Monday, December 31, 2012

When people decided that enough was enough

Long ago, society was being overwhelmed by a series of catastrophes to which there seemed no answers. Unemployment, poverty and inequality were rife as a global crisis took hold. The old capitalist economic system had run its course and was unsustainable.

The world was choked with products, many of them out of date as soon as they came off the production lines. Huge dumps and rubbish piles accumulated and overwhelmed parts of the planet. Waste, some of it lethal, became big business as it was shipped across the globe.

People became poorer as they lost jobs and services were cut by a undemocratic governments in the pockets of the corporations. Increasing numbers depended on charity food banks just to survive. Obesity and diabetes epidemics affected the poor – due to the marketing of junk food by agribusiness and supermarkets.

As ordinary people fell into deeper debt and could not afford high rents and mortgages, they saw their government continue to hand over hand vast amounts of public money to bankers and financiers. Britain’s debts continued to rise at every level as the global money markets and speculators ruled the roost. The ConDem coalition blamed the people and said they had to tighten their belts for another five years.  

Floods swept Britain for an entire year as extreme weather resulted from climate change. Green belt areas, parks and woods were ruined, as property speculators ran rampant. On the global scale, ecological disasters mounted. Air pollution due to carbon emissions together with rainforest clearing increased icecap meltdown at a rate that outpaced scientific predictions.

By 2012, parliament as a representative, democratic law-making body had become discredited. Corrupt collusion between media, parliament and the police was exposed and people stopped trusting those in power. Large numbers of people refused to vote in elections. Top state institutions - the BBC and the Church of England - were riddled with crises. The Trade Union Congress organised a protest against government cuts, but people had clearly lost confidence in its feeble bleating.

People could see no way out through the existing political system and could only look forward to years of cuts in jobs and services. The parliamentary alternative was a return to Labour, which was equally – if not more – tied to the global corporations and business.

But during 2012, there were glimmerings that people realised new kinds of politics were needed. Despite the media obsession with medals, naked corporate interest and security madness, people were enthused by the London Olympics. They seemed to indicate a hidden mass creativity whereby ordinary people could accomplish the impossible.

In 2013, people realised that the political system, the institutions of the state, had become a brake on the aspirations of those it ruled over. A fundamental transition to greater democracy was needed.   

Inspired by the global Occupy movement and movements such as those in Egypt and Latin America – in particular the Cochabamba World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth - people in Britain said it was time to determine their own fate. They looked into their history and discovered that at the time of the English Revolution during the 1640s, the Leveller movement had put forward an Agreement of the People.

Surely a new constitution could provide a new framework for the society of the 21st century? If the existing system had lost its legitimacy it was up to the people to work out a new solution. So groups of people in London and around the country began to call for a new Agreement of the People for the 21st century.

It provided a basis for transferring power from the old institutions to democratic grass roots movements, organised by co-leaders who were accountable to people’s assemblies. They took the discussion over what rights such an Agreement had to enshrine out far and wide through the country. Large numbers of people came forward with their grievances and brought their ideas for a future society into the debate.

The idea of a constitution began to take root and eventually the mass of the people did it. They rose up and cleared out the fat cats, the speculators and the billionaires and set up an alternative people’s parliament, using the internet and social networking technology to make it inclusive. Land was declared a common treasury. Global corporations in Britain, banks and supermarkets were taken into co-operative ownership and control.

The transition was not easy. As the movement from below gained strength, some people in the ruling elites broke ranks and joined in. But those in power did not want to let go of their privileges and resisted. But for once in history, the movement did not allow itself to be taken by surprise. They realised that they had to take power from the old rulers. In the end, the One Percent could not keep their machinations secret, were overwhelmed and lost control for good.

A World to Win editors 
Revolutionary New Year's greetings!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Something rotten in the state of Britain

A plot by the state against a weak government of the day, unable to govern on its own, amidst a grave economic crisis. Sounds familiar? Well, this is not actually about “plebgate” and the Tories – though it could just as well be - but Harold Wilson and Labour.

Wilson was prime minister from 1964-70 and again from 1974 to his sudden and dramatic resignation in 1976. Later he would claim that the spy agency MI5 had wanted him out. And that army officers had been plotting a takeover.

Wilson was right on both counts.

In 1968, a period of mass upheavals in Britain and worldwide, senior army officers, together with press baron Lord Cecil King, Lord Mountbatten and intelligence agency figures, discussed staging a coup in to overthrow a Labour government thought to be in the pockets of the trade unions.

A global economic crisis followed America’s decision in 1971 to end the system of fixed currencies established at Bretton Woods after the Second World War. Inflation spiralled out of control. Oil prices tripled and miners took industrial action. Much of Britain was on a three-day week in 1973-4 as power supplies dwindled.

The plans for a coup were dusted down when Labour was returned to office in 1974 after miners’ industrial action had brought down the Tory government of Edward Heath. Heath asked voters to say “who rules Britain?”. A minority Labour government took office.

Out of the blue, a series of joint police/army exercises were held at Heathrow Airport. The first of these was held in January 1974, while Heath was still in power but the remaining three were held in June, July and September. They were labelled “anti-terror” operations.

The troops at Heathrow in 1974 were part of a dry run for a coup. Six years later, Field Marshall Lord Carver, during a Cambridge Union debate, admitted that “not very senior, but fairly senior, officers were ill advised enough to make suggestions that perhaps if things got terribly bad, the Army would have to do something about it."

The army and MI5 had already shown their contempt for Wilson’s government. MI5 had vetoed the appointment of a number of his colleagues to the cabinet on the grounds of "security", while in Northern Ireland the spy agencies and the army had seized control of events.

In May 1974, right-wing Protestant forces organised a strike to break the power-sharing agreement politicians had agreed. The army pointedly refused to carry out instructions from Wilson’s government to intervene to maintain electricity generation.

Former MI5 officer, Peter Wright, whose book Spycatcher was banned by the Thatcher government, wrote extensively about MI5’s plot to force Wilson out on the fantastic grounds that the prime minister was a Soviet agent!  

Weeks after Wilson’s shock departure, journalists Barrie Penrose and Roger Courtiour, interviewed him. "Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s," Penrose wrote in 2006.

"Both were said to involve high-ranking elements in the British army, eager to see the back of Labour governments.” Penrose concludes his Radio Times article:

"You may ask, at the end of the programme, how much of it can be believed. My view now, as it was then, is that Wilson was right in his fears.... in answer to the question 'how close did we come to a military government' I can only say - closer than we'd ever be content to think."

