Friday 11 April 2014

The US must not succeed in destablising Venezuela

Venezuela is at a crossroads. The right wing is desperate to halt the socialist revolution post Chavez, and has provoked a series of violent confrontations in which over 40 people have died. Today, President Maduro is having talks with the loser of last years presidential election, Henrique Capriles, in an attempt to curb the violence - but I'm sad to say I 'm not hopeful for the success of these talks.

It seems to me that the US government and the right wing elite see this moment in Venezuelan history as a turning point. A year on from Chavez's death feels to them like an easier time to attack his legacy. But the election of Maduro has proved that the public still favour a socialist economy, where the wealth of the nation is put back to work for the good of all, especially those who have historically been disadvantaged.

Capriles and those further to the right need to accept the will of the majority of the population, and try to work with the government to reduce crime and inflation, the two things that are wrecking the progress of the nation.

It is unlikely though that the US backed coup plotters will stop destabilising the country. Only last week 3 Air Force Generals were court martialled for their involvement in a plan to oust Maduro, and there is evidence that the US were connected to the plot.

In the meantime, keeping awareness of the situation in Venezuela is paramount. If the victories won for working people are reversed in the country, and the socialist government is thrown out, there is a real danger for the welfare of millions of people throughout Latin America, especially the poor. 'Chavismo' has enabled progressive politics to flourish well beyond the borders of Venezuela, just as the liberator Bolivar had a greater vision for the region. This vision must be protected and nourished, not destroyed by the narrow interests of the US and a small wealthy Venezuelan elite.

Shell reaches new low.

The news last week that a US coastguard report showed that the oil giant Shell tried to tow one of it's rigs from Alaska to Seattle for tax avoidance reasons, despite warnings, is a new moral low for the company.

The rig broke free of its tow in terrible weather and crashed into the coast:

"The US Coastguard said on Thursday that the grounding of a Shell oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Alaska in 2012 was in part driven by tax-dodging.

Shell believed the rig would have qualified as taxable property on January 1 2013 if it was still in Alaskan waters.

The Kulluk Rig broke away from its tow in late December 2012 after it ran into a vicious storm — a fairly routine winter event in Alaskan waters.

Multiple attempts to maintain tow lines failed and the vessel ran aground on New Year’s Eve just off Kodiak Island.

Several days before the tow initially broke, the master of the tow vessel Aiviq sent an email to the Kulluk’s tow master expressing concerns about the conditions.

“To be blunt I believe that this length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing, guarantees an ass kicking,” said the email.

It is Shell who need a good 'ass kicking' for putting tax avoidance before people and planet!!

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Liberating Theology

Many thanks to the Student Christian Movement and all the folks who made the 'Liberating Theology Weekend' such a brill experience. It was full of many moving and liberating moments, and my hope is that other places will want to do similar weekends, bringing together activists and theologians who are willing to be vulnerable and honest, whilst supporting others who choose to follow a Christ who lifts up the poor and pulls down the mighty.

The weekend began at the new Interfaith Centre, which now host's part of the 'Victor Jara' Liberation Theology Library. Having a centre for faiths that holds true to the message of an anti-oppressive God, and tries to resource that movement is a central hope for my time in the North East. I think we can draw people in to think, pray and act, and the library is part of that story. Victor Jara himself gave his talents and life to the struggle for progressive Christianity in Chile in the 1960's and 70's before he was brutally murdered by Thatcher's 'friend'; Augusto Pinochet in 1973.

Keeping subversive memories alive is part of the liberation struggle - it is the story of Exodus Eucharist and Resurrection.

Over the weekend we heard from Black theologian Anthony Reddie, Rosie Venner, Sue Richardson, Peter Mulligan and of course, myself. All were great in there own unique ways (!) and so was the joining in with the Young People's Assembly meeting in the Minster. But the real stars were all the participants, who shared stories and laughter, and helped us all build each other up in the faith.

Let's have more theology that is truly in the hands of the people! 

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Poyet must Stay - No to Anelka!

The shock announcement by SAFC that Gus Poyet is to be replaced by Nicolas Anelka is another nail in the coffin for the club. You would have thought that Ellis, the club chairman, would have learnt from last time - but it seems that desperation is driving club policy at the moment.

At almost the same moment last year, Ellis took the decision to replace Martin O'neill with Paulo Di Canio - and it was costly for the club indeed.

The fact that last year, Di Canio gave the team the shock they needed to actually stay up in the Premiere League must be the reason that Ellis has made this shock move - but it is a decision fraught with danger.

