Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Trains, transport and money

So the government has said that they will give a whole load of money towards improving the rail network. This can only be a good thing, but it does seem to be a case of too little too late in a lot of respects. For all of the governments talk of green and sustainable transport policies, we're seeing a lot of funding for roads and aviation, but not a lot else. Road and air travel are cheaper in real terms now than they have ever been, yet since privatisation rail travel has become quite a lot more expensive. This is despite the fact that more people are travelling by rail all of the time.

The ESRC have some interesting statistics on travel, such as the cost to the UK of road accidents being 16 billion pounds per year. Road travel is not cheap, but the government doesn't worry about paying for roads and road improvement with public money. Why should the railways be any different? It goes without saying that I think they should be renationalised, but what else could be done to improve them?

I think that a big improvement could be achieved by putting a much higher tax on road transport of goods that could be transported by train, for one thing. We need new train lines to new depots in each town and city where goods can be unloaded and only the last part of the journey done by road. It is madness that we drive lorries with containers on them down motorways when rail is so much more efficient.

The railway network needs to be expanded. Where old lines closed in the 60's remain clear, they should be either reopened or protected from any development until such a time as they are economically viable. These lines were viable once, and the population was smaller then. If the costs of road transport start reflecting the true environmental costs, then these rail links will undoubtedly become useful again.

Fares need to become cheaper. Renationalisation is necessary for this, since I think it is fundamentally wrong to pay a public subsidy to a private company that makes a profit for its shareholders. If the railways were nationalised we could put an extra tax on petrol for road transport.. a couple of pence per litre say, and use that as a direct rail subsidy. Taxes on larger cars could also go to public transport, since taxing luxury cars takes the burden from the poor, who may still need to drive.

Finally, we need to think very hard about the way we build our towns and cities. As long as people feel that they need their cars then they will probably keep them, so we should do as much as we can to remove that need. This is already true in most of London and other big cities, where cars are a luxury. All new housing developments should include local shops and pubs etc within half a mile of any house to prevent people from having to travel just to buy food. This isn't some pipe-dream since this always used to be the case! Rail and buses should link residential areas so that people can get to work, and there should be tax incentives to live in the town or city you work in, to reduce the need to travel. We can do this if we try. If we don't tackle it and just bury our heads in the sand, things are only going to get worse... especially when the oil starts to run out.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Convicted Traitor? No jail for you!

My complete despair when it comes to American politics continues to deepen. The widely publicised news of the day is that Bush has 'spared' Libby from 2.5 years in jail. His reason? It seems that he thought it was an 'excessive' punishment, so obviously 'no jail at all' is the correct amount for lying to a grand jury and exposing a CIA agent, potentially threatening their life, because their husband had criticised the invasion of Iraq.

At a fundamental level the leader of any democratic country should not have the power to overrule the courts anyway. What sort of example is this to countries we accuse of corruption? The message is that you can do anything you like as long as you are chums with those in power. Hardly inspiring. However, just because previous presidents have done it isn't an excuse for its continuation! It's fairly telling that the Republican defence of pretty much anything stupid, immoral or just plain illegal that Bush and his cronies do is that 'Clinton lied about having an affair!'. Yes he did, and of course he shouldn't have done it. He was also no saint in many other areas of course, but let's face it, Bush has done more to make the world a worse, more dangerous, divisive, polluted, greedy and generally bad place than almost anyone else in the last decade... apart from Cheney, perhaps.

Closer to home we are right to worry about the BAe bribery scandal, and the corruption and very dubious morals in the Labour government that stopped the investigation into it. However, it's pretty galling to hear that the US DoJ want to investigate that deal while their president is letting his friends out of prison for serious crimes. The Murdoch press wonder why there is what they consider to be anti-Americanism in this country. The answer is obvious - how can you have any respect for the American government with the current idiots in charge? They even make our lot look good. Like it or not, other countries judge you by the actions of your government, and if they carry on the way they're going then driving Jeeps into Glasgow airport will be the least of our worries.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Religious Exemptions

A magistrate in Manchester has walked out of a court because a defendant refused to remove a full-face veil, and this seems to have caused some controversy. Admittedly the magistrate could have handled it better than just walking out, but his point remains valid. You can't turn-up in court with your face covered - you could be anyone. Whose word do we have to take that this is actually the person who it should be?

I don't know how the law stands on this. Could anyone turn up in court with their face covered and expect everyone else to go along with it? Somehow I doubt it, and if it's true for one person it should be true for all people. We can't give special permission for people to be exempt from laws and conventions because of some belief they hold. Where would it stop? If it is indeed the case, then hey, my brand new and convenient religion forbids me to appear in court unless I'm provided with beer and strippers! I'm being silly of course, but how is that any more silly than the demands of any faith? They are all essentially made-up to fit some possibly questionable historical anyway.

It's time for the government to put its foot down and state that no religious 'rules' are valid for any exemptions or special treatments in any walk of life. It doesn't matter what your magic book or man with super powers from the past says - we are all equal, and we all have exactly the same rights, along with the same responsibilities. The overriding motivation behind any of our actions should be for society, not because we're scared of some mythical punishment that might befall us when we die. A life that is lived well purely because we fear a supernatural punishment is not worthy of admiration at all. It is to be pitied.