Thursday, January 31, 2008

Free Parvez Kambaksh!

A World to Win calls on its supporters to oppose the death sentence passed on a 23-year-old journalism student in Afghanistan for daring to read and distribute material from the Internet. The conviction of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, passed and confirmed by Afghan Islamic courts and the Afghan Senate, has sparked a campaign by a revolutionary organisation, Left Radicals of Afghanistan, against the Karzai government and the country’s ruling Ulema Council.

On January 23, the Council of Religious Experts and the Provincial Council of the Mazar district as well as the country’s attorney general demanded the death sentence by stoning on the grounds of blasphemy. It accused the student of disgracing Islam, the Quran and Mohammad and breaking the constitution. Kambaksh’s “crime” was that he downloaded a report from a Farsi website and distributed it to his fellow students. The report said that the notion that the Koran justified the oppression of women was not in accordance with the prophet Mohammed’s views. In a radio interview, the district’s attorney general Hafizullah Khaliqyar said that Kambaksh “as an active Marxist who progandised his opinions to others”.

The death sentence was proposed by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, who is close to President Karzai and is clearly an attempt to show that he is not a stooge of the NATO troops occupying the country and to curry favour with the reactionary clerics who control the Ulema as well as the Taliban. He recently denounced the British presence in Helmand.

Kambaksh is a journalist student who, like his brother Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, reported for the Jahan-I-Naw newspaper. Since being detained in the notorious National Security Department detention centre, Kambaksh has been tortured and denied access to lawyers and meetings with his family and friends. His trial was held in secret and he was not allowed a legal defence. The chief editor of Jahan-I-Naw, Qayoum Babak rejected the accusations of the attorney general, saying that reading documents and copying them from the Internet was not illegal. The Afghan Independent Journalists Association is also opposing the judgement and is asking Karzai to quash it.

But while people like Babak courageously oppose the government, the country’s new constitution legally underpins the persecution of those who seek alternatives to military occupation and the power of religious-inspired organisations like the Taliban. As Left Radicals of Afghanistan point out, the Karzai regime has a history of imprisoning and killing demonstrators and political oppositionists. Government bodies have sent letters to universities, schools and places of work warning them not to allow political activities.

Meanwhile, with the occupying NATO forces killing more Afghans than have died at the hands of the Taliban, the outlook is bleak. Seven years of occupation by US, British and other troops have deepened the internal divisions in the country, whilst causing untold suffering. A report by a leading Australian think tank concludes that any “democratic” [i.e. Western sponsored] government will still be disrupted by Taliban militants and others in 2023. “In 15-years time,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says, “Afghanistan is likely to be divided geographically.”

A World to Win supports Left Radicals of Afghanistan and other organisations’ call for the immediate release of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh. We demand the withdrawal of all occupying troops and campaign for a secular Afghanistan with equal rights for all faiths and genders and freedom of expression in all media.

Please send messages of support to

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Millions in mortgage crisis

The thing about capitalism is that it appears to solve problems only to recreate them in a new, more dramatic form. Take housing, for example. Until recently it seemed that everyone could buy a home, watch its value rise and borrow against the property to buy consumer goods to keep the economy moving. Now up to two million households in Britain and a similar number in the United States face a struggle to retain their homes as the economic and financial crisis takes its toll.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has expressed concerns that many homeowners with large mortgages could face repossession. Listing the warning signs, the FSA says problem mortgages are those where the loan was taken out for longer than 25 years, where it is worth more than 90% of the home and where the amount borrowed is 3.5 times or greater than income. Over a third of 5.7m mortgages sold between April 2005 and September 2007 fall into one or more of these categories. In other words, two million households are at risk. The alarm bells got louder today as surveyors predicted that 123 homes a day will be repossessed this year.

What the FSA is concerned about is that rising household energy and food bills, together with big credit card and other debts, leaves many homeowners badly prepared for worsening economic conditions. Banks are also increasingly reluctant to pass on interest rate cuts to borrowers because of the credit crunch that has undermined the financial system. When you add in the fact that 1.4m fixed-rate mortgages are due to mature in the next 12 months, you can understand the FSA’s concerns.

Lyndon Nelson, the FSA's head of financial strategy and risk, said: "It is not necessarily the affordability of the mortgage. It is their other debt. Customers with other borrowing in addition to the mortgage are struggling. The other borrowings tip them over the edge," he said. Just as in America, where some 2.2m foreclosure documents - including default notices, auction sale notices and repossession papers - were filed on 1.28m properties during 2007, many recent mortgages were taken out by households who were lured by the promise of easy money but who did not necessarily have the means to pay.

A key role in creating this housing crisis has been played by New Labour. From the start, they cut back on the building of new social housing for affordable rent as they continued the Tory policy of creating a “property-owning democracy”. People like nurses and teachers have been lured into expensive “shared ownership” schemes built by housing associations on the basis that is the key to long-term wealth. In effect, the financing of such schemes amounts to a subsidy from the state to banks in order to compel more people to buy a house or a flat because they are desperate for somewhere to live.

The impending housing crisis is further proof that the market economy is a trap for millions of ordinary people. Unlike bank directors, they do not have the wherewithal to ride out the economic storm. A campaign should begin to halt all repossessions as the first step towards reorganising the financial system altogether. Unrealistic mortgages could be converted into affordable rents or other forms of payment as part of transforming the provision of housing. Land should be owned in common rather than by private developers and social rather than market solutions to the basic right to shelter have to be sorted out so that new households can find somewhere to live. Above all, we must prevent working people from becoming the victims of a policy foisted on them by governments and banks.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Global warming not a priority for business, survey confirms

As the talks on a new climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto accord reached a crisis point in Bali last month, the United States representatives were actually booed by the delegates of more than 180 other countries. The Bush administration’s dogged refusal to accept any binding targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of global warming, had simply exhausted everybody else’s patience.

Now, as Bush convenes his alternative to Kyoto gathering in Hawaii this week, a new survey by global consulting firm Accenture further demolishes Bush's insistence that global warming is best addressed through voluntary measures undertaken by business. Nearly nine in 10 corporations do not rate it as a priority, says the study, which canvassed more than 500 businesses in Britain, the US, Germany, Japan, India and China. Nearly twice as many see climate change as imposing costs on their business as those who believe it presents an opportunity to make money. And the report's publishers believe that big business will concentrate even less on climate change as the world economy deteriorates.

Four out of the five companies surveyed wanting governments to take a central role in tackling climate change. The survey found that only 5% of the companies questioned – and not one in China – regarded global warming as their top priority. And only 11% put it in second or third place. Overall, it ranked eighth in business leaders' concerns, below increasing sales, reducing costs, developing new products and services, competing for talented staff, securing growth in emerging markets, innovation and technology. Although most are taking limited action to reduce their own emissions, almost one in five had done nothing.

And there’s no hint of salvation in the US presidential election later this year. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, the three serious contenders for the Democratic nomination, are all pledged to cut US emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by the year 2050, and all three accept that this can only be achieved by legal caps on emissions. The leading Republican candidate, John McCain, makes the same promises, except that he is only aiming for 65% cuts by 2050.

But just like Bush, all of the candidates are ruled by corporate interests and none has agreed to sign up to any climate change treaty that does not require the rapidly developing countries, above all China and India, to accept specific obligations too – the main excuse for inaction.

With no sign of serious action by business or government, Nathan S. Lewis, Professor of Chemistry at California’s Institute of Technology puts things into perspective in a recent paper Powering the Planet saying: “In the United States, we spend $28 billion on health, but only about $28 million on basic solar research. Currently, we spend more money buying gas at the pump in one hour than we spend funding basic solar research in our country over an entire year. Yet, in that same hour, more energy from the sun is hitting the Earth than all of the energy consumed on our planet in that year. The same cannot be said of any other energy source. On the other hand, we need to explore all credible energy options that we believe could work at scale because we do not know which ones will work yet.”

With the US government pointing at business and business pointing at government, it must be clear that the rest of us urgently have to take matters into our own hands if the destructive impact of profit-motivated production is to be halted.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Monday, January 28, 2008

IMF rearranges deckchairs on sinking ship

Make no mistake, the global capitalist elites know they are in a major crisis and are stumbling around trying to find a way out. The call by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, for countries to spend their way out of recession is perhaps the most dramatic expression of the panic now gripping policy makers. Another cut in US interest rates is also expected to add to the sense of turmoil.

The IMF chief spoke during the closing sessions at Davos, where the most influential world economic and political leaders had gathered for their annual forum. Usually a time for self-congratulation, the mood was, by all accounts, sombre. But it was Strauss-Kahn who had the audience gasping for breath when he summarily abandoned decades of IMF policy to urge governments to allow state spending to plunge into deficit.

Strauss-Kahn told his audience that the intensifying credit crunch was so severe that lower interest rates alone will not be enough “to get out of the turmoil we are in”. It was a dramatic volte face because as recently as the autumn the IMF was calling for “continued fiscal consolidation” in the US, which has a mountainous budget deficit. Strauss-Kahn said: “I don’t think we would get rid of the crisis with just monetary tools.”

The Financial Times report said Strauss-Kahn’s words “rip apart a long-standing global consensus that fiscal retrenchment in the US and Japan is needed to help reduce huge trade imbalances”. It comes as the IMF is due to release new economic forecasts this week which, the IMF director added, would show a “serious slowdown and it needs a serious response”.

In the recent globalisation period, the IMF has insisted on tight budgetary controls, with government spending held in check. Of all the major economies, only the US has got away with large deficits. In the European Union, all countries – including Britain – are expected to work to a fixed formula on government spending. Desperate times, desperate measures. As former US treasury secretary Larry Summers admitted on hearing Strauss-Kahn’s words: “I regard this as a recognition of the gravity of the situation that we face.”

As the IMF and others thrash about for answers, the crisis is deepening. John Thain, the new chief executive of Merrill Lynch, predicted that the problems in sub prime mortgage markets would spread to credit card and consumer loans. “It will be a while before you see a return to normality in the banking system,” he said. Why, the message has even got through to Gordon Brown, the arch-proponent of the market economy, who admitted at Davos: “This is a testing time for the global economy and those of us who believe in free markets, flexible economies and sustainable globalisation(!). We face major insecurities.”

The IMF’s U-turn is the clearest indication that the crisis is spinning out of control and has a momentum of its own. Running up budget deficits is not going to sort out, for example, the real threat of insolvency that is gripping major banks around the world. Brown is right to be concerned. He and New Labour long ago nailed their flag to the mast of global capitalism. Now the SS Market Economy is holed below the water line and all the IMF and others can do is try and rearrange the deckchairs on a sinking ship. They have no answers because none exist – apart from creating sustainable alternatives to the market economy itself, as we outline in our book A House of Cards.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, January 25, 2008

A rogue financial system

To describe Jérôme Kerviel, the man who allegedly wiped out a year’s profits for the French bank Société Générale by making the wrong call on which way stock markets would move, as a “rogue trader” is convenient but entirely superficial. Kerviel was, after all, only engaged in what traders all over the world are doing every minute of the day in New York, London, Frankfurt, Tokyo and other major financial centres.

Kerviel apparently came to inhabit a fantasy world of his own, creating a parallel yet secret system of deals hidden from SocGen’s top management. But what was his fantasy existence if nothing more than a perverse expression of what the bank itself was actually engaged in – the world of fantasy finance?

SocGen, like banks all round the world, has in the last 30 years become deeply involved in recycling debt, the buying and selling of exotic financial instruments such as derivatives and general speculation about the future movements of markets. While this seemed a great way to rack up profits, it was essentially a work of fiction rather than fact.

For the conjurer’s trick to work, the global economy had to keep on growing and create the increases in real wealth needed to service the mountains of debt that were clogging up financial markets. The recession in the US, expressed in the collapse in the housing and mortgage markets, was enough to begin the unravelling which are now witnessing.

SocGen’s losses of £3.7 billion are but a mere drop in the ocean compared to what the markets are facing. Some experts say, for example, that the amount of unrepayable sub prime housing debt alone held by banks worldwide amounts to $3 trillion – that’s with 12 noughts in case you are interested! As for the total debt in the system, no one is really sure of the total. As it revealed Kerviel’s calamity, SocGen also announced it had taken a £1.5 billion hit from the US mortgage crisis.

The revelations by SocGen are another blow to global markets suffering a dramatic loss of confidence. Banks started to refuse to lend to each other on the basis that they could not be sure whether borrowers secretly held loads of bad debt and therefore would prove incapable of making repayments. There are suggestions that SocGen held back on what had happened until it had sorted out its own position first. Such is the volatility in the markets, that it is even suggested that SocGen’s unwinding of the positions Kerviel had committed the bank to led to the sale of up to £40 billion of shares this week, reinforcing the slide in share prices.

Whatever the truth, you can be sure that the SocGen saga won’t be the last. The world of fantasy finance is coming down to earth with a bang, driving on the economic recession and calling into question the entire legitimacy of the capitalist market economy.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Threat to Amazon grows

The news of a huge rise in the rate of deforestation of the vast Amazon rainforest is one of the most serious indications yet that governments are standing more or less idly by as the conditions for climate change worsen. While they may wring their hands in concern, they are essentially taking on the role of spectators as global warming continues its acceleration.

Take the Brazilian government under President Lula. His attempts to protect the rainforest are so puny that they have come to nought. The Brazilian government has announced that in the last five months of 2007 alone, some 3,235 sq km (1,250 sq miles) of the rainforest were lost. We are talking about what is referred to as the “lungs of the world”, a massive forest that holds and soaks up huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Satellite imaging experts say the rate of deforestation is unprecedented and could even be far higher after further analysis is completed.

Brazilian officials admit that a rise in the price of soya has encouraged companies and farmers to clear the forest at an increasingly rapid rate. This price hike is itself inextricably linked back to Lula’s government and climate change. One of the reasons soya is in short supply around the world is the fact that it is being used increasingly as a source of so-called biofuels. These are being put forward as a “cleaner” alternative to fossil fuels.

Only last year, the Lula government signed a deal with the US government to expand production of soya beans. Because soya beans are also used in 60% of all processed food, a rise in prices is now being felt by shoppers around the world. Biofuels are a key plank of the European Union’s market-driven, carbon trading approach to curbing carbon emissions. The EU reacted angrily to a UK Parliamentary report this week which concluded that biofuel targets were damaging the environment and threatening food supplies.

In the past 40 years, close to 20% of the Amazon has been cut down. Last year, Lula said his government's efforts to control illegal logging and introduce better certification of land ownership had helped reduce forest clearance significantly. The latest figures show this to be nonsense. In practice, the government’s efforts have been minimal. "We have a national plan to fight deforestation that, historically, was a good plan on paper but lacked implementation both due to political will and due to resources," says Marcelo Furtado, campaigns director for Greenpeace in Brazil.

“Although the government could celebrate in recent years a decrease in deforestation, the fact is that structurally this didn't change. The environment ministry still lacks funding. You still have situations where the police don't have a helicopter to fly over a certain area or there is no fuel in the truck to go to verify if an area is being deforested or not. You still have a problem with availability of maps," Furtado said. “The tools to decrease deforestation and monitor implementation of the law are still not good enough." At the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, last month, Brazil announced the creation of a voluntary fund to protect the Amazon, due to be launched this year. This is all too little, too late.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Seize the initiative

“Bloodbath in share prices”, “the dark 1970s”, “panic and desperation” – just some of the headlines littering newspaper pages and websites in response to the turmoil in the financial markets. While yesterday’s dramatic rate cut by the US Federal Reserve gave shares a small boost, nothing is resolved. Far from it.

The Fed’s rate cut decision – said to be made by a “very, very very worried” institution – was made in an emergency telephone conversation on Monday night, during a US national holiday. Many see this move as a panic measure, which cannot bring back stability or prevent the looming recession in the United States. Nor will the dark mood be lifted by Gordon Brown’s push for a meeting of European leaders at Downing Street after he returns from the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Few can now deny the severity of the financial crisis and its economic consequences. Even Sir Howard Davies, former director of the Financial Services Authority and now director of the London School of Economics, for example, believes that “the chances of avoiding recession here [in the UK] are pretty slight, because we do have many of the same features of the US economy”. And top officials like Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England are warning of soaring fuel and food prices and a sudden slowdown of economic growth in the UK.

The inability of leaders and governments to tackle the implosion of the banking system and its consequences is becoming clearer and clearer. One crucial market indicator, the price of gold, tells an irrefutable story about confidence in the capitalist system of commodity production and its attendant financial structures. It is currently moving towards $1,000 an ounce, more than 200% up from the year 2000. When savers see paper money, shares and other financial products as increasingly volatile, and switch to precious metals, then it is surely time to consider the viability of the system as a whole – and, in particular, how to challenge and replace it.

The move into gold tells the story of an increasingly universal lack of trust in existing authorities and institutions, above all the state. Bush’s economic rescue package last week only led to further convulsions on the global markets while Brown’s government is struggling to rescue Northern Rock. Trust in what is called “democracy” will continue to fall away as the crisis deepens.

There are alternatives. People can rule over themselves, without the representatives of big money and big corporations. History has shown time and again that human beings do act collectively to defend their interests, often both for selfish and altruistic reasons. A bold initiative is needed. A World to Win seeks to develop concrete alternative strategies about how to use all the resources at humankind’s disposal to found a not-for-profit, ecologically-sustainable economy and democratic political system. You are invited to come to our discussion tomorrow evening to take part in this great challenge.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fear and panic greets Davos elite

The fear and panic stalking the world’s stock markets is the surest expression that a global economic recession is under way with the potential to become a catastrophic, full-scale slump. What shape this will take is impossible to predict, but it would clearly involve the destruction of capital and assets on an unprecedented scale throughout the global capitalist economy.

The developing crisis also has dramatic political implications because it is self-evident that actions at state or even multi-national levels have small to non-existent impact on the underlying problems. These revolve around the classic capitalist tendency to over-produce which, on this occasion, is accompanied by vastly inflated financial assets whose foundations resemble a house of cards.

In Britain, for example, New Labour is so desperate to prevent the Northern Rock bank from collapsing that it is essentially giving it away as a present to political friend and entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson. Taxpayers are being tied into the deal to the tune of £50 billion with absolutely no guarantee of getting their money back. All this to try and prop up a relatively minor bank. There are absolutely no prospects of this operation being repeated on a wider basis as bigger banks run up the insolvency flag. Government finances are already in a parlous state, with a record borrowing deficit of nearly £8 billion in December alone.

So when the world’s economic and political elite meet in Davos tomorrow for their annual conference, they will have plenty to think about. Instead of congratulating themselves for being masters of the universe, they confront a global economy that is unravelling before their eyes and which they can do little about. For example, a Credit Suisse research note says: ““What we are seeing now has the hallmarks of both a financial shock and the beginning of a [US] recession, or at least of growth grinding to a halt.”

Despite the dramatic falls in share prices, many believe there may be worse to come. “We believe the trough is not reached yet,” said Teun Draaisma, European equity strategist at Morgan Stanley. Justin Urquhart-Stewart, of Seven Investment Management, warned: "There is a very good chance of a retail-led recession and, although the market will recover, trying to judge when it turns is like trying to catch a falling knife.” Even the usually optimistic International Monetary Fund described the global economic situation as "serious".

Economic crisis always results in social and political changes too, usually for the worse if corporate and financial power has the say. For working people it will mean cuts in living standards, unemployment and a loss of public services. Politically, the danger is of a turn towards even more authoritarian, anti-democratic rule accompanied by nationalist and racist rhetoric as the old ways of rule prove ineffectual.

In the 1930s, following the 1929 Wall Street crash, the slump created the conditions for the rise of Nazi Germany and led inexorably towards World War II. The horrific destruction of lives and productive capacity became the basis for the subsequent post-war economic revival. Humanity cannot afford to allow a similar process to work itself out. The economic recession cannot be prevented but the road to slump and political reaction can be averted by popular mass action. This will involve a thorough-going revolutionary process to extend democracy in new ways. It requires a strategic plan to remove economic and financial power from the Davos-style elites and the transfer of political rule into the hands of ordinary people. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair – there is no alternative.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, January 21, 2008

War crimes in Gaza

The Israelis are not the first to practice collective punishment against a subjugated people. In 1857, the British slaughtered thousands indiscriminately after putting down an uprising in India, while American troops destroyed entire villages in Vietnam if they suspected a sympathiser of the National Liberation Front had lived there.

Israel’s barbaric treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza - where the area’s only power station shut down yesterday because of an economic blockade – has its own shocking aspect. The Israeli state draws its legitimacy largely from the horrific crimes inflicted on Jews by the Nazis. In World War II, Nazis also carried out forms of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there.

As a result, under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishments were made a war crime. Article 33 of the Fourth Convention states: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed,” and “collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” Yet what is taking place in Gaza is exactly this.

The Israeli government does not like the Hamas regime in Gaza. It took part in isolating the Hamas government internationally after it fairly won the January 2006 elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Britain and the US joined Israel in favouring democracy only if it produced the right result. Aid to Palestine was cut by the European Union and the Israelis began a systematic attempt destroy the economy in Gaza. Driven into a corner by the major powers, Hamas staged its own coup in Gaza last year and its militants took to firing rockets into Israeli territory in response to air strikes and military incursions.

All this entirely suits the interests of Israel’s Zionist rulers, who have no intention whatsoever of reaching a settlement with the Palestinians despite all the hot air spoken during the recent visit by President Bush. With their nonsensical Old Testament exclusive claims to the area, the Zionists view the Palestinians as essentially inferior, and treat those who live inside Israel itself as second-class citizens. In carrying out their arrogant oppression of Palestinians, they also reinforce every anti-Semite on the planet while doing great disservice to another, humanist, progressive history of the Jews.

That is personified in people like the Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, who has accepted Palestinian citizenship and an honorary Palestinian passport. “I hope that my new status will be an example of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence,” he said after a concert in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Saturday. The Argentine-born conductor is the first Israeli to be granted citizenship by the Palestinian Authority. Along with the late Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said, Barenboim formed the West-Eastern Diwan Workshop, which brings together young Israeli and Arab musicians. Barenboim appears regularly in the Palestinian territories.

In December, he called off a concert at a Gaza Strip church after Israeli authorities refused to allow a Palestinian musician to enter. Predictably, there are now calls for Barenboim to be stripped of his Israeli citizenship. Meanwhile, in Gaza there is no power supply and a blockade that makes the territory a prison camp for its 1.4 million souls. A war crime if there ever was one.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, January 18, 2008

Terror from the air

In case you thought that British withdrawal from Basra means that the suffering of Iraq and Afghanistan is coming to an end, think again. A report issued yesterday by U.S. Central Air Forces Combined Air Operations Center shows that last year the US military carried out five times more air strikes than in 2006.

Last year, the United States-Britain-led coalition dropped nearly four bombs a day on Iraq – a total of 1,447. This compared with 229, or four a week, in 2006. The figures do not include US Marine Corps air strikes, or US and NATO bombings in Afghanistan which doubled from 2006 to 2007.

Only last week, Operation Phantom Phoenix carried out air strikes across Iraq. On Thursday morning alone, Arab Jabour, 38 bombs with 40,000 pounds of explosives hit an area southeast of Baghdad in just 10 minutes. North of the city, 16,500 pounds of bombs were dropped in a few days last week.

Military commanders like US Army Col Terry Ferrell claim that better intelligence gathering allows precision strikes which “shape the battle field and take out known threats before our ground troops move in”.

But the United Nations and human rights groups say that the latest strategy carries an even higher risk of civilian casualties than before. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) says that more than 200 people have died since last April. “The Iraqi population remains at risk of harm during these operations,” spokeswoman Eliane Nabaa says. “The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian character of an area.” Human rights groups estimate that more than 300 civilians died as a result of bombing in Afghanistan last year. The Afghan Independent Human Rights commission says that “in previous casualty tallies by the UN, the number of civilians killed by NATO forces has exceeded the numbers killed by the Taliban. What is striking though is the rise in the recorded number of deaths. In July, the UN reported a total of 600 civilian deaths for 2007 to that date, making a monthly average of about 100. Based on that estimate, the total for September has increased by over 50% from the average.”

The US-UK military hope to wipe out insurgents from the air in order to minimise troop casualties as US military deaths have risen to 3,926 since the occupation began in 2003. UK military deaths reached 260 in December and look set to rise in Afghanistan.

And while commanders grotesquely boast about “using air power more creatively” and deploy concrete-filled bombs and 250 and 500 pounders “to make blasts safer for civilians”, no date has been set for a withdrawal of US troops. On the contrary, the plan is for a long-term troop presence.

Both leading US Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have actively opposed setting a date for leaving Iraq or Afghanistan. Both of them approved a no-strings-attached $300 billion war funding. They voted to confirm key players in the pro-war arena: Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, among others. The only wafer-thin difference that separates them is an anti-war speech made by Obama back in 2002. But it’s a different story now.

Meanwhile, back at the International Monetary Fund ranch, it’s business as usual. While Iraqi citizens pay the price of the occupation and civil strife, the IMF expects Iraq's economy to become stabile this year despite political and security problems “as oil production recovers and the government moves ahead with reforms”. Oil production, which accounts for 70% of Iraq’s domestic productivity, is expected to increase 'at least' by 200,000 barrels per day in 2008, according to Mohsin Khan, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department.

As one US blogger wrote to the Washington Post: “Who cares if a few more shoemakers and their children are slaughtered. It's all about the economy, stupid!”

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Who is the real Luddite?

When you hear Sir David King (ex-government chief scientific advisor) accusing green activists of being Luddites, it reminds you of those 19th century mill owner magistrates intent on punishing poor weavers for destroying private property. The cottage artisans who tried to defend their jobs were persecuted on behalf of a system that threw people onto the scrap heap just to keep profits levels high.

King famously said, correctly, that global warming was the biggest challenge facing the world – more serious than terrorism. Yet he is now condemning the idea of “using less energy” as fanciful because “everybody is aspiring to the sort of standard of living that we have”. King’s misconception is that our standard of living is inexorably linked to profit-driven growth. Add to this a society that insists that a happy life and the solution to the environmental crisis involves buying more and more commodities. Ever-increasing levels of energy are consumed and greater amounts of waste are generated through built-in obsolescence by creating the "desire" to always wanting the latest gizmo - as seen in the growth of television programmes like the Gadget Show.

Yet reducing energy demand to cut the level of carbon emissions must be central to any solution to the environment crisis we are facing – and it is possible! The 40% House Report, prepared a couple of years ago, showed how it was possible to reduce carbon emissions from the UK’s existing housing stock by 60%. This would, of course, require significant investment – on which the government remains silent. King, like Brown and Blair before him, supports “solutions” wedded to the interests of big business – nuclear power and genetically modified foods – rather than investing in poor communities to make their lives better.

The interests of big business and trans-national corporations are paramount in our globalised society, where the market is God and there is an insatiable need to generate increasing levels of profit. The results of this can be seen clearly in the privatised energy industry. Remember, in a capitalist society the first responsibility of a privatised energy company is to maximise its profits - from selling more energy! If they don’t, that guardian of public interest (the Stock Exchange) will penalise them. This is why they are currently hiking their prices and see no problem in making hundreds of millions of pounds on their ‘social tariffs’. This is far more important than investing in the long-term needs for renewable energy generation – which still accounts for less than 5% of the electricity generated by private energy companies. The true result of relying on the current global system to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions was exposed in the recent report Too Good To Be True?: The UK’s Climate Change Record. While on paper it looks as though the UK has reduced its carbon emissions since a 1990, in reality we have just exported them India, China and the like! The Report suggests that if the carbon emissions of goods made abroad for consumption in the UK are taken into account the UK has increased its emissions by 19% since 1990.

To tackle the enormous crisis facing the world from climate change, society needs to move. We need to re-evaluate our relationship with nature, plan production and the development of society to ensure bio-systems benefit from our actions and are not destroyed by them as explained in Running a Temperature. Reading about King’s support for the status quo, for a growth-orientated, market-based technological approach to climate change, when what we need is a fundamental change to how we relate to nature and each other, you wonder … who is the real Luddite?

Stuart Barlow
Environment co-editor

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Banks’ losses threaten action on climate change

Despite Government loans and guarantees in the region of £55billion and the sale of a choice part of its assets to J P Morgan, (perhaps coincidentally the first of Tony Blair’s private sector income streams), Northern Rock’s problems are not easing. It isn’t making enough to repay the penal interest rates charged by the Bank of England. Plans for a state takeover – nationalisation -are well-advanced.

For the Government, as reported on, a private deal is the preferred option, but potential bidders Virgin and Olivant are reported to have had troubles in securing financing for the deal as a result of the global credit crunch.
Asked if ministers had any concerns about offshore ownership of the bank, the Number 10 spokesman said: "The priority here is to protect the interests of taxpayers, depositors and savers." The chancellor told MPs that the government had put guarantees in place to protect savers, not shareholders.

Reassured? Not if you’re one of the huge number of people with mortgages from the former building society. No mention of their interests. And interest is what they will be paying in shedloads whoever ends up owning their debt. With many holding up to 125% of the value of the property when they bought it, house prices on the way down, food and fuel on the way up, defaults are sure to mount.

The £25billion or so already lent to the failing bank comes at a price. It isn’t money transferred from another budget somewhere. It’s another injection of invented billions to add to the crumbling mountain of credit and debt issued at an ever faster rate to sustain global growth over the last few decades. And the whole shaky pile is founded on the expectation of increasing wealth generation and the consequent ability of wage earners to repay their mortgages at interest rates high enough to generate a profit for shareholders.

But there’s a recession on the way, so it won’t work any longer. It won’t work for Northern Rock, and it won’t work for Citigroup, the world’s largest bank, which yesterday revealed a 40 per cent dividend cut, a $9.83bn fourth-quarter loss, $18bn in subprime-related credit writedowns and remaining exposure of $37bn to subprime mortgages. Neither will it work for Merrill Lynch which is due to report this week. A form of transfer into state hands – some call it state capitalism – is underway for both of them too. Only the funds are coming from elsewhere: governments - and private investors - in the Middle East and Asia, representing the biggest-ever single transfer of capital to US banks from abroad, in exchange for a stake in the business.

Next week, the World Economic Forum meets in Davos. Up for discussion is Global Risks 2008, a report written for the event by a team of collaborating organizations. It is hardly reassuring to know that Citigroup is top of the team. In the light of the ongoing and rapid economic deterioration that has come out into the open since the report was finalised, it makes pretty chilling reading. With uncertainty about the short- and medium-term future and about who is responsible for dealing with global risks ‘Action to mitigate climate change, for example, may be put in danger should the global economy weaken substantially – even though many of the political, economic and investment decisions which will shape the future path of global climate will need to be made in the next five years.’

In other words, attempts to ensure the survival of the capitalist world economy will take priority over action on climate change.

You won’t find a better or more urgent reason for joining us in building the means to put capitalism on the compost heap where it belongs.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

'Nano' fears spark campaigns

There is a growing movement against the unbridled and mostly secret use of nanomaterials in products when they have not been subjected to vigorous and open scientific testing. The Soil Association and the Consumer Association have both launched initiatives aimed at alerting the public to the dangers.

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of materials at the scale of the nanometre – or one billionth of a metre, which is the scale of atoms and molecules. The ETC Group has pioneered work on the issue, showing that at the nanoscale there may be unpredictable changes to a substance’s conductivity, elasticity, strength, colour and tolerance to temperature and pressure. Some nanoparticles, it is feared, can slip past immune systems and even cross the blood-brain barrier undetected.

Particles approved for consumer products at the micro- or macro-sale are usually not tested again when introduced into the same products at the nanoscale, so their effects on health are unknown. Already hundreds of nanoscale particles are showing up in products as diverse as car parts, sunscreens, tennis balls, eyeglasses and, of course, the iPod “nano”. over 500 manufacturer-identified consumer products that contain nanomaterials are on the market.

The Soil Association this week announced that it is has banned human-made nanomaterials from the organic cosmetics, foods and textiles that it certifies. While the ban only affects organic production for goods certified in the UK, other organic certifiers worldwide are expected to follow suit. “We welcome this sensible move by the Soil Association and encourage other certifiers, companies and governments to follow their lead,” said Jim Thomas of ETC Group. “A decade ago the Soil Association led the way in creating a safe alternative to GM crops when they declared organic production to be GM-free and now they are trailblazing again – acting to protect the public from potential risks of engineered nanoparticles.”

At the same time, the Consumer Association, which publishes Which? magazine, is launching a campaign to protect the public from risky nanomaterials in consumer products. It is following the lead of the US Consumers Union which has called for mandatory labelling, regulatory oversight and increased funding for risk-related research.

In mid-2007 over 40 groups endorsed a statement of principles calling for precautionary action, manufacturer liability and new nano-specific regulations for nano-products. To date, says ETC Group, no government has enacted legislation to assess the safety or societal impacts of nanomaterials. This is hardly surprising, considering that powerful corporate interests are at stake here. A 2007 survey by 15 governments estimates there are at least 70 nanotech food-related applications already on the market. According to forecasts, the nanotechnology market for food and food processing could reach $20.4 billion by 2010, and most major food and beverage corporations are investing in nanotech R&D.

Under these conditions, no government is going to impose a tough regulatory framework. The corporations, as usual, are driven by the need to create new markets and products to satisfy shareholders. There is an urgent need to use science and technology in a different way, where health and environmental considerations come first. That will require the development of alternative, not-for-profit forms of ownership and control of production.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, January 14, 2008

Coup plotters still at it

The revelation that Britain and NATO considered staging a coup in Italy in 1976 to prevent the Communist Party (PCI) from forming a government fits with what is already known about a whole series of actions by the state intended to destabilise that country and maintain the status quo. These merged with the aims of a long-term operation throughout Western Europe put together by the US and Britain at the end of World War II.

In Italy, the operation went under the codename Gladio and was a secret NATO "stay-behind" operation after 1945, ostensibly intended to counter a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. Arms caches were hidden, escape routes prepared, and loyal members recruited, mainly hard line anti-Communists, including many ex-Nazis or former fascists, whether in Italy or in other European countries. As the fantasy of a Soviet invasion faded, locally-recruited forces turned their attention to internal subversion against the left.

In the 1970s, with PCI electoral support growing, the Italian ruling class turned to the “Strategy of Tension”, in which Gladio would be deeply involved. This involved bombings, assassinations and military plotting against democratic institutions. In October 1990, the right-wing Prime minister Giulio Andreotti finally acknowledged the existence of Gladio and spoke of a "structure of information, response and safeguard", with arms caches and reserve officers.

In 2000, an Italian parliamentary commission concluded that the “strategy of tension” had been supported by the United States to "stop the PCI … from reaching executive power in the country". The report, stated that "those massacres, those bombs, those military actions had been organised or promoted or supported by men inside Italian state institutions and, as has been discovered more recently, by men linked to the structures of United States intelligence”.

The report claimed that US intelligence agents were informed in advance about several rightwing terrorist bombings, including the December 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan and the Piazza della Loggia bombing in Brescia five years later, but did nothing to alert the Italian authorities or to prevent the attacks from taking place.

In 1976, after years of corrupt Christian Democratic-party led rule in Italy, the PCI and its allies seemed to be heading for electoral victory. The PCI was led by the moderate Enrico Berlinguer, who had turned the party into a party prepared to make what he called an “historic compromise” to win political power. This was coded language for the abandonment of any semblance of revolutionary perspective in favour of accepting the legitimacy of capitalist rule.

Nevertheless, the prospect of a victory for the PCI was too much for Britain and the US to stomach. A secret Foreign Office memo dated 6 May 1976, entitled “Italy And The Communists: Options For The West”, unearthed in the National Archives by an Italian researcher, suggested one course might be "action in support of a coup d'etat or other subversive action". The memo admits: "By its nature, a coup d'etat could lead to unpredictable developments." But it added that, in theory at least, "it could be promoted. In one way or another, the force of the right could be counted on, with the support of the police and the army". In the event, the PCI finished second in the election.

Just to remind ourselves, the coup plotting in 1976 took place under a Labour government, which itself was clinging to power during a period of social and economic upheaval throughout Europe as the post-war boom collapsed. The lack of political stability brought forward plans for a military coup in Britain itself, as well as internal plots against prime minister Harold Wilson. The period we have entered in 2008 bears a number of similarities to that of 30 years ago and you can be sure that the modern versions of Gladio are at it as we write.

Paul Feldman

AWTW Communications editor

Friday, January 11, 2008

Nuclear power - the case for decomissioning New Labour

The government’s commitment to nuclear power has everything to do with servitude to the global energy companies and nothing to do with tackling climate change. New Labour has accepted a financial model which will leave the British people paying the price in every way.

The taxpayer will end up financing the decommissioning of the new stations, just as they have the existing ones. In the small print of yesterday’s government announcement it says that the energy companies will pay will pay a fixed amount and we will pick up any deficit. The bill for dismantling the current reactors is £70bn and rising, in addition to the storage costs.

In fact, plans for a new generation of reactors were only made possible by a bizarre programme of bribing communities, with taxpayers’ money, to accept nuclear waste. Just before Christmas the government announced that communities were invited to "express an interest" in hosting waste dumps, bidding for money for schemes that will “enhance their wellbeing”. Truly we are in the age of double-think. The operators of Sellafield in Cumbria are giving Copeland District Council £75m to allow them to expand the national low-level radioactive dump, but would increase that to £1bn if they accept even more dangerous high-level radioactive waste.

The new reactors can only be made attractive to investors because of the discredited European Union carbon emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), where the nuclear companies will be able to claim profitable credits. And the government promises to “keep open the option of further measures to reinforce the operation of the EU ETS in the UK should this be necessary to provide greater certainty for investors”. That means they will underpin the cost of carbon, pushing up the price of fuel overall.

As for the global impact of the rush to nuclear power, it will give fresh impetus to the most polluting form of mining. At current use levels, there is enough uranium to sustain the nuclear industry for about 70 years. But the rate of extraction, and exploration for new resources, will now be stepped up. Uranium mining poisons land and aquifers, leaving them toxic for hundreds of years. It poisons livestock, animals and humans too. Native Americans from the Black Hills in Dakota and from Canada, and native Australians are already engaged in long-term battles against the mining industry which has destroyed great swathes of their land.
Building 10 nuclear reactors would save just 8% of Britain's emissions of carbon dioxide, which need to be cut by 10 times as much as that, at the very least. The emissions that result from the building of the new power stations will be enormous. The new Climate Change Bill fails to enforce any actual reductions, allowing Industries and firms to meet soft targets through carbon trading and offsetting. So big business is extremely pleased. French nuclear giant EDF declared themselves delighted by the announcement – so they should be since they designed the financial model! They aim to have their first new reactor ready by the end of 2017.

The Tories immediately fell into line and once again the political system is being manipulated to implement a policy that enjoys no popular support. It is long overdue to decommission the current political and state system, cut the emission of New Labour lies, and opt instead for a system of safe, non-polluting, democratic power - for the wellbeing of all the people.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blair's new 'job' is fitting

New Labour and money – don’t they just make a perfect fit! Former prime minister Tony Blair is taking a part-time advisory post with a US bank at a modest £500,000 a year while work and pensions secretary Peter Hain is about to own up to £100,000 in previously undeclared donations towards his deputy leadership campaign. Apparently most of these came from big business.

When you add in the £500,000 given secretly to New Labour by property developer David Abrahams, the picture is even clearer. New Labour is unashamedly and openly the party of big business, having supplanted the Tories in this traditional role in capitalist society. This process was set in motion immediately after Blair became leader in 1994, which with Gordon Brown’s backing, was completed in government.

So it is only natural that Blair should take up a post – let’s not dignify it by calling it a job - with JP Morgan. One of Wall Street's leading banks, it is part of JP Morgan Chase & Co, a global financial services firm with assets of $1.5 trillion (£760bn) and operations in more than 50 countries. Blair, who stood down as prime minister in June last year, has been employed "in a senior advisory capacity", the bank said. Apparently Blair will advise the firm's chief executive and senior management team, "drawing on his immense international experience to provide the firm with strategic advice and insight on global political issues and emerging trends".

One of the key – if not the main – aspects of corporate-driven globalisation is the way in which the capitalist state has been drawn into this process. There is now largely a coincidence of interests between big business, finance and the mechanisms and institutions of the state in each country. In turn, these are subordinated to the needs of the global economy and markets rather than so-called national interests. Large areas of decision-making are either in the hands of supra-national bodies like the World Trade Organisation and the European Union or have been abandoned altogether.

Blair and Brown long ago stole on a march on opponents of global capitalism by acknowledging this shift and deciding to drag their party into the middle of this process. In doing so, they ended for good the era of reform-centred politics which was based on making nationally-based compromises with local capitalists. So Blair was only pointing out the obvious when he said on taking up the JP Morgan post: “Nowadays, the intersection between politics and the economy in different parts of the world, including the emerging markets, is very strong."

But 2008 is not 1994. We are now at a profound crisis point in the corporate-driven globalisation process. Banks similar to JP Morgan are in deep trouble, with many facing insolvency as the period of growth based on fantasy finance unravels. With a little luck, Blair and his new employer will go down in flames together. It would only prove Blair’s point about the “intersection” between economics and politics is correct.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The year of the bailiff

The extent to which we are cajoled, enticed, seduced and even tricked into spending more than we have – especially over the end-of-year holiday period – is revealed through startling figures. A poll conducted by the Norwich Union found that 73% people who responded said they would run out of money by today – several weeks before their next pay day at the end of the month.

Some 43% of people surveyed said this month was the most worrying time of year financially, while 19% did not think it was likely they could cover all their household bills during January. More than one in three thought they would go into debt this month. Some householders will dip into their savings or rely on credit and loans to make ends meet for the rest of the month, the Norwich Union said. It is estimated that Britons spent on average £781.86 extra over the festive period on gifts, socialising and sales shopping.

Global capitalism can only sustain itself by persuading people to buy increasing numbers of goods and services. It is the only way corporations can maintain rates of profit, which are what shareholders and stock exchanges are solely concerned about. Whether people need these commodities is irrelevant. What is absolutely essential is that they are sold so that the whole process can begin again and again and again.

This is not a new feature of capitalism, of course. But in the last 30 years of corporate-driven globalisation, the exponential growth in output has required an even greater growth in consumer spending – no matter how that is achieved. The deregulation of the financial sector paved the way for easy credit, cheaper mortgages, buy-now-pay-later deals and a view that if you got into debt you could always remortgage your house, which continued to soar in market value. Rampant consumerism went from a social phenomenon into a form of social compulsion, driven by advertising and marketing epitomised by slogans such as “Because you’re worth it”.

This has proved unsustainable at both a personal and at a corporate/financial level, where there is an unfolding crisis of insolvency as shown by the Northern Rock crisis. To sustain the level of expansion the economy demanded, the volume of credit and debt exploded. As we show in A House of Cards, this appeared in various forms as traditional banking assets, stocks, shares and bonds, and an array of exotic and increasingly toxic derivative products. The expectation of continued growth and profits to service the debt fuelled an impossible dream, now shattered.

Now desperate banks are refusing to pass on the recent cut in interest rates to hard-pressed home owners, despite pressure from the government to do so. Sharp rises in gas and electricity prices are on their way, along with council tax increases. Falling house prices and higher lending rates reduces the possibility for remortgaging to raise extra cash. Little wonder then that despite most people being broke today after splashing out at Christmas, retailers are announcing the end of the consumer boom. Marks and Spencer today reported a fall in sales over the Christmas trading period. Sales fell 2.2% in the last three months of 2007, M&S said. Sales of clothes and homeware declined 3.2%, while food sales dropped 1.5%. It was the firm's worst performance for more than two years.

Another, even uglier, side of capitalism is beginning to reveal itself – a world of home repossessions, bailiffs, county court judgements, job losses and pay cuts. Creating a more sustainable economy, based on producing what is actually needed rather than maintaining profit margins, is a practical question for 2008.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Labour wants pay cuts

It was ever thus. When the capitalist economic system plunges into crisis, the burdens are expected to be carried by those who have to work for a wage. That is the real significance of chancellor Alistair Darling’s plan announced today to impose three-year pay deals on over 5.5 million public sector workers.

He wants to tie teachers, nurses, NHS, local government workers, civil servants and others into one-sided agreements that impose below-inflation settlements. His plan comes hot on the heels of prime minister Brown’s announcement at the weekend that the norm for pay rises should be 2% while inflation is currently running at 4%.

With fuel, food, housing and transport costs continuing to rise – and these are the main items of spending for ordinary households – there is little sign that inflation will fall in 2008 or subsequent years. So, in effect, working people are being asked to take a cut in real take-home pay to help an economy they have no control over and a New Labour government that is tied hand and foot to big business interests.

A 2% rise is fine, of course, if you’re the prime minister on £188,849 a year. An increase of that order would come to over £3,750. A cabinet minister struggling to get by on an annual salary of £137,579 could always do with an extra £2,750. But for most people on average salaries, already struggling to pay their bills, an effective cut in pay is simply unacceptable.

Even the pussycat trade union leaders are concerned that their members will react angrily to the news. The TUC has attacked the 2% pay target arguing that ministers are "on a collision course with six million public servants" because the deal represents a significant cut in living standards. General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, said: “The problem is last year we saw the government impose pay deals of only around 2%. Inflation was running at over 4%, so millions of public service workers saw themselves facing a real cut in their living standards.”

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, whose leaders have gone out of their way to support New Labour’s anti-working class policies, said any three-year pay deal “would really need to be a very decent, fair award” and open to review if conditions changed. Whether these noises will be translated into action to defend living standards is another matter, but the union leaders are clearly sitting on top of a volcano.

Chancellor Darling is politically economical with the truth when it comes to justifying the 2%, three-year deals. He claims it will give workers certainty about pay rises and help reduce inflation. In reality, Darling is trying to patch up a growing hole in government finances that results from the growing financial and economic crisis. Revenue is in decline and government departments are preparing to make substantial cuts that affects everything from the arts to NHS spending. The government is even preparing to deny prison officers the right to strike to get their way.

When it comes to big business, however, there is a different reaction. Northern Wreck – sorry, Northern Rock – has received over £25 billion in a futile effort to keep the mortgage bank afloat with no guarantees that taxpayers’ money will be returned. There are funds for reckless and wasteful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the “war on terror”, which has seen staffing at spy agency MI5 double.

All the sacrifices in the world will not put the wheels back on the global capitalist economy. A period of growth funded by large-scale debt and borrowing has come to an end. The government is hardly in control of the situation, which is dominated by the operation of blind market forces. It will take some doing, but if rank-and-file union members can force their leaders into action the government could be facing an autumn and winter of discontent.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, January 07, 2008

The bishop as pawn

The term “Uncle Tom” has for a long time been a way of denouncing people of colour who ingratiate themselves with the white ruling classes. Well, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester for the established Church of England, certainly fits the bill. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the bishop claims that immigration and multi-culturalism are threatening Britain’s so-called Christian heritage. He claims that that some Muslim communities are “no-go areas” for people of other faiths.

Perhaps unbelievably, he is president of the Anglican Church’s Network for Inter-faith Concerns. He has accused childless married couples of being “self-indulgent”. The bishop has also said that laws should be introduced to give officials power to lift a woman’s veil for security reasons. More seriously, he has the distinction of being the only UK bishop in a poll to be able to name all five Spice Girls.

Despite authoritative evidence from population experts showing that that his claims about neighbourhood segregation are utter rubbish, Nazir-Ali’s comments have been seized upon by the Telegraph and many of its reactionary readers to encourage anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic rants.

Some of Nazir-Ali’s flock in Kent will no doubt be encouraged to be confirmed in the backward view that the real problems of unemployment and high-cost housing are down to immigration rather than government policies. The fact is that it was Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who shut down Kent’s pits and New Labour’s worship of corporate globalisation has continued to devastate local farming and fruit growing which earned Kent the name “Garden of England”.

The reverend bishop is aware of the effects of unbridled private enterprise. Only last February he rightly denounced the government’s massive Thames Gateway development in and around Rochester as likely to increase alienation and giving young people “no stake in prosperity”. The £400 million Thames Gateway project is a government showpiece which stretches 40 miles from east London to Southend in Essex and Sheerness in Kent. The idea is to create 120,000 new homes and 180,000 jobs along the Thames Estuary by 2016 but is more likely to result in isolated housing estates built on a flood plain.

But less than a year later, the Bishop has shifted his ground to single out Muslims in a way that has shocked many community leaders. Sheikh Imam Ibrahim Mogra, based in Leicester, for example, has said that Nazir-Ali has “given ammunition to the hatemongers. He is helping to foster the false perception that Muslims are misfits who really shouldn’t be here”.

As Roman Catholics surpass the Church of England in the numbers attending religious services, the role of the Anglican church is under pressure as never before. The search for targets to blame for its historic decline is on, with people like Nazir-Ali leading the charge. In addition, his attack on multi-culturalism is just what the racist far right and New Labour need - an attack on immigrants from someone from an Asian background to provide a scapegoat for the economic disasters that are looming on the horizon.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW Secretary

Friday, January 04, 2008

The system’s broke – and Larry can’t fix it

Any lingering doubts that the global financial crisis of 2007 would presage a deep, worldwide recession evaporated as 2008 opened for business with a quick-fire salvo of bad news for the economy. US manufacturing slumped to its lowest since April 2003, and global manufacturing growth slipped closer to negative territory – contraction – adding to fears that the US recession is spreading.

Despite slowing growth, prices paid by factories worldwide for inputs to their production rose to a six-month high. And that was before the key input, oil, breached the psychological barrier of $100 for a barrel of crude as news of increased tension in Nigeria, a major producer, added to the pressure of increasing global consumption led by China and deepening concerns about the approaching global peak of production.

As the news piles up, house prices drop, food fuel and mortgage repayments rise, where can you go for some explanation, forecasting and even advice? Surely Larry Elliott, The Guardian’s economic's editor for 11 years must have a good handle on events? After all he spends his working life studying these things, no doubt with considerable help from the paper’s staffers.

In a long article uncertainly titled “Is this the Big One”, Elliot takes us on a dance through the contradictory views and opinions of a select group of politicians, accountants, business advisors, professors, bankers and sundry experts about the likelihood that current problems will coalesce into “a perfect storm” in 2008.

Elliott is either confused or he is hedging his bets. Maybe both. Nowhere in the article will you find a hint of his own analysis, if he has one. In the face of so much contradictory evidence and opinion it seems as though Elliott just hasn’t got a clue. Advice for the government? None. Suggestions to the Bank of England? None. Like most of those convinced by the argument that capitalism is the only game in town, he is left floundering when reality departs far from the theories of how it is supposed to work.

But just in case, Larry’s got some advice for us on “How to survive a recession”. And he’s trying to divert your attention from any new ideas for solutions we, or anyone else can come up with. He’s got a copy of A House of Cards. We sent it to him. But, so far, he’s ignored it. His ideas are, in comparison, disappointing. Its all about personal survival. He says: “You and I can't do much more about the economy than we can about the weather.” All we can do is live within our means, minimise our debts, spend less. Fat chance!

The Financial Times looking out through its rosy pink pages, is at least calling for more of the “financial liberalisation” – by which the paper means easy credit - that facilitated the globalisation process, after a survey of economists predicted a dire year for capitalism.

One thing anybody with half an eye on events can see is that the system’s broke and nobody seems to know how to fix it. Most kinds of regulation having been dismantled in the last half-century to remove barriers to corporate profitability. Governments and central banks can do little more than tinker with interest rates and move credit and debt around from one balance sheet to another. And the old medicine just seems to make things worse.

But help is at hand. Just as the previously “alternative” energy principles and technologies have become mainstream in the face of climate change, so our proposals for composting capitalism are beginning to make sense to a lot more people. Join us in London on January 24th for a discussion about creating sustainable alternatives to the market economy.

Gerry Gold
AWTW economics editor

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Corporate interests and Kenya's crisis

Kenya has been Africa’s fastest-growing economy, a key ally in the Bush-Blair-Brown “war against terror” and was considered a stable place for investment and tourism. Until now the country has been considered a stable hub” for transnationals like Barclays, British American Tobacco, Diageo and Unilever. Now there are indications of a breakdown of the economic model of development and the pseudo-democracy that Kenya represented.

Expert Michael Holman has noted how today’s crisis is rooted in the desperate poverty of Kenya’s rapidly-growing population: “The population has doubled in 25 years to 31m. Unemployment is growing and the number without land is growing. For these people there is nothing to lose by taking to the streets, driven by frustration and fury that transcend their tribe.” He blames the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for backing one of Africa’s most corrupt regimes. “Seldom,” he writes, “have western policy-makers been so complicit in a crisis that is turning into Kenya’s catastrophe.”

Kenya’s urban poor masses are disrupting the wheeler dealing between their leaders and Western politicians. So desperate are Bush and Brown to hold on to the Mwai Kibaki regime that they have declined to condemn the self-evident electoral fraud in the presidential elections. Even European Union observers noted that ballot boxes were stuffed with extra Kibaki votes by the time they reached Nairobi. The fact that Kibaki’s party won only 35 out of 210 seats parliamentary seats was a clear indication that popular opinion had swung in favour of the Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement.

Riots first broke out in protest against the premature swearing-in of Kibaki as president after elections on December 27. Now, hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless by ethnically-charged turmoil in Nairobi, the Rift Valley and elsewhere. Kibaki’s own ethnic group, the Kikuyu, have become targets for Odinga supporters. But in the capital’s vast slum city, Kibera, the defiance turned against the state itself as residents turned out in their thousands to confront the police, despite being fired at with water cannon and live bullets. Hundreds have been killed in clashes with Kibaki’s notorious security forces.

Kibaki is only the third ruler since Kenya became independent from Britain in 1964. In December 2002, he succeeded Daniel arap Moi, who ruled as a virtual dictator for 24 years, looting the country’s wealth and running a terror regime based on secret police, prisons and torture. An unholy alliance was formed between the former president and Kibaki, who appointed Moi as “peace envoy” to Sudan last July, to which the UN and the UK turned a blind eye.

Despite Moi’s open corruption and his savage repression of the Kikuyu tribe, it was business as usual between Moi and global corporate interests for a quarter of a century. And, in 2003 when Moi conceded power to Kibaki, there was no chance that the US, the UK and the United Nations were going to upset what they saw as an “island of stability” and a good place to invest. In reality, this stability was an illusion based on an agreement between Moi and his successor to carry on with the corrupt exploitation of their country at the expense of the masses. No wonder it couldn’t last.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sick plan for the NHS

So Gordon Brown has come up with a novel plan to cut health spending – let the sick treat themselves and also decline to help those who are deemed not to have looked after themselves properly. Welcome to the 60th anniversary of the National Heath Service, New Labour style.

After pouring endless amounts of money into the pockets of management consultants, senior managers, the pharmaceutical corporations, private clinics and contractors, the NHS is in a worse state than ever. MRSA and other infection rates remain high, increasing the chances of coming out of hospital in a worse state that when patients go in. Seven years after the government announced that mixed wards would be abolished, 25% still share a ward or bay with members of the opposite sex. Cancer survival rates in Britain are among the lowest in Europe and a postcode lottery means you need luck on your side to be near the right sort of health care.

As usual, the government’s new plans for self-care are presented as an “opportunity” for patients. Brown hinted at the new policy in a message to NHS staff yesterday, promising a service that "gives all of those with long-term or chronic conditions the choice of greater support, information and advice, allowing them to play a far more active role in managing their own condition". But the real story behind the notion of “personalised service” is that the Department of Health is struggling to meet Treasury targets to cut spending by £8.2 billion over the next three years. The department's "Value for Money Delivery Agreement" – details of which were leaked to the Daily Telegraph - sets out how the NHS could meet the “efficiency savings” target.

In a bid to reduce costs, NHS patients could be expected to administer their own medication and new guidelines could mean people with chronic conditions:
• monitoring their own heart activity, blood pressure and lung capacity using equipment installed in the home
• reporting medical information to doctors remotely by telephone or computer
• administering their own drugs and other treatment to "manage pain" and assessing the significance of changes in their condition
• using relaxation techniques to relieve stress and avoid "panic" visits to emergency wards.

The plans have gone down like a lead balloon among patient groups. The Arthritis Research Campaign said it risked providing health managers with "an excuse for neglecting elderly patients", with a spokeswoman adding: “"Some GPs don't take arthritis seriously enough, and the result of this could be to give them another excuse to tell arthritis patients just to go away and take their tablets." The Patients' Association said it was concerned that “financial pressures will take precedence over clinical needs" while Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "People affected by heart disease need specialist care. Whilst we support changes that empower people to look after their own health, we would be very concerned if they led to any reduction in the availability or quality of expert care for those who need it."

The best way to mark the 60th anniversary of the one of the great achievements by working people is to take action to defend and extend the principles of the NHS as a health service free at every level and totally in the public sector. That would involve, for example, a campaign for social ownership of the drugs corporations and the elimination of the vast bureaucracy that dominates the sector. None of this is possible while the capitalist New Labour government is in power and would certainly be unachievable under the rule of its ugly sister, the Tories. We should take Brown at his word when it comes to self-treatment and act to get rid of his government, working towards a fairer, more democratic society when people not profit come first.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor