Friday, August 29, 2008

Something rotten in the state of the Met

The open war raging at the very top of the Metropolitan police is revealing deep schisms that go far beyond a personality clash between the top officers involved or the accusations flying thick and fast.

Tarique Ghaffur, the 53-year-old assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard and its most senior Asian officer, went public yesterday to the shock of his colleagues. At a press conference he accused Commissioner Sir Ian Blair of “degrading and humiliating treatment”, barring him from key meetings and criticism that amounted to racial discrimination and victimisation. Ghaffur’s employment tribunal claim also accuses Blair and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Bryant of harassment and “creating a degrading and humiliating environment”.

Resentment has been brewing since 2000, when a corruption unit headed by Blair investigated an Asian officer, Commander Ali Dizaei, who was mentored by Ghaffur. Dizaei, who is president of the National Black Police Association, went on to win a £60,000 award after a £4m anti-corruption investigation, during which his meetings with Ghaffur were placed under surveillance.There is no doubt that racism remains rampant in the Met. The Metropolitan Police branch of the Black Police Association says that morale amongst ethnic minority officers is even lower than a decade ago when the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence murder case concluded that the Met was “institutionally racist”.

Blair has been in deep water with his senior colleagues a number of times already. The police shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes in 2005 caused a crisis when Brian Paddick, the then deputy assistant commissioner, suggested that Scotland Yard staff knew within six hours of the shooting at Stockwell that an innocent man had been killed. Blair fell out with his own deputy, Paul Stephenson, when the latter disagreed about the pay-out of a £25,000 bonus payment made to senior officers in the aftermath of the Menezes shooting.

So far, so clear. Or is it? There are also wider political issues. Sir Ian Blair’s star was in the ascendancy in the Tony Blair years as New Labour’s favourite copper. He was in fact demonised by the right as the “PC PC”, as the Force adopted New Labour speak. Its management documents say that “performance in respect of race and diversity [should] be measured through a corporate measurement framework” and the need to “facilitate the change process through the establishment of the development and organisation improvement team (DOIT)”. Indeed right wing commentators have even compared the Met under Blair’s watch to “those extremist Left-wing councils of the 1980s”!

Blair can no longer count on backing from the London Mayor. Unlike Ken Livingstone, who chose to support Blair, not least defending the Met over the Menezes killing, Boris Johnson is set to push for his removal in October. And last, but certainly not least, there is rumbling disaffection in the Met itself amongst PC plods who distrust Blair’s intellectual aspirations and liberal credentials, and who have other issues too - in January this year, police officers marched through London in a pay protest. In fact, Paddick and Ghaffur’s defections must seem to Sir Ian like a double “et tu Brute” – as their promotions were part of his own “modernising agenda”. Both of them were promoted to their high office under Blair, only to turn against him later. Indeed one source has said: “The Commissioner is incandescent that a guy he agreed with on so much, in particular race, is now playing the race card on him.”

The sense of personal betrayal, racial discrimination, careerism, big financial stakes, firearms killings spiralling out of control on the streets – it is a tale of crisis and failure, despite the Met’s budget of £2.6bn. In reality, the problems are much bigger than any policing, even of the “best” kind can resolve. No wonder those in charge are turning against each other. The crisis at Scotland Yard is symptomatic of the decay and unravelling of Britain’s state institutions, which are not “fit for purpose”. The causes of this crisis at the heart of the state – and solutions to it – are analysed in A World to Win’s forthcoming book, Unmasking the State and will be at the centre of debate at A World to Win’s festival on October 18.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Say No

Five waves of the flag, a toss of his flaxen locks and it was done, London had officially taken over from Beijing as the next Olympic city. Boris looked only a little flustered and the eight minute exhibition showcasing British culture managed not to be quite as embarrassing as had been forecast by some, although it was decidedly underwhelming in comparison with the extravagant pageantry of the closing ceremony. Still what can you expect in only eight minutes and with a mere £2.5 million to play with?

The 29th Olympiad is a hard act to follow, even while recognising that there had been a dark side to the Beijing Olympics. However no point in dwelling too much on the negative, like the human rights abuses in today’s China. The point is to look forward to London 2012 and concentrate on the legacy “we” will leave to the world of sport after the London games have drawn to a close. Boris Johnson said as much when he promised, before flying back from Beijing, that "tens of millions of pounds" will be spent to coach and prepare children for the London games. The Mayor proclaimed that the Olympics would provide "a massive sporting legacy for London" saying he wanted to "ring-fence" the London Development Agency (LDA) for sport to provide the required facilities and the coaching and training opportunities for upcoming young athletes. David Beckham expressed similar hopes.

So why are so many people moaning about rising costs and the disruption to the capital in the four years ahead? Or like Will Self in his Evening Standard column, who opined that "What the Olympics are truly all about is money, nationalism in patriotic garb and a spurious kind of self congratulation." Indeed. Or are those of us who have been pointing to the flaws in the whole enterprise and directing people's attention to the very real social and economic problems already appearing in the areas around the Olympic site, just a lot of brutal kill-joys out to wreck people's enjoyment of a fantastic celebration of sporting prowess?