Anelka is not free from controversy himself - though the decision to bring in a 'player/manager' does have some merit in itself. Anelka will be able to take up a key strike position, and Sunderland have been unable to net many goals with Fletcher being injured for most of the season, and Altidore just being crap all year.

All together though - this just stinks of a chairman trying to find anyway possible to stay in the premier league, regardless of the moral situation. Poyet has done an amazing job following Di Canio's terrible start to the season, and the Uruguayan should have been able to try and finish the job he was brought here to do.

A sad day indeed for Sunderland AFC.

PS Happy April Fools Day 2014

Rev series axed by BBC after legal battle.

I am furious at the latest act of stupidity coming from the House of Bishops. The decision to take the BBC to court has made the whole church look ridiculous.

There is widespread condemnation after news that the BBC has cancelled the current series of Rev following a legal battle with the Church of England. The corporation has given no reason for the decision, save for a brief statement saying that ‘following legal representations made to the BBC, the current series of Rev will be taken off the air until further notice. A statement by the Chairman of the board of governors will be made later tomorrow. The BBC wishes to unreservedly apologise for any offence that may have been caused by the airing of last night’s episode of ‘Rev.’”

It is thought that it comes down to the fact that the BBC filmed an illegal act in a consecrated building owned by the Church or England, against  the express permission of the ecclesiastical authorities. According to inside sources, the Church of England ombudsman threatened to take proceedings against the corporation after a preview of the episode revealed the portrayal of a member of the clergy performing an illegal act. The BBC had initially agreed to alter the ending of the episode to comply with current legislation, but then suddenly changed its position at the last minute, less than an hour before the programme was actually aired.

Whilst the show approved by the BBC and the CofE displayed the main character obeying canon law, refusing to solemnise a Gay Wedding, (whilst being sympathetic to the couple) the programme that was actually shown last night, showed Rev. Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) actually performing an illegal act, in a consecrated church, which breached the BBC charter and the corporations own guidelines regarding religious programming.

The Rev. Richard Coles has blogged that he is appalled by the BBC decision to cancel the series and has threatened to resign from the Radio 4 panel of the ‘Moral Maze’ over the handling of the matter.

The whole affair is a disgrace, and highlights the ridiculous mess that the government and Church of England has got itself into over the Gay marriage debate. The BBC should stick to its guns and not to cave in under pressure placed on its satirical programming, and the Church of England Bishops should butt out, and realise that they are on the losing side of history. The 38 degrees petition against the BBC decision to cancel the show is growing fast, and has had almost 14,000 hits in the last 6 hours – please make sure you sign up now!
‘No’ to arcane legislation restricting the BBCs right to show the breaking of canon law. ‘Yes’ to Rev. – the programme that finally dares to show the real issues faced by real priests today

PS Happy April Fools Day 2014

Wear Bridge Zip Wire – Metro offers free rides to promote the new extension to the network!

Plans to open the zip wire that runs from the Wear Bridge to the riverside are exactly the sort of bold ideas that this city needs for the 21st Century.

The zip wire was first used during the Olympics, when the official torch came to Sunderland in spectacular fashion – whizzing down the wire from the Bridge to the riverside. The zip wire was retained and has been used extensively by charity fundraisers ever since. The Sunderland Tourist board and ‘The Metro’ (the company run by Nexus) have announced a pilot scheme to launch the zip wire service throughout the summer months to promote the new Metro extensions to Seaham and Doxford Park.

The zip wire, to be known as the ‘Wear Wire’, will connect the city centre to St Peter’s Campus and the National Glass Centre, providing a much needed and innovative boost to Sunderland’s summer time tourist economy. In June, July and August, users will pay between £5-9 for a single or return, and will be able to register online to book to use the service, or simply turn up on the day.

To advertise the new scheme, Nexus are offering free rides (subject to health and insurance checks) today till lunchtime and I'm looking forward to overcoming my fear of heights and simply go for it!

The scheme is partially funded by the University of Sunderland, and Students and Staff will be able to buy discounted tickets. The route of the ‘Wear Wire’ will substantially reduce the time it takes to get from one campus to the other, and is sure to become very popular with students.

For those brave enough to have a go on the ‘Wear Wire’, it will be operating for free today between the hours of 8am and 12 noon. Head to the South end of the Wear Bridge (don’t leave it too late if you want to ensure a ride!)

PS Happy April Fools Day 2014