Fast forward to 2012 and we are bang in the middle of a plot by sections of the police to destabilise the Tory government, no doubt spurred on by cut-backs that have weakened pension and other conditions. The economy is on a knife-edge and the Coalition divided and weak.

There is something deeply rotten at the heart of the British state, as the plots against Wilson and fake “evidence” produced against former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell demonstrate. There can be no real democracy until we revolutionise the state from top to bottom. Until then, we can answer the question “Who rules Britain?” by saying for certain that it is not the people.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dirty gas gets the green light

As the government’s experts on renewable energy form a queue at the exit, the gas specialists are moving in, counting the zeros on their budgets. Dirty gas will get big tax breaks following George Osborne’s budget.

He wants big investment in “unconventional gas” to match the big money British banks have already invested in Canadian tar sands. These are huge deposits of bitumen, a tar-like substance that’s turned into oil through energy-intensive processes. 

Now a quarter of Scotland has been earmarked for drilling for gas to replace declining stocks from the North Sea. Companies will be invited to apply for licences next year. At the same time, the ban on fracking has been lifted.

The process involves drilling down and creating tiny explosions to shatter and crack hard shale rocks to release the gas inside. Cuadrilla, whose operations caused earthquakes in Blackpool, is back on site and ready to resume this dangerous dash for gas.

There is clear evidence from Australia and the United States, about the dangers of fracking. Water supplies have been contaminated with toxic chemicals that make people constantly ill, with the potential to cause cancer and even to change people’s gender.

The most advanced proposition is coal-bed methane capture. Australian corporation Dart Energy has already drilled 16 exploratory wells around Falkirk and Stirling. They have agreed a £300m deal to supply Scottish and Southern Electricity and plan to expand rapidly with at least 20 more wells in short order.

Campaign group Frack Off has raised serious questions about Dart’s operations. But the Scottish government led by the SNP has nothing to say – they smell they money, not the methane. So much for the promise that Scotland’s energy future lies in becoming the world leader in wind and tide!

Coal-bed methane extraction pumps water into the seam and gas bubbles through. But nobody seems to have planned what to do with the contaminated water. It’s the nuclear waste disposal story all over again.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) will wait until companies apply to start work to examine the list of chemicals they plan to use. But fracking licences have already been issued in the south-west of Scotland and companies can simply move from exploration to production without any further discussion

Hundreds of objections from community groups and individuals are pouring in to SEPA. Network Rail is worried that wells drilled near the main line to the north might blow it up.

But these concerns are not high on the list of government priorities. It’s as if some ruthless Victorian coal owner travelled forward in time to take charge of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (causing it). It’s all back to the fossil fuel future for capitalism’s energy policy.

Chancellor Osborne, told a meeting in New York: "I see with admiration what has happened in the US in the way your shale gas revolution has made a contribution to GDP.”

In the interests of short-term profits governments will permit absolutely anything corporations propose. They know the dangers – they know about climate change – but remain paralysed by the economic and social changes needed to tackle it. And when a system can only move backwards, it is in terminal crisis.

So it’s over to us – we call on all those who want to defend the environment to form or join People’s Assemblies, popular forms of alternative government that can challenge the power of the corporations to befoul the land for profit and replace the governments, national or local, that facilitate them.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FT turns to Lenin in desperation

Mark Carney isn’t due to move from being governor of the Bank of Canada to governor of the Bank of England until next July. But the intensity of the global economic crisis is so severe that policy makers can’t wait that long.

Chancellor George Osborne, who tempted him here, and the other beleaguered leaders of the capitalist world are prepared to discuss Carney’s ideas and put them into effect as soon as possible – preferably before the likely effects begin to be appreciated by those who’ll suffer the consequences.

Since the global crash in 2007/8, the top financial and economic brains in the world have tried everything they know to bring about a recovery. The shock of seeing the sudden shutdown of the credit markets bringing world trade to a virtual standstill after the decision to abandon Lehman Brothers prompted emergency action.

Governments encouraged central banks to pour trillions of every currency into the world’s financial institutions and, it must be admitted, the treatment had an effect. The patient’s heart was restarted. But capitalism has been on life-support ever since. The system has drawn its energy from the millions suffering the effects of “austerity” – soaring unemployment, falling incomes, smashed up pensions, wrecked health and social care.

Interest rates offered by central banks have been held at historic lows for years now, hovering just above zero – but below inflation, so negative in real terms. Low rates paid to savers mean the few people lucky enough to have any, have seen the income from their savings decline. The majority with debts to service find above inflation rates charged driving them further into poverty. It’s a deliberate policy called “financial repression”.

So what’s Carney’s big idea, and why is it so attractive? Does it really amount to a revolution as the Financial Times suggests?

Put simply, Carney says that its time to turn the attention from keeping inflation at bay to a more positive focus on promoting growth. The new target should be based on “nominal gross domestic product” – which brings growth and inflation together in a single figure.

It’s a way of convincing themselves that governments and their central banks can turn their attention from just rescuing the financial system to “prioritising growth”, by which they mean furthering the interests of the global corporations. It’s a refrain shared by the newly-elected centre-right government of Japan, led by prime minister Shinzo Abe.

But Carney and friends fail to understand that whatever the subjective intentions of the central bankers, or anyone else wishing for a “return to growth”, the objective conditions of the capitalist economy are what determines their actions. After several decades of growth stretched way beyond its natural limits by the deregulation of the credit system, the crash simply announced that the only way is down.

As the capitalist tide ebbs away, it continues to exposes the desperate measures taken to sustain profits, whilst millions suffer. UBS has joined Barclays in paying fines to the regulators for fixing LIBOR – the world price of financial contracts – so that it favoured them and their clients. As the regulators summed it up: “They manipulated UBS’s submissions in order to benefit their own positions and to protect UBS’s reputation, showing a total disregard for the millions of market participants around the world who were also affected.”

No surprise there.

In its article on Carney, the Financial Times actually quotes Lenin’s famous dictum that “a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation” to try to stand up their story. The situation is indeed pregnant with revolutionary possibilities – but not as the FT means. 

In December 1917, Lenin drafted a decree for attention of the revolutionary government. It called for joint-stock companies and the banks to be taken into social ownership. Something to consider over the holidays.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Don't do it Wiggo!

Bradley Wiggins, heroic winner of the Tour de France, Olympic gold medallist and BBC sports personality of the year, with sideburns that help mark him out from the crowd, is reported to have accepted a knighthood. My message to him is simple: don’t do it Wiggo!

Don’t let us see a picture of you kneeling before the Queen to become Sir Bradley. Do what Olympic opening ceremony creator Danny Boyle has done and say “No”.

You were brought up by your mum in a small flat in Kilburn, north London. Your absent father’s passion for cycling rubbed off on you and the legendary Herne Hill velodrome in south London, was where you started out.

You became popular through your common touch, your rapport with ordinary people. So much so that the French took you to their hearts, especially when you made jokes in their language.

So why join the establishment? Why join the elite? Why help out the ConDem government, which is recommending you to Buckingham Palace? As US baseball fans might respond, “say it ain’t so, Wiggo”.

By turning a knighthood down you would be in the illustrious company of others who have rejected “honours”, which still include ludicrous anachronisms like the Order of the British Empire or the Colonial Police and Fire Service Medal.

Children’s author Roald Dahl and artist Lucien Freud are among those who have turned down honours. Painters Francis Bacon and LS Lowry (five times), the sculptor Henry Moore and novelist Aldous Huxley also said no.

Joseph Conrad, one of the greatest novelists of all time, turned down a knighthood in 1923 shortly before his death.

JG Ballard, the author of Empire of the Sun, turned down a CBE in 2003, saying: "It's the whole climate of deference to the monarch and everything else it represents. They just seem to perpetuate the image of Britain as too much pomp and not enough circumstance."

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah said he was surprised to be offered an OBE in 2003, explaining: "Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word ‘empire’; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality."  

Late in 1969, John Lennon returned an MBE he had been awarded in 1965, with a letter saying: "Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon."

Listen, Wiggo. A knighthood is just flim-flam, a deception that is designed to incorporate you into the establishment. If you want to do some good – and I’m sure you do – then get involved in the campaigns to save school sport from death by a thousand cuts.

For example, the umbrella group Sport and Recreation Alliance has said the proposed new English baccalaureate would downgrade sport in schools and add to a "worrying" decline in the number of teenagers studying PE at secondary school.

The number of school students taking PE at GCSE level has dropped by a third in the last four years. Alliance chairman Andy Reed is worried that the new qualification will “marginalise sport and creative subjects”.

So Wiggo, instead of accepting the embrace of an institution you really don’t like at all, tell your story about how you kicked alcohol to become a great cyclist, how you learned to climb mountains so you could win the Tour de France, how you learned to speak French fluently.

There are many ways to inspire a new generation – taking a knighthood isn’t one of them!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tories have Human Rights Act in their sights

The imminent appearance of the parliamentary commission’s report into a new Bill of Rights is giving the Tory right an opportunity to bray against what they call “a court sitting overseas” – the European Court of Human Rights.

For the Bill of Rights as is proposed is not about holding parliamentary lawmakers and the executive to account or guaranteeing basic democratic rights. No, quite the opposite. Behind the nationalist demagogy about “diktats from Brussels” and a purely “British” form of justice, is something quite different.

This is prime minister Cameron’s effort to appease the right wing in his Conservative party.  Their nationalism provides a cover for a visceral hatred for the idea of human rights in general and the European Court of Human Rights in particular.

Strangely enough, for the Union Jack-waving backwoods people who argue that the ECHR is a dictatorial “imposition” from Europe, it was the Tory Winston Churchill who helped establish the European Convention of Human Rights. The same Convention then led to the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights in 1959, as human rights lawyer Bill Bowring notes.

Despite this, it took four decades for the convention to be – and then only partially – incorporated into British law. This took place in 1998 under New Labour. But, to the anger of human rights lawyers, home secretary David Blunkett immediately “derogated” – i.e. opted out – of Article 5 of the Convention, which enshrines “the right to liberty and security of person”.

He did this as on the grounds that there was a terrorist threat and a public emergency in the UK following the 9/11 attacks on New York, which overrode any such individual rights.  New Labour’s derogation dovetailed neatly with the needs of the secret state – namely the heads of the military, the police and secret services – and last but certainly not least – the US Central Intelligence Agency’s own “war on terror”.

Two recent cases show why human rights legislation is hated by the right.  Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer Gary McKinnon avoided extradition to the United States on computer hacking charges under the Human Rights Act.  It took huge determination by McKinnon himself, his mother and lawyers to conduct  a ten-year legal campaign after initially losing appeals in the High Court and the House of Lords against his extradition. Last week, it was decided he would face no charges in Britain.

The case of German citizen Khaled el-Masri has taken almost as long.  El-Masri was seized by security officers in Macedonia on 31 December 2003 while crossing into Serbia. He held incommunicado for 23 days, turned over to the CIA and tortured.  It was only on December 13 last week that 17 European court judges provided him with any kind of redress.

The ECHR has held that his forcible disappearance, kidnapping and “rendition” in Skopje to the United States violated the most basic guarantees of human decency. He had never been charged with any crime. It was a case of mistaken identity but neither the CIA nor the US government admitted what happened.

The Commission for the Bill of Rights has already cited the “exponential increase” in the ECHR’s caseload as a threat to its viability. At that time the court had a backlog of 150,000 cases. The commission’s first proposal is that new screening mechanisms should be introduced to “reduce very significantly the number of cases that reach the Court”.

So the ECHR is facing a twin attack – from the Tories in Britain and from the backlog of cases as a result of the mounting attacks on human rights. The Bill of Rights under consideration is a Trojan horse which we should not make the mistake of accepting as a gift. Instead, we should fight for an Agreement of the People, a democratic constitution for the 21st century.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, December 14, 2012

Finucane's murder reveals the state within the state

A state within a state signifies the fact that sections of the armed forces, police or intelligence services are running their own agenda, often with deadly consequences.
They take it upon themselves to defeat perceived enemies of the state.

Britain is home to such a state, as is clear from the de Silva report into the murder of the lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989. Although the report is only a review of documents and not the public inquiry the family wanted, it is devastating enough.

The report uses the term “collusion” to describe the role of the RUC Special Branch, the British army’s agent-running section (FRU) and the intelligence service MI5. But it amounts to a state conspiracy to kill Finucane, who acted for Republicans in Northern Ireland. The report shows that:

  • the three agencies running agents “operated under their own separate regimes”.
  • there was a “wilful and abject failure” by successive governments to provide a legal framework necessary for agent-handling operations.  
  • Army agent Brian Nelson played some part in at least four murders and ten attempted murders.
  • Nelson extensively updated and disseminated targeting material to other loyalist paramilitaries which they subsequently used in their efforts to carry out terrorist attacks.
  • Nelson’s FRU handlers provided him with information that was subsequently used for targeting purposes.  
  • the Army and the RUC SB had prior notice of a series of planned UDA assassinations, yet nothing was done by the RUC to seek to prevent these attacks.
  • there were extensive leaks of security force information to the UDA and other loyalist paramilitary groups.
  • two agents who were at the time in the pay of agencies of the state were involved in Finucane’s murder.
  •  no political clearance was sought or obtained for the MI5’s involvement in black propaganda, including against Finucane which helped set him for attack.
  • MI5 knew in December 1988 of UDA plans to kill three solicitors. They chose not to raise it with the RUC SB.
  • an RUC officer or officers did propose Finucane (along with at least one other man) as a UDA target when speaking to a loyalist paramilitary
  • Kenneth Barrett became a paid agent of the state after indicating to the RUC SB that he had played a part in killing Finucane.
  • senior army officers deliberately lied to criminal investigators by informing them that they did not run agents in Northern Ireland.

The report concludes: “The real importance, in my view, is that a series of positive actions by employees of the state actively furthered and facilitated his [Finucane’s] murder and that, in the aftermath of the murder, there was a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice.”

So is all this in the past? Is the state now more transparent in the way it conducts its operations? Are the politicians in the know? Is the state within a state a thing no more? To think that would be a grave mistake.

Only yesterday, the actions of the secret state led to a £2 million pay out to a man who was subject to rendition – aka kidnapping – and despatched to Libya, where he was tortured and jailed. British agents have been directly involved in torturing terror suspects and helping the US in rendition operations.

Agents provocateurs have more recently infiltrated environmental activists, encouraging them to break the law, and disrupting their campaigns. They infiltrate political movements and encourage internal dissension. If a demonstration gets out of hand, you can be sure that Special Branch had a hand in winding up the action.

The state within a state is there to defend and serve the interests of the status quo of capitalism, whether or not the political will exists. Their loyalty is to the state itself, not to governments. Without a democratic transformation, the state will remain a clear and present danger to the rest of us as well as a barrier to a future without capitalism.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Factory farming threatens antiobiotics

We don’t have to imagine a world without antibiotics, only look at history to know what life was like before infections like typhoid, tuberculosis, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, syphilis, gonorrhoea or meningitis could be treated.

But through the reckless use of antibiotics in factory farming, and over-prescribing by doctors under pressure from the drug cartels, we might be facing just such a world.

Antibiotics are failing to keep pace with the speed at which bacteria are adapting to resist them and World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Dr. Margaret Chan has warned of “a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and once again, kill unabated”.

According to a report from the Alliance to Save Antibiotics (formed by Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and Sustain), the over-use of antibiotics in farm animals has already resulted in the following:
• farm animals are breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli
• farm animals harbour antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA that could become virulent  
• diminishing effectiveness in human medicine of critically-important antibiotics such as cephalosporins.

Industrial farms wreck animals’ natural immune system through overcrowding, early weaning and high levels of stress. And so animals are routinely given antibiotics at low dosages to combat this. The average Dutch pig was on antibiotics for nearly 20% of its life, according to earlier research.

In the EU it is now illegal to add antibiotics to animal feed to induce faster growth, thought it was happening not so long ago, and continues in the US.

The result of all this is that animals are developing strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and these can be transmitted:
• to people working with animals or raw meat
• through the food chain itself, from farm to table, if meat or eggs are incorrectly cooked
• generally through the environment i.e. via the air, water or soil.

A Soil Association report recounts the story of one of these new strains. Pigs have a form of MRSA, known as NT-MSRA. By 2004 it began spreading to people. The first recorded case was a Dutch baby girl and her parents, who were pig farmers. Now 50% of Dutch pig farmers are carrying the new strain.

By 2007 it had spread to the wider population and caused more than 20% of cases of MRSA in the Netherlands. It was being passed not from pig to person but from person to person.

Now the same strain has been found in chickens, dairy cowsand veal calves across Europe, as well as onthe bodies of those working on those farms or in slaughterhouses.

So far, it has relatively low virulence, but in the US a new family of highly virulent antibiotic-resistant bacteria, known as CRE, emerged in 2001 and is now widespread. It causes infections that defy even the strongest antibiotics.

Bacteria develop resistance in two ways – by mutation or by gene transfer, where mobile pieces of DNA move between different bacteria creating a new drug-resistant species.

Industrial agriculture is huge business in the US. For example there are 30,000 hog and pig farms with an annual revenue of about $19 billion. The corporations involved are entirely opposed to any controls on their use of antibiotics.

Our alienated, unnatural, capitalist world itself creates conditions that speed up antibiotic resistance. What can you say about a system that bases itself on statements like Nietzche’s “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but forgets the same thing applies to bacteria? Not a lot.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Revealed: the harsh truth behind jobs figures

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic have good news on jobs. Apparently. The real story is of people giving up the search for work and young people, in particular, facing a life on the dole.

Figures just out on the UK show unemployment falling by 82,000, and the number of people in full-time work increasing by 44,000 between May to July 2012 and August to October 2012.

In the US, Barack Obama and his administration are celebrating the drop in the unemployment rate from October’s 7.9% to 7.7% in November. At its peak, in October 2009, it was 10%.

Good news? Not for the majority of American or British or European workers.

Look a little closer and you find that the percentage of working-age Americans who are either employed or actively in search of a job was reported as 63.6% for November 2012, two points lower than the previous month and the worst the country has seen since 1978.

This more revealing measure has now been at or below 66.0% since the country entered a recession in late 2007 and it is getting worse. The number of Americans “not in the labour force” has grown by almost 8.5 million since the Obama administration began. Not much improvement there.

When jobs become scarce and benefits run out, millions of people just disappear off the radar to the evident delight of the government.

Alongside the loss of jobs the global recession is driving a worldwide assault on conditions of work - for those that still have it. Michigan yesterday became the 24th US State to pass ironically-named “right to work” legislation. This prevents unions for getting non-union workers to pay subs to benefit from pay awards.

An exhaustive study by economist Lonnie K. Stevans of Hofstra University shows that wages and personal income are lower in the states with so-called right-to-work laws than in those without, though employers’ incomes are higher. In short, the laws simply redistribute income from workers to owners.
The global contraction which has claimed millions of victims, wiping out the future for a generation of young people is set to get a whole lot worse.

The youth jobless rate has reached 58% in Greece, 55.8% in Spain, 39.1% in Portugal, 36.5% in Italy, 30.1% in Slovakia, and 25.5% in France as European governments push on with ever more punitive assaults under the guise of “austerity”. 

In the UK the current batch of statistics do nothing to hide the grim future as predicted by two studies. The Institute for Public Policy Research says that the outlook is especially bleak for young people and the long-term unemployed. The IPPR finds that hundreds of thousands are at risk of permanent “scarring” by having their “long-term outlook damaged by long periods of unemployment or by a difficult and patchy entry into the world of work.”

The IPPR analysis, based on the pattern of increase in 2011, shows that 86,000 more under-25s could become unemployed next year, taking the total to around 1.05m, while a further 32,000 people could become unemployed, reaching 926,000.

A separate study by The Jobs Economist consultancy warned that "sub-zero temperatures" would persist in the UK's jobs market as the number of people short of work hits 8 million.

The headline unemployment rate shows there are 2.56m unemployed people in Britain. But the consultancy report shows a further 3.05m are "under-employed" - desperate to find more work or longer hours but cannot - and a further 2.58m people are "economically inactive" but want a paid job.

The overall work shortage rate compared to the working age population is 23.8% - three times higher than the official unemployment rate.

This is no accidental by-product of attempts to rescue the global financial system, nor is it as many claim, the result of bad policy which could be replaced by an even more hefty dose of credit by pushing more money into the economy.

The wholesale elimination of productive capacity is a necessary consequence of the drive for profit. Like a monster, it is devouring its own in the shape of the unemployed and the under-employed. Surely it’s time to slay the capitalist dragon?

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Unions should resist rail and fuel price rises with civil disobedience

Millions of people who commute to work are a just a few weeks away from a massive cut in incomes that will intensify the dramatic fall in living standards that the recession and austerity measures have already created.

As people struggle back to work after the Christmas holidays, they will be hit by a double whammy of steep rail fare increases and the bills for electricity and gas that in some cases will show rises of nearly 11%.

This amounts to a huge transfer of wealth to the train operators and energy companies like E.On which yesterday announced increases averaging 8.7%. These will naturally impact harder on poorer households, adding to five million already in fuel poverty.

So too will the rail fare rises. Passengers on many routes face fare increases of up to 10% next month. Season tickets and peak fares are regulated and will rise by an average 4.2%.

Many commuters pay huge amounts already. For example, an annual season ticket from St Albans to London is around £3,000. That will go up by over £120 in January.

Off-peak and anytime tickets in England and Wales are set to soar, according to the watchdog Passenger Focus because they are not regulated. An anytime return from London to Norwich will now be 9.2% dearer at £107.70. A day return from Holyhead-Llandudno will be 6.5% more expensive.

The ConDem coalition is pushing ahead with plans to reduce the £3 billion plus subsidy to the rail industry, a process that began under New Labour. That will result in ticket office closures and other “efficiency” savings.

The rail unions have launched a campaign to bring the railways back into public ownership. Today they were holding protests in Swansea and Cardiff. More actions are planned before Christmas.

They handed out Christmas cards with a "seasonal message" from the train companies, which promised commuters will have a 2013 "packed full of cancelled trains, staff cuts and ticket office closures" while the train companies are "making huge profits".

Rob Jenks, of transport and travel union TSSA, said: "We want to point out the dramatic rise in rail fares, a 30% increase in rail fares, compared to the average increase in people's wages of 11.9%.  So you can see there's a huge gap between what people can afford to pay and what people are having to pay.

"It's about fares, it's also about all the cuts the industry is facing as the government tries to allegedly balance the books but without taking the opportunity to actually look at what public ownership would bring and all the savings that would make by cutting out profit and various other things."

The Action for Rail campaign says that since privatisation, more than £11 billion of public funds has been “misspent” on debt write-offs, dividend payments to private investors,  and higher interest payments in order to keep Network Rail’s debts off the government balance sheet.

“At the same time, privatisation has failed to deliver on its promises. Genuine private investment makes an insignificant contribution to the railways, representing about one per cent of the total money that goes into the railway each year.  Our fares are among the highest in Europe, many of our services are overcrowded and rely on obsolete rolling stock.”

Obviously, there is no way the Coalition is going to contemplate public ownership as an option. And nor is Labour. Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle has only pledged to make sure that the limit on fare rises is applied more strictly. That’s really worth waiting for!

The savage reduction in living standards that will greet millions on January 1 is unprecedented. Rail unions ought to step up their action. RMT general secretary Bob Crow has in the past talked of a campaign of civil disobedience to fight the government. There couldn’t be a better time to put his words into action than right now.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, December 10, 2012

Egypt's unfinished revolution

Egypt is experiencing the throes of the third phase of its political and social revolution. Tanks have been ordered onto the streets of Cairo. And a new concrete wall is going up in the street leading to the presidential palace.

As a struggle for power grips the country, Egypt’s opposition has decided to boycott the constitutional referendum being forced through by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood despite the concessions offered by president Mohamed Morsi.

In massive protests five people were killed and over 200 injured, many by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in orchestrated attacks. More demonstrations are planned for tomorrow against plans to push ahead with the referendum.

Although Morsi has rescinded most of the powers he had grabbed on 22 November in a decree in which he had set himself above the law, he has now allied himself with the leadership of the armed forces in a desperate bid to cling to power.

Demonstrations around the country accused him of  “stealing the country” and following in the footsteps of deposed president Hosni Mubarak. Some six Morsi advisers abandoned him last week and largely moderate Islamic academics at Al-Azhar university called for the measures to be rescinded.

Essam al-Amir, the head of Egyptian state television has resigned and journalists working for the state media channels have sided with the street. One female broadcaster even held a shroud in front of the cameras, recalling those who had died in the 2011 revolution to overthrow Mubarak. The crisis within the media – attacked for not showing the massive protests - extended to Egyptian Al Jazeera.

Morsi’s backdown on the decree granting him pharaonic dictatorial powers was intended to defuse the raging political crisis. In fact, it is leading to greater turmoil. The military has been given “extraordinary” powers through a 15-member national defence council.

Playing cards with the devil, Morsi hopes that by aligning himself with the military – which still owns and controls large parts of the Egyptian economy – it will continue to defend him and his regime.

Morsi’s new constitution would give increased powers to Muslim clerics by making them arbiters for many civil rights, and provide a constitutional basis for citizens to set up Saudi-style religious police. These would monitor morals and enforce segregation of the sexes, impose  Islamic dress codes and mete out punishments for “crime” like adultery, regardless of what secular law states. 

It has been strongly criticised by the United Nations Human Rights commissioner, Navi Pillai. She said it would concentrate powers in the hands of the president, undermine the independence of the judiciary and weaken a range of international treaties that protect civil and political rights.

Within Egypt, critics argue that the constitution drafting process was not representative of the country, especially after numerous groups, including women’s rights organizations, Coptic Christians and liberal leaders withdrew after saying the Islamists would not compromise on any issue.

Running alongside the crisis over the referendum, is widespread anger over November’s negotiations over the $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Egypt. Many believe that Morsi smuggled through its agreement with the IMF under the cover of the Gaza crisis. Part of this was a new round of tax rises on popular items, which Morsi has now withdrawn – at least for the time being.

Morsi’s floundering regime is walking a fine line between the army and massive popular anger. This is indeed an expression of the incomplete Egyptian revolution. Some describe the present moment as Egypt 3.0.

As Adam Hanieh, wrote in an article by for the ezine Jadaliyya, in the months following Mubarak’s overthrow: “The uprising cannot be reduced to a question of ‘democratic transition’ –precisely because the political form of the Egyptian state under Mubarak was a direct reflection of the nature of capitalism in the country, the uprising implicitly involved a challenge to the position of these elites.”

In the end, defending and extending the Egyptian revolution is not about setting a Muslim Egypt versus a secular Egypt, but solving the question of power so that the mass of the people control their lives, their economy and their state.  

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, December 07, 2012

Obama's Disposition Matrix decides who lives or dies

Lest anyone thinks that when the US and Britain withdraw troops from Afghanistan, that will end their military involvement, think again. The United States has a new doctrine of permanent war, using hi-tech remote weaponry like the dreaded drone.

The Obama administration has institutionalised the use of targeted killing by armed drones. In fact, the drone is Obama’s weapon of choice. Under his presidency, drones are killing people at seven times the rate under the previous Bush administration.

In the Matrix films, humans struggled against the machine. In the Disposition Matrix, the US government deploys machines to assassinate people on a hit list that is added to daily. And, deciding who will live and die is the man in the Oval Office himself, president Obama.

Except for those on the hit list in Pakistan. Here, life-and-death decisions are taken by the Central Intelligence Agency, which has abandoned spying to become a subsidiary of Murder Inc, whose headquarters is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20500, tel (202) 456-2121.

The Disposition Matrix is a database that officials describe as a "next-generation capture/kill list". But it is more than that, creating a blueprint for tracking, capturing, rendering and especially killing terrorism suspects. Thus the use of the term “disposition”.

Paul R. Pillar, the former deputy director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre, has stated that "we are looking at something that is potentially indefinite". And certainly illegal, within the framework of both the US constitution and international law.

There is no “due process”, no opportunity to answer charges. The last thing a victim hears is the sound of a missile arriving, shortly after being fired by an unmanned drone. The trigger is pulled in a US military base somewhere else.

A computer game this is not, however. Some estimates suggest that more people have been killed by US drones than the 3,000 plus who perished when the Twin Towers were brought down in 2001. Many of the victims are bystanders, family members or just people at a gathering wrongly identified as would-be terrorists.

According to Daniel Klaidman in his book, Kill or Capture, “the inability to detain terror suspects was creating perverse incentives that favoured killing or releasing suspected terrorists over capturing them."  That is why Osama bin Laden was executed as he was.

At the heart of the Disposition Matrix is Obama adviser John Brennan, who came to the job from the CIA. He is, the New York Times reported, the "priest whose blessing has become indispensable" to Obama. Last April, he publicly defended the policy of targeted killing. 

Under George W.Bush, Brennan served as top aide to CIA director George Tenet, where he defended the administration's use of extraordinary rendition and “enhanced interrogation”, aka torture.

Brennan is said to wield enormous power in shaping decisions on “kill” lists and the allocation of armed drones. The review process also allows the killing of individuals whose identities are unknown. Americans may also be listed as targets Indeed, one of the victims was US citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi.  

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has condemned the Disposition Matrix database, stating that "anyone who thought US targeted killing outside of armed conflict was a narrow, emergency-based exception to the requirement of due process before a death sentence is being proven conclusively wrong.” It has launched a legal challenge, claiming that the policy is unconstitutional.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter terrorism, Ben Emmerson and Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, have described some American drone attacks as "war crimes".

That they certainly are. Calling for an end to policy of permanent war, Washington Post columnist  Fareed Zakaria cited a warning from James Madison, father of the US constitution:

 “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. ... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Over two centuries years later, Madison’s words should come home to haunt Obama as he presides over the death of the very same US constitution. 

Paul Feldman
Communications editor 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Corporations cash in on climate change funds

As governments meet in Doha to discuss the transfer of funds from rich to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change, the developing world is asking both “where’s the money” and who is benefiting from the small amount allocated so far.

A Fast-start Fund (FSF) of £30bn was to be completed by December 2012, and then another £100bn by 2020. Now it’s clear that there will be no commitment to any further funding on the table this week.

The US, EU, Canada and Japan have made clear they will not say how or when they will commit to further funding. EU representative Peter Betts said they would not agree any targets: "These are tough financial times in Europe, as I'm sure you have noticed."

Jonathan Pershing from the US asked for trust: “The question really is did we do the first one and the answer is yes. Are we working on the second? The answer is yes." But given that the Obama administration’s total climate aid for this year was just £1.7bn, that trust is not likely to be translated into action.

The FSF replacement Green Climate Fund has a completely empty bank account. In any case, as Al Gore pointed out, the FSF money had mostly been moved around from existing aid commitments, and whereas grants were promised, they were actually mostly given out as loans with strings.

Much of it was handed out directly to corporations to do projects. The World Development Movement reports that UK climate finance (channelled through the World Bank) has been used to fund wind farms in Oaxaca, Mexico, which are controlled by French electricity giant EDF.

All of the energy produced is being used to provide cheap power to Walmart, and none is going to local people. The wind farms have been built on indigenous people’s land without their consent.

The EDF/Walmart involvement highlighted by WDM is not an aberration – it entirely represents the World Bank’s view on how to use climate mitigation funds. A recent report for the WB stated:

“The large potential for private investment to achieve climate-related objectives justifies using a substantial share of the public funding available in and before 2020 to stimulate this investment…
“Not all public funding will be used to stimulate private investment, but all else equal, channelling public funding through instruments that catalyze additional international private investment in a given action yields greater benefits than using the public funding directly for the same type of action.

“Over the period between now and 2020, public instruments will need to have the flexibility to respond to various dynamic factors such as emerging domestic climate policies in developing countries, and the expected scaling up of carbon markets.”

Translated into English that last paragraph means that developing country governments can decide to use climate change money for all sorts of policies – to leverage in land-grabbing investment funds; to switch to GM crops; to earn carbon credits from bio-fuel crops or indeed to generate power for Walmart.

The problem is that the Bank is not wrong in thinking that the only way to get things to happen quickly in today’s world is to get the global corporations on board. They have the know-how, the infrastructure, and the drive to do new things. What they don’t have is any real interest in mitigating climate change – profit is their only game and so the money will serve that end only.

Any tangential benefits, for example small reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, will be more than offset by their continuing rapacity everywhere they operate to resource, produce, distribute and sell goods.

A transformation of ownership and control of these corporations, as collectively owned democratic co-operatives, could change all that. Then the skills, knowledge and resources of what are after all the world’s biggest and most dynamic organisations, could be harnessed to tackle climate change and improve the lives of millions.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Osborne to up the war on the people

Today’s autumn statement from chancellor George Osborne will extend the predicted period of the recession and pile more pressure on the 99% of the people in Britain who are struggling to meet rising bills as real incomes fall.

The financial crisis has been as economically devastating as a world war and may still be a burden on our grandchildren according to Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s executive director for financial stability. 

Things are certain to get a whole lot worse.

In 2007, the cost of servicing the post-war ballooning of debt shot past the declining ability of people and businesses to make their interest payments and the crisis struck.  Credit-funded growth had reached its limits.

Five years later and the UK economy is still 3% smaller than at its peak and set to shrink further as the global depression deepens.

Haldane warned that the banks were still hiding risky assets – bad debts just the same as those that led to the crash in 2007/8. These will have to be admitted, exposed – and written off – before there is any prospect of a recovery.

So Haldane’s comparison of the impact of a world war should be seen as a warning of something much worse to come.

The global depression is spreading, and its path determines the actions of governments whatever their subjective intentions.

Nothing can stand in its path, if the system is to survive.

In Ireland, amongst the first to suffer the effects of the crash, the government is today introducing a sixth round of cuts and tax increases amounting to €3.5 billion. This will be added to the €25 billion euros taken out of the economy since 2008 which has resulted in a 15% fall in total output or GDP.

After months of attempts to avoid the inevitable, the Spanish government was yesterday forced to ask for help for the country’s banks and Eurozone finance ministers approved €39.5bn in initially low-interest loans.

But many analysts believe that the amount is less than one-third of what will be needed. And though the government remains in denial, even the full amount of €100 billion being made available is unlikely to prevent the bankruptcy of the country itself.

Spain, like Greece has seen months of protest, nationwide actions, strikes and demonstrations on a scale never seen before. The conditions attached to the new loans are certain to trigger more violent uprising.

Whatever the outcome of newly re-elected President Obama’s negotiations with the Republicans to avert the fiscal cliff - the triggering in four weeks’ time of a predetermined $500bn programme in annual tax increases and spending cuts which would push the country back into recession - reining in the unsustainable debt is certain to see trillions of dollars cut from federal spending.

The unfolding of events in Ireland, Greece, Egypt and Syria show that the costs of keeping the for-profit system of production and finance in place are driving millions across the globe over a different cliff. The limits of tolerance have been reached.

Haldane’s comparison with a war is more than symbolic. This is a war – a class war. It is being fought between the majority and the small group who own and control economic and financial resources. In a war there is a winner and a loser.

So we must set off on new path – rejecting the destructive demands of the capitalist economy and replacing it with a system of social relations that sets out to satisfy rather than deny the needs of the 99%. New kinds of democratic decision-making carried out in popular assemblies can and must give rise to the replacement of profit as the determining criteria of society.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Secret courts one step closer

“The Ministry of Justice is transforming the justice system”, says its website. But behind the jargon of transformation, transparency and modernisation, there is an actual demolition of justice taking place in Parliament.

This ministry was set up under Blair back in May 2007 as part of New Labour’s “modernisation” of Britain’s legal system. This project of undermining long-cherished rights is enthusiastically being continued by the present government

The Justice and Security Bill 2012-13, sponsored by Lord Wallace of Tankerness, has now lumbered through three readings in the House of Lords and is now due for its second reading in the House of Commons. You can even follow its progress towards royal assent on this website. Its stated aim is to:

“Provide for oversight of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters and other activities relating to intelligence or security matters; to make provision about closed material procedure in relation to certain civil proceedings; to prevent the making of certain court orders for the disclosure of sensitive information; and for
connected purposes.”

All openness and light, surely?

While the Bill’s progress is “open”, what is actually proposed is highly secretive and sinister. Its provisions give the secret intelligence services huge powers vis-a vis those they seek to try and punish. Ministers will have the power to obtain a “Closed Material Procedure” or CMP.

These procedures have previously only been used in relation to terrorism cases. They mean that, under the catch-all umbrella  of “national security” only the judge, the government’s lawyers and a “special advocate” appointed by the government will be allowed to know what is going on.

As the Guardian’s Nick Thornsby has pointed out, the CMP procedure is even more disturbing than a secret court. Its Kafkaesque provisions mean that “not only will the public not be able to hear the evidence before the court but the claimant – and his or her legal representatives – will also know nothing of what is presented.”

Even those of us not versed in the language of the legal profession can see that this spells serious dangers.  

The outcry from a raft of organisations and legal experts as the bill proceeded through parliament gives serious pause for thought. The BBC’s Dominic Casciani asks: “Are secret courts one step closer?”

Human Rights organisation Justice says the Bill’s provisions “could undermine public confidence in the administration of civil justice and damage the credibility of our judiciary”.

Liberty’s Isabella Sankey says: “The Government has not made the case for these illiberal proposals, which would change our justice system forever. These amendments may mean fewer miscarriages of justice but they do not undo the danger this Bill presents - minor nips and tucks won't make this chilling policy palatable.”

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK has said: Even with the changes made by the Lords, the Justice and Security Bill would allow the government to rely on secret evidence across the court system in an unprecedented way that is incompatible with full respect for the right to a fair trial.

Human Rights lawyer and Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers international secretary Bill Bowring, notes that the Bill “threatens to take Britain back to the 17th century, through the use of secret evidence”.

Earlier this year, former The former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord Macdonald’s warned that “secret trials [are] an attack on the rule of law”.

Will the Bill get through? Although the LibDems voted down the Bill at their autumn conference, most experts now believe it will be enacted in 2013. So, along with other serious inroads, such as the criminalisation of squatting, it’s clear that our legal rights are being whittled down.

Welcome to authoritarian Britain, home to more CCTV cameras per head of population than anywhere else, where the draft Communications Data Bill instructs internet service providers to collect and store your emails (the state can already intercept them) and where the police regularly invoke anti-terror laws against peaceful protests.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, December 03, 2012

Tax avoidance: a case of their morals and ours

Do some global corporations behave “immorally” when they set out to reduce their tax bill to a minimum through a variety of dodgy but apparently legal devices? Or are they simply acting out their own morality play?

We ask the question in the light of the accusation made by the Commons public accounts committee against transnationals like Starbucks and Amazon. A PAC report launched today accuses corporations that minimise tax of “outrageous” and “immoral” behaviour.

Chair Margaret Hodge said its report showed that corporations had been allowed to get away with "ripping off" taxpayers because of a weak tax authority, poor legislation and a lack of international co-operation.

"The inescapable conclusion is that multinationals are using structures and exploiting current tax legislation to move offshore profits that are clearly generated from economic activity in the UK."  

Is this former Labour minister Hodge genuinely surprised? This has been going on for years. She bemoans the fact that the revenue from corporation tax has fallen. Two things account for this: the recession and the fact that during the 13 years of New Labour, corporation tax rates fell sharply from 33% to 28%.

New Labour cheered the fact that they had reduced the tax on corporations to among the lowest of the developed economies. It made Britain an attractive place to invest in, so the argument went.

Naturally, the ConDems have pushed on and the rate is heading for 23% next year. At the same time, the burden on taxpayers and consumers has of necessity risen to finance public spending at central and local level.

In 2010-11, corporation tax accounted for just 8% of the UK government’s tax revenue. By contrast, national insurance and income tax accounted for a massive 49% while VAT – a tax on consumption – brought in another 17%.

Those who do the work, who labour to create commodities and services (and profits), also carry the greatest tax burden. So where, you may ask, is the “morality” in this arrangement? Search as hard as you want and “morality” doesn’t figure anywhere. Nor will you hear Hodge or any other MP complaining about this totally immoral situation.

Which brings us to our main point: absolute morality is conditional, evolving with successive periods of history. And within this absolute is the relative morality of different social classes. For capitalism and the global corporations, the moral imperative can only be the bottom line.

Corporate-driven globalisation of the world economy freed the transnationals from territorial jurisdictions and facilitated the creation of subsidiaries, joint ventures, special purpose entities and trusts to benefit from low taxes and subsidies.
Professor Prem Sika, of the Centre for Global Accountability, Essex University, points out that “taxation is targeted by financial engineers who regard it as an avoidable cost, rather than a return to society on the investment of social capital (education, security, healthcare, legal system, etc.).”

In other words, for the corporations the whole issue of taxation (or how to avoid it) is an essential aspect of capitalist accumulation itself and not some form of aberrant, “immoral” behaviour.  

Take the case of food and drinks giant Cadbury-Schweppes. It set up a shell company in Ireland with no office and no employees but with £500 million in cash, which was allocated to different parts of the group. The incentive was a simple one. Corporation tax in Ireland is 12.5% - less than half the rate in Britain.

Under what are known as the Controlled Foreign Company rules (CFC), HMRC tried to collect the missing taxes. But after a series of cases, the European Court of Justice found in favour of the company on the grounds that member states could not block corporations from operating in different parts of the European Union.

Appealing to corporations to behave more “responsibly”, to pay more tax will produce a few, marginal concessions. But it will leave the main issues unchallenged and unquestioned. This because the argument about their morals and ours is in reality about class and power.  

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, November 30, 2012

The press is neither free nor fair

The dispute over statutory (backed by Leveson, Miliband, Clegg) or non-statutory regulation of the press (Cameron) is really no dispute at all. Because regulated or not, the press will as a whole always remain hostile to the interests of ordinary people.

Phone hacking and paying off police officers for inside information was exposed at Leveson. But there was no way the report was going to stray into deeper issues. The report went soft on successive governments’ close ties to Murdoch’s empire. And the police were laughably more or less given a clean bill of health.

Some of Leveson’s proposals could even make it more difficult for investigative journalists to operate. In his proposals, the Leveson suggests major alterations to both the 1998 Data Protection Act and the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace).
Between them, journalists could become liable to prison sentences and their sources
be required to sign written agreements.

Ultimately, the press is neither free nor fair. The reasons are self-evident. Newspapers are owned by an assortment of Murdoch’s global corporation News International, Russian oligarchs (The Independent and the London Standard) or right-wing aristocrats like Viscount Rothermere.

He is chairman and controlling shareholder of the Daily Mail and General Trust PLCs, one of the largest media conglomerates with interests in newspapers, TV and radio in Europe, the United States and Australia.

Any regulatory system of the press will not make a jot of difference when it comes to the Daily Mail witch-hunting trade unionists, denying climate change is actually taking place (even though many of its readers are regularly flooded out by extreme weather) or scapegoating asylum seekers and migrant workers.

If we had had a regulatory system in place in 2003, would it have compelled the media to expose government lies in the run-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Of course not. Newspapers lapped up the Blair government’s falsehoods and helped create the spurious grounds for an invasion.

Not even the liberal Guardian could bring itself to oppose the war, which by any standards was illegal under international law and did not have the backing of the United Nations.

During major strikes, the media is at one in siding with the employers and the government. Which paper supported the strikes in 2011 by public sector workers defending their pension rights?

Rail union RMT general Secretary Bob Crow, who gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, said it had uncovered “the level of collusion between press, politicians and the state to do over anyone seen as a threat to their interests and that includes the trade union movement.

"From the miners to the firefighters and right up to date with our struggles today on transport and public services, no stone has been left unturned in vilifying and slandering those with the guts to stand up and fight back."

Crow’s reference to the miners’ strike of 1984-5 is compelling. Urged on by the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock, papers like the Daily Mirror attacked miners’ leader Arthur Scargill throughout the dispute.

When it was over, the Mirror joined in a scurrilous denigration of Scargill over false allegations of misappropriation of funds. There was more than a little suspicion about the involvement of the dirty hand of the state in this infamous character assassination.

So when Miliband and Clegg urge on the very same state to get involved in “regulation” of the media, they are not proposing to remedy these kinds of wrongs.

In any case, what’s the use of an apology or a fine long after the event. The damage has already been done. In the hands of capitalist owners, the media can never be “free nor fair”. Always remember that.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor