Tag Archives: Participate in Creating a Better World

Sense and Worth: Burns Night and Peter Tatchell Day

One hundred and ninety-three years apart, Robert Burns and Peter Tatchell share the same birthday, 25th January. Today Alex Salmond announces the launch of the consultation for the independence referendum, but let’s talk about Tatchell and Burns, first.

[Update, 14:49 – the independence consultation is now live, and will be open till 11th May 2012 – 14 weeks.]

Peter Tatchell Day

You are maddening.
You are threatening.
You are insanely brave.
A Poem For Peter Tatchell, By Stephen Fry

Peter Tatchell was born in 1952, in Australia. He’s been an activist for human rights for nearly his entire life, beginning at school, where he campaigned to set up a setting up a scholarship scheme for Aboriginal pupils, and to abolish the death penalty. He came to the UK in 1971, and joined the Gay Liberation Front. Over the four decades since then, his campaigning activities have ranged from sit-ins in pubs that refused to serve “poofs” to attempting to arrest Robert Mugabe for torture – during which he was beaten unconscious by Mugabe’s bodyguards. He’s marched with Moscow Pride and stood for by-elections (once, ironically, losing to a closety bisexual Liberal candidate because the Liberal party went all-out in homophobic attacks on Tatchell): he has always stood up for equality and human rights, wherever he thought it right and at considerable personal cost.
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Filed under Equality, LGBT Equality, Scottish Politics

Never Doubt

Today, 20th December 2011, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail are both running front page stories about HMRC’s cosy relationship with big corporations – a cosiness that’s led to their getting to dodge paying at least £25 billion of owed tax. (They also don’t have to pay on time and don’t have to pay interest on the amount they owe – privileges not available to the 99%.)

Fourteen months ago

On October 27th 2010, just one week after George Osborne announced the deepest cuts to public services since the 1920s, around 70 people ran along Oxford Street, entered Vodafone’s flagship store and sat down. We had shut down tax-dodging Vodafone’s flagship store.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

That a Parliamentary committee finally sat down and looked at David Hartnett’s comfortable relationship with the companies he was supposed to be pursuing for billions in tax is greatly to the credit of UKUncut and Private Eye and 38Degrees and many another activist who wrote to their MP and the newspapers and protested. The report is expected to trigger the launch of the National Audit Office’s investigation of 10 particular tax disputes by the retired judge Sir Andrew Park.

But that force of public opinion made two iconic right-wing papers decide they were better siding with the 99% than the 1% – that, I believe, is purely down to those hundreds of people who over the past 14 months have walked into banks and businesses and declared that they wanted these corporations to pay their tax or get shut down.

Pursue benefit cheats – who cost the UK at most $4bn – you get a hotline. Pursue tax cheats, who cost the UK over $25 billion – you get arrested.

But things change:

The MPs found that owing to a “mistake”, admitted by HMRC, Goldman paid up to £20m less tax than had been due on its bonus payments. Vodafone settled a long dispute by paying £1.25bn, but the committee heard allegations that the tax bill should have been £6bn or more.

The committee hearings found that two undisclosed firms had struck similar deals, and suspect that there may be other questionable deals among £25bn of outstanding unresolved tax bills.

Hodge said: “You are left feeling that the sort of deals that are made with big business are different – sweetheart deals in some instances – from the sort of way in which corner shops are treated, small business are treated or hard-working families are treated.”

You can listen to UKUncut activists talking about their plans for legal action on 5 live Breakfast and Today on iPlayer.

Today UK Uncut Legal Action “an NGO inspired by the anti-cuts direct action group UK Uncut” announced that on Thursday 22nd December it will issue proceedings in the High Court on Thursday.

The campaigning group made the decision to go forward with the case after receiving what they term a ‘dismissive’ response from HMRC to letters from their lawyers demanding the alleged sweetheart deal agreed between David Hartnett and Goldman Sachs is quashed.

They’re asking for donations of £1 from each supporter – their lawyers are taking the case on a “no win no fee” basis, but if they lose, they may be liable for HMRC and Goldman Sachs legal costs. Goldman Sachs is the company that now runs the government in Italy and Greece. This is worth doing.

Never doubt it can be done.

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Filed under Economics, Politics, Poverty

Couch Surfing without going spare

The basics of couch surfing: The Host has a place for a guest to stay – a spare room, a couch in the living-room, anywhere. The Guest is traveling and needs somewhere to stay. Both of you register on the CouchSurfing site, and participate in making this a better world, one couch at a time.

I’ve not yet CouchSurfed as The Guest, so these guidelines apply only to my experience as The Host.

1. Be clear and specific on your profile about yourself and your home. Only say you’re willing to Host when you actually are – during the weeks or months or years when you’re not, change your profile accordingly.

2. But take for granted that your average CouchSurfer has simply searched for all Hosts open to visitors in the area in which they want to visit, and sent much the same request to all of us: some of them may have read your profile in detail, but unless they actually refer to it in their email, assume they didn’t.

3. So when responding to a CouchSurfing request, if you’re minded to say Yes or Maybe, include the essential information from your profile in your reply – such as if you have pets, or if you live outside the city centre, or that they’ve asked to stay for days 1-5 and you can really only Host them for days 3-5, or that you prefer to meet them outside your home, first.

4. If someone sends you a CS request, it’s polite to reply, and if your answer’s Maybe, say exactly what your Maybe depends on. It’s better to say clearly No than Maybe if you’re really thinking No.

5. It’s okay to say No. You don’t have to give a reason. Or your reason can be as simple as: I’m tired and I’m not in the mood for meeting someone new.

But, say you said Yes.

6. Arrange to meet The Guest outside your home. Some public place which it’s easy to direct them to. (I’ve settled on a cafe that’s handy for a bus terminus about ten minutes walk away.) That way if it turns out that interesting Syrian lesbian actually did a McMasters on you, you can tell him to blog off. Or something like that. Also, remember: your Yes can always become a No. If you get bad vibes then, or later, just say No, you don’t think this is going to work.

7. You probably told The Guest everything they were welcome to use in your email. Don’t assume they remembered it. Tell them again. All you are definitely offering is a place to sleep, and CouchSurfing guidelines for The Guest are to take nothing more than that unless it’s offered – and to ask permission before using any basic facilities if not offered. You don’t need to offer them anything you’re not comfortable with. What I’m happy to have them use is: my spare room (and the TV in the spare room); bathroom: my wifi; my washing-machine and dryer: and in the kitchen, my tea and coffee (and milk and sugar, if wanted).

8. Lend a good street map, with index, and a couple of good local guidebooks. Offer advice on buses and local transport.

9. Offer what you feel comfortable offering. Don’t press if it’s refused. If The Guest is there when I’m cooking a meal, I feel comfortable offering to cook for two. But if The Guest says no thank you, I’m fine with that.

10. Mostly, CouchSurfing guests expect (and should expect) to provide their own food. Sometimes they ask The Host out to dinner, and this is nice, but if they’re traveling on a shoestring, they may not. There’s no obligation. And their food allergies and preferences are not your concern.

11. It’s perfectly OK to just leave The Guest to crash in the spare room, and head off to be anti-social with a book or the internet: this is a total stranger whom you are doing a big favour. Maybe you’ll make friends on CouchSurfing – but a perfect CS guest may not be friendship material. Don’t *expect* to make friends with CS guests.

12. Be polite and specific about what you’d like them to do. If you don’t want to leave them in the house on their own, say so. If you plan to leave the house early, tell them what time and say when you’ll be back.  If it’s not OK for them to use the bathroom within specific times, tell them.

When I told friends I was going to start CouchSurfing, most if not all of them reacted with something along the lines of “But what if they’re evil?” What if they steal from me? Hurt my cats? Hurt me? Mess the place up? Break stuff?

It’s nice to know my friends worry about me. It really is. But this, if anything, is what CouchSurfing is about: most people aren’t evil.

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