Well, according to one report: "There is no doubt that the Olympics will bring about permanent change to the economy of East London, the question is what kind of change? Here lies the challenge. The problem is that previous Olympics have failed to help the most economically disadvantaged groups living in the area where the Games have taken place. In the UK, flagship regeneration projects in East London and elsewhere have also failed to improve the well-being of local residents. The Docklands development is the most glaring example."

Will the London Games be any different to "previous Olympics"? From the viewpoint of the present moment it doesn't look like they will. Protest groups are active in Stratford and areas around the site. People are mourning the loss of the Manor Gardens allotments which last year were dug up to make way for an access road to the stadium, a wonderful resource enjoyed and productively worked for generations gone in a matter of hours. A football field where local children played also ploughed up in the interests of "big" sport. So much for the value of healthy outdoor exercise and governmental exhortations to eat the required five a day fruit and veg!

Residents of flats and low rent housing are fighting to protect their homes, not knowing if any compensation offered will be sufficient to pay for homes elsewhere. Exploitative and dangerous labour conditions are another issue. Previous Games including Athens and almost certainly Beijing, have been paid for with the lives of workers killed in the hurried completion of stadia and other facilities. There are also serious environmental concerns and worries about cost, £9.5 billion so far and rising. Causes for complaint? I should think so.

Team GB returned yesterday to tremendous acclaim - quite right that they should be congratulated on their record-breaking haul of medals. When the medal euphoria wears away those who don’t agree with the official consensus that the Olympics will be a terrific boon and benefit, will have to be written off as saddos in need of urgent rehabilitation. But as the British government doesn't have the luxury of the Chinese authorities’ sledgehammer methods of rule, so more subtle methods of "persuasion" will have to be employed. A conformity of opinion will have to be instilled through the media, advertising, enthusiastic endorsements of elite athletes and the active collaboration of sporting bodies. The healthy scepticism of the British public will need to be smothered for the duration of the preparations for the Games to the final triumphant hosting of the 30th Olympiad. Keep the momentum going and the distractions coming.

Resistance needn't be futile however. Increasing numbers of people are pointing to uncomfortable truths and exposing the commercial interests, elitism, arrogance and corruption surrounding the Games. So we needn't be afraid of expressing criticism or of questioning the need for the Olympic spectacle. Sport is good, international sporting events can be valuable in fostering cooperation and understanding between peoples but do we really need this four-yearly over-financed, bloated, ultra-capitalist monstrosity that is the modern Olympics foisted on us in exchange for the dubious privilege of being able to say "The Olympics came to London and all I got was this lousy T-shirt that fell apart in the wash and to top it all, I can't even find anywhere to ride my bike"?

Fiona Harrington

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Youth criminalised as Brown demands bigger prisons

As Britain continues to lock up more people per capita than any other Western European country, New Labour’s grandees are arguing amongst themselves about plans to build “super” jails.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has poured cold water on the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for huge “Titan” prisons, which are supposed to hold 2,500 inmates each. He told the BBC that “we are not going to have large warehouses as they have in the United States and indeed France". Ironically, it was Straw who announced plans for the super jails back in December. A building programme is supposed to provide another 9,600 places by 2012 at a cost of £1.2bn thereby bringing Britain’s prison population up to 96,000. It reached a record high last year of 81,000 - 143 people out of 100,000 in the population – and numbers are still growing.

But since Straw initially proposed the plan last December, there have been serious criticisms, notably by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers. This week she warned that the prisons system was at breaking point and the experience in France had shown that super jails did not work. “The prison population went from one all-time high to another, staving off disaster only by a series of short-term, often expensive, emergency measures,” she said. There had been 40% more self-inflicted deaths over the year.

Meanwhile another of New Labour’s measures to deal with young offenders came under serious criticism from within the criminal justice establishment. Ex Youth Justice Board Professor Rod Morgan has accused the government of criminalising young people for petty offences.

In a radio talk with Justice Minister Lord Hunt yesterday, he denounced the “widening criminal net”, which is bringing more and more young people within the ambit of criminal law. Minor incidents, such as fighting in the school playground, which had previously been dealt with successfully within a school itself, were now being made into criminal offences.

Morgan said there had been “a huge increase in out-of-court hearings and pre-court summary justice” with little information about what it actually meant. He said that the strategy had received virtually no research, inspectoral or parliamentary scrutiny. Morgan resigned last year, criticising the jailing of young children, many of them for minor offences, is highly respected for his work on conditions in custody.

Not a man to mince his words he is notable for saying recently that there were "adverse consequences to fixing the mark of Cain to a child's forehead" and has denounced "misplaced hysteria over teenage crime". Recently he said: "Locking up more children is the equivalent for penal policy of building more coal fired power stations for global warming. The likely consequence in the long term is to create more adult career criminals."

As New Labour’s criminalisation of young people goes on apace, a Home Office advisor on gun crime has said that black youth were being left to die while funds to community groups were being cut.

Dr Derrick Campbell, chairman of the National Independent Advisory Group on Criminal Use of Firearms, which advises the Home Office and the security services said that community groups in the Birmingham area and elsewhere in the country had found their funding cut. He was speaking earlier this week after the violent deaths of three young men in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and London.

But there is one comforting thought for those who advocate the free market – the drugs trade in British prisons is currently estimated to be worth £100 million a year. So while youth are being taken off the streets, they will be prey to as much if not more drug pushing than before.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, August 22, 2008

An inspector calls

As lovers of good detective stories know, the gradual accumulation of seemingly unconnected facts unerringly, but in always surprising ways, weaken the defences of the guilty, and end in a damning conclusion. And so it is proving for the British state.

First: The High Court has ruled that British security services colluded in the unlawful detention and facilitated the interrogation of Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident detained in Pakistan six years ago. Two judges found that the foreign secretary had a duty to hand over to Binyam Mohamed's legal team secret information that could support his case that he was tortured in Pakistan and Morocco before being sent to Guantánamo Bay where he remains locked up.

Second: The Home Office has lost confidential information on every prisoner in the country and more than 40,000 serious criminals. The records had been transferred to contractors PA Consulting as a consequence of the privatization of public services. The latest data scandal follows the loss of 25 million child benefit records last year and details of millions of learner drivers and army recruits earlier this year. Whitehall departments were ordered to tighten procedures in the wake of the previous crises and the latest loss has stunned insiders. There are concerns that prisoners may have the right to demand rehousing following the unlawful disclosure of their addresses. The potential costs are incalculable.

Third: The government's official statistics on property sales in the UK have been withdrawn from publication because they appear to be wrong. Or perhaps they’re just so shocking the government fears a revolt? HM Revenue and Customs said that revisions to the previous months' figures, going back to March this year, had cast doubt on their accuracy.

Figures for July were due out, but have been postponed. "Outputs obtained whilst updating the monthly series contained some significant and unexplained differences with the statistics published last month," a statement said. "All months in the statistical series are affected, with the differences showing falls in some months and increases in others," it added. "Our statisticians have come to the conclusion that something doesn't look quite right," explained an HMRC spokeswoman.

June's figures appeared to show that property sales had fallen that month to just 77,000. That was a 45% drop from the same month last year, when 140,000 properties were sold. This chimed closely with many other figures, which show that the market has gone through a sudden slump this year because of the credit crunch. For instance, the most recent report from the Land Registry for England & Wales showed that sales in April were down by 39% over the previous 12 months. The number of mortgages approved by lenders for house purchase was down by 69% in June, according to the Bank of England.

Also shaking the foundations of the economy built on property debt recycled through the City of London, comes news that - with a devastating and worsening slump in the housing market - some finance companies are paying people to take their mortgages elsewhere. Take this together with statistics from the Council of Mortgage Lenders confirming that of the few who have been taking on new loans, the bulk of mortgage lending this year has been to people who are not, in fact, moving house. Previous figures from the CML have shown that so far in 2008, only 29% of mortgage lending has been to house buyers.

Whilst the state and the economy was suffering a collective nervous breakdown yesterday, Gordon Brown was making a surprise visit to get closer to British troops serving in Afghanistan. He may well need their support the way things are going. But comparing their performance in the mad military adventure in Afghanistan to the pampered pussycats doing their thing at the Beijing Olympics may not have been the best message he could have delivered!

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A chilling anniversary

People in Eastern Europe will feel particularly chilled by the entry of Russian tanks into Georgia in response to its attack on South Ossetia. For 40 years ago today, the Soviet army and other Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and began the brutal crushing of the Prague Spring of 1968 led by Alexander Dubcek.

A truly poisonous brew of international forces encouraged Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to launch a ferocious assault on South Ossetian separatists on August 8. Israel provided massive arms sales to Tbilisi over the past eight years, 40% originating in the US. NATO leaders agreed in April that Georgia should become a member and Washington was pushing Poland to install a new interceptor missile system near to its border with Russia. Last but not least, Georgia has Senator John McCain's principal foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann on its payroll.

Saakashvili’s military adventure was aimed at bringing America in on his side. He arrogantly stamped on the aspirations of the people of South Ossetia, who had voted by a massive majority in September 2006 for an independent state, which allowed the Russians in turn to prey on their frustrations (Georgia had already killed up to 2,000 civilians when South Ossetians made a bid for independence in 1991-1992).

Surrounding Russia with NATO members and missiles was certain to inflame Russia’s desire to retain influence and control in the Caucasus area. The massive attack on Georgia by Russian armour was the response, as Moscow cocked a snoop at Washington. US secretary of State Condoleeza Rice pronounced self-righteously: “This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbour, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it." Strange indeed from the woman who travels the world justifying the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the overthrow of governments!

The use of brute force to quell the Prague Spring in 1968 became counter-productive in maintaining control over Eastern Europe. As a veteran of the Prague Spring said in a BBC radio discussion, countering those who denied the possibility of Dubcek’s idea of socialism with freedom and a human face. “Socialism without freedom is not socialism. It is nonsense.” The invasion was a turning point in the unravelling of Stalinist power. Despite Gorbachev’s attempts to introduce a new, democratic constitution, the Soviet Union itself broke up under the weight of its own internal contradictions in 1991.

As in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the inhabitants of smaller nations, especially those in strategically sensitive regions, are paying the heavy price for other people’s power struggles. The people of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia suffered a cruel bombardment by Georgian air power while those living in the areas occupied by Russian troops – up to 31 miles of the Georgian capital – are equally shell-shocked by what the Russian forces have done.

The fact that NATO and Russia cynically seek to exploit these legitimate aspirations to further their own interests in no way means that the people of Ossetia or any other small nation or oppressed minority should not have the right to decide their own future. Indeed, it was the recognition by Lenin and Trotsky of the right to self-determination in the founding years of the Soviet Union which led to the formation of the Terek Soviet Republic in North Ossetia between March 1918 to February 1919. Today’s Ossetian leaders blame Stalin for dividing their country into north and south in 1922. In fact, Putin and his clique are seeking to keep control in a similar way to Stalin, who wanted to hold on to the borders of the Tsarist empire.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Monday, August 18, 2008

Milking the NHS

So even the chair of the government’s own drugs watchdog has had to acknowledge what everyone else working in health has always known – the pharmaceutical corporations milk the NHS for all its worth and patients in need are the biggest losers (along with taxpayers).

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins launched his tirade against drugs companies after the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) was accused of “barbarism” for refusing to approve new kidney drugs for NHS use because of their cost. Rawlins said it was common knowledge that some companies charged what they thought they could get away with. “We are told we are being mean all the time, but what nobody mentions is why the drugs are so expensive,” he said. Kidney cancer drugs could be produced for about a tenth of their current cost, Rawlins claimed.

Rawlins cited three key factors in the cost of drugs. One was the fact that many older drugs were soon losing patent protection, allowing rivals to produce cheaper versions. Secondly, the price of shares was paramount. Rawlins insisted. “Pharmaceutical companies have enjoyed double-digit growth year on year and they are out to sustain that, not least because their senior management's earnings are related to the share price. It's not in their interests to take less profit, personally as well as from the point of view of the business. All these perverse incentives drive the price up.” The third factor was the cost of marketing.

This is not a new story. In 2005, the Commons health committee reported that the pharmaceutical industry “has been left to its own devices for too long” and added: “The Department of Health has for too long optimistically assumed that the interests of health and of the industry are as one. This may reflect the fact that the Department sponsors the industry as well as looking after health.”

The committee heard allegations that clinical trials could be designed to show the new drug in the best light – and sometimes failed to indicate the true effects of a medicine on health outcomes relevant to the patient. They were informed of several high-profile cases of suppression of negative clinical trial results and of selective publication strategies and ghost-writing. The committee lambasted the intensive promotion of medicines to prescribers, especially GPs. Promotion of medicines to patients and links between drug companies and patient organisations may add to this problem, said the report, which added:

“The most immediately worrying consequence of the problems described above is the unsafe use of drugs. Over-prescription of the COX-2 inhibitors, Vioxx and Celebrex, has been linked to thousands of deaths and many more cases of heart failure. These cases illustrate a series of failures. Manufacturers are known to have suppressed certain trials for these drugs in the US and may have done the same in the UK. In addition, there were inadequacies in the licensing and post-marketing surveillance procedures and excessive promotion of the drugs to doctors.”

The NHS drugs bill has doubled under New Labour to over £11 billion a year, 80% of which goes on prescribed medicines. The real question is, if 1.3 million people can work in the not-for-profit NHS, with the majority of basic research done in publicly-funded universities, why can’t drugs be produced in the same way? The answer is that the market state acts as a guarantor for the drugs companies instead of the needs of the sick and is a barrier to the comprehensive socialisation of health care.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, August 15, 2008

Global economy goes belly up

When the debt-fuelled boom came to an end a year ago, official pronouncements from every part of the world assured us that the economic fundamentals were sound. Gordon Brown was to the fore in his confidence that after ten years in his care, the British economy was better placed than most to weather what he and others told us was as a temporary problem affecting the world of finance dubbed the "credit crunch".

How different things look today. After months of falsely optimistic denial, the grim spectre of global recession is showing up in statistics from the US, Europe, the UK and practically everywhere else. So-called experts are playing catch-up in their hopelessly inadequate attempts to predict the course of this multi-dimensional crisis. Every day brings new surprises which force them to revise their forecasts of the severity, extent and duration of “the downturn”, which, it is now hoped, will bring its own silver lining to the clouds of inflation.

Those who are sticking with the dominant theories of the last few decades admit that the coming period will bring much painful “adjustment”. They say, however, that this is necessary to restore the economy to health and must be allowed to take its course, with hundreds of banks closing, production going into freefall and unemployment rocketing.

As the scale of the catastrophic crisis forces itself into brains dulled by the capitalist mantra “There is no alternative”, the chorus of calls for more and better regulation has given way to a plethora of more or less emergency proposals. As Larry Summers, Harvard professor, and former Secretary of the US Treasury has pointed out, chaos in the economy is reflected in cacophonous policy debate, with policymaking that is “increasingly reactive and erratic”.

There are many, fearful of the consequences of economic freefall, who are promoting a variety of contradictory, partial interventions to be made by central banks and governments acting either alone, or in unison. The interventions, it is claimed, could shore up the housing market, minimise soaring inflation, increase credit and debt, or restore “the balance” between corporate power and the strength of labour. With nothing better to go on, some with a sense of history are turning to the experience of previous crises for inspiration. Comparisons are being made with the 1990s, the 1970s and with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But the reality is that there is no historical precedent for the present crisis brought on by unprecedented corporate expansion. As everyone knows, overproduction has led to the climate changing as a result of over-exploitation of the planet’s resources. Left to continue, diseases of overconsumption, like obesity, will worsen. Inequality will increase in leaps and bounds as the recession turns to crash. Wars for the world’s resources of oil, water and food will escalate. Let the war between Georgia - acting as America’s proxy - and Russia be a warning in this respect because the question of energy supplies is not far from the surface.

In reality, none of the policy actions being taken or being proposed to restore health to the economy can do anything but make things worse. What’s needed now is to bring the broken profit-chasing system to a conclusion. We should not aim to "rebalance" the 200-year old power struggle between capital and labour but to break the power of the corporations and to replace it with a new motivation – to identify and meet the needs of the majority with a new unified social, economic and political system which can restore the health of the planet.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Tel Aviv-Tbilisi axis

From the moment Georgia launched a surprise attack on the tiny breakaway region of South Ossetia last week, prompting a fierce Russian counterattack, Israel has been trying to distance itself from the conflict. This is understandable: with Georgian forces on the retreat, large numbers of civilians killed and injured, and Russia's fury unabated, Israel's deep involvement is severely embarrassing.

Since 2000, Israel has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and combat training to Georgia. Weapons included guns, ammunition, shells, tactical missile systems, anti-aircraft systems, automatic turrets for armoured vehicles, electronic equipment and remotely piloted aircraft. These sales were authorised by the Israeli defence ministry. Training also involved officers from Israel's Shin Bet secret service – which has for decades carried out extrajudicial executions and torture of Palestinians in the occupied territories – the Israeli police, and the country's major arms companies Elbit and Rafael.

The Tel Aviv-Tbilisi military axis appears to have been cemented at the highest levels, and according to YNet, "The fact that Georgia's defence minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation." Others involved in the brisk arms trade included former Israeli minister and Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo as well as several senior Israeli military officers.

The key liaison was Reserve Brigadier General Gal Hirsch who commanded Israeli forces on the border with Lebanon during the July 2006 Second Lebanon War. He resigned from the army after the Winograd commission severely criticized Israel's conduct of its war against Lebanon and an internal Israeli army investigation blamed Hirsch for the seizure of two soldiers by Hizballah.

The question remains as to why Israel was involved in the first place. There are several reasons. The first is simply economic opportunism: for years, especially since the 11 September 2001 attacks, arms exports and "security expertise" have been one of Israel's growth industries. But the close Israeli involvement in a region Russia considers to be of vital interest suggests that Israel might have been acting as part of the broader US scheme to encircle Russia and contain its re-emerging power.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been steadily encroaching on Russia's borders and expanding NATO in a manner the Kremlin considers highly provocative. Shortly after coming into office, the Bush Administration tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and, like the Clinton administration, adopted former Soviet satellite states as its own, using them to base an anti-missile system Russia views as a threat. In addition to their "global war on terror," hawks in Washington have recently been talking up a new Cold War with Russia.

Georgia was an eager volunteer in this effort and has learned quickly the correct rhetoric: one Georgian minister claimed that "every bomb that falls on our heads is an attack on democracy, on the European Union and on America." Georgia has been trying to join NATO, and sent 2,000 soldiers to help the US occupy Iraq.

Israel must constantly reinvent itself as an "asset" to American power if it is to maintain the US support that ensures its survival as a settler-colonial enclave in the Middle East. It is a familiar role; in the 1970s and 1980s, at the behest of Washington, Israel helped South Africa's apartheid regime fight Soviet-supported insurgencies in South African-occupied Namibia and Angola, and it trained right-wing US-allied death squads fighting left-wing governments and movements in Central America. After 2001, Israel marketed itself as an expert on combating "Islamic terrorism."

As for Israel itself, with the Bush Doctrine having failed to give birth to the "new Middle East" that the US needs to maintain its power in the region against growing resistance, an ever more desperate and rogue Israel must look for opportunities to prove its worth elsewhere. That is a dangerous and scary thing.

This is an edited extract of an article by Ali Abunimah, published on The Electronic Intifada, 12 August 2008. Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli- Palestinian Impasse

Monday, August 11, 2008

Winning economic and social rights

The call by a cross-party committee of MPs and peers yesterday for a wide-ranging Bill of Rights that would cover housing, education, standards of living and a healthy environment as well as civil liberties like the right to a jury trial, leaves open as many questions as it answers.

Parliament’s joint committee on human rights report acknowledges that both major parties are lukewarm about the idea, so the chances of the Bill becoming law are tiny. Secondly, the economic and social rights outlined by the committee would not be enforceable in law – they would be a statement of rights and no more.

Both New Labour and the Tories have revealed their hand in relation to the European Union’s social rights chapter. The Tories under Thatcher opted out of its modest provisions, and successive Blair/Brown governments have not only reaffirmed this position but gone further. New Labour has opposed any reference to collective trade union rights in recent EU treaties and secured other opt-outs in relation to the working week. They have, of course, retained Tory anti-union legislation.

Both parties agree with each other that the market, not society, should remain the main determinant when it comes to “rights”, especially in relation to housing and a standard of living. Clearly, on the issue of climate change, there is no way the state is going to acknowledge a social right that might challenge business interests, even if it is non-enforceable.

Economic and social rights were first talked about in the years following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and were conceived of as an antidote, or a rival pole of attraction by some capitalist democracies. The idea was that if workers had these rights, there would be no need for them to follow Russia’s example and overthrow capitalism.

In the decades that followed, these rights remained dead letters. The slump of the 1930s produced mass unemployment and poverty, leading to the destruction and death of World War II. In the Soviet Union, however, economic and social rights were written into the 1936 constitution and were generally applied. At the same time, basic democratic rights were suppressed in the Stalinist terror that was going on at exactly the same time.

After World War II, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) embraced economic and social rights but were non binding. They are still awaiting implementation because the fact is that they are incompatible with capitalism and therefore, by extension, with the capitalist state itself.

When gains have been made in some areas in terms of rights, they are relative and subject to removal at a later stage. The right to housing was established in practice after World War II and most people who wanted council accommodation could get it. Local authorities were encouraged to build affordable homes to national standards. That right has disappeared.

Today there are 1.3 million households on council waiting lists and the total is more or less constant. This is because for over 20 years, councils have been forced to sell off homes or transfer their stock and barred from building new flats and houses. Successive government have encouraged people to become owner-occupiers instead, saddling them with massive debts and standing by as repossessions mount, as they are now doing, when the market slumps.

Recent surveys show that more than 75% of those questioned favoured a Bill of Rights, with massive majorities in favour of the right to privacy, to a fair trial, trade union rights, hospital treatment and housing. The market state that has replaced the parliamentary state has no interest in enshrining these principles, let alone making them enforceable.

Under these conditions, the struggle to establish permanent democratic, social and economic rights can only succeed in the context of a new, democratic state that reflects the aspirations of the presently powerless majority. How to achieve this aim is one of the key themes of our Stand Up for Your Rights festival on October 18.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, August 08, 2008

The credit crunch one year on

In the shadows of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, the effects of the slow-motion implosion of the global capitalist economy one year on from the start of the credit crunch are becoming apparent in China. Whilst many factories have been shut, apparently to reduce pollution for the period of the Games, there are questions whether many of them will reopen when the medals have been awarded.

China’s double digit growth rate of recent years, which has driven up world prices for raw materials including metals and oil, has slowed in each of the past four quarters. Six out of 11 economic measures including new orders, export orders and output indexes have seen record lows while 14 out of 20 industries have reported a contraction in output. The recent, rapid decline in the value of the dollar against the Chinese yuan has raised the costs of exports to the US. And profits are falling as Chinese workers press for increases in their ultra-low incomes.

In opening its borders to foreign investment – it surpassed the US as the top destination in 2003 - China provided a seemingly limitless supply of cheap labour to globalising corporations. The result was an overabundance of manufactured commodities. The Chinese government was obliged to fund the US foreign debt that enable American consumers to buy from China what they had previously made at home. Now exports to the US and Europe are in decline.

The end of the globalisation boom – which had been interrupted by an accelerating series of global financial crises throughout its 30-plus years – became apparent from 2004 onwards when hard-pressed American consumers reached the limits of their ability to service the spiralling debt. The resultant credit crunch - when banks stopped lending to each other exactly one year ago today - is no more than a sign of a much, much deeper malaise.

In the UK, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee remains paralysed by the crisis, unable to reduce interest rates to stimulate the economy for fear of adding to already spiralling prices. New Labour’s hints of measures to breathe life into the housing market seem likely to have the opposite effect – stopping all activity until the October budget statement makes Alistair Darling’s intentions clear. In the UK, household debt is accelerating whilst house prices have fallen by almost 11% over the last twelve months.

Niall Ferguson, the right-wing and revisionist economic and political historian, is certainly not holding his breath about the future. Writing in the Financial Times credit crunch anniversary number, Ferguson notes that US house prices have fallen faster than any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Despite capital injections of about $300 billion, shares in at least 40 US banks are down 70% or more and many are set to fail.

“One year on, what began as a US crisis is fast becoming a world crisis. Small wonder only a handful of global equity markets are in positive territory relative to August 2007, while more than half have declined by between 10 and 40 per cent. The US slowdown will also affect many emerging markets less reliant on exports than China. At the same time, the global slowdown is about to kick away the last prop keeping the US recession at bay …. But, as in the 1930s, the critical phase is not the US phase. It is when the crisis goes global that the term ‘credit crunch’ will no longer suffice."

It is not “when” it goes global. Recession is already a global phenomenon beginning to show up in necessarily retrospective statistics. Germany, France and Japan look set to join the lengthening list of economies heading downhill, which already includes the US, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Italy, the UK, the Baltics and New Zealand. As the sub-title of our book A House of Cards, published a few months into the credit crunch, reads, it is a matter of moving “from fantasy finance to global crash”.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Solzhenitsyn's place in history

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who is being buried in Moscow today, was the most indomitable of the post-war opponents of the Stalinist terror machine in the Soviet Union, who paved the way for countless others.

The 1962 publication of Solzhenitsyn’s, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was an extraordinary event both in the Soviet Union and throughout the world. Its unembellished depiction of life in a Siberian prison camp made its reality spring to life for millions of readers.

Despite his youthful enthusiasm for Marxism and distinguished service in the Red Army where he was twice decorated for gallantry, Solzhenitsyn was arrested in 1945 by Stalin’s secret police. He was sentenced without trial to eight years in labour camps and permanent internal exile for having criticised Stalin’s conduct of the war in a letter to a friend.

The publication of Ivan Denisovich was possible only due to the personal intervention of Stalin’s successor as secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev and the courageous support of Alexander Tvardovsky, editor of the literary journal Novy Mir. It was an immediate sensation in the USSR.

But although it was studied in Soviet schools and three more of his books were published in 1963, two years later the author became a non-person. Khrushchev had been ousted in 1964, and the terrifying power of the secret police was reimposed.

Solzhenitsyn’s manuscript of his epic account of Stalinist repression, The First Circle, and archives were confiscated by the police. He appealed unsuccessfully to the Writers Union to defend literary freedom in 1967 but was instead expelled from membership. While forced into silence in his homeland, his books Cancer Ward and The First Circle appeared abroad. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, but could not travel to Stockholm to accept it.

Stig Fredrikson, a Swedish journalist living in Moscow, helped him smuggle out the works he continued to write in secret. Fredrikson explained later how the author had hidden copies of the manuscript with a few trusted friends. One woman in Leningrad, had a copy of his account of Stalinist labour camps, The Gulag Archipelago. “She had buried it in the ground, but somehow the KGB found out,” Fredrikson wrote later. “They interrogated her for days and nights until she confessed where she had hidden it. She was then released but went home and hanged herself. She felt that she had betrayed Solzhenitsyn's confidence in her.”

Because of his status as a symbol of resistance, the authorities could not arrest Solzhenitsyn, so they expelled him from the Soviet Union in 1974 and stripped him of his citizenship. The cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko gave him support at this time. He was invited to live in the United States, where he spent the next 19 years on an isolated farm in Vermont, working on a history of the Russian Revolution, The Red Wheel.

From opposition to Stalinism he moved to an increasingly nationalist, backward looking view of history. He was an outspoken critic of US consumer society, but at the same time yearned for a return to pre-revolutionary Russia. In a long manifesto published in 1990, he envisaged a purely Slav Russia with a key role for the Orthodox Church.

By now Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost made it possible for his books to be published in the Soviet Union and Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland in 1994. Gorbachev paid tribute to the writer yesterday, saying: “He was a great man, who was amid the first to raise voice against Stalin’s regime in defence of people that fell victims to it.”

Although Solzhenitsyn denounced the corruption and incompetence of post-Soviet Russian rulers, especially Yeltsin, his political trajectory to deeply backward Russian nationalism dovetailed with Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule. He accepted an award from Putin last summer, a ruler who, in the words of an exiled Russian journalist, “has revived the long-forgotten category of the political prisoner, and of the forcible confinement of critics in psychiatric clinics”.

But whatever his later evolution, nothing can detract from Solzhenitsyn’s contribution to the exposé and eventual fall of Stalinism.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn. December 11, 1918-August 3, 2008

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, August 04, 2008

Beyond New Labour's civil war

The thing about the civil war that is now consuming New Labour is that it is absolutely impossible to take sides. For not even the most powerful microscope in the world would reveal a microbe of a principle in any camp.

On the one side there are the Brownites, whose protagonist is congenitally incapable of leadership or clarity. His policies shaped the first decade of New Labour, with its mixture of privatisation, unworkable means-tested benefits, rising inequality and worship of global markets.

On the other side are the Blairites, who brought us privatisation, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on terror”, rising inequality and worship of global markets. They oppose Brown because he is not Blair and want more extreme pro-market policies. Having watched Brown plot against Blair, they are giving him the same treatment.

And yet these are the people who daily promote “choice” as the way forward! And if there is to be a leadership contest, both sides will no doubt unite to prevent John McDonnell, the lone left-wing voice, from getting on the ballot as they did last year.

The background to the crisis is, of course, the fact that former loyal supporters and the electorate in general, have rumbled New Labour for what it is and the party is facing oblivion. That was the message from Glasgow East, where some of the people most left behind by New Labour turned in despair to the nationalists.

Blair/Brownism is Thatcherism by another name, only deeper and much more dishonest. New Labour has gone where the Tories did not dare in NHS privatisation, the break-up of comprehensive education, attacks on benefits, witch-hunting of asylum seekers, student fees, post office closures and the elimination of human rights.

No amount of leadership changes or revamped policies can disguise this agenda, which has gone a long way to creating a market state in place of the welfare state that, ironically, Labour in its previous incarnation established after World War II. Nor is all this simply the result of policy “mistakes” but is the reflection in politics of the deeper process of corporate-driven globalisation which has eliminated the basis of reformist politics.

New Labour’s demise is truly the end of an era in British politics and if you doubt that, just look at what is happening in Scotland. Brown is nominally the leader of the party in Scotland as well as England. But you wouldn’t think so, judging by the battle to become New Labour’s leader in the Scottish parliament.

Tom McCabe, a former minister, yesterday called for the next leader to have "complete control" of the Scottish party, including Labour's MPs at Westminster. Adopting policies promoted by the Scottish National Party, McCabe said council tax should be abolished and the Edinburgh parliament be given tax-raising powers.

McCabe added: "For too long, there have been Scottish Labour politicians at local government level and at Westminster who have been resentful, and even contemptuous, of the Scottish Parliament. That behaviour needs to stop now." What McCabe is proposing would end Labour’s historic form as a unified party covering England, Scotland and Wales.

As to the leadership contest itself, bitter in-fighting has erupted between the three candidates’ rival camps. A senior member of the Andy Kerr team launched an attack on Cathy Jamieson, dismissing her as a left-wing “cave woman”. Nice.

While the break-up of New Labour is not a time for weeping, it provides a unique opportunity for discussion about how the aspirations of the disenfranchised majority can be reflected in new political forms. Added urgency is given by the onset of recession, combined with soaring utility bills and a housing crisis.

Some unions like the RMT transport workers and the firefighters in the FBU are no longer affiliated to New Labour but are opposed to the Tories coming back. These unions have an obligation to get together with John McDonnell and others and organise this debate now.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, August 01, 2008

Can’t pay, won’t pay

What a week. Everywhere you look, evidence of a global systemic crisis slaps you in the face. Banks on both sides of the Atlantic reported major losses and capital wipe-outs, world trade talks collapsed, energy prices rocketed and politicians appeared more paralysed and powerless than ever.

House prices are falling at record rates, especially in the US where tens of thousands are handing in the keys to their homes and leaving the banks with daily depreciating “assets”. House building in Britain has fallen 40% and 250,000 jobs connected with the industry are disappearing almost overnight.

Meanwhile, the civil war within New Labour between the supporters of prime minister Gordon Brown and David Miliband is surely the clearest sign that the game is up for a government that hitched its star to the alleged virtues of the global market economy.

Almost before they were made, the giant global energy companies were thumbing their noses at proposals from within New Labour for a windfall tax on record profits, threatening to retaliate with a cocktail of threats including rising prices, reducing investment, and moving their operational bases abroad to evade taxes.

Centrica, having acquired the Belgian power company SPE, announced a 35% increase in the price charged by its British Gas division to 16 million UK households. This was aimed at satisfying its worried shareholders just before it released half-year profits figures showing a sharp decline on 2007. The company said soaring wholesale prices driven by “the market” were to blame.

But the wholesale price is charged to British Gas by its other division - Centrica Energy, which operates its own gas fields and produces electricity from its power stations. It’s the same tax-avoiding not-our-fault game played by the globe-straddling oil companies who claim not to make any money from their forecourt garage petrol and diesel sales. Give us a break!

Despite Peter Mandelson’s warning the previous week that international agreements on climate change, food security and energy use could drift beyond reach if seven years of talks on trade failed, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was forced to admit the game was up. The Doha round came to a grinding halt because the US wouldn’t budge on its programme of agricultural subsidies to now rich large-scale farmers.

Free-trade enthusiasts, including Republican presidential candidate John McCain, have openly opposed continuation of the subsidies. The programme has ballooned since it was launched to rescue farmers suffering from the combined effects of the 1930s Great Depression and the dustbowls of exhausted soil which arose from industrialisation of food production.

But the subsidies keep US exports cheap and help boost the profits of the handful of corporations like Cargill which control 80% of the world’s grain and are destroying poor farmers elsewhere in the world. And if all the world’s governments operating within the WTO are unable to come to an agreement which would affect the likes of Cargill, what chance has New Labour got of controlling the energy suppliers? None.

On all fronts, the shareholders’ interests are first in line. Never mind the pensioners who’ll die from cold this winter or the millions whose food, energy and mortgage bills may well send them over the financial edge. This is market failure on a gigantic scale and the first step towards ending this catastrophe should be: Can’t pay, won’t pay.

Communities should organise a mass refusal to pay rising energy bills and mortgages and to make sure no one loses their home as a result. Defiance of the banks and energy suppliers would create the conditions for taking them into common ownership and running them in a needs-based, not-for-profit way.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor