Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Behind the shares sell-off

The turmoil on the world’s stock markets, which yesterday saw the steepest fall in the Dow Jones index in New York since September 11, 2001, reflects a deeper malaise in the global capitalist economy. Behind the shares sell-off, which began in China, is a combined crisis. This is characterised by a vast over-capacity in the production of consumer goods and a phenomenal rise in the total credit floating around the planet. At the level of individual consumers, cheap finance has driven large sections into personal debt, especially in the United States and Britain where interest rates have risen. This in turn has led to a fall in consumer demand for goods which are now mainly produced in China. Yesterday, for example, it was announced that demand in the US for durable goods had fallen 8%. In the United States, personal debt has also produced a sharp downturn in the housing market and a rapid rise in repossessions. At the same time, large sections of US industry are unable to compete on the world’s markets. As a result, the country’s trade deficit with the rest of the world, particularly China, is out of control. The dollar’s value is only maintained by foreign investors and is highly vulnerable to a rapid depreciation should sentiment switch to the Euro, for example.

While all this has been going on, stock market values have risen exponentially – for example, they have more than doubled in China inside a year – fuelled by a sharp growth in mergers and acquisitions. These deals have themselves in turn been financed by borrowings and are increasingly the work of what is known as private equity funds. These are the modern version of the asset stripper, using other people’s money to take companies over with the aim of driving up returns in the short term. "Rationalisation and restructuring", involving sell-offs and job losses, then follow. This has been the case with the AA and Bird’s Eye in Britain. Latest targets for private equity funds in Britain include supermarket giant Sainsbury’s. New Labour has accepted donations from directors of equity funds without blinking. Hazel Blears, party chair and candidate for the deputy leadership, said at the weekend that private equity funds often "breathed new life" into businesses that would otherwise close down.

The sell-off in China was triggered partly by government moves to control speculation but was also linked to the assassination attempt on Vice-President Dick Cheney in Afghanistan, US war moves against Iran and fears about the American economy itself. Graham Neale, head of equities at the stockbroker Killik & Co, said: "Any major issues in China will have far greater impact on global markets than they might have done five years ago. The Chinese growth story is vitally important to Western [sectors], including mining and oil, and the slightest hint of a slowdown is a catalyst for selling." The chain-reaction that followed events in China startled some analysts Chris Low, an economist at the financial services firm FTN Financial, in New York, said: "What is striking to us is not the big move in Chinese stocks, but the contagion driving stocks down around the world. For the past couple of years, contagion was a thing of the past." He added: "Still, a synchronous drop in equities world-wide is noteworthy, especially since we have escaped this sort of thing for so long... this looks to be one more sign that the global liquidity glut is drying up." The drying up of liquidity that he refers to is a sure sign that global casino capitalism is not only unsustainable but is heading for the rocks, taking countless jobs and livelihoods with it.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Marketing Star Wars

To justify spending more than $18 billion on a missile defence system that is unproven requires a "threat". Just like the sale of any other commodity, marketing is essential to create an irresistible desire to buy and consume. The marketing in this case centres around the "threat" from Iran. Poland and the Czech Republic were not too keen to be part of Washington’s anti-ballistic missile defence system, aka Star Wars. They knew it would anger Russia, who rightly perceive Star Wars as a threat to their own security and the trigger for a new arms race. Step up Iran, with its alleged plan to build nuclear weapons. It doesn’t matter that evidence is scant to non-existent about an Iranian nuclear weapons’ programme. Marketing is, after all, all about perceptions. ''This is all a result of Iran,'' explains Tim Williams, a European security analyst. ''Governments see that Iranian missiles can hit Europe, and suddenly they are very worried about the threat from ballistic missiles.'' Prime minister Blair is begging Washington to place part of the system in Britain to strengthen his "legacy". If that comes to pass, it will ensure that Britain is a key target for anyone with a missile to spare. You can add that to the fact that Britain is now a No.1 target for terror attacks thanks to New Labour’s imperialist foreign policies. These include the decision to spend countless billions on replacing the Trident nuclear missile system as well as the policy towards Iran. It is a little known fact that the British navy’s presence in the Gulf has doubled since October, joining American fleets in what amounts to a stand-off with Iranian warships in the same area. Commodore Keith Winstanley, who serves as deputy commander of coalition maritime operations for US Central Command, said: "There have been a series of Iranian exercises in the northern Gulf to the point that it's a bit like with the Russians at the height of the Cold War. We just have to hope that's not a recipe for miscalculation." Actually, that is just what Washington and London are hoping for. The Iranian regime is divided amongst itself and could easily fall for a provocation in and around its territorial waters. That would be the signal for an attack on Iranian targets such as nuclear facilities. Star Wars and the aggression towards Iran are further evidence that the American and British regimes are driving the world towards deeper into a period of military instability and potential catastrophe. A return to nuclear brinkmanship combined with a permanent state of war against nations with politics that don’t fit in is a frightening prospect.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, February 26, 2007

Democracy beyond the Bush regime

More and more American commentators are beginning to question whether the American political system can survive the Bush regime. Joe Conason, a columnist for the New York Observer and Salon, is blunt. In It Can Happen Here (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007), Conason says: "For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Today we live in a state of tension between the enjoyment of traditional freedoms, including the protections afforded to speech and person by the Bill of Rights, and the disturbing realisation that those freedoms have been undermined and may be abrogated at any moment." Conason explains how Bush claims an authority that transcends the separation and balancing of power among the branches of government. His book cites evidence of widespread disenchantment and fear amongst the electorate, which led to the defeat for the Republicans in last autumn’s mid-term Congressional elections. Voters are fed up with what Conason describes as the lies, corruption and cronyism of the Bush administration seen from Iraq to the handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Conason writes: "The most obvious symptoms can be observed in the regime's style, which features an almost casual contempt for democratic and lawful norms; an expanding appetite for executive control at the expense of constitutional balances; a reckless impulse to corrupt national institutions with partisan ideology; and an ugly tendency to smear dissent as disloyalty. The most troubling effects are matters of substance, including the suspension of traditional legal rights for certain citizens; the imposition of secrecy and the inhibition of the free flow of information; the extension of domestic spying without legal sanction or warrant; the promotion of torture and other barbaric practices, in defiance of American and international law; and the collusion of government and party with corporate interests and religious fundamentalists."

The title of Conason’s book is drawn deliberately from the title of the novel by Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here, which was published 1935. Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, envisaged the USA in thrall to a fascist dictator. Buzz Windrip, a plainspoken, folksy Southern politician had risen to power during a period of profound unrest in America. Lewis, who had been expelled from Nazi Germany, had written: ""When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Conason sees striking resemblance between the demagogic villain of Lewis’s book, and the present White House incumbent. Yet the authoritarian regime in Washington is, as Conason acknowledges, not fascist. The American people are not cowed or defeated by the Bush regime. But it remains true that in many countries, including Britain, the political system that evolved in tandem with capitalism, with its democratic side the result of generational struggles, is indeed in profound crisis. Globalisation of the world economy, leading to the transfer of powers and decision-making out of the hands of national governments, has tied capitalist democratic structures to corporate power in a much more direct way. In 1992, the arch-conservative political theorist Francis Fukuyama, claimed that the end of the Soviet Union marked the ultimate triumph for the Western democracies, which were themselves the last word in history as far as political systems were concerned. How hollow and stupid his words sound today! Yet relying on liberal sentiment to resuscitate the façade of bourgeois democracy would be a major mistake and could lead to the outright fascist dictatorship that Conason and others fear. Bush enjoys as much power as he does partly as the result of the supine nature of Senate Democrats. Surely the next word in history has to be the extension of democratic principles and ideals in new ways and into new areas like the workplace, colleges and communities, replacing corporate power with a genuine people’s power.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, February 23, 2007

Apartheid, war crimes and the Palestinians

There are two things you can say about the United Nations and the Palestinians. One is that the UN will produce hard-hitting reports condemning the actions of the Israeli government. The second is that, in practice, the UN will do nothing to change the situation. No resolution for action against Israel has a chance of getting through the Security Council because the United States, under both Republicans and Democrats, will simply veto it. Nevertheless, documenting the crimes of the Israeli state is important. John Dugard, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), should know all about apartheid because he is a South African law professor. His country was ruled by a racist apartheid regime until 1994, when the country’s first free elections took place. So his use of the term apartheid four times in the introduction to his latest report to describe the Israeli government’s actions is significant. Dugard also describes Israel’s siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949, adding: "The indiscriminate use of military power against civilians and civilian targets has resulted in serious war crimes."

Accusing the Israeli government of apartheid practices, his report cites: frequent military incursions into Gaza; the construction of the Wall as an instrument of social engineering; house demolitions; over 500 checkpoints; continued construction of settlements; Israeli law and practice which makes it impossible for thousands of Palestinian families to live together; a new practice of refusing visas to foreign residents in the OPT; discrimination against Palestinians in many fields. His report concludes: "The international community has identified three regimes as inimical to human rights - colonialism, apartheid and foreign occupation. Israel is clearly in military occupation of the OPT. At the same time elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law." Side-stepping what the UN might do about this, however, Dugard suggests that the question might go before the International Court of Justice for a "further advisory opinion". That’s not much use to the Palestinians. Dugard himself points that there is a humanitarian crisis in the OPT resulting from the withholding of funds owed to the Palestinian Authority by the Israeli government along with the economic isolation imposed by the United States and the European Union following the victory of Hamas in the elections last year. He admits that the OPT "is the only instance of a developing country that is denied the right of self-determination and oppressed by a Western-affiliated state". These harsh words will have no impact in Israel, Washington or London for that matter. Whatever the Palestinians do, the major powers will still deny them their rights because the Israeli state is a valuable and favoured ally in the Middle East. The recent deal between Fatah and Hamas to set up a coalition government, for example, has been rejected by the White House. Too weak to defeat the Israel state on their own, and surrounded by reactionary Arab regimes who use them as pawns, the Palestinians’ continued suffering is an affront to humanity as a whole. When, at some point in the future, the Palestinians finally achieve self-determination, it will mark a real turning point in human affairs.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Freefall in Iraq

The planned withdrawal of a handful of British troops from southern Iraq is more about a desperate attempt to save political face than the success story prime minister Blair is claiming. Conditions in Basra "have improved sufficiently" for some troops to leave, asserts Blair. But the city is a nightmare for its population of about 1 million people. Strategic expert Toby Dodge, of Queen Mary College, London, disputed Blair’s claims as justification for the withdrawal. "It's cut and run," he said. "I couldn't walk around the centre of Basra. The Brits are retrenching in the airport green zone. Basra is a dangerous place… the police are still unreliable, the army is still very much a work in progress and there is a tussle between the militias and the criminals as to who runs the city. Pulling out the troops will take the foot off the brake to increased violence by criminals and militias. The situation could go into freefall."

The situation in Basra is not the only thing in freefall. Support for New Labour is ebbing away at a rapid rate of knots and there is clear political panic in Downing Street that the Tories could be returned at the next election. A symbolic removal of troops is a futile attempt to show that New Labour is in control of what’s happening in Iraq. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that thanks to the 2003 invasion, Basra and other parts of Iraq have been turned into disaster zones. More than 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, 600,000 have died at the hands of sectarian killers, more than 60,000 have been killed by American and British troops and poverty has overwhelmed vast swathes of the population. By their actions, New Labour has succeeded in making British citizens targets for retaliatory terror attacks at home and abroad. If this is success, what does failure look like?

There is possibly a more sinister side to Blair’s announcement. Southern Iraq, of course, borders Iran and is home to vast oil reserves. Withdrawing British troops from the region could be a prelude to a US-led attack on Iran following a border dispute provoked by Washington. This could be aimed at drawing Iranian forces into the oilfields east and south of Basra. According to military expert Dan Plesch, who opposed the attack on Iraq, America’s plans extend far beyond targeting nuclear facilities but include political and economic infrastructure. According to top level sources who spoke to Plesch, marine forces with landing craft are being assembled, each with their own aircraft carrier which in turn are armed with cruise missiles. Plesch says "without any obvious signal, what was done to Serbia and Lebanon can be done overnight to the whole of Iran. We, and probably the Iranians, would not know about it until after the bombs fell". This is the nightmare scenario that Blair and his co-conspirator Bush have produced. A regime change in London and Washington is sorely needed. With the traditional "alternatives" on offer little different than what we’ve got, mobilising for democratic change that transforms the political landscape is more urgent than ever.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Health needs conflict with drug profits

So the Office of Fair Trading has revealed what everyone in the health service has known for 50 years: successive governments have sustained the compromise which trades the needs of the NHS and its patients against the profits of the pharmaceutical companies. The OFT's study, carried out since 2005, identified several drugs where it said prices were "significantly out of line with patient benefits". Treatments for blood pressure and cholesterol were among those identified. Some treatments which are prescribed in large volumes are up to 10 times more costly than other drugs offering similar benefits. The news broke on the day that it was revealed that 132 NHS trusts are heading to overspend by £1,318m, and are being forced to cut services and reduce staff. At the moment, the PPRS (pharmaceutical price regulation scheme) agreed every five years between the Department of Health and the drug companies effectively "caps" the amount of profit any one company can make. But within that company's profit margin - calculated according to their investment in the UK as well as the range of drugs they make - new drug prices can be set as high as the company wishes. This has led to prices as high as £30,000 or £40,000 a year per patient for a the latest drugs, sending the total NHS drugs bill soaring to £11 billion a year – twice the level of five years ago.

This conflict between health need and profit is being played out throughout the world. Thailand's minister for health Dr Mongkol na Songkhla, says price talks with major drug firms had become "easier" since Bangkok issued compulsory licences allowing generic drug production on two HIV/AIDS drugs and a medicine for heart disease. The licences allow Thailand's government to make or buy copycat versions of medicines needed for public health measures. Drug makers have reacted angrily. A lobby group for the industry representing 38 foreign drug makers in Thailand has said the action is completely unprecedented and it believes another 11 drugs would soon be targeted. Mongkol too has suggested other "essential medicines" to fight cancer, heart disease and other leading causes of death in Thailand were being examined. As he says, the majority of the population in Thailand cannot afford patented drugs. Mongkol has rejected industry arguments that high prices are necessary because drug companies need to invest heavily in research and develop new medicines. The corporations, he says, could compensate by cutting inflated marketing costs. The OFT report will not change the basic arrangements in Britain, whereby a handful of transnational corporations actually restrict the development and sale of drugs in order to ratchet up profit margins. The real question is, if 1.3 million people can work in the not-for-profit £96 billion budget NHS, with the majority of basic research done in publicly-funded universities, why can’t drugs be produced in the same way? We need Big Pharma like we need a hole in the head.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The gulf with parliament

Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, is a deeply worried man. What apparently keeps him awake at night is the growing gulf between people’s aspirations and the response – or lack of it - from parliament over the invasion of Iraq and New Labour’s plans to spend £70 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons. In a less than coherent article courtesy of The Guardian, Murray says that "public opinion must surely soon start to percolate past the impenetrable object that a mute and cowed parliament of place-people has represented these last four years". Praising the example of the Democrats in the US Congress – who have finally started to question the war they authorised in 2003 because it is going so badly wrong for the US – Murray hopes that the same could and should happen in Britain. Why? Because in his words, "it is past time to bridge the gulf between parliament and people that the Iraq war has opened up". For Murray, Saturday’s anti-war march in London will accordingly be directed to that end.

Only someone who wants to preserve the status quo of the parliamentary political system – through which the economic and political ruling elites govern – can advocate reviving it, especially when millions are clearly moving in the opposite direction. Murray is such a person. He is a leading member of the Communist Party of Britain – a party which actually stands for the exact opposite of what its name might suggest. The aim of this organisation is not social revolution but, according to its programme, the creation of a "new type of left government, based on a Labour, socialist and communist majority in the Westminster parliament". This is more or less the reformist formula that one Joseph Stalin, brutal overlord of the Soviet Union, had inserted in the party’s programme in the late 1940s. Stalinist control had already ensured that the British party supported the murderous purges that had taken place in the USSR, along with the Stalin-Hitler pact, the post-war division of Europe and the subsequent crushing of revolutions in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Little has changed over the years. Murray’s party to this day remains one that regards the parliamentary state as a neutral body to be influenced and pressured rather than a set of instruments for capitalist rule. Hence his call to "bridge the gulf".

Anyone concerned with developing democratic rule in Britain would actually be concerned with how this gulf could be widened not bridged, deepened not filled in, about how to win support for democratic alternatives. Political power, in any case, has never been exercised in parliament. Today, not even the cabinet holds the reins of power. This is manipulated by the presidential-type, authoritarian regimes that are now the norm in Britain, arising first under Thatcher and now expressed through Blair (and soon by Brown). Blair’s regime is itself directly responsive to the source of economic power in the shape of the representatives of the global corporations. These secret power structures are inherently undemocratic and can never be converted into anything better or more progressive. Increasing numbers of people sense that the notion of parliamentary democracy is more fictional than real. They are turning away from New Labour in large numbers and are increasingly reluctant to waste their votes at election time. These frustrations are the basis for extending the principles of democracy throughout every sphere of society, from local affairs to control over economic and financial resources. It's got to be better than flogging the dead parliamentary horse any more.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, February 19, 2007

Corporate threat to farm-saved seeds

The handful of corporations that dominate the world seed industry are gearing up to remove remaining loopholes in the plant variety protection system, which was the alternative to patenting that they set up in the 1960s. European-based firms want to get rid of farmers’ limited entitlement to save seed. The Americans want to restrict the exemption by which breeders have the free use of each other’s commercial varieties for research purposes. In both cases, the point is to reduce competition and boost profits, according to GRAIN, which campaigns for biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge. Despite pressure from the transnational corporations, at least two-thirds of the global crop area is currently planted with farm-saved seed every year. In many developing countries, it represents 80-90% of all seed used. GRAIN warns that If farmers were legally forced to plant all of this area with commercial seed, it could easily mean a doubling of seed industry turnover, that is, an "extra $20 billion annually - all taken out of farmers' pockets and delivered to giants such as DuPont, Bayer, Syngenta, and Monsanto".

In many countries, seed laws already require farmers to use only certified seed of government-approved varieties. That seed is often available only from commercial seed companies. A rapidly increasing number of governments also grant legal monopoly rights for commercial seed, by means of industrial patents and so-called plant variety protection (PVP). Some developing countries have been persuaded to join the international PVP system. But this gives seed companies a monopoly on only the commercial multiplication and the marketing of seeds. Farmers have remained free to save seed from their own harvest to plant in the following year. Now the seed manufacturers want the monopoly that biotech firms like Monsanto have enjoyed through industrial patents on plants bred with genetic engineering (GE) and related techniques. These prevent farmers from saving seeds.

Another key industry demand will be to restrict or eliminate the freedom to use PVP-protected varieties for breeding. Says Grain: "The purpose is simply to block competition. If nobody else is allowed to improve on a variety until after the term of protection - 20 years or so - a seed company will be able to sell the unimproved variety for a much longer period, and postpone the cost of new research. The net effect: increased profits for the PVP owner, higher seed prices and fewer new varieties for farmers." GRAIN points out that monopolisation leads to fewer and fewer products of value to farmers. Major advance in yield and resistance improvement were made early in the 20th century, before any monopoly rights were available on seeds, it points out. Those improvements came mainly from selecting and crossing thousands of farmer varieties developed over centuries, not from any industry-sponsored research. The emergence of capitalism in the 18th century was marked by the enclosure of common land and clearances, by which people were driven out of the countryside into the towns. The growing corporate stranglehold over food systems that is revealed by organisations like GRAIN amounts to the enclosure of the global commons.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, February 16, 2007

New Labour's nuclear charade

The High Court ruling that New Labour’s "consultation" on its energy policy was "misleading" and "seriously flawed" is further proof that the mid-19th century system of representative democracy is no longer fit for purpose. As if to confirm this view, Tony Blair’s immediate response was that the nuclear power station programme would go ahead, whatever the judgement said. More and more people are being forced to come to the conclusion that the existing democratic process is a sham and essentially excludes ordinary people from consideration. It was clear from the start what was going on. Blair had already declared that nuclear power was "back on the agenda with a vengeance". The consultation was a charade. There was no supporting evidence on the economics of nuclear power and what the judge called "inadequate" information on waste disposal. In the end, Mr Justice Sullivan ruled that groups were asked to respond to a document where the information was "wholly insufficient for them to make an intelligent choice". As one blogger responding to the judgement put it yesterday: "The truth is out. We, the public, don't matter. The arrogance of modern government knows no bounds. Any ‘consultation’ is a sham, and yesterday's judgement lays that bare. If politicians wonder why they are held in such contempt, that is why. They just mouth fancy soundbites. Debate or reasoned argument? Forget it. Anyone who tries to argue is ridiculed or marginalised." Nuclear power is only the latest in a series of major decisions taken behind closed doors, without reference to parliament, let alone the public. Just think tuition fees, ID cards and, of course, the invasion of Iraq which millions of people marched in opposition to.

Ultimately, Greenpeace’s victory in the courts is symbolic and that’s the question that really needs addressing. Increasingly large numbers of people feel disenfranchised because their opinions and votes count for little. The fact that over 1.3 million motorists have used the Internet to register their opposition to road pricing is as much an expression of frustration with the traditional political process as anything else. They also object to the idea of having a device inside the car which would monitor their movements. Which brings us to yet another example of secret decision-making aimed at strengthening the state’s powers at the expense of ordinary citizens. The Home Office has just agreed to a European Union scheme to set up a network of national crime records across 27 states. Police across the EU will get free access to Britain’s DNA, fingerprint and car registration databases. The exchanges could be up and running as early as next year and might eventually lead to the creation of a single EU-wide database. Britain has by far the largest DNA database in the world – 50 times the size of the French equivalent. When New Labour took office in 1997, it held only 700,000 samples – by 2008, it will hold the samples of some 4.2 million people and is growing by 500,000 a year. Critics point out that the DNA database has effectively become a permanent list of suspects. So the undermining of the democratic process goes hand in hand with the building of an authoritarian state. The case for a new constitutional democratic settlement, one which reflects the aspirations of the powerless majority rather than the privileged economic and political elites, grows stronger by the day. Achieving such a change has to become top priority.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Deficits point to inflation time-bomb

The US trade deficit widened to an all time record of $764bn last year, despite the falling value of the dollar on world markets. Meanwhile, data from the Office for National Statistics documented the worst year for the UK trade deficit since figures for imports and exports were first collected in 1697. Britain was just under £56bn in the red in 2006. It would have been a lot worse, but for the hugely profitable money-laundering activities they call financial services that go on in the City of London. Both deficits arise because imports are rising faster than exports – but imports and exports are rising as the pressure from global corporations for increased production and consumption intensifies.

So what is going on behind these figures? American and UK consumers like consumers everywhere are subjected to marketing campaigns and persuaded to spend like there’s no tomorrow. In doing so, they incur record-breaking debt, buying into credit deals and fake extended guarantees tied to ever-cheaper goods made in low-wage China. In the UK, with ever more liberal credit terms, personal debt breached £1 ¼ trillion in 2006 of which more than £1 trillion (£1,000 billion) is tied up in mortgages on massively overvalued property. Meanwhile in the US there is carnage in the housing market as prices fall, and interest rates increase, driving lenders out of business and hundreds of thousands of borrowers over the edge into bankruptcy. It’s a warning of what’s on the cards in Britain. The trade deficits and the mounting debt provide a measure of the inflation which is building up in the global economy, outstripping the attempts to control it by creeping increases in the base interest rates set by the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank.

The US Democrats have noticed there’s a fundamental problem with these trade imbalances. In a letter they sent to President Bush they say that the "consequences of these persistent and massive trade deficits include not only failed businesses, displaced workers, lower real wages, and rising inequality, but also permanent devastation of our communities". But what the Democrats don’t see and can’t see is that these consequences don’t arise from the deficits themselves but from the global economic and social system which depends on them for its continued growth. Capitalism needs growth to sustain profits. If growth is stifled for any reason, profits fall. Any time now, the pent-up inflationary pressures that the deficits and debt contain will explode. And you only have to look at Zimbabwe’s eye-popping 1,600% annual inflation rate to get a flavour of what is to come. Prices there are expected soon to begin rising on an hourly basis. It is surely time to dismantle this failed system and start to take the profit-fuelled planetary emergency seriously.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Children the victims in Blair's Britain

There is a crisis at the heart of our society, admits the children’s commissioner for England, Aynsley Green. Not the sort of remark New Labour wanted to hear after a decade in power during which time Britain has become a more fractured, divided society. Green’s remarks come in the wake of a damning United Nations report into the wellbeing – or lack of it – of children growing up in the UK. The UK is bottom of the league of 21 economically-advanced countries according to a report by Unicef on the wellbeing of children and adolescents. It is even below the United States, which comes second to last. The Unicef team assessed the wellbeing of children in six areas: material wellbeing; health and safety; educational wellbeing, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks; and young people's own perceptions of their wellbeing. The Netherlands came out top, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain. Nine countries, all of them in northern Europe, had reduced child poverty down below 10%, the report says. But it remains at 15% in the three southern European countries - Portugal, Spain and Italy - and in the UK, Ireland and the US. The UK takes bottom place "by a considerable distance" for the number of young people who smoke, abuse drink and drugs, engage in risky sex and become pregnant at too early an age. On education, the UK comes 17th out of 21. More than 30% of 15- to 19-year-olds are not in education or training and are not looking beyond low-skilled work.

Commissioner Green hopes the report will prompt an investigation into "the underlying causes of our failure to nurture happy and healthy children" and adds: "These children represent the future of our country and from the findings of this report they are in poor health, unable to maintain loving and successful relationships, feel unsafe and insecure, have low aspirations and put themselves at risk." These are fine sentiments but Green shouldn’t really have to look too long to identify the underlying reasons for the fact that the UK, along with the United States, are bottom of the Unicef league. These are the two countries where naked commercialism, corporate greed, inequalities and a money-is-everything approach are official policy. These crude features of corporate-driven globalisation have resulted in an emphasis on individualism and an ever-deeper alienation, not just among teenagers but throughout the population as a whole. For example, increasing sections of society are denied affordable housing because of a rampant housing market stoked by a government that stimulates home ownership on the basis that it is a route to wealth. Amongst the younger generation, white, black and Asian working-class kids especially are often excluded from many of the "opportunities" to get rich quick. Even with formal educational qualifications, they find that they live in a world of low-pay, unskilled work for the majority. Surrounded by commodities that they cannot buy, they will, however, be offered credit cards so that they can run up debts they will never be able to pay back. It’s not simply a question of teenagers being part of jobless households either. Researchers last year found that half the children in poverty have someone in their family doing paid work, which is another indicator of how wages are for many. Targeted by the Blairites, young people are increasingly likely to have an Asbo slapped on them or end up in youth custody, which is often a direct route to a life of crime. Britain’s class-divided society has produced a new generation that has few human and social rights. What an indictment of a decade of hard Labour.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BBC News 24Speak over Iran

If you watched BBC News 24 on Sunday evening, you would have heard it reported that American officials had "revealed" evidence about Iran's involvement in Iraq. There were no caveats, no use of words like "alleged" or "claimed". And certainly no reference to hypocrisy, whereby a country with 150,000 troops unlawfully stationed in another state can then accuse another nation - Iran - of meddling! Back to the "evidence". We've been here before, of course. Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the "evidence" piled up. Saddam Hussein's Iraq without question possessed weapons of mass destruction - according to the then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Iraq was buying nuclear weapons material from Niger - according to the then secretary of state Colin Powell, courtesy of disinformation supplied by Jack Straw. This tissue of lies became the pretext for the invasion and the subsequent disintegration of Iraq. Is the same happening over Iran? Soon after Sunday's briefing no less a person than the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff cast doubt on the claims that the Iranian government is supplying Iraqi militias with explosives for use against American troops. Marine Gen. Peter Pace told reporters that he "would not say" that Iran's leadership was aware of or condoned the attacks. The military is known to be fearful of the consequences of US air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, believing it would spark a Shia uprising in Iraq that would overwhelm American forces. Neither the White House nor the Pentagon responded to requests by the media for an explanation of the apparent contradiction between the nation’s highest-ranking military officer and his subordinates in Baghdad. And David Kay, who once led the hunt for the elusive weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said the grave situation in that country should have taught the Bush administration lessons when it comes to intelligence. "If you want to avoid the perception that you've cooked the books, you come out and make the charges publicly," Kay said. Even some Democrats are finding their voice, having been complicit in authorising the attack on Iraq. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that the White House was more interested in sending a message to Tehran than in backing up serious allegations with proof. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has since denied that Iran was supplying weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq or stirring up violence by majority Shiites against minority Sunni Muslims. The American military presence is to blame for the bloodshed, he said. He also suggested that wiser counsels would prevail in America and prevent an attack on his country. That could prove to be a fatal miscalculation. The Bush administration has its backs to the wall politically speaking and a strike against Iran may be a consequence. Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst who worked for the CIA and the National Security Council, believes that Pentagon planning is well under way. "Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates [the new US defence secretary]. Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place." He added: "We are planning for war. It is incredibly dangerous." Don’t expect to hear too much about this from the BBC, however. They are running scared of the New Labour government and are fast becoming part of the state’s official propaganda machine. More Newspeak than News 24.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, February 12, 2007

Running a Temperature bids for $25m prize

The authors of a new guide to tackling climate change, Running a Temperature, are going all out to win Richard Branson’s $25m prize for finding the most cost-effective way of extracting one billion tonnes from the atmosphere each year. They invite readers and others to join them in developing their proposal, which has been given the provisional title “Composting Capitalism”, at a meeting on February 20th. The aim is to demonstrate that the simplest, cheapest and most straightforward method of removing huge quantities of greenhouse gases is by getting rid of the wasteful, reckless system of corporate-driven, profit-motivated, capitalist production. For example, by enabling the employees of Richard Branson’s group of companies to take them over and run them on ecological lines, we could put a stop to his own “greenwash” approach to climate change. The billionaire boss last year pledged the profits from Virgin air and rail, over the next 10 years, to combating rising global temperatures. But this turned out to be little more than an investment fund for another branch of his empire. Virgin Fuels will focus on biofuels, a very profitable business, where demand is rising at around 25% per year - but a disaster for the environment. By 2010, 5% of sales at all UK petrol stations will have to be of renewable energy, a lucrative opportunity for Virgin Fuels and investors like Morgan Stanley, who last year pledged to invest £3bn in biofuels and carbon trading. From orangutan reserves in Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation, says palm oil is one of the most environmentally damaging commodities on the planet: "Once again it appears we are trying to solve our environmental problems by dumping them in developing countries, where they have devastating effects on local people."

One thing is for sure, Bush, Blair, Brown and Branson will continue to focus solely on such market-led, profit-driven initiatives when they claim to be tackling climate change. Joining Branson at the launch of his latest initiative, former US Vice President Al Gore said: "We're not used to thinking of a planetary emergency, and there's nothing in our prior history as a species that equips us to imagine that we, as human beings, could actually be in the process of destroying the habitability of the planet for ourselves." But this is not true! Human beings have faced annihilation since the development of nuclear weapons. And the world wars of the 20th century were another form of self-destruction. Alongside that has gone the wholesale destruction of indigenous peoples, species and ecological systems that has been a feature of the whole of capitalism’s development. Global warming threatens all humanity, but it is still a capitalist-created crisis, spinning out of control as a result of corporate-driven globalisation. Branson’s prize only reinforces the problem while creating new opportunities for business. Plans to extract carbon have to be “commercially viable” and, of course, there is no question of any actual reduction in emissions. Branson’s fleet of planes will continue to criss-cross the oceans, emitting carbon safe in the knowledge that someone, somewhere else is hoovering them up! Set free from this capitalist straitjacket, humanity will have no problems in developing workable solutions to climate change. But to get our foot on that road, we need to reject government and corporate greenwash and start developing social, economic and political alternatives. This project needs substantial resources. If Mr Branson would like to give us $25m for our excellent ideas, it would give the campaign to compost capitalism a real boost! (Did I hear someone say “dream on!”)

Penny Cole, co-author Running a Temperature

Friday, February 09, 2007

Questions of ownership

The ruthless operations of private equity firms, with Sainsbury’s now a prime target for a takeover, is a timely opportunity to organise workers and consumers in campaigns that raise the whole nature of ownership and control of enterprises. Or so you would have thought. Instead, the GMB union wants New Labour to rein in the activities of venture capitalists – by closing an alleged tax loophole! Private equity funds buy out publicly-quoted companies and then saddle them with vast amounts of debt used in the takeover. Asset-stripping and job losses usually follow before the company is returned to the stock market at a considerable profit. Analysts estimate that the consortium which is circling Sainsbury's would need to raise only £3 billion of equity to buy the supermarket chain that is valued at £9.5 billion by the stock market. The rest they would borrow from a mixture of banks and hedge funds. Companies owned by venture capitalists now employ 3 million people in Britain. The story of what happened to the AA breakdown service is typical. It was taken over in 2004 and loaded with debts of £1.9 billion, the equivalent of six years of subscription income from AA members. This debt is backed up by virtually no assets, since nearly all the buildings and fleet used by AA are leased. The new owners sacked 4,000 of the 10,000 staff, saving £100m per annum on resources devoted to dealing with 4 million breakdowns per year. Services to AA customers then declined because there are fewer patrol staff to deal with the same volume of breakdowns. AA will also lose the Volkswagen contract to its rival, the RAC, from April.But profits at AA have risen to £175 million, of which more than half is used to pay interest on the £1.9 billion loans, on which tax relief is claimed.

Thus, says the GMB in a letter to MPs, the taxpayer is subsidising the activities of the venture capitalists. The union’s letter reveals a touching faith in “ordinary” capitalism as opposed to the cowboy variety now stalking the land. “GMB consider that the private status of the venture capitalists is an abuse of company law and abuse of the privilege of limited liability status,” the union argues. Tax relief, the letter adds, “costs the Exchequer hundreds of millions per annum, while giving debt unfair tax advantages over equity”. This transfer from taxpayers is now leading to the “destruction of household name companies by venture capitalists”, MPs are advised. They are asked to impress upon Gordon Brown, the Chancellor and next New Labour Prime Minister, the need to do something about it. What a complete waste of time and a disservice to its membership the GMB campaign is! Firstly, stockmarket quoted corporations sack workers and depress conditions just as much as private equity firms do. The only substantial difference is that limited liability companies are obliged to make their plans public. Secondly, New Labour is the most business-friendly government around. Tax concessions on interest payments do not exist by accident but by design. New Labour has no intention of, for example, blocking the spate of mergers and acquisitions of firms (and football clubs) located in Britain because these activities are seen as signs of the virile, globalised, competitive nature of the economy. The economy is not what it seems, however. The resurgence of private-equity, casino capitalism is a reflection of a system awash with more credit and debt than real value. Even the Financial Services Authority has warned that the crash of a major private-equity enterprise is inevitable because of the debt mountains involved.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Climate change: hope and reality

Those who, despite all the evidence, live in hope that pressure on governments will produce action on climate change are in a difficult bind today. The European Commission’s decision to water down plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars demonstrates once again that corporate interests will always win out in Brussels (and every other capital, for that matter). Intense pressure from car manufacturers ensured that the EC backed down on its plans to enforce a 25% cut in carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 2012, and instead set a target of a 12% reduction. By 2012 new cars sold in Europe must on average emit no more than 130 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g/km CO2). This target is, in fact, considerably weaker than a target the EU set in the mid-1990s calling for new cars to emit on average 120g/km by 2012. As Jos Dings, of the European Federation for Transport and Environment, explained: "The Commission has proposed to weaken an 11-year-old climate target for new cars just five days after the global scientific community warned policymakers to take serious and urgent action on climate change." The EFTE said that transport is the only sector which has increased its C02 emissions in Europe in the last 15 years. For example, in 2005, the UK had the fourth highest average emissions of the EU15 countries. To meet the 2008 target in the UK, average emissions from new cars must fall by more in the next two years than they have in the last nine years. It is simply not going to happen.

The commission’s proposals were due to be made two weeks ago, but were postponed at the last minute in order to heal a split on the issue within the 27-member European Union. While some Eurocrats favoured tougher measures, political leaders decided otherwise. German car manufacturers wrote to the commission warning of factory closures and job losses and other corporations like Ford and Toyota piled on the pressure. Then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, vowed to fight moves to impose a compulsory cap on vehicle CO2 emissions. The result is the half-baked set of proposals which will have no effect on climate change. In the end, putting the words "green" and "cars" in the same sentence is a nonsense, whatever fuel efficiencies are achieved. Manufacturers live or die by year-on-year increases in sales because, naturally enough, raising total profit is what motivates production. As things stand, whatever comes out of the EC, we will still end up with more cars clogging the highways, polluting towns and villages. This is simply not acceptable, nor sustainable. A real plan to tackle the ecological crisis requires a shift away from car dependency towards cheaper (or even free) public transport, moving jobs closer to where people live and a comprehensive reorganisation of economic life in favour of not-for-profit production. Some will say that this is an impossible task, given the dominance of the global corporations and the political elites they effectively sponsor. Better to go on lobbying governments and encouraging individual actions in the hope that rational argument will win the day. The EC decision on emissions shows, however, that this approach is rooted in fantasy. We might as well face the fact that the capitalist system will not and cannot solve the ecological crisis which it itself is responsible for creating. The new publication Running a Temperature, published by A World to Win, outlines practical alternatives and solutions that take us beyond the failures and restrictions of the market economy. Get yourself a copy and start building the momentum for the radical, revolutionary change that the situation demands.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

GM is now a global battlefield

The struggle between the biotechnology companies who try to ram genetically-modified (GM) crops and food down the throats of farmers and consumers is now being fought out on a global scale. And biotech corporations like Monsanto are not having it all their way own way. A summary of global reaction against GM in 2006, released by Greenpeace International, provides evidence of growing resistance in many countries. "There is irrefutable evidence that governments, farmers and consumers throughout the world recognise that genetic engineering is unreliable, unviable or downright dangerous," said Jeremy Tager of Greenpeace International. Some countries are banning GM altogether. Rumania, for instance, which had 85,000 hectares planted with GM soy in 2005, will drop to zero this year, in keeping with a new government policy banning its cultivation. Farmers in India, France and the Philippines have led the way with protests, uprooting crops and holding demonstrations. There is even a backlash in the United States, where most GM crops are concentrated, following the Bayer LL601 rice contamination scandal. Californian rice producers and a major rice mill in the state, Sunwest Foods, have called for a ban on any cultivation of GM rice, including field trials. Producers and traders lost out massively when the contamination was exposed. Meanwhile, in 2006, the number of regions in the EU declaring themselves GM-free zones went up to 172 and 4,500 local authorities say they want to avoid using GM products.

Herbicide-tolerant crops are engineered to survive the application of a powerful herbicide that would kill a non-engineered crop, making it easier for farmers to use more herbicide to control nearby weeds. Or so the claim goes. The reality is different. Studies by independent scientists demonstrate that GM crop yields are lower than, or at best equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties. Reduced yields have in particular been found with Roundup Ready (RR) soy. An independent study of US government statistics shows that the three major GM crops have led to a 122 million pound increase in pesticide use since 1996. Until the widespread adoption of RR crops, there were just two confirmed cases of glyphosate-resistant weeds. But by 2005, many different weeds had become resistant in the United States. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), an industry-funded body, ignores all this and paints a rosy picture of inevitable success. In its January 2006 report, ISAAA claimed that "the continuing rapid adoption of biotech crops reflects the substantial and consistent improvements in productivity, the environment, economics, and social benefits realised by both large and small farmers, consumers and society". This kind of nonsense is par for the course and is constantly exposed by organisations like GM Watch. This organisation reveals how the biotech industry funds spurious "scientific" research and underhand lobbying to promote GM as absolutely safe and the answer to world hunger (GM Watch also includes a revealing dossier on the dubious ex-Living Marxism group, whose members have with amazing ease penetrated top levels in the media to promote right-wing, libertarian views that often coincide with those of the biotech corporations). Curiously enough, The GM Watch site has been down recently and its staff think it might have been the victim of a malicious attack. Working out a list of suspects shouldn’t take too long. Send your suggestions to

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Avian flu and fowl play

Blaming wild birds for the spread of avian flu is a convenient way of avoiding the real cause – intensively farmed poultry and the domination of the food chain by corporations whose first duty is to shareholders. In a factory farm with a high density of birds, the virus can spread and multiply rapidly throughout the huge confined flock, and beyond that, via the global trade in live birds, eggs, virus-contaminated feed and manure, across country borders and across continents. There were no fewer than 160,000 turkeys in the sheds in Suffolk where the deadly H5N1 strain was identified. But this is small stuff compared to the giant factories in Asia - the region where avian flu was first identified - which house millions of birds.

Grain, an international campaigning group promoting agricultural biodiversity in the developing world, says in a report entitled Fowl Play that bird flu is really nothing new. "It has co-existed rather peacefully with wild birds, small-scale poultry farming and live markets for centuries. But the wave of highly-pathogenic strains of bird flu that have decimated poultry and killed people across the planet over the past ten years is unprecedented - as is today's transnational poultry industry," says Grain. The group describes the transformation of poultry production in Asia in recent decades as "staggering". In the Southeast Asian countries where most of the bird flu outbreaks are concentrated -Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam - production jumped eightfold in just 30 years, from around 300,000 metric tonnes (mt) of chicken meat in 1971 to 2,440,000 mt in 2001. China's production of chicken tripled during the 1990s to over 9 million mt per year. The poultry industry in Asia supplies a significant proportion of the 200 million chickens Britain imports each year. Among the biggest corporations is Charoen Pokphand, the region's biggest producer of poultry and feed, and the Asian business partner of the supermarket giant Tesco. The Grain report adds: "Practically all of this new poultry production has happened on factory farms concentrated outside of major cities and integrated into transnational production systems. This is the ideal breeding ground for highly-pathogenic bird flu - like the H5N1 strain threatening to explode into a human flu pandemic." There is speculation that the H5N1 originated in China. Reports suggest that the authorities tried to keep the lid on less virulent strains of avian flu by using an anti-viral drug intended for humans only. Such misuse could have caused the avian flu virus to mutate into the drug-resistant H5N1 strain.

Meanwhile, bodies like the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation barely mention the implications of industrial poultry in the bird flu crisis. Instead, fingers are pointed at backyard farms which sustain many people in poorer countries. Where the FAO once supported local farmers, it now favours a switch to large-scale production, which shows how far the UN and its constituent parts are in bed with the corporations. As is New Labour, of course. Ministers are casting doubt about the source of the Suffolk outbreak, suggesting that we can never know. Sticking to the unknown wild bird theory leads to increased pressure on organic farmers, who rear poultry outdoors. Professor David King, the government’s tame chief scientist, says that in his view the arrival of the H5N1 virus in Britain would mean that "organic farming and free-range farming would come to an end". That’s just what the major producers want to hear. Meanwhile, the Bernard Matthew’s corporation will get vast sums in compensation for the culling of the wretched turkeys. Leaving food production under the ownership and control of a handful of producers and retailers, who drive down conditions as a way of reducing prices, is a real threat to human health world-wide. From H5N1 to the consequences of climate chaos, globalised capitalism is an unsustainable system as far as the welfare of the planet is concerned.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, February 05, 2007

Making liberty history

On top of the fact that the 2012 Olympics project is resembling a typical New Labour disaster, which Londoners in particular will have to pay for, comes more sinister news about how the state plans to use the cover of the Games to further erode citizens’ rights. Officials want to make wider use of the police's DNA database to identify suspects through their relatives. The plan is also to give police the powers to scan postal packages to find drugs and to monitor an individual's progress in even greater detail than they can today. This will be achieved by using CCTV technology as well as electronic travel passes such as the Oyster cards used by millions of Londoners. The memo debates how public opinion could be won over and concludes: "Increasing [public] support could be possible through the piloting of certain approaches in high-profile ways such as the London Olympics." Three million people already have their DNA stored on a national database, and the state is aiming for comprehensive coverage whether people have been convicted or not. Home Office officials want to make much greater use of a technique known as "familial DNA" where a suspect whose details are not on the database can be traced through a family member whose details are already recorded. The memo states: "Records could be trawled more routinely to identify familial connections to crime scenes, providing a starting point to investigations through a family member that is on the database to a suspect that is not, for example."

The Home Office plans for the DNA database are surely only the tip of the iceberg. Millions of visitors are expected to attend the 2012 Olympics and the "security" issues are no doubt uppermost in the minds of the police and MI5 as they contemplate another phase of their "war on terror". A ring of steel will be thrown around the Olympics, undoubtedly involving the army as well as the police. Surveillance will be increased on a massive scale, involving new techniques. Once the Games are over, they will remain in place and become part of the authoritarian state that has emerged in the last decades. The leaked DNA memo makes clear the official attitude to basic rights, referring to the "expectation of liberty" that people have rather than anything permanent. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, accused Home Secretary John Reid of manipulating the London Olympics for political ends as part of what she called his "make liberty history" campaign. Add in the spiralling cost of the Games, and it is increasingly doubtful whether anyone, apart from the state and a few corporate sponsors, will benefit from the 2012 Games the way things stand.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, February 02, 2007

Liberating science from profit

The warning today in the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that global temperatures could rise by as much as 6.4C by 2100 has one simple implication: immediate, drastic action is needed to reduce CO2 emissions by 90%. Even the IPCC’s more conservative estimate of temperature rises of between 1.8-4C will lead to higher sea levels and more frequent extreme weather, affecting the lives of everyone on the planet. Basically, the planet’s ability to absorb CO2 is being undermined and the IPCC is 90% sure this is a result of “human activity” (or more precisely, the burning of the fossil fuels that drive the capitalist economy). So what has been the reaction of governments? At the meeting in Paris this week to finalise the IPCC report, government-appointed scientists from China and the US lobbied to reduce its impact. Their great achievement was that 10% of doubt. Even in the face of undeniable evidence pouring in daily from every climate research institute on the planet, attempts to pressure scientists mounts. A hearing of the US Congress this week heard that climate scientists working for US government agencies have been pressured not to use the words "global warming" or "climate change". Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded think tank with close links to the Bush administration, for articles undermining the IPCC report. And the reason for this desperation to find scientists – any scientists – who will support the case for doing nothing? This week Exxon, the world's largest oil company, announced profits of $39.5bn (£20bn) for 2006 - the highest-ever profit reported by an American company.

The major capitalist states will rely on market measures and untried technology when it comes to climate change. Nothing will be allowed to disrupt the global economy. For example, in his recent State of the Union address, Bush spoke of cars powered by hydrogen or bio-fuels. But the power used to make the hydrogen would give off more emissions than it would save, and to produce enough bio-fuels would demand that the whole of the Amazon rain forest be felled to plant palms! In Britain, New Labour favours an expansion of the carbon trading market, discredited carbon offsets and charges that airlines and passengers will absorb. Meanwhile, Stansted airport is to be expanded. Scientists have some positive ideas to reverse the damage caused by climate change such as carbon capture, carbon scrubbers, carbon sinks and some of the concepts for reflecting sunlight away from the atmosphere. But while science remains subordinate to the profit needs of global corporations and sponsored governments, under-researched actions could cause further damage to the eco-system while leaving the fundamentals unchanged. As Running a Temperature – an action plan for the eco-crisis, also published this week, explains: “In its vulgar pursuit of profit, capitalism separates us from our own nature, from the very source of the basics of food, air, shelter and clothing. It takes profound scientific accomplishments and our every-increasing knowledge of nature and perverts them in the name of market economics.” The authors argue against the idea that one-off market initiatives can solve the crisis and it calls for the liberation of science from the profit system, to support humanity in solving the climate crisis: “Science has explained global warming and will enable us to start restoring the damage done to the planet. In a networked world, sharing knowledge at the highest level, we can monitor more closely our impact on the eco-system and plan production and the development of society to ensure that bio-systems benefit from our actions.” Running a Temperature sets out detailed, immediate and long-term action plans that would halt climate chaos and makes the case for a revolutionary break with the old order for them to work. The IPCC report, which is the result of the work of 2,500 scientists, confirms that nothing less will do.

Penny Cole, co-author Running a Temperature

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Legal advice at any price

Is Tony Blair planning to go out with a bang in the shape of an unprovoked Anglo-America air attack on Iran? If he is, one thing is certain - he can count on the support of Lord Goldsmith, his Attorney-General. Goldsmith does what he is told by No.10 and will the provide legal cover required to justify attacking Iran. Before the invasion of Iraq, Goldsmith ignored international law and gave Blair the green light.

That, you will remember, led to the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office. Her letter of resignation did not mince words: "I cannot in conscience go along with advice ... which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression." Goldsmith was at it again before Christmas, this time over the planned prosecution for corruption of British executives in the bribes-to-Saudi affair. By all accounts, Blair leant on Goldsmith to declare that a prosecution would not succeed and the case was abandoned, much to the annoyance of the Serious Fraud Office.

The chances of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities are building by the day. In Washington, Blair’s White House co-conspirators have ratcheted up the rhetoric against Teheran over its alleged involvement in Iraq (a bit rich that, coming from a country with 160,000 troops in illegal occupation). Scott Ritter, the former UN inspector who proved before the 2003 invasion that Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction”, has joined the chorus of opposition to a an attack on Iran. Ritter laments the pathetic stance of the Democrats, who allowed Bush to invade Iraq and applauded Bush when he put Iran in the frame during his recent State of the Union address. Ritter warns: “As things currently stand, the Bush administration, emboldened with a vision of the unitary executive unprecedented in our nation's history, believes it has all of the legal authority it requires when it comes to engaging Iran militarily. The silence of Congress following the President's decision to dispatch a second carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf has been deafening.

The fact that a third carrier battle group (the USS Ronald Reagan) will probably join these two in the near future has also gone unnoticed by most, if not all, in Congress." Ritter says that just as Iraq has severely damaged the Republican Party, Iran would break the Democratic Party if it sat back and allowed Bush to proceed.

Not only that, such an attack would fatally undermine the substance of the American constitution which has separation of powers between the three branches of government at its heart. In Britain, parliamentary democracy has gone the way of the Dodo; in the United States, Congressional paralysis has created a White House that rules unchallenged and by decree. The case for transforming the existing political system in favour of an alternative, truly democratic set-up is irresistible on both sides of the Atlantic.

Paul Feldman, communications editor