Friday, January 29, 2010

Time for 'regime change' in Britain

Whatever Tony Blair says or doesn’t say at the Iraq inquiry will not alter the historical record. Blair and George W.Bush went to war on a pretext, pursuing regime change in Baghdad behind the smokescreen of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that existed in imagination only.

“Intelligence” dossiers were, to use that famous phrase, “sexed up” to suggest that Saddam Hussein could launch WMD in 45 minutes and even reach Cyprus with them. Old documents on the internet were cut and pasted and published as gospel. The British passed the Americans “information” about Iraq seeking uranium through Niger that was pure fiction.

The link made by Bush between Iraq and Al-Qaeda was total nonsense, and Blair knew it. Except it is not nonsense now. Where once they had no foothold, Al-Qaeda is now present in Iraq and is partly responsible for the near civil war that exists between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has devastated Iraq. Apart from an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion, as of May 2007 there were 2,255,000 Iraqis displaced inside the country. A similar number had fled to either Syria or Jordan. In June 2007, 28% of Iraqi children suffered from chronic malnutrition while the unemployment rate in some areas was 60%. Four in ten professionals have left since 2003, including 12,000 physicians. The latest figures available show that 70% of Iraqis have no access to adequate water supplies.

Some have got rich out of the war, notably the US defence industry and private sector corporations like Blackwater and Halliburton. By mid-2009, US taxpayers’ funds spent or approved for Iraq totalled a staggering $800 billion, running at $5,000 a second according to Senator Harry Reid.

Congressional hearings found that Halliburton overcharged the Pentagon to the tune of $1.4 billion. But what the hell! Former vice-president Dick Cheney helped to run the corporation before entering the White House so it was natural his old friends should benefit. Iraq is a privatised war, with more than 180,000 private contractors working in support of US troops. They have killed Iraqi civilians with impunity.

Those responsible for visiting this disaster on Iraq include not just Blair but Gordon Brown and the members of the New Labour cabinet and MPs who voted for the war despite massive public opposition. A good number of them are lawyers and quite well understood that the accepted principles of international law stood in the way of regime change. So they ditched them – or rather got the hapless Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, to change his mind when the military top brass said they wouldn’t invade without legal clearance.

A special word should be reserved for the United Nations and its then secretary-general Kofi Anan. Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, reported that his team could find no WMD in Iraq and in all probability that there were none. A word from Anan querying the legality of an invasion might have just held up military action. Unfortunately, it took him until September 2004 – 18 months after the invasion - to say just that!

Iraq, the continuing occupation of Afghanistan, extraordinary renditions, the secret wars waged by US special troops in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, all show that international law is powerless to stop the British and American governments. Their actions continue to reinforce not lessen the threat of terror attacks on ordinary civilians.

There is a strengthening case for “regime change” in Washington and London. These are democratic states in name only, playthings of major corporations and financial interests. Creating a real democracy, with economic and political power in the hands of ordinary people, is the best answer to the warmongers. Then we could have the war crimes tribunal that many people are demanding, with Blair and Brown, Bush and Cheney the top four defendants.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Scientists made scapegoats for climate change

Reading the blast of outraged hot air in the media about a flawed figure relating to Himalayan glaciers found in a 2007 summary report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), people might be starting to feel a little uneasy about the science of global warming.

So just to get back to reality, the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which has been measuring 90 glaciers in mountain ranges across the world continuously since the 1980s, has just published figures for 2007/08. These were compiled from satellite images and in-situ measurements of glaciers across the globe.

They found that “the average mass balance of the glaciers with available long-term observation series around the world continues to decrease” and that “the new data continues the global trend in strong ice loss over the past few decades”.

These, plus hundreds of other findings allowed the IPCC to recognise the flawed figure but at the same time restate: “Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by melt water from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.”

Yet the backlash against science and scientists continues. Yesterday the Information Commissioner accused the University of East Anglia of “crimes” under the Freedom of Information Act, piling more pressure on scientists embroiled in the leaked emails teacup tempest. And a couple of weeks ago scientists (and meteorologists) were forced to explain that a few days of heavy snow does not “disprove” the reality of global warming.

Climate change deniers virtually write as if the scientists themselves are working towards global warming – that global warming is being created out of the science itself. In capitalist society there are two common perspectives on how nature works. One is “teleological”, that is the religious or quasi-religious view that nature is working towards a specific outcome. Or there is the metaphysical, or post-modern view which would argue that there is no purpose or grand narrative in nature – stuff just happens.

There is a very different perspective – a dialectical perspective, which does not artificially separate “cause” and “effect”, but views them as interacting and contradictory opposites. Karl Marx, a key proponent of the dialectical approach, was a big fan of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species not only because it clarified much about the development of humans in nature, but also because Darwin had dealt teleology in science “a mortal blow”.

About dialectics Marx wrote that it “includes in its comprehension an affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up.” It is this unavoidable breaking up of the present state of things that the climate change deniers and their corporate and political sponsors cannot countenance, even if it is heralded by a disintegration of the polar ice cap.

The dialectical method, beloved of eminent scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, can be of huge assistance to climate scientists in grasping the complex interaction between their work on the crisis of global warming, and the crises of economy and politics which are not parallel, but intimately interacting processes taking place in nature.

There is an actual political conflict going on here and scientists are increasingly finding it impossible to stand aloof from it. And of course it is a life and death struggle for all of us, as the reactionary backlash against action to reduce emissions gathers pace in the United States and elsewhere.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Britain's debt is 'nitroglycerine'

As they gather in Davos with the leaders of the global capitalist economy for the annual World Economic Forum, Britain’s New Labour is struggling to find some crumbs of comfort in the 0.1% “return to growth” for the last quarter of 2009. The figure is worse than the most pessimistic of predictions and knocks a huge hole in Chancellor Alistair Darling’s fanciful budget.

Warning: This first estimate from the Office of National Statistics is based on around 40% of the returns. It is subject to revision. Whichever way it goes, the statistically insignificant figure is itself the outcome of an unprecedented programme of emergency aid for capitalist society.

New Labour has reduced interest rates to 0.5% - its lowest level ever; invented and then added £200 billion of “quantitative easing” to its own balance sheet; poured squillions into the banks which have squirreled it away in their vaults; and allowed, better to say encouraged, unemployment to rise to 10%. Around the more polite £1,000 a plate election fund-raising dinners for New Labour it is called “cost-cutting”. And for all that you get 0.1% “growth”. How much would it take to engineer a boom?

Things can only get worse. Among the other measures used in the attempted stimulus was to temporarily reduce value added tax (VAT) from 17.5% to 15% and join in market manipulation measures (of dubious legality under EU and WTO free competition laws) like handing over tax money to car manufacturers in the form of scrappage vouchers. VAT is now back up to 17.5% and the scheme encouraging people to throw away perfectly serviceable old motors is ending. Insolvency practitioners predict company collapses will hit record levels this year and stay high in 2011.

In Davos, the International Monetary Fund will intensify its warning that Britain is approaching state bankruptcy and caught in a double-handed stranglehold. For 20 years the ratio between Britain’s combined public and private debt and the value of its annual production (GDP) has been soaring faster than any of the other rich countries. Last year it outstripped Japan and now leads the world. The home of capitalist production is officially the most indebted. By the middle of 2009 its debt exceeded its GDP by 480% - nearly five times. That’s one hell of a mortgage by any standards.

The double bind works like this: Heavily-indebted countries like the UK, Spain, US and South Korea face state bankruptcy over the next few years as interest rates - and hence the cost of borrowing - start to rise. The same thing started to happen to sub-prime mortgage holders in the US from around 2004. Everybody knows what happened. So they must start reducing their debt – by cutting government expenditure and raising taxes.

But, oh dear, countries that have been using debt to climb out of recession mustn’t cut it too soon – listen up Alistair! – because if they do they’ll risk (actually no risk at all, it’s a dead cert) tipping back into slump. Its no wonder the vultures, sorry, investors are hovering ready to swoop. Whichever way Alistair swings, the economy is a dead parrot.

Bill Gross, co-founder of California-based fund mangers Pimco, the world's biggest buyers of bonds is warning that the UK is a "must to avoid" for his investors as its debt was "resting on a bed of nitroglycerine". Gross described the UK as posing risks for investors because it has "the highest debt levels and a finance-oriented economy – exposed like London to the cold dark winter nights of deleveraging".

As soon as the UK looks like devaluing its currency, as looks increasingly likely, the speculators will move in. Who would want to win an election under those conditions?

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The big voting switch off

It’s a measure of New Labour’s “achievement” in over 12 years of government that whichever party wins the upcoming general election will achieve scant support from voters because larger numbers than ever intend to stay at home. According to the latest NatCen British Social Attitudes (BSA) report, the number of people who feel they have a “civic duty” to vote has fallen sharply.

The drop has been particularly marked amongst both young people and those who say they have little or no interest in “politics”. The BSA survey found that 85% of those who think “it’s everyone’s duty to vote” cast a ballot at the last election in 2005, In contrast, just a quarter (24%) of those who don’t think it is worth voting did so. However, now fewer people in Britain feel an obligation to vote than at any time since the question was first posed in 1991:

 Only just over half (56%) now think that “it’s everyone’s duty to vote”, down from two thirds (68%) in 1991.
 Although only a minority of people (18%) go as far as to say that “it’s not really worth voting”, this figure has more than doubled since the early 1990s, when it stood at just 8%.
 Only just over two in five (41%) of under 35 year olds feel they have a duty to vote.

New Labour consciously set out to take the politics out of politics, assuming the role of the senior management team in charge of Britain PLC. Fewer and fewer people therefore saw the purpose in voting when they were being told that markets and not governments would decide their fate in terms of jobs, housing, pensions, education and so on. At the 2005 election, New Labour won with the support of just one in four of those registered to vote on a turnout of just 61%.

Now representative parliamentary democracy, which was inextricably tied to electing Labour as a party that would carry through reforms of capitalism, is on its last legs. As Sarah Butt, co-author of the survey, commented: “The decline in civic duty means it is possible that, regardless of whether the next election provides voters with a clear choice between parties or a more closely fought contest, we could again see large sections of the population remaining at home on election day.”

The survey also shows another consequence of New Labour – a swing away from support for redistribution from the wealthy to poorer sections. This outcome is clearly the result of a government that has encouraged exactly the opposite, creating a more unequal Britain (another survey published today shows the number of children in “severe poverty” has grown sharply). John Curtice, author of this party of the survey, noted: “In repositioning itself ideologically, New Labour has helped ensure that British public opinion now has a more conservative character.”

Political representation developed out of the bitter and long struggle against the ruling classes for the vote and basic democratic rights. In Britain, it led to the creation of the Labour Party and eventually to reforms like the health service achieved through Parliament.

Now this historically important but nevertheless limited from of bourgeois representative democracy without power is in terminal crisis. Globalisation has reduced the control of the national state over the economy and thus eroded the basis for achieving reforms through elections to Parliament.

It was this process that transformed Labour – founded on reforming capitalism – into an outright capitalist party. Its leaders have shut down internal democracy and transformed New Labour into a party that promotes war and the market capitalist economy in competition with the Tories. No wonder voters are switched off!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, January 25, 2010

Van Gogh and the 'value' of art

It is unfashionable to emphasise the social and political underside of art these days, but the highly-charged and meteoric career of Vincent Van Gogh cries out for this approach, especially as a superb new display of his work at the Royal Academy will surely draw massive crowds.

The Real Van Gogh offers a chance to reassess and enjoy the work of this great artist. By placing a selection of 35 fragile documents out of his 900 letters side by side with his drawings and paintings, you can get a deeper insight into the sources of his inspiration, life and thoughts

Driving his prodigious output was the need to communicate, and provide spiritual solace to his fellow human beings in every possible way. When his ambition to become a preacher to the underprivileged (which he began in England) failed, he channelled his energies into his letters and paintings.

There is a political aspect to his anguished story which is kept largely in the shadows. While it is well known that he was never able to become self-sufficient and depended on the generosity of his brother Theo all his life, Van Gogh hoped to resolve this by joining with other avant-garde artists in a collective way.

Van Gogh only ever sold one painting in his lifetime, although his work now fetches the highest prices in the global art market. This lack of recognition and his highly constrained circumstances were a constant source of anxiety, as his letters reveal again and again.

Van Gogh had long sought to form an artists’ colony or commune, so that creative people could support each other, thereby defying the lack of commercial recognition so many, including of course the Impressionists, were suffering. He was incredibly excited when Gauguin came to visit him in Arles in 1888. In a letter written in August that year, he writes: “The painting I do will perhaps never have any value…. we must work at getting a roof over our heads; the essentials, in short, to endure the siege by failure that will last the whole of our life….”

He hoped that Gauguin, whom he admired greatly, would take part in this. When the friendship ended badly, Van Gogh suffered his first mental breakdown. Four days before his suicide in July 1890, he mulled over the problems that unrecognised painters continued to face: “What seems to me on my return – is that the painters themselves are increasingly at bay.”

In his last letter he writes of the tensions that result from the way that artistic production as a commodity in the marketplace:

“For this is what we have got to, and this is all or at least the main thing I can have to tell you at a moment of comparative crisis. At a moment when things are very strained between dealers in pictures of dead artists, and living artists. Well, my own work, I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered because of it - that's all right - but you are not among the dealers in men as far as I know, and you can still choose your side, I think, acting with humanity, but que veux-tu?”

In the end, the issues are not so complex after all. Van Gogh wanted a world in which the prerogatives of capital did not rule over people’s lives. Making his all letters available online for the first time, as the Van Gogh museum has done is a great thing. Solving the deeper economic challenges that can suffocate and kill remains the outstanding challenge.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's no wonder we're sceptical about politicians

Under the radar, like a stealth bomber, Armed Forces minister Bill Rammell dropped some “friendly fire designed to stimulate debate” in a recent speech, telling his audience that the public had lost its stomach for war and was much too cynical and this was not a good thing. One reason, Rammell claims, is that “Britain's own security would be at greater risk if we again allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists.”

Of our cynicism he gave three reasons. “The decline of deference and the growth in mistrust of those in authority”' second, the 24/7 media and third, a “freedom of information culture”. Whilst not in the top three, “the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has, in my view, had an impact on trust in government and authority and our decision making processes in general”.

Rammell told his Institute of Public Policy Research audience that, naturally, despite being a “liberal minded progressive” he remained convinced that “British participation” in the war in Iraq was right [as do Jack Straw, Alastair Campbell, Geoff Hoon, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – despite the absence of cause and legality that even the Chilcott inquiry has brought out]

While he was happy with the media now over Afghanistan, saying that since last September they “had fallen into line”, his real beef was with us, saying: “The British public have a deep respect for our Armed Forces, but respect is not the same as understanding.”

He pointed out that “the enemy is responsible for shooting at our troops” and that “we (the government) are not responsible for planting them” (roadside bombs). Blimey, I hold my hands up, I didn't know. Or that with helicopters, “in counter-insurgency warfare, as we are undertaking in Afghanistan, you have to get out of the Chinooks and the Mastiffs, sometimes patrolling on foot and among the people.” Revelatory, I had no idea.

A lot of my knowledge comes from the internet, but thankfully Rammell is on-hand to point to the dangers of this source. He quotes journalist Nik Gowing’s claim that the new information age is a 'tyranny of real time and the tyranny of the time-line”. Whatever that means.

What I do know was that last September, half of the 25 injured Afghan veterans at Selly Oak refused to speak to prime minister Brown when he paid them a visit. To quote one soldier, “The straight fact is this: we don’t like the man, he has done nothing for us and continues to kick us in the teeth over equipment and compensation.” On the question of kit, Hoon told the Iraq Inquiry on January 19 that Brown had starved the forces of cash before the Iraq invasion.

Rammell's big fear is that “if healthy scepticism becomes replaced by blanket cynicism - if every apple is considered bad and the darkest motivations always attributed - then we risk damaging the bond of trust which underpins our democracy between the public, their political representatives and public servants.”

Risk damaging? Damaged. In Afghanistan, history tells us that for the last 200 years you can't win there. Politicians like Rammell tell us British troops have to be in Afghanistan to protect us from terrorism. But compared to alcohol-related deaths or heart disease, deaths from terrorism are way off the scale, almost non-existent in the UK. Instead of spending billions of taxpayers’ money on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why are we not spending it on more urgent things?

More generally, with the global financial crisis, banks bail out, forthcoming cuts in public services, Iraq and the MPs expenses scandal is it any wonder the British people are so cynical of their political representatives and public servants?

Dylan Strain

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A people's alternative to the Copenhagen cop-out

The collapse of the Copenhagen conference just before Christmas exploded the myth that somewhere down the road is a multinational agreement on climate change, negotiated through the UN and leading to serious reductions in emissions.

UN Climate Negotiator Yves De Boer yesterday admitted that future negotiations will consist of the powerful nations carving out a deal to be imposed on the rest. De Boer has cynically taken the new reality imposed at Copenhagen and adopted it as policy.

“You cannot have 192 countries involved in discussing all the details ...You do have to safeguard transparency by allowing countries to decide if they want to be represented by others, and that if a debate is advanced then the conclusion is brought back to the larger community," he said.

So people spent years of their lives carefully preparing documents to form a successor binding treaty to Kyoto, and then arrived on the last day to have a 13-paragraph stitch-up thrust at them with two hours to discuss it and sign. It had been prepared by 26 government leaders led by Obama with no reference to anyone.

And now this wretched document is now contemptuously ignored by the very people who wrote it. It included a deadline of 31 January for countries to register the level of emissions reductions they would set out to achieve. With 10 days, to go only 20 of 192 countries have bothered. So now the deadline has been dropped. This is how De Boer explained what happened:

“I do not expect everyone to meet the deadline. Countries are not being asked if they want to adhere… but to indicate if they want to be associated [with the Copenhagen accord]. It's a soft deadline. Countries are not being asked to sign the accord to take on legally binding targets, only to indicate their intention.”

Bolivia distinguished itself at Copenhagen by disassociating itself from the deal and yesterday proposed an entirely different approach to global action on climate change.

Speaking at the UN in New York, Pablo Solon-Romero, deputy permanent representative of Bolivia, said the only effective way to stave off the life-threatening effects of climate change is “to build a true consensus in favour of structural change in global consumption patterns with the participation of all the world’s peoples”.

Speaking at press conference to launch the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights to be held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April, he said greenhouse gas emissions were effects of a “wasteful, unequal system of economics and consumption” He added that the upcoming event would discuss what changes must be made to that model in order to reduce greenhouse gases in a way that was fair to all countries and peoples, and to protect the “rights of Mother Earth”.

The Cochabamba conference aims at developing a set of ideas that will allow the participation of all humankind in ecological policy, including a global referendum on climate change.

Of course, the big NGOs will treat the Bolivian initiative as just another opportunity to put pressure on the “real” negotiating process. Already they are packing their suitcases and preparing their caravans for Mexico next year, for yet another expensive waste of time.

A World to Win sees Cochabamba very differently, as an opportunity to begin to develop the replacement for the process that failed at Copenhagen. We urgently need a new kind of international co-operation to replace one which simply imposes the will of the corporations and their client governments.

It would bring together the peoples of the planet in a democratic forum to plan together to halt the growth in emissions and to mitigate the impacts that are now inevitable. They would draw on all the great expertise represented by climate scientists, world food and health experts and support each others’ development towards self-government and independence. The conference in Bolivia is an important step in this direction and should be supported.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Business is business'

In the days preceding the deal that saw Cadbury sold to Kraft yesterday, the leaders of the Unite trade union wrote to shareholders asking them to consider the wider “public interest” and prevent British jobs being transferred to production facilities in the United States. But major shareholders naturally had other considerations and Unite’s appeal fell on deaf ears.

Cadbury has been a global business for nearly a century. It started production in Tasmania in 1918. In 2003 it became the world’s largest confectionery group, for a time, when it acquired Adams, a chewing-gum manufacturer based in the US. Its caring, philanthropic Quaker days in Bournville, Birmingham have long been submerged in the welter of the worldwide competition for markets. For decades Cadbury chocolate has been made in under license in the United States by Hershey, one of the companies in the takeover race.

The sale of Cadbury became inevitable when the company – formerly known as Cadbury Schweppes – “demerged” its US-based soft drinks arm. It is now called Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. Schh.. somebody should let Unite in on the secret. As Peter Cumming, head of equities at Standard Life, said: "Kraft is getting a good deal. It is sad that Cadbury is gone, but business is business." Also getting a good deal is chief executive Todd Stitzer, who stands to make £12 million from the sale.

Capitalist conglomerates hold no flags, apart from the ones carrying their own logos. And they are happy to sell them to the highest bidder, when the time is right. In 2007 Cadbury shut its factory in Keynsham, near Bristol (which used to belong to another long-disappeared competitor, Fry’s) and moved production to Poland. Cadbury is right now in the process of selling its Australian soft drinks company to Asahi breweries.

Companies are obliged by law – the law that has developed over 350 years to regulate capitalist society – to maximise the returns to shareholders. It’s a law written into statute in every capitalist country. It makes explicit that decisions and actions of the people that run companies must be take in the shareholders’ interests .

That most important law – as discovered by Karl Marx in the years between 1831 when John Cadbury opened his factory in Birmingham and 1854 when the company received its Royal Warrant as manufacturer of chocolate for Queen Victoria – is the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Dealing with its consequences obliges companies to “grow their business”.

It’s why the world is now dominated by globalising companies that have changed the role and nature of national governments. New Labour can say what it likes, but the takeover is beyond its control.

Unite leaders share their nostalgic fantasy with the extreme nationalists in the BNP, and presumably Gordon Brown with his infamous cry of “British jobs for British workers”. To rub salt in Unite’s wounds, despite Alistair Darlings insistence on holding Kraft to its commitments to British workers (it hasn’t made any), RBS, the bank he owns on our behalf is part of the syndicate providing the loan to Kraft to fund the deal.

Unite would do better living up to its name and make contact with workers in every country in which the new, larger group operates to defend and advance the interests of workers everywhere. And as the crisis deepens – one reason Kraft is buying Cadbury is to eliminate a competitor - those interests can only be served if workers worldwide take such capitalist conglomerates into social ownership and convert them to produce for social need, not for profit.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Obama delivers - but not for the people

A year ago, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American president of the United States on a promise that he would deliver “change you can believe in”, the slogan that together with his “yes we can” appeal, swept him into the White House. His supporters eagerly awaited actions that would transform America. How sorely disappointed many of them are today.

It is reflected in his poor approval ratings. Nearly half of all Americans say Obama is not delivering on his major campaign promises, and a narrow majority have just some or no confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country's future. Over a third see the president as falling short of their expectations, double the level registered in April.

Meanwhile, Democrats fear they could lose the normally safe Senate seat of Massachusetts today in an election to find a successor to the late Ted Kennedy. The liberal activist base seems to have given up the ghost in the wake of the failure to deliver on health care, Obama’s weak response to the economic crisis, his ramping up of the war in Afghanistan and the cop-out at Copenhagen.

On health care, the real winners are the powerful insurance companies. While 31 million Americans will now be entitled to cover, Obama was quick to abandon the public insurance option in search of a compromise in Congress. It wasn’t so much an example of “change we can believe in” but “the best we can hope for”.

With former Goldman Sachs executive Timothy Geithner installed as Treasury Secretary, the banks were never going to be made to pay for the financial crisis. The bail-outs begun under Bush continued at an accelerated rate under Obama and the big bonuses have returned, to the anger of many ordinary Americans. Now Obama says he wants the money back. He will have to whistle for it.

While Wall Street boomed, more in the year to October 2009, 2.8 homes were repossessed from people unable to pay their mortgages. More than one in six people in Florida are behind with payments. Although the official unemployment rate is 10%, when discouraged workers and part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs are included, the so-called "underemployment" rate was over 17% in October 2009.

At Copenhagen, Obama arrived at the last minute and patched up a meaningless form of words with China and a few other counties. They basically agreed to do nothing. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in a panel where he reiterated White House support for biotech crops and agro-fuels as a "green" solution to climate change against all evidence to the contrary.

Obama’s nomination for the Nobel Peace prize was embarrassing to say the least. Peace? Not in the Middle East. Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are razed to the ground on a daily basis by the Israelis and settlement building continues. Gaza remains blockaded. American financial support to Israel remains unchecked. No peace in Afghanistan either. Obama is a war president, sending another 30,000 troops to prop up the corrupt Karzai regime. In his Nobel acceptance speech, Obama talked of “just wars” to defend his actions.

The election of Obama was viewed by many as a last opportunity to breathe some life into the American political system, which is seen by many ordinary citizens as a plaything of lobbyists, bankers and corporations. A year later and the reality has hit home. For real, transformational change – not just to believe in but actually achieve – a new movement has to be built. It has to be independent of the capitalist state (which includes the Democratic Party) and seek to establish in practice the exercise of power by the people and for the people.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, January 18, 2010

Foreign troops out of Haiti!

Disaster relief in Haiti is turning into a debacle. While the earthquake was a natural event, the chaos and violence in the streets are compounded by a high-handed arrogance by the United States towards one of the poorest countries in the world.

The rapid and generous flow of donations from the public in the UK and US in response to appeals from the Red Cross has raised many millions. Haitian musician Wyclef Jean raised $1m through Twitter alone. But the way in which the relief operation is being conducted reminds many of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

After the US seized control last Friday of all inbound and outbound flights at Port-au-Prince airport, priority was given to VIPs like Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki-moon and flying in thousands of troops over landing medical and food aid. According to the campaigning Haitian lawyer Ezili Danto, “When the Haitians at the airport refused to give up their post to the US military, the US Southern Command went to President Preval and put a paper in front of him to sign giving them authority.”

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has complained that five days after the earthquake ripped through Haiti, its cargo planes were blocked from landing at Port-au-Prince. One of its aircraft carrying a surgical hospital was re-routed to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic on Saturday. The Caribbean Community’s emergency aid mission to Haiti, was prevented from landing on Friday and had to return to Jamaica.

Danto believes the Obama administration is unlikely to welcome the return of ex-president Aristide whose party Fanmi Lavalas has been barred from participating in scheduled Haitian elections. Meanwhile, the election council under Haitian president Preval has approved Guy Phillipe’s Front for National Reconstruction. Phillipe was trained by US Special Forces in Ecuador and led the “rebels” who ousted Aristide back in 2004.

“Preval is NOT the Haitian government,” Danto insists. “The Prime Minister is alive and in the coming week we shall know how many of the legislators have survived. The authority given does not have the people's consent - a good indication of this is that the Haitians at the airport had to be forcibly removed. The Haitian Diaspora cannot reach their own. That's why I'm writing this to the world. Talking to the world.”

US critics like Danny Schechter have noted that, as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, disaster planners “have an agenda that goes beyond just saving lives. They want to use the crisis to rebuild Haiti along lines they support (i.e. support of property rights etc). So far they have not spoken about how policies backed by the United States through the Caribbean Basin Initiative were responsible for uprooting peasants from the countryside to move them to the city to be a cheap labour reserve.”

Schechter points to the involvement of the Rand Corporation, which is, he says “a military contractor primarily, a centre for spooks and covert strategies. The fact that they are quoted as saviours is scary in itself. In other words, Haiti’s future is being planned outside of Haiti and will be imposed step by step”.

As foreign troops, including 1,000 from Canada, pour into the tiny island, Danto of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, has demanded that all foreign troops to leave the country:

“The issue is not emergency rescue anymore. Emergency is immediate, it's within 48 hours. That's over. The people who could have been saved under the rubble and metal have mostly died. Now it's about medical relief, healing and rebuilding. Haitians can do that by themselves with the help of the world that wants to send monies to Haiti for the earthquake victims.

“International assistance has never helped Haiti's poor and it's not helping the bulk of the earthquake survivors right now. Mostly the more privileged classes, as per usual. Go home US military. Please. And take the UN occupation forces and the false aid NGOs with you.”

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti a victim many times over

American forces have secured the airport in Port-au-Prince and thousands of Marines are on their way to Haiti, along with warships. Not for the first time in history either, which will help to explain why this week’s earthquake has had such a devastating impact on the impoverished country.

The United States has taken a hostile attitude to Haiti more or less since it declared independence from France in 1804, following a slave revolt. Haiti was occupied by US forces from 1915 to 1934. After World War I, angered by a US-instigated law requiring forced labour, as many as 40,000 Haitians rebelled. More than 3,000 Haitians were killed by American forces.

After World War II, Washington supported the notorious dictator Duvalier. When he was overthrown, the CIA helped depose elected politicians, including the popular president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was removed in 1991 and then again in 2004 after he got too close to Cuba and Venezuela. Several thousand people were killed in the internationally-sponsored coup which was bitterly resented by Haitians. In place of Aristide, the Haitians were sent a US-UN “stabilisation and pacification” force to secure the country for corporate-led globalisation.

In 1996, under pressure from President Clinton, who sent troops to restore Aristide to power in 1994, Haiti agreed to the draconian conditions set by International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It called for suppressing wages, reducing tariffs, and selling off state-owned enterprises. The small amount for the countryside was designated for promoting export crops such as coffee and mangoes. The Haitian government also agreed to abolish tariffs on US imports, which resulted in the dumping of cheap US foodstuffs on the Haitian market.

Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, has explained how many of the earthquake victims came to live in shantytowns perched on hillsides. “The reason why the people got to the hillsides where they were most vulnerable to the earthquakes perched on the hillsides [is] they were pushed out of there by policies 30 years ago, when it was decided by the international experts that Haiti’s economic salvation lay in assembly manufacture plants. And in order to advance that, it was decided that Haiti needed to have a captive labour force in the cities. So a whole bunch of aid policies, trade policies and political policies were implemented, designed to move people from the countryside to places like Martissant and the hills — hillsides that we’ve seen in those photos.”

In July 2003, Haiti was forced to use more than 90% of its foreign reserves to service loans from foreign banks, requiring Aristide’s government to end fuel subsidies and slash spending on health and education programmes. This prompted Aristide to demand that France repay to Haiti “compensation” made after securing its independence. Six months later, France supported the coup against Aristide.

So it is no surprise that Haiti’s infrastructure has barely developed, explaining the slow to non-existent reaction by local authorities in the wake of the earthquake, as well as the large number of deaths of people living in makeshift dwellings on deforested hillsides. Instead, Haiti has been overwhelmed by aid agencies and NGOs of different sorts who come and go. No wonder Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and that large sections of the population have emigrated.

The country may have won independence more than 200 years ago, but Haiti has been robbed of its self-determination and its ability to meet the needs of its own people. No one can prevent earthquakes – but the swift despatch of US troops is a reminder that the power responsible for the extent of the disaster is human and headquartered in Washington, home of the American government, the IMF and the World Bank.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Energy companies have burnt up the future

The abandonment of strategic energy planning has left UK consumers facing a massive bill for gas bought at high wholesale prices to cope with demand during the cold snap.

When gas was privatised in 1990, energy supply was handed to the market and everyday forward planning, such as buying gas when it is cheap and storing it for future use, went by the board.

Britain has only enough storage to supply the country with gas for 15 normal days, compared with 99 days in Germany and 122 in France (Feb 2009 figures). And these are not normal days!

As a result, wholesale gas prices in Britain rose to an 11-month high this week, a cost that will be passed on to consumers. Winter bills will already be much higher, as people are forced to turn up the heat in millions of poorly insulated homes across this country.

After privatisation, the gas poured out of the North Sea and was sold into the market at breakneck speed, bringing prices down. The ‘dash for gas’ began, as power stations switched away from coal.

But just to be clear about where we are now, the latest energy generation data shows that as the temperatures dropped, 45% of output was being produced from coal, 37% from gas, 15% from nuclear power — and just 0.2% from wind.

Now North Sea gas is running out, and the supply from other countries looks increasingly fragile. It is unprofitable to open up new North Sea oil and gas fields in the midst of a recession and the energy regulator Ofgem, warns that the UK gas market faces a "cliff edge" in 2015-16 that could cause supplies to run short in the second half of the decade.

Britain’s energy security is threatened as never before. Obsolete coal and nuclear stations will shut over the next 10 years, and there is no replacement lined up.

The recent grant of licenses for offshore wind farms does not mean they will be built. The winning consortia face huge problems: lack of affordable finance, skills shortages and the rising cost of imported turbines as supply fails to keep up with global demand. Government subsidies for wind power are guaranteed only until 2014, and who knows if they will survive the coming bonfire of public spending.

Other initiatives are being explored – for example coal gasification which pumps water and oxygen into under-sea coal seams, and the resulting gas extracted through a well. The claim is that the CO2 would then be sequestered back underground. But there is no evidence that this is safe, and that over time it will not simply leak out, with disastrous consequences.

And the cost of sequestering the CO2 will greatly add to any coal operation – whether burning or gasification – already BP has pulled out of a coal gasification initiative at Peterhead in Scotland. The French company EDF mothballed its plans for a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent because they can’t presently see how to make it profitable.

Not only is the profit-driven capitalist market incapable of delivering a safe and renewable energy supply, that reduces CO2 emissions, it is even incapable of providing more of the same kind of energy supply that we have now. They have burned up the future, and they have no answers.

It would be madness to continue placing our energy future in the hands of that same market. The time has come to remove control of our energy futures from the hands of the energy corporations – and the governments that can’t see beyond them - and place it under democratic control.

Penny Cole
Environment Editor

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Business as usual for bankers

Despite the mind-blowing size of bank bail-outs, governments on both sides of the Atlantic are struggling to have even a modest impact on the behaviour of those held responsible for the collapse of the global financial system. It is quite a demonstration of capitalist power relationships, with politics coming a distant second.

For example, New Labour's one-off 50% levy on the bonuses banks pay to their high-performing senior staff has proved to be no deterrent. Banks operating in the UK are set to pay out an expected £40 billion over the next few weeks, absorbing the extra tax themselves to protect the size of bonuses.

Stephen Hester, chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, told MPs yesterday warned that the government-guaranteed lender has no choice but to pay large bonuses to its top employees as it has become a “prisoner of the market” despite being 84% state owned. What Hester is acknowledging is that the state is in fact propping up the market.

We, the taxpayers, are making it possible for bankers to enjoy massive bonuses once more. And for doing what precisely? By all accounts, banks are still not lending to ordinary people and small businesses. All the profits are being made out of “investment” activities – mergers, acquisitions, currency speculation and so on.

The global financial crisis broke in 2007, and Northern Rock was just the first New Labour took into public ownership, in February 2008. Since then the government's strategy has been to restore the bankrupt banks to profitability and return them to the private sector.

On January 1, following European Union approval, Northern Rock was split in two. Northern Rock plc is the “good”, profitable bank that will hold and service all customer savings accounts and some existing mortgage accounts, as well as offering new mortgage and savings products to new and existing customers.

Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc is the renamed old and “bad” bank holding and servicing the majority of existing mortgage and unsecured loan accounts. It will not offer any new products or provide the option of additional borrowing to its existing customers. Guess which of the two will be returned to the private sector and which will remain in public hands, in receipt of continuing bail-outs funded by taxation?

In the US, Barney Frank, Democratic chairman of the US House financial services committee, said he was not in favour of replicating the UK’s one-off tax on bonuses. “The problem with taxing only bonuses is they shift it to other forms of compensation.” He's not wrong there. Banks employ armies of accountants and consulting firms like Ernst & Young who specialise in arranging the figures, switching funds around the world to minimise charges

The political heat on bonuses is also rising in Washington. In the US bank stocks fell in New York as investors took a dim view of the Obama administration’s proposals to charge banks a levy to pay for the estimated $120 billion the government lost on its bail-out fund.

Top US financial executives will testify today in the opening sessions of before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The FCIC will cross-examine the chief executives of four large banks to explore the causes of the 2008 meltdown. The commission is scheduled to report in December. Many more catastrophes will engulf the global economy before then.

One thing the commission won't do is to shed much if any light on the essentials of capitalist profit-chasing growth that called for the 30-year explosion of credit preceding the crash.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not a crime to seek asylum

An early campaigner for women’s rights, philosopher John Stuart Mill argued 141 years ago that the treatment of women was the measure of any society’s civilisation.

By that measure, today’s Britain is a sorry place, as campaigners against the brutal treatment of female asylum seekers, the most vulnerable women in the world, have documented

Rape survivors, mainly from countries in Africa, make up over 70% of female asylum seekers. Instead of receiving solace and support, they face not only the nightmare labyrinth of gaining asylum status but are held in prison-like conditions.

Tomorrow a number of women who have survived the horrors of sexual abuse will testify in person at a meeting in the House of Commons organised by the All African Women’s Group and Black Women’s Rape Action Project.

Their meeting takes place just as Conservative leader David Cameron announced that his party would put a cap on immigration. Cameron was upping the anti-immigration propaganda, after the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, said that Britain’s population was growing too quickly.

Such calls, and their inevitable echoes as New Labour seeks to outdo the Tories in playing the race card, will only worsen the situation for the hundreds, perhaps thousands of women who are being detained.

Reports by organisations such as Amnesty International and the Refugee Council indicate that there may be around 25,000 asylum seekers held in UK detention centres, mostly under unbearable conditions.

The Yarl’s Wood removal centre, which holds 400 women and their families, has seen several hunger strikes and protests against what women describe as “the brutal, profit-oriented regime” run by the SERCO Group PLC and violent deportations by privatised security companies.

Idri Jawara, who will speak tomorrow, fled Gambia this year after being a victim of female genital mutilation, followed by rape and violent beatings. Her husband took her to a Sharia court, which found her guilty of “having a forbidden relationship” with a female friend. The court found her guilty and sentenced her to death by stoning on 11 May 2009.

When she sought asylum in Britain under the Refugee Convention, she was detained in Yarl’s Wood. Although the House of Lords held in 2006 that female genital mutilation is a form of torture, Jawara was put into the “fast track” process which gave her only two days to apply for asylum and six days to appeal a refusal.

“Like 98% of other applicants considered under the fast track, Ms Jawara was refused,” say the campaigners from Legal Action for Women, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.

Also like hundreds of other women, Jawara was left without legal representation, as her lawyer concluded that not having gathered any of the key evidence, her case had no merit. At this stage the Black Women’s Rape Project took up her case and she was finally released just before Christmas.

New Labour immigration officials have spoken proudly about their success in “removing” those seeking asylum in the UK. As the All African Women’s Group says, of the 42 million displaced people worldwide, “80% are women and children who are casualties of wars, many of which are fomented and supported by the British government.”

A World to Win salutes the courage of these women, fighting oppression in their home countries and against the cruel treatment they receive in the UK. In our forthcoming Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions, we will argue for the immediate end to detention of asylum seekers and the principle of free immigration into Britain.

Meanwhile, we shed no tears over the departure of any bankers from the City of London.

Can You Hear us? Women’s uncensored experiences of detention and deportation, is in Committee Room 5, House of Commons at 6-8pm 14 January.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, January 11, 2010

Political crisis gathers momentum

The first thing to say about the divisions within New Labour over Gordon Brown’s leadership is that there are no principles involved on any side of the civil war that rumbles on at Westminster. All the plotters without exception are concerned about one thing above all other considerations – their political futures.

Principles and New Labour are, in fact, a contradiction in terms. It came into being precisely to ditch even the mildest of social democratic principles and ambitions about reforming aspects of capitalism that weighed down most heavily on the working population.

Last week’s attempted coup by former cabinet ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt reinforced that understanding. Neither was putting forward an alternative programme or change of direction. They simply wanted Brown replaced by an unnamed candidate. Their plot descended into outright farce as the rest of the cabinet bottled out.

What’s at stake for the plotters is not the outcome of the election – most cabinet members apparently consider it lost (with some even hoping for that result if Brown stays) – but the position after polling day. Those like the Milibands who aspire to leadership want to prevent a rout which they believe Brown is leading them towards yet lack the courage to remove the incumbent.

Since 1997 under both Blair and Brown, New Labour has unashamedly aspired to one thing – to become the political representatives of the economic and financial masters of the universe. And to a large extent succeeded – until the second half of 2008 revealed what a hollow state of affairs the British economy was.

Confidence in New Labour has plummeted ever since the global financial meltdown hit British banks for six. With the government forced into record amounts of borrowing to cover the cost of bailing out the banks, establishment circles fear that the political plotting now dominating government affairs is not exactly what’s required right now of the British state.

The Tory Daily Telegraph, for example, accused Hoon et al of “working flat-out to position themselves for an autumn civil war”, adding: “In other words, the Cabinet is devoting itself to vigorous (but laughably amateurish) plotting at a time when the country is facing terrifying levels of debt, and the Government has no coherent plan to reduce them.” It reminded readers that even the Treasury select committee had poured scorn on the forecasts in chancellor Alistair Darling's pre-Budget report.

With the Telegraph in touch with ruling class circles, this ringing of the alarm bells is serious stuff. It is not as if the Tories under David Cameron are in a better position. Even the supportive Telegraph admits that the opposition has no coherent set of policies either, pointing to the fiasco of a “manifesto launch” at the beginning of last week when tax policies on married couples were out one minute and back in the next.

The paper is right to suggest that Cameron does not strike voters as the “irresistible choice for prime minister, merely the obvious one” and is worried that he could win the election by default against a weakened Brown. “If that happens, Britain could pay a heavy price after the election,” the editorial concludes.

The implications should be stated more explicitly. Britain is facing state bankruptcy and the spending cuts required to balance the books to satisfy those who finance government borrowing are so enormous that only a government with enormous authority could carry them through. That is highly unlikely to be the outcome of the forthcoming general election. An historic political crisis is building in Britain and the shenanigans inside New Labour are just a pale reflection of what’s to come.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, January 08, 2010

The biggest prison camp in the world

The deportation of Respect MP George Galloway from Egypt today is only the latest in a series of anti-Palestinian actions by the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak which have helped Israel enforce a blockade of Gaza.

Mubarak’s despotic regime is as hostile to the Hamas administration in Gaza as the Israelis are. Some opposition figures in Egypt even go so far as to claim that Mubarak gave the Israelis the green light to launch their murderous attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, which claimed 1,500 lives and led to accusations of war crimes. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni was in Cairo shortly before the air strikes and ground invasion were launched and opposition MPs say Mubarak gave his blessing to the assault.

Galloway was in Egypt as part of an international delegation of the Gaza Freedom March. This originally planned to arrive in Gaza on 29 December 2009 to join a march against the Israeli blockade together with residents of Gaza two days later. Instead, most of its delegates remained in Cairo, having been blocked from going to the Rafah border by the Egyptian government, and instead marched against the Egyptian blockade on Gaza.

An aid convoy bringing medical and other supplies was also held up and the Egyptian authorities attacked people trying to cross into Gaza. Earlier this week, Gazans threw stones at Egyptian soldiers in protest at the delay and one was killed. The convoy finally made it into Gaza yesterday.

The 1.5 million people of Gaza have lacked vital medicine and food supplies for over a year following the Israeli assault. Tunnels used to smuggle supplies in from Egypt have been sealed up by the Mubarak regime. Just before Christmas, international aid groups in a report condemned world governments for betraying the people of Gaza by doing nothing to lift the blockade.

Gaza has become the largest prison camp in the world, not that you would know that from the conspiracy of silence from London to Washington, where the concern is to break Hamas whatever the cost to the Palestinian people. It’s just as well that rapper/poet/playwright Lowkey’s track “Long Live Palestine” is doing so well in alerting people to what’s happening.

Almost 1,500 delegates from 43 countries converged on Cairo in December believing they had permission to go through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing into Gaza. But under pressure from the Israelis the border was closed on December 29. The very same day Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Mubarak held talks in Cairo. It was a cosy affair. Netanyahu said he was "very encouraged" by the meeting, while Cairo said it had been "very positive". Earlier that week, the Israelis announced a new programme of settlement building in the West Bank.

A series of protests by delegates were broken up by the authorities although the Syndicate of Journalists invited the marchers to join their members at their trade union headquarters for a rally. Delegates also convened an ad hoc convention to ratify the "Cairo Declaration". An international working committee drafted a document setting out a plan of action for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli regime.

Meanwhile, the Egyptians are constructing a steel wall deep into the earth at the Rafah border, making it even harder to get in or out of Gaza.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Mega-pylons will destroy landscape in name of profit

The Scottish Nationalist government in Edinburgh has given the go-ahead for an upgrade of an existing power line that runs 137 miles from Beauly, near Inverness to Denny, near Stirling, despite massive local objections.

Two major energy companies, Scottish & Southern Energy and Scottish Power, can now go ahead and build 600 pylons, up to 217ft tall, through spectacular wilderness, including the Cairngorms National Park.

The plan is to increase the transmission capacity of the lines from 132,000 volts to 400,000-volts, to bring power from new onshore and offshore wind farms in the north of Scotland into the national grid.

This is only phase one – phase two will come when the power companies apply to link the line from Denny to Newcastle; the plan is to make Scotland Europe’s major producer of renewable energy.

Cash from the weather – a dream come true for a country that has little of the former and lots of the latter, you might think. But where are the benefits for ordinary Scots? Maybe some temporary jobs. That’s it.

Those opposing the scheme include every single local authority the line passes through, the Cairngorm National Park Authority, and 18,000 individual objectors as well as conservation organisations. They are all accused of “NIMBY-ism”, including by environmental campaigners who should know better.

To present this as a green project is a big lie – only the most recent in the whole “green new deal” fraud.

This is a money-making venture, by two transnational energy corporations – Scottish Power is a subsidiary of Iberdrola, one of the world’s largest energy companies; Scottish & Southern operates across the UK and Ireland.

it gives them an opportunity to offset carbon emissions from other forms of power generation whilst cashing in on subsidised green energy. If the subsidies end, and the profits fall, the power line will become a white elephant.

The real reason for the scheme was clarified by Willie Roe, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who said the power line paved the way for the region to capitalise on its place as the renewable-energy "engine room" of Europe.

And Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the go-ahead was “precisely the kind of positive action the government must take to create the right environment for business to flourish”.

As Helen McDade, head of policy at conservation charity the John Muir Trust, said: "Marching a mega-pylon line through some of our most world-renowned landscapes may be the most lucrative option for the energy industry but it is the wrong choice for Scotland."

The right choices would be:
• A subsidised crash programme to super insulate every home in Scotland, including triple-glazed windows standard in Scandinavia. Around 850,00 Scottish households live in fuel poverty.
• Taking energy generation into public ownership, with democratic control, enabling planning and investment for need, not profit. Would such a power line scheme be part of a not-for-profit energy plan? Very unlikely!
• Investing in local and small regional power generation strategies – long grids are wasteful of energy and expensive to build and maintain.

As the pioneering 19th century conservationist John Muir said: “The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.” And he also remarked: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Can't pay, won't pay!

Who was consulted when Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling decided to put the rescue of the global capitalist system ahead of every other priority? Was there a rash of Blair-style focus groups? Were any opinion polls commissioned? Not that we know of.

But, even as the grip of winter brings activity to a halt across the Northern Hemisphere, something is stirring once again in Iceland.

Yesterday, President Olafur R. Grimsson delivered a major blow to the global financial system when he responded positively to a petition by a quarter of the country’s population of just 320,000. Opinion polls say that two-thirds of the population are with the petitioners in opposing government proposals to raise interest rates to help repay £3.4bn of Icesave deposits owed to the UK and Netherlands.

The bill amounts to £40,000 for every household in Iceland – an eerily similar sum to that New Labour has tied round the neck of UK householders.

Grimsson, who is serving his fourth term as the elected president, said it was in the interests of democracy to put the plan to a referendum, given the importance of the issue to Iceland’s future.

“It has steadily become more apparent that the people must be convinced that they themselves determine the future course,” he said. “The involvement of the whole nation in the final decision is therefore the prerequisite for a successful solution, reconciliation and recovery.”

The idea that people might have a say in their future sent shock waves around the world. There’s a real fear that a vote by Iceland’s people against repayment could trigger a similar revolt in countries with much deeper debt – like Spain, the US, and the UK.

Capital’s advanced guard struck back as Iceland’s credit rating was reduced to junk status by global agency Fitch. Further help from the International Monetary Fund has been thrown into doubt. New Labour minister Lord Myners was wheeled out to warn Iceland that it wouldn’t be able to join the European Union if the money wasn’t repaid.

What happens if the referendum takes place and the people vote “No” is anyone’s guess. Countries have defaulted on their debts before, but never has the world of finance been so interconnected and so interdependent. You’ll remember that New Labour used anti-terrorist legislation late in 2008 freezing all Icelandic assets on UK soil.

Iceland is small, but the impact could be world-changing. Even Premier League football club West Ham United is caught up in the net. It is currently up for sale by its current owner CB Holdings whose biggest shareholder is Icelandic bank Straumur. This went bust last year in the wake of the global crisis which saw off the three largest banks Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing. Before the crash their combined debt exceeded approximately six times the value of the nation's annual output.

It’s just less than a year since the “Saucepan Revolution" – so called because of the pots and pans protesters had with them - that made Geir Hilmar Haarde the first leader to resign as a result of the global economic crisis.

President Grimsson, clearly senses the potential for a repeat performance on an even more dramatic scale. A few months ago he told the Global Creative Leadership Summit that during the global financial meltdown “the political system was tested to its limit,” adding: “Even in the most stable and secure democracies, it almost resembled the revolutionary situations we read about in history books.”

Grimmson was quick to add: “But we have the capability and the mandate to solve these problems.” Yesterday, by refusing to sign the legislation agreeing to punitive repayments to Britain and the Netherlands, Grimmson himself discovered that this “mandate” is more imaginary than real. The Icelandic people themselves have spoken: Can’t pay, won’t pay! It should become the rallying call around the world.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Britain's cultural divide

Whilst the big cities, London in particular, have an incredible wealth of galleries, museums, theatres, libraries, music, dance, clubs and sports facilities to offer, some of them even free, other parts of Britain like South Shields (where X-Factor winner Joe McElderry comes from), large areas of Yorkshire, Scotland, Cumbria, the Midlands and Kent are unemployment black spots and cultural deserts.

This reality persists and has become even worse in the years of New Labour despite the incredible cultural potential of the technological revolution. The impoverishment of the majority has been in inverse proportion to the rise and rise of the new global super-rich – the “hyper-educated, internationally minded meritocrats who have been the chief beneficiaries of globalisation and the technological revolution”, as one writer has described them.

The advent of digitisation has made things possible that could not even be dreamt as little as a decade ago. Digitisation and personal communications have an incredible potential to provide mass access to appreciating high quality artistic and sporting performances, not only for individuals but in a highly social way.

In the late 1990s art galleries began to make their collections available online and music lovers could listen to any number of tracks. Google is in the process of scanning in the world’s literary heritage for people to download on gadgets like its Kindle book reader. Now, downloadable applications for iPhone for example, now mean, that, for £1.19 you can listen to 800 tracks by great composers or for £1.79 you can view 250 works from the National Gallery’s collection. Sound cheap? It is, but to get your iPhone, you need to tie yourself into an expensive long-term contract.

As with all the extraordinary potential offered by the on-going technological revolution, there is a sting in the tail which is summed up by the viewing figures for low-brow programmes on television as well as the high readership figures for abysmal and racist rags like the Daily Mail and The Sun.

Appreciating and participating in “high” culture remains the preserve of a strictly limited proportion of the population, even while the last few years have seen millions taking advantage of free admissions to museums and galleries. Globalisation has shown the real thirst for accessible and affordable culture.

The economic recession has reinforced this, rather than weakening it. Witness the significant increase in attendances at National Trust venues, theatre and other forms of what might be called “high culture”. For some there is a turn away from reducing “achievement” in life to bling, fancy homes and cars, to a search for meaning and fulfilment. Once again, however, this is strictly for those with cash to spare as anyone who has tried to buy a ticket for the West End theatre quickly finds out.

For the moguls and executives of the companies who dominate what goes on television screens and the mass media, there is only one serious question: how to overcome declining advertising revenues. The most obvious is to mine the gullibility of viewers by dragging out ever less famous “celebrities” and providing public humiliations for the spectator while raking in the money through phone votes.

The viewing figures for the final of The X-Factor, which was seen by 19 million people just before Christmas, and the continuing success of Celebrity Big Brother – watched by 6.2m on Sunday night – provide serious food for thought, as well as nice little earners for the likes of Simon Cowell. The continuing success of these shows underlines perhaps more than anything else, the cultural divide that prevails in Britain.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ending the 'war on terror'

So now air passengers will be subjected to the equivalent of a strip search as the futile “war on terror” enters its second decade. The next step, surely, is to get travellers to leave all their clothes in a bag and fly in a bathrobe. This is how absurd the world has become, with no solution in sight.

Gordon Brown’s plan to call an international conference on Yemen – where the Christmas Day bomb-in-the-pants former Nigerian student received his training – and fund a “counter-terrorism unit” in the country won’t make blind bit of difference. Yemen is facing an insurrection in the north and a secessionist movement in the south and the government is widely seen as a stooge of major Western powers.

It is not as if Britain is unaware of what happens in Yemen. The port of Aden was seized by Britain in 1839 and a colony established in the same year. Considered strategically important as an outpost on the Arabian peninsula, Britain brutally resisted independence demands and South Yemen only won its freedom in 1967, uniting with the north in 1990.

Terrorism, whatever its shape or form, is an extreme reaction to injustices, perceived or real. Islamic-inspired individual terrorism is no different in this respect. And, because it plays into the hands of the oppressor by targeting ordinary people, terrorism is profoundly reactionary. The Al Qaeda brand is in its own league, spurning political “solutions” in favour of annihilation of the enemies of its view of Islam, including other Muslims.

Yet they continue to recruit bright students like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab because the grievances felt by Muslims around the world are deep. Moreover, the injustices are ignored by the major powers whose views are only modernised versions of their imperialist predecessors.

The greatest wrong is undoubtedly visited upon the Palestinians. Here double standards know no bounds. The Gazans hold an election and elect Hamas, so it is boycotted because it refuses to accept the state of Israel. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the client president is allowed to steal the election because he does what the Americans want.

Israel’s government is contemptuous of the Obama administration’s puny attempts to broker a deal with the Palestinians. Settlement building continues unchecked because the White House will always yield to the Israel lobby and do nothing. The United Nations may condemn war crimes in Gaza, but the US will vote against the report. Gaza will remain blockaded and half starved and the world’s governments turn a blind eye.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan remains occupied by American and British troops. And to add insult to injury, Iran is about to face US-led sanctions for allegedly attempting to build a nuclear bomb while Israel, which has dozens of nuclear weapons, once again escapes scot free.

The governments of the United States, Britain and other major powers are incapable of addressing the causes of modern terrorism and resort to ever more draconian “security” measures which, naturally, work only for a short period and are, therefore, no solution in any meaningful sense.

Yet there is another dimension to the growth of Islamic-inspired terrorism. A few generations ago, many young Muslims would have been drawn into national revolutionary struggles, where political programmes and solutions took precedence over religious outlook. Most if not all of these national movements degenerated over time for a variety of reasons. For example, in place of the revolutionary Nasser in Egypt you have the corrupt and repressive Mubarak, whose government helps the Israelis in their blockade of Gaza.

Radical Islam has in some respects stepped into the vacuum left by the failure of secular nationalism, which in turn was heavily influenced by reactionary Stalinism both locally and internationally. The development of fresh internationalist revolutionary thinking and practice which takes us beyond the discredited regimes of Cairo and London is key to finding a way forward from humanity’s present impasse.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor