrides logic, fact, and common sense for some.

There is a lot to love about America – most of the people, the environment, and the idea of liberty.

How, when and why did a country which declared the notion of freedom being its core value turn into a racist, sexist, elitist police state governed by the rich for the benefit of the rich and their richer multinational masters? Perhaps being formed on top of, rather than along side of, Native American rights and values, and on the back of slavery meant the American dream was always going to become a nightmare, but the bloodshed and inequality has to be countered before it’s too late.

Ultimately I don’t think it’s too late to turn it around (or I’d not bother writing about it) but this must happen now before more ground is lost to the crooked cop, the bent judge, the lobbyist-controlled congressman and the multinational.

An observation which may or may not be a non-sequiter came to mind. I’ve a good number of intelligent American friends and acquaintances; most far more intelligent than I am. A few have put their brains into music, art, politics; the majority have harnessed their talents to making money. I can’t help but think if they hadn’t been conditioned to think that money equalled success that such talent could have been applied to creative, political and humanitarian ends.

I also can’t help but think for some people, they’d be a lot happier if they hadn’t been worried about being a lot richer.

You might think you are freer in the US than in other places. Gun-loving Americans clutch their guns and decry they will use them to guard their freedoms. They think this is freedom; they think it is a free country. I beg to differ. Here are a few thoughts on how freedom is doing these days.

Free Elections?

Turning back to gun violence, there are many worthy groups fighting to get guns under some form of control. Why don’t people just vote for congressmen who will deliver gun control, and that will be the end of the problem?

In order to run for office, a candidate needs millions of dollars. Perhaps candidates start out with high hopes and best intentions. I respectfully suggest that with a few notable exceptions, by the time they raise this money, they will get their hands dirty. They will owe favours. Will they owe the National Rifle Association, arguably the most powerful lobbying group in America? More than likely.

“According to OpenSecrets, a site that tracks money in politics, the NRA spent $984,152 on campaign contributions during the 2014 election cycle. It also spent more than $3 million on lobbying in both 2013 and 2014. The NRA also spent $28,212,718 on outside political contributions during this period, which includes ads paid for directly by the NRA. That makes it the tenth biggest spender when it comes to such political spending.”
http://fortune.com/2015/12/03/san-bernadino-nra-political-spending-gun-violence/

Voting is a right people fought for, but not everyone uses. About 40% of the country will either not bother to turn out for a presidential election – or do not vote for more sinister reasons.

There are those who want to vote – but get turned away in increasing numbers for spurious reasons. Names go missing from electoral rolls. Last minute demands for photo ID sends some away. In a paradox, questions were raised about some of the votes delivered from Florida by Governor Jeb Bush to clan Bush member Dubya – were all of those who voted: alive, able to vote, received postal votes themselves that they alone completed – questions remain.

Can elections be rigged? Of course. Does that only happen in the third world? Of course not.

So, we are not free to select the best candidate to run for office; we are selecting from candidates pre-selected by vested interest groups who give their candidates enough money to run. We are not free to vote if we are turned away because of unconstitutional practices, and racism does still stop people from getting to the ballot box:

“Thousands of black electors in Florida were disenfranchised in last November’s [2000] election by an electoral system tainted by “injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency” a leaked report by the US civil rights commission says. It accuses Governor Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, and his secretary of state, Katherine Harris, of “gross dereliction” of duty, saying they “chose to ignore mounting evidence” of the problems. 

“The eight-strong commission, whose report will be published on Friday, found that black voters were “10 times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected”, and pointed to the use of a flawed list of felons and ex-felons to purge the voting rolls. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/jun/06/uselections2000.usa

Freedom fail.

Tesco also once posed on Facebook that everyone should vote; this is true up to a point. Not that I take all my political leads from musicians, but Jerry Garcia is attributed with having said (I paraphrase again) ‘If you vote and choose between two evils, you are still choosing evil.’

So – while I must vote for Clinton – as a vote against Trump – it is not because of any woman solidarity, and it’s certainly not because I approve of her Monsanto links.

She is clearly the better choice over Trump. A nation of 260 million people – and it comes down to this. I might well write in George Takei who has always spoken out against violence and intolerance, or for heroic filibustering senator Chris Murphy whose stamina has forced a congressional vote to ‘close the terror gap’.

In the end, I will vote for Clinton, to avoid the Trump presidency, and the catastrophe that would spell. (besides which, I’d like to be able to visit the US in the next 4 years without winding up in a boiler suit on my way to GitMo). As far as I know, unlike Trump, Clinton’s not racked up 3,500 lawsuits, hasn’t opened a fleecing operation posing as a ‘university’ and doesn’t want everyone armed. She’s no plans to ‘take out’ people related to terrorists, or to ban Muslims / American Muslims from travel.

Free to have guns.

Anything you need to know about the illogic and insanity of having automatic weaponry freely available can be found in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine documentary. The sad thing is that this film was made in 2002. Oh, and the wealth and power of the NRA tells you why the country is like this.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness.

At the same time we Americans are telling ourselves how ‘free’ we are, and how we want to bring freedom to other countries (frequently those with resources NB), liberty is getting a beating at home and abroad. The same ilk of senator who will keep automatic guns on sale is legislating to give American water not to Americans, but to sell or give it to companies like Nestle, which is bottling it up and signing lucrative deals to take water in states like Oregon.

Want to collect rain water on your own property? In many states that will land you in prison – like Oregon, which is giving your water to Nestle.

Nick Tesco is right in his Facebook post when he alluded to abortion, but it is actually worse and worsening for any woman who wants control over her body and life. Have a spontaneous abortion – don’t do it in certain states, or you’ll go to jail for failing to carry full term.

There are places where you will be mauled by a police dog, beaten to a pulp or beaten to death – or shot for offences like having a tail light out on your car, driving too slowly, running, or just being non-white in a white area. The police are brutal in some states. There is no other way of putting it.

And Justice for All? 

Some police officers are people who want to make the world better; however, organisations like Police the Police are proving time and again that the police force today includes Ku Klux Klan members, paedophiles and sadists. They largely seem immune from prosecution – while the guy collecting rain water or trying to live ‘off the grid’ will spend years in prison. In some states, growing marijuana can lead to decades in prison.

However, if you are white, privileged – and a good swimmer – raping an unconscious woman will get you a few months in a cell at most.

I’d add a description of how Native Americans have been treated past and present – but I cannot do it justice at all. Here is a good place to look at one issue though – the veritable kidnapping of Native children who are chemically coshed and placed with white, extreme ‘Christian’ families for no good reason other than money is made from it, and families and culture is destroyed in the process. This is the tip of the iceberg for Native issues.

It’s lunacy, and as far as the eye can see, the root causes are greed and self-interest.

Does this make me a conspiracy theorist?

Does it serve the interests of those in power when these incidents happen? It doesn’t always hurt. You’ve got Trump insisting if everyone had a gun, Orlando wouldn’t have happened (so no hostage or crossfire casualties in his world I suppose). When the serial killer in question is non-white and non-Christian – then the authorities insist we have an Islamic jihad problem that can only be served by the rest of us giving up more of our freedoms and… by panicking the suggestible into buying guns to protect themselves.

We know how well that works out.

CODA

Just as I finish this piece, Jo Cox MP has been shot and stabbed; she supports the Remain campaign, and works to help Syrian refugees. Allegedly the assailant yelled ‘Britain First.’ [17 June:  Jo Cox has been murdered. Britain First’s Facebook page has a BF ‘news’ item that the murderer didn’t shout ‘Britain First’ – they shouted ‘Put Britain First’.  A trivial distinction which ignores the fact she is dead, and those who have worked tirelessly to ratchet hatred up several notches are at least in part culpable.]

If the reports prove true, and they are a Britain First supporter, they have shown BF in its true light. Despite its many Facebook posts using click bait such as veterans, dog fighting, elderly issues – they are only nationalistic, white supremacist violent thugs. If this is how their followers try to advance their cause, let’s ensure we stop sharing their posts at the very least, and let’s make sure they don’t get a foothold.

The US is rapidly becoming ruled by gunpower – let’s ensure that never happens here.

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Jan 162015
 

On 7 January 12 members of French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo were gunned down in their offices.   This was a premediated, cold-blooded assassination by radicalised people claiming somehow to have ‘avenged the Prophet Mohammed’.  Following the massacre of the journalists – and others in France unlucky enough to have crossed the path of the murders, worldwide, pan-religion condemnations were issued and rallies held.  Aberdeen, with its considerable French population, joined in with its own rally, organised by Frog in Aberdeen and especially Julie Tchao.  Suzanne Kelly talks to those who attended.

je_suis_charlie_by_Suzanne_Kelly

There were many families present, many with French origins. Picture credit: Suzanne Kelly.

Aberdeen’s Castlegate filled up last Sunday with people of all ages and nationalities to stand together in solidarity for those who lost their lives in Paris, their families and friends. Several hundred people rallied, carrying the flag of France, posters, and signs proclaiming ‘I am Charlie/Je Suis Charlie’ – the ‘I am Spartacus’ slogan adopted for those who express solidarity with the magazine and its use of satire and humour to mock the powerful, corrupt and dangerous.

A small shrine was set up with a candle; a book of condolences was readily filled with comments – it is being sent to Paris.

People also wore pencils on their coats as a symbol of the power of the written word and of satire – a representation that ultimately the pen is mightier than the sword or gun.

Organiser Julie Tchao said:-

“I think it is really excellent the turnout we had today, not only from the French community which is good, but also from Scottish and British people who are like us  shocked and horrified by what happened.  It is really great that on this occasion everyone could gather around a good cause and a peaceful event and share our sorrows but also share the fact we say no to terrorism and yes to freedom of speech.   

“I am really touched by the turnout from a small city like Aberdeen.”

Also attending the event was Domenic Bruce; he commented:-

“I think what has happened is very inhumane and a huge distortion of what Islam is as a religion.  I think all we can do is hope that love and light can diffuse the situation and people come together to help the victims’ families – and well the whole world really.”

There were many families present, many with French origins.  Natalie and here family were one such group.  She commented:-

“We decided to come as a family to show our solidarity with what happened in Paris – the atrocities – and to demonstrate that we want to keep our freedoms.”

Her partner Nick added:-

“It’s too easy for the silent majority to stay silent and that’s why we wanted to be here – remembering what happened – not shouting about it – but quietly supporting the people of France, and supporting freedom.”

The historic Castlegate has seen many events over its many hundreds of years as a gathering place, but no one could have imagined it would be used for such an international, interfaith display of unity as it did that Sunday; the dignity on display and the kindness people showed to each other brings hope.

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Dec 172013
 

nelson-mandela-longBy Bob Smith.

Madiba he’s bin laid tae rest
His lang journey it is deen
Beeriet in his hame village
Es Freeman o Aiberdeen

His story is worth tellin
Bit a widna even try
It needs a bodie far mair versed
In Sooth Africa’s freedom cry

Ess “Tata” o Sooth Africa
As Madiba he wis weel kint
Fer fechtin agin apartheid
Tae prison wis eence sint

Tata Madiba yer noo free
Amang angels ye can rest
Kennin fine fin on ess earth
Ye did mair than try yer best.

Nelson Mandela fareweel tae thee
Nae mony can tak yer place
A mannie fa focht fer justice
A credit tae the human race.

©Bob Smith”The Poetry Mannie” 2013
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Jun 102013
 

How the unelected quango that is Scottish Enterprise, with ACSEF’s blessing, put business before our environment and won the day for Trump is the question. However, getting information about what happened is a bit like pulling teeth.  Suzanne Kelly reports on her recent bids to obtain information from Scottish Enterprise about its engagement with Trump.

Scotland is well and truly open for business.  We will wine and dine with you, fly you round our protected environment in helicopters, create feasibility studies at taxpayer expense, and give support recommending existing environmental protection is overlooked.

Well, we’ll do that if you are a foreign billionaire.

Much has been written about the relationships between Scotland’s First Ministers McConnell and Salmond, Scottish Enterprise and Donald Trump.  There have been dinners both sides of the Atlantic with these key players.

The Ministerial Code prohibiting such blatant support for pending planning applications was certainly bent if not broken.

New information has come to light through Freedom of Information requests.  A letter from Scottish Enterprise’s Jack Perry to Trump following their dinner is the sort of love letter that would have made Dame Barbara Cartland blush. The new FOI requests have also raised some important questions.

Anomalies between the disclosed information and the facts do not always seem to add up.

Love-letters Straight from the Heart

Scottish Enterprise – an unelected, taxpayer funded quango provided support to the Trump organisation.   It is clear the organisation should deal with foreign investors.  Why, however, it should have recommended – and successfully so – overriding environmental protection status to create a golf club is a mystery.

Another mystery is why the taxpayer should have spent over £30,000 on a feasibility study, or provided £40,000 helicopter flights over Menie to a billionaire.

After meeting in New York for dinner with Trump, this is what then head of Scottish Enterprise, Jack Perry wrote a letter to the Donald, which can be found here:  http://menie-estate-report.yolasite.com/

The letter raises a few points as well as raising the bar in obsequiousness. In order of appearance, these include the following.

1.  Perry put pressure on the head of the Shire council in the form of a letter ‘registering his profound dismay’.  Scottish Enterprise could either have suggested new potential, less contentious locations for a course.  It could have stayed out of the political side of things. It chose to write to the head of regional government to ‘register dismay’.

2.   More importantly, Perry puts it on the table:  The Scottish Government favoured the plans.

“We concur with the Scottish Government’s contention that this is genuinely a project of national importance to Scotland.” 

The rejected planning application was called in by the Government, who had let its support of the plan be known in December of 2007.  With this predisposition noted by close government quango head Perry, how could there have been any chance of a fair outcome?  What exactly was this partiality based on?  Was it the extremely favourable business projections – which now seem rather unrealistic to say the least?

3.  Perry lobbies the other parties’ shadow ministers.  As he put it:-

“I have tried to make it clear in these discussions that the impact of Aberdeenshire Council’s decision goes far beyond the immediate issues of the Trump development but has much wider implications for Scotland’s International image and reputation as a country which welcomes investment.”

Is it really part of the remit of Scottish Enterprise to not only lobby, but to lodge a veiled threat that saying no to this project would have ‘wider implications’?

The head of a multi-million pound quango and the influence of ACSEF, Scottish Enterprise’s Regional Advisory Board – itself unelected but taxpayer funded – could be very intimidating indeed.  Indeed, Patrick Machray, then head of ACSEF, was singled out for praise in the support he lent to the Trump project, and was copied on this letter.

Perry closes his letter:-

As Scotland’s principal economic development agency, we at Scottish Enterprise wish to see your development proceed. We will continue to do what we can to help.”

And indeed they did.

Do we really want to be funding unelected bodies, Scottish Enterprise and ACSEF, to act in a manner that sidesteps or pressurises our elected officials?  It seems we do.

Freedom of Information Conundrums

Getting information should be easy, and responses to FOI requests accurate and complete.  The recent replies received from Scottish Enterprise raise as many questions as they answer.  Here are some issues arising.

1.  Hospitality

A fairly comprehensive question was posed as to any hospitality/gifts that might have been received from the Trump organisation:-

“3.  Details of any hospitality (event, gift, accommodation, etc.) offered to any member of Scottish Enterprise or Visit Scotland  from Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”

The answer sounded reasonable enough at first:-

“In accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, I can confirm that Scottish Enterprise holds no information relating to any gifts or money received from Trump International, or the other related parties listed.    To comply with Scottish Enterprise’s Code of Conduct, the organisation maintains a register of gifts and hospitality received by employees from companies.   I confirm that a search of the register has been undertaken and no entries relating to gifts or hospitality from Trump have been registered.”

However, Jack Perry’s letter to Donald Trump opens as follows:-

“You may or may not recall that I had the pleasure in October 2005 of joining you for lunch in the Trump Tower with the then First Minister, Mr Jack McConnell….”

Who exactly paid for this lunch?  While much has been written about the subject, it is not at present clear whether the taxpayer paid for the lavish meal (steaks and shrimp in Trump Tower are not exactly inexpensive), or whether Trump did.  If it was the taxpayer, how extremely generous of us, particularly when McConnell should not have been there anyway.

If it was Trump, then the cost should have appeared on Jack Perry’s hospitality details:  Scottish Enterprise are saying no hospitality had been registered.

2.  Funding

An excellent article on this meeting can be found in the Scotsman at http://www.scotsman.com/news/scottish-news/top-stories/how-jack-of-clubs-came-up-trumps-for-donald-1-1411884

It mentions two helicopter flights paid for by Scottish Enterprise– the Scottish taxpayer picked up the tab.  The Scotsman article reports:-

“The billionaire’s golf company was lavished with attention. Two memos released by SE show that – at a cost of £4,800 to the public purse – the agency paid for two helicopter tours of Scotland, taking in the golf course site, as they showed off the country to their deep-pocketed American friends.

“A further e-mail shows they offered to meet the £40,000-50,000 cost of a feasibility study into the Menie Links site. Trump’s people were impressed, “raving” in August last year about the way enterprise agency officials were courting them. All was set fair for a deal.”

However, when asked a fairly clear question about funding:-

 “2. Details of any funding applied for, granted, or rejected for Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland) by Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise.”

The reply ignored these flights:-

“I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request.   SE has not received any applications for funding, and has not granted, or rejected any applications for funding for Trump International, or the other related parties listed.”

It seems fairly evident that supplying flights worth c. £40,000 would have constituted funding granted.  Money was spent in connection to the Menie Estate.

3.  Time Warp

A FOI question pertained to the quote from Jack Perry appearing on the Trump website.  This quote reads:-

“As Head of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s main economic, enterprise innovation and investment agency, I welcome the progress on Trump International Golf Links’ development in Aberdeenshire. The overall aim of Scottish Enterprise’s Tourism strategy is to achieve higher value add through the development of such premium resorts and experiences for visitors.

“We value the commitment which the Trump organisation is demonstrating by commencing work on the site at Menie, as this type of new resort development, will deliver modern, high quality accommodation and facilities to Scotland. This is critical to our ambition to help Scotland realise more value from our tourism assets. The development will attract higher spending visitors from across the UK and overseas and will further support Scotland’s position in the global market as the Home of Golf.”

“Jack Perry, Chief Executive, Scottish Enterprise”

The website did not pre-exist the course.  The quote refers to work commencing on the site.

Scottish Enterprise would have us believe, however, that no correspondence took place between it and Trump. The FOI had specified that correspondence from 2008 onward was being requested.  Bearing in mind the pre-approval letter from Perry to Trump was from December 2007.  This was the FOI question:-

“1.  Copies of correspondence to and from Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise on the one part and Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) on the other part, pertaining to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”

In February this was the answer to that question:-

“We have carried out a search of our files and can advise, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request.”

As it seemed unlikely that a quotation from Perry got onto the Trump website with no correspondence taking place; a new FOI was launched.  The question SE was now asked included the quotation taken from Trump’s website.  This simply could not have been made before 2008 – not with the reference to work commencing.

The December 2007 letter to Trump from Perry was before the subsequent government approval of the scheme.  It was time to ask Scottish Enterprise to explain, and the following questions were sent;-

“2.1 Given the answer supplied below, that no correspondence took place between Scottish Enterprise and the Trump Organisation, please explain how the above text was sent to the Trump organisation, under what circumstances, and at whose instigation.

“2.2 Please also explain the apparent inconsistency with your previous reply that there had been no correspondence between the two entities.

“2.3 If it now seems that there was correspondence between the two entities, please now submit such correspondence.”

When thus virtually cornered, SE replied:-

“Following an extensive search of files, I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA that SE does not hold any information to respond to your question.  Any communication officers that could have dealt directly with the Trump Organisation have since left Scottish Enterprise and, in accordance with our retention policy, we would no longer hold files which would allow us to confirm how the quote referred to above was provided to the Trump Organisation.

“Your previous FOI requested information held from 2008 onwards.   The response provided was therefore accurate within the scope of your request.

“Please find attached a letter from Mr Perry, former CEO of SE, to Donald Trump dated 7 December 2007.    I confirm that this is all of the information held within the scope of your request.”

The correspondence ends with the statutory advice that an investigation of how the FOI request was handled can be requested.  It is a fair bet to assume it will be.

If an organisation like this quango doesn’t keep correspondence – including that sent on behalf of its CEO – then accountability simply doesn’t exist.

Does Scottish Enterprise have carte blanche and a blank chequebook?  We could be forgiven for thinking so.

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Mar 212013
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho! Apologies for the late running of this column.

For one thing I’ve been a bit tied up with issues at the Menie Estate.  I’ve compiled a report covering some of the little issues people have with the galaxy’s greatest golf course and Mr Trump. Leaving aside boring issues such as the quality of life for residents, visitors and wildlife, it was a huge honour to be one of the first people to see the brand new plaque by the course’s temporary (?) clubhouse.

This plaque tells you the course has been ‘weaved’ through the ‘largest dunes in the world’.

Of course it has.  I wonder whether The Donald wrote this brilliant prose himself, or if one of our BiG local PR agencies devised it for him.  It is very inspirational – I just won’t tell you what I felt inspired to do.

While at the course I had hoped to interview some of the thousands of new employees working in the promised golf jobs, and ask what was going on with the millions of pounds of income generated.  I couldn’t find these new employees – perhaps they were all out counting their money.  However, I was lucky enough to see one of the rarest forms of wildlife, the lesser-spotted Sarah Malone-Bates.

It was wearing a bright pink blouse (which was interesting, as the rest of us needed coats, hats and gloves).  She must have been cold, but a little suffering is the price of beauty.  (I note that there are a few beauty contests coming up in our area; isn’t it great to know how important looks are, and what humanitarian ends beauty contest winners can get up to.

Some say beauty is skin deep; others that beauty is as beauty does.  I wonder what Mrs Maloney-Baloney thinks.  They also say you get the face you deserve by the time you’re 40.  I wonder what Mr Trump thinks on that score).

Other than that, there has been so much activity of late that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, a thank you to the nice people at Lunan Farm Shop & Cafe, who helped me when my mobile phone got lost.  I was quite put out, worried I might miss a call asking me to join ACSEF, or offering me a vice-presidency job at Trump International.  I have my phone back now, and am awaiting those calls which should come any day now.

What Lunan and the Farm Shop/Cafe lack in connectivity and vibrancy, they make up for in other ways and then some.  Like being nice and serving real food.

As per usual an amazing visit to BrewDog; their man Fisher has painted an amazing black and white mural there, and starting 25/3, the walls will feature artwork from up and coming area residents.

What’s clean air and wildlife compared to someone somewhere making money?

When I go jogging around Nigg Bay, there are more and more other joggers to be seen, as well as walkers, cyclists, golfers and wildlife spotters.  We’re all thrilled to think the Harbour Board wants to ruin the last stretch of coastline with potential harbour expansion.  Money before environment has worked really well in Aberdeenshire.

We’ve got a great situation at Menie, with compromised SSSIs, we’ve got some of the top ten most polluted roads (funny that includes roads near the harbour), and a sewage plant.  Let’s just finish the job, deal nature a final blow, and turn Nigg Bay into a money-maker, too.  What’s clean air and wildlife compared to someone somewhere making money?

Before getting to some definitions,  there is some sad news.  A gentle giant, humble, meek and softly-spoken has left Aberdeen City Council (no, not Pete Leonard.  Yet).  Perhaps you’d best sit down (if you’re not already):  Gerry Brough has left – resigned.

Without Gerry, we couldn’t have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on the City Garden Project, which brought so much harmony to our city.  His timid, mild behaviour at meetings might have made him easy to overlook, but let’s look at some of his many accomplishments.

Without Gerry, we might have had a chance to vote ‘No’ to building in UTG when presented with the shortlist of ‘designs’ for turning UTG into shops and parking.  Where would we have been then?

He selflessly ‘donated’ about 11 hours per week of his own time to sit on various City Garden Project committees, with no thought of eventual reward, disregarding EU work-time directives.  I’m sure his family felt deprived of his sunny disposition.

Some might say this free work done by Brough Trade was a smokescreen to make it look as if the project didn’t cost anything to the taxpayer and to help him get in with the ACSEF mob or the odd billionaire.  But I knew he had a good heart.  A heart of granite.

For some strange reason, several of the shops have folded, and one became an internet business

Who else will represent Aberdeen in Houston and Grenoble? We flew him there for very important meetings and conventions last year.  If those important meetings coincided with cuts to services for the elderly and school facilities, it was worth it.  Then there was the way he was fair to both sides of the garden referendum debate.

His involvement in how the referendum question was worded was sadly not appreciated by the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens.  Gerry said at the time the FOUTG were trying to ‘undermine’ the process.

If by undermining it he meant not accepting 11th hour wording changes or being railroaded into a lamely-worded question, Gerry was right. (see also https://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/12/utg-referendum-question-already-soured/ ).

He also helped give us ’Retail Rocks!’ in Torry.  On the one hand, it brought shops back into use.  Well, for a few months anyway.  Even if this rocking scheme created unfair advantage for the new shopkeepers over existing businesses, and took tens of thousands of taxpayer pounds in the process, it’s what Gerry wanted. I think this was really just his way of helping to stimulate the economy (for consultants and shopfitters).

For some strange reason, several of the shops have folded, and one became an internet business.  It is almost as if having a shop premise selling goods isn’t as profitable as selling goods on the intranet.  Still, this kind of forward-thinking scheme won an award of some kind.

Some people would say that service industries are a better way to go to get empty shops filled, lower rates for all ‘ma and pa’ businesses would also help, and using empty shops for artwork displays, events, charity fundraisers and so on would stimulate high street growth.  But Gerry knew best, and now, <sob>  he’s gone.

Rumours of Independent, Labour, Conservative politicians joining 99% of the ACC staff in dancing on tables and celebrating with BrewDogs are unconfirmed.  Adios Ger.

This week there are many interesting developments concerning freedom of the press:  i.e. – there might not be much of it going forward.  Here are a few definitions to try and make sense of what happened to the media, and what might happen.

Monopoly: (Eng. noun) – situation in which one person or company owns all or nearly all of a given resource or market sector putting them in a completely dominant position.

Aside from Private Eye magazine and a few quirky politicians, the UK government bent over backward to allow Rupert Murdoch to get as near a monopoly over the UK’s media, print and broadcast as was possible.  Quite right too.  It was June 2010, Rupe had the Sun, the Times, and he wanted BSB too.

What could possibly be wrong with one person controlling the majority of the media?  Why nothing.  As one professor put it:-

“It is vital to guard against just having a knee-jerk, ideological objection to Mr Murdoch – his companies produce an exceptionally large amount of very high quality content” – Tim Luckhurst, Professor of journalism at the University of Kent
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10317856

I guess I should define ‘high quality content’ sometime.

Murdoch’s empire dwarfed the BBC, and outbid them on major sports programmes which Rupert then put on satellite television, where everyone could watch for a small fee.  Or for a giant fee if you wanted to play a game in your pub or bar.  Everyone was happy.  Well, Rupert was.

The funny thing about having a monopoly and being allowed by government and the police to do whatever you want is that you might start thinking you can do whatever you want.  With the government giving Murdoch the green light for media dominance, and a few scattered police men and women having cosy meetings with News  Corporation operative, things started getting a wee bit dodgy.

The Sun started to get a little adventurous and creative when landing important stories.  Its intrepid investigative reporters devoted their time to finding sex scandals, up skirt shots, hiring private detectives to do a spot of wire-tapping, and paying the paparazzi to take all-important intrusive photos of celebrities and their children.

I’m sure those involved in these activities were free to pursue any journalistic directions they wanted, free from any controlling editors or a right-wing proprietor.  Ah, the golden days of press.  Or was that yellow journalism.

Whatever it was, we bought it.  Profits weren’t that great on the print side, but this was offset by the satellite arm of the empire.  And so it went.  Perhaps the print media also made one or two subtle political hints echoing whichever politician Murdoch favoured.  If so, it was far too subtle for Old Susannah to pick up on.

Leveson Inquiry: (Compound proper English noun).  An inquiry into a variety of press scandals, leading to recommendations for press regulation.

Believe it or not, over the years, there have been one or two scandals in British establishments.  In fact there were one or two minor issues in the banking sector not all that long ago.  These resulted in economic meltdown, loss of the UK’s AAA rating, and austerity measures (unless you worked for a bank or were in government of course).

The government acted swiftly to give the banks a stern talking to, and a few billion pounds to tide them over.  Then followed one or two other minor scandals involving sub-prime mortgages and manipulation of the  LIBOR rates.

These were swiftly followed by more slaps on bankers’ wrists, and lots more subsidies.  That showed them.  Some people point to close links between the ConDems and banking executives, but I’m sure our elected officials would never allow favouritism to cloud their judgment.

Banks weren’t alone in behaving badly for profit.  Newspapers have been involved in one or two unsavoury activities recently, too.  Don’t worry though, the police were on the case.  Or should I say the police were on the take.

Police officials and hacks met for expensive meals in nice London restaurants  Blind eyes were turned; Police and MoD officials pocketed cash from the Sun, and police detectives helped the papers with stories in exchange for money. All the while paparazzi photographers took long-lens shots at celebrities and children of same, to go with stories often obtained illegally.

News was getting replaced by celebrity gossip trash.  The public protested by buying more and more copies of ‘OK!’  ‘Hello!’ ‘I Have No Life Of My Own!’ and so on.

Things went too far; even the police and government couldn’t continue to pretend they weren’t in bed with the tabloids.

You would think that the existing laws could have been enforced at the time

Something must be done, or something had to be seen to be done. It was time for another long, expensive inquiry.  No doubt there would be some outcomes from Leveson criticising how the police were both complicit and enabling to all this phone tapping and story selling.

You could be forgiven for thinking the way forward would be to ensure that paparazzi and reporters are stopped from illegal intrusions and entrapment, and are ordered to respect privacy, especially the privacy of innocent people and children.  You would be wrong.

You would think that the existing laws could have been enforced at the time by a switched-on, honest police force.  But think again.

For the bankers, stern words and subsidies were the answer.  After all, they’ve only cost the taxpayer a few billion in bail-outs.  For the fifth estate, which is historically meant to be a check on politicians, the remedy is different.

Instead of enforcing the laws we already have, the politicians have a great idea:  the press will be held accountable to politicians.  No one is accountable for allowing the monopoly to be created, no code of conduct will be created for the police to ensure they obey and enforce laws, and stop taking hospitality from the press.

No, the entire media sector is solely at fault, not just the tabloids.  Or so they would have you think, and that’s good enough for me.

Of course the details of how regulation will work are sketchy; there are more questions than answers concerning  proposed press regulatory bodies and mandatory sign-up to a government code on the press.

There goes some 400 years of freedom, just to punish the antics of the monopoly press which got away with Murdoch for years.  It’s almost as if government wanted to get control over the entire media sector, and weren’t happy with its history of exposing crooked politicians, out-of-control MOD budgets, NHS management failures, sexed-up dossiers getting us into the Iraq war, and so on.

I for one will find the new government-controlled news much easier to digest

What will this mean to bloggers, small publishers, satire writers?  Possibly ‘exemplary’ fines, lawsuits galore, and lots of rich lawyers.  We just don’t’ know yet.  What will this mean to investigative journalism?

For years we’ve been fed a populist diet of magazines filled with celebrities who are considered too fat one day and too thin the next.  There are shots of stars who get drunk, who have ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ who go out with other stars and then break up.  It’s just as well we’ve taken these important issues to heart – going forward this might be the only kind of news we get.

I for one will find the new government-controlled news much easier to digest.  From now on instead of investigating council waste, issues at the Menie Estate and abuses of office, I can start writing about who’s wearing what, what new beauty queens have been crowned, and how thin or fat they are.

Still, there is one ground-breaking development Old Susannah is happy to share…

Augmented Reality: (modern compound noun)

New technology coming soon to an Aberdeen Journal publication near you!

There I was, wondering about the future of newspapers.  And then I saw this:-

“Make your Evening Express come to life

“App lets readers see videos and images

“Published: 06/03/2013

“Bookmark with:

Share on linkedinShare on facebookShare on twitterShare on emailShare on gmailShare on stumbleuponShare on favoritesMore Sharing Services

“THE Evening Express today unveiled a revolutionary new way of allowing our readers to interact with the paper.

“Video and 3D images can pop up from the printed page thanks to the innovative new scheme.

“Dubbed augmented reality (AR), the application involves the reader holding their phone over a “trigger” advert, resulting in a series of 3D images and videos displayed through the user’s phone.”

Can we really use our phones to augment my reality?  Yes we can!  I can see it now:  3D Stewart Milne homes, 3D views of Trump golf courses.  Then again, the photos of the Trump course in the recent P&J Golf Supplement look just a bit greener and neater than any photos I’ve managed to take to date.  Could someone be augmenting the reality of the greens?

Maybe we could have augmented reality photos of our councillors as well.  They say this technology can make people seem life-like.  For some of our elected reps, this will be quite an improvement.

Time to go find a copy of ‘OK!’ and see what’s going on in the world.  If I’m not thrown in jail, we’ll see what’s up next week.

PS – For some odd reason Labour are not happy with P&J coverage of a recent event. 

This is very surprising.  Most of us aren’t happy with their coverage of any events.  While they rammed a granite web down our throats and perpetuated the myth it was cost-free, they accidentally forgot to mention  Trump’s VP marrying their editor and skirted the slight bias this might mean.

They seem to have implied a man up in court for drug-dealing was a Labour member/activist; he wasn’t.

The P&J printed the full-page Trump anti-wind farm ad referring to Lockerbie, but refused to take an ad, pre-referendum, from the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens for being ‘too political’.  Its sister paper called those who voted against Trump ‘neeps’ and ‘traitors’.

It said that two deer had died in advance of the Tullos Hill deer slaughter (the deer died two full years earlier, of unknown causes – as wild animals are known to do on occasion).  Other than that, what’s not to like?

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Jan 032013
 

By Angus Macmillan.

Conservationists and nurseries have been quick to claim that the spores of chalara fraxinea, which is the fungus causing Ash Dieback, could have blown over from mainland Europe but are very quiet about their role in planting diseased trees from the same source.

They have known for around six years that Ash Dieback was widespread in Europe but are now blaming government for not introducing a ban earlier in the hope they will be compensated or get grants for replanting from the hard pressed public purse.

Considering the vague media references to where the diseased plantings took place and what organisations owned the woodlands, I decided to make a Freedom of Information request to the Forestry Commission to reveal this information in detail.

They replied saying, they were not prepared to release this information at this time and that, whilst it might be of interest to the public, it was not in the public interest to divulge locations and owner organisations as it could deter other owners from reporting the disease. The Forestry Commission obviously has a poor opinion of those who plant trees and possibly quite rightly so.

Following a newspaper report that the Woodland Trust “is one of Britain’s biggest importers of ash” – and they call them “native” trees – had at least two infected properties, I emailed them to ask how many of their woodlands had Ash Dieback. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t reply.

So there we have it. Up to 80 million ash trees are at risk from disease but the Forestry Commission is quite prepared to protect its tree-planting buddies from criticism, in what must be one of the most scandalous environmental introductions from abroad by those who have been advocating the destruction of “alien” populations of both flora and fauna for years.

And it’s not in the public interest to reveal who they are?

The “con” in conservation is truly exposed.

Further reading –  The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Biotic_Nativeness_- A_Historical_Perspective

Oct 182012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks back on the week that was, complete with Zeppelins, BrewDogs, and a bad smell coming not from the Torry sewage plant, but a whiff of scandal from Edinburgh. By  Suzanne Kelly

Tally  Ho!  By the time you read this, I’ll have been to the Led Zeppelin film ‘Celebration Day’ at the Belmont.  Am counting the minutes.  Another major highlight of this week was  BrewDog Aberdeen’s second birthday party.  I celebrated with great people, great beers, food and a lovely cake.  Happy Birthday to Brew.

I also took in a bread-making course at Nick Nairn Cookery school; it was a great course, not least because of the lovely breads I got to take home (including the tutor’s lovely white loaf).

On the down side of this week, a dog has disappeared from its garden on Holburn Street.  Grampian police downplayed earlier Facebook posts warning of potential dog thieves in our area. 

The police issued a Facebook post about a week ago, saying dog-napping worries were just rumour-mongering, and several FB posters chimed in to ridicule the people worried about potential thefts.

The cops categorically claimed no such thing was going on. Fast-forward to 16 October, and a dog has mysteriously disappeared from its back garden in Holburn Street.

Unless the small dog, not tall enough on its hind legs to reach the lock, undid the lock, went away, and decided never to return again for food or shelter, it looks like theft is a possibility.  However, the police refuse to treat this as a theft.  There is no evidence you see.

Perhaps they had expected a smoking gun, guys in striped shirts wearing masks holding bags of swag?  I wonder whether they even checked the gate for fingerprints – they certainly could have done so.  The moral is – keep an eye on your pets as much as possible, and report anything like thefts or suspicions straight away to the Scottish SPCA – and/or email stop.dogfights@yahoo.co.uk.  PS – dogs, cats, handbags, Led Zeppelin CDs , etc. are not safe left alone in cars for any length of time, either.

Common Good Aberdeen reached its financial target of £15K for a children’s play area in Union Terrace Gardens with ease, expect a play area in UTG sometime soon, hopefully with a volunteer-run, cafe, too (with all profits going directly on UTG).  No one could object to putting a play area in a city centre park, could they?

But perhaps best of all this week was sharing joyful commuting stories with fellow bus travellers.  To a man we’re all thrilled to bits at the reduction in routes.  We are of course waiting for the corresponding reduction in bus fares, which must be just ‘round the corner‘.  How wonderful that the No. 21 bus is no more, just as those wonderful Milne homes are going up in Cove.

  I’m wondering  exactly what kind of ‘independence’ Alex is actually offering

It must have been my imagination (and the imaginations of a few dozen other people), but it seemed as if quite a number of scheduled buses (no. 3s, 1s, etc) didn’t actually materialise when they should have.  I got to learn a few more new words from fellow travellers while waiting for a No. 1 bus on Monday evening.

In the wider Scottish environment, this was the week that Cameron and Salmond signed up to a yes/no referendum (wish we’d done so over the gardens –  but never mind).  Alex smiled from the covers of most newspapers this past week, and he told the press:-

 “I didn’t want to look too triumphant.” 

Don’t worry about that, Alex, you didn’t.

In fact, Alex is starting to look like a man with Ninety-Nine Problems.

Old Susannah is looking at some of these minor worries.  All things considered, I’m wondering  exactly what kind of ‘independence’ Alex is actually offering.  For openers, once you consider some of Alex’s  pals, you come to one inescapable question:  How independent exactly is Alex himself?

Is he offering Scots independence or perhaps a form of government that is just a little bit older?

Feudalism: (Eng. noun) – A system of governance/land steward ship prevalent in the middle ages in Europe where a small minority of wealthy property holders wielded power over those with less money, and a great gap existed between the haves and have-nots.

Believe it or not, it was not only the English who were oppressing the Scottish people throughout history, many Scottish nobles did so, too.  Clan warfare, theft, battles, treachery, wife-stealing, drunkenness, cruelty – these are not just part of the daily grind at Holyrood.  Indeed, there were many forms of Scot on Scot violence in the bad old days, too.

In the feudal societies of the past, a rich man owned everything in his territory and all those below him fell in line in accordance with his wishes.  If this ‘lord’ (or sometimes the noble was given the title ‘Sir’, as in ‘Sir Ian Wood’) wanted a castle, a bit of land, or say a granite web, his lackeys ensured he got what he wanted by hook or crook, or compulsory purchase order or by an arm’s length management company or Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.

Thankfully, the days of the rich man dictating the future of the land to the common man are gone.

Alex Salmond will ensure that no rich men can possibly dictate policy, seize land (or public parks), bend Quangos to their will, shield their gold from the taxman via offshore schemes, etc.  No, Alex won’t in any way favour the rich or help them gain unfair advantage.

If he did do so, say for a Murdoch (to whom he seems to have offered his services at one point), a Wood (whose web he favoured) or a Trump (who got permission to ruin the only moveable sand dune system on the UK mainland), then we would not have a free republic.  We would have feudalism.

Intervention: (Eng. noun) to take action in a situation to try and prevent an undesirable outcome.  Interventions can be legal or not.  In Scottish politics – usually not.

When Aberdeenshire Council said no to Donald Trump, Alex’s Government weighed in and  said ‘we’re open for business; c’mon over’.  Thanks for the intervention!

But now it looks as if when Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) didn’t give the beautiful, sparkly granite web the thumbs up, Alex intervened again.

The cat is out of the bag, the chickens have come home to roost, and so on.  No doubt with the best interests of Aberdonians at heart, Alex seems to have put the £140 million web into position to get TIF funding.  Where would we have been without him?

This little intervention raises just one or two questions.  Firstly, I wonder what first attracted politician Alex Salmond to Billionaire tycoon Sir Ian Wood and his Wood-Wide-Web?

How could Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) criticised Wood’s wonderful web?  Well, for openers here is how it scored ( click on table to enlarge ):-


http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/Finance/18232/FOI/TIFScoring

“…further detail / clarity could have been added in relation to:

  • The potential level of private sector activity created (in terms of NDR creation) and its likelihood
  • The underlying enabling nature of the assets themselves – i.e. why are these the right assets
  • The potential level of retail activity in comparison to the overall activity enabled by the TIF
  • The rationale for the redline
  • The key milestones of the project
  • The consideration of risk and risks beyond those detailed in the submission”
    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/Finance/18232/FOI/TIFComments

The SFT/Government fought tooth and nail (whatever that means) against Steve Vass of the Herald getting this information made public.  For one thing, the SFT claimed people weren’t smart enough to understand their findings.  Quite right.  They argued people would not understand  that Scottish Futures Trust and its reports were only meant to guide the Government, which was then free to ignore the report and do whatever it chose to do.  Funny, this method of government consultation seems perfectly obvious to me.

You are of course as surprised and disappointed as I am that our web didn’t get higher scores.  It’s hard to imagine SFT deciding there were some financial and risk elements.

We should have sent them some of those lovely glossy brochures from Vote for the City Gardens Trust –  you know, the ones that promised 6,500 permanent jobs and £122 million flowing into Aberdeen every year if we got us a web.  That would have swung the balance.

Some  voters may well wonder why this SFT  information wasn’t  shared in advance of any referendum vote.  I’m sure it was for our own good and not to confuse us with facts.  However, if you  are angry we had a referendum with crucial facts withheld deliberately, Go Ask Alex.  Just drop him a line to find out who was playing at what, and why anyone thought we weren’t clever enough to understand a short report.

  No doubt Alex is confident that an independent Scotland will demand a granite web

Perhaps this is all too complicated for us non-Government mortals after all.  I’m so confused I’m thinking the Government wanted a trial run of the referendum system to see what the pros and cons were in advance of the Independence Referendum.

The pros?  You can put anything you want to in a glossy brochure, true or not as long as you remain anonymous.  Result!   You can also hide the voting record from any scrutiny, as was done in Aberdeen.

The Cons?  I think there were plenty of ‘cons’ involved, don’t  you?  In fact, I’m fighting the urge to list the cons by name.

You could also be forgiven for wondering  why the SFT report was prepared in the first place, if the Government had its own ideas about what should or shouldn’t be given a TIF loan.  (Old Susannah heard an unconfirmed rumour that Alex told Sir Ian to ‘leave his money on the table’ for a year.  No doubt Alex is confident that an independent Scotland will demand a granite web.  We could put it on the back of the new Scottish Banknotes).

So, Alex is going to try not to look too triumphant.  If it helps, Alex, just think back to some of your finer moments:-

  • Testifying to the Leveson Inquiry – Alex claimed the Observer had hacked his banking account in 1999 (no evidence was found) – almost as if he were trying to deflect attention from the revelation that Mr Salmond’s adviser (Aberdein) – had agreed that the first minister would call Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt “whenever we need him to” on Murdoch’s behalf.
  • intervening in Aberdeenshire planning permission and giving Trump carte blanche to bulldoze the SSI, make life a misery for the existing residents, and run the area with heavy-handed security
  • Asking Donald Trump to back the return of Megrahi to Libya
  • Spending c. £48,000 to go to the premier of the film ‘Brave’ with an entourage
  • Claiming a sum adjacent to £1,800 per week for food and drink (four year period May 2007 onward)
  • Meddling in the future of the Granite Web, and elevating it over other areas’ projects
  • Cutting money to charities while allowing unelected quangos to thrive…..

It might not amount to quite 99 problems, Alex, but you’re getting there.  Give it a week.

Teflon: (mod Eng.noun) a non-stick coating often applied to pots and pans.

Bill Clinton lurched from sex scandal to Whitewater financial scandal and back to sex scandal again, yet he escaped relatively unscathed.  People called him ‘the Teflon President’:  nothing stuck to him.

Not that our First Minister would ever do anything untoward of course, but it is almost like he’s using deflection techniques – sorry to even think it!  Just because he showed up at Leveson with counter claims that he had been hacked when he was there to testify as to his relationship with Murdoch is no reason to think he’s a slippery character.

In fact I’ve  written to Salmond to ask for his comments on some of these little trifling issues.  As soon as he answers, I’ll let you know.  Until then, just keep waving the Saltire, chant ‘Freedom!’ and believe everything you’re being promised.  Would Alex ever steer you wrong?

Just one little thing to remember:  sooner or later that non-stick pan stops working, and it gets thrown out.

Next week:  A wee update on council finances, and an old FOI of mine updated.

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